Exercise: Working from a photograph

I have taken a photograph of mine, a very typical scene from my life, of my husband waking just in front of me with our dog. This happens every single day, twice a day.  I am interested to see how I can manipulate this scene into something different.



I took three areas of the photo and just sketched them into squares, drawn around beer mats, and found the square a comfortable format.



Continuing this line of thought I traced them and put them on top of each other.


Trying also with each layer in different colours as the black tended to look muddled.


Quick sketch in acrylics.  This looks very messy.  Hate the colours but then its acrylic in a sketch book so not great for colour choices.  This makes me think there’s something but I cant quite pinpoint it.  Do all the objects need to be there? Do they all need to be opaque. Should they be more realistic or less?

I appear to have transposed the diagonal row of threes too….not sure what happened there , this has made all the trees one side which might be why I don’t feel this works.

As a side note, there is a degree of separation that is quite useful when you take a picture of your sketchbook/paintings and upload to the blog.  It has a similar effect to leaving the room for 30 minutes.  You see it slightly differently, with fresh eyes and can be slightly less attached helping with the decisions sometimes.DSC_0038DSC_0040DSC_0042

Using the square format and water mixable oils I applied a very thin layer of burnt umber and then a thin blue and white mix which I had intended to scratch into.  the water mixable oils turned out to be not as good for the scraffito, so I went back over the tree area again.  Working on a paper  is now starting to prove not sufficient as I am being much more quick and rough with handling the paints and scratching. As can be seen from the picture above the paper was starting to give way in places.


I decided to at the figures next and then the further tree shapes.  I did this in green and then wondered why?  I was slavishly following my sketchbook and not using it just as a reference.  I wanted this to be the finished stage, but it doesn’t sit right with me.  I have had to use the rule of thirds here as the golden ratio isn’t right in a square format, so the positioning of the figures felt ok but the top trees have divided it too much .Man & Dog

I have now toned down the trees and am a little bit happier with it.

IMG_1827.jpgOriginal Photo

I have aimed to combine elements from the photo to convey a walk and the different parts of a wood all combined. My final picture feels “end of the day” in terms of colours. I have not  attempted to be accurate in my rendering of the shapes and amount of branches but tried to convey a feel.

It was tempting to refer back to the photo but I instead used my sketches as my reference.  Its been an interesting exercise and I find I have stepped even further away from the literal in this exercise.  Using just a few elements and not the whole photo was a deliberate decision and one I am pleased that I stuck with.  I have also learnt to not stick with my first idea of the end result and am glad that I went back in and played with the colours and scraffito again.  I am less content with the figures as they are a little naive.

As I mentioned earlier I think I will have to start using some more substantial surface as it is clear that it needs to be able to take more punishment.

Joan Eardley 1921–1963

Stumbling around on Pinterest yesterday evening I came across this artist… loved her work immediately.

She was a British artist noted for her portraiture of street children in Glasgow and for her landscapes of the fishing village of Catterline and surroundings on the North-East coast of Scotland.  Her landscapes were what attracted me first as obviously this is what I am looking at right now. However her portraits of the street children put me in mind of the work of Marlene Dumas, whose exhibition I visited as one of the first I attended with OCA.  Both produce haunting faces, hard to forget as they seem to look out at the viewer from behind masks, quite unsettling.

The landscapes attract me because of the energy of the mark making in very thick paint which gives texture to each scene.


This has a feel of sitting in the field as if peering up through the grasses, it feels wind swept, the brush strokes heading in all different directions.  There are just one or two details of the grass shapes, just on the surface layer it appears, these are enough to conjure up the whole field.  I understand from reading about her, that she like to paint actually in situ, she must have had to revisit a view many times as these are oils and the drying takes time, but they have dried between layers as you can see the drier brush strokes not blending with the colours underneath.


Wonderful winter view, the deep grey of the sky, threatening more snow.  From what I can see in this screen image it looks as though the paint has been scratched into as well as being applied very thickly.  The row of houses look as if they are sliding down the hill, perspectively incorrect by this adds to the atmosphere of the scene.  The limited colours used do give a sense of the cold, the greys, cold/icy blue and just enough brown to give a sense of the earth, frozen and colourless from little light.





Exercise: Squaring Up

I had tried this method of enlarging an image recently on an image from a magazine using pencil and felt tip, so was not completely new to it.

This time however, I chose a photograph that I had taken on a trip to Barcelona a few years ago.  I deliberately went for a scene that I have not attempted before, being buildings and people.



When drawing it I deliberately ignored the temptation to us a ruler for the straight lines on buildings as I wanted to stay as loose as possible.  This method does start to make you tighten and want to get things just so, which I have been working hard to get away from ….

I have been using a ground colour but started to paint too quickly and neglected to do this, so I opted for starting with bright colours to work on in this instance.


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Working across the painting is bringing it together in terms of colour as I use whats left on the brush on different parts of the picture, however I do now have everyone in the same jeans 🙂

I’m starting to want to work faster which is difficult with such a detailed subject, so at this point am getting impatient.  I am thinking of drawing on top of the oil paint to get more control for the details.


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Some of the drawing in oil pastels has helped, more distinction of the people and the ground and darker tones. The wobbly balconies however are fairly hilarious.

Shame that I clearly rushed things at this point, to be completely honest I lost interest in the picture and that shows, but I think the purpose of the exercise has been achieved.  I can now enlarge and image and retain all the qualities of composition and perspective if I should need to.

Ravilious & Co: The Pattern of Friendship exhibition at Towner Art Gallery Eastbourne


Visited this exhibition at The Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne this morning.  My intent to research Eric Ravilious as he is one of my local artists, who grew up in East Sussex and many of his works depict local areas.

The exhibition focussed on a group of artists and designers from 1922 – 1942.  The central artist being Eric Ravilious who had professional relationships and friendships and working collaborations with artists such as John Nash and  Paul Nash. and many others exhibited. Reading the information, these artists had worked with each other and successfully networked and pushed to help each other succeed in commercial fields using their work for print, fabrics, book illustration and design.

The first room had a Paul Nash and an Eric Ravilious hanging side by side, which made for interesting comparison.

These are not great photos, but standing with the two pictures together my first thoughts were the similarity in mark making. They felt very masculine, the marks very firm and regular, precise, draughtsman like. The colours the same, muted shades. On closer inspection however the Paul Nash had been done 12 years before the Ravilious.



Moving to the next room there were many cabinets containing print work and delightful open sketchbooks from several female artists associated with the group.  This is from the sketchbook of Peggy Angus.  It appealed not only as it was little scenes of every day life, but also as they are very much of an age, so the clothing and colours so different to today.  Delicate drawings with pencil annotation.




There were also many woodcut prints by Eric Ravilious and others.  This is an art I was not so familiar with however looking at the prints and some of the original blocks I could see where the linear shading for his paintings linked.

His wife was also an artist, Tirzah Garwood, and I was particularly taken by her work, as although amongst this group of artists, she had maintained her own personality and her work stood out as being similar, due to technique, but retaining its own style.



Here a set of woodcut prints, each one having a gentle sense of humour, depicting everyday but with a smile, such as the lady who’s fallen asleep in her chair whilst reading a book.







Through the rest of the rooms the groups work became more similar. The paintings mainly in muted palettes.  The printed paper designs, geometric shapes mainly in one or two colours or two tones of one colour with black.

Eric Ravilious’s painting used line even when illustrating the curves of hills, and the clouds in scenery. At the end of this exhibit I felt perhaps I was looking more at an illustrator than an emotional painter. I felt he was drawing with the paint but I did not get a sense of any feelings or passion about what he was interpreting. Perhaps an artist very much of his time in terms of the British stiff upper lip, no emotional display!



Exercise: Painting from a working drawing

Choose a subject that you’re already familiar with and make three drawings.


As the weather was behaving I chose to do this exercise outside despite the suggested subject being the corner of a room.  I made my drawings at a pond at the end of our road, I have sketched it previously and know it very well.

I kept my sketchbook close and laid a surface colour of yellow ochre and then some background greens.  I scratched into these with a wok brush and pallet knife to “draw” the basic picture.

DSC_0070Beginning to apply some colours I continued to scratch into the picture, I also smudged with a cloth  to blend as I went.



My sketches helped  with the literal information of the image, where everything was, the colours and the tones.  I could have taken different materials to give me more accurate representation of colours as my pencils were quite limited. I could  also have done some smaller detail sketches for, say, the bark patterns.  However, I am heading away from literal representation and therefore overall felt that I had enough information.

Being away from the subject gave me more freedom to develop my techniques.  The temptation when in front of the subject to get very literal was removed by not being there. This afforded me the chance to play with techniques more. I am experimenting with more scratching, repainting and scratching again, the quick feel of the scratching appeals to my impatient nature and is starting to get interesting results.

I am not 100% happy with the finished painting.  The composition is a little dull, I don’t think it has a focal point of interest.  However I have learnt from this exercise.  I have taken several visits to the picture letting the colours dry in between and this has meant that I have brightened the pallet and developed the scraffiti technique further.


























In an oxfam shop I picked up and purchased two books which took my eye.  One was actually an exhibition catalogue of work by Richard Diebenkorn, an artist whose name I knew, but about whose work I knew nothing.  The exhibition had been in 1991 at The Whitechapel gallery, London.

The second is a book on work by an artist, called Antoni Tapies.

Richard Diebenkorn 1922-1993, and american artist identified as an abstract expressionist.  Flicking through the plates in the catalogue I was particularly attracted to the series of paintings titled “Ocean Park”. One of these paintings is on the cover of the book. I took a quick look on the internet to find a little more about the artist.

Below aBt5m-XjIsD8cre two of his landscape works, the first painted in 1955 entitled Berkeley “57 and the second is on of the Ocean Park series no 54.  This series is painted in the seventies.


















They are abstract landscapes and in order to try and understand how he came to these I looked on the internet at actual photographs of the areas.  Berkley is a hillier and greener area of the USA, ocean Park California is vast spread out sun kissed and flat.

The colours in the paintings and the shapes portray the feel of the places, Ocean Park paintings in particular have an atmosphere of calm, I get this from the colours and the large flat shapes.  There is nothing busy here at all, which is the vibe California gives off. I have driven through this state and the enormous spaces, fields that go on for ever are so different to someone from England who is used to neat rolling green fields.  I feel as if these paintings also have a certain aerial view quality, as if the artist is looking down from above.

I  notice that there appears to be overpainting of original layouts, but these are not done in order to coverup as they are clearly visible.  There are also some line that are ruled in some of the paintings, perhaps in a pen of some sort they are too crisp surely to be paint.

Having looked at this work I was inspired to go off and riff a while in my sketchbook.

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Having in mind my garden from the side and from above.

















Here I just played with colour and line
















Here I thought about my last exercise and some doodling that I had been doing using the diamond shape from my leaded light windows











I changed to watercolour pencils in a small sketchbook contemplating wet beaches.











With regard to the Tapies works, I only skimmed the book at this stage, I found it maybe a step too far for my understanding. I will return to it at a later date.



Richard Diebenkorn. (1991). 1st ed. Whitechapel.

Tàpies, A. (2005). Works on paper & sculpture. 1st ed. London: Waddington Galleries.


Exercise:painting a landscape outside

I have been thinking about this exercise for some time.  I knew before starting which view I would tackle.  I have a regular dog route and at a particular point there is a great path which goes down and up again, receding into the distance.  This view I know very well and I waited to catch it on a sunny day.

Before heading out, on a  rainy day I tried a couple of different approaches to it from my memory, to get a feel for the shapes and composition.


using some coloured papers and a felt tip I tried to envisage the composition.



Abstracting it further with some compressed charcoal.



As the weather didn’t improve I prepared an A2 sheet with a quick layer of umber oil.





Finally we got a good day and I headed out. Taking an easel and carrying case and a bag full of paints and turps, rags, brushes and other implements.  A Sandwich a banana and large bottle of water.

Getting set up, the first thing I did was do a very quick sketch to familiarise myself with the scene again and get a composition for the picture.  I was tempted to miss this out, as I know the view, but I’m glad I didn’t.  It proved very useful to position the painting and feel my way around the amount of trees and foliage.


Really warm day…..I built up the greens before scraping on the trees.  From previous exercises and in sketchbook playing I am using more and more different implements for putting on the paint.  This is giving my surprise mixes of colours and textures and as oil is a slow dryer there is plenty of time to move it around.

These are not the greatest photos as I forgot my camera and was relying on my phone.


I used scratching into the paint for more detail and at this point I took this home, I was hot and the paint was starting to merge into a grey, I felt it probably needed to dry before tackling any more.

Once I got the painting home, I was very disappointed with the colours, the light in the forest and the sun on the canvas, combined with wearing sunglasses on and off against the glare had given me a distorted view of the colour.

Preparation for painting outside next time I will need to consider……

  • The supplies…..can I get everything into a rucksack rather than carrying a cumbersome bag.
  • Take a hat ( I was feeling a bit odd by the end of  the session as the sun was beating down on my head for about 3 hours in total.
  • Standing up is best, however as small stool might be a useful thing to purchase.  This time I was lucky as I had a fallen tree to sit on.
  • Take a camera next time …….my phone was ok but I could have taken better shots with my camera and taken the opportunity to collect other views and object i might use in further paintings.
  • Take a trial trip out to the view for sketching, I had convinced myself I didn’t need to this time as I walk this path every day, however you do look at things very differently when you are going to paint them.
  • Make myself a viewfinder.  I am aware that sometimes I get overawed by the whole view and find it tricky to just select an area to concentrate on.
  • Maybe take an ipod, the music would distract me from noticing people and when they notice the earphones they may not stop to talk to me!!  Actually this was not as daunting as I thought it would be most people are nice and think your quite brave to be doing this at all!!

I did learn that….

The sunlight combined with polarised sunglasses greatly effected the colour, or rather my perception of the colours.  This is tricky as I wear prescription glasses and my sunglasses have the prescription in them.  I will need to be aware of taking them on and off a lot more.

The little sketch I did on the spot, first, was very useful in getting positioning right.

I am pleased with the effect of scratching into the paint and have learnt to then paint on top of that too. My painting is becoming more multilayered and the area in the bottom right of the painting shows me future possibilities of this technique.

I am going to let this dry for a few days and go back in with some more colour to improve the contrast between the darks and lights and give some more definition to the trees.  I could sharpen up the foreground too, as there is not really much aereal perspective here, just a little in the top right of the picture, maybe more, would give the picture more depth.



Research point: Golden Mean/Golden Ratio

Research the Golden Mean/Golden Ratio and its applications to artistic composition.  Don’t get bogged down in the maths of this.Find out also about ‘the rule of thirds’ in landscape.Look on the internet and find some examples of landscape paintings that exemplify these compositional principles.

I read and watched many explanations of the Golden Mean/Ratio on-line and many seem to concentrate on the maths of this phenomenon rather than its application.   The ratio is 1:1.618, and this number applies to the difference between the proportions of the ‘golden rectangle, image representing this below.   These proportions have  for centuries been recognised as the most appealing to the eye. This ratio appears everywhere in nature, in art, in design, in music and in the human body therefore it would appear that it is natural for us to be more drawn to art that contains these proportional relationships.



The ratio of the whole line (A) to the large segment (B)

is the same as

the ratio of the large segment (B) to the small segment (C).

Sectioning a line to form the Golden Section, based on phi, the golden ratio

In other words, A is to B as B is to C.

This occurs only where A is 1.618 … times B and B is 1.618 … times C.

This is taken from https://www.goldennumber.net/golden-section/


IMG_1719 copyOut of interest I tried to overlay a Golden Rectangle on my most recent landscape exercise using Photoshop. The proportions of the painting aren’t a fit however I do seem to have got close without realising, luck obviously, however  this raises the question in my mind ….do artists actually think about this consciously when starting a painting? They may not, but the results are more pleasing if they fit this law.    Are all commercial canvases and sketchbooks in this proportion?  A4 paper is not, I just looked, its 1:1.41. But then again its not about the size of the canvas is it? Its about the proportions of the image within that catch the viewers eye.

Examples from the internet


George Seurat – Bathers


Salvador Dali

Dali’s painting is actually done within a golden rectangle.  The positions of the disciples on either side being at the position of the golden sections, and the table is at the golden section of the height of the painting.


The Rule of thirds is for me easier to understand, having learnt this one initially for photography.  The example below demonstrating it nicely.  Dividing the area equally with two horizontal and two vertical lines, placing the interest at the junction points and not dead centre makes for a more dynamic image.


An example of its use using Dali again….







Exercise:Creating Mood and Atmosphere


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For this exercise, either create a completely new painting that evokes a powerful atmosphere of some kind or e-work one of your earlier paintings.

I have taken a view that I see pretty much every day on my way back from walking my dog, based on the fact that it is a fairly simple view and I am hoping it has some flexibility to adapt it to fit this brief.

Staring with  a sketch, my intention is to try a couple of different approaches using what I have just seen in the last piece of research.


Doing the sketch again this time attempting to think surrealist having looked a Dali…….. i have clouds reflected in the road, overhanging branches fingerlike, sheep wearing jumpers, jumpers and balls of wool lying around, one jumper impaled on the barbed wire fencing, trees imitating clouds by their shapes.


This feels silly to me and I’m not comfortable with it, however …

I had also been looking at Graham Sutherland and was particularly taken with


The City a fallen lift shaft (1941) Graham Sutherland

this painting, the darkness and the few crisp areas that seem to punch home the point of the picture.

During the last exercise I had several rubbish attempts before the one I really liked emerged and this time I wondered if by starting two paintings together I might reach my outcome.

The left picture is the intended surrealist approach ground and the right the dark atmosphere for the warlike version. The left paint applied with brushes, the right with a credit card as with the last exercise. This approach is really loosening up my painting so i wanted to give it another try.

The next step with both versions, now I am definitely preferring the right hand version and having used the card at first, I now used the glue spreader for some finer detail. Next I start to smudge on more paynes grey to darken the sky, field and road, using my fingers wrapped in a piece of kitchen roll.



At this point Ive darkened it and added texture with screwed up paper dipped in the paint ….its not a good photo as its wet and shiny and the flash of my camera is catching in the sheen of the oil paint.  I need to let it dry for a bit.


Whilst drying I took a photo and loaded it on my ipad.  I wanted to darken the picture further and thought this might give me a clue as to what would happen.  Just gently smudging around with dark grey, blue and then rubbing out, with a view to remembering where the moon is (moon as opposed to sun as I had decided it was a night time picture). This feels as if I’m looking at the field through smoke, or dark fog. The separation created by the opaque marks adds to the atmosphere. I may not be able to do this with paint, but it has helped me decide to try.


I scrubbed paynes grey and venetian red all over with a cloth and turps and then tried a gel pen for high lights which of course didn’t work. Compressed charcoal gave me a nice black for the barbed wire and white oil for high lights.  I’m struggling to photograph it as its wet again ….

Below taken with my mobile which seems to work better.


My picture has now turned from a pretty view to a dark, night view.  The deliberate choice of few colours and changing the trees in the distance to more burnt out stick shapes and the emphasis of the fence and wires giving it a war like feel having been looking at Graham Sutherland this feel was entirely intentional.  The use of mixed methods inspired by the lines within the paint and the mark making on his work.

I have made all of this picture without a paint brush.  Credit card, glue spreader, fingers, cloth smudging.  Then charcoal.  Surprises happened all the time with this method, colours mixed in unexpected places. Embracing what happened and going with it was very freeing.  Also adopting the little device of starting two pictures and then abandoning one, served a useful tool.  The abandoned one served as my warm up and I felt no qualms about leaving it behind, as the other took control and became my focus.



Research Point – Landscape


For this research point we are asked to:

  • Look at the eerie, dream-like landscapes painted by the Surrealists.
  • Consider the work of some artists who have sought to express the more emotional and subjective aspects of landscape.
  • Look at landscape paintings by the german expressionists.


Surrealist painters did not just use the elements of landscape from nature, but also from the subconscious mind/the imagination.


Swans Reflecting Elephants, 1937 Salvador Dali

The swans on the lake become elephants in the reflection in the lake and the tree trunks the elephants legs.  The bends of the swans necks/elephants trunks are echoed in the branches of the trees. The lake is much richer in colour which seems to emphasise its stillness. The scene feels very dry despite there being water, I think this is achieved by the difference in the colour in the water as opposed to the rocks and desert behind.  I am not quite sure about the water’s edge the whole bottom half of the painting is at first glance,the lake, but logically it can’t be. This adds to the jarring effect of the painting.  The clouds are figure-like and yet the rocks seem very realistic.


Forest and Dove, Max Ernst 1927

This painting by Max Ernst, was created using Frottage (rubbing) over objects to create the dark and forbidding forest.  Not being able to see the real painting I am left wondering if the Frottage areas are collaged over the top of the blue sky and it appears that there is an element of separation. The bird does appear trapped and frightened amongst the dark trees.  I don’t think we can get the full effect of a painting like this on the computer screen, to fully appreciate the textures you would need to be up close to the actual work.


Totes Meer, Paul Nash 1940-41

The title means Dead Sea.  Apparently this was taken from photographs that the artist took at  a dump of wrecked aircraft at Cowley in Oxfordshire. The colours in between the wings and pieces of twisted metal are sea like, and the points evoke crests of waves. The whole sea is a symbol of the end of life the wrecked war planes seemingly crashing against a shore, bringing to mind add that could have gone before this point. The shape of the sea as a whole forming a triangular point which also alludes to a wing of a plane. The colours are muted, soft and cold as is the sky above the scene.


Devastation, 1941 East End Street, Graham Sutherland

Graham Sutherland’s painting above is his reaction to the streets in the East End of London after the London Blitz. Very limited palette and large areas of black adding weight to the gloom of the scene and forcing us to focus on the devastated buildings. The building remains are painted in a sickly yellow/ochre which I feel adds to the grimness and highlights the sad areas, empty where once there were families,  as if spot lit.

There are a lot of different kind of marks over the painting as if the artist were searching for ways to express his feelings about he scene, these also serve to make us look around the picture.

Three landscape works above by Gustav Klimt.  I had only known this artist for his figurative work up to this point, they are highly decorative/decorated portraits, mainly of women.  Looking at his landscape work, I am struck by how much detail/colour there is, in fact so much that the landscapes actually be come a pattern themselves as in the picture top left of the tree trunks. Lots of spots of colour, almost pointillist in style.  The picture of the houses on the edge of the lake has lots of colour on each object, no flat one colour surface, the whole thing tied by a blue hue. The trees in the third picture completely dominate the building at the end of the drive.

Looking at these five artists brings the realisation that there are so many ways to interpret a landscape, other than in a literal sense.