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London Sketches
Tube Sketches

23″ x 33″

United Kingdom

Clara Lieu, RISD Adjunct Professor

Clara Lieu

Art Prof & Partner

Casey Roonan, Comics Artist & Cartoonist

Casey Roonan

Cartoonist & Comics Artist

Deepti Menon, Filmmaker & Animator

Deepti Menon

Filmmaker & Animator

Artist Statement
“The drawing is about the changing faces on the Tube one station turning into another, one day into the next month,  into the next year, seeing an endless closeup of people, but never meeting any of them so they are all never brought into focus.

The process is done by sketching people on the tube quickly with pen, and then copying these separate images on top of each other using different colors form cool to warm so the layers are visible, but indistinguishable.”

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Partial Video Transcript

Prof Lieu: “What I really like about this piece is that there’s so much energy in it. I feel like in the center area in particular it seems like this really busy, rushed, packed group of people, and a lot of that is really in the mark making, because the way that the artist is putting in these really super, kind of aggressive strokes with the pastel really shows that movement really beautifully.”

Casey: “Yeah i think they’re really taking good advantage of the pastel in just getting different kinds of marks and using the side of the pastel in addition to the point, and I think that really shows that there’s an energy to this and it feels really spontaneous.”

Deepti: “I love the immediacy of the strokes and the variety of the strokes. I’m also loving the ambiguity of the figures along with these subtle hints where I can see some facial structure or some identification of who this person is but then that slowly disappears because of the layering.”

Prof Lieu: “Well, what I think is neat about the figures is that they are suggestive, like, for example, I see a lot of drawings where people really feel obligated to draw every single eyelash on the face, and a lot of times you don’t need that.

Sometimes, you just need to subtly suggest that, and that’s what I really like about these portraits is that we don’t see every single detail, it seems like it’s really more about the movement of the figures and less about the specific body parts and I really like that anonymity.

I mean, the other thing that I think is really impressive about this artist’s process is, first of all, they’re actually on the subway when they make the sketches. They’re not going online and downloading photos of the London Tube and then copying from those photographs, which I think a lot of people would do.

This artist is actually on the subway, they’re actually observing the movements of these people and then they’re going home and doing these sketches from those sketches and I think that’s really fantastic because I just feel like, with everybody, their default reaction to getting imagery is to go online on the internet and print out some photographs that have nothing to do with them, and then copy that, and I rarely see people who are making that effort to really go into the environment that they want to talk about.”

Casey: “Yeah, I mean I think that’s why you don’t have that hyper detailed look that can feel very stiff, it’s because this person went out and compiled these sketches and you don’t have much time when you’re sketching a stranger.”

Prof Lieu: “No, you don’t, sometimes it’s like a minute and then they’ve moved on, but that’s what’s really great about it.

Casey: “Oh, yeah, and it also builds in a sort of narrative just seeing different people wandering in the tube and the experience of being in the tube and that sort of brief interaction with people.

Deepti: “I’m mainly interested in the composition of this piece, because there is a lot happening in the center and I’m missing a lot of that action in the bottom and top edges.”

Prof Lieu: “The center part, everything is in there. And, when I look at the top part of the composition and look at the bottom of the composition, it almost seems like there’s not much going on at all and so it feels unbalanced as a composition because it seems like some areas got a lot of attention and other areas were totally neglected.

Deepti: “And I also think that, in the center, the artist is paying so much attention to color and the variety of color which is really drawing us, as viewers, into the center of the piece, and I think it’s lacking a little bit in the spaces that we were talking about.”

Casey: “The very top and the very bottom of this canvas isn’t really being engaged at all and I definitely think that there has to be some way to break that up.”

Prof Lieu: “I mean, I actually think it’s a little strange that all the figures are the exact same height, because if you were in a Subway situation not everyone’s going to be the same height. I mean, that’s pretty much guaranteed, and so that’s the one thing that kind of makes me question the environment of that.

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2 responses on "Group Art Critique: London Sketches"

  1. There is a great commuter energy bursting out of this piece. I’m stuck in the subway a lot and often sketch (if it is not too packed).

    I think you’ve really capture the shifting and shakiness passengers experience in a ride. You can further our understanding of the environment by adding objects specific to a trains interior like poles, handles, seats, etc. Sharing the attention with your figure studies and environment would really push the scene in this and future pieces. It can also help the viewer move away from the center and move the eyes around the entire piece.

    Right now the drawing is leaning towards portrait studies but if you could include the disorderly scene commuting creates like arms, backpacks and purses in your view it would really help and be fun challenge.

  2. I love these! Personally it reminds me of a project a friend of mine did back in my freshman year – they had the problem of the ballpoint pen layers becoming indistinguishable, so your use of colors to distinguish the separate faces is working really well!

    The faces seem to work better as individual portraits, rather than a group of four side by side. I would love to see either these done with separate portraits as a series, or if you want to include multiple people in the scene I would like to see the whole changing figure – and wouldn’t that be exciting! Hand gestures changing, body sizes and positions changing — the only constant would be the setting of the train.

    I think this is a great method of working you have, of keeping your sketches lively and exciting and playing with colors (quite well!) as well as character.

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