Elisabeth Peyton – Marc and Daniel

Daniel, Berlin (1999, Watercolor and synthetic polymer paint on paper, 1015x730)
Daniel, Berlin (1999, watercolour)

I initially draw a link between this and Matisse’s Blue Nudes, perhaps only because of the shapes – the folded up legs and body in the frame, but also because of the reduction towards shapes that fundamentally define the person. Here I’m seeing a hierarchy of detail and darkness drawing me in towards the face and eyes. The expression is guarded, tight-lipped and looking up from under eyebrows that seem also to be ‘tight-lipped’!

Two marks under the eyes are like war paint.

Daniel looks young. The thin, chiselled face contribute to the youthful look as does the featureless skin. I would be interested to see how very old people with more skin features are painted by EP but I can’t find any!

There’s a kind of contradiction in the atmosphere of the painting: the face could be threatening, hard like an armed criminal who you cannot trust and must be cautious of… but the reclined pose is soft, more like a teenager in their room, hunkered in the corner and about to pout “what? I’m not doing anything wrong! I’m just existing here! Pardon me for just existing!”. Maybe he doesn’t look quite THAT young!

There’s an extreme and expert use of the more-detail-at-the-focus technique which is very effectively used by many painters in different ways. Daniel’s face is carefully proportioned and painted but his clothes look painted from a greater distance… unsharp and more watery, a broader brush.

Marc (2003,Etching on pink silk laminated paper, 578x451)
Marc (2003)

Marc is monochrome. This is a an etching on laminated paper; a sepia-like effect – soft highlights. Compared to Daniel this face is fuller and rounder but just as sparsely described.

The single visible eye fixes the viewer but the atmosphere is neutral, not tense or relaxed. His hair and eye are strikingly dark but nothing else – facial features, shirt and background are described using a tight range of paler tones with the added touch of darker shadow in a few small places – inside the shirt collar, the mouth.

Again it is the face that is shaped accurately with all else drifting slightly into the flow. Some very hard edges and high contrasts take control of the face shape and the eyes and mouth whereas the shirt is left to find its own way.


Karen Kilimnik – the green fairy cottege in the Vietnamese jungle

the green fairy ottegeintheVietnamese jungle 2015 514x616.jpg

the green fairy cottage in the Vietnamese jungle
(2015, 51.4cm x 61.6cm, water-soluble oil and glitter on canvass)

My first impression of this painting was that it was of very limited tonal values but also had a lot of contrast… a contradiction. After a longer look I think I’m wrong on both counts.

I can find a point of almost white on the front of the cottage and a point of black inside the tree in the foreground… in the deepest part of the back of the curve. So the tonal range is big, but most of the area of the canvas is in the middle tones – it’s only small points that are in these extremes.

The cottage itself contains no darker points – it is paler. This is also a distancing cue – as if seen through mist so that any darker points would be seen as the paler mist in between.

The right side of the picture is darker overall, but only by a small degree. It contains the darker tree crevices and has a darker distance of blue seen through the trees.

The paler left side of the picture contains the cottage but the background here is very close to the cottage. It could have been darker like the right – this would have had the effect of making the cottage stand out bringing its presence to the fore. By keeping the contrast low it makes the cottage blend into the forest – it is a more hidden cottage.

The picture is overwhelmingly green. This is not bad or surprising as it is a picture of a cottage in a forest – green is key. But the particular greens that are used are not extremely vivid, and they blend in with a slight blue-black and a middle pale brown. These colour choices interest me because in my own work I’m drawn towards highly vivid colours and extremes of tone… but I don’t necessarily enjoy the resulting highly energised picture. I like the control that has been imposed in this painting to contain the range of tones and colours for a specific feeling.

Max Ernst – Europe after the rain



Europe after the Rain

54.8 cm × 147.8 cm… Nearly 2ft high and 6ft wide.

This strange landscape contains a large amount of detail that is not recognisable… it’s hard to point to a piece of the painting and call it representative of a building or a rock formation or something else that is known and can be used as a label. The range of colours used does perhaps suggest an accumulation of rock types as you might find in a street where buildings have been constructed or faced with imported stone; but they could also be the colours of a forest – leaves, barks, soils, moulds, rocks, sun and sky.

It is somewhat suggestive of a coral reef – something growing but like rock, holes where water and creatures circulate, some kind of underlying system that is hard to fathom.

There is a humanoid form with a bird’s head on the horizon. The figure to its right seems to be an armless statue but with real hair. Within the pillars is a nude female figure, the head is obscured, and the scale is very different suggesting – as this female seems quite real flesh – that the bird-man is a giant… building-sized.

On the left of the picture are a group of women. They are curiously arranged – some half-lying down, some with exposed breasts but otherwise dressed quite fully in rich-looking clothing.

There are shapes suggestive of faces or ‘busts’ scattered over the landscape… all quite close to the line of recognition and could be mistaken for chance rather than portraiture.

Taking the major constructs – the right side is reddish and reminds me of an animal skull, especially a bird, which is holed to save weight – a framework of bone. The colour has a suggestion of flesh.

The next area, where the nude is framed by two pillar-like constructions appears to be a portico. A crane-like construction on top could be the boom of a sailing ship, a line that descends from it could also be a staff of the birdman.

Reading the context [1] in which this work was completed makes clear what the analogy supports: the rain is supposed to be that of the Nazi’s – rain of war – that leaves the landscape stripped of beauty and recognisable habitat. Is the birman the Nazi’s iron eagle looking over it’s desired realm?

A major technique of this work is ‘decalcomania’, which I’ve tried myself back at the start of this course:

2015-08-22 15.51.182015-08-22 15.09.59

…and now I have a name for it (that I can’t pronounce!). The paint seals a gap between the tool (flat glass or plastic) and canvass. Pulling it away from the canvas forces the paint to create gaps to allow air in (since the liquid paint can’t actually stretch or expand itself to fill the increasing volume) and so creates a vertical landscape like mountains.

In this work, there is an apparent texture across the painting consistent with this method being used.

There seems to be a huge cow under the building rubble… perhaps the destruction of food supplies. Can also see a petrified elephant head that might have links to the loss of the British Empire as a side effect of the two world wars.

Max Ernst was evacuated to the U.S.A., helped by Peggy Guggenheim, from incarceration in Nazi Germany in 1942 and finished painting this work there.

Do we see in this picture a devastation that is stranded in a larger world… mountains in the background… perhaps this is viewed from afar. Europe now has to clean up the mess.


[1] Jessica Backus. 2017. Beyond Painting: The Experimental Techniques of Max Ernst. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.artsy.net/article/jessica-beyond-painting-the-experimental-techniques-of-max. [Accessed 19 December 2017].

Dali – Morphological Echo


I went looking for a Dali painting which caught my eye – there are so many, but this one, perhaps because of its quite direct simplicity of concept caught my attention.

The nearly square painting, 12×13 inches, arranges a near, middle and distant space in which to stage nine subjects. There are three on the left – near, middle and far from bottom to top, and correspondingly centre and right. Each of the three positions is home to a ‘shape idea’.

The left objects are taller than wide – a tall glass is the near object on the table, a woman-figure is the middle distance, and farthest from us is a stone tower.

The middle objects are a stone or shell about fist-sized, a man seated on the ground and a rocky formation – all being squatter… similar wideness and tallness.

The right objects are laid out with their greater length left to right more than their height: a bunch of grapes, a man reclined on the ground and a construction resembling Cleopatra’s needle but lying flat rather than erect.

There is one other major feature in the painting being a table-like or rocklike formation upon which the smaller objects sit in the foreground. I hesitate to say that it is table or rock because there is an arrangement of the ‘tablecloth’ that could be a rock formation but also looks like it is trying to be something else, but I can’t see what.

The gestalt is that I first see an arrangement of 9 objects, then I see that they are at different distances, then I struggle to decode them because, on the canvas, each appears approximately the same dimension as the other 8. This is a constructed optical illusion that is not an illusion – it all makes sense and is self-consistent but the arrangement induces the viewer to not see, at first glance, something that is quite plain: distance.

Colours are restrained – it feels like an experiment. The title, Morphological Echo, describes it exactly – it is a demonstration of how the depiction of one object might echo in form the depiction of another.

As ‘surrealist’ paintings go it’s not that unusual but it does show how Dali’s mind worked- looking for unobtainable solutions and making them come true.

Thinking about the visual artist and their links to literature this painting is like the notebook of a poet – laying out a list of possible rhymes that may be used later in the construction of a more elaborate work.

Exercise: Preparing a textured ground

I’ve got some materials what I’ve been wanting to try out… so here’s my chance:

Black Sand

I’m not sure what I’ve got because it seems black sand can be more than one thing but it is small grains (like grains of sugar) that are hard a black, a bit like glass. It could be volcanic in nature.

I’ve tried two experiments with this… the first was to paint it into a floor for a stage set I was working on. It created a textured surface as the grains did not dissolve – they became stuck fast in the paint and made patterns how they were brushed.

I’ve also put these on my sample board for this exercise mixed with Gesso which made them clump even more and they will build up in height.

Saw Dust

I first tried this to make a sign – I was trying to stop the surface looking like the wood sheet that it was and more like metal. I painted sawdust in with the black paint before spraying silver and the effect was very good – the sign took on an appearance like it was pitted and uneven, perhaps like beaten metal might look.

On my sample board, it behaved the same. It looks a little like wood-chip wallpaper. The bumps are smoother than black sand and it would certainly work well on scenic models to create a natural soil or even grass surface, depending on colour finish.

Fuller’s Earth

This is a cheap, common material which is used all over the place in make-up, for example, but when mixed in with gesso produces excellent results. The mixture is sculptable and builds up in clumps, and can be shaped more as it dries.

Walnut dust

This seems a lot like Fuller’s Earth but behaves differently, not making much of a roughness. It seems to add bulk to an area but also allows the properties of the gesso to come through rather than turning into another kind of paste. It also turns the mixture into a pale beige colour.


This is bedding for horses or small animals and looks a little like coarse saw-dust. It’s highly absorbent but when mixed with gesso produces a bold build-up of straw-like shapes but in miniature.


Since it was handy I tried painting with gesso and hay. This was quite unmanagable but I think it might work well on a larger scale… pouring the paint over the hay and pressing it down with a broom perhaps!

Still it does work, I just didn’t make a big area of it so the effect is hard to judge.


Reflection on Tutor’s Feedback – Part 3

Overall Comments

My feedback points to a variety of strengths, which I can rely upon, and weaknesses, which I need to counter:


  • Experiment
  • Trying new things
  • Challenging compositions


  • Depth and consistency of reflection
  • Building on success – taking it forward
  • Not limiting aspects of each work – in order to focus on important aspects
  • Technical ability
  • Narrow focus required for paint




Exercise: Dripping, dribbling and spattering

Jackson Pollock established himself as a painter of abstract work of a recognisable style, such as Autumn Rhythm (Number 30):


Painted in 1950, There are three visible ranges of marks – beige squares which look like prints on top of which are white dribbles then black dribbles.

There are some points where this order is different – where the beige is on top for example.

The picture is abstract, involving lines and splodges of paint which are not blended or manipulated after landing on the canvas, which is highly visible.


This is Hommage à Pollok No.11 by Agga Kastell and seems to have been made by masking areas of the canvass before applying the paint.


“Heat on a Sunday” by Mark Jordan uses gravity to make the paint travel across the surface.

Image result for spin art damien hirst

And here’s Damien Hirst’s spin art… an old technique use by Hirst recently. The interesting point is that in spin art the canvas moves as well as the artist!

My response

So I’d like to do some abstract work that draws on some of these ideas.

As the outcome is by experiment I can’t really predict the result but I’ve got some intentions for the process:

  • Washers placed on the canvass to mask areas… which I’ll remove and add new at different stages
  • Dribbling using a cup with a small hole… if possible this will be suspended from a string and used like a pendulum which I move around as it is swinging.
  • Flicking paint to create a finer spray of smaller dots or irregular shapes
  • Tipping the canvas to make the paint run

Starting with a dark ground to create a vivid pattern.

I’m using Acrylic for this exercise in order to take advantage of good drying times and easy liquidity.

It occurs to me at this point that all of these techniques are stand-offish – they are ‘ranged’ and don’t involve physical interaction between artist and canvas. This is characteristic of one type of abstract art, a non-contact version. It is a fine line on the boundary between randomness and directed application, a kind of limited introduction of chance.

Additional ideas:

  • Rolling objects across the wet paint
  • Applying single ‘splashes’ of single drops of paint from a height (high velocity) in order to create a ‘splash’ effect?

Creating the Experiments



Dibbling paint involved a bit of guesswork about how dilute it should be. I’d set myself up for a hard time I realised by needing enough pigment to cover black whereas a white canvas would have been easier.

As I started this seemingly simple way of creating paint patterns I realised that I was tending to do circles… the lines were settling as one big ring – it’s just the natural way your arm likes to move perhaps. Pollock had a very much bigger canvass which meant he couldn’t have done that without super-long reach. I made an effort to change directions and go in directions that felt unnatural.


A second layer – paler blue spattered on from a distance by flicking a large brush. Here is where I realised that the first dark blue was still wet and the two paints were going to mingle now…. perhaps not what I intended, but might be nice.


While that was drying I started on another experiment. This was a surprise. I had propped the board at an angle – I intended to pour a line of paint and let it run down the board. However, it was quite runny and I poured it from about 3ft high. As it hit the slanted board it produced the line where it hit and then bounced to produce spatter marks… but only on the downward side of the line. It looked a bit impossible.


I propped it up the other way and used blue in the same way, but thepaint was thincker and didn’t splash – I put enough on to make it run as I’d originally aimed for.


After a while I lay the picture flat to stop devolpment and allow it to dry.


This is a board with some washers thrown onto it then flicked with red paint.


I finished my first painting by dropping a single big dollop of paint onto the centre (ish) from about 8ft above. The photo is distorted as there is no yellow area in the centre – it’s just a red patch.

Part 5 – Reflection of the Course

In Part 1 the course started with “Getting to know your brushes” which I’m still doing, and perhaps the central discovery of painting is always to be getting to know new ways to apply paint, alongside using learned methods to complete tasks.

I’ve found a lot of crossover with my other courses in terms of composition techniques and some of the use of colour but the key difference from Graphic Design and Illustration is the chemical – the paint – can exhibit colour that is far outside the constrained gamut of a computer image, or even the careful drawing. The camera also has trouble dealing representing it consistently.

At each step of this course there I have encountered what I might describe as paradigm shifts. The idea that the colour of the ground can be such an important part of the painting; the idea that ‘expressive’ and ‘realistic’ are not mutually exclusive; where technical ability and creativity fit together when dealing with paint; going to life drawing for the first time and discovering its benefits (including meeting other artists).

The challenges I’ve encountered, aside from practical ones in ‘real life’ that were not part of the course, were having to tackle subjects which I’m ‘afraid of’. Drawing people’s likeness – their face – has always been something I’ve found ‘unlearnable’ but in spending enough time to focus on it in part three I’ve started to believe that I can make progress and re-produce a recognisable person. What is more impressive, as I am at least a litte ‘face blind’, is that my wife thinks this too.

Perspective has been a struggle in spite of having a thorough understanding of 2d mapping in mathematical a programming terms I’ve struggled to train my eye to make use of perspective convincingly with my hand. Eventually I’ve found I need to discard the maths and re-ingest the ‘rules’ of drawing perspective more naively. I had a breakthrough with this realising there was one rule to do with establishing and using a horizon which I’d ignored… now I need to practice more… but it works very satisfyingly.

Landscape painting was not something I was very interested in initially because it seemed to consist of lots of green (or is that brown?) and reverential tones however, several things have changed my opinion. Hockney for one, who paints in technicolour; even Constable who seemed to be a stodgy old master turns out, when seen in the context of his contemporaries in the National Gallery, to be joyously celebrating the view for its own sake, for the love of it.

The experience of going to a gallery has been transformed for me by being able to relate what I see to what I might do. There are many things I was interested in, like glazing, which I have not been able to engage with because of drying times and how that doesn’t fit into submission schedules. Although… perhaps there is time for one experiment?

I’ve only understood towards the end of the course how to really engage with the work of artists to the point where I read the same text recently (OCA’s Looking at Artists guide) as well as right at the start of the course. It meant something completely different at the end. I had read it cover to cover at the start of the course but that didn’t connect then.

Going forward

To complete Assesment 5 I need to draw on the learning I’ve made throughout the course. I think this is counterintuitive to me as I seem to try new things all the time… even in the middle of paintings… even if they are not helpful new things. Part 5 is about experimenting, excluding the Assessment, so I should relish that!

I need to make sure that I keep on top of looking at artists too.

A list of the things that I should be bringing to Assessment 5 as ‘discoveries’ or ‘proficiencies’ that I have demonstrated during this course:

  • Planning a concept
  • Expressive brushwork (within appropriate context)
  • Selection (as opposed to all-inclusion)
  • Using long strokes here appropriate to create shapes that flow
  • Using a restricted pallet to help bring things together
  • Crop – strong composition tool
  • Semi-abstract working is a strength

Details I need to focus upon to complete work:

  • Making important parts of pictures (focal areas) detailed enough / clear / able to take being the focus
  • Make use of good sketch work to drive finished painting


Hockney – Salts Mill


during Part 4 – Landscape – I came across the ‘Bigger Picture’ exhibition online which was held in 2012. Long over now and passed me by before I started this course, but the documentary I watched about provided a glimpse of why this man can have the whole gallery for his landscapes.

His landscapes are like no-one else’s and I’ve chosen ‘Salts Mill’ as an example painting to talk about.

The Painting

The main focus of the painting is the Salt Mill itself which towers four industrial stories of narrow cobbled streets of narrow houses. this probably blended into the other work at the exhibition in 2012 but seen on its own now the word that first and foremost describes it is vivid.

My first encounter with Hockney’s landscapes put Turner and Constable into a perspective that I had not previously considered – that their beautiful landscapes were also bounded by a need for representing a reality. Compared to landscapes before Constable and Turner were very exciting. Hockney takes a new turn and brings an un-real vividness to the picture.

Perspective makes rules of its own in Salt Mill and I can’t help but travel along the cobbled roads as if I don’t know where they will lead in the picture. It presents a view that is not currently visible in the Saltair area north of Bradford where the mill now stands, converted with a visitor centre, and I’m drawn to a nostalgic yet far from sepia interpretation.

We are used to seeing the past as dusty, and in a long-abandoned building, the dust is literal – turning everything grey. To see this picture as a view of the past lifts the dust layer and reveals a vibrant life.

The bright red train in the centre of the picture is unapologetic – it is not a drab conveyance and in the colour scheme of the painting it is a spark of life set against the green of the grass below; in this painting it is an anchor.

I admire the idea that one can paint joyously without apologising for the gregarious use of strong colour – it is not a realistic view in the photographic sense.

Ther is a sense of performance or worship – rows of houses are like individuals all in rows facing the spectacle. The golden colour of The Mill re-enforces this like it is in high regard or treasured.

The light is coming from distant right off the canvas and causes the house roofs to shine. The gold colour of The Mill also reminds me of that photographic technique of using the ‘Golden Hour’ just before sunset (or possibly just after sunrise) when the low sun is literally golden and creates atmospheric warmth contrasted against a deep blue shadow. The shadowed side of this building is redder, not bluer, and this creates a stronger sense of the inherent goldness of the building rather than just a lighting effect.

There are many meticulously reproduced repetitions in this picture – although it doesn’t necessarily strike me as being meticulous because the implementation is subtle rather than being striking repetitions. Ther are three in particular – the rows of houses with their chimneys, roof lines and perspective; the cobbles which are varied in colour and recede to the distance; and The Mill itself with a military array of windows.

Others are the railway sleepers, the row of archways on the left, trees lining the green area.

[1] Hockney was born in Bradford and went to art college there initially, before going to Graduate Art College in London. This painting is probably a childhood memory for him – a well-known historical local sight since 1853 when it was built [2]. Until 1986 it was still producing cloth, so Hockney probably remembers it as a workplace.

Hockney was friends with a former owner of the site, Jonathan Silver

The houses (‘model village’?) were built by the mill owner to house the workers.


[1] https://www.biography.com/people/david-hockney-9340738

[2] http://www.saltsmill.org.uk/#about

Meta Contextual Studies

I’m having trouble moving forward with the study of context – it’s increasingly pointed out in tutor reports which is unsurprising as I find it a rather unnatural approach to work.

I’m going back to the beginning to find out what Contextual Studies means to see if this helps and I’m making notes here to help me to untangle the meaning.

What does ‘Contextual Studies’ mean


This encapsulates other phrases like ‘Looking at other artists’ (this phrase also politely intimates that I am an artist!).

It suggests ‘Make notes on their ideas, techniques, style and development’. This confuses me because I get:

  1. Make notes on their ideas
  2. Which ideas… what kind of an idea?
  3. Why am I noting things? Which things?
  4. What do my notes do?
  5. ….

This quote is in https://www.oca.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/P3CS_sample.pdf which is an OCA Painting 3 sample:

Don’t just quote facts, but offer your own thoughts asthough in conversation with the reader.

(re exhibition reviews) I think I do this sometimes – I like this idea. So I can find a fact then discuss it with my mute friend, the reader!


The following from: https://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/showthread.php?t=1389291

Contextual studies is you basically researching what YOU’RE currently doing in art, seeing how other artists have approached the same thing… …it should be a resource for YOU as the artist. It should help you understand your own work better, it should give you ideas.

(user: themitten)

This raises the question: what directs ‘what I’m doing’?

Also, are ‘Research Points’ not contextual… is ‘what I’m doing’ actually in the sense of ‘The Exercises’?

Looking at Artists

This is the OCA guide… I’d forgotten about it but asked on Facebook and got directions.

There are two things I need to answer from this information:

  1. How to do the work – the steps, the materials, the requirements – the mundane
  2. Why to do the work – What will I gain, how does it help me, what should I aim to have achieved after the fact!

So… criteria perhaps?