Category Archives: Coursework

Part 3 review of work

Demonstration of visual skills: materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills

Materials and techniques –

 I have learned a great deal about materials and techniques in Part 3. 

I enjoyed using ink in a loose and flowing way, in the manner of Dumas, in the first exercise, and the experience will help me achieve one of my aims for my assignment submission, of making simple, quick portraits by staining fabric.  The continuous line drawings I did as part of the exercise helped as an exercise in observation and a warm up for the ink studies.

The monotype process will add a great dimension to my assignment work, and to my future practise.   It’s a technique that encourages loose work and invites the unpredictable.  I’ve been delighted at the outcomes from my exercises, because I’ve begun to achieved,  through monotype, suggestion, and a certain naturalness, in place of the instinct to want to master paint in an adversarial way.  I’ve experimented with oil, acrylic, ink and watercolour monotypes, using glass and plexiglass as plates. I’ve used both additive and subtractive methods, and masks to add layers of monotype to backgrounds. I’ve added paint to monotypes, particularly to ghost prints.  I’ve printed on various sorts of paper, smooth and textured, heavyoaper and tissue paper.  I’ve made trace monotypes too, another delightful technique which can be left as drawing or combined with watercolour wash for example.  In my assignment I’m planning to play with monotype printed on to semi-transparent supports, Japanese papers, silk and linen.

In my sketchbook I’ve made trace monotypes, another delightful technique which can be left as drawing or combined with watercolour wash for example.  In my assignment I’m planning to play with monotype printed on to semi-transparent supports, Japanese papers, silk and linen.

I’ve made many sketchbook tryouts experimenting with staining fabric, Japanese mulberry paper (kozo), and tissue.  I’ve developed a process for transferring inkjet printed script to fabric, tissue and paper, combined with watercolour washes, also with my assignment pieces in mind.

Observational skills and visual awareness – 

Ink  studies – the continuous line drawings I did helped as an exercise in observation and a warm up for the ink studies.

One of my most successful paintings in Part 3 so far is a small portrait of father and daughter fishing on the waters edge.  The photo is old and poor quality and the composition mainly flat, empty sea and sky.  But through thought, study and observation I became aware as I painted the plate, and then added coloured pencil in the next exercise, of a calm, atmospheric scene, and a radiance emerging that lights up that quiet moment of father and child together, a haunting, uplifting feel.


P 3.3/5 ghost – rework


Design and compositional skills – 

My monotypes for the exercises use photos as reference, and I’ve based my portraits on them, cropping, altering colour and tone to achieve the compositions I wanted.  They are mostly fairly traditional – being carefully posed in the manner of the old days.  The least posed are the compositions I prefer. The one of my father sailing his dinghy is very effective, with the subject in the bottom corner, emphasising the expanse of sea, the horizon and the clouds swirling behind him, adding interest and context.


My other favourite is the one of my cousin and her brother laughing infectiously.  I reworked the ghost print to achieve a tonally better design, the original monoprint not working as a whole.


Rework with gouache



Quality of outcome: content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas

The content of my collection of monotype portraits is fairly interesting and thought provoking; each individual has a story, and as viewer we can wonder and speculate on their lives.  I think this is partly because the monotype process has rendered these portraits atmospheric and suggestive – everything is not spelt out.  There are hints – the young girl is serious and demure; the soldier’s eyes and smile filled with optimism and anticipation of adventures to come; brother and sister laughing and easy in each other’s company;  careworn woman in her workaday clothes, proudly holding her chicken; etc.

I could imagine presenting these portraits in the form of a family photo album, interspersed with captions, or extracts from old letters and other papers; maybe interleaved with tissue as in the days of old family albums I remember from childhood.

I looked on the exercises as experimental and didn’t always produce clean edges and borders, or sensible impressions from my glass plate.  This is something I need to focus on for the assignment  

I’ve mentioned a few of my favourite portraits, and discernment leads me to equally reject some as not very successful; the watercolour monotype uses the medium in an opaque, dense way, failing to capitalise in the strengths of the medium; the acrylic monotype and the reworked ghost female head and shoulders were promising but became too detailed and overworked.

I didn’t really have any concepts in making the portraits for the exercises, just using them as a vehicle for experimentation.  If there is an overall idea behind the monotypes it was to make images of my family and forbears, which I’d recently become engrossed in through an unexpected lost family contact.  I don’t think I could have enjoyed making portraits from random images that had no meaning for me.  For my assignment pieces I’m planning to develop this exploration of family ties, and what my own family history means to me  


Demonstration of creativity: imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice.

There’s been lots of experimentation with monotype processes, and invention of processes for soaking and staining supports, using fabrics, tissue and Japanese papers, monotyping facsimiles of script on various supports.  These are all documented in my learning log and sketchbook.  One exciting result of this came from a ghost print I hurriedly made on cheap tissue paper to use the ink on a plate.  The resulting portrait was more evocative of my young uncle and his vibrant youth, shortly to be cut down.  When I accidentally laid it over a monotype of his young mother I discovered a discovered a beautiful layering of subjects, colours and compositions, which alters depending on the angle from which it’s viewed.

Throughout all this I’ve been developing my ideas and different ways of communicating them in the assignment.  My personal voice is emerging, and I’m starting to explore and adopt in my practise aspects of making art that are me, and which up till now lay dormant.


Context: reflection, research, critical thinking

 I’ve looked at a diverse range of artists and assimilated and adopted what I’ve seen into my work.  Marlene Dumas influenced my ink studies, particularly watching her use of ink on video and seeing how portraits can emerge from flowing media.  Re-reading Emily Ball led to several drawings, and helped me let go of the need to make a ‘copy’ of a person, instead searching for a quality or essence that expresses how I see them.  Annie Kevans’ simple looking portraits are evident here too.  My visit to Hepworth Wakefield has changed my views on how art can be presented, and even what my art could become.  Working with fabric and special papers intrigues me, and Sian Bowen has opened my eyes to new possibilities for making art.  


3.1 twenty self portraits

This exercise is to make 20 A4 ink studies of my face, spending up to a minute on each.  I spent plenty of time between campaigns, reflecting on what I’d done, each study informing the next.  When I’d completed the exercise I laid the studies out on a table in order to review what I’d done.  There was a clear development in my approach visible.  The first studies were made with hard, black brush strokes which look quite tight.  Then came a series of drawings, quick explorations of line and contour mainly, the blind contour drawing being in my opinion the best.  Then back to black ink, I started to loosen up, but when I started using colour and wetter washes the portraits started to loosen up more and acquire more character. Then, reading Emily Ball, I made some larger charcoal dust drawings, pushing the dust around with the palm of my hand. Finally, two loose, wet A2 ink studies.  These are my favourites from the 20, because they are fresher, looser and more confident than the others.

None of them bear a great resemblance to me, although it has been noted that I look quite sad in many of them; I was feeling down at the time I made them, so at least I was successful in capturing my mood!


As suggested I looked at the ink paintings of Marlene Dumas for inspiration, and found this video particularly helpful. The video has Dumas talking about her work and working on a large painting in ink on paper, on the floor. In it, she uses the ink very fluidly, pushing washes around, pouring them, tipping the paper, drawing pigment out to describe lines. This must be how her faces get their blurred, mutilated look. I like how she says that there is no guarantee things will work out. Also that she paints awkwardly..struggling to reach the far side of the large support on the floor; searching around for something she can’t put her hands on.

Her walls of faces present like a series of mugshots. The faces look vacant, slightly bruised. Each face is unique, but en masse somehow they all look the same.Her portraits in ink are mostly full frontal, centrally placed on the page. They nearly all have fairly flat, young (child’s and young adult’s) faces, their expressions and characters individual but understated.  The outlines of the heads are defined, rarely is there much hair to obscure the shape.  The head is a flat oval, close up, little tone defines the sphere of the skull, angle of cheekbones, nose or jaw; the features, eyes, nose, mouth, are painted on like coals on a snowman’s head.

The Tate’s summation of her work is interesting on her sources: “In the past Dumas produced paintingscollagesdrawingsprints and installations. She now works mainly with oil on canvas and ink on paper. The sources she uses for her imagery are diverse and include newspaper and magazine cuttings, personal memorabilia, Flemish paintings, and Polaroid photographs. The majority of her works may be categorised as ‘portraits‘, but they are not portraits in the traditional sense. Rather than representing an actual person, they represent an emotion or a state of mind. Themes central to Dumas’ work include race and sexuality, guilt and innocence, violence and tenderness”.  I’m interested in the idea of a portrait not necessarily representing an actual person etc.  This goes away completely from the conventional idea of a portrait as a copy of a face.

On her technique, in this article in the Guardian observes: “Looking at Dumas’s paintings, I am often struck by how little there seems to be on the canvas. The images coalesce out of almost nothing.” . The article goes on to say how her portraits are more like wet drawings than paintings.  Painting wet into wet with water based media, there’s little scope for reworking, and overpainting wouldn’t work.

I made my first three ink self portrait paintings on photocopy paper, Looking in the mirror and keeping to the one minute stricture.  The first one is best – I seem to have used less line and mark, and more wash, and avoided over-working.  I’ve looked at some student blogs on this exercise, and decided to not get despondent at my attempts.  The point is to try, and to gain experience, not to expect skilful results and not to worry about achieving a likeness.

Next I made some quick drawings, the idea being to explore the contours of my head in dry drawing media, without the distraction of trying to manipulate ink on the paper.  These were done quickly but without the one minute deadline.  I prefer 5 and 8 – nice confident lines and less fussy.  9 shows the spherical form of the head, and I’ve got the angles and perspective off the pose.

Back to the ink paintings, I added more water to my diluted ink to get a better middle tone, but still ended up with monotone mostly.

I switched to coloured ink, which helped me achieve some tonal variety, and I started painting more in big, wet washes than line, inspired by the Dumas video and the way she pushes the washes around to coax the portrait out.  Features can be created from the washes and their frayed edges.  15 & 16 in particular are now starting to show promise – it’s amazing how these faces appeared and settled down into themselves with merely a few broad washes in a minute’s (max two!) work.  15 has an intense, startled, anxious look.  19 looks like a person in repose, maybe sleeping – I like how the middle line of the face is described by the blue wash (the paper is all white – it only looks coloured as the photos were taken in poor, artificial light).  My eye is drawn back repeatedly to 18 – the head is well positioned on the page, the pose is interesting.

I tried other colours – yellow and black together, green.  In 20 and 21 I reworked the surface when it was still wet, muddying and overworking .  22 by contrast was done more confidently and at a faster pace, and is more effective.  Every painting I’ve done so far is different, but each of them has captured a little bit of me.

I read chapter 2 of Emily Ball’s Drawing and Painting People – A Fresh Approach, and jotted down some thoughts and ideas to follow up.  She talks about painting the head as opposed to painting a portrait, to get away from the idea of making a copy of the way we think people look, the ‘staid idea of creating a portrait’.  Of the drawing media she believes charcoal is the most tactile and painterly and can act as a link between painting and drawing.  Ink, she says, is also a bridge, sharing the qualities of both, with its ability to ‘slide, puddle, drip and mix on the canvas or paper to give new marks; washes, drying, create their own delicate edges; the ‘fluid, unpredictability of the ink’ encourages us to ‘improvise and go with the serendipity of the results’.

I followed her exercise to make a self-portrait on A2 brown paper, with no mirror, seeing by touch alone (Kindle loc 582).  The idea is to steadily explore the entire head with the left hand, never removing it from the head, whilst drawing blind with the right hand, never removing the charcoal from the paper.  The first is recognisably human, the second looks like a loveable puppy dog!  What was important though, is that I drew by feeling and responding to the three dimensional and tactile qualities of my head.  The outcomes actually reminded me of portrait drawings by Frank Auerbach; I decided to persevere with them, using rag and putty rubber to erase and smudge, before going in again with my charcoal to augment the marks.

Another exercise I tried was to make a charcoal dust drawing (Drawing and Painting People – A Fresh Approach, Kindle loc 702). Tipping crushed charcoal and pastel on to the paper, working quickly, pushing and pulling the dust with the heel of the hand to discover the form of the head; then with a stick of charcoal drawing the features, clarifying the shape of the head; erasing, altering, adding lines and marks, smudging, rubbing away and redrawing until the head feels right.  The hair in my attempt below has heaps of curly, frizzy texture, as a result of feeling the texture as I responded with charcoal.


My next two attempts in ink were done flat on the floor, on A2 sheets of smooth, 300gsm paper, allowing me to pour plenty of diluted ink, puddle it, jiggle and tip the paper, using rags and pipettes as well as big brushes, pouring and spraying water.  I tried different approaches to my usual one; instead of starting with the outline of the face, i started with a pale toned blocking in of the whole head and shoulders.  I allowed myself about five minutes for these.

I enjoyed painting and drawing these faces, and really surrendered the idea that they must look like me.  They capture bits of me here and there, but each stands on its own, with the suggestion of a character or an emotion.



Drawing and Painting People – A Fresh Approach by Emily Ball, pub The Crowood Press, 2009

3.2 first monoprints, adding paint to the plate

For my first monoprints I chose a few A5 portrait photos from a magazine, and set up my workstation; a piece of A5 glass on a table top, oil paints, liquin and zest-it thinners, turps for cleaning, a few brushes, rags and paper towel, and a stack of various types of A4 paper (textured and smooth, different weights).

Following all the instructions I painted on to my glass plate (cad red, phthalo blue-green, cad yellow, black and white).  This is the image – fairly complex but I simplified it a bit.  

I painted as suggested using well thinned oil paint, until I’d covered most areas.  Those I left untouched were because I missed them rather than intentional.  Then I took my print, on dampened cartridge paper from my sketchbook, rubbing with my hand.



I was surprised how it turned out; the paint had transferred well, hardly any was left on the plate, and the print looked good and sharp.  It needs some darker tones in the background, which would give it more impact and pop the figures forward, but I like the effect of the white paper showing in places, it enlivens the print.


2. Rather than use random images from magazines, or my self portraits, I decided to try making monoprints from dear-to-my-heart old family photos I’ve recently collected in digital form.  At first I thought I’d print a few out to use as my guide under the plate, then had the idea to lay the plate directly over my iPad.  This way I thought I could play with the A5 images, zooming and cropping until I had compositions I liked, although in the event I used them all just as they were.

My second monotype was painted in black and white oils, using liquin as a dilutant.   I painted quickly, using my fingers, rags and q-tips to manipulate the paint. The photo was rather over exposed, with large areas of sea, sky and the figure almost white, so I left equally large areas of the painting white.  The paper used was fine textured, 165gsm, dampened.




 Compared to 1, the lines and edges are softer, they have a lovely texture, like Degas’ trace monotypes; I suspect because the paper is more absorbent and slightly textured.  I’d forgotten to clean around the edge of the plate before taking my print, but I quite like the lower edge, suggesting torn paper.  I love the textures of the cloud.   I’d like to have captured that my Dad is sailing – you may not know from the print.  This isn’t so much wanting to add detail, as finding the lines and shapes that economically capture what I want to depict, so i need to take more time, wiping off and repainting parts of my plate until I’ve got it.  If I were to add to the print, I’d add definition to his features, the rope and tiller in his hand, the horizon.


3. I used colour and Liquin for this portrait of my grandmother as a young woman, and the same dampened, finely textured paper.  This time I was more liberal with the paint and took my time a bit more.  I found the gel like texture of the Liquin as I added it to the paint resulted in clumps of paint forming on the brush. It might have been easier to slow down and premix some colours with Liquin using a spatula.




My fIrst observation is that the paint has transferred patchily (probably didn’t use enough paint or Liquin, or didn’t blend them thoroughly).  I would like the background and neck to be darker, so i could add a dark glaze to the print.  At first I thought the left side of the face and collar would have been better unpainted on the plate to use the white of the paper to represent the lightest tones in the composition.  On reflection I like the complementary yellow / purple- it reminds me of the green/red of Mme Matisse portrait.

There was still paint on the plate so I took a ghost print, which I could use as an underpainting and work into with dry pastel.

3.2/3 ghost




4. Using Zest-it as dilutant, and a fine brush, I painted my father as a very young man, seated, and took a print onto Canson textured drawing paper (smoother side). 



 Almost all the paint transferred, but again the image was thinly coloured.  The course instructions say oil paint is thick enough to produce striking, vivid images.  Perhaps I’m thinning the paint too much.  However, I like the outcome.  The dark accents of the left arm, trouser leg and shoe work well to bring them forward.  I’d darken the foreground more and try to make a little more explicit the table he’s sitting on.  Keep forgetting to neaten the edges before printing!


5. So I tried to use thicker paint, building up layers in the background to try to get a more vivid print.  This is easier in a composition with larger, less fiddly areas, so I chose a head and shoulders next.   I keep finding I’m trying to copy the colours on my reference images, tonal greys.  I want vivid colour here, so I chose bright red and green.





The colour worked well.  The brush marks are very strong on all my prints, maybe that’s typical of this technique. I can also see curved marks in the background where I tried blending with my finger.  As these surface marks are so strong, it would be a good idea to pay more attention to them when painting the plate, deliberately introducing a wide variety of marks to refine and add interest to the print.  i wonder if there’s a way of getting the paint to grip the plate more if I want to achieve a smoother look?

I used a piece of tissue paper to protect the back of my print as suggested; then I used it to get a ghost print.  Laid on to white paper, it has an ethereal look which I’d like to keep.  My uncle was 24 when he died a gruesome, lonely death in a heroic WW2 action in far away Nagaland.  In my prints he appears a lot older, which is a shame.


3.2/5 ghost



I had a go at making a monotype with oil pastel, using solvent to manipulate the colour, but with poor results.  Next I tried acrylic paint, adding retarder and water and that seemed promising, although the water content made the paper buckle and the print very fuzzy.  I wanted to slow down further the paint drying, so instead of water and retarder I tried mixing glycerine with the acrylic paint, then made a portrait on the plate of an unknown young 1940s woman, perhaps a friend of my uncle.





It transferred quite well, and I’m so pleased in this her youth, vitality and optimism have come across well.  I wonder if washing up liquid would work just as well as glycerine to slow down the drying?


After making some work for the next exercise, I came back to this one and painted an image in watercolour on a plexiglass plate, then using damp, vellum textured mixed media paper I took a print, followed by a host print on lighter weight fine textured cartridge paper.



I still want to try trace monotypes; layering monotypes; combining elements from different images to create new compositions; using coloured paper to print on; etc.  Next week I’ll find some plexiglass and larger glass plates and continue experimenting.

3.3 more monoprints, removing paint from the plate

Staying with A5 format, I covered my plate with an even film of burnt umber oil paint and liquin, placed it over a portrait of my great grandmother on the iPad, and started to remove paint from the plate with buds, rags, cotton wool and silicone paint movers. The paint on the plate was transparent, so I could see the image beneath.

When I’d finished I took a print on to textured cartridge paper. The face and skirt were too dark, I hadn’t removed enough paint from the plate. The background was too patchy – I’d removed paint unevenly. On this scale, with some detail needed to convey anything of the story, it might be better to remove paint in large areas, concentrating on getting the overall tonal design how I want it, then go into the plate with paint and a brush to add back any finer detail before pulling the print.

Another thought is to hold the plate up to the light before printing to see how it looks without the image underneath.




I wanted a better basis to go forward on so had another go, this time removing oil paint in large areas (the whole face, dress etc), holding the plate up to the light to see how it looked, removing more paint, and finally adding paint with a fine brush to suggest features and hands.  After pulling a print I added a tIndy bit more definition  in a couple of places; it was too late for the chicken however – he’s too dark to identify, and to add white paint might look clumsy.



I like the background because there’s a feeling of depth and light and shadow. I did it by careful dabbing with kitchen paper towel, and it’s given an idea of a leafy hedge. If I want to suggest the flat wooden door that was actually behind her I’d need to think of a different tool for removing the paint.


My next attempt is in imaginary colour, from a black and white photo of my cousins, which I flipped before painting so it printed in the original orientation.

I removed colour from the background to lighten it.  The faces were wiped, then features added back.  The stripes on the man’s shirt were made by pushing ink away with a silicone paint mover.


3.3/3 ghost



It’s a fun photo, and the print has captured that moment of infectious laughter.  I find the background shapes unbalance the composition and are distracting.  If I were to work on the print I’d mute those shapes down, and add a hint of the door on the right to restore the balance.


I painted this portrait of my great grandfather in Part 2, and I wanted to explore it further using monotype.  I used a dark mix of burnt umber and black with Liquin covering the whole plate, then wiped away with various tools, trying to make sure I was removing go so as not to end up with too dark a print.



I love the unpredictability of monotype; the unexpected textures, marks, the way things are suggested, left out.  I do want some basic control though, particularly –

  •  getting tones light enough – the face is still too dark overall.  It seems to get the lightest tones I need to not be afraid to virtually remove all of the ink.
  • getting tones right relative to each other. I need to keep holding the plate up to the light and looking carefully before printing.

I like the character of this print however, and I think I’ve done better with my mark-making – the bold marks on the jacket and the chin add to the interest, and I must build on this in the next one.


I wanted to try a portrait of two people in the landscape.  The A5 scale is rather small for doing this in monoprint, maybe I need to get some images printed at A4 and a larger glass plate, but for now I decided to have a go with what I’d got, painting in the larger blocks of colour and tone and then wiping them to carve out the light.  I took a print on damp, very rough cotton rag watercolour paper, and a ghost print on my standard sketchbook cartridge paper.


The two figures are so small on this scale that I could only try to suggest their general shape and stance.  The rough texture of the watercolour paper made edges fuzzy and shapes even more blurred.  But both the print and the ghost could be good candidates for working on further in the next exercise.

3.4 adding paint to the monoprint

I chose some of my monoprints from the earlier exercises that I thought would most benefit from working into with extra paint.

The print and the ghost of my cousin and her father fishing both lacked readability – the crouching little girl was particularly hard to decipher – and the prints overall lacked perspective. I worked into the first (oil paint) print with watercolour, adding tonal contrast, and improving definition and aerial perspective.  I worked into the ghost print with coloured pencil.  This latter is the more successful, partly because I’d learned from doing the first one.  I’ve kept the horizon line more distant; the little girl has acquired feet, and is lighter and more warmly and brightly coloured, and therefore becomes the focal point; and the foreshore is also warm coloured, fading to cooler tones, giving better perspective.  Both were quite quick to do, the monoprints acting as a guide, and contributing texture and depth, a feeling of layers or veils of paint.

Like Tim Gardner’s watercolours of figures in landscapes, my two pieces are painterly replicas of a poor quality snapshot.  Like his, they also capture a feeling, and I reflected a little bit on that.  The photo, taken from a low viewpoint,  is foreboding and ominous; the low perspective makes the father loom tall and dark above the child, and each is turned away from the other, as in many of Degas’ monoprints, not communicating, absorbed in their own thoughts and occupations.  This feeling comes across in my watercolour rework too. But in the coloured pencil version, tiny changes to the light on the heads, and the warmer colours within and around the figures,  pull them together, making them seem intimate in each other’s company.




My first attempt at making a monotype of my great grandmother had turned out dark and dense, so this needed a different approach; additional opaque tints of oil paint, using the print as a guide and ground, helped me bring out the portrait. The background on the other hand became more solid and darker, and I added details like the door hinge, and an indication of its wooden construction.  I added the ground and her shadow; and details of the chicken.


The ghost print of my grandmother as a young woman was lacking in contrast and definition.  I wanted to see where I could take it with additional print layers.  Concentrating on the background to start with, I made a mask to cover the subject and printed additional acrylic layers into the background in orange, red, lilac and ultramarine.  I think the original oil paint acted as a resist to these acrylic layers, yielding pleasing textures I hadn’t anticipated.   When the portrait started to emerge I went into it with a brush and acrylic paint, sculpting the head and shoulders with light and dark tones, hard and soft edges.  I learned about the potential of printed layers from playing with this and I’m quite pleased with the process.  I’m not very happy with the outcome though, and wish I’d stopped sooner; there’s something about the form of the face which isn’t convincing,  and I have a tendency to over-define features, drawing them on too emphatically rather than describing the patterns of light and shade they make.  I think the original print has far more appeal and character.


The print of my cousins had yielded a useful ghost print, and  I wanted to use it to improve on the tonal composition in my original monoprint.  I reworked in gouache, making the figures stronger, and adding detail in the right background.  The rework makes for a stronger, more satisfying image, and I’m pleased I managed to do it without over-working the faces in particular.

Ex 2.1 Unusual painting media

Here are some of the paintings I made for this exercise.  Experimenting with unusual media and using collections of ordinary objects was a great experience.  Together, these two aspects of the exercise led me to make some abstract paintings with elements of representation (and vice versa!); in other words, I felt freed from the need for a painting to be one or the other!

Here’s what I did :

Ice – Paint with ice or on ice.  Experiment with effect of ice, paint and salt

Painting on ice –  painting with time-based outcomes – transition from solid to liquid, from marks and lines drawn to organic shapes  as ice melts. From figurative to abstract.  As the ice melts, multiple variations of the painting form.   Take a print on paper of the painted ice sheet, and take a print on to the ice of a painting on paper, and watch it melt.  Try drawing with inktense, artbar, charcoal and graphite.  Try painting with watercolour, acrylic, gouache.

I froze some sheets of ice in a baking tray lined with cling film.  Also tried lining with bubble wrap for a different surface to paint on.

A thinner sheet broke as I handled it, and I used the two smaller pieces to paint on to.

First this one below, using my swimming costumes image as reference, with watercolour, adding inktense pencil and artbar crayons as it melted.  Greens, blues and yellows seemed suited to the subject as well as to the support

Then this one below; the ice having already melted slightly when I began, watercolour appeared too wishywashy.  I turned to acrylic ink applied with pipette.  Later added inktense crayon, then green ink applied with turkey baster.

I found it mesmerising to observe as the surfaces melted and colours softened, merged, formed bright veins of pigment which followed their own mysterious tracks, perhaps to do with the texture of the cling film impression on the ice.  I actually like the broken, irregular shape of the ice sheets (calling to mind David Dipre’s paintings on broken shards of pottery) and their edges, and I like the pigment-free parts of the ice around the edges.   What a wonderful concept to develop further.  I could see the morphing of the image as the ice melts as a metaphor for change, decay, loss.

Next I used images from a collection of photos I made on the day following a forest fire. I picked up lumps of charcoal, and photographed the charred landscape.  A few weeks afterwards I returned and found green shoots – the landscape was regenerating itself.  Here are some of the photos I took at the scene:-

I had in mind when I took the photos that some day I’d paint a series showing the landscape burnt and regenerating…little did I know I’d be representing my idea on melting ice!  Painting fire (or the results of it) on ice seemed poetic.  As the ice melts, the parched landscape cools, green starts to appear, then flowers, blossom  and more fresh foliage recreate the forest.

The initial painting was done picking up grated, tinted charcoal (picked up at the site of the fire) and graphite with a brush.  As the ice surface started to melt I started grating more black, white and coloured charcoal, graphite, inktense and artbar crayon directly onto the surface.  My image changed, developed until the barren scene had become a blurred, frest, rainy forest.

The photographs here become the work of art.  I would display the prints on a wall as above, showing the transitions and developments from stage to stage.

Painting with ice – I half-froze diluted acrylic ink, acrylic paint, watercolour, gouache, China ink, pastel pigment, in plastic pill organisers, stuck a cocktail stick in as a handle, and put them back to finish freezing.  Prepared some black and some white A3-A4 surfaces, donned some latex gloves, and had my images of collections of cotton reels, pens and socks in front of me.  I extricated the ice cubes from the little containers, and started by holding the cocktail sticks and pushing the cubes around but soon got stuck in with my fingers.  In any case the cocktail sticks came away as the ice melted, so then I stamped and pushed the melting cubes around with my hands.  I mixed colours and media, working fast, responding to the images in front of me, but relinquishing any idea of replicating them…the idea of them was all I could hope for as the ice was melting quickly.  When all the frozen paint had melted away I found that by mixing very liquid pigments and different media, interesting puddles were developing on my uneven surfaces.  As these slowly dried, pigment granulated out producing some beautifully subtle variegated washes.

I liked the feel of the slushy, creamy-textured paint as it melted.  The watery washes are gorgeous, the unpredictable element exciting.  These are the source images for the paintings above


Paul Westcombe paints with coffee, on his brightly coloured coffee cups.  This portrait, of my great grandfather, Walter Percy Cook, from a collection of old family photographs, was made quickly in my sketchbook with instant coffee, which felt like watercolour or ink to use.  I was very pleased by its simplicity and the sepia look;  the painting is not a bad likeness either.  I like the grittiness of undissolved granules here and there.  – I always find it hard not to be seduced by colour, so it’s nice to use a monochrome media.


I struggled more with the great-grandmother, Henrietta Millgate (should have stopped earlier) – this is on rough watercolour paper, showing how the initial painting responded to soaking in water, then with final adjustments.  The faded version in the middle looks pleasingly enigmatic…the memory of a face fading with time perhaps?

Pomegranate juice

Now is the season for pomegranates, so knowing it’s staining quality I squeezed some juice from the seeds of two types; my own fruit yielded a bright carmine pink, and my neighbour’s, a different species, was virtually colourless, although irresistibly sweet tasting.  I made a tryout on watercolour paper, using the carmine coloured juice; pomegranate concentrate; diluted red pepper purée; diluted paprika; and the pale pomegranate juice.  The paprika and purée were lumpy, but could be mixed smooth another time.  The molasses dried sticky and glossy, it has such a high sugar content.  Any of these colours could be painted onto an icing surface, as could coffee, chocolate and food colouring.  I may be making a Christmas cake soon…

However, for now I wanted to try painting my perfume bottles and jewellery collections with the pomegranate juice onto fabric.  I mounted a piece of hand-woven cotton in an embroidery frame and painted it with a pva glue solution first (I thought this would make the fabric less absorbent).  The colour seeped through the threads of the loose weave before it was dry, and lost all intensity.  I tried again with a tighter weave, an old embroidered cotton napkin, without pva this time – this time the colour stayed carmine-pink, although by the time the fabric was dry the objects were quite blurred.  Next I tried polyester cotton shirt fabric. I drew the main objects with coffee and a brush, then added pomegranate to depict strings of beads and to colour the objects.the coffee lines remained sharp and gave the painting definition, while the carmine coloured juice spread and softened.  The result is decorative and delicate, apt for the subjects’ ornamental character.

I’m excited by the circular format (I’ve since found Craig Donald’s installation with a painting similarly mounted in an embroidery frame, here – on black fabric).  It made a refreshing change, and challenged me to search for a different sort of composition (as did the ice shards ground).  The painting is offset well by the black background, but with hindsight may have been a tad better on a deep brown, complementing the deep coffee coloured lines.  Painting on fabric is lovely – I’ve always loved working with fabrics and I like the feel of it in my hands.  There’s much scope for experimentation with ground, media and technique here.

Marble dust, pasta, cloves, chilli seeds – Antoni Tapies mixed various earthy materials into paint… and incorporated objects such as string, cloth, paper.  His paintings grew on me the more I studied them.  There’s a preponderance of subtle earth tones, no bright colour, which I find very attractive, but hard to avoid the siren call of bright colour in my own work (see below!)

I went out and bought a kilo of white marble dust from a local industrial estate.  It turned out to be quite coarse and gritty (I’d like to find or make a finer dust so I can make my own gesso & putty – see recipes at bottom of post), good for creating rough texture or textured relief on my support, when mixed with pva and water (and white acrylic paint) in different proportions.  I applied a fluid mixture onto an old 35x50cm canvas, creating a rough all-over white surface, then applied the same mixture with blue and yellow paint using a palette knife to create circular shapes.  They reminded me of my image of a collection of plates, so I decided at this point to develop the painting using that image as my source of inspiration.



I continued by adding gobs of a very stiff mixture of the marble dust at random over the canvas, creating a 3D relief surface, then pressed paint-tube-rings of dried acrylic paint into the thick paste.  With my palette knife, with some difficulty I made 3D arcs of paste for the rims of plates.  After drawing dark lines and circles – the planks of the table top, and the edges of plates – I remembered some good sketchbook work I did in POP1, involving mixing stuff into paint, so raided the kitchen and mixed chilli seeds, vermicelli, cloves, soup pasta into paint and spread it onto the ‘plates’.  Some of the textures I skimmed over with a contrasting colour to highlight them, creating depth in the valleys.  Work in progress gallery below.

I felt a bit like a builder on a small scale, trowelling on cement mix, and found the feel and sound of the gritty mixture a bit hard and jarring.  My painting has all-over texture, giving it an earthy, granular look and feel which I’m not all that fond of, but it seems to work ok here.

Would enjoy studying the work of Tapies in more detail, and developing the concept of building other materials into paintings.


Putty recipe – marble dust plus paint medium (acrylic medium or linseed oil) plus (optional) egg yolk.  Mix paint into the putty to extend and make it lighter, without whitening it.

Clear gesso recipe – 83g water, 63g marble dust, 120g pva glue (e.g. For making a toothed surface)

White gesso recipe – Add 125g pva glue to 250g water.  Whisk in 750g marble dust gradually.  Whisk in 120 ml white paint. Adjust thickness by adding more marble dust or more liquid.  I tried this but the result was very coarse, I need to find finer marble dust for a smoother gesso finish for general use.


References (how to make clear gesso)  (how to make white gesso)


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