Category Archives: Part 3

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.