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 forst was to paint it into a floor for a stageset 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


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?


Exercise: Impasto

I just did this:



Using pallet knives I pasted the paint on acting instinctively with regard to observing and reproducing the colour and tone I could see. I could take this further by adding texture to the lemon (that’s the yellow thing at the bottom) to make the look of ‘peel’.


Using brushes I painted the same scene.



In this final one I was intending simply to make areas of colour and scratch out the shape of the fruit, however… when I started to use an old credit card to lay down the paint it started to behave in a nice way – I could make very big areas of quite solid colour with enough paint on the card.

Then I saw some round jar lids so I pressed those to the wet paint and twisted to scrape circles. For the pear (top) I slightly squashed an empty baked bean tin and used the top of that to make the shape.

Although this is not at all what I intended to do it’s turned out in a very interesting way for several reasons…

  • The shape and the colour have separated… there are two ‘spaces’ that are painted separately yet as one.
  • The various colours present in each fruit were scraped up unmixed and have rendered in their own shapes as applied.
  • That is 8 actions of paint application all in one go… eight marks, plus the scratched parts.


This doesn’t look brilliant- I don’t think I’ve captured the fruit shapes well. I’m also realising that the impasto part – the point of the exercise – to raised parts of the paint do not do a job, they don’t help describe shape or form, they’re just where they are. It’s a bit random.


This second painting, this time with a brush, makes better use of the gestures to help define the forms of the fruit. The pear in the back comes out worst – partly the photo – but it is flatter.

The lemon is very interesting – it has problems with looking dirty (a food issue!) but it’s got more form and the shadow it casts helps this.

Research Point 1

Artists who applied paint


  • Wiggly brush marks – not blended and not aligned
  • Patches of paint (quite small compared to subject)
  • Sometimes everything looks like rippling water
  • Small marks adjacent used – create visual colour mixing a bit and texture
  • Strong solid colour areas contrast in texture with the areas of small wiggly patches


Giacomo Bella (Girl running on a balcony)


  • Visible patches of paint – like 2inch brush marks – separated mainly from each other on pale ground
  • Light (sunlight) interestingly added by painting a smaller yellow patch inside of another patch of paint – optical blending to make each of those marks shine
  • Big picture – 4ft sq


20th Century Pastel Paintings

This is a little odd… for some reason this seems like an odd category but…

My initial reaction to just seeing what I can find in this category is that there’s quite a lot – and a range of effects.

Pastel seems to be used for sketching and life drawing quite a lot. I like it myself because of the ability to describe wide areas quickly (speed is important for the models!) using the side of a pastel. Using black and white on a mid-tone ground is also popular as an exercise in observing light and shade.

Colour pastels are vibrant and easily reproduce the colour of an observed scene, although exact hues must be hard to replicate.

blending can be done simply by rubbing the work.

Overall pastels can be a speedy substitute for paint – they enable an approximation to a painting to be constructed quickly.

In terms of the range of effects… and I don’t know if this is something that is different before 2000… it seems that pastel artists produce all of the styles of other artists. Effects like impasto seemed to be absent but then I found a DVD I could buy that teaches building up of pastel using pastel grit to create a layered effect (or it might be actual 3D layers… it’s not clear).


Review: Under the Greenwood



On 15th October 1987 weather presenter Michael Fish implored the people of the United Kingdom not to worry – that there is no storm on the way. Still, it arrived and devastated the country’s pize collections of trees in parks and gardens.

Nearly twenty-five years later in 2012 the devestation happened again and this book was published the year after that. The timing provides a timely retrospective to the management of trees in England during the preceding centuries.

The way in which trees are portrayed as man’s second-best friend makes me wonder why they were not revered more in paintings. The answer may come in the form of the painting hierarchy imposed by great European painting academies who held landscape to be a poor fourth out of five. It took until Turner and Constable to shake the fashion and start painting landscapes for their own sake, and looking back at their collections we take great pride in their depictions of trees as great British, independent, artists.

The picture that begins to be built up by Della Hook in Under the Greenwood is of a re-iteration of the tree’s importance by it being painted but also by the continual nurturing of trees in the show-parks of the Royals and wealthy. Gardening on a grand scale became the popular hobby of those who could afford it and much of the ‘natural landscape’ that we see today is the result of hundreds of years of careful management. Royalty, of course, can hand its landscaped parks on with more certainty of a continually sustained lineage of development – the money remains in place. The tree also has a royal lineage of its own. In fact, a single specimen can outlive many generations of  Royals and get to be named after them.

“His Majesty” is given as one prime example of a tree with exceptional longevity. That is until 1987 when it fell victim to the poorly predicted storm after surviving for an estimated 600 years, an exceedingly long life for a Beech.

Eventually, we come to the oak tree: steadfastly the King of English of trees and found to have inspired landscape painters to paint them. Patrick Nasmyth painted ‘Sir Philip Sidney’s Oak’ in 1820-30 in order to commemorate its namesake the Elizabethan poet who wrote poetry while sitting beneath it. Perhaps this is a Tree inspiring a poet, and that inspiration itself inspires a painting. Who would not now expect the painting to inspire poetry?

The essence of this book is that it is at once very organised – proceeding at gentle pace through its well-thought-out connections – while giving the appearance of a carefree ramble through the woods, thus mirroring the way that trees have been placed to appear naturally in the English landscape whilst paying close attention to the needs of the local ‘lord’.

Our contemporary relationship with trees is more difficult – we try to protect them from disease and ever-expanding urban and agricultural needs. They have stood far longer than even our art has recorded and perhaps, the more they are painted, the longer they will last.

Part 5

Reflection up all work during the course:

  • Enjoyment
  • Challenge
  • More practice required

The intent of Part 5:

  • Push boundaries
  • New paint application methods
  • New Materials
  • Less overtly representational

Attend to:

  • Technical ability
  • Experimentation
  • Varied media
  • Varied approach
  • Creative development
  • Quality of ideas expressed
  • Depth of sketchbook work
  • Quality of learning log
  • Reflective ability


How paint was applied by different artists (eg: Monet, Pissarro, Cezanne, van Gough, The Expressionist). Also by 20th C pastel paintings (?). Notes about the range of effects.

Abstract Expressionists: Tachism, Action Painting. Spontaneous, expressive – large gestures; accidental effects. Hans Hartung, Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock et al

Different ways of applying paint

Project topics:

  • Surface texture – Expressionists, Impressionists – Impasto (Paste-like)
  • Impasto etc as a way for the painting itself to proclaim its presence, rather than becoming invisible in order to reveal the represented scene
  • Abstract Expressionists – view as a catalogue of exploration of textures and their language
  • Acquiring non-art materials for art to expand repertoire for expression
  • Artists responding to the world in which they find themselves


  • Impasto – Paints / gels [/]
  • Ranged (Dripping, dribbling, spattering)

Adding Other Materials

Project topics:

  • Mixing stuff with the paint… partially or fully to create new renderings


  • Preparing a textured ground – experiments with stuff; collaging; etc. Prepare some textured grounds for paintings and paint something [PVA, Varnish, Gesso, Rags, torn paper, cardboard, grasses, sticks, leaves]
  • Mixing materials into paint (experiment) – [sand, earth, rice, crushed peppercorns, flour, salt and broken eggshells].

Towards Abstraction


  • Abstraction as a partial action: using visual ideas isolated from a whole
  • Possibilities of modern seeing: Micro and Macroscopic


  • Abstraction from the study of natural forms. Make forms from the study of observable natural forms (eg: butterfly wings, plants etc).

  • Abstract painting from man-made forms. Make forms from the study of observable man-made forms (eg: kitchen utensil, engine part) develop into a painting.

Assignment 5

A series of pictures.