Category Archives: ASSIGNMENTS

Assignment 5 preparation


My theme

Looking back over my painting course, remembering what I enjoyed and thought at the time I’d like to develop further, re-reading my tutors feedback and realising I’ve had a range of successes, makes the choice of a theme for assignment 5 more difficult in a way, because there are so many subjects which appeal to me.   I’ve always thought, though, that what means the most to me is depicting people, and in particular I knew I’d like to depict the people I live amongst and to whom I feel a strong emotional attachment.


I’m an outsider, accepted and welcomed into the community.  Conversely I see my neighbours lives as somewhat magical; a web of strong threads connecting each person to their family, relatives and neighbours, all interdependant; they could not operate without each other or on their own.


So I’ve taken two families and a group of friends and neighbours, and thought to depict the close knit ties of these individuals in a series of group portraits.  In the paintings I want to express how close, how familiar, the individuals are to their other group members; their gestures and facial expressions should capture in some way how they relate to each other.  The individuals may be posed and self aware or they may be depicted in natural, unselfconscious gestural poses.


I’m drawn towards using a frieze format for the paintings, with several figures ranged horizontally, their poses and gestures describing their interaction and bringing dynamism to the whole.  Many influences gleaned during my painting course  have contributed to this idea, from Bridget Riley’s Red With Red and the Mantegna frieze which inspired it, The Introduction of the Cult of Cybele at Rome; to the long landscapes of Ivon Hitchens, which show how a composition can be read from left to right, introducing a time dimension; to my seven dancers abstract inspired by Pollock’s Summertime and the Manaeds dance.


I already have a trove of photographs of the individuals I’m most interested in, and together with sketches and studies these will provide the elements of my compositions.  One challenge will be to create coherent scenes, drawing  individuals in believable proportions and perspective in relation to each other and their surroundings. Another will be to avoid illustrating my ideas, rather to feel them through the execution.  My aim will be to achieve a convincing mix between:-

•Effective interpretation –  eg through ambiguity, distortion, exaggeration, imaginative colour, simplification.

•Observation – the paintings will be believable because they’ll be based on observation based sketches and studies as well as photos

•Fluid execution – contributing to the feel of the painting and adding to its contenT


Ideas for three paintings


The Ayten family

The two boys are the centre of the family universe, around which the mother and father and granny revolve.  I collected my photos, and made some studies from life (some recent, the last two from Drawing 1).  I concentrated on the children…the proportions of their heads and features are so different from those of adults, and I was keen to gather ‘the knowledge’ through drawing so that I’d  be able to approach the painting with more assurance.

I then created the composition below (pencil, ink,coloured pencil sketch) of the family in their cozy, cluttered  sitting room.  ‘Sitting’ is the word for friendly family and neighbours get-togethers  in each other’s houses to pass time pleasurably, chatting and sipping tea.  The tv might be on on the background as ornament, but is largely ignored in favour of conversation.  The atmosphere is warm, intimate, relaxed and hospitable.


Looking critically at my composition sketch, everyone is crowded up at the front page of the picture plane, giving a bit of a cramped feeling.  Although I was aiming for a frieze, I still wanted depth in the composition .    I decided to address this in the painting itself, by positioning the sofa people further back.


The Bedriye family

The one child living in this family group is a sweet but dominant character, fully in charge of her grandad and other family members, and of her animals from largest cow to smallest chicken.

I made some studies.  The child is holding a young kid in her arms. Her facial expression and child’s head needed to be studied carefully.  Her mother’s pose, reaching down to rummage in the vegetable patch took some adjustments to get the proportions and perspective approaching correct.  Again I gathered information through observational drawings (pastel on Ingres paper so much better than my homemade textured gesso support) and photos.

The composition I created (coloured pencil, below) brings the family members together.  The group are together outdoors, by the cowshed and chicken coop, looking directly at me across a small stream – arrested in a moment of time, their attention momentarily taken away from their chores and each other. This reminds me of Las Meninas – the family group similarly turning to look at the viewer, who is thus included in the scene.




Five neighbours at a wedding

These older women observe the proceedings, fidgeting in their chairs, commenting in lively fashion on everything that comes under their scrutiny, including each other.

I’ve added a fifth person as I felt the composition called for an odd number.  Bringing the five together in a coloured pencil study I explored negative shapes, and tonal contrasts as well as ‘learning’ my subjects’ gestures.



My research

From ancient times, groups of people have been depicted in frieze format, their body language, context, pose, gesture, expressing the group’s story and inter-relationships.  Sogdian frescoes, seen recently in ‘The Heart of the Silk Road’ depict this type of genre exquisitley and so delicately.  I also looked at Leonardo da Vinci who made the most famous frieze in post Renaissance times in ‘The Last Supper’.

I revisited Degas’ pastel ballet dancers, and Sickert’s figures, I talk about these later while doing the paintings.

More contemporarily in Vitamin P2 (p. 194/5), the family portraits of Liu Xiaodong are especially relevant.  He too paints as an observer, and at the same time is enmeshed in “a web of actions and interactions”,  alluding to his own presence through the gazes of his subjects.  He incorporates a lot of precise detail though, and I feel these two paintings are fairly stiff, frozen in time, stilted.

In 500 Portraits (p77), Ross Hall’s Me and my Family is more expressive.  The background to the family is flat and empty, the interest is in their lively expressions and gestures. They strike poses for us, the viewer though, and there’s not much clue about their relationships with each other.

Megan Davies’ Gran Turismo in the same book (p 198) speaks more about the life of the family concerned, but otherwise has less interest for me as it’s  hyper detailed, precise and realistic.  But it does show how relationships can be beautifully expressed through use of context and gesture.

The Glasgow  work of Joan Eardley has more relevance for me, although her slum children now look too picturesque with today’s eyes.  Drawing underpinned her painting, and she used pastels, pen and ink, chalk, brush to produce the drawings.  “She drew as a means of gaining knowledge to enable her to paint directly and with assurance” (  Her paintings such as ‘Back Street Children Playing’, 1960 are a guide for me, with their strong palette, limited depth of field, and series of vertical forms broken by  diagonals,  focussing on an inner drama or story,



Vitamin P2, pub Phaidon, 2013

500 Portraits, pub National Portrait Gallery Publications, 2011 Accessed 9 Jun 2016





Assignment 5, the paintings

 These are the final paintings in my series of three, shown in the order in which I did them


The Ayten Family – pastel on paper, 87×43 cm



Five friends at a wedding – acrylic on canvas, 87×43 cm



The Bedriye Family – acrylic on canvas, 87×43 cm


Work in progress – problems encountered, possibilities for improvement

The Ayten family

This was the first painting I did of the three, and feeling uncertain I decided to first make a full scale (87×44 cm) pastel painting, thinking I could then if I wanted to make an acrylic version.  Before I started I studied Degas’ pastel paintings of ballet dancers, zooming in closely and noting his unblended colours laid down side by side with confident strokes.  I noted how he used light and shade to describe form, using colour tonally.

Not having access to large pastel paper I applied gesso with a foam roller to a piece of smooth, sturdy paper; the roller created a very rough texture. Unfortunately it also needed huge amounts of pastel to cover up the hills and valleys, and despite rubbing the pigment in with rags and fingers I still was left with a lot of mat white showing through, which has affected the look (I knew the next painting in the series would be in acrylic and so wouldn’t have the same problem). 

Here are some work in progress photos.  The figures look fuzzy because of my too-rough textured paper, but thinking about this I could still give them (particularly the boys) more focus by contrasting them more against their immediate background, and by a little judicious outlining.

I’ve addressed the issue in my earlier sketch of lack of depth.  By deliberately placing the figures in three dimensions, the boys are now more forward, the oldest almost walking out of the picture towards us, the viewer.

By now I’d decided to bring this pastel painting to a more developed stage, and to include it in my series of three.  I left it for a few days in a place where I would see it frequently as I worked, and made a start on the next painting.  As an abstract design it seemed unsatisfactory tonally, and my solution after a lot of thought was to darken the sofa quite a lot.  Also, the background behind the boys was darkened and the greater contrast worked to bring them even more into focus (I stil thought the palette in this painting simplistic and lacking subtlety, and I wanted to address this in the following painting – perhaps using a more limited and/or more tonal palette).  I repeated the ‘wait and see’ strategy and eventually noticed some figures’ proportions which were wrong and needed changing.  Here are more work in progress shots

At no stage yet have I used fixative, my rough paper and good Unison pastels seem to take to each other.  Fixative’s great but once you use it you’ve lost the ability to blend a colour with the one under it, so I’m putting it off, although I have started to notice an awful lot of pastel dust around.

When the next two paintings in my series were complete, I went back into this one, as I still wanted to improve it.  I fixed what I’d done so far because I wanted pure, bright colour from now on, and because I needed fresh tooth for more layers of pastel to adhere to. I more or less went over everything, adding contrast and definition, and enriching tone and colour.  The colours in the final version now have more depth and there’s a greater variety of marks and texture.

Five friends at a Wedding

The contrast between the dark background and the figures was what initially attracted me to this scene, and also the body language and interaction between the subjects.  I mapped out the composition on canvas, and then obliterated it with a background.

To create my background I drew from my experiences in the part 5 exercises, pouring, dribbling and splattering paint on to the canvas, using acrylic paint, gel medium and flow improver roughly mixed in shallow containers.  Colours were black, the phthalos, indigo, lemon yellow on top, passages of burnt sienna in the middle and titanium buff and hookers green in the foreground.  I tipped the canvas every way, deployed a hairdryer and sprayed water to encourage the paint to run, form random shapes and marks.  Because I’d only incompletely mixed my media, blobs of pure pigment congealed here and there.  The whole effect was random but not random…directed in a loose sense.  For me, the infinitely variable marks produced in this way felt quite liberating, they enabled my imagination to see forms and possibilities that wouldn’t have risen to the surface if I’d approached the painting in a more controlled way.

When I was satisfied with the background I drew my figures in charcoal and white conte.  The composition of ‘Five Friends’ is satisfying, even though it does have a shallow depth, with all the characters ranged side by side.  The subjects appear to be communing with each other, and although sitting have varied, lively poses.  How they each distribute their weight, is quite varied, you can draw conclusions about their individual personalities from this.

From this point to the end I didn’t change the background at all!  The dribbling etc for the background had worked so well with its mixture of accident and control that, encouraged,  I decided to use similar techniques in the third painting.

There is an influence from Peter Doig’s landscape paintings in the dark background, as I’ve been looking at his work recently in part 4.  I like the way he creates deep, mysterious skies and backgrounds, lit up by random spots of brightness.

Before working on the figures I reviewed earlier research on Walter Sickert, and how he approached the clothed figure.  His figures aren’t detailed and don’t display precision, but are very effectively moulded in tonal contrasts, pure colour used to create light.  With this in mind I carefully, methodically, but avoiding undue detail or precision, carved my figures out of the dark background, using bright colour as light and tonal darks for shadows.  The palette works better, it’s more interesting, subtler and harmonious compared to ‘The Aytens’.

Depicting the drapes , folds and patterns of the clothes was fun, but I also had to try to describe the forms of the sitters underneath their clothes; I aimed for variety between subtler gradations and high tonal contrasts, making use of the background where I could.

The hardest bit were the hands and faces, and capturing the expressions I wanted without getting bogged down in detail.  In the final version, there is more detail in the figures than I’d been aiming for – but to compensate, the background, while being textured and interesting, isn’t too distracting.  So I think the painting is balanced in terms of busy and quiet passages.

Also surprisingly difficult was painting the fifth person – the source material referred to a different context – winter, not summer, day not night, a different chair – I had to imagine how she overlapped with her neighbour, what the negative spaces between them were like.  

I think I’ve captured the characters of the subjects with their postures and gestures;  the feet are also expressive- the way they are planted, or fidgeting, saying something about the individual and their mood.

The Bedriye family

This outdoor, late spring daytime family portrait is lighter and sunnier in character.  They’re together engrossed in attending to their animals and qarden, their attention momentarily caught and frozen by you the viewer entering the scene and calling ‘hello!’

As the approach I used for the last painting worked well for me I decided to follow it again.  With the confidence gained from the second painting  I produced a background in the third  that’s textured and complex, and works well within the whole.  Dribbling and spattering, loose, indeterminate washes, this time adding acrylic inks to the mix of media, tipping the canvas, blowing to encourage the paint to spread, scratching in texture with a stick, spraying with water, scratching with a baker’s pastry widget to get parallel lines.

This background didn’t come so easily though.  The last one was made up of three simple, horizontal bands of tonal colour;  this one has verticals as well as horizontals, dark windows and doors.  It didn’t come out ‘right’ first time, and I let it dry and waited, then decided to leave it as it was and map in the figures, with charcoal and chalk line and then rough transparent blocks of zinc white, so I could see my figures better against the dappled, confusing background.  Magenta , Paynes grey and titanium white then moulded the figures in 3D, pulling them out of the background.

A lot of careful measuring went into the figures; my sketches and photos helped, but they didn’t help me place the figures in correct perspective as the grouping was entirely imaginary.  Though there’s not a great depth of field, It seems to me in these group portraits the most important thing to decide is where to plant the feet; this establishes who’s in front of whom relative to the picture plane.  Then you have to know, or decide, where your eye level is relative to the figures’. However, over-thinking it is very confusing and in the end I had to go with what I thought looked right.

Next I painted the garden in the foreground, concealing some feet.  Bedriye’s greenish skirt merged into the foreground and disappeared, so I changed it to a warm burnt sienna to bring it out again.  The foreground looks effective, but rather busy now – put that thought on hold until the figures are more developed.

The task of describing clothes, features and hands, refining lines and proportions came next, trying not to get bogged down in detail, but doing enough to describe what I wanted to say;  and applying paint thinking in terms of light and shade,  and positive and negative shapes.

The child’s head disappears somewhat into the intense dark square behind her.  In my source material she has a big rusty oil drum against which the shape of her head is better seen.  I tried it out in iPad SketchBook App, liked it and made the decision to replace the black window tomorrow.

The figure of the crouching woman has bugged me from the outset – despite many attempts I still hadn’t drawn it convincingly. My source material, one photo, is indistinct, and I should take some more but the model’s not available.  Finally I was happy with it…but she looks rather giant compared to the others, considering she’s not that far in front of them.  The shadowy man standing behind her looks too small, which accentuates her large size.  I made him larger and stood back.

The goat looks a bit as though he’s collaged on – there’s not enough sense of his weight in the child’s arms.  I studied my source photos again, and noticed shade and light where his form was compressed by gravity over her forearms, and faint indentations in his fur where her fingertips dug in.

Here is the painting at various stages while I grappled with the task of solving the issues described.

Reassessing the child and the goat against the black square, the sharp contrast now seemed to add a drama which draws the viewers eye from left to right, travelling through the picture to finally rest and focus on them, so the black window stays after all.

The foreground works within the picture, and not over busy, so no changes there either.

My main criticism of the Bedriye painting lies in the sizes of the figures relative to each other and the picture plane… the crouching woman too large, the two men too small.  


Reflections on the series

If I gave my series a title it would be ‘Togetherness‘  because the series explores, through gesture, how people who  live closely together, whether as friends, relatives or neighbours, interact with each other, often growing so familiar they don’t need to speak, or even look at each other to sense what the other is thinking, how they are feeling, what they are doing.

The postures of the figures in five friends , how they distribute their centre of gravity, is very varied, you can interret their individual characters from this.  Same in the other two paintings to a lesser extent.

I think I’ve captured the personalities of the subjects, some of the pm shine through with a real energy

I’ve also used colour to help express the idea of togetherness.  In the pastel painting the subjects’ final colours are warm reds, purples and blues, giving a sense of familiarity and family unity.  The ‘gold’ background adds to the warm atmosphere and throws it’s light onto the children.  In the acrylic paintings individuals are clothed in variations of colours which repeat and harmonise – magenta, blue-greys and golds – cooler colours, reflecting their differences but at the same time their similarities with respect to each other.

As a series the three paintings hang together reasonably well, though it could have been better had all three been painted in acrylic.  They all have the same format, and a similar concept.  They have similar compositions – figures arranged horizontally in a narrow depth of field.  Their tonal pitch and colour intensity is similar.  The repetition of the magenta/paynes grey/dark green palette in the two acrylic paintings pulls the paintings together as a group (while again leaving the pastel painting slightly isolated).  The pastel painting is also a little staged and wooden compared to the second – in that way quite reminiscent of the family portraits of Liu Xiaodong in Vitamin P .  The second, five ladies, is looser, the background, made by pouring, dribbling and spattering working well.  The third is looser still, and has the most interest and liveliness in the use of paint.  For me this is the best one in the series.

Naturally, despite my tutors encouragement to  “proceed onto assignment 5 with confidence”, I felt uncertain and very lacking in confidence both in choosing a theme for my series of paintings, and in actually starting the paintings. I’m least happy with the first painting I did, the Ayten Family pastel.  It doesn’t play so well to my experience  and the development of my skill in using acrylic paint. 

On the positive side I’ve achieved the aims set out in the preparation stage reasonably well.  I’ve also been ambitious in tackling quite complex compositions in an unusual format, in portraying the figures convincingly both as individuals and in the way they interact with their groups, and in my paint handling, particularly the acrylic ones and especially in their backgrounds, which I am very pleased with.  I’ve followed through with my thoughts set out when I began Part 5, here allowing accident to have a role, experimenting with ways of applying and manipulating paint, using colour and pattern inventively.




End of the course, reflections

I feel that I’ve learned and developed in my artistic practise (which was practically zero when I started my first OCA course).

Learning the fundamentals of painting is of course an essential creative resource. With a breadth and depth of experience (opaque and transparent washes, different supports and ways of applying paint, colour mixing and colour theory etc) – one can express ideas in a more creative way.
The exercises furnishing me with important creative resources for the future include ‘Colour Used to Evoke Mood’, ‘Creating Mood and Atmosphere’ and re ‘Conveying Character’. Concentrating on these aspects of painting as I go forward will move my work away from attempting to replicate reality, towards expressing important ideas. I’d like to somehow knit them into my next course, as I feel I only touched on the deep well of creative possibilities that they offered.
Drawing in paint was one of my favourite exercises, and I returned to the idea in Assignment 4 with my painting of a garden and swimming pool. Painting using line forces me to look differently at what painting is, and to find new ways of expressing ideas.
So in the same way did the exercises introducing different ways of applying paint, particularly in part 5. Learning to enjoy the use of paint for its own sake releases creativity. A few of my best paintings were done using unconventional methods, relinquishing control, adding texture – in Part 4, garden archway with palette knife; Part 1, fruit study with only my fingers; Part 5, seven dancers, using enamel paint, pva, dripping, pouring and spattering; and meadow, using dried flowers, grasses, beads, modelling paste, acrylic thickener, pouring paint etc; and my Ass 5 acrylics using pouring, dribbling, spattering etc etc.


After finishing Assignment 5 I opened an exhibition of my paintings and drawings made over the last two and a half years with OCA. The exhibition is in a small gallery in a small, rural town, not a thriving cultural hub, but nevertheless its an achievement.

I’ve gathered together the best of my Drawing 1 and POP work, and hung them together here.  A good opportunity to look at them all together and evaluate my artistic progress!

The work looks well presented, and I’m happy with the decisions I made about which pieces to exhibit and which didn’t make the grade, or didn’t fit my chosen theme…’Colours of my Village‘.   I can see development in terms of technical ability and quality of outcome, and also the development of my personal voice; the later pieces beginning to show more experimentation and imagination.  The assimilation of other artists’ practices into my work can also be seen.

To have a body of work which I feel able to exhibit is good, however, now looking at them all together I’m starting to distance myself.  I’m accept what I’ve produced, but I now realise it’s not where I want to be in the future.


My artistic direction now, I feel, must be towards greater experimentation and greater expression; more conceptual content; more variety and richness within the work of texture and mark; more interpretation and imagination; less emphasis on realistic depiction.  My use of colour must become broader ranging and less reliant on bright, sharp colour palettes.  I want to explore different uses of colour to depict a wider range of mood and atmosphere – for example limited pallete, harmonious palletes, tonal palletes.

I feel I’m at the end of a chapter, and very excited at the prospect of opening a new one.  Following more advanced students’ learning logs has led me to choose Understanding Painting Media as the next course.  I see students on this course undertaking a variety of experimental projects, and so it fits with the direction I’d now like to take.


Part 5 – Tutor feedback

The tutor report is here


I had a sinking feeling as I read through the first paragraphs of comments by my tutor on some successful work in the exercises; so I must have realised inside my assignment pieces were not up to scratch.  I wasn’t surprised when the blow came.  My assignment pieces – all three – were “Twee…over-detailed. ..fussy. ..illustrative.. .amateur… unconvincing …very poor indeed… so many weaknesses …fails to cohere… don’t include any of them in your assessment submission.”

So not very good then!

Bitterly disappointed, my strategy was to do nothing for a couple of days while the report sunk in.

Here’s OCA advice on what to do with tutor reports:

  • Firstly print out the Tutor Report document or enable the document to be annotated on your PC.
  • Read it carefully.
  • Read it again this time highlighting areas of importance. For example strengths, weaknesses and suggested changes.
  • Read it again this time alongside the assessment criteria noting down any language that suggests you are at a particular level. (Tutors use the assessment criteria to judge the kind of feedback you require)
  • Look at the Tutor Report with your notes along side the assignment it refers to.
  • Lay out your work looking for the places your tutor has indicated for change.
  • Make notes on what you see. Can you see what your tutor sees?
  • Make further notes on how you could go about meeting the suggestions made or making improvements to the assignment.
  • Talk the assignment and feedback over with another student (via Facebook or a student forum) or a friend/member of your family.
  • Make your changes to the assignment.
  • Reflect on how this process has helped you improve your assignment.
  • Place both the Tutor Report and your notes in your learning log.
  • Write up the changes you have made to the work and reflect upon the outcomes.
I did that and basically I can see what my tutor sees in the good pieces, although I must admit when I made them I kind of dashed them off, looking on them as fun experiments rather than proper paintings.  The assignment pieces on the other hand had been carefully prepared and laboured over in great detail, to the point where perhaps I wasn’t able to reflect objectively on them.  Perhaps there’s a clue there.   The subject, the concept, is still great; the problem is in the execution, the way I’ve approached them is a bit kitsch, tight and detailed.  What I wanted to express, the intimacy of family and neighbourly relationships, got subsumed into a rather illustrative outcome.
In a telephone call we discussed the feedback.  Assessment Submission guidelines no longer require us to submit all our assignments, and I had some very good work from the exercises in Part 5 which I could select from, so there was no question of me having to redo the assignment.   More important to make sure I learn from the situation as I go forward to my next course.
In both Drawing 1 and Painting 1 I’ve approached the final assignments as the culmination of the course, my one chance to showcase all I’ve learned, and I’ve put myself under huge pressure to try and produce something exceptional!  Of course it doesn’t work like that and both times I’ve come a cropper because of this approach…trying to impose things too much leads to me short-circuiting my creative process.
As I go on to Understanding Painting Media it is important for me to take fully on board that it’s better to develop from past successes organically, rather than seeing the assignments as different from anything else.
As regards my successful part 5 pieces, they were made in a relaxed sprit of experimentation and with a sense of fun.  Hold on to that thought….

Review of part 4 work so far

Looking back at my work in part 4, successes and failures, each painting was a valuable addition to my skills; each contributed to accumulating techniques and knowledge and learning to interpret imaginatively.

All the paintings were supported by sketches, studies, photos, notes, objects found at the scene, and the research I was doing at the same time;  reference materials and contextual research that changed the way I approached each piece.

My landscape painting started with my ‘view from a kitchen window’.


Those cold winter, dark, early morning sessions sitting in a cramped space didn’t help.  I was trying to get a grasp of using acrylic paint with no water, just a medium, like oils, as well as limiting my palette to three primaries plus white.  What with the tricky linear perspective as well, it was a challenge too far to produce a very successful painting, but a good step in my learning experience to take forward to the next exercise.


‘Archway’ (hard and soft landscape) was much more successful, one of my best in part 4.


I was standing, painting in the courtyard outside the house, from direct observation of a bright, sunny, cold and blustery scene, and the whole thing has a spontaneous, fresh feel.  I really enjoyed the aspect of using the palette knife with generous quantities of paint, too.


The next exercise, focused on linear perspective, used sketches and photos as reference to paint ‘Street’.


I got rather tied in knots with my paint handling and colour, and strayed into battling with tone instead of concentrating on line.  Trying to achieve Turner’s watercolour effects with diluted acrylic ink washes was fun, and a technique worth pursuing, but will take more trial and error to succeed.  This was my first attempt at adding texture, the black larva gel medium adding to the dingy overall outcome.


Next was aerial perspective of ‘Valley’.


It has a good sense of distance and was successful as a process where I improved my skill in carefully grading tone, colour, detail and focus to create the illusion of depth.  I was pleased with the way I handled the paint in the foreground, thickly, layering wet on wet, using two or more colours unmixed on the brush.  I felt the plastic quality of the paint, and recalled the brushwork of Sisley as I worked.  It ended looking overworked though, and the foreground tree is clumsy, so not completely successful as an end product I feel.


For Creating mood and atmosphere I reworked the ‘night view from a kitchen window’.


Not entirely convincing as a representation of a night time scene, the room is too bright for that.  But I liked the shadows, reflections, sky and moon, window and door – a lot of work went into it but it doesn’t quite gel to create the atmosphere I imagined.


Painting Outside, I took my kit to the bottom of the garden, having made preliminary visits, sketches and plans, and made ‘Orchard’. 


Using acrylics in even a slight breeze and warmth is to accept an additional challenge; it dries fast on the palette, on the brush and on the support, and forces you to find ways of adapting, and especially to work fast.  I enjoyed it and want to do more plein air painting and overcome my inhibitions about working in public places.  It looks sketchy, a little bit incoherent in places, but I was pleased with the outcome, especially of how I used colour imaginatively, and the sky, an optical blend of the colours in the landscape. 


From now on I got into a new stride, and my work became more imaginative and confident.   Doing the three paintings for the next project I was more relaxed as I wasn’t having to learn new techniques, and could just enjoy the physical aspects of using the paint, and the opportunity to put into practice some of the expressive ideas of other artists.

‘Fireplace’ is a painting from working drawings.


Doing the smaller colour study in acrylic was a good help.  In later exercises I made colour studies in other media, but found they didn’t translate so well to the acrylic painting.



‘Rooftops’, is large (squared up to A1) and colourful, strongly influenced by the landscapes of Kandinsky and Münter.


It has a strong composition, use of perspective, contrast in tone and colour, brushwork.  Borders on illustrative though…


From a photo, ‘Meadow’ was about creating texture, and for the first time I used pva, modelling paste, and incorporated flowers, grasses, seed heads.


All three above, together with ‘Archway’ are more successful paintings than the others, and mainly I think because I felt the use of paint and colour as physical stuff in its own right, not just as a means of representing something else.  In the case of the final three, my research into expressive painters liberated me and the enjoyment of using paint imaginatively comes through.

The others are less successful, and the common factor is that I felt a bit cramped doing them…either by the challenge of over-concentrating on technique (perspective, plein air, etc) or because I was physically uncomfortable.

This being the case, I want to consolidate my experiments in assignment 4, by making painting(s) I enjoy doing; that are imaginative in their use of colour; use the physical qualities of the paint to convey my ideas (surface texture, application of paint with variety of tools, expressive brushwork, drawing with the brush, water washes etc);  strong compositionally; demonstrate linear and aerial perspective.

Assignment 4 – preparation for painting

The view from my friend’s balcony was a subject I’d had in mind for a while for Assignment 4.  He was happy for me to use the balcony, so I spent a couple of hours making sketches, taking photos, making notes and collecting leaves and flowers to evoke the place for me, once back in my studio.  Whether I’d be able to revisit I wasn’t sure, so I knew I had to have as much information as possible to carry out the project at home.

The view is open in three directions.

In the south is a garden view; I’m looking down on a complex scene of house and garden in the foreground with another house, pool, trees and river forming the middle ground; together they frame a distant view of reed beds, sesame fields, mountain and sky, with a sliver of sea on the extreme right.  My sketch was a simple line drawing, with colours and tones noted down on it.  I was attracted to the diagonals in the scene, contrasted to the soft vegetation, and could envisage making a work that combined painting and drawing.  The perspective of the houses in the photo was interesting, they seemed to lean outward due to the distortion of the camera.


In the SW is a river view; trees and red rooftops form the foreground, a river, reed beds and forest the middle ground, and background of sea, mountain and sky, forming a fairly conventional landscape.  My pencil sketch explores the main lines and tones, the tangle of trees.


Both these views have ample opportunity to create the illusion of depth using both aerial and linear perspective.

The photo of the third view, to the west, of the town rising up foothills to steep mountain, with sky as background, has just a few trees as foreground.  In the pen and ink sketch I’m looking for a way to show hundreds of houses without drawing each one individually; the eye could be led through the town along the central high street, the minaret drawing the eye to the mountain.


The notes in my sketchbook show time and weather conditions.  I took photos of clouds, close ups of details etc to add to my reference material.

Back at home I made some colour studies (A4) of the balcony views

In the garden view study below, I aimed to develop my thoughts on combining drawing and painting, by making some ink washes then drawing with the brush to define details.  I looked at Raoul Dufy‘s paintings, in particular this sketch, I still have some way to go to produce a similar fluid and open approach to painting and mark-making.  If I develop this into a larger painting I would move the large tree and/or reduce its size; and crop the top to just above the horizon.

In the river view, below, drawn in soft pastel, I concentrate on perspective; linear combined with aerial to take the viewer’s eye into the far distance.  Many adjustments of tone began to give me a good result, and if I continue I would lighten and tone down the dark clump of trees in the middle distance.

My third colour study, town view, is done in watercolour pencils, mostly without water, so my colours aren’t fully developed, particularly in the foreground.  Doing the study, I learned to show the near vertical drop of the mountains behind the town; its various outcrops; how it’s tone,colour and focus fades from right to left.  The town houses do the same; and the linear perspective shifts; those on the right appear to face me; on the left of the high street their lines recede to a vanishing point way off the paper.  I don’t quite understand this; does their orientation actually change or is it an optical illusion?  In any case, drawing them like this gives a greater impression of a wide space

The river view perhaps offers the most in terms of giving me the opportunity to demonstrate the illusion and of depth through linear perspective as well as aerial perspective.  The position of the river on the golden section is pleasing. The interplay of dark and light tones creates an interesting design.  There is scope to be expressive through use of colour.  This is the view I will concentrate on for assignment 4.

The garden view is quite exciting with its diagonal lines and awkward perspectives.  I like the idea of approaching it sketchily with a combination of watercolour washes, and drawing and mark-making with the brush.  This will be a second assignment piece if I have time to do it before my deadline.

The town view could make an interesting painting, but will have to wait for another occasion.


References (Very clear closeup details)

Assignment 4 – the paintings

I’ve made two paintings of the view from a balcony for assignment 4, based on my colour studies and my other reference material gathered at the place itself. The paintings were done A1 on canvas, back in the studio, using acrylic paint.  I talk more about my  experiences of doing the two paintings, and the influences on them from contextual research again in the next post.


River view is a development of my earlier work in part 4 and hopefully another step forward in finding my own artistic voice.

As the painting went on I discovered a new appeal in elements of the subject.  The scene began to evolve on the canvas as a sort of ambiguous, mysterious and slightly unsettling landscape.  The primeval river, reeds, misty shoreline now exist side by side with a small town settlement, complete with exotic garden plants and a transient feeling, recently grown up on the shore of the river.


The foreground, affluent town and garden, was painted using the undiluted media thickly, just adding retarder to extend blending time a bit, and moulding paste to give structure to the three-dimensional surface of the foreground.  I painted it without doing much blending, so that the quick, broad brush strokes would show.  I also gave it rich, warm colours – inspired by the bright oranges I’d seen both in Gaugin and Peter Doig landscapes.  In contrast the middle ground and background were painted with finer, more delicate techniques – dry brush, stippling, glazing, dragging – and more subtle, delicate colours, more suitable to the natural, gentler elements of the wild.  In between, linking the two, the river wends to the sea, reflecting current, woodland and sky.

 The composition, the brush work  and the colours hopefully combine to suit my interpretation of the subject matter and to make a painting that although based on real life also reflects my ideas and imagination.


Garden View by contrast was painted in loose fluid tinted colours on A1 canvas, combining painting and drawing / mark-making with the brush.

The view looks to the south, is light, open and expansive, and suited to the open colours and fluid technique.  The view is so wide open that the horizon is curved.  The sky left white at the top of the canvas allows the painting to breathe more.  Scudding clouds, based on a photo taken at the scene, were painted simply with quick, very broad strokes of white, given shape and form with broken line drawn quickly with the brush.

Yellow fields of sesame in flower and a sliver of white sea in the far distance are realised with quick swathes of the brush.  Standing on the second floor balcony, where bougainvillea shoots were beginning to spread, I exaggerated the vertical perspective of the houses below – making them lean outward, opening out to the view.  The tall tree was truncated so as not to cut the view off.

This painting isn’t as fully realised as the River View, but I wanted it to look dynamic, sketchy.  I think I achieved that with my treatment of the sky, the exaggerated perspective, the diagonal lines.  When I get the painting back from my tutor I could work on integrating the left side of the pool with the greenery to  emphasise the sharp drop of the land to the right, down to the river.  I would also define the Bougainville leaves more, with dark line to emphasise their relative closeness to the viewer compared to the grass below.

Like the first painting, this one evolved on the canvas as I worked, but I did have a clearer idea at the outset of the pastel coloured blue/green/red palette I was aiming for, having looked closely at some Raoul Dufy and Ivon Hitchens landscapes.  I studied Dufy’s mark-making and used some of the ideas I found there –  the sketchy lines defining clouds; expressive lines defining leaves, palm foliage and tree fronds; small circles, triangles and arcs for flowers etc.  I think the watery technique, my free brush drawing and tinted palette suit the subject and express my ideas.


I find it difficult to say which of the two assignment pieces is the more successful, the two paintings are quite different.  River View is more highly finished.  Garden View is more sketchy, open and spontaneous in style.  In both of them I got involved with the physical qualities of the paint to express my ideas, the first both sumptuous and finely textured, the second watery, fresh and open.

The experience of making the two was similar in other ways; both evolved on the canvas in imaginary directions I hadn’t anticipated at the outset.  This was one of the great pleasure of making both paintings – responding to feelings and ideas generated as I worked.   One reason I felt relaxed enough to do this was the paintings were supported by drawings, reference materials and research – I’d got the basics settled and some  technical issues ironed out beforehand.

Both, with hindsight, and as I look forward to part 5, are overtly representational in the final outcome.  They’re conventional, not as creative as some other students’ work, although at the time I was doing them I definitely felt I was exploring new ground.



The process – what I did

River View – I transferred the main lines to an A1 canvas using a grid, then washed the whole support with a pale lemon yellow, feeling this was the pervading colour in the atmosphere.  In the finished painting it’s still visible in sky, sea and headland, river and river banks.

I then started to lay in the shapes of the elements, and colours broadly referring to the colour study, but using more imaginative, warmer foreground hues.

The clump of pine trees in the middle were quickly brushed in, shadow added with quick, broad strokes if a big brush to show some form.  Nearer more detailed pine on the right was blocked in in broad areas, then the impression of fine pine needles at the extreme ties of the branches made using yellow and orange paint on a wide fan brush.  Branches were indicated with sgraffito, and accentuated with dark lines using a fine rigger brush.  Reed bed and grasses were given texture with a large flat bristle brush and dry whiteish colour.  Sea and reed heads were given light dabbing white on with a natural sponge.  Headland was painted dark, dry brushed with palest lemon yellow then pressed with kitchen towel to lift paint and give a cloudy, hazy effect.  Roof tiles were created using paint mixed with texture paste, with short strokes of layered colour.  Foreground trees made with 3D surface using thick mixture of paint and texture paste, highlight colour dragged over when dry.

Here are a few work in progress snaps


Garden View – after drawing the composition on the canvas I washed on some light colours in broad areas with a 1.5 inch brush, allowing the watery paint to dribble down the vertical canvas (not much of that is still evident in the final painting).

Sky, clouds and fields were washed in speedily, clouds defined by line.  Quick, broad washes were created for houses, rooves, garden and trees, then windows were lightly pencilled to check perspective, then drawn over with the brush and coloured

I drew the bougainville leaves with a brush, then blocked each leaf in with colour, offsetting the blocks of colour from the lines to give a more fluid,organic feel.  I wanted them to be an important part of the garden scene below, but not to take focus away from the garden; my solution was to make them similar in tone as the green lawn underneath, but to accentuate their warm colours.

At this stage the garden washes looked too broken and confusing, so I homogenised them into two larger areas of light and shade, stippling lightly on top.

Last job was to draw the palm tree leaves and pine fronds with the brush, carefully selecting a subtle tone and colour of line.

Work in progress gallery:-