Exercise: A grid of photographic images

Doors in Colchester's Dutch Quarter

Doors in Colchester’s Dutch Quarter

I am currently studying OCA’s Creative Arts Today 1 which is mostly theoretical but from time to time we get to have a go at a creative project. In Part 4 Photography  students are invited have a try at creating a grid of images.

The inspiration comes from husband and wife team Bernd and Hilla Hecher who are known for repetition of subject matter, often exhibited as a grid of images.. The images appear to be the same yet are all slightly different which has the effect of emphasising details. See Water Towers 1980.

This afternoon I photographed about 60 doors while wandering around Colchester. I snapped ancient doors, new doors, decorative doors, peeling paint doors, open doors, closed doors, every kind of door. It’s not as easy as it seems as doors are often close to the road so it’s easy to get run over and pedestrians get in the way too.

I wandered back through Colchester’s Dutch Quarter and realised that these doors would work better than the random collection I had photographed so far. Many of the Dutch Quarter’s doors share common features including a barred window, wooden slats running downwards, door knockers and letter boxes and many of them are painted red and green which I thought might be the colours of the Dutch flat but they are not. If any one can explain the red and green please do get in touch.*

While I am  pleased with the outcome of this project, which was assembled in Photoshop, I am conscious that to achieve a professional standard I would have needed to go back and photograph the doors in the best possible light and work at getting the viewpoint and size and positioning of the doors relative to each other much more consistent.

Nonetheless, I’ve enjoyed this project immensely. It is something different that I haven’t tried before and I will definitely have a go at again.

Mystery solved! The word ‘Dutch’ was used in Colchester (the doors are in the Dutch Quarter) to describe all foreigners who arrived in the town in the 1500s when they fled religious persecution in what is now Belgium, Holland and France. So in fact, the refugees were mainly Flemish.

They built homes in a similar style to houses in Flanders in that period – with doors and other woodwork painted red and green, window frames painted white and rendered walls a light green.



Lettering diary


Too many visits to the dentist

I am two weeks into a new project…  My lettering diary expresses in a few short but ‘illustrative’ words some of the places I’ve been and things I’ve done lately. Some are quick scribbles, others are more developed. They are all an enjoyable way to get some drawing and lettering practice as well as an alternative way to keep a diary. I’ve included a few on this page.I hope  that some design ideas will emerge that I can put to further use.

Click here for my full diary so far (PDF)



Clearing the loft



Walking on the beach at Dymchurch


Staying at the Powdermills Hotel in Battle

Life drawing classes at The Wilson Marriage Centre in Colchester

I’m currently studying Creative Arts Today with the OCA and it is a theory based module so I’m missing painting and drawing. So that  I don’t get too out of practice, today I started a Life Drawing course – two hours on a  Wednesday for six weeks – and I I am going to set myself some objectives:

  • work on achieving expressive, meaningful lines (avoid scribbling) and aim for nice fluid, flowing lines
  • take Jim Unsworth’s advice and keep the history of the drawing – i.e. correct but don’t erase earlier lines as they give vitality
  • use different weights of line
  • use colour in interesting ways e.g. let it run over the edge
  • experiment with different drawing materials … pencil, pen, ink, charcoal, Conté crayon, pastels
  • experiment with different types of paper / background colour.

And if I put a few of my drawings on my blog each week I will be able to look back and see if I am making  progress!

Week 1 – Model Sarah

Today the focus was on proportion and I’m happy that these sketches are reasonably accurate although it would be easier to judge if I had fitted the whole figure on the paper.

sarah1 sarah2 sarah3 sarah8 sarah9

Week 2  in the bin! I arrived late and flustered and everything went down hill from there.









Week 3 – Rachel

I focused on line rather than tone this week. Rachel is a very long lanky model and I struggled with the proportions but I think they are just about right in these images.











Week 4

Rachel again – in some lovely poses today.























Sketching at the Southrepps Classical Musical Festival


Sketchbook: Martin James Bartlett, pianist

I’ve just experienced seven days of pure bliss at the Southrepps Classical Music festival in North Norfolk. It’s a programme of 10 ambitious concerts put together by directors Ben Johnson, Tom Primrose and Daniel Goode. Now in its seventh year, the festival has gone from strength to strength and this year was undoubtedly the best ever.


Martin James Bartlett, pianist in rehearsal


Some highlights for me included a breathtaking piano recital by BBC Young Musician of the Year 2014 Martin James Bartlett; classical guitarist Sean Shibe who produced music like I have never heard before from a guitar he cradled like a baby; the Southrepps Sinfonia with the specially formed Southrepps Singers in their perfomance of Handel’s Dixit Dominus and Susanna Hurrell’s exquisite poetry recital in ‘Talking to Hardy’ a sequence of songs and poems designed by Iain Burnside. You hardly ever get to hear a countertenor (the highest male singing voice) as there aren’t many but at Southrepps we had two, Rupert Enticknap and Tim Morgan.  What a week it was… and I’ve not even mentioned the superb performance of Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas…


Artistic Director Ben Johnson leaning on piano talking to Martin in rehearsal

Each year four young musicians take part in a masterclass and receive lessons and support from the pros throughout the week. It’s wonderful to see their progress.

I can hardly express how good this festival is. You will think I am exaggerating but it is truly world class music in an intimate village church setting where both audience and performers are close. You feel and experience the music in a way that simply can’t happen in a huge, formal concert hall.





Classical guitarist Sean Shibe’s intense concentration


My artist friend Elda Abramson and I  had a go at sketching during some rehearsals and performances. This was incredibly challenging… but it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect a violinist, guitarist or pianist to stay still would it?! Most of my sketches are incomplete scribbles but a small number of them began to capture what I was seeing and feeling. It was an exhilarating experience and a privilege.

I’d like to thank everyone involved with the Festival (the directors, performers, young musicians and all the villagers who give their time and energy, and their homes to accommodate the musicians) for a most extraordinary and uplifting week. What a very special time it was. I didn’t want it to end.

The Southrepps Classical Music Festival


First violinist Agata Darashkaite


Young musician Magnus Walker (tenor)

Martin Parr: Work and Leisure – Firstsite, Colchester

martin-parr-firstsiteThis is a first class… actually world class  photo exhibition at Colchester’s Firstsite gallery.  It was a must see event for me as I’ve been a fan of Martin Parr (born 1952) ever since listening to him speak at the Voewood literary festival in Holt. The show covers his work from his early days as a photographer through to the present day.

Parr’s vivid photos are full of wit and irony as well as nostalgia and laughter. They are also a social documentary, a kind of state of the nation record of our modern, global, consumer-driven lives and  they left me with a great deal to think about. Parr is the leading photographer in the UK today and pioneered the use of colour in art photography.

I always combine a visit to Firstsite with a tour of the Minories Galleries which are a hop, skip and a jump  away. The Minories is home to the Colchester Art School (Post Grad) and its regularly changing exhibitions include the work of students and wide ranging professional artists, as well as items from the Victor Batte-Lay Foundation’s excellent collection. At the back of the Minories there is a truly lovely tea garden where you can sit and reflect on what you’ve just seen with a cup of tea and a bun.

If you like Parr’s work and would like to know more about how he operates and how he developed his style, there is an very good video exclusively available on Vimeo of his final workshop. It includes plenty of insight into his own techniques and motivation and critiques of  participants’ work. It is of interest I feel to all artists, not just photographers. It costs a few dollars to download but is worth it. See link below.

References / useful links

Firstsite Gallery – http://www.firstsite.uk.net/page/martin-parr

Victor Batte-Lay Foundation – http://www.vblfcollection.org.uk/

The Minories – Colchester School of Art – http://art.colchester.ac.uk/about/the-minories/




Alex Katz & Etel Adnan at the Serpentine Galleries in London


Section of an Etel Adnan tapestry

My painter friend Eryl  and I decided to meet up in London for a gallery visit … we thought we might head to Tate Modern to see the new extension and the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition but we settled on the Serpentine Galleries in Kensington Gardens. It was a good decision for a warm summer day as the park was enchanting and the galleries spacious and comfortable… the crowds were elsewhere on the boating lake and probably also at the Tate!

Both exhibitions inspired us.

Quick Light, Alex Katz, Serpentine Gallery

Born New York 1927


Postcards of Katz’s work: clockwise from top left: Black Brook, 18 (2014), 4pm (2014) and White Impatiens (2012)

This show featured Katz’s portraits and landscapes. I’m focusing here on the landscapes as I responded to them more.  His enormous canvases are spectacular. They are about changing light at different times of the day. The colour palettes are clever, both subtle and intense at the same time.

Eryl and I came away wanting to paint big canvases with large brushes and try out some of Katz’s colour combinations such as the midnight blue, black with glances of white in City Landscape 1995.

We both found ourselves drawn to Reflection 7, 2008 and not just because it was a little like the patterned blouse I was wearing.  Again this uses a deceptively simple combination of colours;  blue, black and pale yellow  light. It’s a huge, enigmatic canvas. The title gives very little away but it makes me think cold snow, pine tree shadows and watery sun. I know from my own practice that simplification and abstraction of this kind may look easy to achieve but it most definitely is not.

Eryl and I are plotting a painting get-together. My new big studio shed has got to be the place and this will give me the motivation to clear out the last of the boxes following our move so that we have room to be expressive without walloping each other with a paint brush!

The Weight of the World, Etel Adnan, Serpentine Sackler Gallery

Lebanese American poet, essayist and visual artist


Etel Adnan postcards: Maree Basse (Low Tide) 1967 and Le Poid du Monde 19 (Weight of the World)

If this exhibition was in Colchester I would go back to it again and again. It includes vibrantly coloured abstracts that give nothing away in the titles but conjure up individual interpretations and visions of mountains, townscapes, views and vistas. And then there are her breathtaking tapestries, screens and a continuous mountainscape in a concertina book… and her writings.


Again I found myself thinking about the use of colour in my own practice and also how much fun it would be to produce a continuous vista in a concertina book – from the top of the hill in Castle Park, Colchester, perhaps? As you turn you take in fields and cattle, woods, ugly office buildings, town houses, grassy slopes and a castle. Working fast with inks maybe?


If you go,make sure you stop for coffee at the Pavilion designed by Selgascano

This was a lovely day out in an energising environment with all kinds of people from all kinds of places to enjoy and watch.

We had coffee in the stunning Serpentine Pavilion designed by Selgascano in 2015.

And as Eryl and I don’t often have a chance to get together we treated ourselves to lunch at Magazine, a stylish restaurant next to the Serpentine-Sackler Gallery, designed by Zaha Hadid. The food was good but the service was dreadful. It was so bad that it became quite entertaining. The staff had clearly been chosen for their statuesque beauty rather than aptitude for table-waiting!


Give Magazine a try and enjoy the architecture designed by Zaha Hadid  and have a laugh at the too posh to wait on tables staff!

We had a really great day out and I highly recommend the exhibitions, coffee shop and even the restaurant.

Note about Georgia O’Keeffe

Last night I watched the BBC Imagination programme on Georgia O’Keeffe. I’d only come across her flower paintings before and now  I realise there is a whole wonderful world of her landscapes, especially the Mexico views. So that visit to the Tate is back on again then!


Serpentine Galleries website:  http://www.serpentinegalleries.org/ (accessed 28 July 2016)

Georgia O’Keeffee, Tate Modern Website: http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/georgia-okeeffe (accessed 28 July 2016)

Study visit: Alberto Giacometti | A line through time


Giacometti’s work was a strong influence on Francis Bacon. You can see it clearly  in this sculpture, Cube (version 1)

Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich Saturday 25 June 2016

This was a great opportunity to enjoy Alberto Giacometti’s (1901-1966) trade mark elongated bronze figures. It was also fascinating to take a close look at some of his drawings and paintings in which vertical marks and brush strokes echo the lines and textures of his statues; this gives them a sense of physicality.

I was immediately struck by a 1920 self portrait and this continued to be the piece I responded to most deeply. The texture of the hair, so like the clay that Giacometti  manipulates with his fingers, and the multiple colours used to depict the skin including dabs of turquoise, giving it huge vitality.  He seems to have used quite dry paint manipulated almost as if it were clay but the effect is subtle, not that of heavy impasto.  This is a painting that has to be seen in the flesh as the detail doesn’t reproduce well online.


A4 sketchbook (pen and watercolour pencil) : Diego in a Sweater (bronze) 1953

The exhibition commemorated the 50th anniversary of the artist’s death and focused on the importance of line in his practice, his influences and the work of artists that he influenced.

For many of the major artists at the core of Modernism in the first half of the twentieth century, their main aim was “to achieve timelessness and universality in their art, to make things that moved beyond the specificity of period and place, to say something about the human condition” (Paul Greenhalgh in his introduction to the exhibition guide).

Regarded as one of the leading surrealist sculptors, Giacometti preferred models he was close to including his wife Annette, his younger brother, Diego and  his sister. The artist Isabel Rawsthorne also modelled for him and this is when he began to elongate his statues. Rawsthorne’s work was also in the exhibition and is worthy of a mention as her profile as an artist in her own right is not as high it ought to be. She also modelled for Francis Bacon. You can see very clearly in Giacometti’s drawings, such as Diego seated (1948) and in his sculpture The Cage (first version) 1950 (see above) which encases the figure in a cube, that he had an influence on Bacon’s work.

I wasn’t surprised to discover that Giacometti’s own work was influenced by African, Egyptian, Roman and Etruscan ancient art. I had speculated about this in a blog post a while back when coming across a series of small metal votive statues in a Museum in Umbria.

This was an excellent study visit led by OCA tutor Hayley Lock and a very welcome opportunity to compare notes with  fellow students. There is much more I could write but suffice to say that I enjoyed the exhibition enough to buy the book which I will certainly reference again for the distinctive drawings. A visit to the Sainsbury Centre is always a pleasure and one of these days I will devote a day to the permanent collection which is eclectic and extensive.



standing-woman-front standing-woman-back



A4 sketchbook: Pen and watercolour pencil: Looking at Giacometti’s Standing Woman, 1950 (bronze) from all angles.





Alberto Giacometti, A line Through Time, Bloomsbury Publishing / Sainsbury Centre, 2016

Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts, Norwich | http://www.scva.ac.uk