Category Archives: Research & Reflection

The Big Draw

I took part in The Big Draw day on 17 October at Jim Unsworth’s studios and garden.  It’s some weeks ago now, but with the benefit of time I can look back and reflect how the day has affected my practice.

Here is a gallery of some of the work I and the other participants did – I can’t remember now which was whose work, but it was a collaborative day so in a sense the drawings are an output of the whole group.

Jim wanted us to make big and open observational drawings – he furnished us with huge mop brushes, great chunks of charcoal fixed to long sticks,  large pot of black decorators paint, large sheets of paper taped to the wall or laid on the ground, and asked us to draw his greyhound, tangles of briars, an ungainly bare rose bush, a corner of the garden, and finally, from memory and imagination, a response to the day’s efforts.  We were encouraged to improvise tools and ways of making marks.

Although drawing from life, investigating and observing the subject as we worked, he wanted us to record our responses to what we were looking at, in other words our feelings about it.  These weren’t to be realistic copies of what we were looking at.  There were no rights or wrongs, so long as the drawing was open and honest…if we strayed into ‘arty’ techniques or effects this was quickly pointed out.

The drawings we made were very expressive and satisfying to do.

A few days later I made this quick sketch from life of a tree in a hedgerow in a country lane, using black ink, water and fingers.



The influence of the Big Draw is there – the drawing is as much about my response to the tree as it is a representation of the tree.  The confidence the workshop gave me was still fresh in my mind.

It can still be seen in many of my subsequent paintings for Part 3 – there is an expressive quality that shows how I think about what I’m looking at that wasn’t there before.  I’m drawing and painting faster, trying to capture my response rather than the detail of my subject.  I haven’t made any work quite as free since the workshop, but now I know I can!

One thing I promised myself was that I’d reorganise my studio so that I can tape paper to the walls, splash paint around, and not worry about making a mess.  I still haven’t done that…maybe now’s the time to do it, before I start Part 4.


Review of my painting course so far

Beginning the 5th and final part of my painting course is a good time to sit down and review what I’ve achieved so far, which projects I enjoyed the most and found most challenging, and what areas require more practice.  I’m hoping this will help clear my mind for the experiments that follow in part 5, as well as help me home in on a theme for my series of paintings for the final assignment.


What I’ve achieved so far

Technically I’ve come a long way from where I started with acrylic paints, which was zero experience.   I’ve learned to use opaque and transparent techniques; to apply paint in many ways with many different tools, working on a vertical support, holding the brush in different ways and at arms length;  varying the rythm of the work (eg starting fast, and then slowing as the work develops and decisions are more critical); used varying types and scale of support as well as coloured grounds; practised painting tonally and with line; explored chiaroscuro; applied texture to my paintings.

I’ve learned to work on several paintings at once, making series for the assignments and one or two of the exercises.  I started out thinking 50×70 cm quite an ambitious scale, and now have taken from A5 to A1 in my stride. 

Colour has been a major part of the journey.  I’ve studied the theory and ‘rules’ and then tried to apply them in my work, remembering that the rules are there to be broken.  I’ve learned about the limited number of acrylic pigments I have, how to mix them physically and optically, which are more or less opaque, which are warm or cold hued, which are the most intense etc.

Drawing 1 introduced me to ideas and techniques for perspective and composition, how to create an image from working drawings, photos, scaling up, working outside etc., and this course has reinforced and extended my knowledge.

Taking all this further, I’ve begun to use the techniques in my paintings strategically to express effects, atmosphere, mood, character, and narrative.  I’ve found in practise that not concentrating on detail (using big brushes, palette knives, rags etc to apply paint for instance) and allowing accident to have a role (runs, spatters, unexpected colours, very wet paint merging and dispersing on the support) has led to better outcomes.

I’ve been inventive in the way I’ve used shape, colour, pattern, perspective, composition, paint application and this has moved some of my work into a more imaginative realm.

In some of my paintings media and execution have worked together to affect the feel of the painting and add to its content.  Feeling the subject through the execution and ‘getting involved with the stuff of painting to carry the idea’ (tutor).

Overall, I’ve challenged myself, been ambitious, taken risks and had fun!


Projects I enjoyed the most

(Ive highlighted some words and phrases under this heading – they may be pointers in my approach to part 5 assignment)

In Part 1 the first three exercises, which involved experimentation with media and tools were very enjoyable.  The assignment was also good fun,  I hit on a subject which gave plenty of scope for colour, pattern and inventive ways of applying the paint.

In Part 2 I enjoyed experimenting with techniques for the thistle still life painting.  I also enjoyed doing the looser sketches I made for ‘drawing in paint’, and I still love looking at them – they seem open and unaffected.

In “still life using colour to evoke mood” – the mood chosen was ‘joy’, and I had a great time using bright, happy colours.  Acrylic inks diluted with water on damp paper was a great medium / technique for the subject and summer temperature.

Using the paint thickly and expressively with imaginative colours to describe form and working on the the nine pepper paintings at once was an enjoyable experience.

Assignment 2 was a series of four still life’s and again a pleasure to do.  I enjoyed the colours, and developing the theme, bringing it to an other-worldly point.  It was a subject I have fond feelings for.   I see re-reading my blog I said I wanted to develop the theme at a later date.

In Part 3 I enjoyed doing “telling a story” and my assignment series the most; they were based on a subject that had grabbed my interest and imagination. The first assignment painting was done in wet acrylic mode – lots of water, runs, washes blending – with vivid colours.  Zoomed in and the subject understated rather than spelt out, it gave me opportunity for expressive imagination.

Part 4 research points were about expressive landscape painters and I enjoyed assimilating some of the ideas I saw into my own work, such as imaginative colour and new ways of seeing the landscape.  I felt I was really starting to see that painting could describe ideas and feelings and not just represent a physical reality.


Tasks which were the most challenging

Portraits were challenging because of some inhibitions I felt about portraying the model (friends) in a non-flattering way, which stopped me expressing my own response to the person.

Landscape in general was a challenge;  although it’s a subject I love, I feel I haven’t yet found my way of translating what I see in three dimensions on to the two dimensional support ; although I understand theories of perspective I still struggle with ‘seeing’ the composition in two dimensions.  Addendum  – my tutors feedback on my landscape work, received after writing this post,  was very positive, the best I’ve had; so it seems I did after all win the struggle and came up with some strong landscape paintings.


Areas that require more practice

The first few exercises were to do with exploring the media – pastels and acrylic paint.  Looking back, I love what I achieved with pastels, sandpaper and water, and feel sorry I didn’t  follow this up later in the course…part 5 could perhaps give me a chance to do this.

Aerial perspective has improved but needs more refining.

Sketchbook work is limited to preparation for coursework – need to broaden my interests

My blog has improved since I started the course.  It’s easier to follow and contains less biographical detail and more about the work of other artists and how it relates to my practise.  I still need to do more of this…perhaps delving deeper into the links between my work and the artists who influenced it.

Also need to practise talking about my work objectively in my blog, eg qualitative discussion about the relative successes of my outcomes.



Research point – Abstract Expressionists

Abstract Expressionism is a form of painting developed by American painters such as Pollock, Rothko and Willem de Kooning in the 1940s and 50s, ‘often characterised by gestural brush-strokes or mark-making and the impression of spontaneity’ ( 

The aim was to make abstract art that was expressive or emotional, that came automatically from the unconscious mind.

One group of AEs filled their canvases with abstract forms and fields of colour – for example Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still.  Their compositions were simple but nuanced, designed to encourage a contemplative or meditative response.  This is now known as ‘colour field’ painting, where large areas of a single colour are used.

Another group of AEs known as action painters (tachists),  such as Pollock and de Kooning, would use large brushes, sticks, or pouring so to make large, gestural marks.  I suspect they combined spontaneity and improvisation with a huge amount of skill, planning and deliberation.  Having studied closely and tried to emulate some of Pollock’s paintings, I can confirm there is no haphazard hurling of paint at the canvas!  He poured, dripped, flicked and spattered liquid paint, but he had learned over years to control its flow to get the effects he wanted.  He would also have had to plan the order in which he created layers, what combination of media to use, wait between layers to allow drying.  In Pollock’s Summertime, the canvas is used as an arena he moved around, building up intricate layers of marks and lines.  Colours intermingle and swirl in different directions, echoing his physical movements in the impression of a colourful dance.  The canvas becomes more than a picture – an event.

Hans Hartung painted in oils and pastel.  His works are often monochromatic, made of a series of calligraphic, rhythmical lines and gestures, later scratched into the wet paint, and later still with dark, shadowy but more colourful areas.  His paintings also explore a variety of marks and gestures, experimenting with various unusual tools, including his wheelchair wheels.  Even so they could be thoughtfully planned and premeditated, sometimes carefully copied and enlarged from earlier, spontaneous drawings, showing control and technical skill.  I’ve collected some of his works in my Pinterest board here, and there’s a good collection in date order in Wikiart here.


Franz Kline‘s career as an artist started with figurative work, developing to the breaking down of forms into rudimentary brushstrokes, generalising his subjects into lines and shapes.  Inspired by de Kooning, he experimented with projecting small, abstract ink sketches on to a wall, enlarging them to canvas, then using house-painting brushes to turn them into big black and white gestural paintings with broad black criss-crossing on a white ground.   His brushstrokes combine to create completely non representative abstract motifs, with stark tonal contrasts of positive and negative space.  In the latter years of his life he was again exploring colour and starting to introduce it into his paintings again.

His work focuses on self expression, and the use of paint and canvas.  The paintings appear spontaneous and dramatic, but are actually the result of many studies and were thoroughly explored before approaching the canvas with a brush.  

There are collections of Kline’s work on MOMA  


References (Franz Kline)

Part 4 reflections – experiences, influences and future plans


I started part 4 with some trepidation – landscape hadn’t been my strongest subject in Drawing 1 – I struggle to depict distance, to edit and simplify what I see and to make a coherent composition from it – more than with other genres (still life, the figure etc).

Lacking a bit of confidence I got off to a shaky start, with a tight execution of the first painting.  My second painting was much freer, perhaps because the archway acted as viewfinder, and presented me with a ready made composition.  It wasn’t really until starting the final project that I found my stride, and felt I was using the paint more openly with a more fluid execution, using bigger brushes and increasing the scale of some of my work.  All my research came together to contribute to the way I responded to the paint.  Having researched and admired the German Expressionist painters – especially Kandinsky and Gabriele Münter- I seemed able to relax and enjoy a new found permission to play with colour and new ways of seeing, and not worry about the rest.

So then I produced the first three paintings that I liked – Fireplace, Rooftops and Meadow – and these are the three which together with Archway and my two assignment pieces are going to my tutor.  The earlier paintings were part of my learning process but are not among the best paintings I did.

The experience of (for the first time) incorporating grasses, seeds and flowers, moulding paste and glue in my paintings was great, and something I want to do a lot mor of as it brings another dimension to the medium.

I enjoyed my plein air painting experience even though it was a struggle with the drying time of the medium.  I have found that colour studies and sketches are best done in the medium of the eventual painting though, so a solution might be to invest in acrylics with a longer drying time; I’d also find a pochade easel quite handy!

For the assignment pieces, first of all I collected a lot of reference material, and made several sketches and colour studies.  This stood me in good stead when making the paintings.  I’d already done a lot of the observation, thinking, planning, simplifying, and decision making about technique, so I was relaxed and could allow other ideas and approaches to develop from there.  I’d already made a large painting, ‘Rooftops’, but I’d managed it by breaking it down into smaller areas which I worked on one by one;  the assignment pieces on the other hand were worked on all over, bringing the whole to a more integrated conclusion.  It meant larger washes, more paint, bigger brushes, and a more physical experience as I constantly walked around and stood away to assess each step.



The sketches in paint of Constable and Turner were an important influence on my part 4 work.  Looking at them and comparing them to their finished paintings taught me it’s not necessary to paint in slow, careful detail, and that a more spontaneous use of paint can be more effective and fresher.  This was especially helpful in my plein air painting where I used some of his rapid techniques and bright colours.  All through part 4 this lesson, and the freer use of colour I adopted from the examples of German Expressionists stayed in my mind and guided my hand, and I think is evident in the paintings I’m submitting to my tutor for review.

The plastic use of paint I saw looking closely at the work of Sisley, Pissarro and Monet was another influence I adopted, using thick gobs of paint in my aerial perspective exercise, and from then on being more generous with paint, enjoying the feel of it, mixing it liberally in the brush and in the support, and doing away with blending and smoothing.  My student quality paints are quite light bodied though, so often the textures created by my brush strokes would disappear as the paint dried; I would never be able to achieve their layered, textural  effects with these thin paints, so maybe I should be looking at investing in better quality heavier bodied paint.

Another influence on my work in part 4 was Gustav Klimt‘s landscapes.  I found it fascinating to look closely at how his paintings were built up from thousands of careful, minute marks to form, often, an almost abstract field of nuanced colour representing a landscape.  My ‘Meadow‘ was informed by his work, as I settled on a composition with 90% of the canvas devoted to a field of green, containing within it the textures, forms and colours of the meadow.

I found Ivon Hitchens landscape paintings appealing, and tried to assimilate his broad, fluid areas of bright colour into my second assignment piece, ‘Garden View‘.  His paintings border abstract and figurative styles, mine so far are more representative, but the influence encouraged a less literal approach in my work.  Raoul Dufy influenced this piece too, especially combining painting with  drawing and mark making with the brush.

Peter Doig‘s paintings are intriguing, mystifying, ambiguous and very appealing – I’d love to see them in real life.  The vibrant colours of the semi tropical landscape in his paintings in my Pinterest board influenced my palette in my first assignment piece, ‘River View‘, and also the way he paints elements of the landscape in fairly flat colour.  Some of his paintings are dreamlike, with weird and wonderful elements that leave us guessing, and I aimed for a touch of mystery and ‘other-worldliness’ in mine in my choice of colours and textures.


Future plans

To continue experimenting with different techniques, styles and influences – not to get drawn into only one way of painting early on

Be more creative – think about painting more as an expression of ideas, concepts, moods, rather than simply representation, and find new ways of expressing these.  Try not to explain so much, leave the viewer to wonder and use their imagination.

Particularly move towards more abstract ideas.    I’m conscious that my assignment 4 pieces (indeed all my part 4 paintings) are rather conventional landscape pictures; such straightforward representation isn’t an approach I want to stay with.

Continue voyage of discovery into using thicker paint.  Modelling paste is great, and can be used to create surface texture and to imprint objects  – but it does change the colour of paint when mixed with it, so I’ve since bought  texture gels and will start playing with those.

Continue to explore the possibilities of incorporating objects into paint.

Remember to use the palette knife – I’ve found it helps with the fluid execution of a painting, but didn’t think to use it often enough in part 4.  



Research expressive landscape

Surrealist landscape

Some of the works of the Surrealists Salvador Dali, Max Ernst and de Chirico are collected on my Pinterest board here.  They are the stuff of dreams, nightmares and hallucinations.  I remember once long ago rashly combining sea-sickness pills with alcohol and experiencing hallucinations which involved floating elephants – worthy of Dali.  Whether he made use of such techniques to free the imagination we don’t know, but I do think such ‘visions’ can be deliberately induced to mine the unconscious and that if one were to immediately write notes after coming round, some very imaginative work could be done.

My own dreams are often forgotten, apart from a handful which have stayed with me my whole life.  I would love to express in painting one or two of these which particularly express deep emotion.  The challenge would be how to convey a dreamlike quality, rather than simply paint a scene from the dream as though it were in the real world.  The Surrealists used various techniques and games to produce a creative process partly free of conscious control, some forty of which are listed here, including:-

Frottage – place the paper over a textured object and rub graphite over it to create unexpected textures

Grattage – the painterly equivalent of Frottage – prepare a support with a layer of paint, place it over a textured object and scrape the paint off

Decalcomania – cover the support with thick paint and while still wet cover it with some other material such as cellophane, shrink wrap; then remove it before the paint dries.  I had a go at the technique using acrylic paint on paper.  My results were not great – my technique needs improving.  Even then, I would always have to have a larger element of control over the process to get anything useful from it.

The patterns resulting from such techniques are then used as the starting point from which to create an imaginative painting.

De Chirico influenced the Surrealists with his Metaphysical paintings.  He painted forlorn cityscapes with a haunted, brooding atmosphere, furnished with empty arcades, towers, long shadows and trains. 


Imaginative landscape

I’ve looked at the paintings of artists who interpreted the landscape imaginatively, expressing their own feelings and response to it.  Some of them are collected in my Pinterest board here.

Graham Sutherland was a painter of imaginary landscapes, influenced by Samuel Palmer, Blake, Turner;  but they were also rooted in his observation of the Pembrokeshire countryside. So for example while his painting Welsh Landscape with Roads was derived from the hills and valley near Porthclais, he wrote that he was trying to express ‘the intellectual and emotional essence of the place’ (  He makes the colours unnatural, includes an animal skull and possible standing stones, and inserts a tiny running figure, creating an anxious, threatening atmosphere.  In Road at Porthclais with Setting Sun the paths and lanes wending through the landscape are given a spiritual significance due to the dramatic light from a golden sun against a black sky.

The link with Pembrokeshire also led me to John Piper.  He made plein air collages of beach scenes, and had chapels, castles and ruins as his subjects.  He frequently painted Garn Fawr, the place where he lived, and what is interesting to note is the many different ways he interpreted the same scene.  He said that the features in his landscapes, whether church towers, vineyards etc, were not what the paintings were about; they were about the emotions generated by the countryside and the elements at one moment in one special place.  The paintings are full of interesting textures and marks, no area of the canvas left unconsidered as Piper worked to express these feelings.


Landscapes of the German Expressionists

My Pinterest board on this group of painters is here.  I looked at paintings by Kirchner, Nolde, Max Pechstein, Mueller, Otto Dix, Max Beckmann, Kokoschka.  As a group, their paintings are characterised by use of simple form, harsh black lines and garish, unnaturalistic colour, aiming to express a modern response to the world around them, including its landscapes.  I love their free use of colour and apparent simplicity.  I gathered my landscapes together and noted a rather predictable and monotonous preponderance  of blue and green, and evidence in all of them of a struggle with details.  How attractive it seems to celebrate colour in all its variety, and to paint in a simplistic, childlike way.

Later I looked at the expressionist landscapes of Wassily Kandinsky and Gabriele Münter  and my remarks in the last paragraph were even more confirmed.

Kirchner was the leader of a group of painters, Die Brücke (The Bridge) inspired by Gaugin, Van Gogh, Munch and primitive art. One painting that caught my attention was his View of Basel and the Rhine.  The way the water is depicted, a fast flowing river rushing downhill towards a bridge – a dog is trotting merrily in the same direction with the flow, but the inhabitants of the city on the opposite bank are steadfastly ignoring the river and plodding doggedly in the opposite direction.  This struck me as a metaphor for the distance and awkwardness of humans’ relationship with nature, compared to that of animals who romantically are seen to be at one with the world.

Max Pechstein was also a leading member of the Bridge group, and painted in the same manner.  But in the 1920s, the anxiety and horrors of the First World War and its ensuing political and social turmoil over, he found a natural progression in his Baltic landscapes and seascapes, softening his Expressionist palette, reflecting more of a sense of peace and harmony found in the harbour towns, bywaters and dunes.  ‘Abend‘ is an example.

This painting by Oskar Kokoschka is part landscape part portrait, and seems to express a nostalgia for traditional village life, in a similar way to Chagall.  Colours are joyful and teeming with variety.  Movement of clouds, animal and humans suggests a whirlwind of time passing, music as a symbol of transience reinforces the message.  The woman (mother?) holding a crucifix, symbol of religion, death and eternity.  Apart from all that though, it’s just a lovely painting, colour and composition treating the eye.

I studied the portraits and figure paintings of Emile Nolde quite intensively for Assignment 3, and I find his landscapes painted with the same approach; deep, intensely coloured indeterminate washes (with subtle translucent veils of colour layered over them, and pigment granulating interestingly as paint dries); these washes would be meaningless on their own, but Nolde gives them meaning and structure with the addition of a few simple lines and marks, finding his subject hidden in the random flow of paint – a horizon, a few clouds; a hill; some vertical shapes become groups of people.  They are gorgeous to look at; many acquire deeply thunderous atmospheric effects through choice of colour; but there seem to be hundreds of them, and I can’t discern a development or progression in his work – he seems to have had one great idea and stuck to it.


Symbolist Landscape

Symbolism is simply the assertion of subjectivity and the expression of an idea over a realistic description of the natural world.   Personal expression means we recreate emotional experiences through colour, line, composition; we synthesise form and feeling, reality and our own inner subjectivity.  Having looked at some of the artists associated with this movement, and thinking about how they have adopted symbolist approaches, I start to think about what ideas and emotions I could try to inject into my landscapes.

Symbolism has its roots in the 19th century, with artists such as Gustave Moreau, who painted scenes of mythology and religious subjects.  I’m not keen on his brand of romanticism but zooming in closely to the watercolours, until form disappears and I lose myself in his jewel-like layered washes, is quite a visual pleasure. When I was 9, I had a cheap cut glass ring, a ‘gift’ from a girl’s comic.  At Mass every Sunday, in the guise of devout prayer, I would clasp my hands to my forehead, squint through my eyelashes, and manoeuvre myself until the colours of the stained glass windows reflected in the facets of my ring dazzled my senses.  I’ve always loved bright, kaleidoscopic colour.

Gaugin, strongly influenced by Moreau, combined heavily outlined simplified shapes with solid patches of vivid colour (Vision of the Sermon), to express the devout character of Breton peasant women.  Picasso was a great admirer of Gaugin; his blue period works depict his subjects in a greatly simplified way, characteristic of Symbolists.  Edvard Munch was closely associated with Symbolism, The Scream expresses feelings of anxiety, anguish, isolation.  

Gustave Klimt’s style on the other hand was decorative and abstracted; he used a quasi-pointillist technique to portray every leaf and every meadow flower in his landscapes of fruit trees and meadows.  What was he trying to express?  According to The Tate, 

Klimt’s landscapes express his wider concerns with biological growth and the cycle of life. Their dazzling decorative surfaces and abstracted motifs align him with emergent modernist tendencies.” ( 

On the other hand, he may have just had a canny eye to the art market.  It’s said he standardised shape and size of his landscape canvases to make his paintings sell better.




Surrealist techniques

D Chirico –


Kirchner – wikipedia
Pechstein – Christies

Research landscape



First of all I reviewed and revised my past landscape research projects (links listed at the end of this blog article).

One of my past articles explores the English Watercolourists of the 18th and 19th centuries, including Turner.  I revisited his watercolour sketches of Venice in the book ‘Turner’s Venice’, and chose three of them to study in detail and try to adopt some of his practices into my painting for the exercise ‘linear perspective‘ in particular the range of colours he used in his washes, and the way he gradually modified them into the pictorial distance.  His use of loose washes and freely (but expertly) drawn line to depict the architecture is so elegant, and I tried my best to emulate it, without great success.

I also looked at that time, at some of Constable‘s landscape sketches in oil, and I was able to directly compare an oil sketch with an oil painting of the same subject in Tate Britain.  To the modern eye, I thought the sketch had immensely more appeal than the finished painting – it was fresher, more spontaneous and more expressive of his response to the landscape.  Basically he wanted to capture the effects of light and atmosphere, in small scale oil paintings done outdoors, which he sometimes later used as reference material for large, polished oil paintings.  He used a variety of techniques in these plein air paintings – all fresh and rapid – including a thick impasto technique, as well as glazes, dappled dry brushwork, heavy dots of white and of bright colour.


Monet was mentioned by my tutor for his ‘plastic use of paint as a physical substance “. A brief search of Bridgeman pointed me to Bois d’Oliviers au Jardin Moreno, 1884.  By zooming close in I can see the painting is built up of thousands of dabs of endlessly modulated colour; at such close range forms seem to dissolve, losing their edges – the gnarled olive trees take on an abstract quality, they become interplay of light and dark tone, warm and cool colour.  I imagine it was initially painted fast, en plein air, wet paint on top of wet, and I can’t see evidence of blending and smoothing.  The result is a sense of dappled, shimmering contrasts, a chiaroscuro effect of cool shade and hot light. This is a polished finished painting however, not a sketch – possibly it was carefully appraised, revised and perfected by the artist later on in the studio until he was completely satisfied – apparently he was never satisfied working purely from nature.

Sisley‘s The Bridge at Sevres is a great example of someone really getting involved with the physical aspects of painting.  the brush strokes are visible, loose, broad and quick, imparting an open, blustery atmosphere.  The sky draws the viewers attention with diagonal slashes of ochres cream, blue and violet depicting the turbulent air.  There is a lot to look at in the middle ground too, with the bridge and people fishing; these draw the eye not through use of careful detail, (they are in fact painted very sketchily), but by a higher contrast of tone.  The foreground vegetation and path are also painted very speedily, with warm, dark greens and umbers, and bright ochres applied in rapid vertical jabs.  You get the sense that Sisley enjoyed dashing this painting off, and was happy with the first response to his subject.

Pisarro Uses paint thickly and crustily, building up layer upon dried layer, each one becoming more textured than the last.  The Potato Harvest is built up of a series of consistently sized marks forming a series of coloured patches, but with an overall reddish tone. The Kitchen Garden at Pontoise is painted in reserve; layers of paint are built up within the firms of the composition, with the edges held in reserve; the artist is careful not to overlap paint from adjacent forms.  In this way distinctly three dimensional edges are created between the forms.  In Orchard, Cote Saint-Denis at Pontoise, Pisarro has built up extensive layers over well dried earlier layers of paint, resulting in a crusty surface.  The brush skips over the textures of the earlier layers,creating ever more well defined ridges and valleys of paint.  

Moving into the 20th century:
Milton Avery (1885-1965) – strips his designs to essentials.  Landscapes defined by lines and zones.  Colour field painting, but where the coloured fields represent simplified representational shapes.  Focus on colour relations, not the illusion of depth.  Compare to Derain, Gaugin,  Matisse, Kirchner.

Ivon Hitchens (1893-1979) -I looked at a BBC slideshow of his landscape paintings.  They have visual appeal for their colourful and decorative, spontaneously painted quality.  They straddle abstraction and figuration; they evoke the landscape in a subjective response to it, but don’t literally represent it.  I found my eye experiencing his compositions horizontally from left to right.  He liked long canvases, allowing the eye to move along them lengthwise; Hitchens thought of this as a movement in time, as music is structured by time.
Neil Welliver (1929-2005) – landscape paintings (8 by 10 feet) depict the forested Maine landscape.  He would hike out to paint plein air studies with a 70lb backpack in winter (which I won’t be attempting) and later expand the outdoor studies into large studio paintings.  Looking closely at his trees, he doesn’t copy the exact colour of objects, presumably the better to convey the atmosphere and lighting he wants.  They’re highly detailed and meticulously painted, graphic in their drawn quality and full of careful marks. Apparently he would start at top right and work his way down to bottom left – not the expressive, gestural approach we look for these days.  Despite that they have a feeling of simplicity, of detail left out, a lack of textural effect and subtle modelling of form, an abstract quality.
Alex Katz (1927- ) – flat, bold, unmodulated colours; simple forms – like cartoons, precursor to pop art.  He would make detailed small charcoal and oil studies and then scale them up to larger cartoons, and then up several metres to the large painting, simplifying in the process.  Young Trees is a small-scale oil sketch with a brooding atmosphere – economic, fast execution, visible brush strokes.  ‘Full Moon‘, five metres across, is nearly all black.  It depicts moonlight filtering through trees and reflecting off water.  Very simple, and I suspect incredibly effective maybe emotional, seen in the flesh.  ‘Ocean View‘ – a small (25×35) oil sketch, done with simple economy and visible brush marks, made of broad bands of colour, expressionist marks.  What I learned for my own practise from looking at Alex Katz and Turner’s oil sketches, is to sometimes think of painting as sketching –  quick, simple studies in paint can be so fresh, honest and elegant in a very direct way.
Michael Andrews (1928-1995) – some gargantuan acrylic paintings during his 1985 visit to Australia.
Valley of the winds , 2.1×2.9m

The Cathedral, The North East Face, Uluru (Ayers Rock) , 2.4×4.3m
Difficult to appreciate in photos, they probably need to be seen in real life to be appreciated.  They didn’t appeal to me particularly – apart from the monumental size they seemed like fairly ordinary response to an incredibly emotive and spiritual landscape, and to be painted in an ordinary way.
Peter Doig (1959 – ) – influenced by Katz.  He almost always starts his paintings with a photo of a scene, as a starting point for a work.
The gorgeous colours and shape composition of ‘Cricket Painting‘ took my eye.  I noticed how the three players were aligned; the skilful drawing of the figures, foreshortened limbs and gesture perfectly captured. Looks simple!  But all is ambiguous, mysterious, a trait I noticed in many of Doig’s landscape paintings.  They keep you guessing, they intrigue the viewer.

Stephen Chambers
I went to an exhibition of Chambers’ work, which included ‘The Big Country‘, a series of prints depicting the vast landscape of the American North-West in the pioneering days of emigrants, who were embarking from ports in the four corners of the world to settle there. The series, hung as one great continuous landscape occupying several rooms, is a fusion of drawing, print and digital art.  There’s no continuous narrative, rather it’s a series of vignettes which can be read in any direction, where the viewer can dip in and out, alternately focussing in to one drawing and then panning out to the broader landscape.  Because of this I became curious and involved; as I wandered around the display ideas and thoughts suggested themselves, questions arose, my imagination was engaged.

Chambers shows that despite the seemingly limitless space into which these emigrants poured, their impact on the land was often catastrophic, and their relations with each other and indigenous peoples conflict-ridden.  Although based on a past event, this reflects contemporary concerns to do with emigration and the environment.

Marc Quinn
Another artist whose work I’ve seen at first hand , Marc Quinn’s exhibition presented his installations, sculptures and paintings.  Of the latter there were large scale photo-realistic cloud studies.  In his oil painting series The Eye of History, he juxtaposes paintings of our planet on to photorealistic circular paintings of the magnified human eye’s iris and pupil.  Every iris is individual, like fingerprints, and each individual perceives the world and history in their own way.  In The Inner Eye (Beginning of the Ice Age) the land mass is painted as white as an iceberg, perhaps commenting on man-made heating of our planet.   In another work, Map of Where You Can’t See the Stars, the depiction of the world added over the eye is black, with lights shining into space from developed countries.
These works comment on the paranoid world we live in, and the notion of 24 hour news where the whole world is connected through ever-present media and syncopate this with notions of our eroding and changing geographical world. They present images of the world map from various perspectives – such as the Arctic – displaying how the boundaries of experience and geographical territory as we know them are rapidly changing.’ (






Turner’s Venice by Lindsay Stainton Pub Book Club Associates, 1985

Constable’s oil sketches

Bois d’Oliviers

 The Bridge at Sevres

Alex Katz
Peter Doig

Links to my past research work concerning Landscape painting and drawing
Survey of landscape painting, Durer to Van Gogh – evolution of landscape painting. I looked at the paintings of Durer, Breughel, the Dutch school, Lorraine, the English watercolourists, Turner, Constable, Pisarro, Sisley, Renoir, Cezanne, Van Gogh.
Claud Lorraine and Turner –  Structure of landscape – how they created pictorial depth – foreground, middle ground, background.
Constable’s trees – three examples of his oil sketches; a superb nightscape, ” The Edge of a Heath by Moonlight”; and an unusual ‘blot’ painting, like Wm Cozens’.
Camille Pissarro – landscape and townscape series
Landscapes of Sickert and Gore   – townscapes, views from windows

Richard Diebenkorn, landscape series  representative versus abstract painting, aerial landscapes 

Cloud studies  Cloudscapes by Van Goyen, Constable, Jason Brockert

Part 3 – reflections

Part 3 is now complete.  Here are the paintings I’m submitting to my tutor, along with selections from my sketchbooks.

Demonstration of technical and visual skills (materials, techniques, observation skills, visual awareness, design, compositional skills)

I’ve really enjoyed handling acrylic paint in Part 3, especial having found a cheapish source of large tubs of Daler Rowney S3 colours, and therefore losing some inhibitions about ‘wasting’ paint.   My use of the medium (and of soft pastels) has developed further.  I’ve avoided over-using white for highlights since it was mentioned in my feedback for part 2.   I would like to experiment with using acrylics in a more liberal (ie thick) and less watery way in part 4, especially now temperatures are lower and drying times longer.  I’m planning to try using acrylic extender and retarder to extend the working time of the paint.

A first for me was making a nude self portrait.  Opportunities to study nude live models are practically zero for me, so this was one solution, which seemed better than using photos and internet models.  It wasn’t all that comfortable and you’re limited to a small number of possible viewpoints, or juggling with complicated arrangements of lamps, mirrors and easel.  I’d think about doing the painting from the working drawings another time. My unease shows in the final outcome, which is unresolved, but I’ve included it in my assignment submission as my only example of a nude figure painting.

Observational skills have developed.  The tonal figure painting (seated girl) had the most time spent doing preliminary studies from life, and I identified and corrected wrong lines and proportions many times until I was satisfied. All the other paintings were done from life, or from freehand studies (not copies) of photos, or a mixture of both.  I find it very helpful to have a gridded tracing of my working drawing to transfer to my support; then if my main lines are lost under layers of paint I can quickly find them again.  But I’m happy to stray from my tracing on the fly when painting if I feel the need – the traced lines are only a guide.

Design and compositional skills are paramount to me – I feel a painting must have a strong arrangement of values first of all, so that it could stand alone as an unrepresentational painting.  So I always try to remember to have strong light and colour contrasts.  My ‘conveying character’ portrait (head and shoulders of young girl) is weakest in this respect – the background, face and clothes are uniformly light tone, there needs to be more going on.

Quality of outcome (content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas)

Spending time looking at other artists portraits and the BP500 book opened my mind to the broader possibilities of the portrait genre.  My three assignment pieces reflect this, being perhaps slightly unconventional responses to the brief.  In these paintings you can read my thoughts and feelings, but they’re also open to other interpretations, and I’ve explained some of these ideas in my blog.

Demonstration of creativity (imagination, invention, development of a personal voice)

As I worked my way through the exercises in Part 3 I gradually felt able to concentrate less on technique and literal likeness and add more interpretation. In my assignment pieces I injected my own thoughts and feelings, my ideas about the scenes represented, inventing and imagining the emotions being experienced by the subjects.  I did this by using colour in a non-realistic way, exploiting the media to create texture, exaggerating gesture and expression, building tension into my compositions.  

My confidence in my personal voice is beginning to show, but I hope it’s not too early…I want to keep experimenting with new ideas and approaches, even though it might mean changes of tack.

Context (reflection, research, critical thinking – learning log)

Have endeavoured to make my blog more accessible by

  • separating the research points from the exercises
  • reducing the amount of biographical and historical detail in my research – focussing more on the impact on my practice
  • limiting the overall volume of writing in this part.  

Having come to the end of Part 3 I’ve just come across the OCA article ‘Learning Logs – What Assessors are Looking For’ and will keep the advice in mind for Part 4.