Category Archives: Assignment 2

Part 2 Response to tutor feedback

My tutor’s feedback report was again detailed, thoughtful and encouraging, with lots of leads for further thought and research.  Doing the assignment work I was very much caught up in the excitement and enjoyment of exploring metal as a support, and will develop this, but will keep experimenting with other materials too.  The lightness of the pigments in my ice painting was mentioned as possibly leading to an exploration of staining and bleeding paint, and this also connects to my paintings in coffee and in pomegranate juice on fabric.  I’ve picked up on this, looking at the paintings and woodcuts of Helen Frankenthaler (also Mali Morris and and doing some experiments of my own which I plan to incorporate into my work – I’ve written about this in a separate post here.

Response to tutor’s feedback on individual exercises:


2.1 – Unusual media – the paintings with frozen watercolour submitted as part of my looseleaf sketchbook were originally done as experimental paintings in response to exercise briefs, hence had no annotations to describe the process, as you might expect to see in a sketchbook.   I’ll add some handwritten notes to the sketchbook to describe their experimental history.

I looked at Goldsworthy and saw how he is controlling and exacting in his process of making art from nature (leaves); he collects items (stones, leaves, twigs) and lays them out in an orderly pattern, producing some striking pieces.  But less controlling, he also collaborates with nature – e.g. shows how a rain shadow can be made on stone during wet weather. He records his work as it disappears – as I did with my paintings on ice.  I found a wonderful drawing in snow and slate on watercolour paper – made with a snowball here

Oscar Munoz work also harnesses the ephemeral to express ideas – portraits that emerge momentarily as you breathe on a mirror; painting in water on a hot paving slab; drawing with charcoal dust and paper on water, the drawing changing as the water evaporates (this process later made into a video, speeding up the process so the viewer could witness the changes! (Narciso)).  They reflect on memory and mortality.

Textural explorations can be developed.  I visited Tate Britain and saw No Woman No Cry, 1998,  by Chris Ofili, incorporating all sorts of objects including printed paper, glitter, map pins and elephant dung.  This beautiful decorative approach, suggestive of a combination of paintings and embroidery,  has more appeal to me, visually and in a tactile sense than the harsh marble dust I experimented with. 

2.2 – large scale line painting – I like the concept of aligning text, script and pattern deliberately with layers of paint and can see potential for doing this in my next assignment.  I looked up Sian Bowen and was very intrigued by her ideas.  In Fragment No 1, 2005, it looks as though the artist has collaged on the original script, or a facsimile of it  I wonder about reproducing script on paper, tissue and fabric, through printing or burnishing, playing with the colour and tone of the script, laying it over or under thin washes of paint.

Bowen has a great interest in the quality of paper and paper objects, especially things meant to be handled like folding books, albums, maps, cut paper patterns, which recalls an early interest of mine in making origami forms and paper mosaics.

She uses laser cutting and burning to make marks, sprinkles precious metal dust into lacquer on paper, buries paper and incorporates the marks of decay and insect infestation into drawing, retrieves old layers of wallpaper to incorporate in her work.

2.3 painting on a 3d surface – I have read The Hare With Amber Eyes, by Edmund de Waal, so was aware of netsuke, but my tutor’s reference printed me to look a little closer at these small, intimate objects, and their uses and meanings.  Since my Matchbox painting I’m drawn to making other painted objects that are meant to be handled, objects of many aspects and qualities (tactile, aural as well as visual) which can be explored by the viewer, and I’d like to pursue this in the next assignment.

2.4 painting on a painted surface – I can now see a connection between my painting of a bird, pan and coffee pot, and how I depicted them, and my part 1 paintings of Pacific NW ethnic masks and totem poles.  Indigenous and prehistoric cultures, their lives, art and objects fascinate me.  I wrote about a visit I made to look at the carved sculptures of Tlingit Alaskan Natives here, and my thoughts on their significance in the lives of those people.  

Some of my backgrounds my tutor mentioned, were interesting paintings in their own right.   No 6, a black and white under-painting of a collection of objects was one.  The gouache /ink resist technique I used gave an old, distressed look to the objects, which i can now see have an antique, ghostly feel to them.  The reference to Lascaux caves led me to look more closely at Gerry Davies‘ drawings, especially a couple of series relating to caves.  In Retreat to Caves and Deluges and Floods he plays with scenarios to do with 21st century disaster and his visions of life thereafter, in which modern everyday objects and living environments take on new meanings, and a future other significance (just as my scissors and socks have!).

In this exercise it was pointed out that my strongest backgrounds contributed to my two strongest paintings, so the underpainting is very significant to the outcome.  I like the parallel drawn between this, and Freud and the unconscious informing every aspect of our lives.


Assignment – 

The references to Cubism, Futurism and Orphism suggest different ways I might have considered approaching fragmentation, multiple viewpoints and time based depiction.  Another approach is found in an Ori Gersht series Blowups.  It recreated still life paintings in 3D in a series of photos and video in which the objects are shown in the process of violently exploding, bringing me round to time based considerations once more.  Another work by Gersht which seems relevant in this context is his series of photographs Reflections.  These photographs are of bouquets of artificial flowers arranged to carefully copy Jan Breughel’s 17th century flower paintings, and placed in front of a mirror.  The bouquets are impossibly exotic and perfect.  Gersht then caused the mirror to shatter, and at that precise moment took photos focussed on the mirror’s surface and on the reflection of flowers in it. To me there is a strong message of how memory and time distort and fragment the past.

Cornelia Parker is another artist using violent transformation of objects in the artistic process.  In Thirty Pieces of Silver she has a steamroller crush over a thousand pieces of silver and arranges them into thirty disc shaped groups, hung on copper wire from the ceiling.  She transforms and destroys the meaning and value of the objects, and gives them new meaning in her work.

I watched the BBC documentary on still life, Apples Pears and Paint, which I feel is closely based on Norman Bryson’s book ‘Overlooked:Four Essays on Still Life Painting.  Here’s a link to my earlier research on still life, for my future reference.  The significance of objects, especially everyday overlooked things, is the subject of still life painting, from the Xenia murals, through 17th century Dutch still life painting, to Cubism and every era in between. Significance is what changes from age to age; objects can carry religious significance, they can signify wealth, transience, decay and death, or simply intimate life and memories.

The Dutch Golden Age is rich in paintings of sumptuous displays of silver, glass and other reflective surfaces.  Willem ClaeszStill Life with Gilt Goblet is a good example, with reflected and refracted light from a window appearing in the green glass and the metal jug.

My thoughts also turn to narrative and significance, and I now refer back to my investigation of the totem pole and the vertical format which is used in Native American culture (in addition to practical purposes as supporting posts) to make the supernatural world visible and relate myths, to memorialise events in the history of an individual, and to draw on images owned by the clan.  They aren’t religious, but they express an underlying shamanic belief in the spiritual nature and interdependence of all living and inert things.  So, with a multi-part vertical format,  I tried to imbue my silver tea pieces with our story, reflections of us, and with a warmth of a reflected kaleidoscope of colour and a living spiritual significance acquired over the years. My intention was for the five pieces to stay together; although I can now see the first two are somewhat different in composition to the others, and could stand alone, I’m reluctant to separate them.


I love the comparison of my sketch on metal to Chardin! I was aware when making my assignment pieces that my approach was developing in a rather representational direction, not necessarily what I had intended, but see below my notes about Chardin’s The Ray.  The making of my pentaptych was done with careful research, planning and execution in that I wanted to make sure the process – painting on metal – which I’d never done before – would work, that the paint would adhere basically.  By doing some more adventurous background experimental work exploring metal and media, I might have learned some unexpected different approaches and effects that could have made my paintings more exciting.  If I have time I’ll have a play as suggested, and  In this connection I looked at the work of Katherine Rush, who paints in oil on aluminium, using dripping, smearing, destroying, gloss, leaving large areas of unpainted metal, creating an aura of mystery and ambiguity, and giving me lots of ideas to get started with.

I’ll definitely try to explore processes in a more experimental, risk-taking spirit in part 3.  I’ll also think more about linking my painting processes (media, support and execution) with my subject matter and the intentions and ideas informing my work; and look at using eastern papers and fabric as part of that.


Research and learning log

I note the thinking about the relative unimportance of distinctions between representational and abstract work.  Perhaps we can envisage a scale with hyper-realism at one end, and non-objectives art at the other.  I feel trying to work at either extreme of this scale can perhaps limit self-expression, the freedom to explore in my work what I think and feel about my subject.  As my tutor noted, making objects ‘strange’ can be a means to express what I think.

Meret Oppenheim‘s fur covered cup goads the viewer into reaction; we are puzzled, thrown out of our certainties, by the sight of this familiar drinking vessel and the disgusting thought of our lips touching the fur lining.  Man Ray’s spiked iron incites less powerfully but works in a similar way, presenting us with an everyday domestic tool deliberately altered and rendered ludicrous.

These are extreme interventions to make objects strange.  Chardin‘s The Ray presents a more subtle approach (brought to mind by Andrew Graham-Dixon’s excellent Art of France yesterday).  His composition is quite unsettling.  There is nothing attractive about the gory ray hanging there with its strange face and it’s glistening, visceral innards on display, in fact it’s quite repulsive.  The cat seems manic, as he pounces on some oysters lying there.  A knife lies half hidden, balanced precariously half off the edge of the shelf, inviting us to grasp the handle and do what with it?  The whole scene is strange, unfamiliar and disturbing, made so by the way the artist has chosen to compose the scene, and how he has painted the objects in it.  



I looked at George Shaw’s work and his use of humbrol enamels on mdf board to make his meticulous, detailed landscapes.  His work is an example of how to make the familiar strange by painting in an ostensibly highly realistic way.  I immediately recognised his landscapes as those of my youth too  – and my reaction to them is one of acute nostalgia tinged with sadness, for those days and the person I was then. And yet they are strange; there are no people in them, they are manufactured from photos, memory and observation to be authentically 1970s scenes with all modern changes stripped away.

I found some paintings on metal (copper and aluminium) by Sean Scully here.  I like how the warmth of the copper shows through between the rough edges of his abstract shapes.  In Christies web site here, Scully talks about the experience of painting on metal; he compares painting on copper to ice skating instead of walking.  I was also taken by the way he talks about his paintings not being abstract, but being ‘associational’ or metaphorical – looking closely at them, the viewer starts to make associations with things she knows (such as water lapping against a wall), even though the artist didn’t necessarily have that association in mind when he made the painting.  Interestingly, despite eschewing abstraction, later in the article he states ‘that’s where abstraction dominates, I think.  It expresses what cannot be described anecdotally’  ( I also learned that Scully has done some paintings on metal to furnish the chapel of Saint Cecilia at Montserrat, Barcelona – must visit!


Finally I’ve bought Hannah Arendt’s Illuminations and am looking forward to reading that, particularly the essays mentioned.

References (Sian Bowen) Claesz


Assignment 2 and reflection


Here is my final painting for this assignment


Pentaptych – Acrylic on aluminium, 50 x 130 cm

The individual panels of aluminium can be viewed in finer detail by clicking on the individual images in the gallery below

Some close-up details showing brushwork and texture can be seen by clicking on individual circles below.


Reflection on the outcome

How successful is it and why? If you were to develop this work, how would you do it? Which artists have influenced you and how? Reflect on the ways you’d like to develop your work and the essence of what you hope to communicate.


I’ve achieved some aspects of my original vision (fragmentation of my objects, abstract composition, zooming in and out, glowing colours).  There is some great brushwork and involvement in the medium and in colour.  I feel I did sacrifice some imagination and creativity in the execution for more ‘accomplished’ rendering, forgetting slightly about the panache, magic and imagination of Klee and Gorky (and of some of the work that I made in the exercises) that I’d intended to impart.  This may have happened as I concentrated on the new experience of painting on metal, on five separate but connected panels, and the technical novelties and challenges of this.

If I were to develop this work I might do it by zooming in even further, relying more on imagination and a little less on ‘realistic’ representation, using my sketchbook to find new compositions based on the shapes of the subject, and playing more with mark-making.  The fifth and last panel may point the way here.  The contour of the spout is repeated by brush marks (reminding me of Munch’s Madonna variations, the outline of her head and shoulders repeated in a similar way), and other interesting marks start to populate my background.

The format was experimental, influenced by my part one work with grid arrangements, also by Gary Hume’s Bird Point, and by some research I did in response to my tutor’s feedback into the installations of Craig Donald and Juliette Blightman, who both hang works of varying sizes together. I think it successfully draws the viewer in, as, reading the five panels from left to right we zoom further and further in, until we feel we are there in the picture.  As I am in fact…you may spot a self portrait of my head and shoulders in the teaspoon, and of my red-trousered legs in the teapot!

I’d like to develop my use of metal as a support, in particular with oils and enamels as media.  I’m thinking I may have the opportunity to do this with monoprinting in part 3 – though I don’t know how or whether that might be done yet.  In general, I want to express my personal response to the subjects I paint – the ‘spirit’ I see in them, whether animate or inanimate – and the connections between them.


I love painting subjects that have a personal meaning for me, and paint better if inspired by them.  Also I draw and paint with more character and expression from observation than purely from photos.

My subject for this assignment is a collection of small silver objects.  I’ve taken them for granted up till now, but they are part of our intimate family life, having been on display in every home we’ve had, lovingly cleaned and polished (by my husband!) over the years, and reflecting the warmth of home and passing years

I experimented with setting and backdrop, and finally set them on the dark-green, rough canvas apron I use when painting, with a fine, dark, gorgeously-patterned scarf as backdrop, in a black box with an open front, with two angled lamps through the left side to create dramatic lighting, then took several photos.  The scarf is a beautiful silk one given to me by my husband as a gift from a trip to Edinburgh some thirty years ago.


Contextual studies:

The paintings of Arshile Gorky have been a recurrent theme in my contextual research in part 2, and particularly influenced my large scale line painting and my scissors piece in the Painting on a Painted Surface exercise. Gorky’s pieces such as Garden In Sachi Motif and Dark Green Painting also came to mind when considering this assignment.  Firstly they are on dark backgrounds, which is how we are asked to arrange our collection; secondly,  they seem to me to be composed of a collection of (heavily disguised) objects, presented to the viewer in Gorky’s own special language.

The works of Paul Klee also seemed to point me in a certain direction.  His paintings on very dark backgrounds, Bird Garden and Fish Magic shine like jewels;  there is little chiaroscuro in the forms, they glow like randomly arranged treasures, and they have a beautifully imaginary presence for me.

I am strongly drawn to all three works;  the Klee has the charm of an imaginary world; the forms and composition of the Gorky pieces are heavy with meaning and attachment.  The palette in all of them, dark green, black and bright reds and yellows).

I can also see (retrospectively, having recently visited Hepworth Wakefield) some similarities between my work and that of the artist Clare Woods, who paints in enamel on aluminium. Her paintings are made in a rich, sombre palette, and express her subject in abstract terms. She is said to be ‘concerned with sculpting an image in paint, and expressing the strangeness of an object’ , ‘twisting foreground and background to create nuanced and surreal imagery’ (, which were also my concerns in my assignment piece.


Choice of media and support 

To try and achieve glowing, gem-like colours against a very dark ground, I decided to make my collection painting on metal, having bought some pieces of aluminium, stainless steel and copper from an industrial metal work shop earlier in part 2.  I chose aluminium; as it is lighter than steel, so easier to post; and not so easily damaged as the copper leaf, which would need mounting on board, and therefore also be heavy to send.

My tryouts here, had shown me that watercolour, gouache and ink brush on well but lift very easily with subsequent layers.  Oils and oil based enamels take weeks to cure thoroughly, although I love the smooth, high-gloss of enamel and would like to try it at a later date.  Acrylics dry quickly, to a hard, sound coating, and aren’t lifted with subsequent wet layers.  It’s also a medium I like, so i chose acrylics for the assignment painting (addendum – i subsequently discovered acrylic enamel paints, and am ordering some to try).


Format and composition ideas

I experimented with zooming in and creating multiples.  I like the extreme zooming, leaving just the curve of a silver handle, part of an ellipse, forms and lines that identify the loved features of the objects.

I like the idea of creating a series of paintings for display together as one unit; the long vertical format appeals to me too, giving the possibility to incorporate the patterned scarf as an important part of the composition, not just background (Gary Hume’s Bird Point III, 1998, is a model for this format; it’s painted on four long vertical format panels, displayed side by side).  I experimented with piecing extracts from my images together (using iPad and Pic Jointer app) :


Photos composite

My next step was to make a sketch of my setup (from direct observation), for which I used black and green inks, and coloured pencils on paper.  I selected a composition of objects, flattening the picture plane somewhat and emphasising the shapes, forms and patterns made by the objects and the scarf.  As the objects are highly reflective, all sorts of colours can be seen in them, and they also show off the dramatic raking light well, too.  I particularly love the freshness and spontanaiety of this sketch, which was drawn in response to the objects themselves rather than photos of the objects.  It’s expressed in the angularity of the ellipses, the slight distortion and asymmetry of some of the objects;  they seem to be leaning in, having a conversation with the teapot!

Sketch on paper

I can see ways in which my sketch can be zoomed into and broken down into vertical elements: the one below has equal sized components:

Sketch composite 1

The next one’s individual elements reduce in width from right to left.

Sketch composite 2 


Sketches on aluminium

Now I wanted to try my hand at a quick painting in acrylics on aluminium to see how it felt and looked in practice, what technical issues arose, and whether and if so how and where I could capitalise on the gleaming metal support in the finished painting, so I prepared two small (15x24cm) pieces of sheet aluminium.  I washed them with alcohol before sanding (recommended by Ray Smith in The Artist’s Handbook).  Ray Smith also recommends priming the panel before painting.  I want the metal surface to shine through my painting, so after etching (with vinegar solution) I left one sheet raw and, for comparison, primed the other with thinned pva, followed by a coat of thinned acrylic medium.

The main difference between the two sheets is that the raw aluminium changes appearance much more than the primed sheet, with changes in the light and viewpoint.  The primed sheet with its reduced reflective quality is much more fixed in appearance (in the photos below the raw sheet is on the right; the first photo is in full sun, the second in shadow).  So an unprimed sheet might be good if I want the changing appearance of the metal to be part of my painting – as long as the paint is secure.


First I pencilled in a simple composition on the raw sheet.  As I painted I noticed how much longer the acrylics remained workable, it felt like painting wet on wet in oils.  I had to be very gentle, using the flat of the brush, applying colour on top of wet paint, so as not to lift the first layer completely.  It felt quite lovely, and very different, painting on such a smooth, rigid surface.

As regards the outcome of the sketch as preparatory work for my larger painting, one particular concern jumps out at me; the red pattern on the background scarf needs toning down and the edges softening, to ease it back – right now it looks as if the red fruits are tumbling down in front of the silver objects.  To address this, from now on I’ll tone them down by painting the scarf patterns on top of the dark background, rather than painting the background around them.


Small sketch on aluminium

My next small sketch was made on the primed aluminium.  The new approach to painting the scarf pattern on top of dark paint worked well to tone it down and keep it in the background.

It’s a simpler design, and when I place the two side by side I begin to see what a multiple set might look like.  For the assignment piece, it would be a good idea to work on all the components of the set at the same time, keeping each at roughly the same stage, just as I would if I were painting one large image; this strategy should help with cohesion and a good overall composition.  I also realised that the panels should vary in complexity – be careful not to make them all busy or all minimal in design.  The palette will be common to all; but overall tone will darken from the light source on the left towards the panel furthest from the light.

Small sketch on aluminium diptych

Choosing the composition

I want to zoom in further than I did for these two sketches on aluminium (above), so played around digitally again with my photos and sketches until I had a set I liked (below), which is actually a combination of abstracts from all my sketches, with varying scales and levels of complexity.  As a whole, I like the repeating colours and shapes from panel to panel, and the rhythm they set up; the combination of abstract backdrop and figurative foreground; the negative shapes, the tonal contrasts.  The progression through the panels from left to right as the images zoom in further, width reduces, the contrast becomes greater, the tone becomes darker, the forms simpler and more abstract, hopefully draw the viewer in closer.  There is a cohesion to the whole, though the individual panels don’t ‘join up’ seamlessly.

Sketch composite 3


Making the paintings

I scored and cut out the five aluminium sheets (50cm high and reduce in width from left to right from 30 cm down to 16.5 cm), sanded them with a machine, and pencilled my compositions in.  All the backgrounds were painted first, in varying dark tonal colours, the final one being pure black, with some metal showing.  I experimented with different textures, using a stiff brush and a rag to lift paint.  Then I began painting the silver objects.  I found my preparatory work has paid off; with the materials and techniques pre-tested, and the composition and general colour palette tried out, I was enjoying my exploration in paint of the objects and the process of painting.

At the end of the second day’s sessions I’d almost completed my interpretation of the objects; I’ve always been fascinated by reflected coloured light and I’d searched for the reflected light in each object, pulling out and exaggerating the colours.  On close viewing some of the colours look improbable, but standing back they coalesce into high shine metal objects.  I’m aware the background painting of the scarf patterns is going to make a huge difference to the piece, so my plan is to roughly complete the final silver object, then start adding the background patterns one by one, assessing the effect carefully on the overall composition at each stage.

Day 2 – collection painting on 5 aluminium panels

On day three I painted in the background detail, standing back to assess impact, and modifying tones to keep the pattern in the background.


The Artist’s Handbook by Ray Smith, pub Dorling Kindersley 2003

Arshile Gorky by Matthew Gale, pub Tate Publishing 2010