Reflections on completing POP1

At the start of Practice of Painting 1 with  nearly no experience of acrylics or oils I had everything to gain.

I chose to focus on acrylics and save oils for another time as I knew I had a lot to learn and didn’t want to spread myself too thinly. It may have been to my benefit that I didn’t have any preconceived notions of the right way to paint with acrylics. All the techniques and colour theories were new to me so this module has been continuous learning.

When I look back at Assignment 1, I can see  very little colour mixing, no layering or spontaneity of brush stroke or line. It has by no means been easy but I’ve come a long way since then and grown in confidence and ability.

heavy-weight-low-resI have learnt technique (particularly layering and working with thick and transparent paint) and finally stopped believing that I need to include fiddly detail to create a credible painting. Understanding that being overly literal in interpretation, overworking and focusing on unnecessary detail can kill a painting dead has been an important lesson. Now I am painting with more spontaneity and using larger brushes much of the time. While I didn’t use them much for Assignment 5, I have  become a  fan of the palette knife and credit card as painting tools and learnt to exploit the way they break up the paint and line.

iranian-hunger-strikers final-low resI wasn’t enamoured by heavy impasto and adding items to paint (sand, bits of wood etc) but resolve to keep an open mind. On the other hand I loved dribbling and splashing paint and layering and sanding back to reveal colour and detail below. I’ve discovered that enamel paint can be  used to good effect as a durable underpainting to reveal later as a kind of palimpsest.

My choices of subject matter and composition have improved. I’m filling the picture plane and creating better backgrounds. With figure painting in particular I believe I’m starting to tell stories and convey mood and atmosphere. This is important to me as it is bound up with my personal motivation to paint. For me a painting needs some kind of emotional engagement and that is perhaps why still life doesn’t excite me so much (maybe I need to explore symbolism more deeply?). The facial expressions and gestures in theatre (and news stories) are of particular interest to me… they are challenging too because they are not what I usually see in the people around me or in life drawing classes.

tonal-brie-low-resI’ve discovered that my main passions lie with landscape and figure painting. I’ve made progress with both but still need to keep an eye on the proportions of my figures in particular. I wasn’t confident enough to tackle figures for the final assignment of Drawing 1, so it is a measure of progress that I overcame this barrier.


character-othello-low-resInteraction with OCA and others
I have appreciated my tutor Olivia Irvine’s feedback which has been to the point and highly relevant. She has given me many broad and specific pointers that have encouraged me to push myself further and be more experimental, less literal in my interpretation. I am grateful for this constructive criticism which is difficult to get elsewhere, even from friends who are artists as they are often too diplomatic!

I’ve enjoyed regular outings with a small group of local friends with similar interests in which we draw and / or visit galleries. I’ve also got to know some of the members of the East Anglia Extreme group of OCA students. The OCA weekly bulletins have provided me with useful insights to other students’ work as does the occasional bit of chit chat on the forums.

When I first started keeping sketchbooks I thought a lot about what other people might think if they flicked through them… would they impress?  My approach is different now and I am clear that my sketchbooks are a workplace where I to record and experiment with ideas and where I can return for inspiration. They are not about nice neat finished pictures and of course not every idea is going to work out. I don’t very often now paint a picture that I feel is a complete write-off – that’s because my ideas are being tested in my sketchbook and the dud concepts get weeded out. This helps me to make better use of my painting time and has been invaluable learning.

final-final-smallResearch and visits
Sometimes the research projects feel hard work but they provide essential knowledge. Pinterest has been brilliant for creating easy access to my painting discoveries when I need ideas and inspiration.

I’ve visited a lot of galleries both national and local, more than is represented in my blog as time has been short for writing things up, particularly in this last quarter when we moved house.

Snowdon - Painting from a photograph exercise

Snowdon – Painting from a photograph exercise

Art, ideas and inspiration are all around (not just in galleries) and my eyes have been opened to this. My growing knowledge of artists and art movements is enabling me to gain more from what I see. I surprised my husband recently by identifying an Elizabeth Fink statue from a  distance in Bury St Edmunds. And a recent visit to the Ashmoleon in Oxford was a much more rewarding experience  than it would have been two years ago. I found myself looking closely at brushstrokes, thinking about the contribution of the paintings to art history and the evolution of style and technique instead of rushing through to get to the café for tea and cake as soon as possible!

drawinginpaint-finalPersonal style
My personal style is slowly beginning to emerge… it lies perhaps  in an expressive use of line, bold brush or palette knife strokes, layers and an imaginative use of colour. But it’s early days still and best, I feel, to remain as open minded as possible. In any case, even highly successful and experienced artists continue to develop their style and explore new approaches.


asparagus2-cropWhat  next?
Our move to Colchester is giving me more readily accessible art opportunities than the rural village in Suffolk we lived in for 14 years, so the pain of moving is more than worth the gain in terms of my studies. This autumn I will be signing up for some painting classes with the Colchester Institute and life drawing at Gainsborough’s House in Sudbury.

I’m not sure where next to go with OCA. It’s an ongoing struggle combining work and studies and it feels like the right time to take a few months break to catch up, renew some of my work contacts and consider what next.

Going forward I know I will want to focus on drawing and painting. If I continue with the creative arts degree pathway the options of textiles, photography, illustration, graphic art etc don’ really appeal to me. That leaves printmaking. I did a couple of terms of printmaking evening classes some years back and while I enjoyed them I didn’t feel the process suited me. I have two friends who are successful printmakers and a large part of the joy for them is the technical precision that their art requires. That unfortunately is the bit that doesn’t thrill me. Given that an OCA module takes about a year and, for me, leaves very little time to explore other avenues, I’m reluctant to commit to this.

A herd of china cows (A3), acrylic

That has left me thinking that I might switch to the Fine Art degree. To do this I would need to complete the Level 1 Visual Studies module*. I believe I would enjoy and gain a lot from the academic research and it would underpin my own practice. I’ll need to consult with OCA on this. In the  meantime, POP1 got my imagination going and there are many projects that I’d like to return to particularly news (migration and displaced communities), Shakespeare and theatre, and mountains).

It’s a good feeling to have completed two modules (Drawing 1 and POP1) but I’m conscious that my OCA journey has still only just begun.

  • Update 27 June 2016: Having done further research I decided that to stay with the Creative Arts pathway and study Visual Arts Today which is a relatively new module that was not available when I first started out. 

2 thoughts on “Reflections on completing POP1

  1. I enjoyed reading your reflections, Sara. It has given me a chance also to reflect on my own progress now I’ve started POP1, Part 3, and I see I share many of your sentiments. Good luck with your future learning.

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