Project 1: Space, depth, volume

My understanding of this project is that it is about correcting an over reliance on outlines (which have a tendency to flatten an object). The aim is to depict space, depth and volume (the three dimensional nature of objects) by drawing the light, shadow and middle tones  we observe and avoiding the use of hard outlines.

My immediate response, which was confirmed when I started drawing, was that I was going to find this difficult because I tend to do a lot of blind contour drawing with a strong focus on outlines.

I had a  faltering start drawing a dark resin ornament ornament of a reclining hare (see above). I felt quite lost, as though learning a whole new language of drawing. But there were good lessons to be gained:

  • I needed a subject with much more light / reflected light
  • The smooth paper of my A3 sketchbook wasn’t suitable for charcoal; I needed some texture
  • I would do better to start with a background of charcoal that was mid tone (not very dark)
  • I needed to remind myself about charcoal techniques. It’s never been a medium I’ve felt comfortable with, probably because I’ve not used it enough. I headed to You Tube and watched a couple of short tutorials. This left me better prepared and I realised I could start with a background that picked up the texture of the paper or I could take a tissue and smooth it over.
  • I had a light bulb moment when I realised that I could lightly draw in some outlines in order to create my composition because these lines could later be blended in.

I took inspiration from charcoal drawings by Frances Martin

Before starting again I took a look at the work of a charcoal artist whose work I had seen exhibited in Norfolk last summer, Frances Martin. Memories of her largescale works stayed with me and studying some of her work has helped me realise that I should take time and invest  effort into learning to use charcoal  because so much can be achieved with this medium. Her work maximises the potential of light and shade to create a sense of form… and drama.

While the use different mediums, I also looked at the work of painter John Virtue and printmaker Norman Ackroyd. They both tend to use a monochrome palette and the way they exploit light and shade is striking. I put together a Pinterest page for John Virtue’s work here. I got hooked on Ackroyd’s prints after seeing an exhibition of his work in Manningtree last summer.

Taking a cue from our workbook, I also  looked at the work (cathedral buildings mostly) of Dennis Creffield and created a Pinterest board. I found myself reacting to the energy in these drawings – his structures seem almost to vibrate with life, as when an electric current runs through something.

So I started again, armed with willow charcoal, putty rubber, some blending sticks,  tissues and cartridge paper with a bit of a surface. I’ve ordered some compressed charcoal to try out… hope it arrives soon.

Stairwell in the derelict church

I looked through some of my photos and picked out a view through a doorway of a derelict stairwell at the Knights’ Templar Church on the Hook Peninsula in Ireland. In many ways it was a good choice because there was plenty of light and shade and an interesting viewpoint that makes me want to draw. But it was also a difficult choice because the view is enigmatic o(that’s what caught my attention). It is  possibly not immediately obvious what it is which makes judging shape and form more difficult…

I started with a midtone background which I wiped to smooth with a tissue and worked and reworked, wiped out parts of my work accidentally with my sleeves, and learnt that you can easily overwork charcoal on paper which makes getting back to the white increasingly difficult.



I did two A3 drawings. The first portrait drawing was of the whole view with the surrounding entrance way. This looks a bit pale to me… when my compressed charcoal arrives I may add some more dark tones.

The second landscape view was zoomed  in on the tumbledown steps. In this drawing I was experimenting with space and scale. I was aiming for simpler areas of wall to contrast with the complexity of the stone steps. This is the better drawing. I was beginning to get the hang of using the charcoal and the drawing technique at this point. There is something strangely visceral about this image. I would have liked to do a third further zoomed in drawing of the same subject but my photo was not sufficiently high resolution enough for me to pick out detail. Reminder to self to take close-ups.This is definitely verging on the abstract now and not easy to identify as a stairwell. This in turn makes the forms quite difficult to judge although I do think there is a sense of space, depth and volume.

This has been an interesting exercise. I can see that the impact of the light would have been destroyed by the use of outlines. When we see an object in bright light, the edges are indistinct, sometimes there is no edge.

I would like to try introducing some sweeping energy into a charcoal drawing, so I will come back to this after doing the next research task. To be continued…


Drawing 2 / Assignment 1: Personal reflection on Formative Feedback from my tutor

It’s good to have my tutor’s  feedback. It’s helping me to understand much more clearly what is required at Level 2, which is very different to Level 1, and gives me some welcome advice, pointers and ideas. There is also some very encouraging feedback and some fair constructive criticism.

I take it all on board and the following notes record key things to address as I go forward and a few thoughts on how I can adapt my practice / working methods.

  1. Be more rigorous and experimental in my material explorations across all exercises. Draw more, be more enquiring, use different materials and pull out some work on a larger scale, three dimensional even. Work quickly; don’t overwork. Explore detail and abstraction. No need to be a slave to representation.

To free up some more drawing time, I’ve switched from my weekly printmaking class (which requires a lot of between classes preparation) to life drawing which has a better fit with my studies. I’m also keeping an eye on one off workshops and have signed up for one at Firstsite  (drawing artefacts from the local museum) and another at the CO3 gallery (Painting without Brushes).

  1. Keep space and scale in mind; be more ambitious and keep experimenting.
  2. Develop a sense of context in which to house my work; make connections; develop interests and themes e.g. organic forms, memory / traces. Think more carefully about subjects. Take advantage of the fact that at Level 2 we choose our own subjects and we can return to the themes that motivate and excite us.
  3. Don’t forget what I’ve learnt or got excited by on the way; go back to past work or other artists work and influences e.g
  • drawing with wet ink and a hairdryer
  • work in interesting/experimental ways with background elements
  • further explore the optical enquiry I started with Project 1 (rotate images, add new etc),
  • think about how I might use other artists’ techniques in my own work e.g Becky Brewis’s Pouch of Douglas, sliced up images that reveal others below).
  • explore the Zen gardens that have so influenced Matisse and Blackadder.
  • return to the changing light on the mountain
  • experiment in drawing with the way Grayson Perry breaks up his tapestries into areas of light and shade.
  1. Try to develop my own voice in terms of my response to artists’ work as well as my understanding of their objectives, interests and working methods.
  2. Reflect in my sketch book or by annotating drawings as I go to capture immediate thoughts and feelings that can otherwise disappear fast.
  3. Project 2 Using space. I thought about going back to have another go but instead I decided to carry the learning goals that were behind this project into my Part 2 work, i.e. experiment with composition / arrangement of objects in order to use all the space available, including the edges and explore the juxtaposition of colours and detail.
  4. Explore the course reading list; check out the Whitechapel Gallery online bookshop and the Drawing Room Library – I could combine this with seeing Everything we do is music (30 November 2017 – 04 March 2018) which explores how Indian classical music has inspired modern and contemporary artists.
  5. Parallel project

Remain open minded continue to read and explore. Bear in mind that I will need to narrowly focus my ideas in order to give an indepth analysis. Avoid the subject matter becoming  too wide and an analysis that skims at surface level only.

I had some interesting online conversations in the forum with other Drawing 2 students who were very helpful in sharing their experiences. They all said that  their projects evolved in ways they could not have predicted at the outset. There’s a message here about being open minded and adapting and evolving as knowledge and insight grows.



A House for Essex / Grayson Perry – talk, exhibition and visit

Grayson Perry’s witty and revealing talk at Colchester Town Hall in December 2017 was the highlight of my year in art… and not just because he turned up in a short frock, wig and enormous glasses, in his words “a new look channeling Raine Spencer and Marjorie Proops”. He explained that it was a very practical outfit (designed by him) which he’d  tested the day before while on his bicycle riding from the House of Commons to home.

Grayson Perry’s House for Essex looks like a surreal golden temple glistening in the sun (if you are lucky enough to get any) in its setting by the River Stour at Wrabness in Essex. Take the train to or park at the station at Wrabness and walk down Black Boy Lane.

Perry talked us through the challenging process of working with architects to design A House for Essex, which now stands in all its golden glory at Wrabness, overlooking the River Stour. He designed both a house to live in (rented out to holiday makers) and a shrine in memory of a fictional character called Julie Cope. Born in 1953 during the great flood on Canvey Island Julie survived a chaotic childhood and married young. She had two children with her unfaithful husband Dave. After they separated her life began to change as she followed an upwardly mobile path, via Basildon, Maldon and Colchester, to become a mature student and a successful social worker. She found true love, an open mind and new horizons with her second husband Rob. But tragedy struck when Julie was killed in an unfortunate accident on Colchester High Street having been hit by a curry delivery motor scooter. Looking back at their holiday photos, Rob knew what he should do… build a Taj Mahal upon the Stour.

Perry, who grew up in Essex, created in Julie a fictional every woman whose ordinary life has struck a chord with many people, including the group of Julie’s from Essex that Perry took on a journey through the locations that feature in Julie’s life.

Perry has a strong interest in ancestor houses and the rituals that surround death in tribal communities, including the Taraja people of Sulawesi, and had already translated this interest into a ceramic model of a temple when he was approached by Living Architecture (founded by Alain de Botton).  His immediate reaction was: “I’d quite like to build a church.” Very early in the process he realised that his building needed a story and so Julie Cope was born.

Working with FAT Architecture Perry designed all aspects of the exterior and interior of this highly decorative house which reminds me of Gaudi’s works in Barcelona. The exterior is clad in green ceramic tiles (taking inspiration from the exterior of the traditional British pub) with a big bosomed Julie mother-figure. Inside four large tapestries, a series of woodcuts, Perry’s trademark pots and a ceramic figurehead adorn Julie’s shrine. The motor scooter that killed her is suspended from the ceiling. Perry created a limited edition of six of the tapestries and a set of these, together with the woodcuts, earlier ceramic model and Perry’s sketchbooks are on show at Firstsite. Grayson Perry – The Life of Julie Cope runs until 18 February.

The tapestries are rich with intricate detail about the past, present and future of the characters depicted. The buildings, clothes, music, hairstyles, cars, and accoutrements of daily life were all carefully researched for the period from Julie’s birth in 1953 to death aged 61 in 2014.

This is the first time I’ve seen Perry’s tapestries in the flesh and I was mesmerised. The more you look, the more you see. I noted the way Perry sections the tapestries with circular and semi-circular lines and varies the shading within these lines creating alternating areas of light and shade, like Julie’s life.

As you study the tapestries at Firstsite, you will hear in the background a recording of Perry reciting his Life of Julie Cope ballad. He claims he’s no poet, but it’s pretty good and it adds atmosphere as well as telling a compelling story.

Perry’s talk at Colchester Town Hall in December 2017 was a sell-out and the whole audience was entranced.  He’s such a unique talent, a great artist as well as an entertaining and insightful social commentator… a national treasure without doubt. He talked about the challenges of a demanding and complex project, the practical compromises that were essential in order to complete the project within any kind of reasonable time frame and budget, and his personal feelings. I would jump at the opportunity to hear him speak again. His down to earth, practical approach and debunking of art snobbery is refreshing. He talks with great openness about the ups and downs of life as an artist and his own career.

The message I took from him was to not be disappointed if what you create does not match the image in your mind… give it a chance, you might look back later and realise it wasn’t so bad after all. “I don’t have all my ideas before I make a work,” says Perry. “Some of them I have later and sometimes other people provide them.”

Further information


Reflection on Assignment 1 & self-assessment against course criteria

Reflection on Assignment 1 (approx 500 words)

This is the first time I have fully enjoyed the whole process of working on an OCA assignment. I felt liberated up by the notion, reinforced several times during the course so far, that seemingly randomly selected, sometimes unpromising objects can become the source of successful drawings when approached with an open mind and experimentation.

This was further reinforced by a talk by Grayson Perry that I went to in Colchester in December in which he said he doesn’t always know what the outcome is going to be when he starts to draw. He might wake up in the morning and feel like doing something red, for example. He also said that sometimes he doesn’t attach a profound meaning to what he is working on… sometimes that might come later and sometimes it is provided by other people – in which case he grabs it!

I never thought for a moment that the two 1950s dolls were unpromising as subject matter.  I bought them in a junk shop a while back because I knew they would be interesting to draw and all kinds of symbolism might be attached to them. Nonetheless, I could not have guessed at the outcomes that would result from simply drawing and experimenting without a preconceived idea of the end result.

And, big bonus, if you don’t know what the end result is going to be, you can’t beat yourself up about not achieving it. Instead you can be open to unexpected outcomes. Another Grayson Perry comment I noted was about how artists are often too judgmental about their work because of preconceived ideas and that coming back to work later he often thinks, heh that wasn’t so bad after all.

I found the research into Prunella Clough, Elizabeth Blackadder and Matisse eye-opening -and thought consciously about space as an integral part of my compositions (particularly in Untitled 1 where I deliberately left the background mostly empty so viewers could create their own context). I also found myself thinking about edges and how I might instill energy into the whole of the image.

I submitted three finished drawings for this assignment and a fairly wide range of experiments in the my sketchbook.

Making a decision about which drawings to develop was difficult but I aimed to show different approaches to seeing and drawing. I felt fulfilled by this assignment because it released a lot of ideas and potential for further work.

Despite recognising that they were essential to my development, I had become weary of the prescribed nature of the exercises at level one. I feel that this more experimental approach with the freedom to choose subject matter and how we use our time and energy suits me at this stage of my learning journey.

I would have liked to have worked my way through Part 1 more quickly as it is important to maintain momentum but I had several health and family issues to deal with which  sapped my time and energy. The next six months is looking brighter. In any case, this course strengthens and revives me because learning and applying that learning to my personal practice is something that makes me happy.

Self-assessment against course criteria

Demonstration of technical and visual skills – materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills.

This course is encouraging me to experiment and try out different materials and techniques which I welcome. It is demonstrating that it is possible to see in different ways and that it is not necessary to be totally literal in my translation of what I see into my drawings. I have learnt some valuable new design and compositional skills and I can see a definite improvement in my work in this respect as I was weak on composition.

Quality of outcome – content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas.

I believe that by not having such a fixed view of the outcome I am aiming for, I am starting to be more experimental and delving deeper into my study of objects / subjects. I feel I have applied new knowledge in a discerning way and that I present work coherently. I have  communicated my ideas but I confess that I have consciously tried to put most of my energy into seeing and drawing  rather than words. The words sometimes come more easily to me than the practice.

Demonstration of creativity – imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice.

This course is unlocking all these things for me which is exciting.  While I thought that my personal voice was beginning to develop, I sense I am changing direction both in terms of my artistic output and my working methods.

Context reflection – research, critical thinking (learning logs and, at second and third level, critical reviews and essays).

I enjoy the research and reflection in my learning log and feel that I am reasonably competent in these areas. Creative  Arts Today was my last level one module and this is likely to have been good preparation for the critical review and essays. I have discovered that the forums are a great place for seeking support, particularly for the critical review, and have received advice from other students and pointers towards useful resources. I am aware that I need to develop more confidence in analysis and expression of my personal views. My critical thinking skills improve as my understanding of art history, movements and individual artists expands.

Assignment 1 – final ‘drawings’


What works well and not so well?

Untitled 1


I was surprised by this drawing… I did not see it coming. I enjoy its enigmatic nature. The empty space allows the viewer to decide the context. I drew the doll upright and then a different kind of story unfolded in my mind when I flipped my drawing to horizontal. I have deliberately left all the images untitled in the hope that others might tell me what they see and how they interpret them.

At a late stage decided to add a faint aqua colour to the bottom half of this drawing. By doing this I created a context which may lead the viewer rather than leaving interpretation open.  As is often the case in my work, I feel I lost a little of the original drawing when scaling up. My original sketch had pleasing watermarks which did not reproduce so well on different paper; a smoother surface would have been preferable.

Untitled 2

This alternative composition may have worked better


Untitled 2 was drawn with acrylic paint using a cut up credit card. My aim was to create a drawing that looked roughly stenciled on to a wall. It was difficult to draw in this way and I could not reproduce my Photoshop adjusted image exactly but this was probably a good thing. I used a gel pen to draw in the webbing and to touch up here and there. As an approach to drawing there is definitely further potential.   I aimed for a tight composition but there is a blank area in the middle that doesn’t feel quite right. I regret  that I did not use the composition I created for the marbling experiment which was more interesting and less obvious (see right).


Untitled 3
I was pleased with this. I felt the imperfections in the print transfer, which is faint and a little difficult to decipher, turned into strengths resulting in an image that shares the same basic composition as Untitled 2 but could be interpreted very differently because of the differences in colour,  strength of the marks and surrounding space.

Also see


Assignment 1 – Preparatory drawings

I started by photographing the two broken 1950s dolls in a variety of different arrangements, taking care to capture some strong reflected light and shadows.

Then I drew in my sketchbook and on scraps of paper using a variety of different materials.

Graphite and ink sketches

Watercolour pencil drawing of the upright doll without arms

Experimenting with threshold in Photoshop and transfer printing

Drawing onto marbled paper

A while back I experimented with marbling inks which were a present from my niece Alice. I kept the results as I thought they would make an interesting surface to draw on.

Last of my prep sketches

Also see

Deciding on subject matter

Final drawings

Assignment 1 – deciding on subject matter

Review your sketchbooks and project work so far… This could result in a drawing or series of drawings. Your subject can be anything you like but, whatever you choose, the relationships within your drawing(s) should set up an intriguing and engaging composition.

Initially I thought I would return to my tomato / stone photos produced for Project 3 Changing scale and draw from these to see where I could take them. On reflection I felt that this was already a fairly complete and successful project and it would be better to have a fresher starting point.

My chosen subject matter – broken 1950s dolls

I enjoyed all the projects but Project 3 Changing scale  definitely engaged  me the most, particularly the notion of taking fairly random objects and seeing what I can make of them without having a particular plan. This echoed something Grayson Perry said in a talk I went to in December in Colchester in which he talked about the works he made for the A House for Essex; a Living Architecture shrine to a fictional character called Julie Cope.  Perry said that he doesn’t always have an exact plan in mind. Sometimes he’ll wake up and feel like  doing something red and off he goes. He also said that sometimes the meaning comes later and sometimes other people provide it. I like the freedom of this. It says that I don’t have to have a fully developed, intellectual idea. I can simply draw and see what happens.

Prunella Clough’s work and her journey to pure abstraction fascinated me and it ties in with the thoughts above in that unlikely objects can make great subjects. I made a mental note to think about the space surrounding objects and to treat it as an integral part of the image.

A year or so ago I bought two broken 1950s dolls at a Abdullah’s Cave, a junk shop in Stowmarket. I knew they would be great to draw. They had their first outing in Project 3 Changing scale as the evil twins. So I decided to draw them from different angles, using different materials and see what might come out of it.

Also see

Final drawings

Preparatory drawings