Project 2 Experiments with mark-making – Part 2 | Figures & oyster shell

Today I continued working with painting / drawing tools attached to long bamboo canes. I attached some more tools to the canes including a bundle of bubble wrap, a bamboo stick and some different colours of pastel.

Continuing my love affair with oyster shells. This is the same one as I used for the drawing blind project. I held the shell in my hand and then drew large, scaled up all the way to A1.  It is a completely different drawing experience. Again I could not be too precious with the line. I mixed brush and bamboo pen and ink with scribbled pastel in various colours and a bit of subtle background dabbed on with the bubble wrap tool. This is possibly abetter drawing of an oyster than the one I submitted for assignment 2. It feels more organic and formed by nature.

I was very tired after completing these drawings today. It is as if my energy moved out of me and on to the paper. Maybe it is also because this is turning out to be a real breakthrough exercise for me. It is freeing me up and helping me to make and appreciate a much wider range of marks.

Also see

Experiments with mark-making Part 1 | Chairs and jug


Project 2 Experiments with mark-making – Part 1 Chairs & Jug

The aim of this project is to focus attention on your own physicality and open new ways of moving as you draw / paint. The brief involves attaching drawing tools to bamboo canes and then drawing on a large piece of paper on the floor. These elongated tools will magnify every movement.

Session 1


Some of my tools – marker pen, pastel and sponge attached to bamboo canes

I dug four bamboo canes and attached

  • a brush
  • a blue marker pen
  • a light brown pastel crayon – and a white at the other end
  • a small piece of kitchen sponge
  • I attached nothing to one bamboo cane so I could draw from it directly

Additional materials included black Indian ink, blue and grey Brusho inks and A1 paper.


Chairs – A1 marker pen, pastel, ink

Drawing 1 – chairs

I started drawing with the bamboo cane dipped in Indian ink. I found control difficult. The bamboo scraped over the paper and didn’t flow easily. You can still see the original first drawing. Then I switched to blue marker pen and this flowed much more easily across the paper without much resistance (as did the brush and ink). I started to relax and get into my drawing. The tools lent themselves to using lots of quick, straight rather than curving lines. I didn’t initially think my drawing would be recognisable as chairs but it came together and it has a kind of scribbled vitality.

This exercise reminds me that the brain only needs a few visual clues to interpret an image… we don’t necessarily need to describe all the detail.

Drawing 2 jug and twigs


Twigs in a jug – A1 cropped – marker pen, pastel, ink

This is a crude arrangement of sticks that I had gathered as drawing tools so its not the most aesthetic still life. I outlined jug and twigs with the blue marker and then used the other materials to soften the sharp marks. I am pleased with the outcome because the drawing style is so very different to my usual. It crackles


Work in progress with dog. It has been suggested he would make a good drawing machine!

with an energy that often absent from my drawing.

To my surprise marker pen, pastel and Indian ink all seem to have come together. I particularly enjoyed doing long sweeps with the pastel and building up the white/light on the jug. If working at a smaller scale I probably would have blended the pastel but the visible lines create an interesting effect.

The sponge was useful for dabbing on areas of colour; it created a ‘variegated’ effect with different depths of tone and plenty of white showing through.

I was energised by this way of working. After I had warmed up it felt natural. I’m keen to do more. Try a figure maybe? And an oyster shell or two?

What difference does it make if the paper is attached to an easel or wall rather than flat on the floor?


Bone – ink drawn with a long stick, bubble wrap and ribbed roller. A large drawing -100 x 70cm

I can answer this self-imposed question because of the workshop I did at Firstsite a short while ago. We took a  tiny object (in my case a fragment of bone) and scaled it up to an AO drawing using similar, long adapted tools. I remember clearly that curved, sweeping lines were much easier; they did not seem to have the resistance that there is when working on the floor. There’s definitely a difference in the type of marks achieved, the floor marks being more ‘staccato’.





Also see Part 2 Oysters and figures


Project 1 Drawing blind

I approached this exercise with keen anticipation. I often draw while looking at an object rather than at pen and paper but I have never before  relied solely on touch to interpret the object. I chose two items:

(1) A small wooden bird that sits on our kitchen window sill

(2) Some lovely Mersea oyster shells that have fused together

Wooden bird

Fused oyster shells

These Mersea Island oyster shells are such a joy to draw. Using touch alone I can only pick up the bolder contours. There is much more information visually but the more simplified marks and shapes resulting from the touch drawing are quite compelling. The experience of drawing these through touch was a like a deep meditation. It was an enriching experience and I am surprised at the quality of the marks that resulted and their relationship to the subject. They are loose, slightly abstracted lines imbued with the character of the shell.



How far were you recording the sensation and the act of touching, and how far were you trying to use touch as a replacement for sight.

I felt that I was definitely guided by touch and, once I had warmed up, I had a conscious sense of my brain working differently which I found exhilarating. I don’t feel that I completely lost my visual memory of the objects, so touch and memory of vision were working together. I was enthralled by this exercise. I turned the objects as I drew them in order to follow the contour lines and this turned on its head the sense of viewpoint. In the oyster shells in particular several different viewpoints or should I call the touch points are captured in one drawing.

When I look at the objects I pick up much more information including, tonal variation and light and shade, than when I feel them but this is not a negative because the lines of the touch drawings seem to communicate the essence of the objects with a quiet simplicity.

This was a terrific exercise; an awakening to how the sense of touch can contribute to drawing. I have not done this before so it was a very pure and empowering learning experience.

It is worth considering doing this kind of of drawing when approaching any new project. It is a definitely a different way of ‘seeing’ and one that the camera certainly cannot capture.


Part 3 Physicality and gesture – getting started

In brief, my understanding of the aim of Part 3 is that we should try to use the whole body in drawing and that we should embrace bodily gesture and gesture physicality. Rather than drawing simply from the wrist, we should try to draw from the elbow, shoulder or whole body and use all our senses to interpret a subject in order to build up new pathways between body and brain.

As a starting point I looked at the work of the four artists mentioned in the course book introduction to Part 3. This was helpful because I can now see clearly how these works of abstract expressionism and Tachism (action painting) employ materials and mark making in a very physical and gestural way. The artists are not attempting to express their subjects through realism, they are using much more intuitive, spontaneous and emotional mark making techniques.

I put together a Pinterest board for each of the artists so that I can easily go back and refer to their work for inspiration as I progress through this part of the course.

Cy Twombly

Antoni Tàpies

Willem de Kooning

Franz Kline

Back in April 2016 when I was doing POP 1 I wrote a brief piece about Abstract expressionism and Tachism (action painting) and it has been useful to reread this and revisit the Pinterest board I put together then  which features the artists above and also Mark Rothko, Hans Hoffman and others.

Around the same time I also wrote a brief piece on Jackson Pollock and it was useful to reread this.

Now ready to go…



Bronze Age c3500 BC – AD2018

bronze-ageThere is an unusual exhibition on at Firstsite in Colchester. It’s a fictional Bronze Age presentation from a forgotten museum, complete with display cases and a pair of antique doors into the space.  It really does look and feel like an old museum that got left behind somewhere in the 19th Century. But it is clever and intriguing at the same time as it puts contemporary bronze works of art together with with historical bronze artefacts. And it mischieviously adds some bronze items purchased from eBay into the mix.


Endnote II by Will Thompson

It aroused my curiosity because it is not immediately obvious which is recent and which is ancient and I found myself studying each of the objects closely. I’ve never seen anything quite like it before. It’s a unique and compelling way to display art; both interesting and entertaining.


Possibly by Bharti Kher

It is described in the accompanying guide as a  “satirical museological” presentation  for the 2017 Frieze Art Fair. It was originally conceived and realised by Neil Wenman (Director of the international gallery Hauser & Wirth) in collaboration with Mary Beard (Professor of Classics at


Matthew Day Jackson, Dymaxion Figure with Head of a Woman 2014

Cambridge University).

Alongside pieces loaned from museums round the UK, including Colchester and Ipswich, and the eBay items, there are works by Phylida Barlow, Louise Bourgeois, Martin Creed, Giacometti, Jenny Holzer, Henry Moore and more.

The show runs until 28 October 2018. More information at



Parallel project and Critical review – update April 2018



I’ve done a lot of critical thinking about my chosen theme – the art of the Irish Famine  – because I want to be sure I’ve chosen the right subject before becoming too deeply committed. I’m sticking with my original choice but I’ve taken my tutor’s comments on board about the need to narrow the topic down as 2000 words for the critical review is limiting. Also in response to my tutor’s advice I have decided not to focus my parallel project on the most emotive aspects such as coffin ships, skeletal bodies etc but to look for more subtle ways to explore the subject.

I have now pulled together good materials, which I now need to immerse myself in, including:


Atlas of the Great Irish Famine looks at all aspects and how the famine affected different areas of Ireland. As well as the history and lots of facts and figures it also contains  visual material including maps, notices, newspaper clippings, parish and census records and paintings.

The illustrated catalogue for Coming Home: Art of the Great Hunger, an exhibition currently in Dublin and touring Ireland during the course of the year. This is world’s biggest collection of famine art and is on loan to Ireland for the first time from The Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut.

I have unfortunately had to postpone the trip to Ireland I had planned for May when I would have gone to see this exhibition but I’m still hoping to get there.

Articles and other materials

  • Articles from the UCA online library
  • Articles from around the internet. There has been a flurry of activity on the topic since the opening of the exhibition.
  • Educational materials produced to support the exhibition

I have amassed some very good quality material and now need to do a lot of reading.


Working title:  The conflicting need to remember and the desperate need to forget:  has art told the full story of the Irish famine?

I’m very aware that this may be too broad and as I read and research I will be looking at ways to narrow my focus.  I could do this by comparing and contrasting  a few 19th Century and 20/21stst Century pieces of work : the early work was sanitised while the contemporary work is often emotive, hard-hitting and political. Or I could discuss why the biggest collection of famine art came together in the USA and not Ireland. I’m fairly sure there is a route through.

The big issue is that the famine should never have happened as there was plenty of food but it was sold by greedy landowners to feed the British. And when the potato crop failed due to blight, the tenant farmers  got little or no help from the landowners or the British.

The reason the exhibition refers to the Great Hunger  and not the Great Famine is that there wasn’t a famine as food was abundant but the tenant farmers were not allowed a share of the crops they raised and their families were left to starve when the potato crop for their personal consumption failed.


I’m not thinking coffin ships and skeletal bodies. Instead I am leaning towards the following ideas to explore the scars left on the landscape, traces and memories of the famine.

  • Immigration – in the sense of the pull of the tides and the waves. Developing my seaweed drawings. Looking further at the wave patterns of oyster shells (which were an important foodstuff during the time of the famine) and develop the ideas that came out of Assignment 2.
  • Ghosts of people who died in simple overlapping tracery – see my sketchbook work on figures. Maybe I could draw them with mud to represent their burials.
  • The ruins of now uninhabited villages. A development along the lines of the abandoned church in Project 1.
  • The ridges that remain in the landscape where the potatoes were once grown.
  • Simple memorials, names scratched in stone, figures I can see in stone (as per my A3 sketchbook)
  • Experiment with collage of notices, parish records, maps etc.
  • Some text .. perhaps a newspaper headline or quote. Possibly using the enamel and acrylic technique so I could scratch away to reveal words underneath, like a palimpsest.

That seems to be plenty to be getting on with! I’m conscious that I really need to make progress during Part 3.

My experience of Drawing 2 / Assignment 2


Mersea Island Oysters – mud, ink, pastel – 46 x 42 cm

At the outset I thought I would use trees as my subject; either snow covered or those that have been pruned hard and pollarded during the winter and now have starkly changed outlines. I gathered a whole lot of twigs and bark.

My standby idea was the Mersea Island shoreline, a place we have grown to love since we moved to Essex and where we walk almost every week. As I was  gathering oysters, cockle and mussel shells, seaweed, sand, mud and grasses it struck me that I had a much wider range of different materials with which to experiment.  I’d also read how oysters had been an important foodstuff during the time of the Irish famine and saved many people from starvation so this clinched the decision for me.


Mersea Island Mud drawn with mud, ink and pastel (A2)

For this assignment I did almost all my prep work outside of my sketchbook so that I could work at a larger scale. After some investigation I settled on two subjects to develop as individual drawings: Mersea Mud and Mersea Island Oysters. Initially I thought I might do something reflecting the layers of the beach:  grasses, mud, sand, shells, sea. I’m glad I didn’t. The end of result would have risked looking like an educational poster.

Mersea mud has been shaped by the pull of the tides into mini cliffs with crevasses and caves and  was enthralling both as a material and as a subject. I will use it again, it’s a very effective partner to the inks I have been using.

Oyster shells are fascinating  and I will definitely return to them as they have enormous potential as a subject. While every oyster shell is distinctly different in colour and shape, they are all made up of fine layers and these are exposed as  delicate, wave-like patterns that resemble the sea. This creates another connection to my Irish famine parallel project as many people left Ireland by ship and I have been thinking about immigration and the pull of the tides.


Water print 1: A2 water print with marbling oils. This has an uncanny resemblance to my second assignment piece: Mersea Island Mud (drawn with mud, ink and pastel)

After seeing petrol like patterns seeping out of the mud because of its oil content, I thought I’d have a go at creating some water prints as backgrounds. I expected some conventional marbling patterns and I got those. I also got some big, bold results that surprised me. I was even more surprised when I realised that one of them resembled the mud cliffs I had painted for this assignment.  It felt like a Cornelia Parker moment and I decided to include the A2 water print as a third assignment piece.

It  may have been wiser to submit one more fully developed assignment piece but I’ve come away from the process with a lot of learning from experimentation and further ideas I can develop and that feels valuable. I have reflected on what works what doesn’t work so well in my review of the final pieces on my blog.

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