Category Archives: Part 1

Ex 1.1 Painting thin and small

Here are my paintings, grouped in a random order. (On a dark blue sheet, which has worked well to frame and organise my mixture of portrait and landscape format).
And here’s a gallery of some of the images they’re based on:


General reflections

  • Painting so small is not what I do!  I’ve always thought bigger paintings have more impact – I still think that’s true, and it’s why we’re asked to group our small paintings into a grid later on- individually at A5 they’re not likely to be significant enough to stand alone.  If I’m going to display my small paintings grouped as one larger painting however, it could give an extra expressive dimension to play with.  For instance I can tell a story, introduce an element of time etc.
  • Another great aspect of painting small – it makes me less precious.  I’m not thinking of a big statement picture, I’m thinking small and quick, no need to labour over it, and that helps keep it fresh and alive.
  • I enjoyed painting faces and figures, and bold, colourful patterns the most.  I enjoy other subjects – still life, natural objects, landscape etc – more if painted in a bold, colourful, semi abstract or pattern way rather than watery or semi realistic.
  • I enjoyed all the media I used, whether opaque or transparent;  my watercolours were less successful, but I’d like to work on that because I think the media has a lot to offer.  I think it’s more a matter of picking the media I feel most complements the subject and which produces the effect I want.  I particularly liked the effect of semi glossy spray paint in the background coupled with a mat opaque media (gouache, acrylic).  I also really like the stained glass paint – it glows with a luminous transparency.  I made my own oil paint by adding grated pastel pigment to oil based varnish, and it worked well, if slightly gritty!  The pure varnish work didn’t add much to my work – I feel I’ve missed the point here somehow.
  • Some of the paintings took me 1 hour or more, some took 5 mins.  Some were done in a more painstaking fashion than others, whether or not the subject was complex.  That I find tiring when doing so many paintings.  My observation is that my quick, intuitive paintings can be as effective or more effective than the careful, detailed ones, so I’d paint simpler and quicker more often next time.
  • I’d like to develop the masks (look at Emile Nolde’s), possibly paint more family photos, develop a series of portraits and/or figures and explore colourful patterns!
  • Incorporating the pre-prepared backgrounds in my painting short circuited the process of painting of the image.  The ‘splodged’ backgrounds were particularly effective in adding atmosphere and texture to the painting.

Preparation – collecting together found images to paint.

For this project, my main sources of images which I’ve initially collected, which inspire me and interest me, and which I would enjoy painting, are –
My own camera roll since 2010 (selected from my photos and images saved from various internet sites)
Instagram I-d
Instagram dazedfashion
Instagram Cinkedi. Colourful photos of modern Istanbul architecture and scenes..
Kenan Malık black and white photos of modern Istanbul architecture.
  • Learning the Ropes, Eric Newby
  • A Twelve Thousand Year Old Civilisation, Anatolia
  • Bruce Chatwin Photographs and Notebooks

My found images are mainly digital and organised in albums in my own storage, only on this blog if I’ve painted them.  A few are on my Pinterest board and I’ve found some Instagram boards with inspiring images which I follow.  I have bookmarked some images in a couple of books too; and I’ve also cut out a very few culled from various other printed sources and taped them to a physical board.


Making the backgrounds

Made 20 rectangles of A5 paper, 4 each from different papers, not all watercolour paper but all reasonably smooth and 300gsm or more.  Exception was canvas pad which curled up when wetted – but I flattened it under a weight and used it to paint with drying media.

Gathered acrylic, gouache, watercolour, Indian ink, marbling ink, stained glass oil colour.

Paint splodges on three pieces of paper, then paint 2 each entirely black, white etc.  Left my 20 backgrounds under a weight overnight to flatten.


Reflections on the individual paintings  roughly in the order I made them (I deliberately didn’t set out with a theme in mind; one of my objectives at this stage is to find out what I most enjoy painting) :-

5. Carnet de Voyage 400 gsm smooth wet wc paper – Black acrylic backgroundPainted American Indian masks using white gouache.  I’ve been longing to paint these, and I’ve got lots more images of them!  They’re brilliantly made and designed, each one different and imaginative.  White on black works well..makes them more scary!  The media worked well together.


16. Strathmore mixed media 300gsm – old discard, already painted with blue-grey acrylic, so painted reverse side with background  v dilute purple gouache.  Paper curled initially but dried perfectly flat. Painted 2 faces using white and black gouache. Chantal Joffe often paints portraits of members of her family in simple, but honest terms – I think I’ve captured something of that feel..  The white reactivated the purple background and gave a greenish grey which I hadn’t anticipated.  Didn’t finish ‘painting-in’ as I was happy with the focus on the faces and their expressions, and didn’t want to spoil by over-working.  I think the diagonal marks give impact anyway.  The pencil lines remaining from my quick under-drawing indicate the exagerrated foreshortening of the child’s arm, torso and leg.  I like the effect of monochrome painting on flat coloured background here, incorporating the background colour as tone in the subject.


9. Strathmore mixed media 300gsm. Added white spray paint to lighten tone.  Bird painted in white & black gouache. Note spray paint made some areas satin-glossy, giving effect of reflecting water!  The outcome reminds me of Tim Gardener’s realistic paintings of the landscape, perhaps because of the blue/grey palette, and the inclusion of water as a major element.

12. Dalbe Aquarelle 300gsm. Very pale burnt umber (Rowney Georgian dried up tube).  Not sure why two edges are darker.  It’s a v old wc block, maybe to do with sizing.  White & black gouache double portrait  Influence of Alli Sharma’s monochrome portraits done in thin black oils or ink.  I like the black & white portrait against the bronze effect background.  Tiny bits of the bronze appear in the portraits.  They’re not good likenesses but no matter..the way the skin under the sunglasses is suggested is successful, and their expressions, especially the right hand woman, are convincing and lively.


8. Strathmore mixed media 300gsm – old discard, already painted with blue-grey acrylic, brushstrokes showing.  Coloured gouache totem pole painting.  I love colour and pattern, but maybe wouldn’t have thought this a subject for painting if I hadn’t looked at Sarah Morris’s work, which is colourful, geometric, carefully painted pattern.  Gouache on acrylic worked well again


17. Dalbe Aquarelle 300gsm. V dilute green gouache. Again, dark patches appeared on two areas. This paper is like blotting paper. Painted two turtles in the water, layering with watercolour and some white gouache.  Here again the watercolour must have reactivated the gouache underneath, but as the background was an analogous colour,  it didn’t muddy the painting.  Watercolour worked well with this watery subject.


6. Galeria acrylic pad 300gsm – White acrylic. Painted 2 green doors with watercolour.  My approach was to make scribble marks; I’d been looking at the ‘doodles’ of Gia Edzverade.  Watercolour is good on white background, unpainted areas shine through as highlights, add light and space.


7. Carnet de Voyage 400gsm smooth wc paper.  Zinc white acrylic paint. Masked and added titanium white stripes. (Learned – don’t add masking tape till paint is cured).  Painted woman in dark jacket, using indigo watercolour. Annie Kevans influence in the way I painted the face and hands.  Faults with the drawing of her right shoulders & upper arm but a successful painting because it’s open, natural and lively.  Again, I like the effect of a monochrome painting on a flat coloured background, using the colour as tone in the painting (cuts down on the work too!)


13. Galeria acrylic pad 300gsm – V pale vermillion (Rowney Georgian watercolour) Painting Nestle chocolate label in watercolour.  Toirac made paintings of posters advertising Coca Cola, opium perfume, Marlborough cigarettes, making political commentary by subtly altering them.  I chose a chocolate wrapper, but only because I like chocolate!  White gouache provided highlights to mimic the reflection from the gold embossing.  Not very successful painting – I feel too much pale background, and the design not strong enough, also rather uninteresting just to copy a chocolate wrapper!

3. V wet Dalbe Aquarelle 300 gsm. Orange, lm yw and white thinned acrylic background. Painted insects and leaves in watercolour. In choice of subject I was thinking of Mimei Thompson but also the photorealist painter Mark Fairnington. The colours and abstract nature of the background are influenced by looking at the work of Eleanor Moreton and Cecily Brown, but on to that I’ve superimposed a realistic interpretation of the insects photographed chomping at leaves in my garden.


4. Btanyo canvas pad – Black acrylic  – support curled so dried with a weight on top.  Painted striped pattern from painted planks of wood (a shed?) in acrylic.  Ian Davenport’s poured vertical stripes made me feel this was a worthwhile image to paint.  Great influences on my colours from the black background, despite using acrylic paint.  The tonal contrasts make this painting sing.


18. Btanyo canvas pad – Soft grey pastel, brushed in with v watery brush  Paper immediate curled right up, but flattened under a weight.  Painted a striped pattern in acrylic.  Again the tonal contrasts make this work..but also the complementary contrast of blue juxtaposed with orange, and green with pink.


1. Wet spray Carnet de Voyage 400gsm smooth wc paper. Thinned alizarin and yw ochre wc splodges.  Drop ultr blue and white ink in with pipette.  Too busy for a background so white spray paint. Watercolour beaded on the glossy surface, so  Painted figure in a hat in acrylic. Left the t-shirt as background – worked well.  A touch of Elizabeth Peyton in my choice and treatment of the subject, because she’s young, beautiful, maybe a celebrity, and I’ve captured her bored, nonchalant, catwalk gesture.  Love the glossy background with the mat, watery acrylic.


20. Strathmore mixed media 300gsm – Orange stained glass oil based paint. Should have thinned with turps. Dries to a mat finish, v quickly. Used turps to clean brush.  Painted flowerpot in thin black ink.  I liked the strong pattern of the railings and their shadows and reflections in a puddle. The orange paint glows transparently, and the black lines reference the lead in stained glass windows – a good outcome, a quick, fresh painting.


2. Carnet de Voyage 400gsm v wet  paper.  Background brown, white and blue thinned gouache.  Spatter with orange and white thinned acrylic.  Painted ‘bomb woman’ in watercolour; the background works well with the subject, and her expression is suitably dazed and fearful, but the painting’s let down by the chin and hairline which are too heavy.  The form of the head doesn’t feel right; I’m sure it’s because I painted it with the support horizontal, so got the proportions distorted.  Not a good outcome.


19. Btanyo canvas pad – background soft pale yw ochre pastel, brushed in with alcohol, which evaporated before paper could curl much!  Painted carved stone face using yacht varnish.  The high-gloss marks alter as I move around, reflecting the changing light.  Simplistic, not a very interesting outcome


11. Galeria acrylic pad 300gsm – Yacht Varnish background.  Couldn’t identify suitable thinner, so varnish is thick and patchy.  Painted dock crane in blue household enamel, with imaginary shapes (circle, triangles) to complete my composition.  I like the abstract, geometric design, it’s good, balanced and quite interesting.  The glossy enamel works well for the subject and treatment.


10. Dalbe Aquarelle 300gsm.  Yacht Varnish background.  Painted boy’s portrait in yacht varnish mixed with grated brown soft pastel, thinned with turps (successful invention!). Subject and treatment influenced by Toirac’s red wine portraits. Also Annie Kevans’ portraits of dictators as young boys.  My portrait is simple and effective, although the varnish background doesn’t add much.  The jumper and neck don’t work 100% but overall the portrait is sensitively done.


14. Galeria acrylic pad 300gsm – background thin black India ink.  Painted my dad, step mum and dog in ink (black, brown and green) and white gouache.  From a poor quality early 1970s photo.  Painted realistically, but at the same time painterly (Tim Gardner feeling).  It seems to reflect an intense feeling of sadness that grew on me as I worked on it.  They’re gone now those souls who were so vital, a real and important part of my life.  In the painting they’re looking at me from the past, unreachable, distant, as they were, perhaps, in life too.


15. Galeria acrylic pad 300gsm – thin black India ink (both dried a lot lighter than painted).  Painted a woman, in acrylic.  Trying to adopt Brian Alfred’s approach to the portrait, I used flat acrylic painted in as few as possible carefully selected and coloured shapes, trying to express the woman’s feelings as best I could.  It was surprisingly difficult to achieve a simple result, to match and subtly alter tones of flesh, to find the exact eloquent line or curve, and not to put anything unnecessary in.  This painting took the longest time to do.  I haven’t captured the full extent of her grief and tears, or achieved as pure and simple an interpretation as I aimed for, but pleased with what I did achieve as a first attempt.



Ex. 1.2 Black and white

Before I started the exercise I looked at :-

Luc Tuymans paintings – This article is full of information about his thoughts, ideas and working practises.

A Necessary Realism: Interview with Luc Tuymans

Annie Kevans portraits (Boys, Muses) – thin, sparse carefully placed washes of monochrome, occasional touch of colour; tones describe essential characteristics.

Degas – cropping and asymmetry in his compositions, particularly his scenes in theatres and ballet dancers.  He sometimes uses unexpected viewpoints and contorted postures.  “Perhaps the language of cinema best describes Degas’ work—pans and frames, long shots and closeups, tilts and shifts in focus. Figures are cut off and positioned off center. Sightlines are high and oblique. Degas’ interest in photography is revealed in these elements of style, and the flat space, patterned surfaces, and unusual angles of Japanese prints, which enjoyed huge popularity in Paris in the late 1800s, also influenced the artist.” (


Here are my ten paintings – the theme is Hands!


Below are the found images

I’ve had a quick go at arranging the paintings in a format that’s pleasing to me.   I like the idea of having incomplete rows in the grid.  The background is a painted board I had, in a colour I hoped would make sure white, black and midtone paintings would all stand out well.  If I did it again I’d choose a less bright, more tonal, more sympathetic colour, because the blue/purple is distracting, and also it’s reflecting onto the paintings, altering their perceived colours.  Also the three lightest paintings (doorknob, gloves and bones) have somehow ended up in a clump – when I group future paintings I would try to be more aware of this.

Developing the idea of grouping, I could also (another time) introduce a time dimension to the arrangement of a series, for example charting the progress of life through hands of different ages and with different attributes.

General reflections

The most successful is water – it has life and energy because of the textured diagonal marks in the background as well as the gesture of the subject.

The three least successful are doorknob, gloves and bones; they’re not so well observed.  They also seem static – perhaps because they are, being still life’s rather than life studies. If I did the exercise again I’d do a few ‘extras’ so I could select the best for display and reject these three.

Painting on such a small scale gave the opportunity to really study and analyse the images.  But I felt I was approaching the exercise too much by attempting to copy; that I should in future use found images more as a starting point to develop on from; to add my own interpretation and express my ideas.  But observational drawing & painting is an excellent way of getting to know a subject intimately; without this, an expressive interpretation might be in danger of being shallow.  What I’d like to do therefore for my assignment pieces is to do sketchbook studies of my images, to try and really get beneath the skin of them and to start developing my ideas, and use these as a stepping stone towards realising looser, more interpretative paintings.

One aspect of my group of images that appealed to me was the different greys – put side by side there were green, yellow and tawny as well as neutral shades.  When I’d finished the ten, I found this didn’t come through in my paintings, so added thin coloured glazes to some.

Another striking aspect was cropping, some dramatically so (applaud, crossed hands, one eye and hands on chest stand out in this respect).  Degas’ compositions have some dramatic and unusual cropping too, as noted above.

I enjoyed using ink media least, although I do like the effects it can give.  Perhaps I still haven’t found a practical modus operandi yet – brush, support, palette etc haven’t quite done together.  I’ll persevere, and return to ink in exercises 3 & 4.

This is what I did:-

Made 5 black and 5 white (all A6) acrylic undercoated supports on 300gsm Strathmore mixed media paper.

Using found images of hands from a Stephen Elcock’s facebook collection, I drew the main lines, then painted.


White backgrounds:-

Doorknob – China ink with acrylic ink highlights.  V surprised how absorbent my support was, despite acrylic undercoat.  Learned to use this quality, but not ideal – I wanted the thin washes to float.  Next time make 2/3 undercoats.  Made coarse brush marks in keeping with subject.  The ellipse of the ‘sleeve’ looks wrong and clumsy.

Glovesacrylic – white & black, touch of colours.   Acrylic can be used as transparent and /or opaque media.  Can be blended to graduate tone.  I would make more of tonal variations next time..the arms look two dimensional.

Applaud – used acrylic opaquely.  Mixed a tiny bit of yellow to get greenish-grey.  Finely blended and graduated tones, almost looks like graphite, in keeping with elegant nature of hands. This one is more successful than ‘gloves’  because the arms and hands (particularly that crooked little finger!) are expressive, have good tonal contrast, with the bracelet and cropped shoulder suggesting a genteel applause.  Added a glaze of sap green later.

Water – created dribbles of thin black watercolour for background (my fingerprints formed a resist in places!).  Used gouache for the hands.  Blending more difficult with gouache, had to use different technique, wiping brush frequently and using hatching strokes.  I like how the left edge of the left arm is lost against the background, while the right edge of the the right arm forms a very strong contrast.  The hands look as though they’re dancing.  The curves of the fingers, and the diagonal lines of the background add life.

Bonesgouache – the strange bracelet and the over emphasised contrasts in the bones have given it an appearance of a mechanical hand.  Not so successful as others – a more interesting background would have been better with the subject


Black backgrounds:-

Shadowsgouache; shadows of hands on a white object create drama.  The shapes are difficult to decipher in detail; I like that ambiguity.

One eyeacrylic.  Stippled the background with a stencil brush & a touch of yellow in the grey.  The hand is much lighter tone than the face, making it pop forward.  The eye is the whitest spot, and draws the viewer’s eye.  Used the black of the background to describe darkest darks (hair, clothes)  the texture of the hair is a successful detail because it convinces.  The sleeve doesn’t – looks more like a rigid pipe than fabric.  Added a glaze of sepia later.

Crossed hands – grey acrylic background field, hands in white inktense.  Difficult using crayons on this scale, also hard to get strong light tones, so did cheat a bit with acrylic.  The ‘graffiti ‘ rectangle is scratched in.  The ‘X’ repeats the hands’ gesture in its lines; but in another way the crude scrawl negates the fine, elegant hands.  Two complementary, but opposing, human gestures.  I like the merest hint of face and shoulder in the left – puts the hands in a context.

Hands on chest – acrylic – I like the way the edged of the dress describes the collar bone and breast. The cast shadows of the hair on the face and the head on the left shoulder.

Scratching hands – gouache – I set about this in a different way; so as not to lose my drawing I first mapped in broad areas of light, mid and dark tone juxtaposed to describe the subject.  Then I started adding a bit more modelling all over.  Then I refined the painting.  I found this to be a good method of producing a decent result quickly and without unnecessary fiddling, correcting, and anxiety.



Ex 1.3 Quick and focused

I stood at my carefully setup working position;  my found (iPad) images on an easel close to me at eye level, painting support to the right on a horizontal surface at hand level, paint, brush, water and rag next to it.  Made some experimental lines in my sketchbook to get an idea what colours would work, how much paint and water to load on the brush etc.

The exercise was very enjoyable.  Spontaneous, expressive, uninhibited by expectations of a ‘good’ outcome.  I looked at the paintings of Gia Edzgeverade again, they have this quality of being dashed off regardless of convention, of someone simply following their thoughts and ideas with hand, brush and paint.

Drawing with the brush in this way you can produce a successful painting in its own right, but you can also use the process to learn the subject, by concentrating on its contours so closely, without looking at the drawing itself.

Water turtles


Prepared A3 background, using old highly absorbent hot pressed watercolour paper, with a coat of gesso and some watery acrylic colours swirled, merged, sponged, spattered.  When dry, using wetted watercolour pans, size 12 watercolour brush,  I drew lines of turtles in the water for one minute.  Let dry and repeated with four more turtle images, varying colours.

I found I was responsing to the flow of the lines as I painted.  I’d looked at the graphite & watercolour drawings by Rodin of Cambodian dancers and discovered he drew in this way, quick, focused, without looking at the paper, producing hundreds of expressive drawings in a short time.

My outcome isn’t recognisable as turtles, but has a flowing, watery quality of line that I’m pleased with. Some colours are stronger and opaque, some weaker and more transparent, giving variety and sense of depth.  

The loss of control through not looking at the paper was augmented by lack of feel – I couldn’t always tell whether my soft watercolour brush had contacted with the paper or not!  But, the large brush with varying pressure had produced lines of different thicknesses and some calligraphic marks.




Same support, finer brush, lines done using acrylic ink, magenta and Rowney blue.  Trying to capture the elegant lines of the figure & sweep of the arms and skirts, I swiped through a series of 9 photos, taking about 30 secs to quickly describe each one using arabesque brushstrokes.  I think the speed and multiple layering has helped catch the energy of the dance.

The brush chosen (long v short, firm v floppy etc) affects the feel which is so important when not using the eye.  A firm, medium shortish brush gives the best tactile connection from hand to paper.  If I was looking a the paper I’d use a rigger – but with touch only it was impossible to tell if brush and support were in contact with each other.

This painting has successfully captured a dynamic energy, compared to the Turtle painting which seems more peaceful and fluid.


Breakfast table


Started with broad brushed background of blue and orange.  When dry, I drew with the brush, using first white acrylic ink, then black paint, then blue-black, then white added, each time capturing more elements of the pattern made by birds eye views of the table with its many dishes.  I had 5 photos in front of me and flitted between them as I painted.  The painting needs more areas of light tone to let it breathe, I think the sketchbook trial on the right is actually more successful as a painting.

Ex 1.4 Look at what you see- not what you imagine





I used a pre-prepared background in my sketchbook (leftover paint) and took a minute to draw the main lines of my (upside-down) image in white pastel pencil.  Laid out black, white, brown and orange gouache, & with size 12 watercolour brush then painted my subject in the remaining 9 minutes.  Used thickish paint, leaving brush marks quite obvious, as they are in the background…resembling the effect Alli Sharma achieves in oil paint.  Quite pleased when I turned my painting up the right way. Her stance is all her weight on her left leg, haven’t quite got it right in the painting.  

The main things seemed to be (a) look for broad areas of dark, mid and light tone, (b) as its a figure, look for proportions and try to establish the centre line of gravity and (c) don’t panic, slow down and consider each mark carefully.

I like the result – it’s spontaneous and fresh, not disguising the use of paint, not striving for realistic detail.