Category Archives: Reflections on Assignments

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.




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.  



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. 




Part 2 – reflections

Part 2 got off to a late start, but then went well and was thoroughly enjoyable.  Here are the paintings I’m submitting to my tutor, along with selections from my sketchbooks.

Ass 2 contents list

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

Although still a long way to go I feel as though I’ve improved my technical skills (handling of media, perspective, colour, composition) in leaps and bounds.  A great challenge is keeping the acrylics from drying instantly as I’ve been working in hot conditions with fans trained on me.  I’ve learned some good tricks (such as spraying myself, the paints and the canvas with a 2 litre garden spray very few minutes) and adapted how I apply the paint, and even managed to do some blending of colours on occasion.  It is worth it though as I really want to become proficient in using the medium.

My knowledge of colour has moved to a new level, and I’m now applying colour theory to my selection of pigments for a painting.  This has worked to increase my confidence that the colours I choose will work together in the way I intend, and not look dull, muddy or wrong.  Looking at how my work has developed I can see this improvement, although I want to learn to use more broken / tertiary colours to reduce the colour intensity of my work generally.

Visual awareness of the world around me is slowly improving, I notice more, think about what I see and how I might use it in my work.  The value of investigating my subject thoroughly in prep- studies has been brought home to me even more in Part 2 – they represent an opportunity to look hard, respond to the subject, and the result is, I feel, that the ‘finished’ piece is both easier to paint well and more convincing.

My past still life compositions have tended to unconsciously follow a pre-determined aesthetic – and the result has been a certain predictability or ‘sameness’.  Research has led me to try new ideas – my compositions for the assignment submission have a lot more empty space for instance.  And I’ve started to distil and simplify forms.  More recently I’ve been looking at Degas’ paintings, in preparation for Part 3, and this opens up further possibilities for me about format and compositions, which I will explore.

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

The quality of my outcomes has moved forward, but there nearly always seems to be quite a lot lost between concept, process and outcome – my finished pieces are rarely so bold, open and loose and expressive as I envisage when I start out on a project.  The interior study is a case in point – I really wished for an outcome as engaging and interesting as the drawings of Schiele , but so much was lost in the process I ended up with something stiff and stilted, drab and uninteresting to my mind.  My still life with flowers exceptionally remained loose and I’m quite pleased with that outcome, although it’s not very polished.

I’m consciously trying to apply to my work the things I’m learning from the course and from my own research.  It’s a good point that the rules are there to be broken – not something I’m used to doing – but I take encouragement from studying the work of respected artists; often it was the breaking of the rules of their time that made them so special.   This is why I didn’t feel too afraid in my assignment paintings to depart from realistic colours, forms, perspective, scale – I feel in any case I demonstrated my understanding of those disciplines in the exercises.

I read a recent OCA Coffee Shop forum discussion on the subject of how conscientiously one should stick to the course exercise briefs, and felt quite excited to learn that creative interpretation of assignments is expected (but from the understanding that the exercises build towards) – and that even exercises are there to be interpreted – one tutor wrote that ‘assignments aren’t to do lists – they’re catalysts for personal creative responses’.

I’ve tried throughout to communicate my concepts, thoughts and ideas, but


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

and continued to experiment with colour fields, textures, layers, staining techniques, and having fun mixing acrylics with other media, particularly collage and soft pastel

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

My blog has been rearranged to make how my work is presented easier to follow – projects can now be scrolled through from start to finish chronologically.

I’m trying to place more emphasis on explaining why rather than how I do things – for my assignment paintings I’ve explained the conceptual ideas behind my choice of subject, and explained why I chose to compose and paint them the way I did.

I also want to work more on my learning log reflecting an organic development of my progress rather than it being a piecemeal commentary on discreet exercises.



Part 1 – reflections

I’ve struggled somewhat in Part 1 with a loss of motivation and concentration, affected by the loss of my mother. This has meant not much more done than the basic course requirements, and postponing the assignment date.

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

The main thrust of Part 1 has been in starting to get practice in handling paint as a media, and to learn basic techniques.  I chose to concentrate almost exclusively on acrylic paint, a medium new to me. Their fast drying times, and not having to work in a fug of solvent appealed to me, but otherwise I knew almost nothing about them.  I used the recommended course book by Ray Smith to supplement the course manual. 

The course exercises on using the paint and brushes got me started, and preparing smoothly graded washes was a challenge. Comparing my first attempts at painting a tree, with later work, especially my still life on a dark ground and my assignment piece, I realise I’ve climbed quite a steep learning curve already.

The research on Chiaroscuro led directly to my approach to the still life on a dark ground, and I really intensified contrasts between light and shade. I found I could see light like this by squinting uncomfortably hard, or by playing with photo editing – but for observing the subject at length under such light conditions, putting the arrangement in a dark box and strongly spotlighting it from the side worked very well.

The design and composition for my assignment piece evolved out of a number of studies in which I viewed the plant from different angles and distances, and experimented with cropping. The subject lent itself to composing with shapes, negative and positive, dark and light, until I found what I felt was a strong and pleasing composition. 

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

That said, the quality of the work I have done has been passable in terms of content and application of knowledge, and I’ve presented it coherently. What has suffered is concepts and ideas – I haven’t really been a bright spark and pursued any, but this will come. 

Demonstration of Creativity (imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice)

The exercises in Part 1 are about developing technical skills and painting in a representative way. I’ve experimented with the media and ways of using it, and brought many of these experiments into play in my final assignment piece, some more successfully than others, but nevertheless the risks have had positive outcomes.  I’m disappointed with the quantity of my sketchbook work (almost none outside of the exercise requirements) and hope to redress the balance in the next Part – for now I haven’t made a special section in my blog menu for sketchbooks as all I’ve done so far is contained within other posts. 

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

I’ve set up my learning log as a blog. I use the blog to record my processes, thoughts and reflections as I work; at the end of each exercise I summarise my reflective thinking and ‘hindsight thoughts’ – shortcomings I identify after completing the exercise and moving on, what I’d do differently next time etc. I generally put these at the beginning of the entry for the exercise, along with an image of the finished piece, as I think it is more important than the record of what I did. 

The research on Chiaroscuro was instructive, and as I noted above I was able to apply it to my own work.

Mark Rothko and the Seagram Murals was an interesting topic, and tied in with the exercises well.  I’d like to develop my own project combining Rothko’s approach with the theories of colour I’m learning about in Part 2.

My thoughts on books I’ve read and films I’ve watched in the last 3 months can be seen in the Research menu of my blog.