Monthly Archives: April 2017

Reflection: The Art Book by Phaiden; VITAMIN D2 – NEW PERSPECTIVES IN DRAWING and Anatomy for Artists by Barrington Barber.

I have read a couple of pages of these every day for the last couple of months and a few things are starting to happen in my brain… weird wiggly things which are unbidden but slowly beginning to take shape!

VITAMIN D2: The drawings in here range from so skillfull it’s truly mind boggling to almost concept art with little traditional skill.

However all of them are ‘justified’ by a page of esoteric text.

It’s as if they are each a different ‘visual’ language invented by the creator, be it discussing identity, or the nature of art, or time, or inner yearnings… and that without the translation ‘manual’ at the side they would be meaningless.

Within their own visual ‘linguistic’ world they are poetry of the highest order but outside of it they are impenitrable.

They are more works of discourse or polemic than drawings. In the sense that drawings are accessible to everybody… be they realistic, surrealist, futurist, impressionistic or aesthetic – to use a few boxes. While for discourse you have to be trained and understand the language.

I believe all art involves ideas and what it is to be human (rather than craft , design or pattern making which is pleasing but doesn’t connect, either to our subconscious or conscious mind, in the same deep way) – artists can paint emotions in expressionism or the visual reality of light flickering through leaves, in impressionism. But what all art has in commen is it’s universality – the lonliness of Hopper’s characters speak to anybody who’s ever lived and worked in a modern city… Dega’s pastels are both aesthetic abstract (geometric and colour) paintings that reach inside us as well as capturing the emotion and frisson of a voyeuristic moment and a glimpse of hidden narratives.

The other end of art is when it is so personal that it holds meaning only for the creator. It is impenetrable.

For me the drawings in D2 are not art because they are not universal (however interesting they are in the context of the descriptions, which decode their language, and therefore illuminate their meaning).  They are closed worlds – like lost languages – accessible only to the initiated.

That said I’m enjoying the book and will carry on to the end.

The Art BookThis is fantastic!!! I love the way it zips about in time so an artist from 2012 might be next to somebody from 1385. Because it’s alphabetic (surnames of the painters) and not in time order or by movement.

This is the third book like this that I’ve read cover to cover over the last 10 years and suddenly all the fragments are starting to come together like a net of lights… rather than being linear (footprints in time slowly plodding from pre-history to the present day – each generation progressing in skill till it all exploded with the industrial revolution and the invention of photography) they are all starting to connecting up into one whole.

Sorry, I can’t explain it any better than that!!!!

Also, I’m beginning to notice structure in paintings… artistic language??? Shapes, colour, gesture etc. It must all be soaking in and now some of it is now it’s becoming visible, which is really exciting.

And when I go for a walk I’m starting to ‘see’ things differently.

Light falls, waves ripple – the nearest I can explain it is instead of ‘hearing’ noise I can suddenly hear birds sing and twigs crackle.

It’s like the visual world is suddenly coming alive!

Anatomy for Artists: (by Barrington Barber) This is not as useful as I thought… it’s intersting but I’m never going to learn all the bones and muscles and the covering of flesh is so different and varied in real people that it makes what’s underneath useful but not essential.

And the drawings are poor – they are (no doubt) anatomically correct – but I find them hard to look at as they have no ‘life’.

What I’ve found myself doing (and this may be much more useful when I come to people in section 4) is getting a blunt pencil and drawing over the sketches. Imagining I’m doing them and trying to see the limbs.

I’ve also traced over a few.

Again, as with a tree… or a mountain… every person, every foot, or ear or hand is different and this book needs to find a way to connect an understanding of underlying principles (how a foot is made up) with specific feet.

At the moment it feels like… oh… I know how to draw a foot… it’s like this, and I draw that rather than the foot in front of me.

Maybe I need an anatomy book that is more artistically linked than illustrational.


Assignment 2 (Preparation: 5 of 6 quick sketches of my still lifes)



This took about seven hours so NOT a quick sketch!!!!

However… the learning curve was vertical so worth every minute – will have to take time off work and catch up to try and finish the course.

So many things to say about this it’s difficult to know where to start?! So, as ever, in no particular order:

(1) Supporting medium was A4 sketch paper – this had very little bite so was very difficuly to ‘overwork’ if I didn’t get the first mark right. The paper got clogged and generated lots of dust which covered the fresh clean work.

It would have been much better to use pastel paper or canvas… I looked at ‘The Rehearsal’ by Degas and noticed it was h59 x w83.8 cm. on canvas which has lots of bite!!!! Though it would have been very interesting to know what his canvas was made of and how it was prepared.

(2) Working on the flat was a very bad idea as the dust went everywhere (I started at the top right and moved round in sections but it didn’t help because I was working on a table).

Next time I will put the supporting medium on an easel so the dust falls down and work from the top. That way the colours should stay fresh and clean.

(3) A4 was too small for the chunky pastels which are very poor at detail and fine lines (unlike pencil or watercolour) as it’s hard to predict where the line will fall. Had I worked bigger it would have been much easier to define objects.

(4) They are very good at shading/blocks of colour and suggestions. And very good for unreal reality – by which I mean the brain sees the objects as what they are, ‘real’ , even though in photographic terms they are very ‘unreal’. This is super cool.

So with a couple of strokes of chalk you can create a book that is more like a book than the best photograph and yet in purely ‘realistic terms’ is not realistic.

I need to think about this some more but I really like it.

(5) Pastels have a really creamy almost sensous quality and when you get it right the objects ‘jump’ off the page almost as if they are alive – and certainly 3D.

(6) The colours get dirty and I kept forgetting where I’d put them down so I had to test each colour before I used it.

(7) The colours fall into ‘families’… be it greens, or blues or reds. They harmonise together but if you mix them they clash (which may be good for effect but not if you’re showling light bend over a surface) as they have very different ’emotional’ and visual qualities.

(8) The surface is very unstable so if you accidentally touch a bit you’ve drawn, or drop a chalk on it, it makes a big mark which means you then have to rework a whole area that might have taken you an hour to work through.

(7) One way to get a ‘thin’ line is to make the line then work the colour next to it back up till only a thin line is left.

(8) I discovered the pointy white cardboard? stick which you can use to blend areas together where you’ve left a tiny white gap. I sometimes left a ‘buffer’ zone to stop the colours mixing. It works well as you can be precise with it. However, I’m not sure it’s always the best idea to make colours butt up against each other – even though this is what happens in real life. It has to be an artistic decision.

(9) If you drop a chalk they shatter and are unuseable!

(10) When you spay with fixative to stabalise the surface it makes all the colors go darker – I don’t know whether they eventually get lighter again? But initially it takes the brightness out of the drawing.

(11) This is wildly… ummm…. significantly different from the photograph. I have tried to compose the drawing (the first time I’ve really consciously done this) by editing out objects – changing the colour gradient to show depth – and used the areas of black to give it a geometric quality so it works as a ‘naturalistic’ drawing but also has an abstract/geometrical framework which adds another layer of interest.

I’ve also tried to make seperate (but thematically linked) areas of interest like little narratives and used contrasting areas of light and dark like the open pad and the black closed sketchbook next to it. And there’s the flat plane of the lawn for the pots echoed by the flat area of the table.

And even the idea of stepping down to the garden with table, flags, lawn leading into the drawing.

I’m not sure how well it works in absolute terms (that is from a tutor’s/artist’s perspective) but I can see the different elements in the drawing and it feels like it’s a significant step forward and is my first faltering attempt at giving a drawing an artistic life/using artistic language over and above ‘making a drawing’.

Like a toddler starting to speak!

Finally, I like the left hand section of the table (which I did last and was quicker)… it has a certain quality I can’t explain. And the anglepoise lamp.

All in all this was great fun!

PS: Here’s my workspace.




Assignment 2 (Preparation: 4 of 6 quick sketches of my still lifes)


Preparatory oil pastel sketch…

Very interesting, and a very different medium.

This time I drew with the oil pastels straight onto the paper.

It’s a lovely rich medium but a bit unforgiving. You can’t draw over the lines as the colours blend and quickly become grey/brown! So, you’ve got to be bold and get it right (at least basically) first time. Leaving gaps for different colours.

I found the only way to work was intuitively like singing, only with colour. You get in the zone and then go with what the medium is doing. It’s learning by playing.

When I pressed hard the colour crumbled so I used that effect to try and get the ends of the brush.

Other things I found out:

(1) If you have a bit of one colour then sweep it forward with another you can get fine lines like hairs.

(2) By pushing and twisting slightly you can ‘crumble’ the ends and get some nice pinpoint effects.

(3) You’re never going to get a fine line, though black will touch other colours (sadly white is much harder to apply!), so you have to use another colour beneath a thicker line and sweep it along to leave a thinner line.

(4) By mixing colours you can form tones and show the direction of shape.

(5) Because the pastels are thick the way the light catches the marks is very important (I guess it’s a bit like the brushstroke technique of a painter). The ‘direction of marks’ are almost like another element of colour – and can dramatically affect your drawing.

(5) It produces a very particular kind of drawing which is the polar opposite to photo realism but has a lovely, almost painterly quality, that reminds me of British painters I’ve seen from the fifties. I love the heavy style and the way the drawing takes you inside it with it’s lovely textures and suggestiveness.

The objects are full of personality.

(6) I discovered a trick!!!!

When I thought I’d finished I fixed it – then had another look and found some things I wanted to fix. And found that the fixative meant that in places where the oil pastel was thinner I could go over and add colour.

(7) You can mix colours by putting a few dibs of one then colouring over the top. Or by crosshatching and letting the eye do the work… up close the hatching looks weird but it works on the drawing.

(8) The medium made me completely change the composition of the still life because it was too fine to ‘draw’ with oil pastel. I simplified and balanced it, which made for a much better composition.

(9) Don’t run out of colour. I ran out of white… so this isn’t quite finished.

(10) Ironically, as the oil pastels were really hard to work with – it felt like I was sculpting rather than drawing, and holding the objects in my hands rather than copying them with my eyes – I really like this as a drawing.

The bottom of the razor, shaving soap and brush feel like I could pick them up and use them!

Sadly the top of the razor doesn’t work as the colours bleed and there’s not enough information to differentiate the object. However, when I’ve bought another white I might go back in and try and fix it…. I know exactly the two bits I want to work on.

PS: Just occured to me that you might be able to use multi media on one drawing to solve different problems?

Assignment 2 (Preparation: 3 of 6 quick sketches of my still lifes)


Pencil (HB for initial sketch and light shading, 3B and 8B for heavier shading) and Art Pen (like felt tips).

1 Hour… hurray!!!

Set the timer and only went 10 minutes over.

Firstly it feels real good to work quickly – intuitively – and let your inner self take over.

As before, just a few comments.

(1) Working quickly forces one to make decicions, not fuss over little bits till they are ‘perfect’ and to look at the whole. You also capture the feel of something as much as its ‘visual reality’.

(2) I’m particularly pleased with the top pillow which took about 10 secondswith a few pencil marks and just captures… pillow!

(3) I didn’t like the felt tips as they got dirty quickly and had a funny flow (they were closer to pencils than a wet felt tip or watercolour).

But that may just be because they’re a new medium to me and not anything intrinsic to Art Pens.

(4) Weirdly, I liked the look of the drawing much better than the process and saw some interesting effects.

My suspicion is that Art Pens are best used to capture the feel of something, and not for realism (with watercolours you can get the tone right even if the colour has been changed, but with Art Pens they are very bright. So you get tone (and colour) by overlaying and hatching which isn’t very subtle.  Effectively you’re working in line but using it as shading.

You can also colour in blocks of colour… black was effective.

(5)  I think an experienced artist could capture a representational picture with them, but I don’t feel that this is where this mediums strengths lie. Or that there would be a lot of point.

It’s freer, quicker and more cartoon like medium.

(6) The African Violet, though in no way realistic, works in a children’s story book way.

(7) It was interesting drawing a whole room rather than a single plant.

I found that I had to draw very quickly getting the main blocks in and relating them to each other – even then when I got in to the more detailed work it was obvious that I’d moved things about.

I don’t know whether that was lack of skill (which given my experience is the obvious answer) or a recomposition.

As I don’t copy from a photograph (I draw what’s in my head and use a photgraph as a reference point) am I accurately drawing what I see – and therefore recomposing it filtered through my consciousness… or am I refering to the photograph and just getting it wrong.

The jury’s out but as the drawing is a lot more interesting than the photograph I suspect I might be drawing it as I ‘see’ it in my head.

(8) Having leapt to the conclusion that I don’t like them I think Art Pens might be quite interesting. I just need to use them more – get used to them – and see what they can do.

(9) General point… just like you have tools for carperntry or gardening I’m beginning to learn that the different mediums have different strengths and weaknesses and you need to choose the right one for the job.


Assignment 2: Thoughts after preparitory watercolour drawing.

My tutor said I shouldn’t get caught up in too much detail and she liked my looser drawings – I did!


However I intend to bash through the next four at max of an hour each and then start on Assignment 2.

I have changed my plan slightly and instead of doing multiple drawings for Assignment 2 I’m going to do one drawing (possible the rubber plant as I know it well now – I can see why artists redraw the same thing over and over in different lights and moods). But I’m going to use multiple mediums (both the picture surface and drawing medium).

This way the overall drawing will unify the composition and the different parts of that drawing in different mediums will both become seperate drawings but also part of the whole. And will express different things and have different impacts.

I’m not sure it will work but I’m going to try and alter my intention… so the oil pastels may be expressionistic… the pastels impressionistic… the watercolours hightened reality… the pen and markers fun/jokey.

So, it’s more like the rubber plant (if that’s what I go for) is the vehicle – I’m not trying to draw a photographically accurate rubber plant!!!!! – and the mediums both enhance, and to some extent dictate, my intention.

The criteria says the ‘most apropriate medium for the subject’ – but that begs the question… ‘What is the subject?’

I’m going to have multiple personal subjects and one external ‘object’.


Assignment 2 (Preparation: 2 of 6 quick sketches of my still lifes)


Well… I’m quite pleased with how this has turned out but it wasn’t a 30 minute sketch!!!!  More like a month at 2 or 3 hours a day!

Anyway it’s been a fantastic learning excercise so all good.  I’ve not really done a full watercolour painting before so this was great fun.

In no particular order these are some of the things I’ve learned:

(1) You can add washes of watercolour over dry paint and change the colour, which is really cool.

(2) You can also mix wet on wet on the page… or go back in with water and rework a section or add wet to dry paint so this is a very flexible medium.

(3) As with other mediums the tonal changes are vital… the ‘colours’ can be non natural but if the tones are wrong it won’t work. Get the tones right and you can have enhanced colours but produce a ‘realistic’ image.

(4)  I painted the positive images first which I think was a mistake as when you paint in the background you end up painting to an edge and can easily cut into the image. Whereas if you painted the background first you’d be putting the object on top as it is in real life.

The danger with edges is the paints can mix and spoil the colour.

(5) ??? I couldn’t decide whether to leave a tiny white gap where background and object met (which you don’t get in the real world) or to have the colours touching. Decided to touch on the basis that if I wanted an outline, either black or white, I could add it.

(6) This was painted on sketch paper which ‘buckles’ with the wet paint and if it gets too wet bits of the paper come off. So I’m looking forward to using watercolour paper… the supporting medium never occured to me but that’s my lack of experience.

The more I do this course the more I realise a lot of art is about picking the right tools for the job. That’s both their physical and emotional qualities.

Also I think it might be fun to try coloured paper?

This will affect the colours as lots of the watercolours are translucent but might unify the picture… I’ve read oil painters often paint their canvases in blocks of colour so we’ll see what happens. And it would avoid some of the problem of any blank paper coming across as a highlight.

(7) I drew the positive shapes freehand first and then painted over them. This is good in the sense that you can then concentrate on feeling the shapes and seeing the objects but if you are using washes or certain colours (some are more opaque than others) the pencil marks show through! You then have to keep adding heavier and heavier layers of paint which alters the quality of the colour (I guess you’re losing the backlighting of the white paper reflecting light through the colour?) and it restrains your creativity.

(8) I’m guessing… but I think it must be possible to ‘draw’ with watercolour. However this would take a much looser style and be more Turner like… or impressionistic. Unless you painted general shapes and slowly added detail?

(8) Watercolour reminds me a bit of acrylic (in that it dries fairly quickly) but also has qualities of oil paint in that you can go back in and repaint/blend/add washes.

(9) I think what I like best about this is that it feels real and not real at the same time… it’s certainly more alive than any photograph I could have taken. And has captured the plane of the leaves and the 3D perspective of the pot and easel.

(10) I only used a size 2 brush which made large areas difficult to paint. Next time I will try larger brushes, but I suspect there is a whole new range of skills just on watercolour washes! Also (though I improvised by using dryer paint and the very tip of the brush) a smaller brush for deteail would have been very useful.



Assignment 2 (Preparation: 2: What to sketch/photograph)

Two problems I didn’t know I’d encounter till I started this:

(1) The mechanics of sketching mean I can’t sketch most of the things I want to sketch. I can only sketch things where I can hold my sketchbook and draw in it. This is very restrictive (I couldn’t levitate in space above a plant, for instance… or squeeze into a tiny corner) so I decided to photograph the still lifes on my phone as it can get in places and angles I can’t.

I would have seen this as cheating before I started the course but what I’ve come to realise is that artists have always used technology. Whether it be Canaletto in the C18th using a camera obscura or the host of artists in Robert Kaupelis’s Experimental Drawing using everything from computer images and photocopying to robots.

A camera would have been good but is bigger and you have to stand behind and focus it. It’s more flexible than a sketchbook and pencil but still restrictive.

(2) Once you start photographing you immediately start composing/framing your picture!

I managed to stop myself moving things around so they are ‘honest’ in terms of being found still lifes rather than a ‘dressed’ set but not so ‘naive’ as I’d first imagined.

Maddeningly, the phone see’s the world in a very different way to how I see it with my eyes. With my eyes I see only the important things – it’s almost as if my eyes constantly compose what I see, alter the colours, ignore the unimportant stuff, frame a view, even change highlighting and colour, and adjust foreshortening so I don’t notice it. What I see looks… natural… pleasant… beautiful. Whereas the phone sees the whole frame and everything in it as it ‘really’ is, so suddenly something that looked great looks awful.

Here are the ‘raw’ photographs.

Just two more preparations before I do my Assignment:

(Preparation: 3) Do a half hour quick sketch of each using the most suitable media.

(Preparation: 4) Pick the frame from my design for each drawing and ‘frame it up’.