Category Archives: Coursework

5.1 – contextual research

We’re asked to paint very detailed depiction of plants or weeds in the garden or nearby environment, using oil, watercolour or acrylic, and an A5-A3 mid-tone surface

To inspire me for this exercise I first looked at the work of the Pre-Raphaelites, Mimei Thomson and Richard Wentworth.
Their paintings are rich in highly detailed and realistic depictions of hedgerows, brambles and wild plants.  They’re also decoratively and romantically done.  John Everett Millais’ drowning Ophelia is surrounded by a very detailed and complex background of thick undergrowth.  I think the way to make sense of depicting such complex vegetation, without spending weeks or months on a painting, would be to look for broad areas of light and dark tone, and gradually add some suggestive detail.  The way Millais has made a focal point of the tall leaves in the left foreground pulls the viewer’s eye to Ophelia’s face.  Composition is important to get your message across; rather than slavishly copying a scene, elements can be added and subtracted and moved, deleted or invented to suit what the artist wants to say.  Its interesting to learn that the many flowers in the painting mostly have symbolic significance, and were depicted with painstaking botanical detail (Terry Riggs, 1998, at Would roses, daisies, pansies and poppies ever be found flowering together in the wild? – the Pre-Raphelites were, in the end, like the Dutch still-life masters, more interested in allusion and symbolism and perhaps decoration, than realism.

Mimei Thompson
Thompson’s paintings are mostly quite small, and her subjects are often painted in a simple context, on a pale background.
Two things spring to mind on looking at her work; firstly, what an imaginative eye she has, her weeds look like alien creatures; and I then notice the name of an exhibition of hers – Lunar Asparagus – which seems to sum up these paintings of weeds, which hover between a realistic and an litother-worldly interpretation.  Secondly, I notice the brush strokes are highly evident, and this apparently is a result of her process, which she describes as follows:
“The paintings go through a liquid stage, where the whole surface is covered in a fluid mix of paint and Liquin medium on a smooth, non-absorbent surface, and that gets moved around and worked into while it’s all still liquid. The whole thing might be wiped or brushed off a few times before it settles down. I then go back into this, when it’s dry, and add detail, shadows and highlights, or sometimes make larger changes, over the weeks that follow. It’s really a combination of planning and leaving space for chance and improvisation. I find control and looseness, and other opposites, really useful to work with” (Decidedly Alien: the Paintings of Mimei Thompson, Wayne Burrows, 2014 at

Then I realise it is these very dominant brush strokes are one of the ingredients that give the depiction of her (mundane and overlooked) weeds such a strange feel.  
Her work is highly detailed, but with imagination the everyday becomes fantastic.  In this sense it isnt unlike the Pre-Raphaelites, and I think I can also see a connection between the way she paints individual flowers and plants, and the painting of individual plants and flowers in Ophelia.

I like the idea of a combination of control and looseness in painting, and will keep this in mind when i make my paintings of plants.  I’ll be using water based media, so using techniques like blots, decalcomania, texture with salt, spattering, will help lay in loose tonal textured areas, and on to that I could add details of plants with an opaque water baesd medium, pens and pencils.
Richard Wentworth

Wentworth juxtaposes ready-made objects and materials that aren’t normally seen together, arranging them in a way that makes us look with fresh eyes – something Wentworth calls “observational intelligence” (
This observational intelligence is the foundation of much of his work: the street is where he mainly finds inspiration: “the street is a site of total gorgeousness. Just look outside: it’s momentous.” Richard Wentworth, Interview by Lorna Barnett, The Guardian, 2013 at I think what he’s saying here is that opportunities for finding rich subject matter are all around us when we venture outside, if we can look with fresh eyes, or work hard at nurturing our observational intelligence.
He makes, or finds, lateral connections: “Wentworth is continually distracted by quirky details, visual anomalies in the urban fabric: a crushed box with a wineglass symbol indicating this-way-up; …a gap in the double yellow lines on the road where someone clearly drove while the wet paint was still wet” Article by Mark Hudson, The Telegraph, 2015 at This ability to see everyday details in a fresh way is easier for someone living in a foreign culture.  I see strange and remarkable things on my walks that neighbours wouldn’t notice, and would see as perfectly ordinary.  To me, these are the very things that describe the differences between my world and theirs (an armchair abandoned in the forest; an unwanted loo dropped by the side of the road).
Wentworth’s book Making Do and Getting By (Published by Koenig Books, London in association with Peter Freeman, Inc., New York and Lisson Gallery) contains a series of photographs by the artist celebrating the ingenuity of people in relation to the functionality of everyday objects.  He finds discrepancies, chance pairings of objects and materials, improvisations and human resourcefulness.  His subjects are “often rendered functional in an altogether new and unexpected way. A car door serves to mend a wire fence. Wooden crates, wedged into a doorway, exert the function of a door. ” (in my environment – a piece of shalwar fabric torn and caught on a thistle, a wood-burner rigged up in a rickety bus-shelter, a tractor hopper used to cart the wife to market, a goat riding pillion on a motorbike) – these things are amusing because they say something about the resourcefulness of hard-up people unfettered by too much strict adherance to rules.
Looking at Richard Wentworth’s work, and reading his interviews, has given me fresh ideas about the way in which i might depict my environment.
All web sites accessed 6/7/2017

5.1 – detailed paintings of plants

  1. I made four paintings for the exercise, using water based media – gouache, acrylic ink, watercolour pencils as well as watercolour – and A4-A5 paper:  Here is my Hedgerow series :

No 1 hedgerow

No 2 hedgerow

No 3 hedgerow

No 4 hedgerow

Reflection on the outcomes:

I like the fresh sketchiness of No 1 .  The brushwork in the foreground is bold and expressive; my aerial perspective works well, with a gold field transitioning to pale gold distant hill, and sense of a vast sky.  Not sure if the flowers work left as they are,  they are really the focal point of the composition.   Compared to No 1,  No 3 painting seems overworked, with the middle ground and the tree not really working.

No 2, different in feel to the others as it has no perspectival clues,  has a Japanese feel, with a very large, pointed round brush used to make quick descriptive marks in the foreground.  The simple complementary palette works very well.  Again, flowers are suggested simply as unpainted shapes, but here I think that’s more successful.

No 4 has a sharp transition from foreground to background  I thought the composition was too much in two halves, so I  made a final adjustment, adding some more foreground foliage at the lower right.  I painted the flowers quite positively with thick gouache, a different approach and works well without being picturesque.

What I did

In the previous post I researched some artists who paint plants in a detailed way and thought about how I might adopt some of their ideas into my work.  I’m also thinking back to part 4 and a successful painting I made, Drummer Boy, in which I used fluid water based media (watercolour and coffee), in a very loose way.  Detail was only added at the final stages.  I decided to develop this process for my plant paintings, particularly incorporating blot techniques (I looked at Alexander Cozens’ process, my tutor’s suggestion) and a sort of decalcomania for watercolour, where the paint is allowed to dry before the two surfaces are separated.

It’s July and along my morning walk the hedgerows are in summer regalia – deep blue-green foliage of oleander bushes with brash pink flowers;  blue and silver hebes; figs gone wild; the odd fag packet, a couple of stray shoes (Richard Wentworth comes to mind here); all manner of grasses, seed-heads and sharp blue thistles; a smattering of plastic bags and plastic water bottles.  The landscape behind it all is bright gold.

I took photos and looked at them; some had glimpses of the landscape behind the hedgerows, others were close-ups of weeds forming striking patterns.  The weeds in Mimei Thompsons paintings are usually placed within some sort of background context, so I chose four images to work on which also showed a bit of context, rather than the zoomed-in abstracty ones.

I roughly wet my four stretched papers, skipping some areas,  (paper size between A4 and A5) and one by one, I dropped in blots of colour, keeping a separate palette for each painting (forgot to photograph painting no 1 at the blot stage).  The blots and colours roughly corresponded to the compositions I wanted, but I kept it all very loose and wet.  I let them dry under a weight, having first sprinkled fine and coarse salt, and applied stretch wrap and cellophane, aiming to achieve some hedgerowy , landscapey textures.

With number 1 hedgerow  (A5) I just carried on at the wet blot stage, adding layers of dark blue-green representing the tangle of foreground foliage, drawing grasses with a stick up from the wet paint, lifting paint where I wanted a lighter tone, drawing hebe flower outlines with a mauve watercolour pencil. I intended to add more foreground detail, and to colour the mauve hebe flowers, but I like the looseness and lack of fuss, so stopped early.

Hedgerow no 1 – cad red, perm gn olive, Prussian bl, aureoline, cad orange

Number 2 hedgerow is based on a white hebe with a bright gold mown field behind it.  I liked the contrast between the dark leaves and the shining background, and the lace like pattern the leaves make.  I’d been looking at Archie Franks‘ watercolours, two in particular struck me with their bold brushwork mark-making, describing trees and water (looking more closely some of the mark-making may be ink, something I’ll think of trying next time).  They can be seen at :

My simple A5 blot underpainting, textured with stretch-wrap, quickly developed into a tangle of dark calligraphic marks made with a large brush, using an intense mix of deep red and perm green dark watercolour.  The field was intensified with cad orange and dried under cellophane, then a suggestion of grasses added in the foreground using a small brush.

Hedgerow no 2

No 3 hedgerow (A4) was developed in a little bit more of a considered way, adding more layers of the same colours as the original blot painting, plus lemon yellow and May green.  To describe the foreground grasses I used gouache, watercolour pencils and acrylic ink.


No 3 hedgerow

Finally for No 4 hedgerow (A4) I worked into my blot painting no 4, adding more layers of watercolour, particularly in the foreground to describe the pink flowering oleander bush.  I left the background hazy to give an aerial perspective to the composition, and added watery cerulean at the top.  The flowers were painted impasto using a coffee stirrer to dab thick colour in in random shapes, first in white gouache then pink and finally blue.  The painting in the course manual by Thomas Hall inspired this approach; looking closely individual flowers aren’t accurately painted, as they are in the pre-Raphaelites’ work.




5.2 – contextual research

Two artists who make work involving walks:

Jane Griseman makes drawings while walking between places that have poignant meanings for her – the Line Journey drawings.  She simply records on small pieces of paper the movements of her hand as she walks, and by doing this she not only refers to movement, duration and distance, but also records her thoughts, feelings and memories, rather than making observational drawings of the things she sees.  Mourning Walks were made walking between home and a burial ground, in response to a recent bereavement.  There are also videos and series of photographs recording walks, for instance between homes she has lived in, or along a childhood beach (trailing a piece of driftwood along her walk and photographing the resulting drawing in the sand) etc.

Idea for my own work – take large water bottle filled with dissolved charcoal (from forest fire?)and trickle it along as I walk – then look back and photograph my zigzag path, with Hammie, my aged retriever, plodding slowly along behind.

Richard Long has come to be called a ‘Land Artist’. He makes art based on walks he is doing or has completed, and this can take various forms including text, drawing, sculpture and installation, photography.   He often intervenes in the landscape, making his work in and of the place itself.  For example ‘A Line Made by Walking, 1967, is a photograph of a path made in grass by his feet tramping up and down.  Many other works are displays of materials (eg stones) collected from the landscape and arranged in unnatural ways (eg circles)

I like the way he uses text – sometimes just lists of single, evocative words – to record and describe a walk.  Here the walk or the journey itself is the art. For example his long distance walks themselves (30 miles every day for weeks isn’t unusual!) become the work, recorded as text phrases describing places or his experiences and actions in the landscape.  

Like Griseman, Long makes work that records not only what he sees but also his response to the landscape and his feelings about it.  Inevitably much of his work in the landscape is impermanent.  According to Guggenheim, since his early work Long has been ‘experimenting with the idea of impermanence, a theme that would inform his work throughout his career’ ( .  This impermanence is a concept i could consider in the context of my work recording my local neighbourhood.  The environment around me is changing very fast, and my place in it will soon also be in the past.  In the process of making my work, I will be exploring my own feelings about the place, and my aim will be also to create, or at least reinforce my own memories of it; the work itself will deteriorate over time, but the memory will have (I hope!) a longer life.

Idea for my own work – some arrangement on the land (circle, path or line) made of hundreds of lemons or walnuts

And an artist who makes lots of quick watercolour studies:

Mario Rossi

There are  some massive watercolour paintings on Rossi’s web site at which are almost photo-realistic textural studies of (what looks like to me) the wake created by a motor boat (maybe a ferry) travelling at different speeds.  The supports appear to be made of six strips of paper, each about 40cm wide.  I like the idea of piecing together watercolour paintings to make composites; I saw a similar idea at work in Hockney’s exhibition at Saltaire recently.  Traditionally watercolour is used on a small scale, but by making composite paintings size can be almost limitless.

Going back to the course manual, I couldnt find Rossi’s watercolours of ‘the restaurants and shops near where he lives’ so contacted him.  He very kindly emailed me a pdf of several of these.  They were not in fact paintings of restaurants in his neighbourhood, but mainly painted from images found online, so nothing to do with the artist walking around making paintings near his home (suggest the factual error in the course manual is corrected).

However, they are inspiring paintings because theyre painted in a very fresh and direct way, and I can now envisage being able to go out and paint the houses in my neighbourhood, without feeling i have to make perfect ‘traditional’ watercolours.

Idea for my own work – quick watercolour paintings of my neighbourhood houses

References  (all websites accessed 23/7/17)

5.2 – painting and sketching while out for a walk

Here are the sketches I made during some early morning walks.  The ink sketches on white ground (I forgot to use the toned paper I’d prepared) were done on day 1, and I can see a big step in confidence between these and the day 2 watercolour set.  Also i spent more time on the watercolour sketches, taking the same time to do four of them as it took to do the five ink ones.  I had another go at watercolour on day 3, using a toned support.

It was a good experience painting outdoors from life, with water based media and a brush.  I still feel self-conscious and I expect I’ll always have to pluck up the courage to venture out.  Next would be to introduce pen, and also to make lots of quick line sketches with colour etc notes, and take these back to develop in my studio – see my next post for further sketching safaris in my neighbourhood.

Here’s what I did :-

Day 1

I prepared a simple kit for going out for a walk to make the 5 small ink sketches:-

  • clipped on to a hand-held ‘table’ (35x25cm piece of perspex), several small containers for ink and water and a small rag
  • camera bag over my shoulder containing pre-prepared postcard size stack of loose paper with a couple of bulldog clips;  Rotring black ink in a small nozzle bottle; size 8 watercolour brush, size 1 waterbrush; pipette; small water bottle; pieces of kitchen roll; specs, iphone, drinking water and pepper spray!
  • hat, foldable stool.

6.30am (no-one around?) stood at my gate looking out and made a quick, surreptitious ink sketch of next door neighbour’s house and garden.  It shows my haste to get away.  300g HP watercolour paper.


Retreated back to own garden, made a cup of tea, checked facebook, decided one sketch (not bad for a first attempt)  enough for this session, told self not to be idiotic, agreed with self to have courage to do one more.  Walked a bit further, lurked round corner from another neighbour’s house, sketched her old 1952 Fergusson Massey tractor. Its a family workhorse – where not long ago a donkey was used for the same tasks, the tractor now helps the family with all the heavy graft involved in a self-sufficient family life.   Unfortunately she came along and drove it away before painting finished, so looks like its flying.  300g HP watercolour paper

Went a bit further (feeling bolder), sat on stool sketching wheelie bins, one tilting, one deceased and fallen.  Neighbour passed by and had a look, then sent small daughter who helpfully pointed out details I’d missed, and promised to have her portrait done another day, then neighbour’s husband and other neighbour, all interested in what I was doing and asking after dogs, husband etc.  The wheelie bin looks too regular somehow.   300g HP watercolour paper


Getting used to going straight in with ink and brush.  Painting main composition lines first with nearly clean water.  Adding very light washes feeling my way into composition; gradually reinforcing withstronger washes, then finally starting to be a bit braver with darks and mark-making. Learning to control hard and soft edges.

Walked on up lane, sat looking along path at distant trees.  Tried to capture morning sunlight contrasts.  185g Arches rough wc paper, so tried ‘dry-brush’ technique, dragging brush along on its side (see foreground area), liked the effect.


Finally, painted trunk of an old fig tree, impressed by its textures and twisted growth.  Used more dry-brush on 185g Arches textured wc paper, also hatching with brush to mimic marks on tree.  A bit overdone – but good exoerimenting with different ways of applying the ink

Day 2

Next morning replaced Rotring ink with small watercolour box, walked in opposite direction.  Arriving at our large rusty oil drum which we, like our neighbours, use as a dustbin, I made a monochrome study of it in the surrounding context of hedgerow, barbed wire and forest path.  Alizarin / burnt umber


Down a lane leading to some gardens and small fields where I take my dog for walks there is a group of striking cypress trees.  I was looking eastwards, so they appeared sillouhetted against the sky, with the sun bathing the ground around them. The colours where there are any, are tonal and washed out, and i think this successfully gives the feeling of the pale early morning light blinding me.  Pleased with the aerial perspective.  Cool palette of Hookers green/burnt umber.


Retracing my steps, admired a glimpse through an opening to an orchard, where the sun flooded in, and walked on.  Turned back, realising I should paint it, I might never get back to the exact feeling again.  Pleased with the composition, how it swirls round, and the textures of background foliage.  By using warm colours and leaving pure white for light, I think I captured the light and heat – ultramarine/burnt sienna/burnt umber.

I came to my neighbours house, across the gardens from our own, could hear the husband hollering at the boys to get up, and breakfast-making sounds.  Placed my stool at the end of their drive outside their garden gate and painted their old, iconic, Renault 12. Made a reasonable fist of the proportions/perspective.  Prussian blue/viridian/burnt umber.

Day 3

And the following morning I saw a row of sunflowers in my neighbours garden.  It was a struggle to paint as I was greeted by three small dogs jumping all over me, spilling my water container, puting muddy paw marks on my trousers; one stayed and chewed through a stem of sweetcorn until the whole thing fell on my head.  Done on mid tone support. Lemon yw/yw ochre/hookers gn/burnt umber/cad red

My bro-in-law commented ‘like William Blake’, so googled ‘William Blake and flowers’ and discovered his poem, comparing the sunflower (a little sardonically I feel) to the travails of romantic love.

Songs of Experience


Ah Sun-flower! weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the Sun:
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the travellers journey is done.
Where the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale Virgin shrouded in snow:
Arise from their graves and aspire.
Where my Sun-flower wishes to go.

Blake used pen and watercolour, touched with gold for this A6 page, on which the representation of a sunflower may appear at top left of the poem itself.  This reminds me of my artist book ‘Family Album’ where I combined handwritten text (my father’s poems and letters) with painting.





5.2 – more sketching in my neighbourhood

Inspired by enjoyment and a little success in exercise 5.2, I went out again (with A6 grey/beige toned paper) in my neighbourhood, and found things to sketch which took my eye in one way or another.

I liked this bike, thrown in the ditch while the owner attended to some task through the rickety gate.  In situ I laid down very sparse lines (with a dip pen) and wash, and developed the sketch back home.  It turned out a bit dark and ominous in tone – has the bike’s owner come to some harm?  Must try to keep ink wash sketches light in tone.


Quite successful quick chicken sketch, with a few light washes done in situ.  Depiction of outer fence and inner fence-netting worked.


Line sketch of tractor – proportions are wrong, too detailed.  Got distracted by onlookers.  


Collaborative sketch by self and small boy, of dying sunflower.  I like the expressive lines of the petals and form/texture of seed-head.  Blue pen scribbled over background washed through with water brush. 

Watercolour sketch of Osman’s house, finished at home


5.3 Study of light changes

 My theme for Part 5 is my neighbourhood, and so far the exercises have dovetailed into this nicely.  Rather than retreat to a corner of my room, I want to keep the impetus of going out and about painting, so I’ve used this exercise as an opportunity to paint at my neighbour’s house in different lights and at different times of day.

I set up shop at a neighbour’s house, to paint a corner of her terrace.  Outside living space is as much part of the house as the inside in this climate.  Her terrace faces east, so is lit very differently as the sun moves up and to the west.  Here are the three A5 studies. My medium for is watercolour, and I looked again at the watercolours of Archie Franks first, as I had been drawn to his confident use of colour and loose style.

Comparing the three, Morning is the most successful, because it has is a sense of light and colour integration.  The change of light during the course of the day is apparent in the series, but not over-stated.   The compositions are somewhat awkward in all three, because I felt self-concious working in someone else’s home, and rushed at it; in Midday the table dominates (not quite so much since I went back in and added crayon); Morning  has a tree growing out of the table, and Evening is divided horizontally with the low fence uncomfortably continuing the line of the table.  On the plus side, I started to feel the potential of the medium to be used in a bold way, both in terms of tone and brush handling, even on this small scale.  On the whole it was a useful exercise, particularly in painting fast, and with minimal preliminary drawing.


Contextual research 

Pierre Bonnard‘s use of colour and negative space, and the influence of Japanese art in the way his forms are flattened, characterise his interiors.  Dita Amory talks about  “the visual rhymes echoing throughout the canvas, the dialogue of color notes” (

His technique is interesting.  Amory goes on to write; “His interiors began as small drawings and watercolors, the drawings made on the pages of tiny diaries, the watercolors worked up in the studio, often with the aid of pencil and gouache “  So he was not a plein air painter, nor a painter from direct observation, but he must presumably have made visual or text notes, concerning light and colour, in his diaries to use later

These qualities make his painting seem like patterns of tone and colour, which incidentally refer to an actual interior, and if he depicts a particular time of day, this is often achieved through subject matter rather than tonal value.  In Petit dejeuner sous la tonelle. 1908 all is bathed in a cool, green light, reminiscent of a summers morning.  The table is in shade, maybe from an overhead vine, the flower garden lit by the sun.  In The Terrace at Veronnet, Bonnard went ‘beyond the limits of local colour and the laws of natural perspective’  The foreground tree is a pale violet strip, the figures are part of the background against which they are set.  The whole is about light and colour, the subject subordinated.

Lee Maelzer‘s paintings of dust, detritus and dilapidated interiors fascinate me because of the close study the artist has made of her subjects, witnessed by the detail and colour she finds in them.  Her use of colour reminds me of Sickert’s, where there are also many shades and hues of grey, lifted by just a touch or two of bright, vibrant colour.  For example, Stage Dust, 2014, has areas of a tinted green among the predominant bluish grey, and then a few touches of primary blue and yellow. Similarly, Sickerts study of a circus is predominantly neutral in hue, but with small touches of bright colour to draw the viewer’s eye; and The Red Shop, 1888 also has this dull overall colour, but with a bright red shopfront


What I did

My first attempt was Midday.  I drew a few rough pencil lines, then painted with my size 8 round brush.  The light is strong and tends to flatten objects at midday, but where it found its way through the thick shade foliage, it produced exciting contrasts.  the background was blindingly bathed in sunlight.  When I finally put down the watercolour brush I added some pen marks to help define parts of the composition.

Much later, reflecting on this painting, I wanted to introduce more light and warmth into the foreground, particularly the table;  the solid block of purple colour was doing nothing for the cohesiveness of the scene.  I’d combined crayons quite successfully with watercolour in Morning (below) so I went back in and worked on the foreground.



Next morning at 7.30  I sat in the shade looking at the same view from a slightly different angle and painted Morning.  The man of the house plonked himself on the chair in front of me as I painted.  It would have been rude not to include him.  I developed the watercolour study at home using crayons.  The outcome was very much influenced by looking at Bonnards Tonnelle, but also captures the morning light with the low sun streaming into the terrace area.  I prefer it to my previous attempt, the table is better integrated, picking up the colours of its surroundings.


I set myself twenty minutes for the third study, which was painted one evening several days later.  I wanted to work fast using bold watercolour tones and a variety of marks, keeping Archie Franks’ watercolour landscape paintings in mind, and the way he uses strong colours and marks, keeping his paintings looking confident and fresh.  The light was poor, flat and dull, the sun being round the back of the house by now.


I felt the foreground (right side) needed to be much lighter and that it should have some detail added, which I did back at home, with pen and wash.


Amory, Dita. “Pierre Bonnard (1867–1947): The Late Interiors.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (November 2010)

5.4 study of rubbish

Here are my paintings – A5 oil paint on copper

Wild boar skull 2

Wild boar skull 3

Wild boar skull 1

Before starting this exercise  I looked at the following artists:

Alex Hanna – His paintings of the overlooked and discarded are often of objects that are white or of indeterminate colour, and are almost monochrome, but with a bias towards one hue – a pillow painting is rendered in smooth, thin shades of a pink-grey, a pile of bed-sheets in a blueish grey.  The effect is elegant and harmonious to look at; nothing jars, nothing shouts to be looked at, but there is such intensely observed detail that to get lost in looking is a soothing experience, as in the paintings of Giorgio Morandi.  Hanna’s compositions are useful to look at; my subject is a skull of a wild boar (found on the margins between forest and village), missing the mandible, or jaw, which has similar relative dimensions to Bubble 1 and Bed Sheet 1 – Hanna shows I don’t need to restrict my support to a long, thin format; the object can be successfully depicted within a large extent of empty vertical background.

Monet uses many hues to render white; the white rock formation in The Manneport (Étretat) 1883 incorporates quite colourful blues, reds, purples, yellows and greens.  You can see his thick brush strokes dashed off while he tries to capture the fleeting light.  The effect is frenzied compared to Hanna’s calm.

Tanya Wood sometimes chooses similar subjects to Hanna – crumpled pillow, sheet, paper bag – and makes meticulous tonal drawings in graphite.  The highly detailed studies of these eloquent surfaces suggest a past human presence so that the drawing becomes a record of human contact over time.  I find these works quite compelling, although I think I would find it quite destructive to my (physical and mental) well-being to approach my art in this intensely time-consuming, sedentary way.  However, Wood has given me inspiration to try to paint a two-dimensional surface- a discarded dusty exercise book I found on the side of the road, browned and brittle from the sun and imprinted with car tyres.  The book is full of a student’s hand-written exercises – quite an affecting find, making me wonder about the person who filled the pages with their hand-writing, how they came to drop the book and why they didn’t return to rescue it.  Post script – can’t find the book and think I must have thrown it away – lesson learned, keep everything!  

Tim Noble and Sue Webster collaborate to assemble household rubbish, scrap metal and other detritus.  Their shadow sculptures, in which heaps of detritus are lit to throw representational shadows (eg self-portraits) on to the wall behind, show how the abstract can be transformed into something recognisable.  Most of us do that anyway – when looking at an abstract image we try to find something ‘real’ in it – we say ‘that reminds me of a so & so’.  Maybe it’s about the human need to make some sense of chaos – looking at my Laundry tondo, where the shapes looked quite abstract, one viewer said they could make out a landscape complete with trees!



Reflections on my outcome:

Thoroughly enjoyed this exercise; love painting on metal and small – although I’d like one day to scale up to lifesize with this subject, on metal again, perhaps with enamels.

Found painting with a limited palette very rewarding, producing I think better outcomes than a freer use of colour might.

Producing a quantity of source material prior to painting – sketches, photographs, prints – was very valuable, generating ideas for domposition, tone and colour, as well as helping me become familiar with the subject.

What would I do differently – buy thicker, more rigid copper, store it flat not rolled up, and try polyurethane glue.  My copper support has corrugations (possibly from being stored rolled up),  areas where it hasn’t adhered, making it vulnerable to future movement and cracking of the paint.

I didn’t prime my surface, wanting to retain the copper sheen.  After the paint dried I scratched into and sanded some areas back to the copper surface.  To guard against a patina developing I’ll need to coat bare areas with a varnish.

Wild boar skull 1 (brown) – my shading portrays the dry, brittle, bony texture of the skull quite successfully.  I like the simple, warm pallette, it makes the most of the bare copper peeking through.  The composition is quite static, the subject displayed and painted in calm detail like in a museum.  Maybe because of its contemplative qualities it was the least preferred in my facebook friends survey.

Wild boar skull 3 (mauve) – the form of the skull is revealed by shading using several tones, grading between some tones and making sharp, structural transitions between others.  The overall hue is a bit more saturated than I was aiming for.  The warmth of the copper support still comes through, even though its mostly covered, because my paint layers are quite thin.  This was by far the most preferred of the three in my survey, for its sense of atmosphere and the use of colour.  I think it also has more presence, perhaps helped by the strong reflection in the table top.

Wild boar skull 2 (blue) – is more impasto, less blended than the others.  I like the effect, the paint is more freely applied and confident.  Also there’s more deliberate texture and mark-making in the background.  Pleased with the confident palette too – intense blue, gold and black, where the previous two paintings used more tonal colours. Elicited quite a strong response with a couple of survey participants – to quote

 “I prefer this picture – there’s a savagery about the skull – it could be a strange brutal creature – and I like the way the icy blue light becomes smoke shot  through with red streaks – or are they pale flames?”

and the more grounded  “a bit prehistoric” and “great brush strokes


What I did

I liked the idea of making a series of three paintings of the skull, really concentrating on observing it closely from different viewpoints and in different lighting.   I set it up in different ways in order to think about composition and viewpoint; at my standing eye level, on a low table for a birds-eye view, side on, three-quarters view etc, playing with lighting using an angle-poise lamp.  The lighting effects I could get with my lamp were limited, so I took several photos then further played with contrast, light levels etc to see what I liked.  Then setting up a heath-robinson lightbox arrangement and using printed photos to make the skull more manageable to depict, I traced the main lines and then drew three quick sketchbook tonal studies of the skull.


Wild boar skull 1 is a simple eye-level side on view, much as you might see such an artefact displayed in a museum.  All the side view details are sharply displayed. Lit from the right, it stands on a reflective surface and throws a beautiful cast shadow.  I think this view and the horizontal format has a very calming, soothing effect.


Wild boar skull 2 is lying on its side, on a piece of discarded packaging,  and viewed from above, much as I found it lying on the ground on one of my walks.  The position of the skull shows all the detail of both sets of teeth as well as the intricate formations of its side. I’ve put the skull on a piece of white semi-transparent, semi-reflective packaging material.  The lighting in the photo is high contrast, and I’m intrigued that the camera has ‘interpreted’ the lights as gold and the darks as blue/violet. I like how the marks and stains underneath the packaging material are suggested too, making me think of using text-like marks in the painting.


Wild boar skull 3 shows the skull at a slight angle from above, displaying its sleek lines but much less of the inner detail.  In my study I’ve accentuated the contrasts, making a quite dramatic portrayal.  This treatment brings to my mind the charcoal studies of Odilon Redon, particularly his Noirs, which I wrote about for Drawing 1; .  In his paintings Redon would use charcoal and pastel with water, repeatedly fixing his work with varnish and adding new layers of tone and colour.  The high contrast drama of his Noirs appeals to me, and seems in keeping with the macabre subject of a skull.


Support and media for the paintings

I considered painting my 43cm-long skull life-size (Tanya Wood and Annabel Dover paint their subjects life size), but in the end decided on a miniature (A5) format on metal.  Since painting in acrylics on aluminium in Part 2 I’d wanted to try copper as a support for oil paint; I thought I could achieve the sort of high-contrast effect I wanted, using the sheen of the metal, integrating the copper surface with the painting itself.  So I glued several pieces of my sheet of thin copper to A5 hardboard substrates to stabilize it, and prepared the copper surface for painting by sanding and then etching it with garlic juice.

Before starting to paint I looked back at the miniature paintings on metal of Geraldine Swayne.  She paints very small, jewel-like miniatures, in enamel paint on metal.  Her paintings seem very intimate, because of their size and composition – we feel we’re almost looking through a peep hole at the images.  which are at the same time detailed and slightly puzzling.  I like the looseness of her paint handling, and may invest in a set of enamel paints at a later date.

I painted Wild boar skull 1 in three layers, using just ultramarine, burnt sienna and white oils.  I painted from life, and although but had my sketches and photos around me, I didn’t refer to them much, other than as a reminder of my overall aims.

The first layer below, L) was thinned with turps; second layer (below, R) thicker paint; and third layer (top of post) paint with a little linseed oil.  Painting wet on wet with oils has a feel all of its own, as you can mix, blend, smear and cover existing layers, as well as make as many changes, corrections and fine adjustments as you like, but it does have the disadvantage that if you keep adding different colours the result can be muddy – using a limited palette definitely helps avoid this, keeping the painting looking fresh.


Wild boar skull 3 was next, the same setup but the skull laid on its side and pointing in the opposite direction.  In considering pallette, I returned to Alex Hanna and his use of delicate shades of mauve-pink-grey to depict white objects on a white background.  I made some tryouts on copper:

Clockwise from top L, all with white added: cad red and ultramarine; perm rose and viridian; alizarin and ultramarine; perm rose and phthalo green; perm rose and viridian; perm rose and ultramarine.  The cad red mix felt too intense.  The mixes with greens felt cold, and I was after warmth to complement my support.  The perm rose and ultramarine mix yielded the warm, subtle pinks and mauves I was after; a touch of Naples yellow would tone the hues down nicely, and if I needed a more intense dark I could add alizarin.

1st and 2nd layers below – effectively I’m building up glazes wet on wet, smoothing and blending but not too much. Last of all I added dark and light accents and structure lines of the skull.


Wild boar skull 2 (below) required a change of setup, with the skull on the table, lit from above-left, me standing at my easel looking down at it.  Some more palette trials led me to decide on ultramarine, naples yellow and black for this painting – I wanted to aim for the blue/gold hues in the photo.  I used much thicker paint for this one, piling on the layers impasto, using thick, undiluted paint, adding one colour on top of another with the flat of the brush.  At the end I wiped out foreground with a rag to reveal bare copper, dry-brushed white over earlier layers and added dark blue scrawly marks at the top.