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, 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.

Exercise 2 Larger observational study of an individual tree

For this exercise, I decided to try something different to the suggested line drawing as I am trying to get away from my comfort zone. I chose a sycamore and my conte crayons and sat down to do a concerted study. It ended up being a slightly more involved (overworked!) version of the oak I did during the individual tree sketches, and although it’s an acceptable drawing, it’s not really got any detail:


I did spend a decent amount of time on it though, even if that doesn’t really show in the end result!

So, today I chose another tree – an oak – and sat in the sunshine with my fountain pen and scribbled away. Slowing down and giving myself some time has really helped me to concentrate and I enjoy feeling that I have time to complete a task, and reassure myself that I can always go back and continue if I run out of steam. This has been such a dramatic change in my approach and I do feel it’s helping.

I used A3 watercolour paper as I wasn’t sure if I was going to do a wash. I loved looking at the texture of the bark but I struggled with shadows as I would then lose the detail. I am aware this lack of tonality gives my drawings a graphic look and prevents them from being grounded but I wanted to highlight the detail. The tree does look three-dimensional but it has no context:


I am going to have to take my sketchbook out and do some drawings and be brave and cover bits of them in shadow.

Exercise 1 Sketching individual trees

I live in a rural area so finding suitable trees to draw was not going to be a problem. Having spoken to my tutor, I’m trying to get out of the habit of always going for line first, and also giving myself some time to actually engage with the exercise and give myself a chance to complete the task in an unhurried manner so as to get the most from it.

For the following drawings I used a range of media such as fountain pen, charcoal, drawing pencils and conte crayon:


I really like these drawings – I think the charcoal and conte crayon work particularly well. Trees have both their species shape and then that shape is further individualised by the tree’s growing conditions.

Assignment Two formative feedback


This was quite difficult to read to be honest – I very much doubt my ability to do the academic side of the course justice as I don’t seem to have any sort of filter as to what is relevant and what isn’t as I find it all so exciting. I get seduced with interesting snippets and artists I’ve never heard of and I’m not sure a science background is very helpful at times when it comes to analysis and subjectivity as I’m used to dealing with facts and data…


Some positives:

Make up varied supports in anticipation of making further mixed-media work. Rauschenberg for inspiration.

Considering composition: work in series on a number of ideas. I think this will really help and I am looking forward to trying to work in this way as I’ve not thought to do so before.

Develop studies further: I tend to get stuck on an idea and it doesn’t occur to me to change medium, scale, introduce colour or texture so again, I am looking forward to being much more experimental.

More time: it’s more a question of uninterrupted time to pursue a train of thought before having to break off to get back to the rest of life. This needs addressing; not entirely sure how yet but it needs to be done.

Incoherent blog: Yes. I find WordPress a pain at times but again, I need to address this.

Use sketchbooks in sequence: this will allow me to see my development rather than hopping from one sketchbook to another. I will either photograph my pages or tear them out and stick them in so that I can see a sense of progression.

Connect personal research to my own creative output: I can’t always see how someone else’s work can influence mine as I don’t yet make that connection. I am hoping that with more exposure to research and different artists I will be able to relate the two and benefit from the findings I make by utilising them in my work.

I take from this feedback a need to up my game and start thinking more expansively but with more discernment.



Collaborative Edge-zine project

The theme for December’s Edge magazine – past editions found here – is ‘Share’, and our editor has encouraged us to work with photographs from fellow OCA students. I had noted this and duly put it to one side, the deadline being mid-November, and thought no more about it…

A couple of weeks ago, an OCA photography student, Andy Birskeugh (who I know through Instagram: @drewkabi) contacted me about using my life drawing sketches for one of his coursework exercises. It was amazing to see how he transformed my drawings in to a layered photograph and I really enjoyed seeing his process and developmental work, documented here.

It was a natural progression to ask Andy to provide me with a photo that I could work with for Edge. My house is a former farmworker’s cottage, and the farm itself has not been in use for some years. It is pleasantly derelict with interesting shapes and lines from the agricultural buildings, and my thoughts were that if Andy could take a photo of a farm building, I could draw a structure from here over the top of it in maybe graphite or charcoal.

However, this rather pedestrian idea was soon overtaken when I received the images from Andy’s visit to Balsdean Farm in Rottingdean. He had been particularly struck by the shadows of the roof beams on the walls of the buildings, and instead of simply using an image for my purposes, I wanted to use what he’d seen and noticed and experienced to influence my working, so to collaborate on the creativity, not the subject. I printed off a few copies of one shot: in colour, greyscale and both draft and best quality. Here is the original:


I chose this one as I liked the lines of the walls and the contrasting colours. It also features the shadows which I wanted to incorporate somehow.

The Rachel Whiteread exhibition is still very much in my consciousness and her postcards modified with gouache or correction fluid and punched holes really intrigued me. Inktober has also been fun and I’ve enjoyed using my black fineliners and markers, and it seemed an obvious starting point to mark out some lines and see where it took me.

I flipped the photo as I preferred the perspective receding to the right rather than the left, and the vanishing point ascending rather than being straight ahead. Then I wanted to block out some of the detail, so used some leftover gouache:


Some of these lines worked, some didn’t. I also tried some correction fluid and hole punching but neither of those felt right:


However, after these explorations I felt I had established what I wanted to use, and transferred the elements I liked on to another photo:


I really like this. The gouache was great fun and I like the ‘feature wall’ with Andy’s shadows, and the cartoon-ish effect of the black liner. Some of the lines are shadows, some are pen and I like that. It’s a bit wonky (as are a lot of my drawings!) and plays with your eyes and brain.

I felt surprisingly responsible working with someone else’s image but enjoyed picking up the energy that Andy had set in motion and galloping off with it. I wouldn’t have taken that picture, and I have never painted on a photo before. It’s  been great to have the chance to explore this mixing of creativity.