Ex 2.2 – large scale line painting

My painting for this exercise is in collage, gesso, ink and acrylic on A1 300gsm mixed media paper.  There are all sorts of objects from my collections in it – light bulbs, scissors, specs, cables.  My main context references – which I talk about below – are Arshile Gorky, whose work I looked at at the Abstract Expressionists exhibition, and Eleanor Moreton, who I studied on Part 1.



I think I stopped before I went too far, so that there is still an unmuddied freshness, but enough interest to keep the viewer engaged.  For example some of the shapes and the patterns they make are quite intriguing to look at closely, such as the shape immediately to the left of the black rectangle.  There are some good negative shapes too.  The other thing I’m noticing is the objects seem to have taken on a life of their own, they seem alive and whirling through space, I like the humour of that!

The collage support still shows through as underlying texture, still legible in places, which I like.  I noticed the entire newspaper seemed to be about consumerism – adverts and articles encouraging the reader to buy, buy, buy – my superimposed objects seem to be participating in the frenzy, breaking up and spinning out of control!  An idea rich with possibilities?

If I were to start again I’d think about the colour palette (the colour trials I did got forgotten somehow in doing the painting) – I’m feeling my recent paintings tend to rely on primary colours for their impact.  Looking again at some of Gorky’s work, some are based on primaries, but others make use of lovely palettes containing secondary and tertiary hues.



My first move was to consider my surface, as the course book advises: I felt that with a line drawing on this scale some background texture, colour or interest generally would be a good idea.  In this painting Gary Hume’s subject, being human, has enough interest on a plain green background, with white lines painted repeatedly on top of each other.  I feel my subject, prosaic household objects, needs more background interest.  To begin building this up I prepared my A1 300gsm paper with an all over collage of torn (colour) newspaper and coated it with a thin white wash to subdue the content, then acrylic medium to stabilise the surface.  I would make my line drawing on this surface and later add background colour.


I tried to think of other artists I’ve admired who paint in line, and remembered the work of Arshile Gorky which I recently saw at the Abstract Expressionists exhibition at the Royal Academy.  In the yellow and black compositions Landscape Table 1945 and Garden in Sachi 1943 lines were particularly evident, providing a “graphic scaffold” to the paintings.  He draws shapes and forms (perhaps derived from real, remembered objects) with black line on a grey, textured background, then adds colour, and later scumbles around the forms with a different background colour.

I laid objects from my collections on a table and drew some coloured thumbnails in my sketchbook.

As I worked on a thumbnail after Gorky’s Drawing (Virginia Landscape 1943 I was reminded of my visual sketchbook response to Eleanor Moreton in Part 1.  The palette, shapes and vertical format seem quite similar.  The palette in The Plow and the Song II 1946 is also reminiscent, but here the shapes have crisper edges. Agony 1947 is a much darker composition; ochres and burnt earth colours scumbled on to a very dark ground, on top of which red, yellow and black shapes are defined by thin black lines

Considering the lines in my composition; they should vary in intensity and thickness, and reflect the form of the objects – disappearing with distance for instance.  I wanted to draw without slavishly copying the objects, so I decided to make a black ink drawing using twigs cut from the garden…this would reduce my control over the lines and help me to respond to the objects, deriving (hopefully) interesting, ambiguous shapes from them.  Or to quote Matthew Gale “balance calligraphic precision and liquid spontaneity” !

For my colour media I made a few trials with inktense and artbar crayons. Inktense’ advantage is that lines can be drawn on top after drying, but the colours tend to be quite intense, and from my colour thumbnails I knew I wanted a subtler palette.  Artbar is a water soluble wax crayon, and difficult to impose a clear mark on top of, but the colours are transparent and subtle tones easily achievable. I found the effects quite exciting and decided to go with that.

I made another page of trials of different inks, using different twigs to make the marks, just to get an idea how this would feel.

When I had the objects in front of me as well as my sketches and photos, some twigs of varying length and diameter, and some pots of black ink of different dilutions, I began to draw the shapes and contours I saw. I distorted and exagerrated some of the lines, responding to the objects and what I liked about them – the delicacy of lightbulb glass, the tactile curves of glass spirals, jagged sharpness of scissor blades, patterns of spectacle lenses.  This wasn’t an attempt to copy a formal arrangement or even an already worked-out composition, more an instinctive exploration (or interrogation) of the objects.


I set my easel up outside, as the sun was warm, and the studio a bit cold and gloomy.  The gallery below shows my setup and me, and some work in progress.  Things didn’t quite go as planned.  The ink was easily reactivated by subsequent layers and the artbar didn’t really take to the surface at all, but glided over the top.  My trials had been on plain paper, whereas my large surface was coated in acrylic medium.  Artbar was a non starter therefore, but I decided to persevere in laying down some colour with inktense crayons and water.  Some of the earlier black lines got smudged, but I didn’t mind, as it created a different quality of line here and there.

I added colour as the mood took me, leaving lots of white space, scumbling on white acrylic with a rag to brighten the background and heighten the contrast with the black and coloured areas. At some stage I decided to turn the painting upside down; the large black rectangle at the top together with the scissors pointing down was making me (the viewer) uneasy, it felf as though everything was falling.  The green leafy end of my small twig dipped in ink made a good brush to add fine, hatched, scribbled marks. Generally I tried to create interest using a variety of marks and textures.  When I still thought I could do more I called a halt, while the painting still looked fresh and uncluttered.

Note about my photographs – what a difference the light makes!  The first two photos of the painting were taken in shadow outdoors, the final, more accurate one in full sunlight.  




Arshile Gorky by Matthew Gale, Tate Publishing 2010


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