Category Archives: Research point

Research Point: Artists working in series with landscape: Monet; Cezanne; David Hockney; Peter Doig; John Virtue and Nicholas Herbert.


Grainstack (Snow Effect) 1891 (oil on canvas)

Stack of Wheat (Snow Effect, Overcast Day), 1890-91 (oil on canvas)

Stack of Wheat (Snow Effect, Overcast Day), 1890-91 (oil on canvas)

Stack of Wheat, 1890-91 (oil on canvas)

Basically if this was a film it would be the same ‘set’ – a grainstack in winter/with snow – on the same ‘stage’… clear sky, distant mountains, row of trees leading to a farmhouse – with different lighting.

So, in a sense what he’s painting are different ‘atmospheres’. Or more precisely, how the atmosphere affects him as the backgrounds are quite radically altered by the change in atmosphere and mood.

He’s painting impressions.

In the first the grainstack, in the strong winter light with the hard shadow, is the focus. The background smudges Turner like into abstract. In the second it feels like dusk… the stack is barely readable but for its shape… the snow on the farmhouse roofs catches the light and becomes the focus – he’s edited out some trees and this has the feel of heading home! It’s capturing stillness. In the third we have moonlight and a crisp eerieness

Does it work… is it of value to the viewer… I don’t know.

For me there may have been a better combination of ‘scene’ and ‘lighting’ to capture a specific mood and the fact it’s the same view doesn’t add to my enjoyment. But I can see for the painter that by painting the same scene you have the same shapes and a lot of visual shorthand, so are freed up to focus on the lighting.

But, for me, it just feels a bit like an excercise.


Montagne Sainte-Victoire from Lauves, 1904-06 (oil on canvas)

Montagne Sainte-Victoire, 1904-06 (oil on canvas)

Mont Sainte-Victoire, c.1902 (oil on canvas)

Again, like Monet, Cezanne is painting exactly the same landscape in a series.

But it feels different.

Instead of (just?!) painting different impressions (lighting effects) it feels like he’s also trying out different ‘ways’ of painting it. So these are radically different pictures.

Yes, the light and where it falls changes, but that doesn’t seem to be his main focus. He’s changing the ‘way’ he paints the scene so in each of these the landscape looks totally different. Almost like they’re different places… they are fresh and alive.

They don’t feel like a series of the same landscape, they feel like different paintings. Maybe he was mentally in a different place?

As with Monet keeping one element (the landscape) the same frees him up to experiment with other elements.

I really like these.


David Hockney:




These are very interesting and I really like them.

They are different landscapes but a series in the sence they are a ‘series of landscapes’. I couldn’t find any that were of the same view.

So, it’s a series in the sence of… somebody paints lots of dog paintings, or specialises in trains!

They’re painted in the same way, though some seem more abstract, flat, patterned than others. But they all feel so fresh and alive. Full of energy. A different view in different lighting personally expressed.

This works for me and I guess if you paint a series in this sense you build up a visual vocabulary so can ‘sing’ on the canvas more easily than if you’re having to create everything from scratch.

Peter Doig:




These are a series in the sense they are different views of the same building through trees.

In a weird way these seem the most alike of all the series so far. They may be different views but they all ‘feel’ like the same painting!

Super weird!!!

Maybe, the difference is not intrinsically in the view… maybe it’s in the artist and how he views the world. Here he has a different visual viewpoint but he’s painting the same picture… capturing the same feelings… revealing the same elements of himself?

So they all look the same!

John Virtue:




I’m assuming the domed building is the same, and as it’s roughly in the same position am putting this into the ‘series of drawings of the same landscape from the same position’ box.

But there the similarity stops.

These seem expressionistic, in that they don’t seem to be really about the reality in front of the artist. Even though it’s recognizably the same view. But more about the artist himself.

They seem to be about how the paint is sploshed and daubed across the canvas. Capturing the energy of its creation, a moment, a feeling. Almost like he’s painting himself rather than the view?!

I guess a series can free the mind. It’s the same view. You can go for it!!!


Nicholas Herbert:


L966 – Sharpenhoe Series, The Chiltern Hills. 22 x 17cm. 2016.


L968 – Sharpenhoe Series, Looking Across the Bedfordshire Countryside, The Chiltern Hills. 20 x 15cm. 2016.


L996 – Winter Landscape near Telegraph Hill, The Chiltern Hills. 18 x 13cm. 2016.

I have to admit I don’t like these. Which makes it hard to judge them objectively as a series, but I’ll try!

They seem sub Turneresque and so abstract that it’s irrelevant that they’re in a series. We wouldn’t place them from the same viewpoint by any representational connection.

They’re not reality dimly ’emerging’ from smoke or mists, the castle you can’t quite place and looks like a cloud, nor are they abstract, nor do they capture early morning… nor do they seem to be full of the artist.

I can’t find anything in them to connect with.

And can’t help wondering what the point is of doing a series if the paintings bear no relationship to the view and their only visual connection is style!

In conclusion:

Having looked at these series I’m not fan.

It feels like it can be hugely beneficial to the artist (and on a lower level it’s maybe easier to ‘churn’ out lots of drawings of the same view if you want to sell them… but maybe I’m being cynical… or practical?!)… But I think it definitely helps artists solve problems!

However, is not necessarily the best thing for the viewer in terms of a finished product they can ‘feast’ on intellectually, emotionally, aesthetically… or any other way!


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!!!





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