Category Archives: expanse

reflection at end of part three

Version 2

Part three has been done in fits and starts. ‘Done’ rather than ‘completed’ because it doesn’t feel completed. I don’t feel I’ve got my teeth in to any one exercise, time has been chomping at my heels, pushing me on. Though as I’m now more than half way through, I wonder optimistically if this feeling comes from me seeing more potential in each subject. Rather than a little path to explore for each exercise, now I see an entire motorway network, spreading out in to A roads, B roads, gravel tracks – all waiting to be investigated.

I wouldn’t be English without a little moan about the weather and no, it hasn’t helped. I tend to do coursework in the evening, and of course it gets dark around 5pm. We’ve had the coldest weather for many years, some days struggling to get above 3c. And then there’s the Mistral – don’t get me started. Consequently I’ve done very little sketching outside, some from the car, some from a window but mostly from photographs and I don’t see as well like that.

I’ve also keenly felt my lack of exposure to art this winter – most galleries near me are closed until mid March when the tourists start to trickle in again. I’ve read about exhibitions taking place in the UK and feel I am missing a great deal. I’ve seen a couple of photographic exhibitions and Tony Cragg’s sculpture, but would love to get access to the artists that I’ve been researching. However I continue to listen to Tate and Royal Academy podcasts among others, read books and catalogues and catch relevant documentaries when I can. The more I consume, the more my appetite increases. Just like eating jelly babies.

Specifically thinking about the criteria for this course:

Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills Materials: techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills

Since I started with OCA’s Foundations course 18 months ago, some of my technical skills have improved no end, but some are still lacking. I do feel more confident of my observational skills and visual awareness now – I’m not daunted – I feel I can get something down OK. I’ve also developed a keener eye for tone and contrast, for shadow, for the ‘edges’ that aren’t actually edges at all.

I think I need to keep an eye on my compositional skills. I tend to leap straight to a composition and not let go. I don’t think I try enough things out. I see a composition almost immediately and am usually reluctant to let it go, when maybe I should.

My biggest failing here I think is technique – I am still grappling with this. I’m confident now with charcoal, and of course pencil. I have by no means mastered pastel or crayon, though I am getting more comfortable with pen and ink washes. I’ve begun using tinted and black paper but haven’t really go to grips with what paper works best for what.

Quality of Outcome: Content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, with discernment

If I’ve understood what this means, then ‘content and application of knowledge’ has perhaps been a little shaky here – because of my piece meal approach to part three – I haven’t truly answered some of the exercises, and working from photographs has not been ideal.

I’m confident however that I’m presenting my work coherently, and I hope explaining my reasons for any deviation from the exercise.

Demonstration of Creativity: Imagination, experimentation, invention, personal voice

In the Gallery section of my blog I put the drawings from each part up together – it’s useful to see my progress like that – on one page. And I can see here that things are happening. I’ve gone from straight forward representation of something to drawings that are showing something else – something about my own response to the subject.

I can see that it’s still tentative, but as I get the technical skills under my belt, I feel more freedom to respond more intuitively. I suppose from this will come personal voice.

The weak area here is experimentation. Still. This has been my weakness since part one. I keep putting this down to shortness of time, the need to move on. I’m not sure how long I can use that as an excuse. There is a period of warming to a new subject, and my frustration is that just as I get warmed up and I start to let things wander towards experimentation the alarm goes off, stirs me out of that zone and reminds me to ‘crack on!’

I’m also aware of tightening up considerably, once I start to work on a drawing that I want to ‘finish’. I can see two routes to getting past this tendency:

  • having the time to say each piece is an experiment, so it doesn’t matter if I make ‘mistakes’
  • stop worrying about not having the time to say each piece is an experiment, and just living with the mistake. Mistakes are how we learn, if I don’t make them I won’t learn.

Context: Reflection, research (learning logs)

I enjoy the research enormously. I love the links I find, the connections I make between artists, works of art, art movements and my own discoveries. The links I find often give me confidence, inspiration, the push to carry on and do better.

There are themes that keep popping up, or that I am unconsciously steering towards. That is interesting in itself. I wonder if they might influence future images. The what’s here and what’s not,  what’s real and what’s not, our connection to place. In the drawings themselves there’s no denying the frequency of doorways, or a ‘looking through’ from one place to another. This hasn’t been conscious, and it’s taken me to this stage to see that pattern.

My big frustration here (mentioned above) is my lack of access to exhibited work. I see whatever is available locally (when it is open!), and catch what I can online but I miss seeing the real thing, because I know that time spent with art is when I perhaps learn the most.

I find reflecting on my own progress quite straight forward though as I progress through the course I feel more keenly the lack of fellow students in the same room, that lack of connection to other busy minds. The OCA forums and Facebook help a great deal to fill the vacuum but only to an extent.


I’ve just noticed from looking at the Gallery entries for the past three parts of this course that I have never used the colour green. What’s that about!?

Things I want to focus on:

  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes
  • Experiment and explore around my subject much much more
  • Composition – don’t get stuck on my first choice
  • Pastels – really have a go at conquering soft and oil pastels
  • Inks – experiment more with coloured inks
  • Marks – think about mark-making
  • Use green!

research point: john virtue

Try to find some information on the work he produced while associate artist in residence at the National Gallery. You’ll also find works he has made on site on the moors and at sea.

I was tempted to avoid this research point altogether. I looked at Virtue’s works on line, I bookmarked the page, I came back to them, I did a new search. There was nothing pulling me in , nothing led me to peer closer at the screen, to maximise the image.

I’m ready to accept that I might feel very differently should I see them in the flesh. I’ve had the same change of heart (in both directions) before, once I’ve seen something up close.


No 8, John Virtue, 2011-2013

Out of all the works I’ve seen online, Virtue’s series of the sea at Blakeney Point in Norfolk are the ones I think I might respond best to in person. For this series he walked and sketched the same stretch of coast each week. But I’m not convinced.


(c) DACS; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

I’m wondering if I’m being unfair. Looking again at his works (online), I think I object to those with St Paul’s Cathedral in them. And those done with acrylics where the brushwork is more apparent (as with the sea pictures).

They just don’t feel very authentic to me. Though is it possible to draw these landmarks and remain convincing?


This work (right) I find slightly more intriguing but there is still something about all these works that pushes me away rather than pulls me in.

I’m trying to understand why. The place isn’t a problem. I spent most of my life in London, I love the city. Black and white isn’t an issue. I’m wondering if it’s the lack of tone that stops me ‘seeing’ and pushes back?


It’s not easy tracking down Virtue’s work online, much of it is on Pinterest without title or date.
This last image is via, but I can’t find more information on it.

However I do find it more intriguing than the others and I want to spend longer looking at it. It’s London again, probably St Paul’s at the right, possibly Nelson’s column to the left, maybe the gherkin centre? The bend in the river, wooden pier supports exposed at low tide? It looks like it may be a print? It has more range of tone than in his other works and a greater range of spontaneous marks.

I’ve been thinking about the black and white that Virtue uses, without much tonal range between the two. I wonder if it is this that stops me entering the scene? Faced with black and white, we make colour in our minds. But with Virtue I can’t do that.  His impenetrable  black shapes against flat empty whites leave me uninvolved and unengaged.

NB. This post has been bothering me, because I haven’t really tried to understand the painter or his work. And maybe if I give a bit more I will get more out. I’ve done some more reading to try and get into these works:

Virtue spends several years with each subject. Shortly before coming to London he was painting the Exe estuary. When he joined the National Gallery as associate artist, Virtue says he became mesmerised by the Thames – which led to the body of work he created during his time in London. He describes himself as having only a ‘tourist acquaintance’  with London before taking this position. I wonder if this is what I’m sensing. I’m interested in the connection we have to place, and how this affects our artistic response to a place. There is surely a huge difference in the response of the tourist or visitor to that of someone with the deep physical connection that comes from being born or growing up in a place?

This from Peter Kingston’s 2005 profile on John Virtue in The Guardian:

“The dynamism here is unique,” (Virtue) says of London. “There’s an energy and vitality – it almost has an organic feel to it. It grows and changes its form all the time.” Given this, Virtue’s rejection of the idea that the paintings record particular moments in a changing scene seems paradoxical.

“I want to move away from the notion of impression – a cold winter’s day in London, for instance. I work right across seasons, time and weather. I’m not interested in capturing a fleeting moment (Kingston, 2005)

This has really put my head in a twist. Virtue does not want to capture an impression of the city. Does this mean he is trying to capture its essence? the way it mesmerised him? its character through time? There is something timeless about these images, except the first shown above. Which truthfully reminds me of the paintings shown on the street along Piccadilly. Do I mean timeless, or do I mean traditional? River in the foreground, townscape behind? Am I looking at a ‘traditional’ landscape with some black smudges over it?

Oh dear, the more I think about these works, the less I like them. There is something mechanical about them. I go back to the black and whiteness of them. They feel like a ‘noir’ filter has been applied.

I think I have to conclude that I need to see these paintings in person for them to speak to me.


As a note to myself I’ve added this photograph of a Franz Kline’s Untitled, 1952, that I took last year. I was absolutely blown away by it. I could have looked at it all day. Kline has been mentioned as one of Virtue’s heroes – another who uses black and white alone.

Reference List

Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts

Kingston, P. (2005) John Virtue: Being a professor is the new black. Available at: (Accessed: 23 February 2017)

part three: expanse project five: townscapes

exercise four: statues

I went in search of angels. Our tiny village has three cemetaries: current, old and really old. I wept in the first, for dear children lost to friends, but in the second I spotted her, the only angel, indeed the only statue among the crosses. Crosses dominate, in stone and iron.

She was backed up against a wall, behind a large obelisk, only two viewpoints to draw her from, and no way to get up close without trampling another’s grave. I can’t tell how old she is, but lichen is taking over and the weather has all but worn away the features from her face.

I’ve made a couple of visits to the cemetery, the light has been different each time so I’ve used a photo to help me finish the final drawing. Over this time it has of course dawned on me that my angel is lacking wings, she is more likely Mary, holding a book and I think flowers, though so much definition has been lost.


I did go on to finish this sketch but  rather like this half-way point, so I think I might start sketching in reverse – subtracting to see where I get to.

I’m away and I’ve badly packed: a dark green and white pastel pencil, a grey black and red conte crayon and my tiny box of watercolours and a pad of tinted paper. That’s it! I forgot charcoal, black or soft pencils, which has slightly thrown me.

Here I’ve used black watercolour to get some depth of shadow, the green and white pastel pencils.

Size:  A4


Above I used the conte crayon, which is ok in photograph but doesn’t really work next to the pastel – it’s greasy next to the soft pastel. There are some russet leaves behind the wall – the added red is interesting – just asking to be interpreted as a red glow. Size: A5



I think I prefer the slightly more developed drawing, but I feel a bit stuck with just my green and white pastels. To be put on hold until I get home.










On A4 black paper, still with my limited white pastel, green pastel and black crayon. Covered most  of the page with white pastel and erased out to the black paper underneath, adding a little black crayon for deepest shadows. I think the tree branches have worked out ok but I prefer the composition without.

With the tree the angel is enclosed within this small and crowded cemetery. Without the tree she is closer to the sky, she may just fly.




(Continuation of first sketch in this post, above) Using black watercolour for my missing charcoal or black pastel. The black watercolour is so strong next to the pastel, and the paper doesn’t really take water, so that both on this photograph and in real life it looks like paper damage – as if the paper has been burnt.

Paper moves when it is burning. I quite like this idea. The shadows creeping up towards the plinth and the wall are made to seem alive by comparison to the stone around them.

Cemeteries are all about life and death. What is stone, what is flesh. They can be peaceful places, but also charged, emotional, downright creepy.

I have a tiny slot of time on Sunday when I could get back to this cemetery. I would love to work on site some more, have another go at this. But I also have one more exercise to do before my already once-shifted deadline….


A revelation – I can brush water over pastels! Just messing about here, but I think this is how I will get my darker colours for ground and shadow.



Using pastels to block in basic areas of colours, washing over with a damp (decorator’s) brush.

Colours: dark and light mossy green, peachy yellow for stone, white.

Once dry going over with charcoal (and smudging), more white pastel

I like the sense of movement that the pastel makes – wind in the branches or something more ethereal…

Size: 24 x 32cm





I want to get back to the ‘unfinished’ version I did before I finished it. I’m interested in this subject, the composition, so am having a go on A2.

I’m after a contrast between the dank mossy darkness of the ground and the stone statue standing guard over the cemetery – merging with an ethereal sky! Sounds a bit grand, but I suppose I am intrigued by the contrast that cemeteries present: the living and the dead. Bodies may lie here, the living visit, spirits linger, ghosts?  These are dreadful places, but also peaceful, full of love and tears. Such a concentration of emotion in one small walled garden.

And in this ancient cemetery, Mary. Who knows what she gets up to after nightfall. Does she go visiting with words of comfort? I have no religion, but that doesn’t stop me feeling her gentle presence.


Final drawing: A2 in pastels

My beginner’s mistakes:

  • Asking at the shop for tinted paper that would be good for pastels, but not realising there were two sides to the paper – using the smooth side with the embossed paper name on it and finding pastel slides around on it.
  • Doing my ‘wetting the pastel’ practices on a different type of paper altogether
  • Buying just one sheet of paper from a shop a two hour drive away so now being terrified to messing up.

Online I discover that alcohol can be used with pastels – thinking that this would dry so fast that my paper wouldn’t have a chance to buckle I head to the chemist to have a difficult conversation. A small bottle is handed over to clean my wounds. I’m not sure we’ve fully understood each other but though I have to work very quickly and with little control the paper stays absolutely flat.

Other problems:

  • I had wanted the statue to merge with the sky, so there was a point where I had to swap the dark green of the shadows for the naked paper – I had to reverse my process of adding material to create shadow to taking it away. I don’t think that has been entirely successful. It simply looks unfinished. Looking at it on screen now, I think perhaps some added white rising up the body may help.
  • The walls around the statue. I had to invent these to some extent. They were there, but there was a lot of clutter everywhere – broken stones, marble plaques, stone crosses.  The far wall isn’t very convincing, and nor is the pillar on the corner. The perspective on the main wall to the left looks odd too.


research point: find examples of contemporary artists who ‘revisit the art historic subject of ‘landscape’ to offer insights into today’s fast changing society’

Rachel Whiteread


House, 1993, Rachel Whiteread (photo via Apollo Magazine)

Short on time, podcasts are becoming a great source for me. I can listen while driving, cooking, walking the dog, washing up. My husband thinks I’m daft to listen to podcasts about art, when I can’t actually see anything, but I find that I listen harder than I might if I also had the image before me. Then if something that has caught my ear, I look it up online as soon as I can. Recently I listened to Tate curator Lizzie Carey-Thomas talking about Rachel Whiteread’s drawings and when it was over I couldn’t get to a screen fast enough. Before this podcast, shamefully all I knew of Whiteread was her Untitled (House) 1993, which I had thought wonderful at the time. And now I’ve found her drawings.

Most of the drawings are not strictly ‘landscape’ though they are connected: staircases, mattresses, flooring- the interiors of the urban landscape – for Whiteread is interested in the insides and outsides of things. While her exterior images can’t really be called landscape – they are a tight crop of urban landscape – they do seem to be about the relationship of the subject to its surroundings, whether we see the surroundings or not.


Study for Village – 1st, 2004, Rachel Whiteread (ink, pencil and collage on paper)

Whiteread collects doll’s houses. Here they line up as if on a suburban street, their innards open for the world to see. At eye-level. They are empty, like the semi-demolished and derelict buildings of her other images. Have all the other houses in this street been obliterated already, or are these the first to occupy it? Where are they – is this AnyStreet in AnyTown? A dream? A nightmare?

A lightbulb is in the foreground. This plays with our sense of perspective – are the houses a long way off, and the lightbulb to scale, or is this the true size of real bulb and a doll’s house? And why the lightbulb – universal sign that someone is at home…lights are on but no-one home? Are the lights are out for good?

(This makes me momentarily think of a small row of houses I used to pass occasionally, where the lights were never on. And yet the occupants were home, it’s just that they were blind. At the time this felt spooky to me – people were moving around in side those houses – and made me acutely aware of how reliant I was on my eyes. Now I think how differently the space within these houses was being experienced – through touch and sound).

And then of course the ghostly inked shadow above the doll’s houses. Is this the reverse? The inside-out? Are the lights on here, or is this just a facade, hiding nothing?


Place (Village), 2006-2008, Rachel Whiteread (installation of doll’s houses)

“I didn’t think I was going to light it at first, but eventually it seemed to me that it was best to cast the spaces with light. I had wanted to make something that wasn’t sentimental, but would make children gasp when they saw it. When I first showed it at the Hayward Gallery a few years ago, it was extraordinary to stand there and listen to the noises. People often don’t make a sound when they see art, but there would be an ‘ah’, or an ‘oh’ – it was an emotional reaction, but not, I hope, in any way sentimental” Rachel Whiteread, in interview with Bice Curigar, Tate etc (magazine) Issue 20, Autumn 2010

What I find interesting in this quote is how Whiteread talks about casting the spaces with light – not lighting up the insides – but casting them. Sometimes she works with plaster, sometimes resin, sometimes light.


House Study, Grove Road, photograph in four parts, 1992

I can’t find much information on this, though I have to assume it is preparatory drawing for House, which was indeed at 193 Grove Road.

I find it fascinating that the simple whitening out of parts of a photograph manages to do so much: creates a drawing, raises questions, makes us think. Think about the presence of houses, their footprints, the space they occupy in the landscape, the history they hold within their walls, the people who were sheltered by those walls. What remains of all this when the house is gone?


Dog Leg Stair, 1995, Rachel Whiteread (correction fluid and ink on graph paper)

Graph paper! This was what really got me running to a screen to check out these drawings. I had been thinking about doing my Assignment 3 on graph paper when I heard that Whiteread had used it for some of her drawings. And then she uses Tippex.

Wonderful Tippex. Who hasn’t blanked out half a page of an exercise book when bored at school, and used it to draw? My kids don’t know the joy of Tippex with today’s flashy erasable pens.

Tippex seems to be the perfect choice: utterly opaque, matt, white and dry. In my own experiments white acrylic didn’t have the same opacity and wrinkled the paper with its wetness.

The combination of graph paper and Tippex is nostalgic for some of us. They speak of 1970’s math classes.

I feel that the media alone sets the tone of something past, a memory, plans, things covered up, missing. Then drawings themselves ask questions. The perspective is not quite ‘right’ on the stairs, they seem to be lifting up and towards us, and it’s not clear how the stairs relate to the box they sit in. But it is these things that make us wonder.


Drawing for Water Tower VI, 1996 (varnish, ink and pencil)

I do seem to have a bit of a thing for this old yellow. I’ve used it in a couple of drawings so far on this course (next to charcoal), and here it is, applied I think as a varnish. It is the colour of things faded – plastic, linen, paper.

Though the description here is varnish, ink and pencil, it does look like collage in the background. The drawing was preparatory work for a casting made of the New York water tower. The tower had been made in cedar wood and the casting was made in resin.

In this simple drawing, the cedar tower becomes elegant and ethereal, it almost glows. Its function as a water tower was all of these things – an elegant solution to bring life to the city. And yet on the rooftops these towers were lost, disappearing in the urban landscape.


Assignment three


Final drawing: size A2 using gesso, charcoal, graphite and wax crayon

(I made notes here as I was developing this drawing, which is why there are some elements that seem unrelated to the drawing above, but I’ve left  it as is because it’s useful to me, I think.)

A while back I knew I wanted to draw this scene and it’s stayed in my head. It’s a view I always turn to look at when passing by in the car. I’ve been drawn to industrial buildings and wasteland since as long as I can remember. When I moved to this postcard-pretty part of France some 11 years ago, this nearby area of rust and barbed wire and thoughtless concrete was my saviour, connecting me to some other reality.

A tiny fragment of view is framed by hulking buildings, just like a postcard. The scrubby bushes and straggly trees are dusted with the fine white powder of a nearby cement factory that gives them the ghostly wash of death. But the real magic lies in a strip of corrugated plastic; a rudimentary window. When the sun hits this plastic, we have a spaceship.


During the ‘tree’ section of this part I took rubbings of a birch tree. Thinking about these trees rendered ghostly pale – I want to add them in to my scene – as ghosts imprinted on the walls.

The walls of the buildings are not particularly textured but they have a rough finish and are stained by constant dripping pipes and speckled by damp.

The thought of using frottage of the tree bark for these walls interests me. That the walls of this factory can bear the imprint of ghostly trees.

I don’t see this as an environmental ‘statement’. I think it’s more matter of fact. Trees were here, now there is building. Trees still grow around the


building,  covered in fine white dust.

Perhaps this is more a reflection of how tough nature is.  A tree will carry on growing unless you drill into its base and poison it. This is small scale industry, and nature muddles on.

Initial sketches. the buildings lean in towards each other – a new perspective from being up close I’ve realised. Not sure if I should go with this or not.


A4 sketchbook, charcoal, conte crayon, water-soluble crayon

I like the drama of it this but I was after something more delicate, more dream-like. Not sure if that’s possible – the dramatic shadows are such a part of this scene, pulling the eye through to the mini postcard view of the mountains.


This is the point at which I sense things starting to unravel. Trying to be more delicate I end up with something insipid. I take the brush to it – seeing what partly obscuring it might do. And will I be able to draw over the top?

This is a familiar place for me. Having a fairly clear idea of what I want to get across, knowing I’m capable of the ‘drawing’ itself, but not knowing how to manipulate the media available to me to get that across. I’m tempted just to draw – pencil on paper – but it’ll be too flat.

I keep thinking about my trees too. I want to question what is here and what is ghost – trees or factory? I need layers. Or do I? Thinking now about the line drawing (shoes) I did in part one. I liked the ambiguity of that – there were layers, but you couldn’t be sure what was where. An overlapping.

My intention had been to draw ghosts of trees imprinted on the walls. I still like this idea. I very much like the frottage but on a practical level the paper needs to be really thin – not sure it would then support water – though I could use just crayon? I also can’t get back to these trees for another few days and I need to keep progressing this…

Also aware that like a stubborn tanker, this is slowly and surely turning the way of assignment two: touches of colour, architecture, shadow, ambiguity. Is that a good thing? Shouldn’t I be trying for something different? I’m not sure – Assignment 2 was the first time I had ever made something so complete, architectural, and used colour. It felt like a natural progression from charcoal, which had been a natural progression from pencil. Perhaps I need to wear in this new combination and let the next progression come in its own time.


A4 graph paper, gesso, white acrylic, pencil, crayon

I’d been thinking about how delicate architectural plans are – they make a ghost of a building – and happily found some graph paper in my boys’ schoolbag.  Though I’ve painted over it the pinkness still comes through – it suits the slight ochre tinge of concrete. I like the use of graph paper, it reminds one that once these buildings had no presence, once they were just an idea in someone’s head.


Above sketch with tracing paper on top, trees penciled in and painted (on right) with gesso

Still thinking about layers, ghosts, powdery white trees. Adding tracing paper gives a lovely misty softness – dreamy. Sketching and painting the trees on the tracing paper works well.

I’m wondering though if this creates a barrier though. And is it a bit gimmicky, irritating. Can’t I get this effect without the paper?

I’m planning on A2, so I can get in some detail on the trees and describe the framed picture postcard a little better. Important that the mountain can be seen.  Could this treatment work? Can I get large tracing and graph paper? Will tracing paper glue successfully on to the graph paper? How dark should I go on the bottom layer?

The last few sketches have lost the drama of the light – especially the shape under the bridge – it will be a shame to lose this.


Final drawing in development – before adding gates. At this point I’m no longer sure about adding the trees in foreground or to building facade. Im also not sure about adding gates.


The frame of the gate which I like as it is – just a rectangle – but if I don’t add the gate I’ll never know. The gate is an important part of this scene – the peering over to the landscape beyond.

This is always the problem  at this stage – I don’t have time to have another go, I have to make this particular drawing work, and so everything becomes slightly risky, less experimental.


The gate goes in, this is the final version for now. I used graph paper (though it doesn’t really show in a photograph), painted over with gesso. Charcoal, graphite and pierre noire. Water-soluble wax crayon for yellows. Coloured pencil blue and green for distant mountain and trees.

Things that have worked:

  • I’m very happy with the texture on the buildings. These walls face north, they are always in shade, damp and stained.
  • The window – this wasn’t in my initial plan – I didn’t think it would add much to the wall. Now it’s in I think it adds a great deal – it’s probably the window that is stopping me from adding the trees. There’s a sense of a past life within the building.
  • The pale winter light hitting the back of the building – the overall feeling of shadow and dankness in the foreground- brightness behind.

Things I’m not so happy with:

  • The drawing has become something different than I had planned. Perhaps I should stop planning. I had thought of something delicate and architectural, layers of trees and building, the graph paper adding an ambiguity – are the buildings real or just plans?
  • It’s all gone a bit sinister.
  • Despite doing a lot of tests with the crayon and charcoal there are areas that I had problems with – charcoal sliding and not sticking – especially with the gate, and consequently it doesn’t look as solid or even as I had hoped. I had wanted my gate almost silhouetted, without form. I wish now I hadn’t added the gates. I wish I had left the rectangular frame of the gate. I think this would have been far more interesting, and allowed the viewer to move under the bridge and peer around the corner.
  • the bridge doesn’t seem quite attached to the left hand building
  • I’m aware that the Assignment asks for something natural – foliage, trees etc alongside perspective – and I don’t think my distant trees and mountain are really enough.
  • I should declare now that the trees on tracing paper over the top simply didn’t work. There was no connection between the two – trees and buildings – it didn’t make any sense. The paper was too much of a divide.

(The trees on tracing paper have taken me off somewhere else though – which I’m filing helpfully in the ‘Trees’ section of this Part Three.)



Research Point: Historic and contemporary artists who work in series with the landscape: Peter Lanyon,

“The green field for me is the essential reality”  Peter Lanyon, 1959.

Coast 1953 by Peter Lanyon 1918-1964

Coast, 1953, Peter Lanyon

Lanyon’s ‘green field’ was not a landscape to look out at, it was not simply the scenic backdrop to his native Cornwall. What mattered to Lanyon was the history of the land and its relationship with the people that lived on it and off it.

(Lanyon was from a mining family, but in Cornwall this industry was in steep decline as Lanyon returned from the Second World War – service industries were taking over – and for Cornwall that meant tourism and retirement.)

Headland 1948 by Peter Lanyon 1918-1964

Headland, 1948, Peter Lanyon

Lanyon’s works move me. My birth certificate declares land-locked Surrey but my heart has always been in Cornwall and in particular Lanyon’s western Cornwall. His works don’t sit with the picturesque paintings of wobbly villages, winding lanes and blustery clifftops.

When I look at Lanyon’s drawings or paintings I feel he has taken his hand and plunged it deep in to the soil, he has felt the structure of the rocks under Cornwall  – where it has broken, where it has come together – he has traced his fingers along the scars that mining has left, felt the rusting metal. All this and the contours of the land we see, the forces of the winds. He’s taken all this that he has felt with his hand, and put it on to a flat surface. It’s exhilarating.


Portreath, 1949, Peter Lanyon (photograph from book)

Porthleven 1951 by Peter Lanyon 1918-1964

Porthleven, 1951, Peter Lanyon

Lanyon is maybe best known for his glider paintings. He had always explored Cornwall so as to see it from all possible angles. He travelled it on foot, motorbike, by car. He rock-climbed and was fascinated with the cliff edges – where two elements met – and also by man’s fragile existence within the landscape. He began gliding to see the land even more completely, striving to capture with paint the land below and the air above and how it was to be in that place.

Reading List

Causey, A. (2006) Peter Lanyon: Modernism and the land. London: Reaktion books

Images via

part three: expanse project five: townscapes

Version 2

Part three has been challenging logistically and it looks set to stay that way with ‘townscapes’. I spend half my week in the small city of Aix, and the rest in the teeny village of Oppede-le-vieux. Though Aix would present the perfect townscape I can’t always choose where I get time to draw. So Oppede: A medieval village, abandoned in the C19th and now mainly ruins, some gentle restoration. Everything about this village is harsh: it perches on the edge of a deathly ravine and with the mountain looming over it gets but a glimpse of sun in winter. Its history is harshest of all: witness to endless battles and spilt blood in times when Provence was lawless.


watercolour (black and payne’s grey, pencil and ink with pen)

This viewpoint doesn’t really get across the situation of this village – which is its essence really – so I have to abandon this composition.


water-soluble crayons, charcoal and ink

The bottom two capture this village best. I continue to struggle with using colour. I invariably find the black and white has more atmosphere, and I don’t know what’s driving that; if it’s just what I like, if I’m programmed that way, or if it’s simply my lack of experience in using colour.

I’ve finally invested in something other than my kids’ school colour pencils – Caran d’Ache Neocolour crayons – that go down like a wax crayon but are water-soluble.


A4, sepia and black ink, green and blue watercolour

I’ve been writing about Peter Lanyon for the Research Point of this section. Through his work I get such a sense of connection to the history of the land – he doesn’t just paint the landscape, he digs down in to it.

This land is ancient. Movements of the earth are seen through great rocky folds across the land, fossils are abundant, the village is full of ghosts.

In the above I like the way the dark ink obliterates certain areas. The village is mainly ruin, with gaping holes where even the ruined is ruined. I continued the line of certain buildings down, I wanted the sense of their foundation running through the rock, the scar of former walls.


A4, sepia, black and Payne’s grey ink

In messing about on a spare sheet I dropped too much ink and mopped it up with kitchen roll – this left quite a useful feeling of texture so I’ve used it here to fill in the blanks of what is a more open sketch. I’m quite interested in leaving the pencil marks that show across the mountain and trees to the left (a bit hard to see on this photo).


Same as above but a little more landscape filled in and the page tidied by cropping.

Version 2

A further crop of the above.

I’ve learnt a huge amount in this one exercise:

  • when I feel the essence of something I need to keep tight hold of it and persist until it starts to show.
  • I mustn’t be afraid to keep working over a piece. I kept going back in to this with another wash of diluted ink, more ink and pen, more pencil, another wash – it’s starting to build up layers. I think if I did a hundred more of these I could really get across the feeling of cracks in the land, buildings missing, buildings rebuilt.
  • mopping up wet ink with kitchen roll works a treat!
  • Payne’s Grey ink diluted can go pink


I would love to carry on investigating this but as ever I am wary of keeping on track. Stopping here for now.