Category Archives: Notes

General rough notes.

Part 4 reflection

My doubts about my abilities are kind of heading in 2 direction at the end of this part of the course. I believe my ability to render a recognisable image is getting stronger and it is becoming quicker to see an image form.

My work benefits from the background sketches that make the final image, I can make surer marks. I can inform a piece of work from more angles.

Am I taking on board the techniques of other artists? my fountain pen sketches are slowed down more complete sections that interest me, which implies Andrew Wyeth has had an effect, the colour I have played with (and it comes across as play I hope) have been complementary reactions to the exercises.

I am steering away from painting as that is going to be dealt with in the next course so I’d rather get bored of drawing now and be completely fresh for what comes up in a couple of months time.

The content in the exercises has at times seemed to be a bind pushing me forward away from achieving any kind of link between pieces which is annoying. The fact that I’ve bounced around this part because the opportunities to do life studies are not being achievable linea to the course hasn’t exactly helped.

Life sort of came at me and pushed the content of the work, which odd as it is has helped me understand how future projects are potentially going to unfold for me.

I have only attended local exhibitions in the last couple of months. I have reviewed the work of a fair number of artists online and these elements are going into a book I am adding to that I’ll send in at the end of assignment 5 for my tutor to see.

On top of Andrew Wyeth, I have finished reading The Shock of the New by Robert Hughes (Thames & Hudson 1991) which ended quite handily around Lucien Freud et al and modern figurative paintings. Unfortunately I can’t help bringing some of that content back to the John Berger book about why they were painted nude to start with…

So the 2 concerns on my ability?

Can I integrate other styles into my own? I’m 41, I like to think I am reasonably open minded, I’ve started a course of education at this point which in itself shows I think I should be able to.

Can I write about art in depth enough to pass muster for higher education? The more I read, the more I think I can do it. I can string a coherent sentence together about cubism, how it works, why it was done (what it was produced on the back of, what was produced after the movement had finished)  what I get out of it. Am I far enough away from the ‘I know what I like’ mentality? I hope so. I still don’t know all the terms to describe how something I have drawn works, I’m hoping I won’t have to wade through 5 years of courses and books to reach that point, I’m also hoping I can sustain my impatience to learn for the duration of my time with OCA, because that is what is pushing me on.



Research point Self portraits

The problem with doing a self portrait is that you really know your own flaws and as the face in the mirror is the one you tend to see every day of your life, you can really see when you have got it right, or when you’ve perhaps been kinder than real life. Also, the nature of concentration required while in the zone, means that you tend to be giving an almost unemotional frown.

However, we are our most constantly available models and self portraits are good ways to practise poses and techniques.

Rossetti’s (1828-1882) self portrait at the national portrait gallery is a good example, you can’t get away from the eyes looking straight at you, his use of pencil and chalk to describe line and tone, his description of his hair uses the mid-tone in the paper to ease the inclusion of yet more detail.

Courbet‘s (1819-1877)entitled ‘The Desperate Man’ shows a fresh loose quick technique that matches the subject pose and the emotion therein, harsh lighting from above adds to the melodrama and is a world away from the softness of Rembrandt‘s (1606-1669)(although this etching has a cross hatching technique I can use with pen, oils as yet are uncharted territory)

I particularly like the page on Self Portraits at the Tate  ‘A self-portrait does not necessarily have to be representational – an abstract or symbolic depiction by an artist of themselves can also be classed as a self-portrait. A self-portrait can also be in any medium.’ The page has some photos as well, but also has a curators view on Turners only known self portrait, which sounds like it was painted under duress because it was expected of him and by all the accounts of the day gave him an appearance of an upwardly mobile gent of clean habits that may not have been the norm.

Lucien Freuds (1922-2011)is an honest depiction of the man he slept with the most, offering harsh lighting and I think mostly the concentrated look he had as he worked. his shadows age him. This one is harsh, which is in keeping with his overall style,

Maggie Hambling (1945-)(apologees, my only reference to this picture is small and halfway down the page) has a use of line through which her pictures appear as if by magic, the repetitious overlaps creating the shadows and creases of her face.

Has the pose changed over the years? Courbets would be much less surprising today, we can take photos and reproduce instances that are much more likely to have the energy of the moment, painting off a photo is certainly not unusual, look up self portrait on art finder, a reasonable chunk of the pictures are achieved in a pose you couldn’t paint from.

For the rest, we are more likely to be unflattering towards ourselves, a self portrait in days gone past could just have easily been a business card hanging on the wall, and styles have changed. Overall though, the person looking in the mirror is probably looking at the same head and shoulder shot rembrandt had, just with a better mirror.

This is my response to the exercise  on self portraits, after looking at the work of Maggie Hambling. my love of the line, or edge is making this more rigid than I think it needs to be, I like the quality of the marks in the shading and I like the effect of 5 shades of grey and one black (highlights in the eyes where done with white acrylic I had to hand) Having just watched Making their Mark with Maggie Hambling on the BBC Iplayer, I’m going to go and try this again in graphite stick. If I can find them.



In the style of Andrew Wyeth.

I can see me getting bogged down in this if I’m not careful. My tutor recommended I look at the work of Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009) as he dealt in both landscape (Part 3) and figurative portrait (part 4).

I have acquired books on his sketching, paintings and those of his, his father (an acclaimed illustrator in his own time) and his son (also an artist) in the same book. I also got a biography about him. This may seem a bit extreme, but I’ve reached a point where I feel I should be able to come up with the story behind a piece, I should be able to fuse different things together to create this story. Andrew Wyeth drew and subsequently painted simple acts of life, but his reasoning behind the pieces where quite convoluted links to other things, random memories brought to the fore because of the placement. His sketch of his boots ended up as a tempera painting with the boots crushing a weed, referencing the point in his life he was at, recovering from necessary life-saving surgery.

Andrew Wyeth was accomplished as a draftsman, his sketching full of minute detail denoting texture and light, he didn’t fiddle about with the whole picture though, just the elements that interested him. The result is sketches that peter off in detail around the edges giving the images an eery feel of their own.

As I am now in part 4, I have chosen to adapt his study sketch for downtrodden weeds, my limitations are that the background story for the boots is lacking and they are smooth leather, the grain in the paper more than covers the texture. I also wouldn’t want to paint them in the same situation as Andrew, I’m much more inclined to produce a winding path, over grown, uneven, in the hopes that it shows my own uncertainty in where the image is going.

Andrews success as an artist is I think in producing paintings with such depth and detail that you are drawn into them as a viewer, they are darker and intense, his perspective in his wide open native American views are a steep contrast to me living in the city surrounded by a succession of hills as I am. I look at his landscapes and see a loneliness and in his portraits an HD quality searing account of someones soul.

His watercolours are a mix of dry brush and wet work but are loose and not overworked, the tempera? I think its a medium I’m going to have to save up for.

A3 graphite, I went with a 3B for the depth, the boots are black, I have a mirror set up in our north facing lounge in an English winter, I needed to be quite dark. the coat I managed with a 6B aquarelle. It seemed dark enough to me not to have to go conte or pencil crayon. Unlike Andrews sketch, I added a slight shadow to the floor behind the boots to ground everything or the boots are floating in space. I used a pencil rubber to adjust the placement of the centre seam in the right boot, that is the only eraser mark I made.


Research point Cityscape

We are asked to look at the work of John virtue (1947-)in more detail. Or source other contemporary artists who deal in depicting the city.

Johns association with the National Gallery produced some immense works that are awesome in their emotional content, brought more to the fore because of his self imposed limited palette. The interesting point is the history of the final works, going back through charcoal sketches to the initial line drawings that are minimalist in comparison to the paintings, but hold much more content and unemotional detail about the view than the raw energy I feel he works into the canvases.

To an extent , I can see this is were my work is separating. my sketchbook work isn’t as unemotional or as accurate, I can see the pages filling with final images instead of stuff I want to work on further. I’m enjoying working fairly fast in brush pen which gives my images more fluidity.

I’ve worked off the ‘in the style of’ charcoals I did for the earlier research piece, coming up with views around the Poultry cross which I feel give it much more of the energy I feel about my city


Research point: Compare contemporary artists approach to landscape, to that of earlier artists.

We are asked to compare the work of contemporary artists with that of earlier artists. with a potential example of Tacita Dean with her chalk on blackboard images and George Seurat’s Landscape with houses.

The first thing to note between the images is scale, Seurats less than 10″X less than 13″ charcoal on white doesn’t really compare for impact with Tacita’s 3 metre long blackboard work. They both display a subtlety with their chosen mediums which to me gives either a respect for the area they are portraying, or a like of it in some form, but they approach their subject from opposite ends of light. There does not appear to be a specific method to the inclusion of the elements of the drawings, and as much as they have both done a landscape, Tacitas does not have the link to people that the houses in Seurats can offer. Seurats picture of houses could have been created at any point in history.

I’ve also been looking at the landscapes of Turner and John Singer Sargent. I was lucky enough to fit in a brief visit to the National Gallery on my way back to Waterloo station and was taken with the smallest of the Turners they have there, a seascape which is simple and from a step removed, almost photograghic in quality. I was struck when I visited the Ashmolean earlier this year, by another small painting this time by John Singer Sargent, of a stone flight of stairs, to be specific, the bannister.

Like the work we are advised to research, these could be about anytime, they are ageless. Maybe thats what draws me to them, that and their use of light. They are warm pieces, if the artist started out the initial idea for them in anger (and I don’t think they did), they calmed down to create things I think they became absorbed by. Art should do that to an artist.

The art of Benjamin Hope has this quality for me in a wholly modern setting. The cars and people give the era away, but the warmth of the light is there. the scene can be not grand at all, but you are drawn into a potential story that isn’t ruled by a golden mean but is honest. However, its more urbane than natural.

Rex Preston‘s landscapes (and that of his son Mark) speak to me as large places rendered small but still with impact. They use colour and light in an imperfect way to capture the elements of the landscape,  and use the white in a significantly less fluffy way than Constable. Their framing of scenes does not appear to conform to the old rules, instead the foregrounds are either sitting directly on top of the background stretching away, or they blend down in one seamless sweep to the back of the picture.

Research point. Review artists who create landscape pictures in series.

I am struck by the contemporary works of both John Virtue and Nicholas Herbert. Both create what seem to be incomplete views of a scene that in themselves explain so much more about the place where they are set and perhaps the weather of the day or the overiding mood of the artist. These are fantastic! I am now itching to go and draw my city from a different perspective however I think I have to wait for harry potter to finish downstairs as I don’t think I’ll be able to drag the kids out as quick as I’d like.

John Virtues charcoal sketches taking up A1 sheets or pencil preparitories with so much more detail that I think he covers over when he gets to the canvas and paint, are archetectural views with firm arcs and a strength of line which shows Johns confidence in his use of the medium.

Where-as Nicholas has such a subtle palette that moves about the paper, I can almost feel the wind and see the clouds moving across his skies.

In the course material (cunningly pee’d on by the cat this morning in protest about the state of the litter tray. No-one tells you how cranky your cat is going to become in old age) There is a picture by Ray Pettibon and I like his near pop art use of line and colour, however I am having difficulty accepting that art need to be about such open social commentary. If we are creating pictures for people to put on walls, as owners of homes, are we going to put up antaganistic images in our own living spaces that constantly make us think, above accepting that the space is about being a safe haven where we can achieve downtime?

I understand that maybe its the kind of thought provoking piece that would work in a social space where you want to engender thought from the viewer, maybe I still haven’t found my message.

IMG_7733 IMG_7735

These are part of my series on the poultry cross in the style of John Virtue, I am closer into the scene than his landscapes and they are not as dark, I’ve never had that feeling about my home city.

Research point; Landskips

I’ve finished reading a book called Landscape into art by Kenneth Clark. This is a 1986 reprint by Butler & Tanner from the original 1949 version. Its a series of Kenneths lectures written down and simplifies content and purpose of landscapes from Pompei through to the 1940’s. It was an easy read and fascinating for the mathematical structure that went into a painting within an era as well as the difficulties of viewing a picture of an area that the artist had embellished to be better than it was, I like the Ruskin quotes where he obviously takes issue with Turner (whom he admired greatly) painting a view that Ruskin then visits and barely recognises. You can almost hear ‘does not compute’ before he manages to justify it to himself because essentially Turner is a genius. this is a simplification due to not being able to find the page and quote it fully (I generally mark bits I particularly like, this one slipped through the net).

My current reading matter is Landscape and Western Art, by Malcolm Andrews, from Oxford University Press, 1999. The subject is the same, but the viewpoint is totally different.

I’ve already been propositioned with the idea that we like landscapes because it harks back to our fight or flight instinct and we are searching for safe places to hide in the picture. I kid you not, there is more than one person that thinks this, its not isolated!

I particularly like the thought that we have become hooked on the capability Brown era of land design, to the point that it is having an adverse effect on our relationship with our land now, our ability to restructure it for our age ie motorways, building etc. I’d have to agree with that along with the fact that I too am hooked on the sweeping hillsides with groups of majestic trees leading down to a body of water. I love the land I live in, possibley to both its and my detriment. This could be an interesting angle to pursue artistically, the juxtapostion of old and new buildings can be seen in my city, Salisbury is historicly significant, unlike Southampton, it didn’t have the shit blown out of it during WWII, it has retained quaint streets, wooden beamed listed and listing buildings and a cathedral with a tall spire. This alone has impacted the building development so nothing is built above a certain height (the same as Paris has so the Eiffel tower isn’t obstructed)

I’ve put off getting stuck into this next batch of exercises until I’ve finished these two books and this research point. The reason we paint landscapes has changed over the centuries, the religious connotations that were a major requirement are no longer there, a picture can be recognised as a great picture without a further human element as its story, so who the picture is for has also changed. I think my major delay is working out how I wish to depict this land. Do I add the energy of its inhabitants, do I avoid putting them in? I’m going to be stumped as we move into winter with time and light, so I’ve been gathering ingrediants to complete pictures themed at the end of the day. Who am I painting for? Me? or a mythical spectator and what am I trying to help them feel?

I’ve still got half a book to go…

Book complete. A fascinating look at landscape pictures, their energy, motivation and responses too them. including installations. Highly recommend both books…