More So, More Informed

I have 20 works, tiny and small strewn around my studio.  Colour and confusion.067

I have so much going on in my head but no clear focus.

I am taking the opportunity to go back to Stewart Geddes’ suggestions for artists I should explore.

Arena’s ‘John Hoyland, 6 Days in September’ John in his London studio in 1989 (Photo © Ferdinando Carppanieri)

John in his London studio in 1989 (Photo © Ferdinando Carppanieri) followed the artist, his process and his pain.  The physicality of the work on this scale, with ‘marks containing the energy of the stroke’, left the viewer in no doubt that painting is not a relaxing occupation.  Hoyland referred to the influence of Nicolas de Stael, Emil Nolde, Henri Matisse and Paul Gauguin, all known for their use of colour.

Matthew Collins Rules of Abstraction traced the history of abstract painting from it’s roots in theosophy founded by Helena Blavatsky, to the spiritually guided work of Hilma Af Klint, and Kandinsky’s manipulation of colour/shape/line and its effect on the soul.

Hilma af Klint, The Ten Biggest, No 7 1907

Af Klindt -The Ten Biggest, No 7 1907, Oil and tempera on paper, 328 x 240 cm


Moscow I - Wassily Kandinsky -

who wrote The Spiritual in Art, studied with Rudolf Steiner who was a follower of Blavatsky.  Kandinsky referenced music in his work, suggesting that colour is like playing the piano.

Fiona Rae working in her studio demonstrates the emotional attachment to painting ‘something that doesn’t exist’.  Fiona Rae

She spoke of the rule of surprise, the rhythmn, the structural integrity.  No focus but different zones of intensity, an overall experience, and the importance of not repeating colour/brush size.

The French artist Sonia Delauney created ‘electric prisms’ using colour and form to celebrate light by optical vibration, a reference to Chevreul’s Colour Theory and Its Consequences for Artists.  Sonia Delaunay website banner

A friend of Kandinsky and wife of the abstract painter Robert Delauney, her subtle adjustments of colour create spiritual harmony.

Scottish artist John McLean suggests that treatment and placement are important for forms to emerge.

Paul Klee, conteporary of Kandinsky at Bauhaus, observed nature with tonally graded transparent colour.  His work completely changed following a visit to the Kairouan Mosque in 1914.

Paul Klee: Saint-Germain near Tunis, 1914–macke–moilliet_the-trip-to-tunisia-that-changed-modern-art/38391666

Klee and kandinsky were considered to be degenerate artists, distorting reality, with proposals for what perception actually is.

Collins and his artist partner Emma Biggs create works of pulsating light and dark.


Piet Mondrian believed that shapes define themselves by their difference. (an interesting article on the history and spirituality of abstraction.)

Vertical male, horizontal female.  Tension and contradiction.

Theosophy suggests that all imbalance will be balanced .  German philosopher Hegel’s  historicist and idealist account of reality revolutionized European philosophy and was influential to Marxism. Historicism places great importance on cautious, rigorous and contextualized interpretation of information.

Tess Jaray creates ambiguity in her work.

Tess Jaray | Artist

What is in front, what behind?  Inviting the viewer to participate.  Intense colour achieved through screen printing, creating a condensed version of reality.  (there’s that word again!  My reading this summer has lingered around that concept, more in a separate blog.)

Russian Kazimir Malevich, famous for his Black Square 1915, introduced Suprematism, simple forms, an abstract world beyond every day reality.  The white edge equals void.  Supremacy over feeling, feeling separate from reality.  Fourth dimension, time warped by space.  Theosophy into painting, new form of reason.

Kandinsky believed form is feeling.

In 1916 Popova joined Malevich’s supremisists group

Lyubov Popova – Violin 1914

Her abstraction striped to form was used as textile design.  Such abstraction was replaced by propaganda.

In America, Jackson Pollack, was creating a ‘visual symphony’ through the use of tightly controlled rhythmic structure, the materials and the range of textures.

English artist Paul Tonkin creates harmony through energetic pouring and under-painting, with a life and rhythm of its own in vibrant colours.  The huge canvas is then cut into rectangles for separate paintings.  Drawing is movement.  The colours work together talking to the artist.

Paul Tonkin preparing a canvas in Mathew Collins documentary

English artist Dan Perfect works to a plan.  He takes a small drawing and scales it up, as if performing a musical score.  Quick, evocative expressive marks, an imagined correlation of an extrovert world.


Dan Perfect – Village 2007

Russian American Mark Rothko created a breathing surface, the whole of existence, a cosmic unity.  The experience of redness and darkness is celebrated in this work.

Mark Rothko ‘Black on Maroon’, 1958 © Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko/DACS 1998

Back on Maroon 1958

A troubled soul, he was a philosopher/priest in a Rothko centric world.

Albert Irvin, a friend of Stewart, was informed by his movement through the world.  Brushmarks were his verbs, painting his landscape.  His reality was layered through colour.

Albert Irvin, Rosetta, 2012
acrylic on canvas, 60 x 48 in/ 152.4 x 121.9 cm

El Anatsui, a Ghanaian sculptor,  pursues the themes of memory and loss in his sculpture, especially the damage wrought by the colonial period and traumatic post-colonial aftermath.

Man’s Cloth is made from recycled bottleneck foil.  A metaphor for delusion.

Welsh artist Mali Morris MFA, works with colour, light and rhythm.  In his essay Matthew Collings ‘ spontaneity and chanciness, and having faith in the unprepared gesture but also a sense of knowledge and experience informing the various giddy leaps that the artist takes. ‘

Mali Morris Lost Light 2012 acrylic/canvas 25 x 30 cm at RA Summer Exhibition, 4 June – 12 August 2012

Dennis Creffield studied with David Bomberg at Borough Polytechnic.  This recent work captures his energetic approach to painting that hasn’t diminished with time.

20110912 135033 GoSee:Dennis Creffield Jerusalem at James Hyman Gallery

Jerusalem 2011

Stewart also referenced Monet, a jazz musician inventing round a theme, Emil Nolde with his intense use of colour in a more figurative way, ,

Americans Richard Diebenkorn with his subtle abstracted figurative work,

Richard Diebenkorn Ocean Park #79, 1975 Oil on canvas 93 x 81 in. (236.2 x 205.7 cm) Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and with funds contributed by private donors, 1977 ©The Estate of Richard Diebenkorn Image courtesy the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Ocean Park 79

Provincetown - Helen Frankenthaler

and Helen Frankenhaler, and Cecily Brown

Cecily Brown, ‘Carnival and Lent’ (2008).

Reflecting on Stewart’s direction

I have written this journal as a snapshot reminder of where Stewart sees my influences.  I have picked and prodded through his artists, peeling away to reveal what he is seeing.  Scrolling through the journal I am astounded by the colour, the layers, the footprint, the history of the work, encapsulated in single images.

Each artist comes from a different place, has  a different process, uses different references, but they all arrive driven by colour and form.

Stewart suggest looking at brush strokes and energy, start with a photo and respond to the materials, the rest will follow, it cannot be forced.  Watching Shani Rhys James at work reinforces the message of Hoyland’s ‘6 days in September’,  painting is a lot of ‘stand and stare’, patience, challenge, emotional response, sensitivity, seeing with creative eyes.  I like the way that Rhys James is digging within, challenging the viewer, making them feel uncomfortably moved.  She constructs images from memories.  I can’t access those memories but I have photos from which to develop those memories, to spark my emotional response.

Shani Rhys James, The Rivalry of Flowers

The Rivalry of Flowers 2

I can relate to where she is coming from, her use of colour, emotion and form, her seek and find approach to figures.

The Age of Insight

Reflecting on the first year of the MA I needed to consider where my interests lie.  Over the last few years I have become increasingly interested in the unconscious mind and it’s many guises,  memory,  emotions, intuition and creativity.  What started with Neurolinguistic Programming and coping strategies for the challenges of life, including depression and a family history of dementia has expanded to encompass everything I can find to give greater insight into the unconscious.  When Monika mentioned Eric Kandel’s recent publication The Age of Insight, the quest to understand the unconscious in art, mind and brain (thank you Monika), I was fascinated.  Nobel Prize winner for his work on memory, Kandel has produced an immense academic work that successfully brings together the world of mind biology and the arts.  Written in a hugely readable style the work eloquently discusses the subject from the window of 1900 Vienna, offering insight into the emotional expressionistic art of Klimt , Kokoschka and Schiele, supported by detailed psycholological and medical research.  Gripping.

Reflecting on MA1

I started this journey an innocent, seeking guidance on how to be a better painter.  I had no experience of academia and no particular expectations regarding outcome.

So what has happened?

I have been led into a world of wonder.  Woken from a deep sleep, after a lifetime of just getting by, to find exciting, challenging, thought provoking ideas wherever I look, whenever I listen.  Learnings are piling in, like grains in a jar, each one jostling, making way for the next, and yet my jar is never full.  I am guided by intuition and the benefit of age, to follow clues, to dig deeper, to trust the process.

Immersion has taken it’s toll.  My head and shoulders feel detached from my body, travelling too fast for my legs to keep up.  Cobwebs billow in the draughts, noticed but patient.  Shopping is undone.

All of this of no consequence compared to the discoveries, the ‘got it’ moments, as my truth is slowly revealed to me.  As Michelangelo said ‘I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.’  I am just beginning to ‘carve’.

WEEK 4 – Reflexivity in Practice

Reflexivity in Practice

I am now into my 4th week.  I was comfortable with today’s hangout for the first time from a tech perspective, which was good for me.  Last week I felt like Alice falling down the rabbit warren.  Confused and overwhelmed, struggling to understand what was going on around me.  Some things made sense, a lot didnt.  I don’t think Julian Stallabrass’s Contemporary History helped.  That said, I know something is happening, so I need to be not quite so demanding of myself, and accept that this is a long and exciting journey, and I have only just left the departure lounge.

On Friday I decided to revisit the Visual Enquiry questionnaire.  As a master practitioner of NLP, I am well aware that it is possible to shift thought processes in a short space of time.  Rereading my answers, I could sense that my plane had already taken off.  Some answers appeared naive, after only three weeks.  I could see I was already in a different place.  I am already aware of artists, curators, art critics, historians and the context in which they are working, that three weeks ago I hadn’t even heard of.  I am gaining a greater understand of what is happening around me, and whilst still confused, still waiting for the penny to drop, my progress is tangible and with that comes an element of ‘not having to hold my breath for quite so long’.

I am so pleased I am on this journey.  Exciting to see what the next three weeks will bring.  Hopefully I will have caught up by then and my work will be starting to flow.

Anselm Kiefer

Reserched Kiefer’s work.  My daughters are keen to see his work.  I had never heard of him.  I can really relate to some of his work.  Organic, textural, in muted tones.  I have pinned some work from 1974.  It is interesting to see how his work has developed.  We will be going to his exhibiton next month in London.  It will be interesting to see what influence he has on my work.


Todd Henry says ‘It’s often not the circumstances we learn from, but our response to them. Identifying limiting narratives or patterns of self-destruction can help us spot them when they crop up, then nip them before they cause us to implode or obsess needlessly over critique.’

He suggested ‘see if you can identify why that feedback elicited such a strong response in you. Is it possible that there is some defining story that’s affecting your engagement?’

‘Don’t allow limiting narratives to run your life and rule your work.’ Sound advice.

Emily Ball

I started reading Emily’s Drawing and Painting People many years ago, promising to return when I had more time.  That time is now.

It was also interesting to learn that John Skinner painted the front cover of her book, which in turn set me off to research John’s work

I feel I am like a sponge at the moment, poised to march off purposefully in a new direction with my work.  Confused but certain that I am internally processing all that I read and see.

As part of that process, and in part because Angela thinks quite highly of Emily, and because attending Emily’s regular classes was my plan B, i am working through the exercises in her book.

Conversation Exercise

A simple mark making and responding task for 6 images.  Should have been A1, but mine are 20×20 cms, because I am feeling more comfortable with small (what is that saying!).

Conversation 1Conversation 2Conversation 3Conversation 4Conversation 5Conversation 6


A simple exercise, so why do I find the results so unsatisfactory?  Colour choice?  Placement? Overall structure?  Chosen marks?

I will revisit Albert Irvin, Cecily  Brown, John Skinner, Ivor Hitchens, Bruce McClean to see if I can better understand.

Touchy Feely

Again, simple, draw by touch.

Rose QuartzRed BoaRed Boa detailFascinator

This exercise was more satisfying.  No outcome expectation?  No decisions to be made?


A friend of a friend was telling me how he passed out from the overwhelming red in a piece of music by Ravel.  Debussy has a similar effect on him.

I wondered whether listening to music that moved him so deeply would have any impact on me.  The above work was created with Ravel in the background.

Too early to comment.

Stot love the boldness of his work and ries of Art by James Elkins

What an interesting read.  A lesson in how to look dynamically with fresh eyes.  Unpretentious, clear and hugely  informative.

Artists Discovered

Rose Wylie, a favourite of Angela and Emily Ball.  Not sure I understand her.  The Tate Shot gave an insight, but I need to research her influences, her story.  I know I would really enjoy meeting her.  Fascinating lady.

Roanna Wells, what a gem.  Extraordinarily beautiful textile work.

Albert Irvin, just love his uncompromising use of colour.

Amrita Sher-Gil, mentioned by Elkins.  Extraordinary women, successfully combining Eastern and Western cultures.  I wonder what she would have achieved if she hadn’t died at 28.

Maurice Utrillo , contemporary of Sher-Gil.  Classic Parisian feel to his street scenes, but of more interest for me, was his self-taught mother Suzanne Valadon, whose bold portraits and floral images I found more exciting.

Norman Ackroyd’s etchings are so atmospheric.  The BBC3 programme What Do Artists Do All Day? was such a pleasure.  I hadn’t appreciated the process.  Extraordinary.

Shani Rhys-James, another What.. programme.  Such a priviledge to watch the artists at work and to follow their process and the development of their ideas.  Her portraits are bold and uncompromising.



Reflexive Practitioner

I spent much time this week reviewing VL1 and researching the people mentioned in the video.  I spent a lot of time writing up the points raised to ensure that I am fully understanding .

Laborious and slow but I feel essential for me, at this stage.

Contemporary Art by Julian Stallabrass

I have nearly completed this book.  It may be a very short introduction, but it is a very dry read.

For someone aspiring to develop their work for a wider stage, I found the contemporary art market, as described, far removed from the world where artists really care about what they are creating.

It is evident that the contemporary art market, at this level, is a commodity, a global brand, but without the regulations that stock and commodity markets benefit from.  A game, where it is in all the players interests to keep the stakes unaffordably high.

13 Oct

I have now finished the book.  I will need to reread and I have decided to Mindmap the book as a means of making sense of what I am reading and to give me a framework to visualise.

I have just started Stories of Art by James Elkins.  I wish I had read this first.  I wouldnt have felt that Stallabrass’s book was the absolute truth and quite so daunting.




Alison Watt

It is interesting how chains are linked and connections made.  Jack Knox, a Scottish painter and teacher died this week.  He trained and taught at the Glasgow School of Art.  He openly ‘borrowed’ from other artists.  His work is not what attracted me.  What did were the names of his former students, Jenny Saville, whose stunning and challenging work I saw at the Ashmolean in Oxford, and Alison Watt, who I hadn’t heard of.

john knox

Detail from Seafood Stall (1980s) by John Knox. Photograph: Gerber Fine Art & Compass Gallery

Watt’s work is sumptuous, sensual and unforgettable, suggesting the life form by its absence.  Watching her at work as the seventh Associate Artist at the National Gallery is illuminating.  She works painfully slowly on her huge canvases, up to 10 x 14 feet, a brush stroke at a time, up and down her ladder.


Sabine  –

She talks softly and eloquently about her work and her inspiration, referencing the white knotted cravat in the portrait by Jacques-Louis David of Jacobus Blauw, for Pulse and Echo.

Alison Watt, Echo

Pulse –

Watt says that ‘painting is a way of being’ and it is her way of ‘creating order our of chaos’.

I have spent the morning reflecting upon the emotional effect  her work has had on me.  Unexpectedly moved to tears, I watched Watt outline the folds then painstakingly build the gradation. a brush stroke at a time, just like I define petals.


Being Authentic, an Exploratory Journey

The end of year essay and I realise I haven’t written an essay since 1967!  Time to research how it is done.

2000 words by the end of May.

I started with degree planning, structuring and writing skills.  I have a lot of catching up to do.

Then the expectations of a Masters essay.

Which pointed me to this excellent resource.

Home Page

This is all starting to feel quite scary, not the essay writing as such, but the scope of the reading round the subject.  2000 words is not arduous and could probably we physically written in a day or so.  What is coming through is that it would be easy to over research, go off at tangents, become subsumed in the essay, at the expense of producing art, which is after all the reason for the course.  I accept that everything I learn is feeding into my ultimate work, but it is so easy to get lost in the research, particularly as I am so enjoying the learnings.

In accordance with DMU’s guide, time to create some structure and assimilate What I know, What I don’t know and my initial response to what my Summary might be.

Initial Research

I started by googling ‘Being Authentic’.  This led to a number of articles:

Becoming More Authentic by James Park, which opened the door to a number of Existential and Absurd philosophers and the derivation of their views.

Brene Brown TED talk on Youtube – the Power of vulnerability.

On Being Authentic by Charles Guignon

Thinking in Action, Coaching the Artist Within by Eric Maisel

The 5 characteristics of authentic people.

Psychologist Brian Goldman and Michael Kernis, the unimpeded operation of one’s true or core self in ones daily enterprise.

Corporate trainer Mike Robbins – it allows us to connect deeply with others because it requires us to be transparent and vulnerable.  It liberates us from always trying to be perfect.

Self awareness is the cornerstone.

Creating an authentic Life – Polly Campbell

  • Be clear about what I care about
  • Be open, keep an open mind
  • Be introspective, share. It’s ok to feel scared and vulnerable.
  • Note when inauthentic. Explore fears and beliefs when insincere.
  • Trust intuition. Notice physical sensations when not genuine

Dr Thomas Oden Drew university – ‘anxiety and guilt prevent us living in the present.  Guilt is usually to do with the past, anxiety, the future.  Mastery of the present reduces guilt and anxiety.  Simply be yourself.  Be non judgmental.  Genuinely appreciate yourself.  Be in touch.  Be self-confident, secure.  Speak at a normal pace.  Don’t be defensive.  Talk positively and kindly about yourself.  Be benevolent about myself and others.

Reflection on initial search

By this time I had a reasonably clear definition from a broad spectrum of opinion and some insight into the origins of the phrase.

I needed to look deeper into a more academic perspective, so using Google Scholar I searched for ‘Authentic’ , ‘Creative’ and found Marina Claessen’s Mindfulness and Existential Therapy.

The Sensory Intention – Art, Motif and Motivation: A Comparative Approach – Yves Millet

Symbolist – Oxford University Press

Other sources

Notes of a Painter (1908) – Henri Matisse

The Spiritual in Art – Wassily Kandinsky

Drawing and Painting People a Fresh Approach – Emily Ball

Art & Instinct – Roy Oxlade

You tube videos of Rose Wylie and Gary Goodman.

Supporting information from the internet.

Reflections on constructing the essay

A daunting task.  The work is disjointed with constant interruptions for citations and footnotes.  I decided to write each page as a separate file so that I could control the word count.  It has taken 3 days to produce the first draft of 2077 words.

Doubt and self doubt is a constant problem.  Am I on the right track?  Is the subject matter appropriate?   Have I proved my questions?  Answered appropriately?  Should I be referencing history?  If I don’t it won’t really make sense.  Who knows?  I need to reread afresh tomorrow.  To map against Angela’s comments and any other supportive material I can.

Reflecting on the Outcome

After 10 days and 5 drafts I have finally arrived at a honed essay.  Have I achieved what I set out to?  Yes, I feel I presented a well constructed argument, reflecting a broad breadth of research and some answers to the question posed.  I this what was expected?  Not sure.  Hopefully there will be an opportunity to discuss with a tutor at some point.  An interesting exercise in academic writing.


The Primitive Artist

Running alongside my research for my essay I have also been exploring the work and seeking to gain an insight into artists who paint in a primitive style.  They are achieving high public recognition with prizes such as the John Moores, so it is important that I understand why.

What is their motivation, why this particular style when I am sure they can all paint ‘properly’?  What is it that I am just not getting?

Roy Oxlade, an artist painting in just such a style, writing in his collection of essays, Art & Instinct, 1, ‘For the adult student to begin to take part in a primitive language forming programme would require what, for him, would amount to a suspension of common sense, in order that fresh insight might be aroused.’

This is the first time I have come close to understanding.  As someone who has spent their entire life being sensible with an over reliance on common sense, it is no wonder that I am struggling to comprehend the work.

Oxlade continues ‘Art is an extended autobiography featuring man himself in relation to his objects and his space.  For many artists this has taken the form of an expressive search for  poetic or metaphysical equivalents for life as it is experienced . ‘

Quoting Matisse in the same essay, he say ‘Exactitude is not the truth, and students must be helped to understand that ‘getting it right’ in relation to image is entirely different to ‘getting it right’ in relation to model.’

Referring to the philostine society he perceives today, he suggests ‘What has been lost is the capacity to respond intuitively to fresh experience together with the imaginative ability constantly to revitalise that experience with new insights. ‘

In his essay Some Thoughts About Rose Wylie’s Painting and Drawings 3 Oxlade offers this insight, ‘Her paintings are representational insofar as they have clearly defined and recognisable depictions of her subjects.  While her intention is to create a certain likeness it is necessary to understand that likeness here precludes realism, portraiture or exactness in the conventional sense.  She draws a lot.  She draws to achieve a certain likeness to the subject;  she paints to achieve a certain likeness to the drawing.  In the context of Wylie’s work, Gaston Bachelard’s ‘naive consciousness’ 4, is best understood as unaffectedness.’

I feel something needs to unhook within me to allow me to fully comprehend.  Angela, in my tutorial, suggested I step back and explore more, that I suspend my way of working with the sole purpose of exploring the subject rather than focusing on producing an end result.  It is amusing that in trying to work differently I am actually sacrificing the spontaneity and intuition that normally guide me.  Back to basics, but this time with more of an insight into the direction that I may be going.


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.

005 004

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.


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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 do, so really pleased to have unearthed them.

Huge sheets

400gsm 122 152cms £11.50 122 x 152cms £10.22

Khadi 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

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 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

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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



Roy Oxlade and Rose Wylie

I am curiously drawn to Roy Oxlade.  I first encountered him through the writings of Emily Ball, a local tutor and painter.

As part of the preparation for my essay I am trying to understand the work of a group of artists that are associated with Emily, who are clearly highly accomplished and much acclaimed.  Roy and his wife Rose Wylie are part of that group.

Roy Oxlade Olympia's Trolley

Olympia’s Trolley, a 1989 work by Roy Oxlade

All members of the group, which includes John Skinner, Gary Goodman and Georgia Hayes, paint in what could be described as a naive style.  The sort of paintings that attract the comment ‘my two year old could have done that.’.  And yet Rose Wylie won the much acclaimed John Moores Prize, so there has to be more to their work, which set me on a journey to discover what it is that I am not seeing.

Rose Wylie’s painting, called PVC Windows and Floorboards, has won the John Moores prize. Photograph: Walker Art Gallery

Roy Oxlade studied at Goldsmiths in London, and was a student of David Bomberg for two years at the Borough Polytechnic. He received his PhD from the Royal College of Art. His PhD thesis was on David Bomberg and titled, Bomberg and the Borough: An Approach to Drawing.

His writings in Art & Instinct are very readable and reveal a man completely dedicated to his art, art education and the practice of making art.  It also reveals a man frustrated with the art establishment, particularly what he calls ‘the BritArt  phenomenon’ 1, the power wielded by the few over the many.  He is also unashamedly outspoken with regard to artists he considers unworthy of their lauded position, ‘I have been unable ever to find anything of value in the work of Jackson Pollock.’ 2

I much admire his intellect and I am slowly being drawn into his way of viewing the world, with the hope that in doing so I will understand his, and this type of, work more comprehensively.

Writing about Rose Wylie he places her work in the context of Gaston Bachelard’s phenomenology, that ‘is the philosophical study of the structures of experience and consciousness’.3  On drawing a robin from life he explains ‘that she seems, without effort, .. to be able to give her total attention freshly, without prejudice, to whatever it is that attracts her eye and be totally absorbed by its unique qualities.  Knowledge – and this includes the background of art history as well as observation of the physical world – has been assimilated but somehow completely overtaken by the impact of the new experience.’  That feels like an almost a childlike departure from the world, as constructed, into an immersed world of now.  This total trance-like immersion may go some way to explaining the response to the immersion.  Interesting.

1 Art & Instinct 2010 p55

2 Art & Instinct 2010 p54