My Sketchbook

I need to declare up front that I don’t use a sketchbook.  I watched Lachlan Goudie with admiration, as he effortlessly drew/painted, whilst presenting his excellent series The Story of Scottish Art.  It would certainly be beyond my skills, but more importantly, I have no inclination to record in a sketchbook.

Since my last preassessment tutorial with Caroline, where it was suggested that the submission of a sketchbook might be wise, I have thought long and hard about my working practice.  I took a beautiful, square format book on holiday following my assessment, and yes it is rewarding to revisit knurled bark and sunlight through petals, but the practice felt unnatural on returning home.

So what evidence can I show for the process of observing and reflecting?  I started to unpick my process.  My phone or ipad are always with me, and thereby a camera.  A recent talk by Robin Bell, master printer, reminded me how much I have always enjoyed taking photos, and in the ‘old days’, developing them.IMG_0814

The above is a series of images I took whilst researching for some gritty paintings I am experimenting with.  The system ‘collection’ of such images lends itself to the possibility of painted random collages.

But where is the experimenting, the trying out of new ideas?  For me, that all takes place on the surface, be it paper, foam board, canvas.  I view each start as potentially a finished piece, diligently working and reworking the surface until I feel the image ‘works’.

First Born, 58 x 78 cms                  Happy Family, 58 x 78 cms

I was unhappy with both of these paintings.  First Born looked too polished and Happy Family had been overworked in some areas.  Inspired by the distant quality of Silke Otto-Knapp’s watercolours, and Robin Bell’s hand blurring of some edges when developing a photograph, I scrubbed back both works in the bath, leaving one or two crisper edges.  For Happy Family, this achieved my required effect, but for First Born it was necessary to continue working into the painting, ‘knocking back’ my father’s face with emulsion and reworking the baby’s facial detail.

Night Workers – 38 x 38 cms

Night Workers started as the image on the right, produced several years ago.  By working and reworking, the image on the left appeared, informed by Alison’s and Mwamba’s projects.  The following images were also achieved by this reworking process, Long Way Home and North Cornwall referencing traditional subject matter, The Lookers by the refugee crisis.

North Cornwall – 38 x 38 cms       Long Way Home – 38 x 38 cms


The Lookers – 38 x 38 cms

Here – 38 x 38 cms                                          There I & II – 38 x 38 cms

These paintings, whilst seeming to be referencing my ‘old style’ are subtly different.  The subjects happen to be floral, but have specific meaning for me and are informed by my emotions.  The plants were flourishing in my recently landscaped garden and I worked from photographs.

I am continuing to reflect on colour and its meaning.  I would consider myself a colourist, even for works such as First Born, where I have been experimenting with 50 shades of grey, to get just the right ‘feeling’ for the work.IMG_0876

Mindful of Caroline’s encouragement to incorporate my reading into my work I am working on a series of Blue (Mythologies).


These experimental images, 20 x 20 cms have just had scrim (2 & 3) and tissue (1, 4 & 5) applied, after four layers of paint, each of which have to dry.  It is a slow process.  Working without reference is all about responding to the paint, balancing and rebalancing.  I have no idea where this  will lead.  All part of the process and certainly testing my boundaries.

My recent ‘failures’ are interesting in that they were all produced quickly.IMG_0877

Watercolour sketches of my granddaughter (20 x 20 cms), working from the same image with different approaches.  Am I being impatient?  Am I placing too much importance on likeness?  Should I repeat such work for a set time, say an hour, or until, say, I have 20 images, to instill some discipline, some acknowledgment that it is not going to be easy?

IMG_0878My niece and her newborn from a photo, charcoal on foam board, 25 x 25 cms.

Is this risk taking?  Maybe, but not enough.  I need to be bold, bold but still me.  Think more deeply!

Author: susanmilleruk

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

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