Project 1: Observational drawing (Part 3) – Reflection

This has been a very educational and enjoyable exercise for me. I’ve struggled with still life composition in the past and agonised over the choice and arrangement of the elements to such a  degree that I’ve had no energy or creativity left by the time I got to painting and drawing. This exercise has given me a whole new insight into a more creative way of designing a composition and with it a new enthusiasm for still life.

I don’t have a final drawing but I do have a lot of experiments in composition and I’ve pulled out below those that I think have the most potential. These have moved a long way from my original ready-made still life on a window sill and brought in the blinds, brickwork and a ‘comma’ shape ( the negative space inside the watering can handle) as repeated motifs. I’ve never worked this way before and I’m excited by it, while also recognising that I’ve still a way to go in achieving a creative composition that I feel really happy with. I need to do much more thinking about the space around the elements (which is addressed in the next exercise) and I could do with using the red brick motifs with more subtlety. Nonetheless, I’m pleased with the outcomes of my experiments and feel that the character of the basil and parsley in my observational drawings has been carried through.

Also see:

Part 1 – Initial photography and sketches

Part 2- Experiments with composition


Project 1: Observational drawing (Part 2) – putting the elements together to explore composition

Next I had a lot of fun photographing, printing and cutting up some of my initial drawings to explore the different ways the various elements could be arranged to make a more creative still life.

Also see

Part 1 – Initial photography and sketches

Part 3- Reflection


Project 1: Observational drawing – an unpromising subject / initial drawings

A couple of pots of herbs bought from the supermarket sit on a window sill by our kitchen door. They’ve grown in a straggly out of control fashion. Alongside there is a green plastic watering can. As a still life arrangement it is definitely unpromising but it has elements I can work with:

  • interesting leaves and shapes to the parsley and basil plants
  • some fascinating negative shapes around the watering can
  • the horizontal lines of the window blind behind with light shining through when viewed from the inside
  • some lovely red bricks.

I took a lot of photos from different angles including some close ups and include a few here.

Initial drawings

I couldn’t really begin by drawing the basil and parsley plants in their totality as the arrangement was too messy to find my way in, so I drew elements in a deconstructed way and generally played around with all the component parts using a variety of media.


Also see

Part 2- Experiments with composition

Part 3 – Reflection


Project 1: Observational drawing – getting started / aims

As the first exercise based on a still life I went back to my Level 1 research notes on the subject and pull out here just a couple of points that resonated which may or may not prove to be relevant :

Still life reflects our relationship with the world around us; says something about who we are, how we live, what interests us.

Still life arrangements don’t necessarily have to be real arrangements, the artist can arrange elements in a way that doesn’t actually exist. This is true today and was also true in the 17th Century when the Dutch still life painters used and reused elements from earlier paintings, painted flowers in vase that never would have been in bloom at the same time and assembled on the canvas great overflowing cornucopias of luxurious foodstuffs that could never have held up as a still life, let alone lasted long enough to be painted.

In the 1850s as photography was developing, painters started to realise that their still life images could represent the character of objects in a way that the camera cannot such as the texture of the seed heads in Van Gogh’s sunflowers.

My understanding of the aims of this Project 1: Observational drawing

The aim here is to quickly identify an unpromising ready made still life, draw its elements from observation and then experiment with how they might be presented and arranged in order to make a more interesting and engaging composition that will pull the viewer in. It’s about being playful and exploring how changes in scale, repetition of different motifs and the relationship between the various elements. While the brief suggests observational drawing, it is not asking for a literal translation of the original arrangement of the still life components.

Conversation: The primacy of drawing in an age of unprecedented freedom and experimentation

As prompted by my course guide, I watched video of a 2011 conversation between Iwona Blazwick, Director of the Whitechapel Art Gallery and Deanna Petteridge (DP), artist, writer and curator. They were discussing the Jerwood Drawing Prize.  I found myself listening to the individual words as much as the message. I love words. At least I love words most of the time. I am both attracted to and repelled by the words curators often use to describe their art.

I found Deana Petteridge’s contribution refreshingly straightforward and responded positively when she said: “Curatorial statements kill and shut down a work. Artist statements open them up.” There is a message there for artists… have faith in your own descriptions of your work, use your own words.

My course guide asks: How if at all do you think her (DP’s) understanding of drawing practice differs from your own? When I started my OCA studies my understanding would have been very different but now I accept and welcome the fact that there are no boundaries in terms of how and what to draw. Anything goes including an architect’s meticulously measured drawing of a Corbusier designed apartment or the tracking of a supermarket trolley charting the way people may choices.



Getting started with Drawing 2

I’m excited be back to drawing because of the boundless opportunities it offers.  At the end of the Drawing 1, having got to grips with lots of essential basics, I was just beginning to find my confidence in my own direction and experiments. That was two years’ ago and I’ve learnt a lot since then so it makes sense to build on Drawing 1 by taking my overall OCA  experience and moving forward, rather  than starting where I left off.

I’m outlining here some simple aims and objectives for drawing 2 in the spirit of investigative drawing. I’m aiming to:

  • Be open minded and experimental in
    • the materials I use to draw, and the surfaces I draw on
    • my use of perspective, scale and composition
    • my use of space including negative space and empty space.
  • Keep it simple and let the line speak; be aware that an initial fresh and fluent expression can be more powerful than an over worked, over complicated drawing. This has been a hard lesson for me to learn.
  • Be open minded about subject matter and avoid spending hours agonising over what to draw and losing my energy in the process.
  • Experiment with text in my drawings (my own and other people’s).
  • Keep my interest in news events in mind and explore this whenever I can.
  • Keep a doodle sketchbook (doodle while watching tv etc).
  • Consider how my drawings might inspire my printmaking.
  • Love my sketchbooks.

Visit to the the Henry Moore Foundation for tapestries and much more

Back in the spring I wrote about the Henry Moore Tapestries for my final assignment for Creative Arts Today but was incredibly frustrated because I was not able to get to see them as the Henry Moore Foundation was closed. But it was worth the wait.  I went to see them in August and they took my breath away. They hang in the Aisled Barn Henry Moore had erected for this purpose at his estate at Perry Green, Herfordshire. The lighting is low to protect them but they shine out with a spectral beauty.

The weavers at West Dean College laboured over these tapestries translating every line, mark, wash, splash and smudge from Moore’s drawings.

Ever since I started with OCA, more than four years ago, I have been an admirer of Moore’s drawings, especially his Shelter Drawings made in London’s underground shelters during the Blitz (WW2). They continue to inspire me and,  as I’m just starting on Drawing 2, it’s good to remind myself of his technique.

He used combinations of pencil, pen, charcoal, pastel, chalk, felt pen, wax crayon, chinagraph, gouache and watercolour wash. He would run his drawings under a tap to disperse charcoal dust and deliberately blot watercolour to create blurring.

By drawing vertically down the form and horizontally across, Moore was able to represent the curves and shapes of the body. He called this sectional drawing. He also used a subtle luminosity created with white wax crayon to dramatically enhance his forms. It is the translation of this that gives the tapestries their spectral beauty.

The Henry Moore Foundation is a very special place. The estate was Moore’s home and you can wander through the extensive grounds and enjoy his statues in a beautiful and uplifting setting. His studios are open to view and full of the found objects that inspired him including large shapely flints that echo the  forms of his sculptures.

Starting with experimental work from his student days in Yorkshire and London, Becoming Henry Moore is a world class exhibition that presents Moore’s work from 1914 to the 1930s, shown alongside that of artists who inspired him or worked alongside him. These include British contemporaries such as Barbara Hepworth and Leon Underwood as well earlier masters including Picasso and Rodin.

There is lots to see so it’s well worth making a day of it. Closed during winter and early spring as well as on Monday’s and Tuesdays. Phone first if you want to see the tapestries as the barn is sometimes used for weddings. Find out more at:

If you’re interested, here’s my essay about the tapestries (pdf file)