Category Archive: Art Challenges: Ideas to try

Still Life 4: Abstraction and Ben Nicholson

January 26, 2022

Vase and Saucer with Spoons and Oranges
Pencil drawing by Jo
This is Jo’s composition based on shapes from the photo below.
At next week’s class Jo will demonstrate a painting in colour using a similar starting point. The practical suggestions in this post will help you to make a composition including some of the cubist techniques used by Ben Nicholson.
Photo reference for the pencil drawing
Vase and Saucer with Spoons and Oranges

Ben Nicholson was born in 1894 to artists Sir William Nicholson and Mabel Pryde.  He attributed his interest in Still life to his father but trod a very different artistic journey, visiting the studios of Picasso, Braque, Hans Arp and Brancusi in the 1920’s and becoming intrigued with cubism.  Cubist techniques of overlapping shapes and seeing objects from more than one viewpoint simultaneously, became firmly established in Nicholson’s still life work to a greater or lesser degree for the rest of his life.

He started training at the Slade in 1910 but left after a year.  His contemporaries there included Paul Nash, Stanley Spencer, Mark Gertler and Edward Wadsworth.  However, after spending time in the studios of Picasso and Braque, cubism became the main focus of his output in the 30’s.  This was especially so during wartime when he and Barbara Hepworth moved to St. Ives.  Ben was asthmatic so unable to join the services and for a time he and Hepworth worked well together and Hepworth said they were each other’s best critics.  Nicholson’s compositions often took in other influences besides cubism as can be seen from either Googling his work or the Pinterest board, link below. Sometimes a cubist still life may have a backdrop of a Cornish landscape as viewed from a window

We are principally engaged with Nichoson’s still life work which gradually became more abstract.  In the 20’s he painted a wooden box with a rather flat depiction of a jug and mug where shape and colour and flat darker tones make up the compositions inside the lid and on top of the box.  In 1930 he painted a simple composition of a mug and a little bowl.  The forms overlap but the way in which the stag decorating the mug is painted tells us another story.  The stag is shown as a flat motif superimposed over the other objects and overlapping the bowl and background.  It gives us a different view of the decoration than would be seen if we were looking at it as seen on the curved surface of the mug.

This overlapping technique can be seen even more clearly in Nicholson’s drawings of three pears where he has drawn one pear over another as if we could see all those edges when viewing the set up.  Also look at his compositions of objects arranged on table tops. Then try one or more of the following;

Challenge 1. Overlapping

 Find a small group of overlapping objects (e.g. a couple of mugs, a bowl with some fruit) and draw as if you can actually see all the edges that you cannot see.  Fill the shapes with tone or colour to make an interesting composition.

Nicholson takes this idea a whole lot further towards more extreme abstraction.  He plays with shapes placing them at different scales and places in his picture than they are in reality or even could be in reality. Notice how in the table top still life studies the table top is up ended.  In other works, perhaps only half a bottle or vase is seen, or shapes are repeated, tilted or reversed, and elsewhere coloured rectangles of deep or pale tones are introduced.

Challenge 2.  Different Viewpoints in the same Composition

Make a composition using the cubist technique of being able to see works in the same picture as if seen from at least two directions, for example, a piece of fruit on a plate where the fruit is drawn as seen but the plate is seen as if you were looking down on it, or do something similar to what Nicholson does with the decorative stag motif.

Challenge 3. Rearranging Shapes and Repeating Shapes at different Scales

Make a cut out of a jug, goblet or egg cup at two sizes.  Cut two of each, one on pale and one on a coloured paper. Cut at least one shape in half and play with the shapes on your support till you find a pleasing composition. 

Remember you can;

tilt or reverse the shapes; use the negative shapes from which you made your cut outs; fit one shape inside another where the scales are very different; partly overlap shapes.

Glue to a support (this should be a heavier weight than your cut outs: multimedia paper or heavy watercolour paper should be OK). If any of your shapes  have been cut from white paper consider painting a background colour on your support before glueing the pieces down. When everything is stuck down and dry, assess whether more drawing or painting is required. This may mean altering the colour or tone or adding texture or pattern to some areas.

You may prefer to play with the shapes and then draw or paint a composition based on your preferred arrangement instead of making a collage. The important thing is to play with shape and scale, tone and colour.

Challenge 4.  Make your own composition

Either use some of Nicholson’s techniques for your own composition or paint your own version of one of his works.

Your paintings;

Still Life 3: Rearranging Matisse

January 19, 2022

Fruit Bowl with Oranges: An Acrylic painting by Jo that relies more on colour than form for its impact

Rearranging Matisse sounds like heresy, but is in fact a useful exercise because it illuminates the possibilities that arranging and rearranging objects bring.  Matisse had a different interest in still life to Morandi.  Matisse consciously sought to communicate what he felt about objects, and as early as 1908 told his students, “To copy objects in a still life is nothing; one must render the emotion they awaken in him”, whereas Morandi writes “The only interest the visible world awakens in me concerns space, light, colour and forms.”  Morandi was far more interested in communicating what he saw with his eyes.

The illustrations in this post include my version of “Still Life with Sea Shell on Black Marble” 1940.  Matisse had some difficulty in finding a suitable composition for these objects and resorted to using cut outs of apples and string to mark the table edge before arriving at the final study.  Matisse only ever intended this as a study for a final work but it is a method you may like to try.  As you will see I have rearranged his objects after very rapidly noting the development of this work at the “Matisse in his Studio” exhibition at the Royal Academy several years ago.  I also took serious liberties with the colour of the background and table top.

Jo’s sketch from Matisse’s way of moving his objects around to arrive at a satisfying composition; included apples cut from green paper; shell drawn on brown paper; ceramics drawn on white paper and string to mark the table edges
Very hasty sketch of Matisse’s final version; note cropped coffee pot and cropped apple on the right. As you can se I had a lot of fun with this!
Jo cut and painted papers in the shapes of all the objects, and then moved them around on a board which was painted in gouache choosing very different colours to the Matisse still life.
Jo’s final composition inspired by the development of “Still Life with Sea Shell”, 1940, by Matisse: the objects are rearranged and the colours of the table top and background have been radically changed. After gluing down the objects more gouache was applied. Jo has sought to retain an idea of “conversation” between the objects.

“Still Life with Sea Shell on Black Marble” is included in my Still Life Pinterest Board: Section Matisse, link given below:

Both artists used their objects as “actors” arranging them on “the set” and often using the same actors in different works.  Both were interested in the relationships between objects but while Morandi searched for the nuances of light, shade and spatial relationships, Matisse also wished to bring objects and their associated memories into the equation.  This extended to bringing a unity to arrangements of objects he had collected on his journeys or that he had grown up with, and throwing their surroundings and sometimes fruit and flowers into the mix.  In Morandi’s still lives one never sees a still life before an open window or had any idea of how Morandi’s room was furnished whereas for Matisse the environment in which his objects existed often formed an integral part of the composition. 

Matisse used vibrant colours purposely to communicate emotion, something totally alien to Morandi’s simplified but more observation based still lives with their muted colours depicting simple vessels.  Curiously, Morandi’s work does give us emotion, as a sense of calm unity pervades his work without seeming boring in any way.  However for those seriously interested in colour Matisse offers continual inspiration. 

Matisse leads us through compositions that rely less on form as revealed by light than by shape and the juxtaposition of colour.  Objects become simplified and patterns exaggerated so that we see emotion celebrated through a more abstract way of seeing.

Here are a few photographs of objects chosen for their shape and colour with some rearrangements! which may give you a few ideas for setting up. My ‘photos don’t include glimpses from windows or interiors but you may have just such a setting for your composition.

This week the challenge is to arrange colourful objects that may be everyday and/or have have personal significance for you and then make a colourful still life composition, using colour and shape in the spirit of Matisse.  Alternatively you are invited to make your own version of a still life by Matisse.

Your Paintings;

Still Life in a Window Setting
by Heather C
Flowers, Fruit and Wine
Pastel by Mali
Still Life in the Spirit of Matisse
Acrylic by Mali
Yellow Interior
Acrylic by Heather N

Still Life 2: Learning from Morandi

January 12, 2022

All photos are by Jo Hall from her everyday objects

From a medium sized sitting room in Bologna, overlooking a small courtyard with trees Giorgio Morandi (1890 -1964), lived and worked painting everyday objects. These objects inhabited his shelves and became arranged and rearranged for his drawings, oil paintings, watercolours and etchings.

He admired artists of the Renaissance, Giotto, Masaccio, Uccello and Piero della Francesca and also Cezanne, Chardin, described in Morandi’s words as “the greatest of all still life painters ” and Corot, who he though of as the master of stillness. This last seems of most relevance as Morandi’s paintings of simple things give a sense of timeless calm to the viewer.

Note hard and soft edges and where the handle of the small jug disappears into the shadows.

The author Horst Bienick wrote “Giorgio Morandi only painted jugs and bottles all his life but in these pictures he said more about life, about real life, than there is in all the colourful pictures around us.”

The quotes above are from ” Morandi” edited by Ernst-Gerhard Guse and Franz Armin Morat published by Prestel 2008. You will find a selection of Morandi’s works posted on the Morandi section of my Still Life Pinterest board, link below:

All Morandi’s works are based on intense observation simplifying forms and understanding how light reveals forms and how shadows can hide form and soften edges so that one form melts into another. The photos are all of my everyday objects and were taken to illustrate this.

In a letter of 6th January 1957 Morandi writes, “The only interest the visible world awakens in me concerns space, light, colour and forms.”

The way in which Morandi simplifies forms is most evident in his pencil drawings. The line is slow and deliberate, tracing the contours of what he sees. Areas of tone are added with diagonal hatching. In the watercolours, areas of tone are washed in as seen, immediately simplifying the forms and lending an abstract quality to these closely observed works. Morandi pays equal attention to the spaces between objects and the shadows the objects cast, as he does to the care he takes with the objects themselves.

Dark and light tones, hard and soft edges, muted colours.

Try arranging a few everyday objects in different ways. make simple line and tone drawings. Where edges between objects cannot be seen treat them as one form. Look at the images below and note the difference that changing their arrangement makes. You may like to draw from these but if you can, find your own subjects and draw from life.

Notice the appearance of the egg cup in the images below and also what happens to the edges where one dark ceramic is close to another.

The egg cup appears darkly subdued into the shadow. The three forms together with their shadow could be read as one shape.
The egg cup has been moved forward and by its contrast with the surrounding shadow demands our attention.

During the session we will make either several watercolours or an acrylic painting in the spirit of Morandi.

Your paintings:

Still life
Acrylic by Mali
Drawing by Mali
Drawing after an Etching by Giorgio Morandi
by Ann
Still Life
Pencil over acrylic background by Ann
Still Life
by Ann
Still Life with Jug
Gouache by Sandra
Graphite drawing by Sandra
Gouache sketch by Sandra
Vase and Jars
Acrylic by Maricarmen
Bowl and Beakers
by Kate
Watercolour by Heather C
Drawing in 2B pencil by Heather C
Drawing in Pen and Ink by Heather C
Bottles Egg Cup and Pie Support
by Pam
Still Life by Heather N
Still Life with Green Bottle
Oil by Virginia

Still Life 1; Painting in the spirit of Sir William Nicholson

January 4, 2022

Over the next six weeks our challenge will be to paint still life paintings in the spirit of William Nicholson, Giorgio Morandi, Henri Matisse, Ben Nicholson, Mary Fedden and David Hockney.  These artists were chosen because of their very different approaches to still life subjects and also the different media and objects favoured by each.

Photograph: William Nicholson often selected metallic, lustrous or glass objects for his Still Life paintings.

Our first artist, Sir William Nicholson(1872 to 1949), is perhaps the most traditional of these artists. Alongside painting in oil, Nicholson was a printmaker using woodcut, wood-engraving and lithographic techniques and produced many book illustrations, posters and set designs for the theatre. For more detail on this look at the Wikipedia article; link below

Encouraged by James McNiell Whistler, after about 1900 Nicholson ‘s efforts were concentrated on painting. By this time he had already become well known as a portrait artist but is probably more celebrated today because of his still life works and poetic landscapes.

William Nicholson’s landscape and still life paintings were also greatly admired by his son Ben Nicholson whose work we’ll be looking at in a few weeks’ time.

Photograph: a more complicated set up with a mirrored glass and two ceramic objects

My Still Life Pinterest Board samples a few of William Nicholson’s still life paintings and shows his enormous aptitude for painting lustrous, metallic and glass objects, depicting their highly reflective surfaces with deft brushstrokes that look fresh and convincing.

The challenge is to either paint your own version of one of Nicholson’s works or to set up a still life including similarly reflective objects to those depicted by Nicholson. The photographic illustrations in this post indicate some of the kinds of objects you may like to find for your own studies for which acrylic, pastel or gouache would all be suitable media.  I will demonstrate in acrylic but if we have any oil painters amongst us that would be the best!

Photograph: lustrous vase with spoon and fruit

If you have time, familiarise yourself with your chosen objects, drawing them from a few angles and then decide on the composition.  Nicholson often chose a very simple set up; just one or two main objects as in The Gilt Tankard which hangs in Clarence House or Still life with Glass and Spoon.

For a more contemporary composition try painting just part of the set up. If working from life use a viewfinder to select an interesting arrangement of forms and colour
or take the easy route and crop a photograph.

We’ll discuss starting and developing paintings at the beginning of the practical session. meanwhile you may like to think about the following;

If working in acrylic or gouache, I like to start by start by drawing in the main shapes with a brush, then  lay in the dark and mid tones.  Some may prefer a pencil line to indicate the composition but there is always the risk of becoming too detailed too soon, on the other hand there may be elements such as cutlery handles where some accurate drawing will be useful. Another way to start is to make an under-drawing in charcoal and fix this well before blocking in the main shapes.  With all media, work on the large shapes first making sure the tones are right before depicting the smaller shapes and details.

If painting a glass object, especially against a dark or any ground darker than the highlights try painting the dark backdrop first with thin paint or use a dark coloured paper(dark blue in this case) if working in pastel.
The same applies when the backdrop is far more subtle.
Note the slightly green colour of the glass.
Here again I would start by painting a neutral, lightish ground, pale and cool for the table top and warmer and darker for the wall, or a darker neutral paper for pastel.
When painting transparent vessels, note whether they are empty or contain liquid. Are there differences in how objects placed behind the vessel appear when seen through empty or water filled parts of the vessel? What do you notice about the water in the jar facing the light compared with the water in the jar on the same side as its shadow?

Starting with a background that is near the colour and tone of the reference setup results in very harmonious, peaceful works. You may at some stage like to paint the same picture over a much more vibrant ground. For the lemon and rosemary in a jar, a sienna or even bright red could be chosen.

Acrylic, pastel and gouache are all opaque media or can be used opaquely, so the sharp details of pale reflections and highlights can be added as the final touches.

Have a good look at each photograph observing not only the obvious reflections but also where colour is more subtly reflected onto the different surfaces. You may have already done this but right clicking on each image will give you the option to open a larger version in a separate tab.

Your Paintings;

Goblet with Lemon and Lime
Acrylic by Heather C
Goblet with Lemon and Lime
Acrylic by Heather C
Metal, Glass and Ceramic
Acrylic by Mali
Brass Bookend
Pastel by Mali
Still Life
Acrylic by Ann
Sweet Peas with Jug and Knife
Acrylic by Maricarmen
Golden Tankard after Sir William Nicholson
Coloured Pencil by Anne
Scandinavian Glass with Etched Decoration
painted on blue card by Heather N
Still Life
Acrylic by Heather N
Still Life with Tulips
Acrylic by Sandra
Silver Tankard with Lemon
by Pam
Still Life with Tankard
Acrylic by Virginia
Still Life
Acrylic by Kate
Metal, Glass and Apples
Acrylic by Maryon

Drawing Larger than Life: Week 4 Toned ground or different medium

November 27, 2021

Poppy Seed-head
Dry and decaying: drawn on A2 medium grey paper in charcoal and white conte crayon

This week I ‘m encouraging everyone to use a coloured or grey A2 paper or to pick up a different drawing medium to that used so far. There are plenty to choose from; charcoal, ink, pastel or conte crayon etc. Coloured, grey or even black paper can help you think in different ways about tone; using the paper as a mid tone for example or working on black paper where the artist supplies the mid and pale tones.

The following images were all drawn on white paper using a variety of media.

Weathered Oyster Shell
Graphite and tinted graphite blocks and pastel pencil
Nectarine stone
Brown conte crayon

The subject is the same as last week, any small natural form that has to be greatly enlarged to fill an A2 or even A1 sized paper.

Your Drawings;

On green paper by Sarah
Weathered Oyster Shell
Blue-black Quink, bleach and pastel by Heather
Twig and Leaf
by Ann
Stone by Maryon
Quink, masking fluid and a touch of white pastel
Pebbles by Maryon
Quink, masking fluid and white pastel
By Sandra
by Maricarmen

Drawing Larger than Life Week 3: More Challenging Sculptural Forms

November 18, 2021


This weeks challenge will be to draw a more challenging form. The drawings should show the three dimensional form of your chosen object and also communicate surface structures and patterns with mark making.

Barnacles on a simple sea shell like a limpet as in the photos above and below would be an interesting choice as you can home in on just one barnacle or the whole limpet shell with it’s whole population of barnacles.

Limpet with Barnacles

Another choice might be a small pine cone or a detail of a large one. I have included my crib sheet to help with drawing various natural forms at the end of this post. They are all drawn at a tiny scale and your challenge as last week is to fill a sheet at least A2 in size with your tiny object.

Another idea would be a skeletonised seed head or twig where the structures usually hidden below the surface are revealed.

Lastly, bones can also make very interesting subjects and the series of photos below show the same vertebra from a species of fish with dorsal spines seen from different angles. Information on the fish would be much appreciated! The viewpoint of the object you choose to draw will be very important this week. You may even like to do a series of drawings of the same object over the next two weeks.

This photo and the two below are of a fish vertebra from a species that has a dorsal spine or spines
Strategies for drawing natural forms.
I’m sure you can make up some of your own.
There is one error at least! The axis of a pear is usually pretty straight even if the stalk bends!

Your Drawings;

All on A2 paper

Seed Head 1
Grey pastel ground,white acrylic ink, gel pen and brown pencil
by Sandra
Seed Head 2
Black Quink ink and bleach
by Sandra
Weathered Spiral Shell
Graphite pencil by Jan
Acanthus Seed Head
Graphite stick 9 and 6B pencil by Jan
Acanthus Seed Head
Reference for scale, together with graphite and ink drawings
by Jan
Charcoal and pastel by Ann
Cone of Sequoiadendron giganteum
Charcoal by malcolm
Hips of Rosa rugosa
Charcoal and graphite by Maryon
Seed Head
Charcoal by Heather
Seed Head
by Sarah
by Sarah
Dragon Fruit
Watercolour by Maricarmen
Poppy Seed-head
Charcoal by Virginia

Drawing larger than Life Week 2: Flatter forms and Mark Making

November 10, 2021

Small Ivy leaf 4cm wide

Last week we looked at small but sculptural forms and how to make them look three dimensional. This week we’ll look at flatter or low relief forms with a view to depicting their character by mark making and line.

Look for an axis or a point from which a pattern of lines or curves radiate outwards and indicate this on your paper. Look for, in the case of a leaf as above, the point from which the veins radiate and draw them with regard for the angles between them.

To ensure your drawing is large enough make sure that at its widest and highest points these touch the sides of the imaginary rectangle enclosing the whole form. Best to do as last week and draw this rectangle feintly on your paper. Most natural forms are not completely symmetrical, nor will the point from which, as in the Ivy leaf above, will the point from which the veins radiate be necessarily the lowest point of your drawing even if the stalk is missing.

Leaves of course take many shapes, and the arrangement of veins may be along a central axis as in the holly leaf at the end of this post. Once you have drawn the main shapes of you object and added some tone where needed, you can then come to grips with the fun part, hopefully loads of interesting mark making. As ever practice various marks on some spare paper, on the bare paper and over areas of tone. Sometimes it can give a soft effect to tone the paper by light hatching over marks.

Try making dull marks with a blunt or rounded stick or pencil. Also try making well defined marks with a very sharp pencil or by either sharpening a stick of your medium to give a sharp edge. Keep a small piece of sandpaper handy for this. How much you suggest surface textures and patterns and how much you copy faithfully from the object is very much your choice and will depend on whether you wish to create an impression of the object’s character or go for ultimate realism.

Here are a few more photos of the sort of reference suitable for this week’s challenge.

Small Queen Shell about 3cm wide
Small Oyster shell about 7.5 cm long
Note its weathered surface and how different it appears to its lower surface. You may like to try drawing both surfaces of similar objects.
This is the upper surface of a more weathered oyster shell. A very different vocabulary of marks would be needed for this one.

Your Drawings: All on A2 paper

Charcoal by Sarah
Studies of a Scallop
by Ann
by Ann
by Maricarmen
Small Abalone Shell: about 2 inches long
in carpenters’ pencils and graphite stick
by Maryon
Weathered Shell 1
Graphite, charcoal and sienna pencil by Jan
Weathered Shell 2
Graphite by Jan
by Virginia
Hosta Leaf
Charcoal by Sandra

Drawing Larger than Life: Week 1, Natural Forms Sculptural

November 4, 2021

This is the first of four posts about drawing objects larger than life.  As a former biologist I have always been amazed at the variety of structures and textures to be found in the natural world and had the opportunity to study their fine detail. However it is just as important with small things to start drawing their general shape and form in the same way as you might begin a drawing of a much larger object. I have chosen four examples see photographs below, which would lend themselves to being drawn much larger than life size. This week they are forms that have a very sculptural feel to them and the aim will be to depict their three dimensional form.

It may be helpful to reference the drawings of walnut halves by the sculptor Peter Randall Page link to his website below;

Many of his drawings are over 1 metre in size.

We are so used to scaling down to draw from the landscape or whole human form that it is quite a challenge to draw something tiny  between about 2 and 10 cm on its longest side on a large sheet of paper.  Ideally I would like you to work on an A2 sheet but absolutely no smaller than A3.

Nectarine stone 2cm across

Once an object has been chosen, spend some time examining it from several angles. Think about its overall dimensions and when you have decided on a view to draw mark out a rectangle on the paper that its sides will just touch. This will help you place the object on the page and also indicate the size at which you will be drawing.

You may like to hold the object in your hand but if working at an easel I generally prefer to attach the object to a piece of paper and work with it on or beside my drawing paper. Try to ensure this is at a comfortable place for you to observe and then draw and minimise any change of direction of your gaze every time you look back from your drawing to the object and back again. You should, especially in the early stages of the drawing spend mire time looking than drawing. Masking tape or Blu-tak is usually sufficient to anchor a small object unless it is very heavy like a fossil or stone.

Detail of nectarine stone

Choose drawing media according to the size of the paper support and the kinds of mark you wish to make. For instance you may like to start drawing very broadly with a graphite stick or chunky charcoal for the overall shape and tone and then go in with a smaller form of the medium, graphite pencil or thinner charcoal or charcoal pencil for more detailed work. If you have any you could also experiment with coloured graphite and/or coloured charcoal sticks and pencils. Another good choice would be conte crayon that you can use on its side like a pastel or make strokes with the end. Conte crayon is harder than most pastels but is chalky and can be moved a little on the support. All these media can also be brushed with water but as always, it is advisable to experiment first on a separate paper before using on the final drawing.

Size about 4 cm Physalis fruit plus stalk 3cm

Some forms will have a definite axis as in the Physalis above. In this case the axis of stalk to tip is curved and proves a useful anchor for your drawing. The nectarine also has an axis but it is much more asymmetrical. However all the pits and furrows relate to this axis.

Once you have established the general shape and form of the object you can start to home in on some of its detail. In the nectarine stone this may be the contours of the pits and furrows on its surface. With the Physalis lantern, after establishing the main shape and tones between the main veins, this will probably be indicating the smaller veins with more linear marks and looking at some of the smaller changes in tone within each section.

Detail of Chinese Lantern

With other objects like the shell with barnacles below, try sketching in the main shape and then look for the curved ridges on this little oyster’s weathered shell. Many of these are hidden by the barnacles that populate its surface. These ridges represent growth spurts and centre on the narrower end of the shell where it is covered by the pot shaped barnacles. Where there are few clues to the underlying structure just map out the main areas and work tonally. In the case of the shell below imagine or even draw in lightly the surface the barnacles are sitting on before drawing them. Note the other textures and structures on the surface and decide whether or not they are relevant to the drawing. The amount of detail as in every drawing is the artist’s decision.

Fragile oyster shell with barnacles size about 3.5 cm
Detail of above
Much easier to imagine the conical form of the limpet to which these barnacles are attached.
Size about 5cm across

Your Drawings: All drawings on A2 paper unless caption reads differently

Abutilon megpotamicum
4cm long flower-head with bracts
Charcoal and pastel pencil by Malcolm
Ginger 1
Charcoal and pastel by Sarah
Ginger 2
Coloured crayon and charcoal pencil by Sarah
Ginger 3
Coloured crayon and charcoal pencil by Sarah
by Heather
Nectarine Stone
by Sandra
Star Anise
by Sandra
Banksia Seed Pod
Turned on a lathe to a smooth egg shaped form
Charcoal on A1 paper by Maryon
Shells and Corals
by Ann
Camelia Nuts
Charcoal by Virginia
Graphite by Virginia
Pastel, pastel and conte pencil and charcoal by Virginia
by Maricarmen
by Maricarmen
Shell 1
Charcoal and pastel by Jan
Shell 2
Charcoal and pastel by Jan

Buildings Week 4: Quirky or Eccentric

October 27, 2021

15 Rue d’Escargot, St. Laurent de la Cabrerisse

This week’s challenge is to draw or paint a quirky building. The only definition I can give is that it should be a building you find strange, amusing or eccentric. One example that I could not resist is above. As the road name suggests this little lane does indeed coil round and ends so that you are forced to retrace your steps to exit. There is also a sheer drop on the other side of the house.

Below is a house that at first sight looks pretty conventional till you notice the bricked up windows and the fact that there is a strange attachment to the house next door and a very tall chimney.

Cottage near Juniper Hall: Front

When you see the rear it appears to be a very strange house indeed.

Photo of the same house from the back

I kept wondering what was beyond the mysterious white door beside the steps! Was this part of the original house before the extension and concrete steps were added?

I wonder what you will find for this challenge?

My demonstration will be from one of the images above.

Remember the basic observation of perspective is just as important this week. Also you may have to deal with shapes that are far from square and conventional, so imagining how the structure is in three dimensions may help with your drawing. If you can, choose a building you know, and have seen from several viewpoints.

Your paintings:

The Wall House: unfinished
Gouache and graphite by Maryon
Pastel by Mali
Peillon, Alpes Maritimes
Ink and pastel by Sandra
Dancing House Hotel, Prague
Pastel pencil by Malcolm

Buildings 3: Architecture with a Cultural or Community Interest

October 20, 2021

The Tower, Fountains Abbey
Because the abbey is a ruin parts of the outside and of the interior of this tower are visible at the same time.
The sketch was made on site with non-waterproof ink brushed with water which is a great way to record tone with the minimum of equipment; just a pen, in this case a Rotring Art Pen, a water brush and a sketchbook.

This week we’ll consider a single building, a theatre, church, castle, or a mosque, in use or ruined, that has a particular appeal to you. It is always best to choose a place you know, have walked around, hopefully sketched and photographed as you will have a memory of how it felt to be there not just the nuts and bolts of the structure.

A different view of Fountains Abbey showing its setting and the position of the tower again made with non-waterproof ink brushed with water.

Just a few of the many ways artists have tackled buildings can be seen at the Pinterst Board below

It includes Impressionist paintings, works by John Piper and also by the contemporary artist David Tress and a few others. These artists use both different materials and different approaches to painting architecture. Perhaps try making several sketches from your reference and while you are drawing think about what you want to communicate about the place.

Is it the architectural details that interest you and how much should you include? Are you excited by the textures and patterns or graffiti on the walls. Do you want to suggest the mood or time of day with the lighting and colour? What do you feel about this building; is it joyful and uplifting or sad and lonely. Are you overwhelmed by it’s size etc. How much of its surroundings will you include and/or do you wish to paint only part of the building?

By making these initial sketches, especially if you have references from different viewpoints of the same building, you will also familiarise yourself with all it shapes and angles and become much more aware of how it is constructed. Last week’s session should help with this.

The Evening before Market Day, Settle
Most of this very loose sketch is taken up by the huge and rather gothic building with turrets and bay windows beside the market place. I sketch . I took photos and left to make dinner. My camera will capture the detail but my sketch will supply the quirky grandeur of the building and its surroundings.

If you have time look at the many paintings Monet made of Rouen Cathedral at different times of day. Enjoy looking at more works by John Piper and David Tress and then set about your own building work! Have fun!

Your paintings:

Line and Wash
by Mali
Church of St. Mary Magdalene, Boveney
Mixed media by Sandra
Binham Priory, Norfolk
Ink and watercolour by Maryon
Reading Town Hall
Acrylic by Malcolm
Ink and watercolour by Ann
The Lyons at Bledlow
Ink and Watercolour by Heather
At the Tate
Ink and Watercolour by Ann
Brighton Pavilion
Drawing by Heather

Buildings 2: Viewpoint

October 13, 2021

August am Vertigo
Gouache and watercolour on grey paper

The Importance of Viewpoint

This week we explore looking at buildings with regard to the artists viewpoint.

First look at the Pinterest board at:

Think about the viewpoint from which these works were made. Was the artist looking up at or down on the street. Also look at whether the scene is on level ground or a slope. What happens to the horizontal structures e.g. window ledges and door lintels in relation to the ground when the buildings are on a slope?

Street in Veger de la Frontera
Ink and wash

In drawing a straight street it may be useful to understand how single point perspective works. Where a group of buildings or single buildings are being drawn it is also useful to come to grips with two point perspective. In many situations where buildings are at different angles to each other measurement or estimating the relative sizes of the forms becomes increasingly important. The following diagrams describe how the most basic forms of perspective work.

Compare this photo of a street in Southwold with the left wall of the gallery in the diagram below. The vanishing point is to the right of the image at about the eye height of the two men in the picture. That will also be approximately my eye height.

Single point perspective: If perfectly parallel rows of houses are situated facing a road that is also perfectly straight it would be perfectly feasible to draw construction lines as guides for the drawing which employ the use of single point perspective.

Single point perspective: this is a picture of a gallery. The walls of this gallery are parallel. If lines are extended from the tops and bottoms of the wall they meet at a point. This point is called the vanishing point which lies on the horizon. The eye height when viewing a scene is always the same as the horizon, here drawn in as a dotted line. In this case my eye height happened to coincide with the tops of paintings which have all been hung at the same height as each other on the wall. By establishing the vanishing point you also discover the height of the horizon and it is easy to see how construction lines can be established to help draw in the other details like the tops and bottoms of the upper row of paintings by measurement.

In a perfect street as that described in the text the straight road with a perfect row of houses on either side could be constructed in the same way.

However streets have a tendency to bend and buildings are not always built at Only straight sections lend themselves to this approach. New vanishing points have to be constructed for every bend in the road.

Because buildings are often on streets that bend, and built at different angles to each other, you will often have to resort to measuring the main heights and widths of the large shapes and then home in on how best to draw the smaller details.

Two point perspective: Sometimes where one building dominates the scene an idea of how two point perspective works will give a starting point from where you can estimate and or measure the rest. Below are diagrams that will help you analyze what is happening when a building is seen from below, from a slightly higher elevation and from a point above the building.

Building on a hill: if you are looking up at a house and extend lines from the eaves and bottom on either side these will converge on points either side possibly lower than the house itself. Two point perspective is so called because two vanishing points can be constructed and both lie on the horizon line which is the eye level of the viewer. This means that when you have found the vanishing points you have also discovered the horizon line. Note that in this extreme view none of the top of the roof is visible.
Building on relatively lower or flat ground: Here the vanishing points have been constructed in the same way and because the roof ridge is visible and sloping to the left a line from that also converges on the left vanishing point. Note how viewed from a higher point than in the first diagram the horizon line is also higher.
If similar lines are extended from this Southwold fish hut you can see that both vanishing points lie outside the image. This is where you either resort to more paper or carry on drawing but holding in your minds eye where the vanishing points are. It is something you should check out properly if your drawing looks wrong and make any adjustments early on.
Building seen from a much higher point: the vanishing points are constructed in the same way. Note how from this elevation the horizon line is above the house and more of the roof can be seen. Note that if only a glimpse of one side of the house can be seen i.e. you are almost directly in front of the house one vanishing point will lie a long way outside the picture and you will have to either construct where it is by adding more paper or marking it on your board, or make an informed estimate, mentally imagining where it lies every time you make a mark where you would usually reference the vanishing point.
Seen from even higher both sides of the roof would be visible. The two old buildings are so dilapidated and at different angles to each other that some careful observation is required.

Understanding how perspective works will help you sort out the drawing if something looks out of place, and will supply you with some tools to make necessary adjustments with individual buildings and with some street scenes. More often buildings are not at convenient angles to each other and it will be your skills in observing, making actual or mental measurements (estimations of relative sizes and angles) that will be most useful for drawing clusters of houses. The best way to learn is by sketching wherever possible on site (the best way), or from photographic reference. Continually ask yourself questions about relative heights and widths and angles.

Looking down a street scene in Veger de la Frontera: ask yourself how a knowledge of perspective would help in drawing this scene and what things would be best done by measurement. Try sorting out the main shapes and lines before committing to paint in thumbnail sketches. Also check out the relative heights of trees and cables in relation to the buildings, and especially check out the major areas of tone.
These images are views looking in the other direction, up the same street in Veger de la Frontera. The image on the left is the camera shot as taken. On the right I made an attempt to correct the perspective so that the walls were made vertical instead of leaning inwards as in the image on the left.
Note what is missing on all four sides of the image on the right. I have also lost some of the foreground and the hill has become flattened out. Look also at the foreground shadow. Sketching on site is hugely valuable as decisions about what to include are made and most distortions as in the left hand image are largely eliminated.
If I were drawing this scene from the photo reference I would think very hard how to either use the distortions making the picture slightly surreal or manage them in a way that accommodated all the items I wish to include, and most importantly maintaining the impression of a very steep ascent..

When things get very complicated as when looking across at a sea of dwellings just enjoy the pattern of shapes and colours and have fun with them.

This week: choose to paint a rather straight street of regular houses or a single building or group of buildings in which one building dominates. Think about how single and two point perspective can help in constructing the drawing and/or help you check your preliminary drawing before developing the work further. Alongside this think hard about how important a part measuring dimensions and angles will be.

Your Paintings:

Bauhaus Architecture
Rothschild Avenue Tel Aviv
Ink and Watercolour by Maryon
Clovelly Sunset: stage 1
Acrylic by Malcolm
Clovelly Sunset: stage 2
Acrylic by Malcolm
Offley, Porto
Drawing by Mali
Offley, Porto
Pastel by Mali
Houses in the Bokaap, Cape Town, SA
by Maryon
Ink Drawing
by Sandra
Ink Drawing with added Pastel
by Sandra

Buildings: Week 1 Shop and Bar Fronts

October 7, 2021

 Boucherie Charcuterie at Cadouin
Ink and Watercolour
  This drawing of a shop front includes the whole façade of the building with a suggestion of the trees behind and the vaguest idea of what is on either side of the shop front.  There is a good sense of the light but very little detail of what is in the shop window.  These are all choices you will have to make when considering your composition.

This is the first of four drawing and painting challenges looking at different aspects of drawing and painting buildings in towns and villages. Have a look at the Pinterest Board;

You will find a varied selection of works of bar and shop fronts from painterly works by Maurice Utrillo, Edward Hopper, Stephen Magzig and Brett Amory to the illustrative and very graphic coloured drawings by the contemporary artist Eleanor Crow. Not included are the wonderful drawings of Lucinda Rogers; well worth Googling!

A study of a shop is a well defined subject and seen from front on there is little perspective to worry about so it may thought to be an easy place to start.  However there are still a lot of composition choices to make and of course some perspective issues as with with a corner shop, for instance.  The photo references below have been chosen to illustrate just some of these choices.

Butchers in Biougra, Morocco
Here only the shopfronts and pavement are included. There are many possibilities for composition here;treating the two establishments separately; including or not including the tree; editing the foreground shoulder bottom left and/or the back of the bus on the right etc.

Over all composition: It is very much the artist’s choice what to include of adjacent buildings and also how much of the building above the shop front and how much of the pavement or road outside the store. 

Baskets and Tagines, Tafraoute, Morocco
Blue sky, much sun, great cast shadows and contrasts!

Tone: look at the dark areas. If a shop has an awning, what is below may be very shadowed. Doorways are often in slight alcoves and relatively dark. Really look at the pattern of light and dark across your reference sketch or photo. There may also be significant cast shadows. Contrasts of tone will be much greater on sunny days while cloudy days result in rather flat lighting so communicating this will give your work the atmosphere of the day, as well as depicting the objects.

Selling Household Goods, Tiznit, Morocco
Look at the important part cast shadows play in the composition, especially that of the awning

Some of the most fun to paint are stores where the produce spills out over on to the pavement like a rather complicated still life and/or when the seller can be seen. I think of these shops as halfway to being a market.

Turkey’s Cafe, Harbour Springs
With trash can and street lamp, dull day.
Turkey’s Cafe, Harbour Springs
A different view with tree and news stands. Note the lower tone of the side of the building and the general pattern of light and dark, also the brilliance of the “welcoming lights” claiming our attention.

Whether and which street furniture to include; street lamps, waste bins, newspaper stands, traffic lights and other street signs etc.

People and traffic; decisions on whether to include pedestrians and window shoppers and parked bikes or vehicles.

P J Roche, New Ross
Seems a bit cluttered to me!
Less is more!
Same Place!
Would consider cropping to just below the window sills. Undecided about the car but it does lend credence to this being a busy street and love the pedestrian.

Store signage, lettering, closed and open signs and how much detail to include of the wares on show.

Harry Dooley’s Barbers Shop, New Ross
Plenty of lettering and pattern here! Might use my imagination to complete the shop front on the right to experiment with a rather symmetrical composition.

Deciding on the detail of lettering is another choice but it should be in keeping with the rest of the work. If you are a calligrapher this will come easily to you. If not and you wish to make very careful lettering or even rather free lettering don’t be afraid to get a ruler out just so that you keep your lettering or scribble to the right height. If you are working the rest of the painting quite loosely it is usually best to work such details in the same way. Remember that loose does not mean inaccurate so be aware of the relative sizes of windows, doors,etc. and always remember to check the verticals.

Next week we will look a little at perspective, measuring and estimating by eye. This week should give you a good feel for looking at relative proportions and thinking about composing from your reference.

Your Drawings and Paintings;

Vegetable Store Sri Lanka
by Mali
Jo Malone
by Maryon
Sally Lunn’s, Bath
by Malcolm
Windswept Gallery
Watercolour by Sandra
Cinque Terre, Italy
Ink Drawing by Heather
Cinque Terre, Italy
Ink drawing with watercolour wash by Heather
Pencil Cottage
Ink and watercolour by Ann
The Samovar Tea House
Ink and Watercolour by Maryon

Babies and Young Children : Week 4

September 17, 2021

Fairy at Toby’s 6th Birthday

This week’s challenge is to draw or paint the whole figure of a child, a child with another child, or a parent and child study. If you are fairly new to drawing I would advise drawing a single figure for your painting and to practice making as many small sketches of children whether from life or from photographs as you can, to train your eye to be accustomed to the fact that children’s heads are larger in proportion to their height than adult heads.

Gayle with Posy
Not a whole figure but put into a context.

When painting young children either standing or involved with some activity it is useful to drop a perpendicular line from the highest point on your reference to work out the proportions of the body and the angles that the shoulders, hips and limbs and their relative lengths. Also put a perpendicular on your drawing paper. Some measuring will help you to see and draw taking into account any foreshortening that may occur as when an arm is pointing directly at you! If you prefer to draw completely freehand before painting, check the accuracy of your drawing by dropping a perpendicular from the same point as done for your reference.

As always also look for any clues from negative spaces that will help you get the proportions and lengths right.

With clothed figures, especially full skirts and baggy trousers try to imagine the limbs beneath them and their relation to the spine. Look at whether one shoulder is higher than the other and how this works in relation to the neck.

Toby on a Wobble Board age 6

The little sketch above is of six year old Toby balancing on a wobble board. Note how in the figure on the left both feet are bearing some of his weight and if a line is dropped from his neck it would fall between the two feet. In the figure on the right most of his weight is on his right foot (left in the image) and a line dropped from his neck shows the neck to be positioned directly above the load bearing foot. Try to draw simple line drawings from life or ‘photos of standing children standing with the load shared between their feet, and also where the load is mainly on one foot. Then try to draw some children in the same way when they are actively engaged in a sporting or other activity where they are in motion.

If you have the opportunity and wish to draw a group of children together especially where their forms overlap, treat the group as one whole shape before homing in on the individuals. Work lightly at first so that you can adjust as you look at your subject more critically as the drawing progresses. Lastly make sure you take more time looking than drawing so that all the main shapes are correct before committing yourself to painting.

In the initial stages of painting look very critically at the direction of the light and how this affects the tones that reveal the form of the child. Look also at how light can affect the darkest local colours, for example even a black T-shirt can appear quite pale on the side that is turned toward the light but retain its dark appearance where turned away from the light source.

Lastly look at shadows cast by the child’s form; e.g. a shadow of the head falling on to the child’s neck and shoulder; shadows below the feet which will help anchor the figure to the ground; and in some cases the shadow of the whole figure against the ground or cast on a wall etc.

For examples of drawing and painting children look at the Pinterest Board below:

Your Paintings:

Girls in Hats
Watercolour by Maricarmen
Louis with the New Arrival
Charcoal by Heather
Elliot and Cally
Pastel by Mali
Louis with Ice Lolly
Pencil by Heather
Louis with Ice lolly
Pencil finished with Watercolour washes by Heather
Girls on a Swing
Pencil by Sarah
Rosie and Millie
Watercolour by Sarah
Watercolour by Ann

Babies and Young Children: Week 3

September 8, 2021

Matt with Maggie aged Two

This week the challenge is to draw or paint a young child’s head in profile and/or full face. The features especially the chin and nose begin to show the character they will gradually develop into later. While it is often very difficult to identify and adult from a new baby photo it becomes slightly easier from the age of two or three.

Some wonderful examples can be seen on Jo’s Pinterest board at;

Your drawings and paintings:

Pastel by Mali
Pastel by Mali
Millie and Rosie
Sketch by Sarah
Millie and Rosie
Watercolour by Sarah
New Brother
Watercolour by Maricarmen
Pencil and Watercolour by Heather
Pencil by Ann

Babies and Young Children: Week 2

September 1, 2021

Baby Chris at two or three weeks.
Demonstration from week 1.
The medium is pastel pencil and Pan Pastel. Last week the head was drawn and the main body shapes and clothes indicated. At the next session the rest will be completed. Note how lightly the initial drawing was made to allow for alterations.
I usually start with the head shape then add the other main shapes of body and limbs. Make a note of the general shape of the whole form and any useful negative shapes.
It is often useful to drop a vertical line through the whole form to help you place the head and limbs at the correct angles to each other. For this study a vertical from the widest point of the head (skull not the ears) on each side would give a guide to how the limbs should be placed. These verticals would also aid checking the drawing by measuring the heights of the various main parts..

This week we’ll consider making a painting or drawing a whole baby and suggest your subject is no more than one year old, or perhaps a better guideline would be between newborn and crawling, but not yet walking.

Christopher at nearly one
Christopher heading straight for us!

Babies have a tendency to thrash their limbs about when awake so it is often easier to work from photos but if you have a resident crawler, or baby that is starting to support himself do try and sketch from life, even if all that is achieved is a few hasty lines. This will help your observation and visual memory enormously.  It will also help you to identify errors in more considered drawings at a very early stage.

However the easiest way with babies is to draw them while sleeping!

Crown Prince Toby
Note how you can imagine the baby’s form beneath the blanket.

Do have a look at some of last week’s references again and perhaps practise drawing a few baby feet!

If you you would like to why not try a parent or even a grandparent and baby painting. Mary Cassatt painted many of these and a few examples can be found at:

Your paintings:

Pastel by Mali
Twins by Maricarmen
Millie at Four Months 1
Watercolour by Sarah
Millie at Four Months 2
Watercolour by Sarah
Watercolour by Ann
Chester’s little Hand
Sketch by Ann
Pastel by Heather

Babies and Young Children: Week 1

August 26, 2021

Baby Chris

Over the next four weeks we’ll look at drawing and painting babies and young children, looking at infant heads the first week then whole baby forms and go on to consider toddlers and young children to about four years old for the second two sessions.  With drawing and painting babies and children the structures and tones need the same attention as in other portrait studies but an additional challenge is the soft touch needed to convey the softness and delicacy of children’s skin both with the tones and the colour.

Pastel, pencil, charcoal and watercolour will be used for the demonstrations but you are welcome to work in your preferred medium.

Sleeping Toby Five Days Old
Note Toby had long spindly fingers that soon fleshed out into plump little baby ones!

Drawing baby heads.

The facial features and skulls of babies are not fully developed and their proportions are different from adult heads.  The facial features are smaller in regard to the space they occupy and only the iris of the eye is fully developed giving many babies that cute large eyed look.  The nose being of cartilage grows at a different rate to the bone of most of the skull and at the baby stage the nose is often slightly upturned.  The eyebrows are relatively lower than for an adult and the chin is smaller and tucked in so that it protrudes rather less than the lips.

1.  Find a photograph of a baby’s face that is looking straight toward the camera and work out the proportions of the face from the tip of the chin to the top of the head.  If you can see them also note the position of the top and bottom of the ears.

2. Do the same for a baby’s head seen in profile and also work out how the ears are positioned.

3. Draw and/or paint a baby’s head from your own reference.  Note whether the features lie on a curve if the head is looking up or down and pay special attention to how the proportions of the various elements change.  For example if the head is viewed from slightly below, more of the chin will be seen compared to the forehead and top of the head. 

As with adults the eyes will be about one eye width apart.  Unlike adults the baby nose and chin are shorter.  As with everything when you are making a representative drawing draw what you see not what you believe to be there.

Next week we will consider the whole baby figure.  However babies often play with their hands, sucking thumbs and chewing fingers, so also try to have a look at baby hands for this week’s session.

Some useful references can be found on the following Pinterest boards.

The first board (below) has useful guides to the proportions of infant to adult figures and also to drawing baby and toddler heads, hands and feet.

The second board (below) has a large collection of paintings and drawings of babies and young children. Some of these are simply beautiful studies. Others as in the Leonardo references at the end give information on the foetus before birth, and the drawings by Kathe Kollwitz give an idea of the plight of mothers and young children dispossessed by war and deprivation. Think about the study you wish to make, the character and mood of the child and circumstance. This will lead you to create a very personal work.


First it is good to make as many drawings as you can from life and photographs to give you a good understanding of the structures and enable you to be more credibly creative. The blog posts will mainly feature drawing and colour will be demonstrated during the practical sessions. Do send a drawing or finished painting for review this week, and any work made during the session will be posted for review the following week.

Your finished drawings or paintings:

pastel by Mali
by Sarah
Rosie in a Brighter Mood
Watercolour by Sarah
Archie by Heather
Archie again
by Heather
by Ann
by Ann
Margot and Lila
Watercolour by Maricarmen

Starting Points for Abstraction Week 4: Emotion and Intuition

July 13, 2021

Intuitive drawing and mixed media

Jackson Pollock quote:

« One day, a critic wrote that my works didn’t have a starting point or an end. He wasn’t looking to pay me a compliment but he did”, said the artist.

Intuitive Watercolour

It is no surprise that some of the most famous artists with abstraction as the greater part of their work are either musicians or have both a passion for and knowledge of music.  It is after all the most abstract of the arts and has a huge power to communicate emotion from laughter to despair.

Intuitive Drawing and Watercolour

Colour and music

These include; Rothko, Kandinsky, Klee, Mondrian, Pollock.  Individual works are often described as sorrowful, rhythmic, playful, loud, adjectives you could just as easily use for music.  Several worked in an abstract style with the conscious intent of finding in art and equivalent language to music.  Klee likened the colours in a paint box to musical notes.  Kandinsky heard colours.  When he saw yellow he heard the exuberance of the trumpet. Pollock’s action paintings are full of the rhythm of his movements as he dripped his paint.  Some of Klee’s works appear as symbols on lines almost resembling staves.  Kandinsky used musical terms such as Improvisation, composition, fugue when assigning titles to his works.  Klee’s most abstract grid paintings contained variations on a theme; rows of different hues would be reversed or more subtly changed to create movement.

Balance and Variation 1
Pencil and wax crayon
Thought about this one.

Think of music that makes you feel; sad, happy, relaxed, excited, thoughtful, serene etc.

What colours do you associate with these?


Look at works by Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Mark Rothko, Patrick Heron and William Baziotes

Then use line and/or colour to make a work with a definite emotion in mind.  This may be inspired by a piece of music, person or experience.  It may be an emotion in the sense of sad, happy etc. or the thrill of a roller coaster, exhaustion after running, any experience that you feel inspired to translate into colour and/or line.

The Action painters like Pollock made a start and added each step intuitively. It is for you to choose whether to plan or just to start and see where you pencil or brush leads you. Music is useful as it has a rhythm that can be expressed by line. Try experimenting with music mimicking the rhythm first with a broad brush and then on the same paper with a narrow brush or a rigger. If you are feeling less brave try pencil or crayon.

During the session we will do short exercises exploring how different lines and colours can express very different emotions, followed by developing  one of the resulting drawings as a more considered work.

Have the following ready ;

Inexpensive A4 paper (cartridge or copier paper); a soft pencil or dark coloured pencil; a dark or bright wax crayon; your choice of medium and an appropriate support for developing the painting inspired by your drawing. 

Your paintings:

Morning Mood
Pastel on Watercolour over textured Gesso
by Malcolm
PVA and ink by Sandra
Fields of Gold
by John
In the Deep Sea
by Elizabeth
The Olgas Western Australia
by Elizabeth

Starting Points for Abstraction Week 3: Starting from Observation and Memory

July 6, 2021

Starting an abstract painting from observation or memory is something we looked at in passing when considering Paul Klee’s abstractions of the landscape and towns of Tunisia. Although many of these were based on loose grids they never lost sight of some of the motifs he saw. They were however considerably transformed.

Here are a few ideas you may like to explore this week. Choose just one and work on some of the planning ahead of next week’s session. Each one could constitute a sizeable project. Links to reference artists on my Pinterest boards are given in the text.

1.Simplifying a direct Observation or using a loose Grid

Find a landscape or building reference sketch (preferably) or photograph and work on simplifying the shapes till the identity of the place is considerably reduced. The final work should remind you of the place but should be far from a highly representational picture. The colours and scale of the parts may be changed but do not have to be. Figures or animals inhabiting the landscape should be be simplified in the same way and where there are groups of figures try representing them as one shape. If you didn’t make a grid composition in Week 1 that may be a good thing to try this week.

2. A Closer Look

Abstract shapes can often be found by looking closer; at natural forms where surface patterns emerge in minute detail and at reflections in water. This can be pretty much direct observation but the images can appear totally divorced from the bigger picture and painted as pure pattern and shape. Below are a few photographic details from the landscape.

3. Memory

You could make an abstract painting based on a memory of a place or experience. Memories are often charged with emotion as well as being a visual mental record. The former was hugely important to Kandinsky and we will discuss that further during the last session when we take a brief look at abstract expressionist painters so you may like to leave this one till Week 4.

Kandinsky’s path to abstraction was rooted in love for his native Russia; village life, Moscow and the folk lore. Many of his earlier works show this vividly and the accent on colour and mood was clear. He heard sounds when he saw colour. For Kandinsky yellow was an exuberant trumpet and later in life he designed ballet sets for for Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. It is no surprise that some of his works were also titled in musical terms like Improvisation, Composition Fugue etc but there was also Deluge, …. and other exciting works that stemmed from different experiences.

4. Still Life

William Scott painted abstracted still life subjects reducing them to their bare essentials and playing with perspective. Far simpler than cubist paintings you may like to work in a similar way to Scott or emulate a cubist painting with a simple set up of your own objects

5. Figures and Animals; simplification

If you would prefer to work from figures or animals look at Picasso’s drawings showing a bull in a series of works in which the bull is reduced to very basic shapes.

Kandinsky made some drawings of a dancer reduced to geometric curves and angular lines. The lines and arcs described her movement as she danced. In the absence of a live model similar schematic drawings could be made photographs of ballet dancers, judo fights,or footballers etc.

A group of drawings could be put together so that that the lines overlapped or drawings could be made from groups of footballers or rugby players interacting. It would be easiest to design the work first then transfer it to the support for painting. You may also like to work out which lines would be the thickest and if colour was used to which areas it should be applied and how.

6. Contour and blind contour drawing

If you have any rapid sketches of birds, animals or plant forms from life you can use their shapes and rearrange them to form an interesting pattern that can be blocked in initially with flat colour. This becomes even more interesting where shapes overlap and you could work with transparent colour to show this or by changing the tone or colour of opaque paint.You could also make some blind contour drawings and use them in the same way. These are made by looking at the subject while you are drawing but not looking at your paper.

Rapid sketches of a heron. These could be simplified by tracing their interesting shapes and arranging them to form and abstract composition. Just their outlines traced and perhaps reversed/overlapped could form the basis for an abstract painting the was abstract but recognizably heron.
An example of blind contour drawing
These could be traced and arranged to overlap or cut up as we did this week and used as a starting point for an abstract painting.

Your paintings:

Capturing Carlos
by Virginia
Fly away Ladybird
by Virginia
Sorrento Market Stall
A Memory by Sandra
by Sandra
by Malcolm
Predatory Cycle
The Gannet Spies, Dives, Gulps and Flies
Ink by Malcolm
Lotus Leaf
by John
Walking up the Lane
by Heather
After Kandinsky
by Elizabeth
by Elizabeth

Starting Points for Abstraction: Week 2 Chance, Recycling and Intuition

June 29, 2021

Chance as a starting point
Pieces of paper kitchen towel were torn into larger and smaller shapes, about ten in all and dropped on to a piece of watercolour paper. They were left as they fell, overlapping or not overlapping. Using an old toothbrush acrylic ink was spattered over the whole. A wooden skewer was used to draw out a few lines from the larger spatters and then left to dry completely before removing the pieces of paper towel.

Chance and Recycling

Jean Arp, one of the leading artists of the Dada movement used chance for several of his works. He tore up papers and collaged them where they fell. Some of the works appear too ordered for this to have been the whole story and I suspect he may have put some torn shapes into a hat or equivalent and placed them on the support intuitively as each was drawn out of the hat in a random sequence. He also tore up a woodcut made in 1920 into several pieces and rearranged them on a support in 1954. For Arp this was the artwork. For us it may be or it may be that such methods could be employed as the starting points for developing an abstract painting.

You could certainly do this with a failed painting or with a copy of a suitable good drawing or painting. The pieces could be cut into regular pieces and rotated till you felt a successful arrangement had been achieved or you could shuffle them and place them in a grid in the order that you drew them out. You are in charge of whether to work mainly with chance or mainly with design and whether to develop the work further by adding other media.

The pieces could also of course be dropped on the support and glued where they fell. If a collage was not required it would be easy to make a series of photographs of several dropping events with pieces from the same art work. The resulting photographs might suggest an interesting painting or be art works in their own right separately or collectively. Old greetings cards, magazine pages etc. could be similarly recycled.

This sketch of the viaduct at Eze was cut into 5 strips and then into 20 rectangular pieces. This sketch was chosen as it was full of energetic marks using ink, watercolour, and wax and oil pastel resists, making it rich in texture.
Some of the fragments are below and are interesting in their own right as well as being perhaps the inspiration for further abstract works.
Rearranged strips
A crop of the strip arrangement
Patchwork of rectangles some of which could inspire larger abstract paintings
A few are shown in detail below;

Exploring Negative Shapes

The technique below can be as designed, intuitive or suggested by a natural form as you wish. Anything from geometric shapes to tea cups or branching trees can be fun to investigate. They can remain as flat areas of colour or be blended for some great intertwining effects.

Explore negative shapes; practice by drawing a simple shapes with holes or branches and following the steps above. The example below was drawn with a graphite pencil and shaded with pastel pencils in exactly the same way.
Pencil and pastel pencils
No blending.
Pencil and pastel pencils.
The two coloured shapes were blended including where they crossed the white shape.
Pastel and pastel pencils.
In the finished drawing all shapes were blended leaving some of the white shape unblended. Similar effects could be achieved in acrylic or watercolour using glazing techniques.

The paint left on your palette;

A painting developed from the paint left on my palette. Some thought was given to placing more pale colours in the middle but I could have decided to do this with dark at the centre. In this case once a first layer of acrylic paint covered the paper I just continued making marks with the remaining paint and changing to a smaller brush for the smaller marks. The painting was finished with a collaged piece of white paper for the top white square as I felt it needed extra contrast.

At the end of a painting session it is all too easy just to slide unused paint into a trash can or let it congeal uselessly on the palette. Why not just get a brush or palette knife and spread it almost without thinking on to a sheet of thick card or paper. (you are also allowed the think about it but not with the aim of making it look like a tree or a bird or a flower.) It may do but don’t intend it. It may turn out that it is your first Colour Field work! But my guess is that it may need further development.

Abstract Expressionists are subdivided into two groups of rather different artists

The Action Painters such as Jackson Pollock

and the Colour Field Painters such as Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Barnett Newman.

Although never listed with these American artists perhaps Patrick Heron should be included here for his colourful gouache paintings.

Practical:Our next practical session will involve using chance, recycling and intuition for beginning an abstract painting or drawing.

Choose to work on one or more of the following;

Aim to have a drawing/painting copy or original to cut or tear up, perhaps a large magazine image. It does become more personal to use your own drawing though. You will also need a support for painting on and your usual paints.

1.Old drawing/painting: either cut up and rotate pieces till they make an interesting arrangement or shake and draw randomly from a container laying them in a grid one by one in the same order that they are drawn out. You may collage the pieces and work over them with more paint or drawing or photograph/trace them and use the image as the basis for your painting.

2. Chance; dropping cut or torn paper on to a support, spatter with paint, remove the paper when all is dry and develop the painting intuitively.

3. Recycled paint; Use what is left on your palette by just painting it out on to a piece of card or paper, perhaps with some intent like putting the pale colours in the middle or the brightest colours in the middle or irregular bands of colour, varying the sizes of colour patches ( this happens naturally as more of some colour than others remain). Colour mixing also happens depending on the mixes on the palette and how much they become blended as they are painted out. This should be done prior to the session so that the development process can take place at next week’s session.

Your paintings;

From cut and rearranged pieces of a river painting with added paint
by John
Mixed media Collage
by Virginia
By the Sea
Collage of a cut, rearranged pen and ink drawing with added colour
by Heather
Lily Pond
Collage from rearranged pieces
by Liz
The Duckpond Rearranged
Collage by Sandra
Preparation for Collage
by Malcolm
View from the Studio
by Sandra
Montage from Sandra showing how she developed a more abstract work from her first abstract painting of the view from her studio in which the objects are still easily recognizable. She traced the composition, cut the tracing into quarters which were rotated and reassembled. This was developed as a second painting and then radically redeveloped to make the final painting.

Reorganizing a drawing, painting or photographic image can be a useful starting point to look at the shapes and forms in a more abstract way.
The simplest form of this is to rotate a landscape through 90 degrees.
Chance with circles
by Virginia
Masked shapes, spattered and worked into intuitively
by Liz
Spattered (unfinished)
by Malcolm
by Malcolm
Tulips with Newman Zips
by Liz

From the Riverbank: Week 6 Hurley

June 28, 2021

Late Afternoon, Hurley: Looking toward Harleyford Manor

These are the results from everyone painting or drawing at Hurley in very different weather conditions from the previous week, while I visited all the drawing locations and took a few photos plus made the briefest of sketches. The view of Harleyford Manor was painted in 2000 from location sketches and was about 27 inches wide so a bit large to paint on site!

Your paintings:

Sketchbooks and paintings from Hurley
Lamp Post by the River, Hurley
Watercolour by Sarah
Looking Upstream
Watercolour by Sarah
Kayak Class, Hurley
Watercolour by Elizabeth
Boats at Hurley
Watercolour by Elizabeth
Looking Upstream, Hurley
Watercolour by Jan
Gazebo by the River, Hurley
Watercolour by Virginia
Looking toward Harleyford Manor
Watercolour by John
Watercolour by Liz
Tree at Hurley
Watercolour by Liz