Life drawing class – week 6

Today’s was a lively class with lots of different techniques and shorter poses, which suits me as I enjoy working quickly and experimenting. The longer poses give more time in which to take a perfectly good drawing and ruin it! An OCA tutor once told me that I had drawn the life out of a figure and I’ve never forgotten the lesson.

I am getting better at capturing a pose and the proportions reasonably accurately and quickly… Today I particularly enjoyed drawing with my left hand (instead of my right) and drawing using straight lines only.


Visit: Alfredo Jaar – The Garden of Good and Evil, Underground Gallery, Yorkshire Sculpture Park


The Garden of Good and Evil, Alfredo Jaar 2017

I didn’t know what to expect of this exhibition but as we were at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park we thought we should scrub the mud off our walking boots and  have a look. And I am extremely glad we did.

Born in Santiago, Chile in 1956 Alfredo Jaar is internationally acclaimed as a “pioneering practitioner of socially critical art”. His work poses difficult questions about society, art and culture. He chooses subjects that are not in the mainsteam and are often manipulated by the media. He focuses particularly on political oppression, humanitarian concern and human and civil rights abuse. Jaar describes himself as an “architect making art” and works with light, text, photography, film and, in the case of this exhibition, living trees and metal structures. He often works with appropriated media images.

The exhibition consists of just six works which is no bad thing as several of them are emotionally and intellectually challenging and demand some concentrated attention.

The Sound of Silence 2006

An intense wall of LED light strips almost blind the viewer as you walk into a dark cinema space. Inside a silent film tells the story in old typewriter text of South African photojournalist Kevin Carter. Carter took a photo during the Sudan famine of 1993 of an emaciated child curled up upon the ground with a vulture looking on. First published in the New York Times it attracted both praise for raising awareness of the famine and an onslaught of criticism because he stood by and took the photo instead of shooing away the vulture and helping the child. In 1994 Carter was awarded the  Pulitzer Prize and shortly after he committed suicide.

The work draws our attention to the dilemma faced by many journalists working in war and disaster zones. They often witness heartbreaking scenes but are powerless to help but they can raise awareness of what is happening. In this case Carter was already traumatised by the horrific scenes of death and dying that were happening all around. He chose to take the photo rather than help the child. No one knows what happened to the child. He must have questioned this decision  many times and clearly judged himself harshly.

I walked away deeply disturbed by this story. I found myself contrasting it with the Michael Buerk and Mohammed Amin’s 1984 report for BBC drawing attention to a “biblical famine” in Ethiopia. This was viewed as a transforming moment in modern media history because it demonstrated how news reporting can draw attention to humanitarian disasters and galvanise action by governments, aid agencies and the public.

Clearly the Pulitzer Prize judges recognised Carter’s achievement but for others the image of the vulture looming over the child must have been too much to bear. Did Carter’s desire to get this most dramatic photo override his compassion? We don’t know.

It’s a deeply disturbing photo which we only see for a brief moment following a bright photographic flash of light towards the end of the film. You can see it here:

We are blinded as we enter the installation and blinded again by the photographer’s flash towards the end. Was Carter himself also blind to the way his photo might be received?

jaar-shadowsShadows 2014

In this work Jaar again explores the power of documentary photos – this time a series of seven taken by Dutch photojournalist Koen Wessing and recording the 1979 revolt against the Somoza military dictatorship in Nicaragua.The images show the reactions of two women on learning of their father’s murder; he had been shot by National Guardsmen and left by the side of the road. The final image is on a large screen in a room of its own and has been manipulated by Jaar by gradually fading the background and adding bright light to the silhouetted figures. The installation concludes in flash of very bright white light, like a photographer’s flash. It is so bright that it fixes this image of extreme grief onto your eye. It is a very emotive piece, one that is hard to forget.

The Garden of Good and Evil 2017

jaar2This major new piece of work, which will become part of the YSP’s permanent collection, is just outside the Underground Gallery and consists of 101 evergreen trees in square wooden planters. Concealed in the grove are a number of steel cells representing secret detention facilities (hidden ‘black sites’) around the world operated by the US Central Intelligence Agency. The one metre square cells reference Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish’s 1986 poem One Square Metre of Prison – Darwish has been imprisoned many times following the Israeli occupation of his country in 1948.

I wonder if 101 trees might be a reference to George Orwell’s Room 101 in 1984?

You can walk among the 52 metres of ‘forest’ and spot the cells. I thought it a clever piece, perfectly suited to its site.

Personal reactions and thoughts about my own practice

I reacted very strongly to all of the pieces in this exhibition. They spoke to me because of my background of working with news organisations and journalists and photojournalists and also my particular interest in text in art.

This exhibition reminded me that I have unintentionally lost sight of an earlier aim to create work that focuses on major news events and disasters, as I did for a while during Drawing 1. Of course these can also be historic. As I research further into the Great Famine for my parallel project there may be potential to work census reports, parish records, old newspaper clippings, government policy etc into my artwork either in a direct way or reinterpreted.

Jaar’s Shadows 2014 made me recall the sketchbook work I have been doing with two silhouetted figures and their relationship with each other and makes me realise there is plenty of scope to explore my own ideas in this area further.

The Garden of Good and Evil, Underground Gallery, Yorkshire Sculpture Park runs until 8 April 2018. For more information visit:


Sketchbook: Edale in the snow

We had a week in Derbyshire and Yorkshire mid-February, before the Beast from the East blew in. We may not have got there had we been a week later. We visited Edale in relatively light snow and the scenery was wonderful as the snow was melting and the lower green slopes were emerging. Lovely patterns and limited palette. I’ve only just got around to doing some sketches back at home several weeks later (from photos). The scenes had stayed in my head and I wanted to have a go at capturing the snow and the green slopes before getting on with my next OCA project.



So hopefully that’s got snowy scenes out of my system for a while!

My preference is the two ink / chinagraph / wax drawings. TTo my mind these have better captured the ethereal nature and tranquility of the scenes. These are my favourite drawing materials and I’m beginning to be able to make them reproduce what I have in my mind. This  technique has some similarities with that used by Henry Moore’s drawings but he also used chalk, and gouache together with ink and wax and chinagraph.  So plenty more to explore. Also I should break out of my sketchbook and see how this technique works when scaled up.


Dry Weather, Blamire Young, Watercolour, c1912m Art Gallery of New South Wales

Ages ago I saw Blamire Young’s watercolour, Dry Weather at the Australia exhibition at The Royal Academy in London. I thought when I saw it and still  think that is the kind of landscape painting I aspire to. While Blamire’s subject was dry weather in Australia and mine is snowy weather in the UK, these my two ink sketches are a landmark for me because they are definitely a step in the right direction. It helps that I have not been using such very defined outlines (lesson taken from Project 1). Looking at my drawings again, I realise that I could afford to be even more subtle with the use of tone and line.

My acrylic pictures, created with brush and piece of credit card capture something of the scene but they lack subtlety. I know they would have been better had I had the patience to wait for the layers to dry… instead I let my clean snow become dirty and lost the freshness of the images.

Sketchbook – Urban and countryside landscapes side by side in Colchester



I wandered out in the freezing cold and five inches of snow this morning with David and the dog, took some photos and came home and did some sketching to try to capture the immediate atmosphere of a lovely if chilly outing. Our big surprise was spotting two otters on the bank of the River Colne just two minutes from home, right in the middle of urban Colchester. But I’m not going to draw otters wonderful though the sighting was. What often strikes me in Colchester is how urban and countryside landscapes are intermingled and I see both even on very short walks. In fact, this is a theme that I could carry forward as there is no end of material on my doorstep.

For  my sketches I used Quink and some Brusho ink, with brush and also a broken off  wooden skewer (a great tool as it had bristly rough ends that made fine and coarse twig like marks) and chinagraph pencil and a bit of candle for wax resist.

The trees had a very simple under drawing (which I didn’t like and wanted to obliterate!) with a few sweeps of water soluble gold paint and a  scrap of collaged light blue paper with torn edges. They are not immediately obvious but when I look closely I feel they have contributed an extra something to the drawings by adding a little complexity and subtle changes of colour.

I feel that these quickly executed sketches are a genuine expression of my walk today and the cold, blizzardy scenes that we encountered.  The restricted colour palette suited the subject matter.

Photos from my morning’s walk



What next?

Drawing the trees with the wooden skewer made me feel that this might be an introduction to my next assignment in which I have to draw a subject using some material element of the subject. When I’m out next, and it’s warm enough to take my gloves off, I will gather some twigs and have a go at drawing trees and snowy landscapes with different sizes and types of twig on a bigger scale and see what comes out of it.

Wunderkammer, bones, clocks and spectacles


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

Today I did a drawing workshop at Firstsite in Colchester with artist Sarah Sabin and museum Curator Emma Reeve. It offered the chance to look closely at and draw objects from Firstsite’s Wunderkammer (cabinet of curiosities) and the collection at Colchester’s Hollytrees Museum.

I did some pencil sketches of fragments of bone, spectacles and the museum’s fabulous collection of grandfather clocks.

We got the chance to scale up one of our drawings to a very large size (100 x 70 cm). I chose a fragment of bone and worked with India ink, using a stick, large brushes, a ridged roller and bits of bubble wrap attached to the end of a stick.

This was a fantastic and exciting exercise which encouraged sweeping gestural marks using the whole of the arm. You can’t be precious when you are drawing large with a bit of stick dipped in ink. I got a lot from this and will definitely use the techniques again.

From my sketchbook…

The other thing I gained from today’s workshop was an appreciation of how useful a resource the town’s museums are. I’m thinking about how the collection might help with the narrative story-telling which is the exercise I’ll be starting on very soon.

And of course it’s always good to be in the company of other artists and have the chance to see how they tackle the task in hand.

Sketchbook : Cambridge father and son

Last year I took a photograph in King’s College Cambridge of a father and son, standing and waiting. I’ve assumed they are father and son, the body language is certainly close. The relationship between the two figures interests me and I embarked on a series of experimental drawings in my A3 sketchbook.



This sketchbook work has made me realise how interesting the relationships between figures are. These two are very much together, but also very much apart and lost in their own personal worlds. Together but apart is perhaps a theme that I could develop further.

Visit to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park

ysp-vistaWhat a wonderful place the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YPS) is… even when blasted by icy cold February winds. It’s 17 years since I was last there and the park, which opened on the Bretton Estate near Wakefield in 1977, is much changed and has evolved into a world class destination. We liked it so much that we visited twice in one week and even then we didn’t get to see all the exhibits. There are now 500 acres under YSP’s management which means you need to do some leg work but that’s a big part of the attraction.

ysp-vista2The long term / permanent collection is impressive and includes the work of Henry Moore, Ai Wei Wei, Anthony Caro, Elisabeth Frink, Andy Goldsworthy, Antony Gormley, Barbara Hepworth, Gary Hume, Richard Long, Joan Miro, David Nash, Marc Quinn and many more big names and less well known artists. There are also changing outdoor collections. When we visited several stunning pieces by Tony Cragg were on display and there are internal galleries (out of the wind and rain!) with changing exhibitions of paintings, prints, drawings and installations.

There were some stand out pieces for me and I’ve put these into the gallery below together with my response.

A few choice pieces



I was very pleased we made a second visit because we stumbled across Jem Finer’s Longplayer sound installation playing from a hidden speaker in a tree in a woodland garden.  It was a very atmospheric place from which to listen to this 1000 year long musical composition which began playing at midnight on 31 December 1999. While some parts have been performed physically, most  is playing digitally using the haunting sounds of Tibetan singing bowls. No section will ever be repeated. It’s a  most extraordinary project by a founder member of the Celtic punk rock band, The Pogues.

When to visit

Judging by the high numbers of visitors in February and reports from friends, I would avoid the peak summer months. Winter is lovely time to visit so long as you are well wrapped up and wearing wellies or stout boots!


  • YSP The Essential Guide to Works in the Open Air 2017/2018
  • YSP website (accessed 21/02/2018)