The Rings of Saturn – WG Seabald

Bryson, B., 1996. Notes From a Small Island. 2nd ed. London, Great Britain: Black Swan.

Seabald, W., 2002. The Rings of Saturn. 20th ed. London, Great Britain: Random House.
  1. Seems to be a slow travel through disjointed thoughts. more of a meanderance. Browne seeing the quincunx everywhere. the pattern of dice on the five side, something in each corner and another in the middle. The study of burial, or cremation as the for-runner of burial, the addition of grave goods to ease the dead into the afterlife, Seabald is either naturally morbid or while in his hospital bed, thinks he will die?

2. Starts with a train journey with no-one interacting, then gets dropped off at a station that now is of no consequence, where once surrounded by windmills, it meant the arrival of everything to the area.

Talks of Somerleyton with a grand history then drops in the emptiness and disasters that befell it from this great point in its history. He is bouncing through time with ease.

3. Leaves Lowestoft talks of the self induced loneliness of the solitary fishermen on the seashore as he walks on, discusses the herring fishing history and its ebb and flow There is still an all prevailing sense of decay about this work, whether this is mirroring his imminent physical condition isn’t clear yet, brings to mind a Bill Bryson book I read a long time ago, Notes From a Small Island, where while describing Aberdeen and its rich history, he notes “It is, I’ve no doubt, a nice place to live. It’s just that it was so much like everywhere else.” This book has this similar all pervading tiredness of seeing the decay and knowing what a history it stands on seeping out of the pages.

4. Starts in Southwold looking out to sea and imagining an unimaginable battle no-one ever painted from life. Goes to the Sailors reading room and looks up a photo of Ferdinands blood stained coat and starts to remember a trip to Amsterdam the year earlier. Returns to the history in the reading room to discuss the atrocious deaths in WWII Croatia.

5. I’ll give this to him, Seabald defines the losing side of a war in a way most winning parties don’t. Roger Casemont captures his imagination as a program he falls asleep to and then finds out more, he is lyrical in his presentation of the past, and as I wrote depicts the underdogs side well for someone on the winning/white patriarchal side.

6. Striking chapter about a bridge he walks over, built for a small gauge train, which was purchased from Chinese dynasty. He doesn’t know exactly who from, but supposes a specific person and recites their history and demise. A rich modern (in comparison) history filled with excess.

7. Brief interlude visiting a friend on route.

8. Falls into conversation with De Jong finds out about the Tate’s financial origins (Tate and Lyle?) History of Fitzgerald’s and primarily Edward who had the gilded life of someone born into money, coursed because his upbringing was so controlled it fixed his solitary path through the rest of his life. Eccentric in the way only those with money can be. Also a walk around an ex military research facility on the east coast, now empty and barren.

9. A reminiscence of a family he stayed with in Ireland. The great house once a thing of proud beauty decaying due to the troubles making it an un-sellable millstone for the owners. A family who inherited it with no way to make a profit enough to deal with the upkeep and have an almost ethereal quality about their link to the house.

This chapter finishes with the final destruction of the wind in 1987, which I remember well. This ends the walk.

10. is about  the silk industry, its move from China through Greece, on to the main land up through western Europe into England, explains why it failed but produced skilled workmen who proffered first.

Ends with the death of Clara’s father as the great loss of the book? It is difficult to tell if this is the man that walked the east coast or its the author. The sense of loss is right through the book, its decay upon greatness followed by decay, it appears to be charting the demise of someone held in high esteem at the very least and is an indirect obituary of this greatness brought down.

Also I’m having difficulty working out the view of decay in terms described from Aesthetics (Tailaiferro) If romantic is a state of letting it fall into disrepair, this book allows for that, however, in classical terms it shows the route of the decline every step, however it feels so poetic it’s difficult to take the view away from the sense of lost love and romance.

However, I’m not sure how much of any of it is true? is the book a fiction?

I will read more of Seabald’s work though, it is mesmerising.


Ways of seeing – John Berger

Berger, J(1972)Ways of seeing, Penguin Books LTD, London

This book is about how biased art is, how elitist and how based on its own history and value over original meaning in context to original purpose.

1. Essay on value based on originality (Benjemin) over copy, on who values it, museums value within a specific criteria that ascertain originality and financial worth, whereas only a small percentage of the population ever walk into a gallery to see them, this all presupposes that we are viewing them in context, not on the telly, but within the surroundings they were painted for in whatever political/religious/class situation it was meant for.

2. Photo essay about use of female anatomy in modern adverts being the same as classical painting (presumably when they were selling the artist or themselves)

3.How women and men see themselves in the context of how others look at them, in the female case, as the self fulfilling profecy, the role of women in art as being observed.

4. Photo essay covering the previous chapter and the many roles of women, daughter, wife, mother, crone.

5. the value of the oil painting as as showing the ownership of the contents over good art transcending this to just show the human condition.

6. Photo essay of former chapter, metaphor, the happy pauper, the real emotion of the sitter etc.

7. The link between classical art imagery and modern advertising, which are promising love by showing a positive future over art showing what happened the day it was created  and as a show of this going forward.

The use of gender stereotypes throughout history and continuing on in this modern imagery, which is using art as a status symbol that shows wealth and a level of knowledge.

I’ve read this book 3 times now over the last 4 years, and it is as depressingly tough to take in as the first time.

I have to be making art for individuals, however it will only ever be an individual who frequents places of art, this limits my audience without  accounting social media.

Any portrayal of a human has connotations of the previous use of humans in many situations throughout history, I have to choose which of these histories to tap into and western traditional isn’t looking good.

I’m sure I’ll have a reread before my education is over.



UPM Assignment 4

Make a circular or oval painting of an area in your house, either from life or from a photograph. Refer to the work you produced in the exercises to choose a subject and composition that works well. Use heavyweight paper, card or board as a surface to paint onto.

I confess, I haven’t painted anything oval for this part of the course (the math involved in making an oval seemed to much like work work) , I also haven’t painted on a paper plate (did that in part 1)

I was thinking about painting thin to create something similar to 4.3, and I was drawn to objects on the mantlepiece in the lounge

However I looked around at the window ledge in the lounge and then the one in the hall

In terms of The poetics of space and Gaston Bachelard’s sense of objects, 2 of the photos have containers in them and the 3rd is looking up, so a sense of power in the items.

The containers placed in art ask the question about the contents, is the viewer looking forward to recieving that contents? or is there trepidation at the unknown? One of the containers -the milk bottle- is clear, the contents is visible and it is empty, so does that mean all the power of this as a container is gone? this intrigued me as an idea, so the geranium plant became the focus of my thoughts.


Then I realised it wasn’t the geranium per se

So worked up some oil sketches to explore the shape of the bottle.

The colours on the shelf were intriguing though and I was reminded of Helen Frankenthaler’s use of colour and the random element to express herself. So I played with the colours of the plant


Idea finalised, I worked up 3 a1 sheets with wet on wet acylic ink, chose the central point for my circle and in as few lines as I could, sketched up my idea in oil paint.


I used this one for the first sketch because I had chosen a too red red to express the flowers so it seemed a good place to start. However, I felt there was perhaps still too much information. I was toying with the idea of just putting a black disc on the painted surface  to express an unknown ‘in’ but felt this wouldn’t tell anything about the empty see-through milk bottle.

More confidently I moved on to no.2


This had a really pleasing simplicity, the shapes worked and there is a sense of on and the container that may not even be there.

I wanted to play with the highlights so moved on to no.3


This again announced the bottle, perhaps more clearly than before so my choice was between 2 paintings.

I picked no.2 because I felt it explained itself as much as it needed to without telling the entire story.

I presented it on black card and have added the round others to help positioning rather than add the geranium plant to explain too much. It is on my plan chest in the shed, this point is central to your view as you enter the space and I have always had it in mind to use it to display the latest work.


I am realy satisfied with how this piece works. it mirrors the non offensive palette of Frankenthaler  and stays light, much like the window ledge on a sunny evening.

I am surprised to be able to step away from something with so little information in it. Steps moving forward. This part of the course has made me more aware of time and not getting bogged down in a picture, I will continue to do thin portraits, the practise is good for my arm which has an uncomfortable ache if I raise it above elbow height, this is not mirrored in the right arm so I’m putting this down to painting from the shoulder. Think of it as the pain is making sure I don’t paint too long…

I need to write up the American modern artists exhibition I went to at the Ashmolean and finish off 2 episodes of Civilisations to complete the notes. We have a good rolling programme of exhibitions at the Young Gallery which I will get to next week.


UPM Pt 4 Review

Following on from my review at the end of the last part, my tutor suggested I paint from the shoulder, so as an aside to the exercises I have completed a series of portraits standing at the easel. They use one colour painted in varying degrees of thin  and have varying degrees of success in their completion. They represent some revisited photos from last summer and some new ones as the person intrigues me or are of the moment. The best portrait was one of the first and is the most simply unfinished (right in the middle, it has my overly confident teenager with a vulnerability she doesn’t let on to often), and at the end of the course I will frame it and put it on the wall. I asked my daughter to sit for 30 minutes on the basis that I’d try a couple of attempts in the time.


They have accumulated on the wall, none of them taking as long as portraits have previously.

I will bind them into a book to accompany my coursework, they represent my continued growth in visual awareness.

The sketchbook work for this part has been much more playful, looking at the work of Helen Frankenthal led to an attempt to leave questions on the paper and unfinished solutions in a way I haven’t tried before, the work at the end of the exercises is completely different from the start and the research pages looking at Mark Fairnington which is much more closed in and tight as a method of working.

This lead from the sketchbook to the finished exercises and in the case of 4.3 back to the sketchbook is a clear path I hope is easy to follow.

I really enjoyed exercise 4.3, I realise it isn’t a view of my home, it started out as that but developed into the interest in the item (the lucky cat) having read Bachelard’s Poetics of space and looking at the miniature in a position of height, or the opposite and enlarging from a position below.

The fun of creating for exercise 4.1 producing pictures in 4.4 that changed meaning on looking at them has been an interesting experience, I think the feel of a highly textured painting is an experience that shouldn’t be passed up, however, it wouldn’t mix with the varnish exercise for me as the shine of a smooth flat plain is a satisfying thing with a feeling of luxury to it that the rough painting can’t get near.

Working thin appeals much more than it used to as well, spending my spare time creating thin portraits has given me a confidence in oil paint I never used to have and my ability to produce a painting I am content with in a much shorter time is as a result of this practised confidence in my painted line.

Looking at the poetics of space made me question my content and the angle I look at it and Helen’s pictures, my use of paint and colour. Mark Fairnington’s eyes had an effect I didn’t even realise till I reflected at the end of 4.3. and aesthetics by Tailiaferro makes me think about the validity in my work, who makes it valid? If it works, why does it work?

However, my restrictions on drying space mean for the assignment I will be working in acrylics, partially because I may finish with lacquer in which case this will also affect the surface I choose, smooth over rough etc. The final piece will be created in the studio after initial sketches and photos from in the house, this is because I’ve already replaced the lounge rug with one not sullied by pigment or painting mediums and I have no intention of doing that again for a couple of years.

It does feel like this is a part apart from my technique, if it helps me to accept a more abstract less detailed piece of my work then it has had an effect, it should make future sketchbook work more fluid and experimental.

UPM PT4 Ex. 4.4

Using the paintings you made in Exercise 4.1, look at the scene you painted and add thicker paint to these thinly painted works. Leave areas of the thinly painted work visible. What effects have you created by applying areas of thicker paint?

I’ve tried thickening paint with mediums, I have some Golden light molding paste, and Galeria mineral texture gel, but after experimenting in the sketchbook, I wasn’t happy with the effect.


The texture was too rough and seemed more suited to working under the paint to prepare the surface. even after colouring the molding paste before applying it, all I ended up with was an unmanageable too stiff butter icing consistency.

My solution has been to work with Liquitex heavy bodied acrylics, the brush strokes remain in the paint and show direction.


The next problem is the nature of the paintings I created in 4.1, they are abstract notions of inside so adding in the detail of the items/places takes away from the items.

This is certainly true of the above piece, adding the thick paint hasn’t helped in any way, not even by putting the paint on in as experimental way as possible, using fingers and stippled brush and playing with the paint that way.

This has lost the mystery, the added lines pin in the opening drawer but putting black over it would be covering up the strength in the crack.

This is the smaller version of the previous and I feel it works better, however, you can’t see the thicker paint on the photo. I only added it to the crackas a physyical thing which I think adds to it as a question and I didn’t think covering up the ochre would help.

In the same vein as the drawer, the 2 versions are either or. The smaller version I painted the box thickly, this makes the image less ambiguous but brings the box forward in a three dimensional way that works for me, it means there is more of an inside to think about whereas the larger with the inside and shadow emphasised works in a more menacing way, whats in the box?

The painted thin oil painting with more detail benefits from the more complete addition of colour, it makes the piece more impressionist and raw with the form showing through from the earlier exercise.


UPM Pt4 Ex. 4.3

Exercise 4.3 Make a very fluid painting of any subject on the list. Once this has dried, paint or spray with gloss varnish or nail varnish. Use any size, any surface, any media. What effects can you create by applying varnish? Make some notes in your learning log.

This exercise continued on from the last in my sketchbook with pencil crayon sketches of orchids and their oriental simplicity and the use of a bookcase, with a different bookshelf drawn from below, this is a bookcase in the lounge, next to a standard lamp. The shelf (one of 8) has a Chinese lucky cat, the motor is broken so the arm doesn’t swing any more, however I like it’s sparkly kitch-ness IMG_3051

So that became the focus of this exercise. What if it was only a small aspect on the paper? lets stick it in the dark, lets stick it in a dimly lit corner and make it less than.

What if the paper was really big? I haven’t painted in the books from the shelf, mostly because they would shrink the cat again, deminish its luck back to 6″ whereas, on a 1m wide disc, its potentially 6′ tall and we are peering into just its eye (Farnington mis-appropriated?)

Getting a shine on watercolour paper was always going to be a challenge, working in oils and then oiling it poses the problem of time, the amount of medium required would never dry in any relevant timescale for this project and varnishing isn’t supposed to happen before 6 months is up anyway. Also, I’d have to use oil paint specific products over oil paint, whereas acrylic is much more forgiving and has more options.

The larger picture is as a result painted in thin acrylic ink, although as the request is thin, I wonder at my decision to thin it further it leads to a diluted image that is perhaps less there or immediate than stronger colours. I have some Galeria gloss varnish in so I painted 2 coats of that on,


This produced a sheen, without a shine and was unsatisfactory, I tried yachting varnish from the garage, but as it was oak stained, it turned my colours an unpalatable orange and would have obliterated the image. I went to Halfords and bought a can of lacquer which I was expecting to be some shellac derivative but happily is acrylic… The tester in the sketchbook showed one of the problems the yachting varnish had which is down to absorbency of paper, however I figured the already applied Galeria would act as an isolating coat.

2 coats later and the cat has a good shine, visible over the not paper’s texture. The only way to improve on this would be to go with a full resin coating, which would work well for the oriental theme of the contents, but brings us back to the content.

I appreciate the values of scale, a large picture has more of an effect on a space, my decision not to suggest a size by including anything other than the cat, I don’t feel is limiting, however I think steps moving forward for this exercise would be to create a series and play with colours and patterns, to this effect I mocked up some photocopies in the book.

The red and green stuck to each other while drying thus the lightly foxed look, The 3 colured images where varnished and now have a not unpleaselnt thin-ness to them, the last is a collage  with paperchase wrapping paper, as the pattern is in keeping with the cat I don’t think it takes away from the imagery and could be explored further.

I think it could be very interesting to create a whole series based on different views of this ornament, different sizes down to actual size up to the metre, maybe an exploration into how lucky the cat can be?


UPM Pt 4 Exercise 4.1 & 4.2

Make a circular viewfinder. You can either:

• Take a photograph of something inside your house and place the viewfinder on top of the image. OR

• Make a card viewfinder that you can hold up to an area you want to paint in your house and work from this. Make a series of five circular paintings using thinned-down paint. You could use watercolour, gouache, acrylic or turps-diluted oil paint for this. 


Now take photographs of your paintings and leave them to dry for Exercise 4.4.

My inspiration has been the unknown ‘in’ of the house. This has been heavily influenced by both Helen Frankenthaler use of paint and Gaston Bachelard’s chapter in The Poetics of Space. Sketchbook work formalised the lines and explored the spaces, with the colours experimented and copied outside the book onto the round papers to finish the exercise.

The thin quality I was looking for in these needed to show the unpredictability of paint to help replicate Frankenthaler’s technic which allows for error in its abstraction, so watercolour was my preferred paint.

this wasn’t possible for all the pictures as I chose to paint on large pizza bases from Sainsbury’s which have a sheen the watercolour paint couldn’t tack onto, for this picture I used acrylic ink, which wet on wet DSC07297DSC07287can have the same qualities, all be it with more permanence. I did complete a thin oil sketch, mostly because there is going to be a second part to this process, so seeing what happens after that may make the picture more satisfactory as its certainly not finished as it is.


It is however more reminiscent of the image of the crocodile at Mottisfont.

Make a series of three circular pencil drawings, using coloured pencils, of a scene in your house. Choose from the list above, or something different. Any size, any surface.

Pencil crayon is a medium I know I can achieve a photo realistic finish with, however, the last review with my tutor led to a request to observe my pictures in process and do less, I can understand this, as a result trying to stop and not overwork has been my watchword for this part of the course.


These 4 tondos represent 2 different pencil crayons with different qualities, Derwent Inktense and Faber Castell Polychromos, the Derwents are an aquerelle that become bolder upon wetting and the Polychromos as a waxy crayon you can blend with spirits need to be pressed hard into the paper to get a strong effect.

I can’t say I’ve gotten on with the Inktense before this exercise, but actually, for the less complete finish I’ve achieved, the bolder colours work better. I’m just not sure I see pencil crayons as my final piece option, especially not in a painting course…