Exercise 1: Cloud formations and tone

For this exercise, I wanted to try a range of different effects and drawing media as I’m not a great fan of clouds as they are; abstracted they become more interesting. Remembering that the sky is effectively darker in tone than the clouds even though it can look brighter.

I had a look at some artists to get some inspiration. As well as Turner and Samuel Palmer, I also looked at Derain and Hokusai. I tried various experiments in my A3 sketchbook:



Charcoal and putty rubber were probably the most effective at producing realistic clouds but my favourite was the graphite putty rain clouds – less authentic but I enjoyed the process hugely and I like the drama very much.

I am quite heavy-handed when I draw and this isn’t really suited to the ethereal delicate quality of clouds. Perhaps large anvil thunderclouds of the summer would translate well but January sees few of those!


Clouds: research

Having watched the Vija Celmins vimeo clip, as per the course text, a couple of things came across to me:

“Copying something implies something fast” whereas she calls her drawn work on the pebbles and stones shes collected as “redescribing what I see”. Another point she made was that she is redescribing the items “always imperfectly; not to mimic more to show an attention span and a thoroughness of looking”. This really resonated with me as I struggle to focus and give myself the time to really really properly look, and although there is an enjoyment in quick scribbles there is also a time and place for proper concentrated looking. I really like the term ‘redescribing’ too as it implies an ownership rather than borrowing someone else’s creativity.

Other artists drawing the natural world whose work I enjoy are Emma Stibbon and Sarah Duncan. They are both concerned with time, Emma Stibbon’s focus on geological timespans and Sarah Duncan on the deep time of astronomy. The primary focus of both is the power and wonder of the planet, and the interplay between the Earth and the impact both of and on humanity. Emma uses volcanic ash to create her drawings of volcanoes which is something I love. Sarah’s etching Immersion of the ocean looks similar to Vija Celmins’ Ocean Surface – constant movement captured in an instant.

Clouds present a similar challenge to that of the water’s surface: fleeting and constantly changing.

Landscape research

“Research artists from different eras who use landscape as their main subject.”


Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528)

Durer was born in Nuremburg, and used watercolour to paint representational landscape paintings, adopting ideal proportions and maths within his compositions, thus making him one of the most important artists of the Northern Renaissance.

Dry dock at Hallerturlein seems bland and rather dull but then the range of pigments would have been limited by modern standards. The sky shows very little by way of contrast and definition, and despite the medium used, it looks more like a drawing with a wash than the painterly watercolour landscapes we are used to.

https://www.albrecht-durer.org Accessed 03/01/18

Claude Lorrain (1600-1682)

Originally from France, Lorrain moved to Rome and became one of the most popular artists of the French Baroque. He was an excellent draughtsman and his landscapes influenced the Romantic artists who followed him such as Turner, Constable and Palmer.

These landscapes differ to those of Dürer in that firstly, they are oils rather than watercolour and thus have more contrast – most of the paintings show a dark dramatic foreground with trees and people, middle ground with buildings, and a piercing light emanating from the distance illuminating the clouds and sky. This collection of paintings from the National Gallery show his Classical composition and pastoral scenes.

https://www.artble.com/artists/claude_lorrain Accessed 03/01/18


L.S. Lowry (1887-1976)

Lowry’s roots in the North West of England clearly influenced his portrayal of urban life in his famous and characteristic cityscapes. His desire to show the realism of life in a busy town with the array of characters very much in evidence has similarities with the Impressionists I saw at Tate Britain a few weeks ago. They, too, showed bustling cities “warts and all” with fog, workmen and the less romantic side of London.

I like his paintings and find the tone and simplicity strangely melancholy in spite of the bright colours. I prefer his pictures of buildings such as “The Old House, Grove Street, Salford” 1984 to his more expansive paintings as I prefer the intimacy.

http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/lowry-and-painting-modern-life Accessed 04/01/18

George Shaw (1966-)

Turner Prize nominee is from Coventry, who studied at Sheffield Polytechnic and then the RCA. He uses Humbrol paint – more commonly used for models – to paint scenes of ordinary places which look almost hyper-realistic. However, despite their mundane subject matter, there is an atmosphere and an energy which makes the scene look as if something is about to happen; it’s poised and there’s a human presence even with no people present in the picture. It also shows a rather seedy reality of our interaction with the landscape and really like that.

“Scenes from the Passion: The Path to Pepys Corner” is one such landscape painting which shows this to good effect.

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/may/15/my-back-to-nature-george-shaw-national-gallery-tile-hill Accessed 04/01/18

Sarah Woodfine (1968-)

I’d not heard of Sarah Woodfine but as with many aspects of this course, I’m pleased I’ve had the chance to investigate! Originally a sculptor, her artwork is often made of 3-D constructions with a nod to cardboard theatres or pop-up books. Her drawings are made in pencil and have the precise clarity of an architectural drawing, albeit with more fantastical imagery. I like “Newfoundland” 2004 as it seems so mystical. It appears to be on display at the V&A so I shall go and find it next time I am in the area!

http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/n/newfoundland-by-sarah-woodfine/ Accessed 04/01/18



Impressionists in London

“French Artists in Exile 1870-1904”, Tate Britain.

I went along to this exhibition as I’m generally not a fan of the Impressionists’ work but I usually find that having the work explained to me does wonders for my appreciation. I took a lot of notes and did some sketches as I went around, as I had done at Modigliani, and this new way of approaching art has been really helpful.

I was looking for composition, landscapes and scenes of London, but the terracotta sculptures by Jules Dalou were tremendous. Alongside Dalou, the other artists featured included Daubigny, Monet, Pissarro, Sisley, Tissot, de Nittis, Legros and Derain. The artists – residing in Britain to escape the Prussian war – found our foggy skies a challenge to paint, and the Thames and Westminster (the tallest tower in Europe at that time) feature in many of the paintings at this exhibition to great effect. Giuseppe de Nittis’ “Westminster‘ (1878) is glorious, with a rich red foggy background and the pipe-smokers in the foreground adding to the murk and atmosphere. The classic composition of clear foreground receding to paler and less defined middle and background was much in evidence, with Money’s characteristic daubs of paint on the canvas. This technique was taken to a more abstracted level with Derain’s portrayal of the river and buildings; ‘Charing Cross Bridge, London‘ (1906-7) shows the canvas behind the spots of paint which he has used to depict the sun setting over the Thames.

The other reference in the exhibition was how this influx of French artists altered how art was taught in British schools. With flair and drama as they demonstrated their skills, their lessons would have no doubt added a theatrical element and a different viewpoint. The idea of this occurring as a by-product of war intrigued me!

Here are my sketchbook pages of the exhibition:


“Impressionists in London, French Artists in Exile” The EY Exhibition, Tate Britain, 02/10/17-07/05/18

Amedeo Modigliani

I’d not heard of this artist before I saw the feature in my What’s on guide for Tate, but I was interested to see the nudes he painted.

Modigliano had a turbulent life, moving to Paris from his native Italy when he was 21 and living in Montmartre from 1906 to 1909, and then Montparnasse, developing friendships and alliances from the artists also living in the cultural centres of Paris at that time. He focussed on sculpture from 1911 to 1913, and his drawings have a sculptural, pared-down quality which reflect the museum pieces of Egyptian and African art which would have been on display at the Louvre and Trocadero. Like Giacometti, who studied the art of the Easter Islands and Eygpt, elongated necks and facial features were influenced by these exotic artistic resources.

A few (sadly only a few) of his drawings are on display in this exhibition but I particularly liked these two:


By 1916, Modigliani was in receipt of financial support from an art dealer named Leopold Zborowski, and at this time, the artist had returned to painting; specifically the female nude. Scandalous at the time due to the models being painted possessing pubic hair, the paintings also show a sultriness and sensuality.

What interested me was the artist’s skill at depicting the soft rounded features of the female form with so little tonal variation. The breasts and belly show very little by way of graduation yet they are undeniably voluptuous. As I am not brilliant at using tone I was really pleased to see how effective this is and I love the paintings. The strong backgrounds were also really useful for me to see as I always struggle to ground my figures during life drawing class and the sweeps of colour really help the figure to be in a space. I like the simplicity and the lack of fuss. His faces are drawn quite elongated and stylised, and the hands and feet, when they appear, are also very loosely interpreted; on one painting her foreshortened foot looks like a paw…

I sat on a bench in the gallery and had a go at painting a couple of the nudes in watercolour:


I bought some postcards:


The oil paintings themselves have such a richness  and depth, and are large – over a metre long – and really pack a punch. I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition and was keen to use what I’d seen at life drawing class later that evening.

I tried some watercolour washes around the figure of Manko, our model, and found it really made the body stand out. I used ochre watercolour and a raw sienna Promarker, as well as a warm earth tone drawing pencil:


It was brilliant to try something different and although I couldn’t translate the colours from Modigliani I think the washes are effective and definitely stop the drawing from floating in space. As with his first drawing, just a slosh of colour down one side really adds something to the ‘finished’ (it’s just a hasty sketch!) piece and something I will use again.

Tate. (23 Nov- 2 Apr 2018) Modigliani. London: Tate Modern



Tree research

In looking at trees and attempting to draw them, I wanted to find some artists who managed to recreate the texture of the foliage/canopy as this is the part I found most difficult. I like Van Gogh’s cross-hatching on these pollarded birches:

Pollard birches, Vincent van Gogh 1884 [1]
Although this isn’t foliage as such, the simplicity of the marks is so effective – how he’s varied the lines to show shading and texture is exquisite, and despite the volume of lines in the drawing, it doesn’t look remotely fussy or busy. The small amounts of white contrast with the heavily marked areas and give depth and detail to the picture.

Samuel Palmer drew many trees, and this one of Clovelly Park is similar to the exercise I have just done. In this one, he has used black chalk, and the variation in tone and detail ranges from deep shade in the centre and outlining the trunks, to the lightest suggestion of form with the trees either side of the main drawing. The foliage is suggested by longer lines:


Study of Trees, Clovelly Park, Samuel Palmer, 1834 [2]
I decided to have another go in my sketchbook playing around with different effects and media to see which worked. It might seem a bit back to front but I don’t know what I need to work on until I’ve done it!

Here are my sketchbook thumbnails:


I’ve used soft pastels, oil pastels, tinted charcoal, willow charcoal, pen, ink and a few washes. I think the most successful are the charcoal and putty rubber efforts at the bottom of the page as they give a sense of foreground and depth.



[1] Pollard birches, Vincent van Gogh, 1884, Pencil, pen in black ink on woven paper, 39 x 54cm, Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam, http://www.drawingacademy.com accessed 10/11/17

[2] Study of Trees, Clovelly Park, Samuel Palmer, 1834, black chalk on pale greyish paper, 25.5 x 37.1cm, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, Bridgeman Images, accessed 10/11/17









Exercise 3 Study of several trees

This exercise was about simplification of a scene. I chose the copse at the top of the field behind my house as it is a mixture of closely-packed Scots pines and a sprinkling of sycamores. At the is time of year the bracken is dying back and the pines are quite prominent.

I had a bit of a play around in my sketchbook using charcoal, wax crayon and various pens:


With the first drawing I made the mistake of thinking I could see the whole tree in front of me, even though I couldn’t. I also drew the foreground first so had to fill in the background retrospectively; not a very good idea. I tried wax crayon over the charcoal but it didn’t work as well as it had done in my sketchbook – I think I may have been a bit heavy-handed:


It’s also rather boring. So, another attempt, and this time I sketched in some background with the broad side of the charcoal to hint at the trees behind. I focussed on the main trunks of the Scots pines as they are the most dramatic:


The shadows on the trunks don’t really make sense but it was an overcast day so there weren’t strong shadows – I shouldn’t have just made them up though! I thought about colour in the undergrowth but I decided that looked too contrived so stuck to charcoal, although it looks a bit messy. Again, picking out the foliage shapes didn’t really work. I used a small amount of wax crayon on the trunk as I like the bark-like effect, and overall I think it is a better drawing than the one I did first.

The tree foliage was difficult to do effectively as there wasn’t much space on the page. I did simplify the view and I like the starkness of the trunks, but it was difficult to reduce the detail and the scale of how much was there yet maintain a sense of interest. I would like to do more trees so I am going to try and sketch more of them when I’m out and about.