Monthly Archives: June 2017

Part 3: Project 2 (Landscape): Excercise 2: Sketchbook walk.

Wow!!! There’s such a lot of information in a landscape!

I followed the instruction and drew rapidly without rubbing anything out. And tried to find a point of interest for each drawing.

All these sketches were done on the same day, Tuesday 21st June 2017, in Fen Drayton near Cambridge, between 1pm and 4pm and then 5pm to 6pm. Each took about one hour.

There was no wind, barely a cloud in the sky… sweltering hot… 31 degrees and bright sunshine.

Here goes…

(1) My Garden


2B pencil.

Light coming from the left fairly high up. The chair is the main point of interest.

This is mainly foreground (the slabs) and middle ground (the garden) with hardly any background… just the house roof to the left and a tree.

I found this very interesting. How the leaves fall along the branches and how each tree is like a song – they have their own repeating patterns, shapes and tonal values. So when I was doing the trees it was more like I was drawing visual music than a solid object.

It was frustrating that I had to use line instead of tone for the tree leaves in the near middle ground. But working at speed without my glasses line was the only way… though I tried to shade up to the line so the leaves then had a tonal value in their own right.

For the complex foliage in the foreground I was fascinated by just how the leaves, flowers, stems etc fell and intertwined; and the tonal values of one against another.

(2) The Lake



This is always my first stop on my daily walk… I have a mile walk that ends just before this but when I have time I go the extra 30 yards and stand and admire the view!

I loved doing this.

The point of interest is meant to be the sign which reads: Private fishing/No swimming. But it was difficult with the charcoal to leave the white letters and then it got covered up with grass seed heads.

From a composition perspective, I think it would have been better if the sign had been more readable but it still adds interest.

It was very interesting… with the trees in the distance it felt like sculpting. Adding charcoal, removing it with my finger like shaping clay, and the black marks like the little clay tool.

The foreground was more like building layers of foliage… for flower heads and seed heads I used a putty rubber. All the foliage merges so it’s like a noisy orchestra – and lots of tone – it’s not really a conscious process I’m in the moment till I feel it’s right.

Middle ground is the water… this wasn’t wight! There were swans on it which I would have loved to draw but by the time I got round to it the drawing was nearly finished and it was impossible to darken it and keep all the trees and foliage I’d drawn into it. So I just tried to capture the surface.

(3) Doubling back on myself 50 yards and there’s the guided bus stop.


2B pencil.

Hurray!!! This has a foreground with daisies and leaves… a middle ground where we lost the detail but keep the flowers… a distance wrapped in a hedge and big trees… and a point of interest!

I can’t say anything about this apart from I’d love to take it home and paint it!

(4) Lake viewing point with bike


Conte crayon.

Sun lower and straight towards me.

So, I’ve had an hours break… cycled into St Ive’s and had my hair cut… and an ice cream!

This is different as it’s now 5 o’clock so the sun isn’t as fierce and we have the first rumblings of cloud blotting the horizon.

My first problem was that there was no point of interest (I’m learning!), so I leant my bike up against the rail.

The foreground was boring as it was just sandy but the bike shadow gave it some interest and the plants by the rail just about count as foreground.

I found the conte crayon quite hard to use. It wasn’t fluid like the charcoal and wasn’t precise and controllable like the pencil. But it was nice and black so I persevered.

Strangely I like the geometric shapes of the bike and the way the water frames it. I can’t decide whether not having the horizon is frustrating or enticing… the lake leads us out of the drawing and I’d quite like to go explore but then I can’t and I’m pulled back to the bike… maybe I should jump on and ride off!!!

(The black bird was a swan but had hard shadow and the dark water around it made its plumage glow. So I thought I’d have a go… more practice needed as it turned into a black bird!)


(1) There too much information to include it all.

(2) Shadows and tones make it work… and in the foreground significant detail which you can (subconsciously apply) to the rest of the foliage.

(3) The trees are like songs… it’s not like drawing ‘things’. They have shapes and patterns and dance.

(4) Water can provide a negative space.

(5) A point of interest immediately gives the drawing ‘human’ meaning. Emotionally the garden without the chair; the lake view without the sign; the flowery field and trees without the station and the lake without the bike would have been much less meaningful.

It’s not just visually – there’s plenty of visual information!!!!! But it gives the drawing a human content.

I’m sure an animal could be used as a point of interest (though it would produce a different kind of drawing) or a stunning natural feature like a waterfall or mountain view with lake… but again it wouldn’t be the same.

And I suspect a lot of expressionistic technique would go into enhancing the pure landscape and giving it majesty.




Tutor feedback on Assignment two: Rubber plant standing in for personality of a sitter.

Thought I’d include both pictures here… not to comment on in-depth as I need to get on.

But for reflection and so I can think about her point.



Yes… I can see what she means – there’s a connection between Lucien Freud and the plant. The plant has a personality.

I don’t have a person (and the easel has no personality) but if I put in a person the plant is relatable.



Research point: Sea and sky: Vija Clemins and video:

How can her approach help me with cloud drawing?

From Wikipedia: Latvian-American visual artist best known for photo-realistic paintings and drawings of natural environments and phenomena such as the ocean, spider webs, star fields, and rocks. Her earlier work included pop sculptures and monochromatic representational paintings.


At first view the waves look photo realistic, but on closer inspection they look ‘illustrative’. It’s difficult to describe… a slightly mystical magical sheen?!

However, the main thing that strikes me is the technical skill and patience in completing the picture!!!! That may be in meticulous copying of a photograph, or she may ‘create’ the sea a wave at a time???? And it’s actually a work of imagination.

Either way it’s a mental ‘noise’ I find hard to ignore and stops me appreciating the picture.




I guess my main reaction is… what’s the point?

If I want to see beautiful (naturalistic) cloud pictures I can go photograph them, or buy a photograph.

Again, the most striking element to me is the technical skill – but I want a painting that moves/connects/takes me to a different place/creates an emotion… in some way connects with my mind, soul or emotions.

Not one where my overriding reaction is awe at the skill.


That moves me to a slightly different thought, that clouds are abstract but real!

They don’t have a fixed shape (like a tree or a person) or refer to anything fixed in the real world apart from themselves.

Like a natural improvisation of tone and colour they are constantly changing; but unlike human improvisations (think jazz music) they are meaningless as they’re random and not born out of collective humanity. In the same way that a vase or a landscape is (of itself) content light, to draw a photo realistic cloud seems pointless.

So, for me, it’s more how they’re drawn, changed from reality, that makes them into art and worthy of viewing… how they connect with me as a human being.


I found the video interesting but it didn’t refer to her sea or cloud painting.

The bit I found most interesting was her ‘rock’ paintings. She’d collected some rocks when she grew tired of drawing and then fashioned rock shaped objects and painted them as rocks.

But they just look like rocks!

Maybe I’m defining my area of interest in fine art – that I need something that connects with my emotions, needs and desires… that’s connected to other people and society rather than an ascetic intellectual art?

That said… I shall have fun and do my best to produce realistic clouds. Though they might have a bit of me in them!!!





Reseach point: Research artists from different eras who use landscapes… Sarah Woodfine.

Sarah Woodfine b 1968 (UK)


(1) 1988-91. Liverpool School of Art

(2) 1992-95. Royal Academy Schools, London.




Windmill. 2005

Drawing - Windmill

Alfred’s Story 2
Pencil on paper in perspex box,
22 x 30 x 22 cm



1968… and we’re now 2017… which makes Sarah… 49.

So, she’s an established successful artist winning a major drawing prize in 2004, age 36, which would cement her reputation and prestige in the art world.

How to view her work and use of landscape?

Firstly, all these works seem to be about stillness, the sort of stillness you get on a snowy moonlit night. There’s fevered activity (working windmill, suicide/murder or car crime, a camping trip or hunter’s tent and a trapper’s hut?)… but we view them asleep… resting… silent… bathed in silence.

After the event.

So, for me, the subject matter isn’t the landscape. The subject matter is the emotion produced in those rare moments of stillness and aloneness, an antidote to the busy, flashing, colour driven, noisy modern world. And she uses lanscape as a vehicle to drive us to that special place.

Stylistically (or in terms of artistic voice she is unique – though by now will, no doubt, have been copied) she achieves this by pairing down colour to hard black and white – with a little grey. Like early black and white movies her work has a strong visual structure.

And before we saw in colour (in evolutionary terms colour perception is quite recent) we viewed the world in black and white. It has a primal strength.

The lighting is diffused and even… no expressionistic chiaroscuro here, in fact emotion (in terms of passion that might be represented by colour and a riot of form and movement) is paired down to a bare minimum. Just a few simple shapes.

Two are ‘sculptureish’ in that the ‘drawings’ are set in a perspex box, a little like a child’s ‘theatre’ or stick in story book where they play with ‘elements’ on a background and assemble their own story. The other two are represented on a wall on a 2D surface.

I find the narrative and representation elements in the ‘sculpture’ works detracts from the power of stillness. Multiple details are suggested such as the tent, flowers, canoe, stones by the lake and pitted moon… and there is an impulse to ‘explain’ or understand the picture.

Whereas with the barn and the windmill I can just accept the stillness.

Interestingly I read a comment that Sarah’s work makes a claim for reclassifying the value (socially, in terms of art politics and financially) for different media. That drawing should have equal weight to painting; and pastels, to oil, to acrylic etc. However, for me, her drawings (not the ‘constructs’) have the same power as a painting, and could indeed be paintings – black and white paintings!

Finally, her work is as stylised and ‘unreal’ as early Delaunay (I’m thinking of his barges on the Thames) or any of the Fauvists. Only she’s gone towards contemplation rather than individual emotionalism.

I really like them…

They have power!!!!




Research point: Research artists from different eras who use landscapes… George Shaw.

From wikipedia:

George Shaw (born 1966 in Coventry) is an English contemporary artist who is noted for his suburban subject matter. He was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2011.


Shaw first attracted attention for painting the estate where he grew up in the 1970s, in the Tile Hill suburb of Coventry. Shaw studied art at Sheffield Polytechnic and received a BA in 1989. In 1998, he completed an MA in painting from London’s Royal College of Art.

Shaw is noted for his highly detailed naturalistic approach and English suburban subject matter. His favoured medium is Humbrol enamel paints, which lend his work a unique appearance as they are more commonly used to paint Airfix models.

He was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 2011 for The Sly and Unseen Day.

Shaw is based in Ilfracombe, Devon.

Just a quick side issue… I’ve noticed a significant minority of modern practitioners give themselves a unique stamp by using an unusual medium or supporting medium… this introduces either a random element (such as Adriana Molder drawing with ink on tissue paper – she doesn’t know how it will react as it’s not treated for paint/ink)… or changes the finish as here using Humbrol enamel paints.

This makes them stand out from the crowd by introducing a unique variable, and in the very noisy artistic marketplace visibility is everything. If you’re not ‘seen’ you can’t sell. But whether it is an accident they’ve stuck to, a gimmick, whether the medium should matter at all or whether it’s a carefully thought out artistic choice must be debatable.

I have to be honest… I don’t like these.

The problem is then trying to articulate why!!!!

I’m going to take these all together rather than consider them individually.

(c) George Shaw; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation


(c) George Shaw; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation





Firstly, to my eye, they all seem barren – dead – devoid of life. This may be partly because there are no people in the paintings… but there also seems to be no connection with what is being painted, in complete contrast to L.S.Lowry.

That maybe the point… that the urban landscape is dead?

But it isn’t. Youths hang around corners, graffiti is sprayed… old people tend their gardens and quiet neighbours gossip over fences. The urban landscape is teeming with life if you know where to look.

There is decay, like a rotten tooth, the garage stands agape. But whereas this could be a comment on the passage of time (it was once a new garage attached to a house, bought with pride and housing a much-loved car). It is now abandoned, derelict and stripped of all purpose.

But here it is meaningless.

Maybe it is the lack of composition… deliberately framing the paintings like amateur snaps: My Front Garden; The House from across the Road; An Interesting Empty Garage I Saw and Might Paint; and A Gone to Seed Path. The lack of aesthetics a ploy to distance the viewer and avoid romanticising the scene?

The derelict garage and the graffitied path looks like the local council has sent out a clerk to takes pictures to attach to their, works to be done file: ‘Demolish these garages’ and ‘Graffiti to be removed’.

Neither is there any aesthetic value in their composition or colours – these do not please.

The style of painting is listed by Wikipedia as ‘highly detailed naturalistic’… but these do not look naturalistic (in a realist sense) to me. They look ‘painted’ in something that’s a cross between acrylic and oil. There are irregularities and it’s in no way as detailed as other modern realist painters.

At first glance this painting by Jesus Monge could be a photograph!


The paintings by George Shaw have a hint of David Hockney but without the humanity and compassion.

There are landscapes… but I can’t see the point.

They do not ‘speak’ to me in any way – though I recognise they are very skilled, and he’s a clever painter.

But a collection of amateur photographs of the urban  environment would do just as good a job!






Research point: Research artists from different eras who use landscapes… L.S.Lowry.

Muted colours… painted straight onto canvas… sympathy and charm… (people full of movement and alive)… industrial north… idiosyncratic and individual… clerk studied art in spare time… discovered by accident in 1939 age 52.

Notes from The Art Book by Phaidon

As Lowry didn’t have to earn his living as an artist or compete in the high-powered art world he could develop a unique individual style. Presumably he had some formal art training (night school or worker education classes) but by age 52 he would have been painting for his own pleasure for a long time.

This meant he could paint the subjects around him and of interest to him. He didn’t have to pander to buyers demanding certain subjects or paint in a particular style… or justify his paintings with ideology or a connection to any art ‘movement’.

So, we have something unique… a personal style untouched by the art world inhabited by Picasso, Mondrian or Rothko and a subject matter not mitigated by rich buyers… where are the other paintings of industrial mill towns?

An artistic voice in history of the ‘loser’… an ordinary worker in a mill town did not normally have their artistic voice heard in the corridors of artistic power and status.

And yet he spoke!!!

People recognised the honesty, integrity and love with which he recorded his world and have flocked to his paintings ever since. It is also interesting to note that he has always been very popular with ordinary working people… perhaps because he gave them a voice they could recognise as their own?



Industrial Panorama

What I love about this is the simplicity and yet wholeness. There are hills and streets and factories and yet remarkably little detail. Within the shapes there are solid blocks of colour – but not primary daubs… these are real dirty misty northern colours.

He has somehow captured the essence of the view.

Not realistic in any visual ‘copying reality’ sense but is wholly truthful in capturing the feel.

He uses some ‘artistic’ techniques like using the road to lead us into the painting, the factory as a focal point and mill workers in the houses. Yet this works as a complete whole.



Northern River Scene

Here the colours are slightly brighter but still muted, and it’s interesting to see that the houses aren’t yet covered in soot! The red bricks are still red!!!

It’s debatable whether this is a painting about the people going about their day with the town as a background… or a picture of the town (and canal) with added people. In truth it’s a combination of both.

You can’t uncouple the people from where they live.

It is, in a very real sense, the capturing of a world.

A Country Road

A Country Road

Again… very muted colours – blocks of colour (it has a slight whiff of Hopper for me?) – a road – houses – people (just to the right of the centre of the painting)…

Although it’s the country the style is very similar to his industrial paintings.

And the effect the same… it’s visually unreal but (for me) more real than the Durer or Claude Lorraine paintings. And it works as a whole.

Nothing shouts, it’s gentle, the painting is a country road!




A Street in Clitheroe

I chose this to compare with a country road as it’s an urban road.

Here, because of the closeness, the people take slight priority, they hustle and bustle and chat and walk.

But even though the people are as stylised and unreal as the buildings (in a traditional representative sense) they are more real and alive than almost any other painting I’ve seen. Freed from representitive reality he’s captured their vibrancy and humanity… it’s almost as if we’re looking ‘inside’ them as they go about their daily life.

He doesn’t feature any one individual, but has captured the community – they’re all individual but they’re all connected.

The red-painted wall is centre of the painting and stands out, but even that doesn’t unbalance the painting… it just seems a natural part of the environment.

I think what this has shown me (and I’m very guilty of this) is that landscapes can be more real even as they’re less visually accurate. In a sense you’re painting what’s inside you (and anchoring it to reality) you’re not painting visual reality itself.

As they say, there are lots of ways to skin a cat, and I’m just beginning to shed my – the more real it is the better – skin!


Reflection: On new preface in updated and enlarged 1994 edition of: Concepts of Modern Art by Nikos Stangos.

Concepts of Modern Art  From Fauvism to Postmodernism        Edited by Nikos Stangos     1994 edition with new preface in updated and enlarged 1994 edition: Reprinted 2015.

My tutor recommended I get an overview of ‘Modern Art’ as, ‘An introduction to 20th Century art would also be helpful… useful introduction to the language of art and why and how it changed so radically in the late 19th early 20th century, right up to now.’ and suggested this book and The Shock of the New – but that was much more expensive so I opted for this one.

I’ll try and read a few pages a day and then write a reflection when I’ve finished but was so taken/shocked/food for thought by the introduction that I had to put down a few words.


The biggest concept for me was not thinking about ‘Modern Art’ in terms of Movements… distinct artistic flowerings that can be chronologically charted with one leading to another, but that it was more like an ecosystem.

Or even a virus constantly adapting to its changing host (society being the host) and the virus – without its negative connotations – being art. More like an ever evolving coral reef with every artistic life form inhabiting its own artistic niche but always relating the underlying coral and warm waters… or society.

So not always getting better and evolving chronologically but more like a dialogue between artist and society (with each affecting the other and issues coming and going), either consciously linked to stated manifestos or subconsciously linked by dint of being a member of society bathed in the same social and cultural milieu.

This raises an important question for me… does art have to have a meaning? A conscious concept in its developement (as a film might explore age in society, or the loneliness of the modern worker or abuse of power) or can it – by dint of it being successful and connecting with an audience – have that meaning inside it. That is, because it deals with and connects to an audience, it has meaning even if that meaning wasn’t consciously built into the work of art during its production.

Which brings me to another point…

To make a living a fine artist has to sell paintings for, say £2000 each or more. Who can afford that? The rich, state (eg museums) and non state (eg church) institutions. So, she is – unless she has an independent income – dependant on critical (art critics) and/or commercial (high prices) success.

Which presupposes that that audience dictate the dialogue of art?!

Secondly to be ‘art’ – I would say a painting has to have a universal truth… in that a human can look at it and be drawn to/effected by it. Such as Hopper or Picasso. And as such it would probably have to be of a high technical standard and/or be versed in artistic language and discourse such as it was appealing to academic individuals or institutions like concept art.

There again labels, in terms of artistic movements, seem to be like trying to box sunshine. A false premise in lumping art with surface similarity – such as the Fauves – when in fact they were all disparate and on separate journeys that just touched with some similar (exposure to Gauguin’s and oriental art) but also different (very different personalities and personal goals) causes.

It could be said you need to understand the ecosystem of art and that labelling the ‘movements’ like labelling a particular species of crab on the coral reef tells you very little.


Finally, Nikos refers to six areas of concern in delineating ‘Modern Art’ as written about by Simon Watney, ‘Modernist Studies: The Class of ’83’, Art History, Vol. 7, N0. 1, March 1984. p. 109.

I paraphrase my understanding rather than quote.

[1] A break with the idea of chronological movements – I agree with this.

[2] Understand how artists give ‘truth of our nature’… this has always been so and in rooted in all great artists across different genres… like Shakespeare. I think every painting should give something of the truth of humanity… even if only a tiny grain!

That for me is the difference between art as entertainment – decoration – advertising –  and fine art like Leonardo Da Vinci or Picasso.

[3] Art constantly explores the boundary of licit and illicit expression of sexuality in a patriarchal society.

This is massive but western society (and most world societies governed by religion) have been and are patriarchal… imagine what the art world would have been like if the real world had been governed by women.

The exploitation and titillation of a male audience and sexual normatives in society are always being explored.

[4] History is the history of the winner – as much in art as in life.

Who decides what art is produced and is influential: it is art that can be sold and has status. Who makes those choices:  rich individuals, with a vested interest in society how it is now, and institutions, similarly concerned with maintaining the status quo. Therefore, art tends to reinforce the values of those in power and constructs normative images of society.

It will articulate some social differences and ignore others.

Where today is mainstream – accepted – Muslim art? I’m sure there must be highly skilled Muslim artists living in the UK.

[5] Question the hierarchy of signifying practices. I take this to mean why do we still give higher status (financially and in terms of ‘respect’) in society to one medium over another?

Why is oil painting a higher status than pencil drawing, pastel or watercolour?

In the same way that the hierarchy of genres was challenged and defeated in the past so now we should challenge the hierarchy of medium.

I agree partially – but think there’s more too it as some mediums are more temporal, some lend themselves to capturing emotion… others to ideas. So I don’t think it’s as simple as saying the medium should have no impact on the status.

Like any financial, emotional and intellectual transaction there are a multitude of factors determining price and status. But I agree we need to articulate and examine artistic ‘value’ (as determined by medium) much more.

[6] Problematise the separation of verbal from the visual. Together with ‘picture’ consciousness such a separation presupposes.

This is massive!!!!

I would say that written word (a physical capturing of speech… as we translate it in our heads to access the meaning) is merely one way of communicating with other people. We are, after all, all alone. And communication and forming groups is a basic human drive.

That music communicates, art communicates, film communicates… and many more.

And you can’t put them in separate boxes.

Like everything there are a million shades of grey from almost white to nearly pure black. Some art is an expression of a verbal movement – some communicates directly with the subconscious – some speaks to the ‘soul’… some is premised and boxed by an overt ideology like the Futurists.

But in reality they are all interconnected.

So, yes, I would say it is impossible to separate the visual from the verbal… and the verbal from the visual!