Monthly Archives: January 2016

Project 1: Part 1: Exercise 1. Feeling and Expression.

Sadness is my choice for this project.

It was quite difficult to be sad so I imagined something awful had happened to my son and then found myself so upset that I couldn’t draw anything… which wasn’t what I expected. I’d expected to shade in big black blocks of colour or fill the page with streaming lines like tears.

I quickly went from one drawing to another unable to draw.

When I looked at the four drawings together I was surprised by how similar they all were.











Firstly I tried graphite and made the visible looping mark on the left. The mark was much weaker than I’d expected… then stopped and cried a little. The little line at the bottom is where I pulled the graphite off the page. I took a moment then tried to force myself to continue and made the faint mark on the right but couldn’t do it.

Sadness - graphite

Sadness – graphite









Next I tried charcoal. I’d come out of the feeling and thought this would be easier. I picked up the charcoal and dived back in.

Sadness - wood charcoal

Sadness – wood charcoal

I made the strong mark first as I was determined to draw something. Added the cross mark and started work ‘shading’ the top but the emotion was too strong.

After a breath I drew the weaker vertical line on the right but it was too much for me and my hand fell limp on the page.

As I thought about Josh the tears welled up again and even though I told myself I would be better doing something constructive, all I could manage was to push the charcoal weakly around the bottom. After a few seconds I lost the battle and stopped.


Sadness - oil pastel

Sadness – oil pastel

As I’d used up most of my black oil pastel I decided to use dark blue. Blue seemed like it was a sad colour and the instructions had said it was okay. So, even though I’d reservations that it wouldn’t compare to the black oil pastel and that I was ‘cheating’ artistically I decided my wallet warranted it.

This made me think that artists must sometimes make decisions on cost… rather than on an artistic basis.

They might use up materials they have left, use found materials or even create a movement that challenges the whole notion of art based on expensive materials – I think the Italian Art Povera movement was all about using found materials. There was also a vague memory that the reverse had happened in medieval religious painting where the blue pigment was very expensive… so one reason for the blue was not artistic, or to do with religious meaning but to show the wealth of the patron.

This lead me on to think about the durability of art (expensive pigments last longer) and the value of the materials and how it relates to commercial/perceived value versus the purely artistic value. Oil paints are expensive whereas pastels and paper are much cheaper.

Is it purely supply and demand – with cheaper materials there’s a bigger supply so the price drops.

Does that mean artistic values being similar an oil painter will be perceived as a higher ranking artist (and therefore more expensive) than the pastel person? Generally do paintings of the same size fetch higher prices in some mediums than others?

This seems a little counter intuitive to me as once you get beyond beginner paintings the price of materials becomes less significant to the total cost and the artistry more important than the materials?

Something to think on further!

Back to my oil pastel… I came fresh to my sadness but with a determination that this time I would force myself to work. I had a plan. I would drive a big block of dark blue. That wouldn’t take any thought, would be mechanical and I could use the physical against the emotional.

It didn’t last long.

The emotion quickly overcame me and I stood up from the paper making the long downward line from the block of blue.

I then rested the pastel hard on the left making a definite mark. Launched myself back in making the upward mark and semi-circle… then lost the battle making the final light marks at the bottom as I pulled away from the drawing.

Sadness - ink

Sadness – ink


Ink… strangely this was the least resistant to my sadness… or more honestly, grief.

Something about it being liquid and not a ‘pencil like stick’ – was it the connection with language? That anything that drew lines had control as one of its properties? … But that ink being fluid was more open to my emotion?

I dribbled a few light drops – liked the dark pool of ink in the bottle and connected to it. Pushed the stick in deep and blobbed on some bigger drips.

This (surprisingly) triggered anger at what had happened and I spattered drops angrily across the paper in a burst of flicks and prods into the pot.

After a moment (the ink was running out – had it been full I would have been tempted to tip it all over the page) – I felt cross with myself for being mean and using up an old bottle of ink rather than the new bottle I’d bought… but it felt false to stop and open the new bottle.

So again the cost of the medium was dictating my drawing.

I spattered out the last few drops. The sadness welled back up inside me – I wanted more ink.

After a moment I put the stick on its side and started rolling it through the ink. But as soon as I did this I had to stop. It was as if it suddenly became a ‘mark maker’ (in the sense of being like a pencil – something I controlled with meaning)… and I had to stop.

I don’t understand this but it might be that when I was using a ‘pencil’ in the form of a charcoal stick, oil pastel or graphite stick that involved controlled thought? Whereas the fluid ink allowed me to stay in my emotion and became  part of my feeling?

This exercise has been a real eye opener.

I’ve realised that how we feel affects how we make marks and that this is recorded on the paper. That we can try and capture an emotion from the outside… draw ‘happiness’. Or capture ‘happy’ marks… a bit like a pianists changes his touch on the keys to express the emotion he’s experiencing. That our mood affects our drawing just as does our connection to our subject. Or we can record the thing that is causing our joy… that our feelings are in integral part of our art.

That great drawing records an ‘inner vision’ not an ‘outer reality’. And that drawings that live are not about the subject… the flower or the face but about the artist’s vision. And that is informed by reflection, study, soul… the sum of what makes the artist informs his seeing.

So, although as trainee artists we all have to learn the basics of drawing ultimately it’s not actually about the technical skill. It’s not about making an apple look like an apple so people stand open mouthed and go ‘wow!’ at our expertise…It’s about looking, reflecting, growing and having personal vision… and transforming the apple into art.

























Sketchbook… try out feeling?

All the work I’ve been doing on ‘Experimenting with expressive lines and marks’ has made me realise that in my sketchbook I had been doing detached exercises so I thought I’d draw something that I had a connection to.

I chose the Yorkshire moors – I was brought up there and spent most of my life living among them – have worked on them – walked alone on them in all weathers. So even though I was working from a photograph… I could still smell the grass and feel that warm sunshine.

There was a connection.

In order… (1) An apple – I tried to make it round and have reflected light. But there is absolutely no connection between me and the apple. I didn’t grow it… didn’t see it from flower, to swelling to fruit. It’s from Tesco. I feel nothing for this apple.

And I am not feeling anything in myself independent of the apple. I am not happy or sad.

Apple in Charcoal

Apple in Charcoal

This looks dead and flat emotionally – it’s captured some of the roundness but has no feeling.








(2) A pot of flowers… this was a study and a chance to use a new drawing material – charcoal pen. I’m working my way through all the materials I bought for this course.

This was given to me by somebody I love so even though I wasn’t aware of that as I was drawing them there is a connection. They have a value.

This is very difficult to quantify but as I look at it it has some sense of aliveness that the apple doesn’t have. Something about it is different which I don’t think has to do with the medium.

Spring Flowers.

Spring Flowers.

(3) I deliberately chose the Yorkshire Moors because I wanted to put myself on the ‘on’ the moors while I was drawing it.

It was another new material – brush pen… and conte crayon which I’d used before.

While I was doing it I could smell and feel the moorland… the warm wind. Hear a rustle of dry grass. Lose myself in the distant hills. To me it looks more alive and I can see the grass in the left swishing about.


Yorkshire Moors

Yorkshire Moors

I accept it’s colour and mixed media – maybe choosing the media was part of the connection?  – but this feels like it has a quality the others don’t have.

The connection is faint and distant to match my lack of technical ability but there’s a whiff of moorland here.

I’ll write about the drawings (what I liked and din’t like – what worked and what I can improve) in my sketchbook but for my blog I just wanted to record that I think my feeling about the subject affects how I draw it, and I will to try and make all my drawing have some kind of feeling in the future. Even if that’s just to feel happy or sad.

That way I think the drawings will be more alive and I’ll begin to practice connecting what’s inside to what goes down on paper.

Art vs Photographs.

I just want to put this on the table… no answers really just some questions and thoughts…

Firstly the reason personal photographs are often dissapointing (that beautiful sunset looks tiny and grey when it filled the sky and made you feel joyful) is because what you saw was the processed image inside your brain – your subjective reality… while what the camera captures is the actual image that fell on your eyes.

Secondly, because photographs carry detail and we are used to ‘seeing’ them as real – the trick in photoshopping is to make them look real but enhance them enough to move towards some kind of ‘idealised’ image.

People often complain about images being over photoshopped. Whereas ‘art’ traditionally isn’t expected to be ‘real’… and has many (and shifting) movements. Photography (in the public arena) seems to be much more limited in its visual language.

If you’re ‘stuck’ with a ‘realistic’ image can you manipulate it sufficiently to capture an inner vision without it ceasing to be a ‘photograph’?

There is also the question of whether the relationship between the medium and the image (the ‘artist’ has a direct physical and tactile relationship with his materials… paper… charcoal… whereas photoshop is digital) affects the image. I would say it has to. In the same way that an oil painting is different from a pencil sketch so removing the physical connection between the image and the artist must affect the ‘picture’.

Digital painting using your finger or a brush I would classify as drawing and not photography.

Which makes me feel that photography shouldn’t try and do the same things as art. And art shouldn’t try and do the same thing as photography.

What I thought of as similar I now think of as different. I think that photography is about capturing an outer moment (it’s what’s in from of the camera that’s most important) while art is about capturing an inner moment (the inner vision is more important than the outer subject).

And they are both part of what it is to be human.






Drawing is much, much more than visual information.

Imagine here (it’s in my learning log book cut out from the Guardian) a beautiful evocative Yorkshire winter landscape by Derek Hyatt called ‘Snow Time Again’… almost abstract… and next to it a photgraphic image of the Bronte Country in Autumn.

I’ve not included either here because I don’t have permission to use them in an open blog.

And my mixed media drawing of the photograph:

Yorkshire Moors

Yorkshire Moors

In the course I have been on ‘Experimenting with Expressive Lines and Marks’. This has taught me that the connection of the artist to the subject is vital and that the mark making captures much more than the visual representation of the image.

It’s not a ‘copy’ of an image.

This started me thinking about ‘what is seeing’?

First we have a visual stimuli falling on our eyes… this is then converted by our eyes into an electrical signal… depending on our eyesight the inputs will be different. We might be colourblind – short sighted – A1 eyesight…

So, the first difference is that the electrical signal that goes to our brain can never be exactly the same and sometimes might be very different. Which means that we are all starting with something different.

This signal is then processed by the brain.

I’m still getting my head round the idea, which I’ve never challenged before, that what we see isn’t ‘real’… it doesn’t exist objectively in the outside world, it only exists subjectively in our head… it’s a very heavily processed (a bit like photoshopping raw data) ‘picture’.

What we ‘see’ is changed by our emotions, the smell of the moorland, past memories, what we feel about the subject, an event in our life, training… it is much more a reflection of us as human beings and our connection with the subject than it is a ‘copy’ of light falling on our eyes.

As well as ‘seeing’ differently we also have how well this ‘vision’ is translated onto paper. The higher the level of technical ability and experience the closer the marks on the paper can capture it. In the same way that a trained singing voice allows the emotion of the performer to fill the sound… or a great film actor to show the subtle inner shifts of personality/emotion/psychology.

When we look at a great work of art by a master we are seeing their vision captured on paper. That’s what we connect with… That’s what brings us to tears and makes our souls sing.

It’s not the apple, or the tree, or the face… it’s the artist.






Deadly tired today and going to have to revise my timetable to what works.

I’d planned to carry on working full time and have two nights mid week where I did 3 hours 6-9, Saturday where I did 9 till 1and and hour on the other two week days with an evening off.

I get up at 6.30 – when I’m not acting I work as a casual supply teacher in primary schools – I work in about 30 different schools a year – and it’s getting harder as the system creaks (underfunded schools with damaged kids in oversized classes with reduced resources and more artificial targets) so when I get back I’m too tired to focus for three hours.

At my age I should be relaxing and going for a walk!!!

I also have to fit in exercising my voice 45 minutes a day… and marketing my acting, watching films for BAFTA and keeping up with the ever changing world of TV and film.

So something’s got to give…


My new plan is to take a day a week off and try and do 6 hours – phone off and treat it like work – and half a day (4 hours) on Saturday or Sunday. Which will give me a core 10 hours. I could then try and sketch for 30 minutes every day and spend 30 minutes reading my course books, (an hour a night).

I think that’s doable… a bit like the day release model?

When I get an audition I can stay on in London and visit an exhibition… and read on the train.

It makes the course much more expensive but that’s why I downsized, to give myself choices. Being freelance it’s hard not to work every day. But unless I treat this like a job and carve out enough secure quality time it’s not going to work.

And I do want it to work!


Project 1 – Feeling and Expression. Exercise 1.

Joy… today I had a cold and was tired form work so had to push myself to make this… it would have been very easy to have an early night and curl up in bed.  In the end I had a paracetamol and a lie down for an hour then got up feeling a bit better and grabbed the moment.

This was weird as it took on a life of its own.

Yesterday I’d thought of the exercise as one unity with four panels… and I’d chosen where to start and which medium to use. Today the mediums chose themselves and their square – and din’t want to be part of a big picture.

They wanted to be individual.

It’s really hard to explain but each medium made me feel a different type of joy. It wasn’t a blanket feeling like anger or calm that spread across all four boxes and was then drawn in different mediums.

So that’s how I’ve chosen to show them – as different drawings rather than as a block of four. Though I’ll show the four at the end so you can see what I mean.

Ink wanted to go first. It drew me to it… it spattered and dribbled – played on the page. This was childlike joy. I had a moment to look and added the heavier mark and lines – what I wanted to do was get a big brush and throw paint at the paper, let it splatter and splurge. The little drips were missing the pops and explosions of happiness.

So I turned the stick on its side and used it as a ‘brush’ to spread the ink then added a few lines. The composition worked… I don’t know why but did’t want to rationalise it so stopped.

Joy - ink on paper

Joy – ink on paper

The graphite wanted to go next. I spent a long time just filling up with feeling. Then made the single mark and stopped. I could imagine it dancing in the wind, tumbling and swirling.

Then I just stood and looked at it for several minutes soaking up the joyfullness.

Joy - graphite on paper

Joy – graphite on paper

This charcoal made all sorts of marks but as one mark moved towards capturing what I was feeling another spoiled it. In that sense it was a hybrid between making naive joyful marks and trying to draw ‘Joy’.

It was frustrating and I was worried it was going to turn into a mess, then I shaded in the outside which framed the centre and suddenly it worked.

So I stopped straight away.

Joy - wood charcoal on paper

Joy – wood charcoal on paper









This oil pastel went through several stages… first I felt joyful but strangely the marks I was making didn’t look joyful… so then I started to try and draw ‘joy’ and play about with shapes. That wasn’t working when I hit upon the circles which suggested I was standing in something like a sea of bubbles or a rushing kaleidoscope of colours.

I then tried to draw what I could see as these shapes and colours (that made me laugh) washed over me. It wasn’t that I could see them for real but I had the same feeling that you have when you’re joyfully experiencing something physically joyful like standing in a warm thunderstorm by a field of sunflowers.

Its was weird way of working as I wasn’t drawing ‘joy’ or making joyful marks, I was trying to draw the sensual experience of joy.

Eventually it came into focus and these overlapping wheels with spokes appeared which I imagined I was in the middle of… and flying all around me.

It took about 30 minutes and felt exhilerating.

Joy - black oil pastel on paper

Joy – black oil pastel on paper

Here’s the picture of all four together to show you what I mean.



This has taught me that different mediums have different ‘personalities’ and are better suited to  different projects – they express different things.

So the media is important and will affect what you produce. Not only because it makes different marks and has different physical characteristics but because it makes you feel differently and your mental and emotional state transforms how the marks are made on the paper.

Experimental Drawing – A Few Words

Read the introduction to Experimental Drawing by Robert Kaupelis (1980)… This has been in my bag – and have been wanting to read a page for about a week and I finally got round to looking at it today.

My worry is that as it had been written in 1980 it would be dated and some of the cutting edge experimental techniques now be ‘old hat’. And the artistic debates long settled.

But I won’t know that till I’ve read it properly.

I like that he says creativity doesn’t have a ‘beginning creative/expressive activity… intermediate and graduate creative/expressive’ and that students at any level (technically) can produce work of a high aesthetic merit. This I take to be the same as acting… profound experiences can be experienced and expressed at any level of technical ability…but the more you free the instrument the more expressive it is of your inner world and vision.

Similar in art he says there’s a vast difference between a fresher and a graduate. And that ‘if a student does not know the meaning and values or how to produce a broad range of them with a variety of materials, I thoroughly believe he should acquire this knowledge at once.’ And that’s what the graduate has.

However, of itself the training doesn’t give you artistic sensitivity or intelligence it just gives you the means to express it should you possess or develop it. That’s why great art ‘sings to the soul’ and poor art is professional but empty.

He says there’s a logical sequence to learning to draw which fits with my tutor saying after a creative introductory few pages this course settles down very quickly to a traditional art training.

Good… that’s what I need.

Finally just looking at his examples of early Michelangelo and Willem deKooning and their later work what strikes me is how rigid there early work is. Photographically or sculpturally real but emotionally dead… (I did notice deKooning edges his jug with a white and black line against a grey background where the greys were very similar in value – it isn’t there in real life but works perfectly)… and how fluid and emotion filled there later work is.

This reinforces my belief that art is about the soul – about laughter – about pain – about being human and that the subject of art is the vehicle for the artist’s vision not the end point.

That’s a really important realisation as I start my training!