Monthly Archives: June 2016

Rembrandt’s ‘The Shell’ 1650

My tutor asked me to look at the way Rembrandt used the negative space in his ‘The Shell’, 1650. He originally had the shell with just the shadow… like my objects in Assignment 1. This places it on a surface but lacks emotional ‘weight’ or physical context.


He then completed the print by adding a background which places it in the real world and makes it look like it’s magically lit. By adding shading around the shell he adds lighting. And gives it an ambiguous but real physical location… the corner of a room?

Finished shell: From the British Museum using their free image service.


©Trustees of the British Museum.

The ambient shading adds narrative and a human element. Where is it? How did it get there? You almost start to build the rest of his house around it, and place him in it drawing the shell.

Lighting is a very effective tool. It alters the mood adds emotional value. Chiaroscuro is a very effective tool to add drama or mystery. And the lighting both focusses the attention on the shell by taking the eye to it – the surrounding is dark and interesting but lacking detail and our eye is constantly draw back to the shell… it introduces a magical almost mythical quality to the shell with the its etherial lighting. Almost as if the shell is glowing.

Two interesting points strike me here.


His primary interest was in the shell and he initially printed up his etching without ambient shading… just the shadow on the surface. But this obviously didn’t have the effect he wanted so he added the shading. It’s got to be a guess but the preliminary etching though ‘anatomically correct’ wasn’t what he saw (The duality of creation consisting the shell outside of him and his brain combining to create what he sees.). It wasn’t emotionally or psychologically correct so he corrected it by adding the shading.

Which is exactly the point my tutor made to me.


His hatching is very tight so it almost edges into shading. This is interesting as it is still hatching and uses lines so is symbolic rather than real… but it has elements of shading and the shell becomes at least half real.

I wonder if this was due to the restrictions of etching (you have to etch in lines?) or an artistic choice?

Finally I love the way he leaves a tiny bit of light around the shadow on the left. The reverse of drawing a black line round something to give definition… he draws a white line!

Articles used in this Research:

Preliminary stage from the Rijks Museum.


The Shell (Conus marmoreus), Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, 1650

etching, h 97mm × w 129mm. More details

Collecting exotic shells was a popular hobby in the 17th century, and it excited Rembrandt’s interest too. He had a small natural history collection of his own, including this marbled cone shell; it is similar in shape to the conus cervus, a ‘deer’ cone. He rendered the form and markings of the shell with meticulous care on the copperplate. Note that the shell appears in mirror image.


©Trustees of the British Museum.


Still-life was one of a number of new genres in painting that became popular in seventeenth-century Holland, after the collapse of religious patronage in the previous century (as did landscape, domestic interiors, and townscapes). Rembrandt engaged closely with the human content of his work, and this still-life study is unique in his printed work. The shell is a Conus marmoreus, which is native to south-east Africa, Polynesia and Hawaii. It may be that Rembrandt owned an example, along with many other curiosities in his collection. Wenceslaus Hollar etched similar shells with great virtuosity, and Rembrandt may have been exercising his etching technique to capture the sheen on the shell.The first state of the plate lacks all the ambient tone, except for the shadow cast by the shell on the surface that supports it. By including the surrounding atmosphere of lights and darks, Rembrandt transforms the balance of the lighting. The shell’s striking pattern, with the tight spiral of its base, clearly fascinated him, as it is captured in great detail.

More Details

Date Created:


Physical Dimensions:

Height: 97.00mm; Width: 132.00mm


Bequeathed by Slade, Felix


Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum




Print made by Rembrandt

Registration number:





etching; drypoint



I now have a stack of work to do… 13 hyperlinks on from tutor on drawing, 3 hyperlinks from Formative feedback, Part 2 Project 1, sketch every day, stick my new museum visits in my log, photograph museum visits and add to blog and read my art books which I enjoy… if I’m not careful it will all feel too much so I need to break it down.


Try and sketch 30 minutes and read for 30 minutes – at the moment I am reading Musee d’Orsay ‘Art and Architecture’ (which is great as it’s a wonderfully fluid period 1848-1914 covering the birth of modern art in the capital of modern art… I’ve been there so feels special (surplus value!) and it covers decorative arts, fine art, photography and architecture and gives a great context) and Experimental drawing which is just a joy.

4 hours over 4 days.

One art day (8 hours)/one half day (4 hours) per week:

1 hour admin (sticking in sheets/photographing work/writing up museum visits).

1 hour reading hyperlinks recommended by tutor.

1 hour  drawing!!!! Visual research/finished piece in sketchbook.

5 hours on course.



Formative feedback Assignment 1

1_DrawingSkills_PaulButterworth (23/06/2016) – sketchbook, log book and Assignment 1 posted to tutor. Tutor given password to blog.

I’ll try and categorise my responses and the action I’m going to take.

I asked about the Assessment criteria as I wish to be assessed (I need to tell her next time) and therefore need to do a self-assessment of for all future Assignments and submit it with the drawings. As I didn’t understand the language in the handbook I asked for clarification.

Assessment criteria points:

I’m now clear on these… there are four… (The first three are all contained within the Assignments) and reflected in the sketchbook, log book and blog.

(1) Technical – (35%) – set per project with objective criteria, as I am learning skills in a set tradition, such as perspective or foreshortening. It is possible to assert a technical right or wrong.

(2) Quality of outcome – (20%) – this is to do with the concept or the framework of ideas that informs the work and gives it meaning.

(3) Creativity – (25%) – in the way the Assignment is tackled – problem solving outside the box (such as dealing with lack of materials) – inventiveness – and later in my development finding an artistic voice.

(4) Context or research – (20%) – This is separate but informs the practical work. It includes Research points – museum visits – critical reflection on my progress… and is mainly in the log book/blog.

Practical actions to do with presentation:

(A) Make sure all my fugitive media are fixed as fugitive media rubbing off. Action… buy a good fixative… oil pastel and general (charcoal/pastel) fixative ordered 24/06/16  

Or rub in with my fingers and then pastel/charcoal with my fingers and then use a sheet of tissue… bought tissue 24/06/16

(B) Avoid writing on top of my drawing (particularly with assessment work.).  Write on the back.

(C) Cut off gum strip used for masking and stretching… will try clips or cut off strips.

Things to work on – Assignment reflection:

Composition –

Establish strong visual connection with overlapping.

Think about negative space… how and where I place objects – look at Rembrandt’s shell. He blacked out background which made it appear magically lit. I don’t have to be too literal with background! Look at links.

I need to be aware of what effect I would like and how I can use composition to achieve this.

Use digital cropping to experiment with objects and backgrounds.

Things confirmed/clarified:

Emotion adds (surplus value) – over and above market value – and affects (duration) by stretching or shrinking time.

Dualism of creation – inside/outside of artist and a mixture of the two in the artists head making the duality. Inside artist as separate and the object in space as separate and the two linked in the artist’s internalisation of the outside world (so it makes sense)… it is this internalisation that the artist ‘sees’ – NOT THE SEPARATE OBJECT – and it is this duality that he draws/paints. It will differ for all of us. And the balance between the internal and external will vary between artists and individual works of art.


Warm up – check Cornelia Parker for experimentation with lighting.

Project 2: Ex 1 and 2 – my reflections too wide – tutor interesting comments re high value intellectual/conceptual/visual capital of drawings inked to (temporary/difficulty of conservation) and high market capitalisation of (permanent and tradable) paintings. More to think of here!

Texture – lots of work and I may have preempted some aspects of Part 2.

Very interesting comments from tutor on texture – extending my thoughts on when does a surface become an object to escaping gestalt of the object and focusing on the haptic of texture. You isolate the feeling and create that through marks without connecting to the wholeness of the object. You’re drawing touch… or how it looks like it would feel?! Thus it becomes and abstract exercise and a resource bank for handling media and visual expression.

Tutor backed up friend’s suggestion I keep it simple and don’t try and do everything at level 1.

Drawing over graphics and my term ‘visual noise’ – look at hyperlink 3

Colours in shadow – feedback that this will be very useful in colour drawing and painting.

Project 2: Ex 1,2, 3 and 4:

Nice clarification by tutor of my thoughts on line (a language – symbolic and abstracted) and tone (creating an illusion and seducing us into the field of the picture). Different tools. Be interesting to combine?

To do: Allow process (exercises and sketchbook) to flower into a finished piece of work. Complete on a loose sheet, un-annotated sketchbook page or ‘narrative’ as a concertina.

Research point and other contexts:

Tutor not expecting positioning in context of art history at level 1 – thought Redon well written and researched… I enjoyed it.

She suggested exhibitions and artwork that I find interesting (that she’s seen in my log) can be photographed and added to my blog.

Suggested reading/viewing:

Work through the three hyperlinks and reflect in my blog.

(1)   Cornelia Parker interview.

(2) Materiality/immateriality – value systems.

(3) Writing and drawing.

Pointers for Assignment 2:

Keep up sketchbook and try to sketch every day.




Museum visits

Just spent five hours catching up with my log book sticking in and annotating museum visits to LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art), Paul Getty Museum LA, RA ‘In the Age of Giorgione’, Musee d’Orsay (Paris), Manchester Art Gallery and RA ‘Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse’.

This got me thinking about the whole idea of museum visits.

Firstly, write them up at the time!

Memory fades and what was a vivid collection of images and names blurs and fades to a blank canvas. The pictures and programmes can help but there’s nothing to beat contemporaneous notes.

Next, is the way to view an exhibition.

It seems there are three ways… firstly the artistic ‘Twitcher’… they go from gallery to gallery snapping the famous paintings without looking at them and quickly move on like an artistic hoovering machine.

Happy to say that holds no appeal – I don’t take photographs in the gallery. I want to see the paintings with my eyes and experience them with my whole being.

So that leaves me with the experiential and the academic.

The academic would involve reading up on the artist first. Placing him historically and culturally – becoming aware with his ouvre and techniques. Taking a notebook/sketchbook, reading all the notes in the exhibition and probably having the audio description as well.

In terms of art history and in a study of artistic technique I’m sure this is the best method. And having visited the Musee d’Orsay and soaked it up (well a little bit… 3 hours worth) I’m now reading the fat guide and will go back later.

However, I like the experiential approach.

Working on the principle that having the painting in front of me is a rare experience and one that can’t be repeated I want to soak it all in. I want to look and contemplate and experience the majesty… to give the art my full attention without engaging my conscious mind too much in an academic analysis of where it falls in the artistic stream.

And… there’s always the argument that if a painting has to be explained then it’s not working. I don’t (first time) want to read it like a book. I want to see what is has to say to me now – colours, form, intimacy, emotion, narrative… I want to enter the picture and become one with it.

There is absolutely nothing that compares to seeing the real painting on the wall in it’s frame. It’s impact. It’s message. It’s intelligence… and, of course, you’re in a very true sense having direct contact with the artist even more than with the subject he/she is painting.

Having recently seen lots of painting I think it is the vision of the artist not the skill that determines a great artist. In their art they are opening up their soul… a great master will move you… he will connect… a lesser one you stand outside and awe at his skill.

As such lesser artists though are often very skilful (that’s ‘professional’ we’ll say) verge towards the decorative rather than the artistic. ‘Empty art’ is the term I use. The RA exhibition “Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse” was jam packed full of Empty Art with just a very few notable exceptions like the Renoir.

Wandering through the Musee d’Orsay in the collections of wealthy patrons not knowing who painted what, letting the paintings speak to me, it was the Monet in every collection that  called me over first.

As we develop as artists (study art history, artistic techniques and make our first faltering steps at capturing what we see) we take all our new experiences and knowledge to the exhibit. So we are not going blind. If we know Giorgione introduced the personal to portrait painting we cannot unknow it.

But, I would argue that museum visits – unless part of a specific study (Research Point) on the course should be an opportunity to commune with the paintings.

To see with the artists eyes we need to abandon ourselves and just look at the painting.


Part 1: Research point: Odilon Redon and use of tone

… find further work by Odilon Redon and discuss the atmospheric potential of tone.

* Please find a list of articles that I used in my research at the end of this Research point – I printed out the articles and have stuck them in my physical log, and annotated the sketches.

Before tackling the the ‘atmospheric potential of tone’ I think it is important to consider why Odilon Redon is a great artist to use as an example. Both his place in history as a leading French Symbolist and his electric use of tone… making tone into a palette of black and white as richly evocative as any colour palette.

Having established Odilon as a virtuoso in tone we can then look at the full atmospheric potential of tone in drawing.

He fought as a soldier in the Franco Prussian war… I have never been a soldier but the experience of killing and seeing death must have changed him. And it was immediately after this that he experienced a firm vocation to be an artist. He then settled in Paris (1), which was significant because even though the Paris Commune had been crushed it must still have been a hotbed of working class radicalism and ideas.

So, we have a man in his early 30’s traumatised by war choosing to live in a city traumatised by an enemy occupation and a working class revolution just crushed by the regular army.

And as art captures an artist’s feelings and psychology as well his subject I would propose that his Noirs would be full of his feelings… full of ‘atmosphere’.

Also, his Noirs won acclaim among the Parisian literary elite following the aesthetic principles of Baudelaire  (1) and he became one of the leading French Symbolist artists. Symbolism is an artistic movement expressing mystical ideas, emotions and states of mind. Therefore it is likely that in his Noirs his main aim was not the reproduction of his subject matter… the visual reality – but to evoke the mystical and emotional. Or, in other words, the atmospheric.

What better way to do this than in the landscapes of the half light of star or moonshine.

In his Noirs it is very difficult to see the landscapes with any clarity, they are indistinct nightscapes.

The night is the world of tone – which isn’t to say that tone can’t be used wonderfully in a brightly lit painting full of colour… but colour is primarily the kingdom of light. So, where better to look for the atmospheric potential of tone than in the work of an artist from a period in his life where he was dedicated to shades of black.

He says of his discovery of charcoal in a letter (2) published by the magazine L’Art Moderne in June 1894, “Confidence d’Artists”… “This everyday substance,which has no beauty of its own, aided my researches into chiaroscuro and the invisible. It is a neglected material, scorned by artists. I must say, however, that charcoal does not allow kindness; it is sober, and only with real emotion can you draw results from it.”

To paraphrase, to use charcoal you must draw with passion. And this is what he pours into his Noirs.

As further proof we can look to his dazzling us of techniques.

Starting with the paper. He often chose paper with flecks of colour, and in erasing his soft charcoal with a rubber or scratching away his sketch after applying fixative it became an integral part of his Noirs. So, although they had no colour… in fact they had a hidden colour revealed in the paper. But it is the indistinct, ‘can I see it am I imagining it’ colour of the night. He also used balsam resins in his fixatives (4) which aged yellow orange over time and gave his noirs an orange glow… of warm moonlight. A fact he was well aware of and continued to favour those fixatives. So, like a negative, his Noirs aged into the finished sketch. He also used oiled charcoal (probably made himself) which was soaked in linseed oil and left yellow rings.

So he had a very muted and evocative colour underpinning his tonal work and filling his ‘highlights’.

He then had his mediums which ranged from soft charcoal (4) he would add over the whole paper and erase or work with a stump to create his base tone and highlights. As seen in the light on the horizon (setting sun?) on Landscape, 1868 (4… Fig 4) or the reflection caught on the tree in tree (4… Fig 5), 1875 and the bright moonlit trees in the , Two Trees, 1875 in the Drawing 1 course book page 25… To wet fixative treated charcoal he would move with his thumb to create vegetation… finger painting… or smudge. To thick ground charcoal he would paint on with a brush in an impasto method. And finally compressed charcoal and black crayon (conte) he would add at the end and to outline compositional elements.

This showed the passion with which he worked to create atmosphere with charcoal.

Not only does he have light and dark areas, chiaroscuro (traditionally used to create emotion) he also uses every shade of tone with spots, squiggles… indistinct finger marks, and lines scratched out to create an organic whole. But his surface also has a variety of textures depending how it was worked, the black medium used, and how he added the fixative.

By such ways he creates an local scene which is unified by the night… and suffused by the orange tinge of the moon… full of a shadowy world carved in tone in which we can lose ourselves in contemplation… almost hear the trees in the wind… feel the cool night air… a pre mystic world where the shadows tingle with the unknown and take us to a world away from conscious thoughts.

Away from the light and logic of sunshine.

And into the atmospheric of the subconscious. A dream world.

In Odilon Redon’s work we can see the full potential of the atmospheric use of tone (it is almost tone without subject, and indeed it would be interesting to see these techniques used for tonal abstract drawing).

In his work tone is isolated from representation clarity and colour.. it’s not emotion in the way colours are emotion… his drawings crackle with a primal feeling beyond emotion… and it therefore builds in us an awareness of the potential atmospheric power of tone.


Articles from internet used in research:




(4) The Book and Paper Group, ANNUAL< VOLUME FOURTEEN 1995, A Technical Investigation of Odilon Redon’s Pastels and Noirs

Reflection: Balance of writing and practice

I just had an email from my tutor in response to a question about reflecting on every piece of work.

Her answer was really useful.

I short she said reflection was 20% and practice development 80%.

Although my reflections have helped me keep my learning it’s made me realise that by reflecting on every piece of work I’ve been doing too much reflection… probably 50/50… and the balance is wrong.

With limited time – two jobs (and down time?!) – means time is limited and so much reflection was slowing me down.

I’m going to try and stick to the reflections requested in the course material (unless something major hits me) and spend more time on the practical work.

Part of this course is learning how to study as a mature art student (not having done A level) and working in isolation. So advice like this is really useful.

I’ll print out her email and this reply and stick it in my log as well.

Part 1: Project 2: Review Ex 2 and 3

Ex. 2: Observing shadow using blocks of tone and Ex. 3 Creating shadow using lines and marks.

These two exercises were focussed on shadow so I should concentrate on that… however more came out of them than shadow so I’m briefly going to cover that first.IMG_0005

(1) Ex. 2 really taught me that to see the objects as 3D. Having mainly drawn with lines (or occasionally with tone but not been given any understanding… so I was following an instruction and merely substituting tone for line – the concept in my head was the same – I was not being taught to look or think about it). So I was always ‘drawing’ a shape.  Almost converting it to 2D.

Here, I was different because I was not blindly following an instruction but thinking about it in a different way.

I was actually seeing where the light fell on the objects and using tone as clay… moulding the shape on the paper as if the shade was a physical thing, clay, the shading became a sculpture, it made me connect with the object in a different way.

It felt as if I was feeling the 3D’ness as I was working the tone and seeing a 3d object. As if I was connected to the object rather than drawing it on paper. Not copying but connecting with it – touching it.

(2) I was really quite surprised to see how differently I ‘saw’ the light when I really looked at it. Where I would have put a black line (as a convention) and then filled it in was actually defined by a highlight.

(3) Technically this paper had a big bite and once it had charcoal on it you could never get back to white. So if you wanted a bright highlight you had to leave the paper bare… which meant you either had to get it right first time or work from the mid tones to the light and then the dark.

(4) I loved working with the rubber. And was constantly adding charcoal and taking it away, as if I was making a clay model. Using the rubber allowed me to do big sweeping movements. I held it in a different way to a piece of charcoal… it made me feel differently. Like I was physically connected to the drawing rather than doing an ‘academic’ exercise. It also made me want to stand up and work from an easel.

Ex. 2…

(1) I was amazed at how many different ways you could make marks on the paper… it was fun. And the range of effects by using squiggles, dots, hatching and combinations of all three.

(2) The marks were ‘meaningless’ in isolation and I struggled not to turn them into narratives or shapes.

(3) One of the biggest surprises was how the different mark making tools all took on their own personality… for instance the orange was different in all four attempts. And that was mainly driven by the medium.

It was almost like they made me think/feel in a different way. Like it wasn’t me dictating what I was drawing and how but a two way conversation.

(4) I thought the biro would be the least expressive of the mediums (because I use it to write with and don’t value it) but it produced some really interesting results. You don’t know until you try and shouldn’t make assumptions!

(5) That I could make a square with dots – even though I knew it was dots – and it stubbornly read as a 3D cube was amazing.

(6) It seemed counter intuitive considering the realism of shading but the lines and squiggles really captured something of my feeling for the object. Which made me think that realism is only one quality of an object… like colour has different qualities (hue, saturation, luminosity etc) so ‘reality’ is only one quality of an object.

Now the questions the course asked:

How difficult did you find it to distinguish between light from the primary light source and secondary reflected light?

Relatively easily. It was obvious where the primary light came from and what it did. Any interruptions were caused by the secondary reflected light.

Just like bouncing balls you could see what the secondary light (and colours it contained) did to the primary reflected light/shadow.

How has awareness of tone affected your depiction of form?

It’s revolutionised it by making me see a 3D object not a flat piece of paper with my drawing on it. I no longer ‘draw’ form but sculpt it out of tone.