Task 4 – Exploratory Project

Task 4

Now it all starts to get even more serious as this task, which we have 12 weeks to complete and will be formally assessed in Barnsley.  The task needs to something relevant to my practice, but one which requires experimenting and suspension of usual judgement, with an emphasis on taking risks that are personal to me.

I have decided to explore the scaling up of my work.

At the moment the largest work on paper that I can produce is 78 x 58cms, which gives a framed work of 98 x 78cms.  I have tried painting with watercolour on canvas, and whilst that is always a possibility, which I may return to, to achieve the intensity of colour that I would like, required the use of acrylics, which wasn’t quite what I wanted to be doing, because it seems to lack the sensitivity and translucency I am seeking.

I will be looking at watercolour paper stuck to canvas, to mdf and any other surface I discover.

The process of scaling up has other issues.  The work will need to be on the floor or a large table, which might be a squeeze in my studio.  I will need to size up my painting implements, mixing pots, brushes.

Lots to think about, but an interesting challenge.

Chain Events

Visited the last day of the Hastings Museum The Eyes are Listening exhibition.  A beautiful and forgotten building greets you, with something for everyone including Grey Owl, a local man who spent his life as a Red Indian attending to environmental issues, an African beadwork display, a trip down memory lane in Hastings, and an exhibition of six local artists, Nick Archer, Matthew Burrows, Gus Cummins RA, Kathe Deutsch, Tom Hammick and Andrzej Jackowski.

A surprisingly (why should I be surprised?) rich experience.  The rooms were rather dark for a modern gallery space and all the works quite ‘earthy’.  I was drawn to Nick Archer’s work.

Nick Archer, Ice 2012, oil on black sandpaper.

Ice 2012 is painted in oils on black sandpaper.  The haunting fluidity made me want to dream into the work.


I believe this work is painted in oils on copper, which creates an interesting haunting glow.  Both interesting surfaces that I would never have considered.

I found this image on his gallery Long and Ryle’s web site.  This in turn led me to Sophie Benson 

The Sea  2014, pigment, graphite and acrylic on paper, 102 x 150 cm.

What is interesting about Sophie’s work, apart from being beautiful, is that she paints on a sheet of paper 1 x 1.5m mounted over stretchers.  Further research revealed that she uses Khadi paper.  So at 3am (I couldn’t sleep) I ordered a pack of 30 x 30cm Khadi papers.  If I can work with this paper, then this could be a viable option for scaling up my work.


I have started with old canvas prints, 60 x 60 cms, sticking 330gms  watercolour paper to the surface that has been partially obscured with emulsion.


If this is successful then the next step would be painting on a larger canvas, maybe unstretchered, then partially obscuring and concealing with paper.

I have also just received the pack of Indian Khadi papers, 320gsm, which, whilst creamier and more textured than I am used to could produce interesting results.


This brings me back to the other area I am grappling with in general, what is authentic for me.  The answer to that question is probably the reason I am on this course, so I am not expecting a lightening-bolt solution, more an awareness rising up through the mist.

To assist with this I have been reading Emily Ball’s Drawing and Painting People, A Fresh Approach.  Emily records of her own work ‘I became aware that new ideas were not coming from the work itself.  I regularly felt numb and blind to the and important often trivial things that make an ordinary subject into something extraordinary.  I felt that I rushed my work.  I was impatient, had tunnel vision and was without the courage to be playful enough in an irreverent way.  This work was to be my leap into the unknown through the familiar.’  I could have been speaking.

She chose to set aside the way she had been painting and refocus on the subject, which she decided would be a series of bath paintings.  She also chose to scale the work up to  6ft x3ft, (my decision to explore scale had been made before I read about Emily’s, and is for completely different reasons), to remove all unnecessary marks and use unfamiliar colours that she found ‘aesthetically uncomfortable’, to reveal her bad habits, and to stop the inclination towards grand painterly gestures.  ‘There would be nowhere to hide.’  With every motif relevant, resulting a new way of seeing and playing.

Emily concludes ‘An image that unsettles our experience of the way we think things should look requires us to spend longer with it.  Looking at the work becomes more engaging and perplexing.  Its unfamiliar qualities make us search the surface and dig around in our experiences to find other ways of connecting to it.  Reading it as a narrative does not work so we have to resort to an emotional and tactile approach.  It can be as much about contemplation for the viewer as it is for the artist’.

I need to reflect on exactly what I am experiencing here.  I know something profound has happened.  I just don’t know exactly what.

Returning to Surface

Mathew, my MA colleague suggested Daniel Smith’s Watercolour Ground, which can be applied to almost any surface, to enable the use of watercolour


He also suggested Dibond aluminium composite board.

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The first image compares the texture of my normal Bockingford 140lb not paper and the Watercolour ground surface on the Dibond.  The second image is a close up of the Watercolour ground surface.

After talking to Angela, I am also considering using a roll of Somerset Velvet Enhanced 330gsm (approx 154lb) Watercolour paper 44 inches (112cms) wide, double imperial.  My misgivings had been to do with how to protect in the absence of glass.  She suggested spraying to protect, and the acrylic matt varnish appears to do the job, with only the slightest hint of colour change, which is acceptable.

So, my final choice is between

Paper enhanced canvas

Somerset roll Watercolour paper

Khadi 400gsm rag paper 110 x 160 cms

Watercolour ground on Dibond board.

Now I need to evaluate the options before making a final decision.

Returning to Subject

I am starting to read around the subject of my essay, which has a working title of Being Authentic, an Exploratory Journey.  I almost need to have completed my research and drawn the conclusions before I am able to tackle the issue of subject for task 4.  Not exactly a practical approach, but it feels right at the moment to start reading and researching in detail, to try to clear and clarify the direction I want to go for task 4.  I feel I am working in a muddle at the moment, with regard to this aspect of the task, not a good place for me to be. I am aware the difference ‘mind dumping’ in Mapping  the Territory made.  The way the space was somehow freed up in my unconscious mind.  I feel in need of doing the same regarding subject and the authentic me.


017 023

Watercolour ground on Dibond board

The first image is a close up showing the effect that brush strokes, (subsequently sanded back), have on the way that the paint flows.  The second image shows the effect of wet and dry painting.

Would I use these products?

The obvious advantage is that board is static, there is no possibility of unpredictable pooling, which may or may not be useful to the work.  On a larger work this could be a great advantage.  There is also a slightly ‘dreamy’ quality about the way the paint responds to the surface.

The disadvantage is that the surface is all.  A brush just doesn’t work to apply the ground.  The traces of repressed brush marks are evident in both images.  I have yet to try a roller.  In certain circumstances this issue could be used to advantage.  The feeling I get from this material reminds me of the effect that Nick Archer achieved in Ice painted, surprisingly, on black sandpaper.

Nick Archer, Ice 2012, oil on black sandpaper.


The surface is also a slightly grey white, which, with watercolour preserving the surface to create highlights, may slightly deaden the work.

The other, less tangible, result was that the process didn’t feel as authentic as painting on paper.  This may be due to a lack of familiarity with the materials, or it may be due to me being ‘too precious’ in adherence to traditional methods.


Ink and watercolour on photographic paper.

Definitely a no go.  Crude and cartoonish, it doesn’t show watercolour to advantage.


Watercolour on dry 320gsm Khadi paper.

This paper has more of a feel of watercolour painting than the ground.  The scaled up work would be on 400gsm.


The advantage is the size 110 x 160cms with the beautiful decal edge all round.


The work would need to be painted dry, rather than my usual very wet approach, which resulted in the paper acting like blotting paper.


Working wet.

The paper is also creamy white, which again will influence the feel of the work.

Materials Update

Most art materials suppliers do not stock the largest watercolour tubes, 37ml tubes but http://www.artdiscount.co.uk/paints-mediums/watercolour-paint/artists-quality-watercolours.html do, so really pleased to have unearthed them.

Huge sheets

400gsm http://shop.paintworks.biz/giant-hoxton-107-c.asp 122 152cms £11.50

http://www.atlantisart.co.uk/atlantis-giant-watercolour-drawing-paper-400gsm/ 122 x 152cms £10.22


http://khadi.com/shop/category/extra-large-rag-papers/ 100x140cms £23.14/sheet

110 x 160 £28/sheet min 5 sheets

70 x 100cms 320gsm Rough or Smooth (double elephant) 10 sheets £43


Arches 300gsm (140lb) roll Not 1.13 x 9m £125

Bockingford 300gsm roll Not 1.52 x 10m £84

Fabriano Artistico 300gsm 1.4 x 10m £114

Eco 200lb Extra Rough 39 x 55 inches £19.80/sheet

Sanders 300gsm Not 1.52 x 10m £153

Somerset 330gsm 1.118 x 20m £260 http://www.on-linepaper.co.uk/somerset-enhanced-radiant-white-velvet-44-inch-1118mm-x20m-330g-roll

I decided to go with the huge sheet for a number of reasons.  Most importantly it is the largest heavyweight paper I can find.  I don’t tape the paper down to restrict its movement.  As a consequence it ruckles and water pools, not necessarily in the right places.  300gsm is ok for standard sheet (78 x 58 cms) work, but any larger and it will be even more problematic.  Working with the Somerset 330gsm has highlighted the problem for me.  Secondly it is quite difficult to flatten paper this size from a roll, further adding to the problem of controlling the large amount of water I work with.  Finally, I haven’t been able to find rolls of paper heavier than 330gsm, presumably because they will be difficult to roll.

Watercolour paint naturally dries over night.  Wrapping in cling film is just not practical or particularly effective.  My paint dishes are too small for the larger work.  I haven’t been able to source any suitably sized porcelain dishes, which I think is probably good, because I have decided to use clear lidded food containers, which have the added advantage of being able to label the pots, which particularly with blues, are sometimes difficult to identify.  Thus far, this seems to be working, they are portable and less wasteful.



During contextual research, I was heartened to see how Barbara Nicholls copes working in watercolour.  I don’t have the luxury of space, so I have to file the paint in large plastic pots by red, yellow and blue.

Test painting on the Somerset Paper 44 x 44 inches

I have decided to work by balancing the paper on the largest canvas I have, 1 x 1m, to give the paper some rigidity.  This also allows me to work on a table, and minimises further back problems.

Having just reread the packaging, I think I am working on the non coated side.  Not sure how much that matters.  The paper responds well to glued tissue and paint, although it is completely unforgiving of mistakes, which cannot be ‘lifted’.  This may be the result of using the wrong side of the paper

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Work in progress on Somerset 330gms

The experiment with Somerset paper glued to canvas is not working as well as I had hoped for two reasons, both of which can possibly be improved upon.  The PVA may be too thin.  When the paper is re wet it is lifting.  The torn edges are acting more like blotting paper, which may be the construction of the paper.  003

I will try again using torn Bockingford 300gsm and stronger glue.

Returning to Subject

My recent tutorial with Stewart Geddes has given me the confidence to believe that I am on the right track, and that subject will develop over the course of the MA.

Having seen my website and without being aware of my intention for task 4, he felt that I needed to scale my work up.  He mentioned ambiguity of size and space, referencing nature, or maybe not, colour as expressive.  His guidance through colour history is something I will be looking at more deeply.

He articulated that ‘the invitation into the space’ and the physical process are what is important to me, and that I should focus on materiality rather than producing a work.

I have decided that I will continue to use a photo as a starting point, which may be floral, may be an old family photo, and see where the paint and surface take me.

In Summary So Far

I am happy with the way the research and experimenting is progressing.  I have discovered materials that I probably wouldn’t have found.  I can see that each has it’s place and their use allows me to expand the scope of my work in subtle ways, Khadi for dry work, Dibond and ground for more expressive work, and perhaps even non conventional painting (See journal post What is a Painting?), where I could use the ground to surface an existing object, say a box or piece of furniture.  I need to do more work with paper and tissue on canvas before I am certain that this is a viable option.

The Atlantis 4 x 5 feet paper has just arrived.  I am a bit disappointed because, at 100gsm heavier than the Bockingford, I was expecting it to feel heavier.  Perhaps I don’t understand how gsm works.  I will investigate.

It seems I do understand  http://www.pulseprint.co.uk/article/one_minute_wonders_gsm/ so it must be illusorary due to size?  It just doesn’t feel it.

Nearly There

002Support surface for 4 x 5 ft paper


New wheeled trolley with sealable pots of paint.

The scaling up has forced me to rethink the layout of my studio and how I store paint.  Such an improvement and so much more economic with the paint, which is now labelled and easy to work with.



Scaled up photographs on 4 x 5 ft 400gsm paper.



So pleased with the ease of working.  The hardest part is balancing on the top of the ladder to take the pictures!

Reflections on  my Tutorial

This piece has caused a serious dilemma for me, which I discussed with Angela.  The crux of the problem is my way of working.  I don’t repeatedly draw in the manner of Rose Wylie, making the final work from the drawings rather than the original image.  I had also lost the likeness with no real way to redeem in watercolour.  Angela felt that the piece was placing unrealistic expectations upon me, no pre drawing, working with enlarged images to ensure correct proportions but thereby sacrificing authenticity and emotional attachment, no margin for error.  She suggested I suspend work and repeatedly draw the image until I can draw without reference.  I totally understand why she has suggested this, and this approach is endorsed by Roy Oxlade in Art and Instinct, but it just isn’t how I approach a painting.  I stopped to write my essay to give myself some head space to reflect on how I am going to approach this final task.  All I want to do is paint, but the proposed idea moves me even further away.  To develop I know I need to make changes and explore other ways of working.  So why is this proving to be so difficult?  My first drawings are likeness driven.  I know I need to suspend common sense and ‘free the form’, that draughtsmanship and likeness are not the purpose.  I know the theory! Stop procrastinating!

Thoughts on this Process

044 046 051 052

The first drawing is in pencil.  The second image is the fourth in charcoal.  The third is the eighth in charcoal.  By this time I felt that I wasn’t really achieving anything above and beyond the pencil drawing.  I used the enlarged photocopy as a guide for this one as I was becoming so disillusioned.  The purpose, as I had understood it was to create an emotional response to the subject, as Bomberg said capture ‘the spirit of form’, but nothing seems to be changing and I am still attached to likeness.  The last image is the ninth and this time I drew it from the eighth drawing.  It needs more work, but for now, I want to paint.  I have bought The Natural Way to Draw by Anne Nicolaides and will work through the exercises and those in Emily Ball’s book Drawing and Painting People, once this task is concluded.

Reflection on Tutorial with Caroline

Now that my essay is complete I can focus on my exploratory project again.  My initial intention was to scale up my work and that I have successfully achieved.008

Now  I have some time to work with what I gleaned from researching my essay.  What I want to do is to ‘contemporise’ my work.  Not necessarily taking it into the realm of naive but using the Bomberg’s ethos of ‘spirit in the mass’.  I know that Emily Ball has achieved it with her own work and I am now embarking on that journey.



Capturing the gaze – Ball               A2 works in ink, watercolour and                                                                               charcoal

005The mouth – Ball



Single image – Ball                              Ink and Watercolour


003Making day, watercolour 78x58cms



Author: susanmilleruk

Watercolour painter living, working and loving Hastings and St Leonards on Sea. MA in Fine Art.

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