Assignment Two

Ideally, the subject matter for this exercise is meant to come from ‘our box of natural objects’, but I haven’t had much success in building up a collection – this time of year isn’t too great for strolling around the woods or scavenging along beaches. I had this problem in mind when we went to our local farmers market on Sunday morning. The food there generally makes a big play on the fact that it is all natural, so I decided that perhaps I could buy a few pieces that could fit into the intended theme. So after a quick shop around, I ended up with a really nice selection of wild mushrooms, some bacon, and crusty bread. When I got home I supplemented it with a bottle of olive oil.

These objects together gave me a further idea for my theme – the pieces I’d selected were all to one degree or another natural items that had been worked into a finished, man made product, and I planned to draw them in our kitchen, that had an exposed stone wall, and a wooden table, further fitting the theme that was developing.

I originally had it in mind to put the objects onto a wooden chopping board that I’ve used in one of the exercises before, as this also fit my ‘nature changed by manufacturing theme’. I didn’t want to make a drawing too similar to what I’d done before though, but not wanting to lose the wood idea completely, I instead used a thin slice of tree trunk that I had earmarked for a possible drawing before, but hadn’t got round to using.

The objects were selected slightly on the fly, but I did have a definite idea about my choice of media for the drawing. I wanted to create a colour piece, as my work for the previous assessment had all been monochrome. Looking back through my work for this section, I felt that I’d handled colour best with colour pencil, in the drawing of a bouquet of flowers, and watercolour pencil, when I drew the fish. The biggest drawback I’d had with colour pencil, as I discussed at the time, was how long they took to work over a large area, but I thought that by combining them with watercolour pencil I could get round this issue by creating washes. Also, colour pencil has its drawbacks when trying to capture really vivid colour, but the objects I’d picked were quite earthy tones, and not massively bright anyway, so this wouldn’t be too much of a problem.



My first prep sketches concentrated on colour, and how to apply it, particularly the watercolour pencil. I made quite a lot of notes around these experiments and they sum up my thoughts quite well, so I won’t repeat them all here, as you can read them in the photos. I also thought it might be useful to do a sort of colour chart, to see how the predominant colours would work together. When I did this, I was generally happy with it, but decided that a bit of brighter colour wouldn’t go amiss, so I added some green tones, and decided that these would be best provided by a pot of flat leaf parsley. This would have the added bonus of adding another texture into the drawing.

After I had chosen the objects, media and colours, I then very quickly sketched out some ideas for compositions. Again, these sketches have quite a few notes on them, that describe what I was thinking fairly thoroughly. I planned to draw the finished piece on a piece of A3 paper, and my initial assumption was that I’d work in landscape orientation, but by the third sketch, I’d realised that portrait looked to work better.



The instructions caution against trying to cram too much into the drawing, so I tested that I wasn’t falling into that trap in the second sketch, by removing everything other than the bread, wood, mushrooms and parsley. The drawing definitely looked better with the other stuff in though, but I was glad that I’d confirmed it, in my mind at least.
By the time of the third sketch, I was pretty happy with the composition, and this formed the basis of my finished drawing. I did actually end up moving all the objects round, but they still fitted within the general ideas in that sketch, as you’ll see below.

Here is my final piece.


I liked the progression of the items down the page in the prep sketch, so I’d emphasised that in the final drawing by moving the olive oil bottle into the top left corner, as it was the tallest object, and also moved the bacon and greaseproof paper down toward the bottom right of the page. I also swapped the bread onto the other side of the wood, because I thought that this had looked best in the first prep sketch. I also decided to add a chair into the picture, and I think this works well – it makes it a bit clearer that the objects are all on a table, it breaks up the stone wall a little, so that the stone doesn’t dominate the colour, and the carved detail on the chair is a really nice detail.

I took quite a lot of care to make sure that the objects were drawn accurately, and I think I’ve done ok with this. The parts are all in proportion, and the shapes look correct. I think I’ve captured the main features of each item well enough, and it certainly matches the style I had in mind.

The items I picked worked well in terms of getting a good variety of textures into the drawing, and this variety helped a great deal with the other objective of the assignment, to demonstrate a variety in mark-making. For the bacon and olive oil I applied the marks evenly, in quite long, flowing strokes. By contrast, the stone wall was made by building up layers of wet and dry colour quite roughly, to give a sense of texture and depth, but I kept the treatment of this quite free, so that the stone wouldn’t overpower the scene. I used a similar technique for the crust on the bread. The bark around the edge of the wood is applied differently again, in short, vigorous strokes of the dry medium, but then I worked over it really quite delicately with a wet paintbrush, and I think this approach has come out well. For the mushrooms, I applied the coloured a faint wash, then allowed this to dry before working over this in colour pencil, using a fine hatch. I perhaps should have aimed to get a bit more contrast in these objects, though the hatching has come out quite well.

The bark makes up the darkest part of the drawing, and the tone of it varies from dark toward the left edge of the page, getting lighter toward the right side. This reflects well the fact that I set my light source up from the right hand side. This tonal progression can also be seen in the parsley and the pot it stands in. The lightest and brightest areas of the drawing are the table top and the parsley, and I think these areas are key to getting enough variety of tone into the piece.

For the parsley I worked in quite a loose way, which I felt was appropriate given that it is toward the background. I think that I’ve been reasonably successful in capturing the general form of the plant, both its leaves and stems, without having to slave over every single detail. The colour also really helps with this, as the tonal progression gives the plant a three dimensional quality.

The colours work nicely as a feature of the composition. The brown tones dominate the top of the drawing, and it is drawn into the lower half by the bread, mushrooms and wood. To balance this, white is the main colour of the bottom half of the drawing, but again, this is drawn up into the top half by the chair and the plant pot. The pinkish red of the bacon is balanced in a similar way by the label on the olive oil bottle.

The diagonal line of the table by the chair isn’t quite right. I have adjusted it slightly while making the drawing, and this has put it closer to where I think the vanishing point should be, but it should really be lower still. The flip side of this problem is that the lines of mortar separating the stones should be a bit more diagonal, as they are a bit too near the horizontal to be completely right.

I’m not too sure of the detail of the cut through section of the bread either. The crust has come out well, but the very fine crumb on the flat part was too hard to capture without making the colour too dark. Because the light shines more or less directly onto this part of the bread, there isn’t much contrast to be had. If you look closely you will see how I tried, not overly successfully, to suggest the crumb texture by very faintly rubbing over the area in a light brown colour. It is slightly too faint, and too indistinct, but I felt this was the lesser of two evils here, since the alternative approach would have led to a very artificial looking area of false shade and contrast. The intensity of colour is slightly toned down in my drawing compared to the real scene, but as I discussed in the colour pencil exercise, this seems to be a function of that medium as much as anything. I think that as long as all the colours are toned down to more or less the same degree, then the overall effect should look about right, and I think that I just about get away with this.


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Research Point: Renaissance Masters

Comparing two artists really focuses the mind on all the differences of approach that are available in art. For this research exercise, I was asked to compare the works of two Renaissance masters such as Leonardo and Durer. I did the easy thing, and stuck with these two, but I don’t see this as a drawback, since they are arguably the best at depicting animals. We might as well try to learn from the best! As good as both undoubtedly are, and although they were working at a similar time, the approaches that both artists take seem quite different.

durer hare

Durer, the son of a Nuremberg Goldsmith, is painstaking and meticulous with his work. His drawings and watercolour’s seem so considered, perhaps even a little clinical. The result is work that is startlingly realistic, but I’m not sure how much life the pieces convey.

leonardo horses

Leonardo, born to a notary and a peasant in Vinci, draws in a much looser way, but that isn’t to say the drawings compromise on accuracy – the proportions of each body part generally look right, and the animals feel real. There seems to be more emphasis on movement in Leonardo’s work, and so his sketchier, less detailed pieces seems to come to life more than Durers.

durer bull nose

From the work I’ve looked at, I think that Durer seems to be the better of the two when it comes to depicting texture. He can portray the glossiness of feathers, the shiny reflective quality of an eye, and vary his depiction of fur half a dozen ways within the same piece, and have them all work distinctly but harmoniously. Leonardo doesn’t spend so much time over texture, perhaps being more preoccupied with line, and tends to work in cross hatching.

leonardo horse

When looking at Leonardo’s work, I wonder if he had some kind of photographic memory, as all the movement he seems so preoccupied with capturing must have been over in seconds, yet he was able to get it all down on the paper so accurately. It feels like he must have been able to fix the image in his head for as long as he needed to make a sketch. On the other hand, perhaps this was just a skill he picked up through hard work and sheer repetition of effort – after all, his masses of sketches suggest a man that must have spent nearly every free moment drawing, almost compulsively.

I don’t get quite the same sense of photographic memory when looking at Durers work. Instead, I detect an almost infinite patience, and love of subject, in his work. How hard it must be to keep looking, with such fierce analytical concentration, at the same subject matter over the course of hours and days while making a drawing. Both artists clearly had a love of nature and animals, but it is Durer that is credited with first recognizing that art based purely on animals might be a desirable subject, and he was also one of the first landscape artists.

leonardo cats

I really like how Leonardo wasn’t afraid to leave certain areas of his drawing less distinct to emphasise key features, such as movement or a section of detail elsewhere. Durers work often looks to be detailed in a more uniform way; I wonder if this due to the fact that he worked often as an engraver, where the printed surface tends to need to be covered in marks.


Comparing two artists perhaps inevitably leads you to wonder which you prefer. It might sound like a bit of a cop-out, but I can’t honestly pick between them. I love the flair and life in Leonardo’s work, and I also like how you can see him grappling with a subject in some of his sketches, working out what works, and what maybe doesn’t. Maybe I like that feature just because it serves as a reminder that he was just as human as the rest of us, and not completely perfect, as we maybe tend to think of him being today. On the other hand, Durers work has a complexity and depth that draws me in completely, and I feel like I could spend hours looking at nearly every picture he made, but especially his watercolours.

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Research Point: George Stubbs

When I think of George Stubbs, I immediately think of Whistlejacket.


I remember going to the National Gallery on a school trip, (it must have been about 1999) and seeing this huge picture, and being blown away by it. I would even go so far to say that this painting was the highlight of my visit to the gallery that day, and it has stuck with me ever since. The painting felt real. The horse’s muscles seem to ripple, the coat shines, and there is tension in the pose, as the veins bulge and strain in the back legs. The painting is full of power and drama, and this is heightened by the blank background, that must have felt revolutionary at the time. Some have tried to argue that the painting is unfinished, with plans cancelled for a landscape and maybe even a royal portrait to be added later. I don’t believe that for a second – the background colour, though plain, glows. Real care has been taken over it, care that wouldn’t be worthwhile for a moment if it was going to be painted over. Also, why would Stubbs have painted the delicate shadow coming from the back hooves? I’ve seen other Stubbs paintings since, and although I generally find them impressive, I’ve never seen one that betters Whistlejacket, and I think the plain background is a big part of that. It gives the painting a purity that really lets us take in Stubbs mastery of anatomy.

One thing I had never seen were Stubbs anatomical drawings, so I was glad this research point gave me the opportunity to take a look.


Stubbs spent a lot of time studying anatomy. In the 1740s, he was to be found at York County Hospital, learning enough in that time to be able to provide the illustrations for a book on midwifery. In 1756 he rented a farmhouse in Lincolnshire and spent 18 months dissecting horses. He would suspend the bodies with block and tackle, and draw what he saw with obsessive detail, before removing a layer, and repeating the process with what he found beneath. I can’t begin to imagine what a foul job all this must have been, not to mention how exhausting it must have been to hoist and drag around dead horses. Clearly this was a man willing to suffer for his art. Such is his dedication, and so precise are his methods, that I wonder if he maybe viewed himself more as a man of science than an artist. Perhaps the distinction wasn’t so pronounced in his time than it is today. The eventual fruit of all this labour was his landmark book, ‘The Anatomy of a Horse’, published in 1766. His engravings were so perfect, so detailed and so well rendered that this book was to remain the go-to guide for both painters and vets for decades, and I think that perfectly sums up what I love about Stubbs work – it straddles the worlds of both art and science, just like Da Vinci. Of course, we shouldn’t discount the fact that his book was in such popular use for so long probably because no-one else was single-minded (or mad) enough to spend so long knee deep in butchered horses.

Stubbs Anatomy of the Horse-engraving

This single-mindedness comes through also in the fact that Stubbs ended up making the engravings for the book himself. He showed his drawings to all the specialist engravers of the time, but they couldn’t translate the wealth of fine detail into an engraving. Looking at the engravings, I’m struck by just how much variety he managed to get into them, showing all the different textures – bone, muscle, skin, veins – essentially using only line. This technical drawing skill is at least as impressive as his flair with the butchers knife, and I struggle to imagine how one person could be so skilled in so many areas – carrying out painstaking autopsies, then having the power of observation to understand precisely what he uncovered, and then the flair for drawing to capture it all. If we were to attempt a similar work today, it’s much easier to imagine a team of three or more working on it – a really skilled butcher to carve the body perfectly, then maybe a photographer to capture the key details and frame them properly, then a top draftsman to work from the photos, away from the filth and stink, and in perfect conditions to make careful drawings.

stubbs 3

After looking at a selection of Stubbs engravings, I then looked at Whistlejacket again. The sense of realism in this painting that struck me so forcefully when I first saw it, has been deepened by learning a little of how painstaking, how scientific, Stubbs was. He obviously painted what he saw in front of him at the time, capturing the colours of the horse, the life in the eye, and all the unpredictable strength. But it’s clear to me now that what gives this painting its power is what his trained eye as a scientist must have been able to see beneath the surface. We see a horse rearing up, Stubbs must have almost automatically seen tendons pulling on muscle as they tensed, bone joints swiveling in sockets, skin rising and falling under the movement of lungs and heart.

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Exercise Fish on a plate

I had mixed feelings about this exercise. I could see that drawing a fish would be an interesting challenge, and I was looking forward to using water soluble pencil, the medium suggested in the instructions. On the other hand, I didn’t want a fish stinking out the house, staring at me every time I opened the fridge door, and driving the cat berserk. Luckily, I’m not the only member of my family doing this course. I was able to persuade my soon-to-be mother in law to get the fish, and for us to draw it at her house.

She picked a rainbow trout, and I’d say that this was a good choice, as it was large enough to make out detail, and had some really nice delicate coloured scales. I’d also recommend doing the occasional exercise with someone else – it was helpful to have someone to discuss it with, and to compare results with.

Before starting on the drawing, we spent quite a lot of time looking closely at the fish (which incidentally didn’t smell like I thought it would), and then made some sketches and notes on the subject.


I had never used watercolour pencil before. Because we were working at Margaret’s house, we worked to her schedule, so I actually did this exercise out of sequence, so it might look like I have used this medium in some ‘earlier’ exercises. The main surprise for me was how much brighter the colour became once I added water. Some colours seemed to brighten more than others, and as a result, the green I used in the prep sketch was too dominant. I also experimented with the different ways of using the medium; in addition to wetting the dry marks on the page, I tried wetting the paper first, and then drawing over this with the pencil, and I also had a go at lifting colour directly off the pencil with a wet brush. These methods had some benefits, and would be very good in certain situations, but I felt happiest with wetting the dry pencil marks, as I felt this would get the finest bending of colour, while capturing the feel of the fish on the textured watercolour paper we would be using for the finished drawing. Wetting the paper first, and then drawing over that, seems to give a more splodgy, less controlled effect, that I can imagine would be good for rough surfaces like stone for instance.

We then got on with the proper drawing.


We both drew the fish from a slightly unusual angle – from above, as the instructions suggested, but each also from the side, as we had the plate between us on the countertop. This accounts for what might look like a misshaped plate on the drawing – it isn’t actually that inaccurate. We had started making sketches in the natural light, but by the time we came to make the proper drawing, the evening was closing in, so we had to work under the kitchen lights. I would have normally said that this was a drawback, but actually it added far more colour to the fish. We were both amazed at how much the colours changed, and became much brighter.

After sketching in the outline as accurately as I could, I then laid on the dry colour very sparingly, mindful that it would become much stronger once I started to work over it with the paintbrush. The fish seemed to have stripes of colour running along its length, so I drew them in, overlapping them slightly while still dry, but I planned to do most of the blending while wet. The biggest challenge seemed to be getting these stripes to blend enough to not look artificial, while retaining their distinctiveness. The pinkish stripe is probably the most distinctly separate band of colour, so I tried not to blend this too much, keeping a slightly harder edge here.

Before adding the water, the drawing didn’t look too great, as the rough surface of the paper was giving a stippled effect that didn’t suit the subject. Once I started to gently brush over the pencil marks with a damp brush however, the drawing improved straight away. It was great to see how much control I was able to get with the wet brush, and I’m pretty pleased with most of the blended colour on the drawing. The biggest challenge was probably keeping in mind which areas had to remain light, and therefore avoiding pulling too much colour into those parts, a bit like watercolour painting, I suppose.

Oddly enough, both of us had searched our houses high and low for a patterned plate, as mentioned in the instructions, and had come up empty handed. The nearest Margaret could come up with was a plain white plate that had an embossed pattern of fruit around the edge, so that is what we’ve used here. Under the stronger kitchen lights, this looked more like a collection of shadows and highlights rather than a discernible pattern, and I’ve tried to represent that here, and kept the treatment quite vague, as I wanted to spend most time on the fish itself. The dark grey and mix of light brown I used had to be applied really sparingly, as the grey is one of those colours that seems to want to burst out really dark once it is wetted. You can see what I mean by looking at the background – the same colour was applied for the black counter top, just slightly more heavily, and the result is far darker. I think that the inner rim of the plate, as it dips down into the shallow bowl, is laid on a bit too darkly.

We spent a good few hours blending colour on the fish, waiting for the first layer to dry, then adding more dry layers, then wetting and blending those, until we were happy with the finished result. At that stage, I felt it was necessary to pick out a few small areas of finer detail, just by using the pencils completely dry, to get a fine line. This was done quite sparingly, and can be seen around the gill and eye, and also the tail and fins.

Overall, I’m fairly happy with the finished piece. It has a good three dimensional feel, which I think is due both to the graduated shading, and also the dark background, which seems to push the white of the plate up into the foreground. The proportions of the fish are fairly close, and I think the eye has the right sort of glassy look of the real thing. I messed around with the shape of the head quite a bit at the start of the drawing, trying to get it just right, and I think that this overworking shows, though in fairness, the lines I eventually settled on look pretty close to the real thing. Annoyingly, I couldn’t get the camera to capture the colour as I saw it, mainly because the flash distorted the light – but the photo below gives you a general idea.


As much as we enjoyed this exercise, we spent so long working on our drawings that we didn’t have time for a second attempt, which was a shame, but I’m glad to say the fish didn’t go to waste – Margaret had it for her dinner that night. I enjoy drawing animals, and I would definitely like to draw a fish again, as it makes a change from the furry creatures that I’m usually restricted to.

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Exercise Grabbing the chance

After the fish exercise, it was back to drawing the more familiar furry type of animal – our pet cat Polly. As the title states, the idea is to just grab the sketchbook whenever a good pose presents itself, and make a very quick sketch. However, I have to admit that I had a secret weapon for this exercise – the gas fire. With that lit and on full, I was guaranteed a more or less comatose cat for as long as I needed.

I ended up doing quite a few pages of sketches, as you’ll see below, and I added quite a few notes to the sketches that sum up my thoughts best, so I don’t have too much to add here.


I started sketching in fine black pen, which is a favourite of mine when doing quicker pieces. The funny thing with making quick sketches is that some work immediately, capturing the subject in a few lines that have a spark of life, while others, that look more or less the same, and done at the same time just don’t feel right. I wonder if all the best artists found this – I suppose you must get a better success rate the more you practice.


I managed to get Polly to move a little while she was enjoying the fire, so there is some variety in the poses, and I also moved around to try and draw her from different angles.


Curiosity got the better of the cat by this stage, and she decided to take a look at what I was up to. This was a good opportunity to capture some slightly different poses, though still not too much movement though. I found she had a knack for looking settled, and then moving just as I started the drawing, hence the collection of dismembered legs and ears that you can see on some of these pages.

After a few attempts in pen, I then changed to willow charcoal, to try and get a softer effect, as the pen can look to harsh when you try to suggest a furry texture. I like working in charcoal, but haven’t had much opportunity to do so yet. I like the way charcoal lets you shade in areas of negative space, and I did that here, hoping to bring the cat’s profile out.


I then worked in coloured pencil, a light red-brown that I hoped might look a little like her ginger fur. I think that these are the least successful of the sketches, and I’m not completely sure why. Perhaps I just didn’t have my eye and arm warmed up when I did them. The colour pencil looks a bit weak too.


On the second day I did a few more sketches, in charcoal, pencil and a sepia pen, just because that’s what I had to hand at the time. These are the same mix of sketches that don’t look right, some that are ok, then the odd one or two that capture her just right.



To finish the exercise, I had to do a larger drawing, so I set myself up with a sheet of A3 paper, and waited for the cat to settle into a decent pose. After all my sketches, I ended up choosing a medium that I hadn’t used in any of them – conte crayon, and restricted myself to just an earthy brown and black. I had a feeling that this would give me a compromise between the control of harder media like pencils, while having the flexibility to allow me to add softer lines to suggest the fur, as this hadn’t come out very satisfactorily in any of the sketches. I had rejected charcoal, as I wanted some colour in the piece.


I think this piece came out really well, and it was a useful exercise to try and focus just on the main details, as I only gave myself about 15 minutes to get the thing finished. I think the style gives the drawing a freshness and natural feel.

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Exercise Drawing with other colour media

For this exercise I had to use different media to draw the same subject as in the previous exercise, a bouquet of flowers. After the long haul of making the previous drawing, I was interested to see what kind of I effect I could get by using materials that would let me work in a much quicker way. I also wanted to try and get closer to the vividness of the colour in the flowers. I took some of the flowers from the bouquet, and laid them in a wooden basket that has an interesting curved shape.

For my first experiment, I decided to work with inktense blocks, as I hadn’t yet had chance to draw with these, apart from a little doodling for one of the first exercises in this part of the workbook. The inktense has a waxy feel that’s very similar to crayon, and like crayon, it isn’t best suited to fine detail, at least when applied dry. As I’ve said before, my natural tendency is to work in quite a controlled way, so I tried to resist this, and work in a looser way that the medium seems to demand. I worked as quickly as I could, and concentrated mainly on capturing the main visible shapes of the basket and the flowers.


Drawing quickly is a bit of a challenge, but I do enjoy it, and I think that I managed to get the position and relative scale of the flowers correct. The shape of the basket handle is a bit wrong though, I think it is too elongated. Overall, the drawing didn’t look particularly impressive though – the green chrysanthemums were a particular concern, looking like brussel sprouts on sticks.

I then started to wet the inktense marks with a fine paintbrush, softening the edges of the colour, and blending it all slightly. Using the inktense wet also helped me to get quite a nice wood texture into the basket. All this improved things quite a lot, but I thought that the whole drawing needed to be a bit sharper. The exercise suggested that we try to mix different media, so with this in mind, I then used fine felt tip pen to add outlines to all the main forms, and also to put some texture into the chrysanthemums, and I think that this really helped to improve the drawing. The brussel sprout effect was lessened, and the slight contrast in colour between the inktense and the pens adds a bit of interest. I don’t think that putting pen over the inktense will have done my felt tips much good though – I could feel the waxy texture of them clogging up the pen as I worked.

I think that the inktense has certainly got closer to capturing the bright colour of the flowers than the coloured pencil in the previous exercise, and although the drawing has ended up less free than I was aiming for, with the addition of the pen marks, it is still in quite a loose style, by my standards at least. I added the pen marks quickly, and with the pen held quite loosely to try and get a sketchy finish. It was interesting to see how inktense differs from water soluble pencil when water is added – it becomes a little watered down, and slightly tones down the brightness of the dry colour, whereas with water soluble pencil, the first dabs of water seem to make the colour quite a lot brighter.


I then decided to do a second picture, and this time chose oil pastels as my medium, as I’d enjoyed using them in one of the fruit and veg exercises. I rearranged the flowers again, putting them all back in the glass vase, and arranged this next to two coloured glass ornaments, one pink, the other green, that echoed the colours of the flowers nicely.

I was still aiming for a rapid, free style, and so had decided from the outset that I wasn’t going to use any other medium in this drawing, such as pen, to start getting more detailed. I was interested to see how the oil pastel would work with the thinner lines of plant stems and leaves, as my last drawing with them had featured quite large blocks of colour.


I think this drawing comes closer to the effect I was aiming for. The composition certainly works better, and I’m pleased with the reflected light I was able to get into the vase and the other glass objects, with a fine line of pink along the vase picking up from the pink glass ornament. It was quite suprising how fine a line could be achieved with the oil pastel generally, if you held it at just the right angle. I’ve left quite a lot of white showing through all parts of the drawing – the temptation was to keep layering up the pastel til the objects were completely solid, but I thought this wouldn’t suit the rapid style I was after, and the small white gaps in the colour keep the whole drawing quite light. By making the colour very dense in just a few select areas, this provides a good contrast, and shows of the lighter areas quite well.

The oil pastel also smudges, and I did this on the dark wooden table top, as the horizontal lines of brown I’d added here didn’t look right. By smudging this area, I was able to fill the area properly, and get a decent shadow effect.

Blending by overlaying different colours is perhaps one of the best features of oil pastel, and I made a lot of use of this, especially in the sunflowers and the glass ornaments. It allows the underlying colour to still show through, along with any small patches of white paper that remain, and this gives a really interesting effect, almost like a colour texture.

The shape of the pink glass ornament isn’t drawn quite right, as it’s too thin, but otherwise I think that the shapes and negative space are captured reasonably well, given I was working rapidly. I think the vase and the green ornament look quite three dimensional, whereas the large pink bottle looks a bit flat.


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Exercise Plants and flowers in coloured pencil

The first job for this exercise was to find a decent bouquet of flowers – I wanted them to be full of colour and to have strong shapes. After a quick trip to the supermarket I got just the sort of thing I was after – a good sized assortment of sunflowers, roses, germini, and chrysanthemums.

Colour pencils were to be the medium for this exercise, and the instructions tell you to experiment with blending colour. I attempted this in the ways suggested – with hatching and cross hatching, layering up of different colours, and smudging.


The first two methods worked quite well, but smudging didn’t work at all. Perhaps this is down to the make of coloured pencils I have. I already had a fairly strong idea of the style I wanted the finished drawing to be in, so I was drawn more to the layering up of colour, rather than hatching, as I felt we had already covered hatching quite extensively in the previous exercises. However, hatching is useful for depicting shape and form, and I didn’t want my layered up colour to become flat, so I worked at varying how firmly I pressed the pencils into the paper, so that the resulting darker areas would suggest depth or shade. I also found it useful to have a slight outline around areas of colour that were laid on quite darkly, in order to stop the drawing becoming one indistinct mass. This was developed further by adding outlines in a different colour to depict detail. I didn’t spend too long on these experiments, as I had covered similar ground in an exercise right at the start of this section of the workbook.

I then made my drawing, on a slightly textured A2 sheet of paper.


Written down like that, it sounds like the drawing was the work of just a few minutes. It wasn’t. The instructions for the exercise state that ‘it may take more than three hours’. It did. All in all, I reckon I probably spent about 8 hours on this drawing, more if you include the time roughly halfway through when I had a mini nervous breakdown, convinced that the drawing was never getting any nearer completion no matter how many hours of scribbling I spent on it!

I’m glad I stuck with it though, because I’m pleased with the finished result. I wanted to create a realistic, well observed piece, and in areas, such as the sunflowers, and the germini, I think I managed this. I actually drew each petal on these flowers separately, colouring each one in as I went along, taking care to get the shape and colour of each petal as right as I could. As you can imagine, this accounted for a lot of the time spent on the exercise. The medium itself accounted for another big chunk of the time. Coloured pencil is great for detail and for working in a very controlled way, but it takes ages to build up a decent amount of colour, whichever way you use them. In some areas I overlaid many layers of faint colour, which gives a delicate finished result, and in others I used far fewer layers but pressed down really hard with the pencil, which is perhaps better for a bolder finish.

The drawing has been a useful exercise in trying to judge what to leave in or out of a piece. After so much time spent on the flowers, I decided that the leaves should be treated in a less rigorous way, and here I focused on getting the basic outlines of the more visible leaves correct, and to try and capture the way they are all forced into an intertwined structure when confined to a narrow vase, but are still separate, and very definitely shaped and arranged by the way they have grown before being cut. Even though the leaves are all bundled together, I think you can still trace leaves that all come from a shared stem in the drawing, rather than just a pattern of flowers and leaves. The colour on the leaves is dealt with in a broader way than on the flowers, with bigger areas of single colours used. As you’ve probably guessed, this was done partly to get the drawing finished some time this century, but I also thought it was necessary to treat the leaves in this slightly looser way so that the detail in the flowers didn’t get swamped, and therefore remain the definite focal points of the drawing.

I chose a bit of a different viewpoint for the composition, with the flowers in a vase on the kitchen floor, and with me sat looking down on them. I think this works quite well, with the flowers almost seeming to reach up to the viewer. The compromise with this angle is that the stems, visible through the glass vase, can’t be made out, apart from a little bit at the bottom of the flower arrangement, so maybe a bit of sense of structure is lost, though as I already said, I did try to counteract this in my treatment of the leaves and stems that are visible. There is a sort of recurring theme in the drawing, with triangular shapes marking out a few different parts of the composition. For instance, the three sunflowers mark out the points of a triangle, as do the roses, and the germini. Smaller, more discreet triangles are also made by little groups of the green chrysanthemums, and the theme is carried on by the vanishing point of the tiled floor. I wish I could claim that this was an intention of mine all along, but it was something I noticed only when sketching out the drawing, and I liked it and decided to emphasise the pattern, by rearranging the flowers slightly.

I found that drawing a bouquet takes quite a lot of the difficulty out of setting up a composition, as the colours should already be harmonious, and the flowers will have some sort of scale to each other, as well as a good variety of contrasting textures.

The colour on the drawing isn’t nearly so vibrant as in the real flowers, and having spent so long working with them, I’m not sure that it would be possible to get coloured pencils to become so vivid. I don’t feel that the finished drawing looks wrong though, as the tone of each colour seems more or less accurate in relation to all the other colours in the drawing. The colours are all there, they’ve just all been more or less equally toned down, like watching an image on a TV with the colour saturation setting down low. If you accept that colour pencil only works in this way, I still think you can be happy with the end result, and don’t necessarily need to view this as a drawback to the medium.


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Exercise Negative space in a plant

For this drawing I worked in 2B pencil. I really enjoyed this exercise, though it took some time to force the eye to look at the negative space, and if I didn’t concentrate I would soon find myself looking at the plant again.


I found that it was easier to stay focused when looking at small, enclosed areas of negative space that are formed within the plant itself by the crossing of leaves and stems, as these have definite shape. Trying to define the outer edge at the beginning can seem very daunting without any reference points and when a large piece of paper needs to be filled. Once the small areas of negative space are drawn in, the relative position of larger areas become easier to determine. The finished drawing looks pretty accurate, and I think that it can clearly be seen to be a houseplant, even though I managed to avoid adding any basic detail to the plant.


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Research Point: Ben Nicholson

Before reading up on him a little for this research point, I knew Ben Nicholson best as being the husband of the sculptor Barbara Hepworth. This was mainly because I was much more familiar with Hepworth’s work, since a fair amount of it is locally available to view, at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, and now also at the Hepworth gallery in Wakefield (this one I have still to visit).

I was therefore keen to find out more about this man who up until now had been just bit of a footnote to me.

When I browsed through his work online, I was struck by how cubist much of it was, and sure enough, I later found out that Nicholson had travelled to Paris in the 1930s, and visited Braque and Picasso, among many others. He was also strongly influenced by Mondrian, though this wasn’t as immediately apparent to me. Perhaps the influence is in the use of clean, sharp line, though Nicholson didn’t appear to take this to such an extreme as Mondrian.

It’s interesting to see how the abstraction in Nicholson’s work became less angular after he moved to St Ives with Hepworth, and instead focussed on curved lines that were more influenced by nature.

The still life was a strong theme of Nicholson’s painting, and I wonder what the greater influence was to lead him to this subject matter – his father, the painter William Nicholson, was a noted still life painter, but then the cubists also made frequent use of this subject. Perhaps he was excited at the possibility of moving his father’s speciality onward, and exploring it in the new ways that cubism offered. His still lifes are often very compressed, with the objects overlapping, though the outline for each item often remains visible through the overlapped objects. He is quite sparing with colour, just using as little as he can to help suggest a solid form, and keep each item just separate enough. The colours themselves often pick up the colours of the landscape of his surroundings, even when the landscape itself is not present in the painting. ‘August 1956 (Val d’Orcia) is a good example of this, with the warm Italian earth colours dominating the picture.


The instructions for this research point ask us to consider why he decided to superimpose still life onto landscape. I didn’t find any sort of definitive answer to this, but having looked at his work, I think I can put forward a few possibilities.

As I mentioned in the previous picture, even when the landscape was not depicted in a painting, Nicholson is strongly influenced by it – I would say that his works that meshed still life and landscape are a continuation of this theme, and it probably seemed perfectly natural to depict the landscape that was such an influence anyway.

He often brings the colours of the landscape directly into the still life elements, and this makes me wonder whether he was trying to depict how the objects he painted were directly drawn from the landscape, such as the local clay used to make the cups and plates.

The most prosaic possible interpretation I came up with was the fact that Nicholson would often scratch out paintings, (to the extent of making holes in the canvas) then add new ones over the top, and I wondered if perhaps this gave him the idea for superimposing still life over landscape in the first place?

Nicholson firmly believed that abstract art should be enjoyed by the general public, even going so far as to write about the need for this. Perhaps by grounding his quite abstracted still lifes into landscape, he was hoping to provide more terms of reference for the general public to be able to enjoy his work? I was certainly struck by the fact that his still lifes that contain landscape are often easier to superficially ‘decode’ than his other work. Perhaps he viewed this method as a way to not alienate the viewer?

In many paintings, the still life arrangements are shown against a window that then frames the landscape. Perhaps this is part of the same device, making the landscape seem domestic, and giving the painting a context we can relate to.


‘1943-45 (St Ives, Cornwall) the still life colours match the landscape as it stretches away toward the sea, and the landscape itself almost takes on the look of the still life objects, such as the chimneys of the town, that look like bottles. Only the smoke from the middle chimney makes the distinction clear. Apparently the union jack was added to celebrate VE day, but I also think it echoes the ships’ sails in the distance a little too, and ships often have flags hanging from them at a similar angle. Maybe Nicholson was trying to say that the distinction between still life and landscape is arbitrary, since all we are really looking at is paint laid on a canvas, and that any object in the landscape, if zoomed in on enough, and if handled in a certain way, could become a still life, such as a stone used to build a cottage, or the wood in the construction of a ship.


‘11th November 1947 (Mousehole)’ shows the Cornish landscape, disrupted by large abstract still life that seems to float in the picture. Here, Nicholson has done away with the device of the window frame altogether, perhaps trying to emphasise this point more strongly?

While reading up on Nicholson, I found out about his first wife, Winifred Nicholson, another artist. Interestingly, many of her works combine still life and landscape viewed from a window. Perhaps we should list her as another influence, though of course the exchange of ideas may have been the other way round. Nicholson did credit her with inspiring him through her use of colour.

Another influence I felt, though I wasn’t able to read up on any definite link, was Matisse. He often painted scenes through windows, though there was perhaps more emphasis on the room itself in his paintings, rather than the view out of the window. The flattening of each item in a Matisse painting does seem very similar to the overlapping and compression Nicholson used first in his still lifes, and then in taking that further, and overlapping these with quite flattened landscapes too.

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1913: The shape of time

I have recently read The Shock of the New, by Robert Hughes, at the suggestion of my tutor. The book, which is widely praised as one of the best surveys of modern art, and is actually based on a BBC TV series from the 1980s, had whetted my appetite to try and learn a bit more about modernism, and the long list of art movements that fall within that broad category.
My eventual hope is that by starting to understand modern art, (which in itself is a misleading term now, since it was a creation of the 20th century) I will then be able to lead on from that to try to gain some kind of appreciation of all that followed – and in particular contemporary art, most of which I struggle to enjoy.

I’d just finished Hughes’ book, and having really enjoyed it, I noticed that the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds was holding a new exhibition, 1913: The Shape of Time.

The institute had chosen 1913 as a possible starting date for the whole modernist movement, as it was the year that the Armory show opened in New York, taking modernism across the Atlantic, and the Rite of Spring by Stravinsky premiered in Paris. I can’t claim to know anything about Stravinsky’s work (another item added to the learning list!), but Hughes had actually discussed the Armory show in his book, so I decided to go into Leeds and take a look at the work of some of the artists that Hughes had introduced me to.

As you would expect from the Henry Moore Institute, the focus of the exhibition is sculpture, but drawings and paintings made up a fair proportion of the exhibits in this fairly small exhibition. I’ve picked three items from the show to discuss here, 1 drawing, 1 painting and a sculpture.

The first piece that caught my eye was Caryatid, by Modigliani, drawn in pencil and blue crayon on paper.


The thing that struck me with this drawing was the simplicity of it, there are only a very small number of lines, but how those few lines give the drawing a feeling of strength. I later learned that this impression of strength is appropriate, as a caryatid is a piece of sculpture; a supporting column carved into the shape of a figure. Once I understood this, I immediately realised what the drawing reminded me of – the sort of carved figure you see on ancient temples in India. Again, this isn’t probably too far off the mark, as Modigliani had a keen interest in ‘primitive’ art. Having seen this drawing and learning a little about its background, I can now see how this style informed his paintings of nudes, the work that I mainly associate with him, with their stylised portrayal and sculptural forms.

I also found it interesting how he had shaded the negative space formed by pose of the arms around the head, but left the rest of the background untouched, instead hinting at it by drawing a thick outline around the rest of the body.

The central theme of this exhibition was how time was suddenly viewed differently in this period, and how modernism helped to redefine time, and view it in new ways. I’m not sure how this Modigliani piece fits into that narrative however.

The link is much clearer in my second choice, by Ardengo Soffici, called Deconstruction of the planes of a lamp.


This painting attempts to view the lamp and the light it casts all at once from every viewpoint; one moment in time captured from many angles. The resulting piece has all the hallmarks of cubism, the muted colour, and the weird sense of omnipresence that the viewer gets once you stare at the picture long enough to understand what you are actually looking at, and realise that you can see every facet all at the same time. For me, the key to be able to see this painting properly was the lampshade in the top left of the composition; once I saw that, I could then make out the rest of the object. One reviewer of the exhibition wrote about how a Picasso piece that is also exhibited ‘seems to swarm about the moment of its making’, and I think that equally applies to this piece. It feels odd to see movement in a static object like this lamp, and I think this contrasts with the work of Futurist artists who, from what I’ve seen, depict movement in objects that are kinetic in real life, such as cars and aeroplanes.

My final choice serves as a good companion piece to the lamp painting – Umberto Boccioni’s sculpture, Development of a bottle in space has many of the same ideas within it.


The bottle seems to be both devolving and evolving all at the same time, either flattening out into nothingness, or being shaped into its intended form all at once. It is interesting to look at how three dimensional sculpture explores a similar theme to the two dimensional painting, and how the medium encourages other facets of the idea to be developed. The painting plays with the flatness of the canvas by showing many viewpoints stacked up at the same time on top of each other. This trick doesn’t have the same power for sculpture we can walk around at will, so instead, Boccioni seems to stack up a succession of creative moments on top of each other, and creates the finished form from that, so that we are looking at the sculpture at the start of the sculpting process, while it was in construction, and its finished form all at once. There is a lot of movement in this piece too – it feels to me like clay on a potters wheel, that could spin out of control and be flung across the room at any minute.

I enjoyed visiting this exhibition, and I was surprised at how far a little recently acquired knowledge, gained in this case from reading The Shock of the New, can help you to understand the art on display, even if it is only to the extent of recognising an artists name next to a piece that you had previously never heard of. Having said that, it took me some time to be able to write about this visit, because I had to spend quite a bit of time thinking about what I saw, and reading up on the artworks that I was drawn to. To this end, I found reviews of the exhibition useful; I read these after my visit, and found they gave me really helpful context to the work on display. The best two reviews for me were by Alistair Sooke in The Telegraph, and Michael Glover in The Independent.

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