PhD Research, Abstract

 Practice Based PhD Proposal Jonnie Turpie


The Drawn Portrait in Contemporary Printmaking:

A journey between analogue and digital

This research explores the value of using contemporary smart phone digital photography as a basis for portrait drawing, printmaking and how this process alters the meaning of the image.

It is my intention to interrogate the question through the digital and analogue techniques of image making and by exploring the complex relationship between the observer and the observed entity.

Birmingham  School of Art
Drawn and Printed Portrait – Lara Ratnaraja with smart phone













The smart phone is a ‘natural’ item of 21st century human apparel. It has been said we are now ‘Phono Sapiens’°: The Economist. Across the planet smart phones have quickly become ubiquitous and the adoption of this transformational personal technology invites us to ask questions of the society that uses and adapts to them. Historically portraiture subjects are complicit with the artist and pose for the event, however with the smart phone camera the subject is unaware of the artist begining a process of portraiture. While the subject goes about their daily life the artist observes and discreetly ‘captures’ the most relevant and appropriate moments to form the beginnings of a portrait. At this early stage the Printmaker is a discerning digital photographer imagining the future analogue printed interpretation. In many ways this approach facilitates a more ‘real’ portrait outcome offering both the artist and the subject a glimpse of the persona of the individual though the unobtrusive methodology that smart phone photography affords.

This journey to the printed portrait raises questions of voyeurism, documentary photography and artistic interpretation in an increasingly ‘transmedia’ environment. Susan Sontag* drew our attention to these issues when she argued that the proliferation of photographic images had begun to establish within people a “chronic voyeuristic relation” to the world around them. Among the consequences of photography is that the meaning of all events is leveled and made equal. My research will take these questions forward by asking What are the early 21st Century digital and analogue techniques and tools that can positively add to new approaches to portraiture?

Process analysis

The printmaker embarks on the journey to create a photographic led portrait by selecting a single image, applying subjective criteria such as: angle, action, gesture, character, atmosphere, light and shade. This process is akin to selecting one image from a contact sheet to ‘develop’ further. Once selected the printmaker continues in the digital imaging world to refine the imagined portrait through cropping, alignment, light and shade alterations until content with a starting point for the analogue drawing. “Creating an artwork – a painting, drawing or a print – means isolating visual problems that need solving.” * Deborah Wye

Elements of the digital image are disregarded in favour of the essential elements of the subject as decided by the artist. The elements of a photograph that ‘fix’ the subject in place and time are disregarded, freeing the subject from signifiers that are core to the ‘realism’ of the photographic image. Progress towards the analogue portrait brings choice of print technique (intaglio, silk screen, lithography, monotype, digital); choice of marker (pencil, crayon, graphite, ink, brush, stylus, scalpel) and texture of drawing surface, (film, paper, digital screen, plate) are among the first artistic of many inter-dependent decisions.

Through analysis and practical print construction I will investigate and evaluate how issues of portraiture originating in the digital world can change the status and meanings of the image as it is interpreted in the analogue world.


Research will interrogate ‘Display and Exhibition’ of the drawn image

In the internet enabled world the smart phone photograph is usually displayed as a small electronic image on the phone or social media platform with increasingly clarity as pixel technology advances with high definitition and small screen ‘retina’accuracy*. 300 ppi (pixels per inch) was the standard until recent advances have brought HD, Full HD and QHD with pixel densities of 342 ppi, to 441 ppi, to 538 ppi and now 806 ppi.

In this research I will analyse the effect of evolving the small photograph to an A3, A1, A0 or larger portrait and how and why this gives greater importance and meaning to the subject. The ‘throwaway’ digital image is interpreted and transformed into a large unique hand drawn printed limited edition image for public display in the art gallery space where its artistic meaning is to be interprerted by a wide and varied audience.


Practice Methodology

The creative processes addressed in this research are both intuitive and complex which the research methodology will trace. Each decision from image selection, cropping, reframing, contrast, light and shade made in the digital environment is transferred to the analogue space, where the electronic, technological and photographic accuracies are deferred by the printmaker. The image is scaled up and transferred to paper where the digital detail is likely to be lost, but the personality and character of the subject is retained and emboldened as the artist begins the freehand drawing process. In order to create a silk screen (serigraphy) print the drawing will be developed on a textured film with a selection of mark making tools, including pencils, graphite, inks, crayons, brushes, touche, scrapers. Many artistic decisions will be made during this phase including what marks to be made, textures to be applied, depth of tone, breadth of marker, soft, smooth, hard marks. Choices such as whether to include gestural marks emanating from the drawing process itself that add to the artistic interpretation. After many hours of mark making and periods of reflection the image will ‘mature’ into a subjective interpretation of the subject as defined by the artist. Unpacking these decisions, as a critical part of the practice, will inform and direct the ongoing research.

Practice and Process

The research will analyse the processes of printmaking from the drawn image to the selection of screen mesh size to be coated with a light sensitive emulsion in preparation for ultraviolet light exposure which is measured in light units that are the result of assessing test strip exposures for each drawing’s characteristics. Although technical the artist is also deciding on the ‘right and ppropriate’ qualities to be applied to each selected image. Further artistic print decisions are made regarding ink to be used and paper to be printed upon. Choices are intuitive, but complex : single colour, duotone, viscosity, thinning with ink medium, screen snap and squeegee pressure. Smooth or textured paper, guilitined or torn edges, white or off white, extended or reduced surround. These multitude of decisions are the continuation of the printmaker’s work on the drawn image that has been interpreted from the original digital image. Although each decision is taken on its own, they add up to the fuller portrait in the artist’s mind. Their physical application through touch, sound and tacit knowledge contribute to the evolving of the new analogue portrait from the precise, electronic digital original. The final prints will be numbered, titled, stamped, signed, mounted, framed and hung with care. All of which will enhance the status of the once small digital image. No longer one of the many images in the digital world, but one of the very few in the analogue world where the subject has been treated by the artist at every turn to capture a deeper meaning seen and interpreted by the artist.

(Meaning will also be affected by the familiarity of the original subject. Should the subject be recognizable to the artist, and world at large, because they are a ‘celebrity’ then there will be countless digital images in existence which the artist will be conveneing in his interpretation. if the subject is not a ‘celebrity’ then there will be few images in the mind and the making of a printed portrait will bring recognition to the subject in the eye of the artist, viewer and perhaps subject.)

The research will respect the processes of print creation while monitoring and scutinising the decisions being applied to assess the balances and variances between digital and analogue, intuitive and functional.

This research methodology may go some way to defining a new form of portraiture by taking the smart phone photograph further through free artistic analogue reinterpretation, while accepting that the image is from ‘its’ moment in time. The artist is not slavishly hidebound by adhering to the reality of the photograph for the portrait, but equally not denying the reality that the subject is based on. This research will pursue how has meaning changed through this process and how the immediacy of the smart phone technology offers new opportunities to the contemporary portrait artist /printmaker?


The final printed portrait is not a realist representation of the subject, but an artistic interpretation of the subject, reflecting the subject, and the artist. When discussing drawing’s ability to record the trace of the drawer (Newman 2003,) suggests that, “When we look, we enter the intimate space of a work that is as close to the action of an artist’s thought as one can get.”* Deborah Harty*


Throughout the research I will seek to exhibit the prints I make in the analogue world of art galleries. I will mount a public exhibition of prints at the beginning of the practice based research and with research questions to be analysed throughout and will be revisited and assessed at the conclusion. I will also maintain my Prints website and associated Instagram channel, ironically taking fine art analogue images back into the digital environment, where comments may be forthcoming and be included in the research. This approach to inclusion of analogue and digital image locations recognises the increasing ‘flip flopping’ of images in contemporary culture where images are ‘known’ through new communications technologies and that are free to all to consume, share and at times amend and comment upon.


The AIM of the research is to analyse the factors involved in the interpretation of the digital image through a range of artistic analogue techniques to create a portrait.

I will research theories and analyse the traditions and contemporary development of these processes by artists and commentators. I will also research contemporary drawing through international networks° as this is an inherent part of my methodology. As these process are much more complex than would appear I will research attention/selection processes apparent in artistic interpretations from digital to analogue. I will research “what neural factors are influencing the choices being made through attention mechanisms that can perform (or modulate) selection dynamically, in a task dependent way, often under the control of learned cues or instructions” – Geisler & Cormack*. In turn the relevance of memory* and rehearsals – Alan Baddeley – will be researched to analyse the development of Printmaking practice and how it, itself influences future choices of image selection, mark making and display.



My research will interrogate the interwoven digital and analogue processes involved in contemporary print portraiture, analysing the relationship between the drawn and printed portrait in the 21st century, the techniques and materials used in their production and the cultural and scientific factors brought to bear on the printmaker. I will review existing examples of the use of photography and technology to capture images for use by artists. I will build on this knowledge by investigating new applications of digital photography and smart phone technologies to generate fine art drawings and prints. Technical, ethical, cutural and artistic considerations will be examined.   The resulting insights will add to the body of existing knowledge and practice in this arena, whilst contributing new knowledge of the interplay between digital and analogue processes of creativity in making changes in meaning in poraiture, for others to challenge and add to the understanding of contemporary print portraiture.

Historical context

I will review research carried out by artists and commentators into the creation of drawn and printed portraits since the 1500. I will take as a starting point the the Hockney Falco thesis as advanced by artist David Hockney and Physicist Charles M Falco that claimed advances in realism and accuracy in the history of Western art since the Renaissance were primarily the result of optical instruments rather than solely due to the development of artistic technique and skill. In his book Secret Knowledge, David Hockney tracks old masters use of mirrors and lens to assist in portraiture including Velázquez, Van Eyck, Holbein, and Ingres Rembrandt – the master of Self portraits, chiaroscuro and etching. Further research will include Van Dyck’s etching portraits; Francis Bacon: “Photographs are not only points of reference, they’re often triggers of ideas”. Dryden Godwin – photography, drawing and printmaking; Maggie Hambling’s paintings of death including those of her father Harry and lover Henrietta Moraes. Drawings and prints by Jenny Saville. Tjalf Sparnaay’s use of photographic images to create a mature painted image. Lucien Freud’s etchings where he draws from observation on propped up copper plates on his easel. Chuck close – prints, process and collaborations: print challenges, portrait challenges.

Comparative analysis of photographic portraiture including the ‘documentary portrait photographs of the Work Progress Administration in 1930’s US Depression by Walker Evans, Dorthea Lange and the portraits of blind people including ‘Blind’ by Paul Strand and Eudora Welty. Photographs by Diane Arbus; Weegee’s US Crime photography; the dramatic “in their face’ street portraiture of Magnum photographer Bruce Gilden and more consensual, yet idiosyncratic portrait photography of Martin Parr.

In addition research the modus operandi and rationale of Hidden Portrait Photography by artists including: Thomas Struth (Museum Pictures) , Beat Streuli (New Street), Luke Delahaye – (portraits) ; Walker Evans – (subway passenger portraits). Historical and contextual work by Walter Benjamin: A Short History of Photography, Comparison of the introduction of print and photography and On Photography by Susan Sontag* will be referred to.

Locally I will research historical print portraiture in the Birmingham Museum and school of Art Collections. Including Andrew Freeth, Robert Ball, Gilbert Mason, Achison & Gaskin and the Pre Raphaelites search for realism. In this context the Painting with Light*, exhibition at the TATE presents the use Dante Gabrielle Rossetti made of commissioned portraits of Jane Morris by the early studio photographer Robert Parsons.


Dr Catherine Baker is my lead supervisor and  offers direction and pointers to additional research and study. Dr Lawrence Green is my co supervisor.

Early 21st Century techniques and tools that can add to new forms of portraiture?

I propose to review the following tools and mark making techniques through the practice based element of the research with supervision and support .

Digital capture : slr, smart phone, photocopier, ipad, stylus, software, digital printers. What software can/has been used Paper 53, brushes, pen and ink, adobe ideas, sketch, bamboo, Procreate

Analogue interpretation : pencil, graphite, litho sticks, scratches, chalk, touche, mark resist, toothed plastic film sheets, true grain film, projections, camera lucida, camera obscura.

Print techniques –inks, squeegee pressures, sizes, exposures, paper choices, traditional techniques inc etching, mezzotint, photo polymer, contemporary high quality digital printer outputs onto traditional printmaking quality papers.


Facilities – the Print room at School of Art offers a wide range of print facilities from large scale silk screen to quality intaglio presses and the skills and knowledge of a Master printmaker. The School also has expert Digital demonstrators with a range of high quality digital printers with capacity to print on high quality papers. These facilities will enable comparisons of digital and analogue production and output which will contribute to the practical illustration and application of my research programme. The Library will support my historical research into the drawn and printed portraiture.


° The Economist Feb 28th 2015- Planet of the phones

* On Photography, Susan Sontag 1977.

* Deborah Wye: Changing Expressions: Printmaking Chuck Close MOMA


* NEWMAN, A. & DE ZEGHER, C. 2003, Conversation. In DE ZEGHER, C. ed. The Stage of Drawing: Gesture and Act, Selected from the Tate Collection. London. New York: Tate Publishing & The Drawing Center

* Deborah Harty, Drawing is phenomenology, Tracey Journal, Univerity of Loughborough.

° /Drawing: Research, Theory, Practice drawing research with a focus on contemporary practice and its theoretical context.

* Models of Overt Attention Wilson S. Geisler and Lawrence Cormack University of Texas at Austin

* Alan Baddeley REHEARSAL IN THE VISUAL-SPATIAL SKETCHPAD, G Cognitive University of Idaho.

* Sontag argues that the proliferation of photographic images had begun to establish within people a “chronic voyeuristic relation” to the world around them. Among the consequences of photography is that the meaning of all events is leveled and made equal.

* TATE exhibition: Explore the painters that inspired early photographers and the photographs that changed painting. Curated by Carol Jacobi and Hope Kingsley of the Wilson Centre for Photography


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