Category Archives: intimacy

part two: intimacy: assignment two



final drawing

I enjoyed the previous exercises on interiors, so choosing between interiors and still life for Assignment Two was easy. Inspiration came quickly – a chance movement of a spotlight created a theatrical shadow of our silly knitted moose head. Gazing at this second, much grander moose head, I was struck by the adventure offered up by shadows  – if we can only let our imagination loose. As a kid I was terrified of the staircase and landing that led up from my bedroom door. But this is a different house, and these shadows are kind, they invite you to sneak up and disappear in to them, to become part of their mystery.

While this new world was exposed by the chance shift of a spot light, my youngest sat downstairs in an armchair, bathed in the blue light of the TV, absorbed in the screen and oblivious to this other world. I wonder about our kids today. Their heads are filled with high definition action adventure from the screen, interactive and competitive. How can the shadow of a knitted moose head compare? Will they ever see a witch in the shadows at the top of the stairs?

I’ve done ten thumbnail sketches, with TV, without TV, with moose and without. All with a staircase leading to shadow. But I’m finding it difficult choosing the composition I like best.


It comes down to the staircase. Do I show the shadow of the balustrade or the iron posts themselves? Do I angle the viewer poised to go up the stairs, or looking down towards the TV. There is something spookier in the first composition above, the shadow of the staircase thrown onto the steps, the banister slicing the image in two, the shadows at the top of the stairs have become abstract in their shape. Looking at it I feel the viewer is going to climb these stairs soundlessly, to merge into the darkness and hide.

The exercise asks for A3, which is a relief. With my lack of experience, A1 seems like an enormous space to fill. As with Assignment One, I find myself drawn again to Ben Nicholson, this time to 1943-1945 (St Ives) but one of the Odilon Redon drawings I referred to in earlier research has also been foremost in my mind:

Such different works. I love the graphicness of Nicholson, the play with perspective, negative space. We’re not sure what’s real, what is void. And of course Redon is all about atmosphere, shadow, light and dark, secrets.

In the prior exercise I experimented with a painted background for the first time. I’m wondering if I can follow Nicholson’s example of the painted graphic elements to create the structure of the interior space, drawing the detail over the top? I like the idea of a fairly simple drawing – almost like an architectural plan – things I find quite evocative. These are dreams of spaces, there will always be an uncertainty about whether they exist.

Spent some time messing about with different media. Funny how I was so resistant to it in the multi-media exercise, but now I feel a need to push something into the paper, to bring it alive somehoimg_1973w.

For now I want to keep to black and white with a range of blues for the electric light of the TV. As with the black & white TVs of old, I never tire of telling the kids – we simply saw colour! This is interesting to me –  are we kidding our brain that we are seeing colour, is this again some part of our imagination at work?

Perhaps keeping it black & white gives these areas more of a fictional quality – the monotone pages of a fairytale, waiting to be brought alive by us.


My first rough attempt in my A4 sketchbook. Specific problems that I need to watch out for: perspective lower steps, balustrade.

Things I need to work out:

  • the colour of the moose – in reality he is made of multi-coloured string, predominately red. I’m worried that putting him in colour may be too contrived, too quirky and give him too much attention. I’m beginning to think that he too must be in black and white though I need to make sure there is enough detail on him to distinguish him from his shadow.
  • the foreground – in reality the area leading to the TV is a couple of steps down from the immediate foreground, but leaving out this architectural feature gives the whole a slightly more dreamy and unreal feel.
  • The right hand wall is quite flat and lacking in perspective, though it has a solidity to it – I think due to the working of paint (white acrylic rubbed in over black wash), however the left wall seems more atmospheric with its play of shadows.
  • I could go stronger with the blue light, and with the middle shadows to the left of the staircase

Slightly worried that I’m not using enough colour, though the exercise asks us to ‘demonstrate a growing understanding of the use of colour in drawing’  rather than ‘use colour’.

Still not totally confident with my plan to put down a watercolour wash first, I mess about more. I use a brush, I use my fingers, I flick paint, use it dry, use it wet, checking all the time that pencil will work over the top smoothly. img_1991I also wonder if I can get a decent white if I need a highlight where I’ve got dark paint – acrylic, pastel, crayon – nothing gives me an opaque white over black watercolour but I think it will be enough to lighten.

img_1983Taking advice from the oca forum I’ve bought a heavier paper than I usually use (270gsm) and I’m hoping it won’t buckle with added water. After more experimenting I brushed clean water across the page and then pushed in black watercolour (I like the way this gives a range of ghosty blobs rather than plan washes of colour) where I knew the major shadows would be, and applied touches of blue for the light of the TV.


I’ve just learnt how to measure using a pencil or in this case a knitting needle. It’s been a bit of a revelation, and really helped me get my perspective sorted out quicker than I usually would do.

Cats also favour this method.

I actually quite like this with just the basics sketched in. I like the ghostliness of the ink and pencil lines moving in and out of each other, and I’m thinking about how I can keep that essence.

I’m sure now that I will continue solely with pencil (and coloured pencil). I want to keep the transparency and lightness of the paint wash and I from my testing it feels like charcoal and pastels slightly take over. Pencil will keep that ghostly, ephemeral quality I’m after.


As I work through the various oca projects I realise that getting past this initial point, and ‘completing’ the drawing is the stumbling block. My tendency is to tighten up and become fixated on replicating what I see – losing all emotion in the process.

I’m interested in this image, in the potential drama of shadows and intrigue of buildings – and I want to be sure that interest comes across.

There are some areas I like for their spontaneity and I need to figure out if I can keep them as the drawing develops. I also need to straighten out that post. Or do I?

As this image depends on two sources of artificial light, I can only work on it when darkness falls and I perch on a chair in semi-darkness. It’s a little frustrating, but somehow working in those conditions helps. This isn’t a day-time drawing.


About half-way through. I’m pleased with how it’s going. I’ve let the the paint marks play a greater part than I had originally planned, and let the light areas stay where I had intended to darken. At this moment I’m not sure whether to highlight or not. There are areas such as the moose head antlers that are quite bright, but I like the way there is a mottled shadow on them now. Almost moonlight and trees. The outside coming in. Bringing him to life.

My big internal debate now is whether to draw in the balustrade. I like its qualities as an architectural-type drawing, slightly ghostly. We renovated this house and put this staircase in. Before the only way to the top floor was by ladder through an outside window.  Keeping it like this is a reminder of the old ways.

Some of my lines are a bit wobbly, giving the effect of swollen walls,  but they don’t worry me. It gives a slight feeling of movement, of walls breathing. And old houses most definitely move.


Almost done.  I’ve spent a while looking at the foreground, which has no interest. I’m tempted to add in the tiled floor, but this may give me a perspective headache. I’m tempted to add a mysterious shadow – the shadow of the viewer? But that might be a shadow too many. I feel the foreground needs to be darker, but I’m not sure how to arrive at that – whether to go back in with watercolour, or pencil? (I’ve just looked back at the Odilon Redon above and am thinking that he has left his foreground without specific interest, just the texture of the floorboards. Would the suggestion of tiles be enough maybe?)

Other areas to fix: darken back of chair (significantly) and chair’s shadow. Add in the highlight from the TV that falls on the floor. Darken post. Consider darkening moose shadow – he needs to be more dramatic than his owner.


So I’ve finished, but I regret adding the lower stone tile – I wish I had just suggested the flooring – as above – it’s lost some of its oddness, the ambiguity. Now we know these steps come down to a tiled floor.  I may take this out. Yes, it has to go.








final drawing

I’m pretty happy, it’s sort of gone the way I had hoped. There are areas that are problematic, but I put this down to experience, and I will most definitely learn from:

  • there are too many stairs (by three!) and it shows
  • some of the perspective is a bit wonky
  • the doorway next to the chair would have been better left out
  • my use of coloured pencils on the chair hasn’t gone so well – I needed to darken it substantially and it’s all got a bit grainy
  • the immediate foreground  – but I seem incapable of deciding one way or another whether this should be more than a fleeting impression of solid ground

Things I think have worked:

  • there is a definite atmosphere, a sense of some magic afoot
  • there is a sense that whoever is watching TV is missing something far more interesting going on right behind them
  • the paint wash has really contributed – creating ghostly presences – these and the shadows provide intrigue

Things I’m slightly unsure about:

  • does the moose head make the whole image a little trivial and childlike?
  • there is a narrative here, I am ignorant about ‘illustration’ but I wonder if this leans towards that discipline and away from ‘pure’ drawing? even though I’ve created the narrative myself?

In terms of the oca assessment criteria I think I do ok on the four key areas. I consider my current greatest weaknesses to be:

materials, techniques, development of a personal voice and experimentation – though I have come a very long way in my willingness to experiment since I started the course – I recognise there is a long way to go.

In terms of what I have covered on the course so far, I do think this drawing demonstrates some of what I have learnt – form, tone, perspective, composition, negative space, texture (I’m pleased with that I’ve got the textures of crochet, wood and metal). I think the big ‘miss’ is experimentation – yes, I’ve done a paint wash (new for me), but it is after all a straightforward pencil drawing…

part two: project three: at home

exercise two: composition – an interior


I had already done the research on interiors before I began these exercises and though I didn’t use the following works in my research piece, they had stuck in my mind.

Giacometti’s Interior, 1949 is oil on canvas though it looks like pastels or chalks  with maybe diluted white paint over the top – everything smudging his original charcoal lines. I love the ghostliness of this. I’ve seen some of Giacometti’s sketches and saw how he erased lines out – and in doing so brought in light. He seems to have done the same with white here – bringing light to the foreground and highlights.

Interior 1949 by Alberto Giacometti 1901-1966

Interior 1949 Alberto Giacometti 1901-1966 Purchased 1949

There’s a sense of mystery – what people occupy this space? Has it been abandoned, suddenly, will they be back tomorrow. Does someone live here, years of clutter building up around them slowly, the windows blocked in? Actually I think it is Giacometti’s interior, looking at the Tate website it seems to have been called Interno dello Studio at some point. This doesn’t detract from its mystery, maybe it adds to it. I can’t help but think of the energy he unleashed here, yet for now it is calm, at rest.

Still one of my favourite albums! Before I digress…this album cover came to mind as I was thinking about interiors, and happily when I looked into it I found that the original image sits in some glory at SFMOMA. It is a photograph (transparency over magazine illustration) by Joanne Leonard from 1971.

Suede Dog Man Star

Album artwork uses photograph Sad Dreams on Cold Mornings, 1971, Joanne Leonard

I find it so beautiful, sad, haunting, dreamlike. The curtain of trees has encroached over the entire image – mirror, walls, bed – everywhere except the body. I’m intrigued by the way the image uses layers to play with space and dimension.

I discovered artist Mamma Anderson for the first time researching interiors.  I wonder why she chose  the title Room under the influence – it’s definitely a statement, unlike Giacometti’s ‘Interior’. I like to think the room is in some kind of ‘altered state’, though it may be that she is referring more directly to something with that title – music? play? andersson_roomundertheinfluence

The room looks like a theatre set, waiting for its actors to appear and occupy its space. Or maybe a room in a doll’s house – with front walls and ceiling removed. Sandwiched between two strips of unreadable darkness, the room sits under the glare of an undeclared light. Whoever occupies this room will most definitely be on display, watched, whether they like it or not.

I’m also interested in the colours she uses.  A minty green and pastel pink sing out sugary sweet from the drab. It’s unexpected and yet it doesn’t shout out.

(Added note: Ok so maybe I should have checked this first, but it seems Anderson did take a theatre set as her inspiration – Stockholm’s Royal Dramatic Theatre)

The final image that has caught my eye is more exterior, though bombs have blasted walls away to expose the interior. I like this for the lighting, for the menacing sky, for the colours and the simplicity of it. Piper had been sent to record the bomb damage in Bath and while this feels quite ‘architectural’ he has still got across the savagery of war in the light of fire and the dark of the cloud.

Somerset Place, Bath 1942 by John Piper 1903-1992

Somerset Place, Bath 1942 John Piper 1903-1992 Presented by the War Artists Advisory Committee 1946

Only once I had printed these images out did I see what a limited palette I had found myself. I’m not sure why this is, why these appealed. The colours are faded, tired, melancholic even. Perhaps they suggest that they were once brighter and that in itself speaks of time passing, of past inhabitants.

exercise 2: composition – an interior


These colours were clearly speaking to me, so I mixed them up myself and painted the pages of my sketchbook – quite randomly – before carrying on with my sketches as part of this exercise. I’m using a separate sketchbook for the interior exercises – a thin book of blank pages I found lying about. Some of the pages, but not all, are very rough – a bit like the reverse of wallpaper – and I really like the effect this gives. If I can find something like this in A1/2 I will use it for the final piece.

I used acrylic (for now I’ve just got the 3 primary colours, black and white), applied them with quite a dry brush, and following Giacometti’s lead I pushed some dry white acrylic over the top in areas. I wasn’t thinking about my interiors, I just wanted to cover the pages. I’ve drawn in with a mix of charcoal pencil, rollerball pen and a conte crayon.


I used a simple black pen to go over the chandelier and I like the inky density it’s given.


This is my final sketch in which I really worked out how to fit everything in. It involved a lot of holding pencils up to measure. And learning about foreshortening. Areas that I thought were large taking up very little space.

Now I feel like I’ve bitten off more than I can chew if this is to be A1/A2 size. I’ve got that sense of dread I get when I decide to clear out the shed, empty everything on the grass and then realise I have to get it all back in again. I’ve come this far, there’s no turning back.

The view is through a mirror on the mantelpiece. I’m hoping the dark shadow right under the edge of the frame will explain this, if it doesn’t, I’ll have to see if it actually matters. I don’t know whether to keep the peculiar white leather 1970s sofa in or not. It’ll be unrecognisable, though I think it will give more feeling of a room continuing than if I shunt it out of the way.

This makes me wonder about how much sense things need to make. I’m not bothered if the mirror doesn’t make sense – it was my view into another room – the door is opening on to another room – there is another room through the door behind me. The frame can become whatever the viewer needs it to be – wall, divider, another picture entirely – as long as it creates a question. Who is looking in?  Who has been here, who is leaving? But perhaps the odd shape of the retro sofa if unrecognisable won’t be anything for anyone,

img_1864I’ve made a stupid beginner’s mistake, despite the warning in the course handbook about set up – I stood right up close to the mirror, balancing my sketchbook on the narrow mantelpiece. Now I have to manage A1/A2 in the same space.

I’m pretty sure I want to do this with charcoal and ink rollerball on paint washes, but do I start on coloured paper? As the walls are painted dark grey, I’m wondering if I should be working out of the dark? New things to try, running out of time again…

In the end the only paper my nearest art shop stocked bigger than A2 was white, so white it is, but I will colour it first.



Well I’ve got to the point where I feel I am out of love with the drawing and going through the process. I am already thinking about the next project – Assignment Two. Obviously I’ll keep going, I need to see if I can salvage anything. Once more it feels like lack of time has meant I am learning by my mistakes on the drawings themselves, rather than in the preparation. I tell myself I am a student and have been doing this just over a year, it’s OK, it is all the learning process. But faced with a huge sheet of A1 and half of it yet to cover…!

Problems encountered: I wanted to work with pencil, to keep the idea of simple back to basics drawing, however a combination of working on A1 and wanting huge areas of deepest shadow means charcoal gets involved. Next to the charcoal pencil looks silvery grey and has a shine I wasn’t expecting. I can’t dull the pencil with charcoal – the charcoal just slides off.

*I’ve come back to this after a two week break. Not ideal but I was in a different place, where I completed Assignment 2. And now I need to finish this. Looking at it after the break I’ve rekindled a little love for it. There are parts that work for me – essentially the sense of a corner lit up.

Problems I see at this stage:

  • This looks like two drawings – split down the middle – but with no connection between the two. Is that a problem? I’m not sure I’ll know until I’ve completed the foreground to the right.
  • The lack of nuance in the blackness of the middle window and wall behind the cupboard. I don’t know now why I went so uniformly black. I think I was after that denseness of shadow that feels solid.
  • I worked so hard to get the perspective right but there are some big problems, especially with the middle window – it looks like it is popping forward, rather than running flush to the wall. I set myself up for problems with this drawing – it is essentially too wide to see at once – it includes everything in my periphery vision. I know that artists have managed this successfully, I’m not sure I have here.

I need to get on. I’m looking forward to the chandelier, I love its bold shapes, and I think it will bring some drama to the image. Not, however looking forward to capturing the 1970s white leather sofa!


final drawing (A1)

What I think works:

  • the left of the drawing – the open door, the sconce. I like the creepiness of that open door and the glare around the light.
  • to the right of the drawing, the lamp and its reflection in the glass door of the wardrobe

What doesn’t work:

  • the middle section of the drawing. I’m tempted to cut this piece out and join the remaining sections together
  • the perspective was so tough as I was drawing while panning around me. I thought I could capture the very slightly open doors of the wardrobe but it hasn’t really worked.
  • media: I found the charcoal really troublesome, sliding around on the paper and becoming hard to control, even with repeated sprays of fixative. I also found the pencil disappointing – quickly going a shiny grey.

What I’ve learnt:

Overall I think I was a little ambitious with this drawing given the time I allowed myself. I should spend more time in preparatory stages – really investigating how the media will work, and ensuring the drawing is as I want it before getting started.

Final thought: does it work better as two separate drawings?



part two: project three: at home

exercise one: quick sketches around the house



I live part of my week in the historic centre of Aix-en-Provence. The apartment is ancient, eccentric and crumbling, with scary cracks, falling plaster and balconies that can only hold the weight of one pigeon at a time. But it’s also beautiful and elegant, and crammed full of ghosts from Aix’s noble past.


The ceilings are incredibly high, windows are full length and mirrored doors divide rooms.











My favourite view is from the sofa looking up into the mantelpiece mirror and seeing the crazy chandelier and a further reflection in a mirrored door. This hasn’t come across here – it feels like an impossible feat of draughtsmanship to get that tunnel of mirrors onto a sketchbook page.

It’s been very tricky fitting floor to ceiling in one picture. I start out with good intentions and soon run out of room for my room. Focusing on one part seems to be the answer. I  like the intrigue of this corner of the floor  – it’s shouting out – “it’s there! can’t you see it? the thing is right there!”

fullsizeoutput_d04                               fullsizeoutput_d06

Looking up in the same corner is less interesting. The lamp makes extravagant shadows but that’s about it. The doorway into the hall, sketched from a chair – I think this sketch worked quite well – there’s an intrigue – the door leads to a corridor with more doors – light floods out of them, the hall itself is dark. Who has opened the door?


The problem I’m having with this exercise is that I live between two places – I’m just getting into the rhythm of Aix and I go scuttling back to the countryside.

These three sketches are the same room, done perched on the back of the sofa. fullsizeoutput_d2eThe armchair corner is my favourite spot in the house, but I think drawing a wall full of art will be problematic – I need to see how/if other artists have tackled this. My perspective on the bottom picture right wall has gone a bit awry…

The viewpoint with the guitar has become all about the guitar. Ceilings are high here too, I need to pull back to give the eye somewhere else to look. fullsizeoutput_d2dSo I think the most successful of these is the view of stairs that lead off the room.






part two: project two: still life

exercise four: monochrome

I had a crisis of confidence over the previous exercise and it seems to be carrying on into this one. I feel like I am not really drawing, or learning how to draw. Instead I’m struggling with new media (coloured pencils, crayons, inks, paint) and as a distance learner it’s frustrating.

This exercise is all about colour and I’ve decided on pastels – at this stage all ways of applying colour are new to me – but as pastels feel like charcoal’s cousin, pastels is it.

The exercise also asking for: tone, texture, pattern, detail, contrast.


img_1618My subject is a grenadine on a red metal chair.

I’ve been trying out the reds and not really enjoying the effect of the pastel. My objects are strong shapes and the pastels seem a bit fuzzy. I’m also struggling with the paper in my sketchbook – a second layer of pastel doesn’t stick, it just glides off the first layer and the pastel pencils make no impact at all.

In my box of pastels I did find a sample of  ‘la carte pastel’. I’ve never come across this before – it is as coarse as sandpaper – and the pastel works brilliantly on it. Unfortunately I can’t get hold of it locally so I’m sticking with plain old paper for now.

I chose grey paper for this. I don’t know why, it wasn’t really thought through, it hasn’t really contributed but hasn’t caused any problems either.

I’ve had big problems here with the pastels and pastel pencils themselves. Each pastel seems to behave differently. The brown is smooth and creamy, the purple is scratchy and seems to rub away whatever I’ve already laid down. The pastel pencils just scratch at the paper rather than lay any actual colour down. It’s been tricky!

I wonder if maybe pastels are simple not the right medium for this style of drawing. Maybe they would be better for something for expressive.


Things I’m happy with:

  • the shine on the metal chair
  • the sense of light under the chair

Things I’m not happy with:

  • the  direction of the light is not clear – I actually had the light coming up from under the chair, through the holes.
  • the holes are all over the place! not even in shape or colour – this was one of my struggles with the chubby pastels. I went over and over them, in the end nothing stuck – pastel or pencil.
  • the colours – the red of the fruit and the chair were very very close. I think perhaps I should have created more of a difference between them. The shadow is quite violet – I’ve actually got the colour pretty accurate but it’s not really an appealing colour – perhaps I should’ve made it bluer? (I had propped a piece of white card behind the chair.

What I’ve learned from this exercise in particular:

  • I need to have a more precise plan before I start on the final piece – with this I hadn’t really worked out how to manage the holes in the chair. I also hadn’t decided what my crop would be – and was frequently adjusting it as I worked. And even though I had tried out the reds in pastels before hand, I didn’t use what I had discovered in the final – I just jumped in and didn’t refer back to my tests.
  • I probably need to be more careful with choice of paper – I’m not sure this was that good for pastels.

Research Point: Contemporary artists who make interiors their subject

Trying to research this made me laugh – what on earth is the Google search term for paintings of interiors by contemporary artists that doesn’t lead you to pages and pages of home decoration – it’s a Farrow&Ball minefield!

So I started with what I knew, and it took me on a happy trail of discovery:

I have an old postcard of a watercolour by Elizabeth Blackadder, of a cat and pot plants. If anyone said they had bought me a painting of a cat and pot plants I would shudder and think Hallmark. But Elizabeth Blackadder’s paintings are wonderfully off-kilter. I discovered that her visits to Japan had inspired paintings of interiors and while I didn’t find these works very interesting (and I’m guessing they are no longer ‘contemporary’) she did lead me to the interiors of Jonas Wood, via his ‘Clipping’, 2013.


Alex’s room, 2009, Jonas Wood

I don’t know how I feel about these paintings. As always, it would be nice to see them in the flesh. Online they look like they’ve been done with a painting app – the colours are so solid – I can’t see any brushwork though they he uses oil and acrylic on canvas.


Interior with Fireplace, 2012, Jonas Wood

The perspective can be a bit quirky,  but just about everything I looked at during this research had perspective that was a little off, and its flattening effect is beginning to feel contrived. All in all they feel a bit fashionable, a bit like artwork I might buy in IKEA. They leave me cold.

I’m interested that Jonas Wood has painted some of his works outside – on the facade of a building, on the highline in NY and on a roadside billboard. This makes me think about  houses turned inside out – the awful fascination of a semi-demolished house – where wallpaper is left flapping in the breeze. However he hasn’t really painted interiors on exteriors – these are rows of his pot plants and I can’t help but feel it’s more publicity than art.

I’ve added this Interview with Jonas Wood, Hyperallergic, Sept 2015  for my own reference. In it he discusses his working methods and influences.


Jonas Woods leads me to Carolyn Swisczc who also paints domestic interiors though it is her public spaces I prefer. She caught my attention because of Hallway.


Hallway, Carolyn Swisczc

Living in France means my trips home involve a fair amount of Premier Inn (and Travelodge on a bad day) and I find hotel hallways intensely intriguing. It is all about the carpet! This carpet has a hallucinatory effect. It looks as though it’s moving, as if it’s been painted on water. It could even be alive. And these hallways can have a giddy effect – narrow, low ceilings, endless – you can lose a sense of perspective within them. The endless repetition of door and pattern. Those doors are so subtle – a shadow and a handle – and of course we do try to ignore all those other doors, we blank them out. We blank out the fact that we are sleeping just feet away from strangers. In the morning we step out of those discreet doors and hit the crazy carpet to the breakfast buffet.


Whitney Museum Lobby, 2011, Carolyn Swisczc

In Whitney Museum Lobby the artist focus is again on repetition of pattern, the artificial light, the oppressive dimensions – here a ceiling that descends to meet a rising floor. I would have been much happier if the figures had been left out. They have taken the image from something that could have been quite menacing to something more cutesy – maybe more illustrative? And again there is that lack of perspective to the floor and security ropes – flattening it out – though interestingly she seems to have done this by not altering he texture of the carpet as it recedes. It looks like a cut-out add on, or a computer-generated piece of art.

These two artists remind me of an exhibition I saw a couple of years ago in a St Ives gallery.  Charlotte Keats brings the exterior into her interiors and vice versa. As a result I get a real sense of endless space from them. Space is never enclosed, we can inhabit more than one room, we can be inside and outside at the same time.


Charlotte Keats

Keats really toys with the idea of interiors: stairways and swimming pools enter and exit, you can’t be sure if there is a ceiling over your head or not. Objects have no form – perspective is supplied through strong architectural lines, and good luck trying to find a vanishing point on the horizon.


Charlotte Keats


Charlotte Keats

Keats uses a consistent palette of beige, pinks and turquoise and all her works are punctuated by strong vertical lines – architectural support or tree trunk – again giving the idea of blending in and out. This tree has roots, this one made a house…

These three artists (to my amateur eye) all seem to have a Hockney accent and a 1970s aesthetic. There are pot plants, and quirky angles, furniture with skinny legs, the colours of California. The colours are applied flatly, there is little texture, objects lack form, there are few shadows. This makes me wonder about paintings of interiors – I suppose they will always represent the fashion of interiors of the time, and our love of retro doesn’t seem to be fading any time soon. We will always be able to date a painting by the fashion in it – be that clothes, hairstyle or interiors Perhaps only landscapes can escape this?

They are also about the room and its objects – the decor, the colour, the furniture. I am not left wondering who lives in these spaces. I think about architecture and lifestyle.


Beverly Hills Housewife, 1966-1967, David Hockney


Reading an interview with Charlotte Keats led me to one of her favourite artists, someone I had never heard of, and whom I am so delighted to discover.


Tick Tock, 2011, Mamma Anderson

Mamma Andersson’s work seems to come from a different place – these images are about what has happened in the room, not about the room itself. I have so many questions. Firstly I’d love to know how she went about this one. It looks as if she has worked from a photograph, I’m not sure why. And there seem to be elements of collage? Then there are the mysterious marks – the blurred spots in the foreground (on the lens?) and the smudges to the left. Something strange is behind the pillows, spilling on to the bed. It’s so full of the routine of daily life – a shirt hung up on a makeshift line, two coffee cups, a newspaper, a half-dead pot plant and yet there are these strange shapes – shape-shifters perhaps? Behind the white shirt is a dark coat hanging – but is it actually hanging? I love how she has somehow managed to create this world of the utterly normal it’s almost drab, and infused it with an other-worldliness.


Leftovers, 2006, Mamma Andersson

More questions. Are these different rooms mixed up with each other – kitchen, hallway, bathroom, living room, bedroom? Is the woman the same – living out her daily rituals. Or is this one big studio the night after? Two people are on makeshift beds, still asleep. Are they memories, are they for real? The blackness is striking – the dense night outside the window, the huge black wall, with an office notice board attached. Is this an amalgamation of all the rooms this woman occupies – work, her friend’s flat?  Not everything can be explained, there are unidentifiable items. But there is also a roll of loo paper on the back of the loo, a neat brass lamp and a shampoo bottle with its label showing. It’s as if Mamma Anderson has walked around this scene saying ‘this, you can know what it is, but not this’. The real mystery of course is the figure to the right who has pulled the short straw and is sleeping on the floor. Andersson can clearly draw, so we are left wondering why this poor sod is so contorted.

Pierre Bergian is one of a number of contemporary artists I found that paints empty interiors. He uses a limited palette and gentle light. While we often think of rooms as having ghostly presence, his rooms themselves are ghostly. Doors appear to be part of the walls, furniture is barely there. The occasional coloured wall panel seems to vibrate as if it’s the only piece of the house that is real, the rest is dissolving and soon will be barely there.


Matteo Massagrande

Matteo Massagrande does something quite different with his abandoned interiors. He searches out abandoned houses and paints them quite realistically, though often with a  dose of added romance. His interiors are quite real, but full of the past. They are romantic and they are beautiful. Sneaking in to abandoned houses is part of so many childhoods. We are endlessly fascinated by the blend of nostalgia, secrets and sadness – faded beauty with a sinister overlay.

The work above reminds me of an abandoned building I visited just last week – cloisters that had since become a college and now lies waiting to learn of its future. The image above is another building that has seen changes,  probably municipal use followed a grander past.

With extraordinary attention to detail – to rust, flaking and peeling – he gets across the many layers these old buildings have – the many lives they’ve seen, roles they’ve played.


Matteo Massagrande

Like the work I selected first, these paintings of abandoned interiors also seem to be following a trend. There is a huge appetite for images of abandoned places – from funfairs to tube stops, hospitals to theatres – and of course the extraordinarily moving images of Detroit. So much so that it has earned the term ‘ruin photography’ and even ‘ruin porn’ – as dilapidated buildings become fetishised.

part two: project two:still life

exercise three: experiment with mixed media

Feeling a bit ambivalent about mixed media. I’m comfortable with a pencil and charcoal, becoming friends with ink but I didn’t really hit it off with coloured pencils in the last exercise. Now I’m to throw in wax crayons, felt tips, marker pens…

I’ve chosen some ridiculous decorative fish as my subject.

I started out with biro, wax crayons and pencils but found that a mix of coloured ink and felt pens had the intensity of colour and smoothness of these slippery marvels that I was after.

I had the fish on a piece of crazy 1960s fabric but it was competing too hard for attention.  Their original home was in Cannes, right on the coast, and as an Englishwoman away from home, this naturally had me thinking about fish and chips.

Wrapping the fish in newspaper seems the right thing to do. The fish have a touch of sadness to them, having seen the inside of newspaper before; wrapped up and left behind.

Drawing them on newspaper has been problematic. Online research advised priming the paper with gesso but this has dulled the coloured inks and they don’t flow as easily. (I’m using pink and yellow to blend into orange).  A wash of watercolour helps restore the colour but it lacks the gorgeous intensity of the inks on plain white paper.

I’m also slightly bothered that the fish look like they are breaking out of the newspaper rather than wrapped up in it.

I decided to try a more conventional approach and put my fish on fabric but it all looks a bit dull and I’m irritated that the newspaper idea didn’t work out.


I’ve decided on a different tack: Because of the problems I had with the ink losing its vibrancy on newsprint (theoca forum was very helpful on this issue, but I couldn’t find what was needed in the nearest shop), I’ve kept the fish on the plain white cartridge and added the newspaper around.  I am worried that this will end up looking a bit ‘craftsy’ but I needed to get on with the project with what I had to hand.



So they they are: the ridiculous fish

Things I’m happy with:

  • I’m reasonably happy with the use of newspaper. It does seem to add instant interest and texture to the fabric.
  • I’m happy that I’ve let the fabric fade out at the edges – my tendency is to go even all over – this is something I’ve been consciously thinking about.
  • I’ve met the brief by using mixed media: newspaper, coloured pencil, felt tips, coloured inks.

Things I’m not happy with:

  • I don’t really like any of it, though I’m pleased to have tried out the newspaper. At the beginning I was motivated by the fish. Though ridiculous, they are quite satisfying objects, but I think putting them on their own as the star of the show has made them more serious somehow. They’ve lost their quirkiness.
  • It feels crafty and a bit school project. My lighting was quite flat and I think this is part of the problem. If I had created something more dramatic – so the fish could gleam out from the darkness – it may have looked more sophisticated?
  • The fish don’t look that solid, and they are not really sitting in that fabric (though the shadow under the forward fish has worked OK, the other tail was off the fabric and seems to be floating – I think I should have cheated a shadow maybe)

When I look back at the preparatory work I can see how much I have tightened up in the final piece. I prefer my looser ink-splotchy fish of my sketchbook, they have more spontaneity. Not really sure how to get around this, once a certain amount of work has gone in to a drawing, it’s hard not to be bothered about messing it up.

Some time later….As I look at this again, at a later stage, I realise a couple of things I can do to improve the image: the lower lip of the fish is wrong, but more importantly in the sketches I had the fish appearing out of the fabric, but somehow in this final version I became obsessed with having the shadow of the underside of the fish show. If I have the perseverance I will see if I can fix these mistakes with added newspaper.


Ridiculous fish revisited: the joy of mixed media like this is I could fix my problem areas by gluing more newspaper on, however it did create problems with the surface and I’m not sure why. I glued more newspaper, added coat of gesso as before, and the surface became super slippery, not allowing the coloured pencil to stick.

I haven’t done a great job here, the material looks weirdly bunched up, but it was tricky to alter the small area to fit in with the fabric already down.

I’ve been thinking about how I can prevent these kind of mistakes in the future. I don’t know why I became blinded to the composition by my obsession with the shadow under the fish. I suppose I was so determined to make sure it sat properly. Ideally of course I would do more preparatory sketches, but the idea of adding fabric on newspaper came late in the day and my time was up. I hope that each experience will alert me to possible stumbling blocks, and next time I’ll be ready.

part two: project two: still life

exercise two: still life in tone using colour

I struggled to find the enthusiasm for this exercise. I went into it happily enough, reading up on colour theory and getting used to using colour pencils in my sketchbook. When it came to putting coloured pencil to paper however, nothing very exciting happened. I spent what felt like hours scratching away at the paper, at risk of tendonitis. I’m not sure if the results are disappointing because I’ve chosen unexciting colours or I simply haven’t applied enough colour – though adding more colour seemed to deaden everything further.

On the whole this is probably just testimony to my inexperience with colour…and I’m hoping things can only get better!


I had two or three goes at the above – all ended up in the bin – but I stuck it out with this one.

Things I’m happy with:

  • the shadows: I had stolen my boy’s reading light and got some dramatic shadows, unfortunately when he reclaimed it I found it impossible to replicate but I had enough to go on and I think they’ve worked out well, even if they’re not entirely accurate.
  • the two objects on the left seem to have form
  • there is a sense of strong light coming in from the right

Things I’m not happy with:

  • the colours – especially the green – makes me feel slightly ill
  • the tall vase, which in reality is a very odd shape, doesn’t look very solid. It’s relationship to the other two objects is not clear.
  • I had put the objects on a chess box butted up against a piece of cardboard on the wall. Because the chessboard was in quite dark woods I wasn’t really sure how to handle this – the dark colour, but the bright light.
  • the whole is timid and unsure

Frustrated I decided to try smaller versions in different styles and colours. Yes I realise I should possibly have done this first but I thought the messing about I’d done in my sketchbook would be enough.


I had read about blenders, so bought one and I think by my fourth try I understood what it could be used for – actually blending colours together (duh!) so I am beginning to see what could happen. I still think my choice of colours is suspect but I have been fired up by my visit to the Camoin exhibition with all those gorgeous oranges and lilacs sitting happily together.

One exciting thing has happened here though. From my last feedback I want to work on not always having an ‘edge’ to objects, I’ve been trying to give variation to my line and let things ‘tail off’ though somehow my heavy hand always forgets this. In the top right however, I suddenly found myself with no edges to my objects, none at all, and I really like the effect – my objects are bathed in light.