Assignment 3

This assignment was not a happy journey for me.  I over-thought it and consequently struggled to get a satisfactory end result.  In the end I submitted the assignment as to keep re-working it would not have been beneficial and would have put me further behind in the course.

At the start I thought I had a clear idea on how I wanted to proceed.  Wye Valley has happy and peaceful memories for me as it was a place I escaped to when working at Imperial College at Wye.  I was having a particularly stressful time in my job as I dealt with a number of staffing issues.  I would therefore go to the top of the valley at lunchtime and chill-out.  I wanted my drawing to convey the rolling nature of the views (so typical of Kent), to celebrate the making of marks and to be a larger drawing.

I went up to the top of the valley to make some sketches in charcoal & graphite and some smaller drawings in ink of close-ups of plants.


From these sketches and a previous panorama drawing completed for the 360 degree view exercise I worked out my composition.


I decided on a portrait composition as I thought it gave a better representation of the depth of the view and I could included more aerial perspective (as required by the assignment criteria).

I used A1, 640 gsm Waterford paper as I would be using both wet and dry techniques and I did not want to stretch the paper (this subsequently turned out to be a wise choice).  I first put in some light pencil marks to roughly map out the composition and added random strokes of masking fluid to add some texture to the foreground area (it did not photograph well – the paper is white!).


I then applied a light ink wash and started to add loose marks to define the fore, middle and background.


I started to build up the layers, varying my mark making by using various materials to make the marks – brushes, charcoal sticks (end and edge), charcoal pencils, pen/ink, sponge brushes, sponges, etc.  I finally added some charcoal dust at the top of the drawing to indicate the distance haze.  I stood back from the drawing and was just not happy with the result.


For me some of the areas of the trees did not look right, overall the drawing was much darker than I wanted (it is lighter in the photograph than reality), there was not enough variety in the marks made and the perspective of the hills looked wrong.

I put it away for a day or so but on coming back to the drawing I still was not happy.  A crisis of confidence then hit me and I decided to start again on something else for my assignment submission.

I went down to Reculver where I often walk and decided to do a sketchbook walk just recording the random things I noticed.


I then came home and started to think about my walk.  One of the things that really stood out for me was how the inference of man had changed the nature of this country park.  There were health and safety warning signs everywhere, a plastic mesh under the grass to prevent erosion on the main footpath, dog walkers everywhere, graffiti on signs, litter bins, a children’s play area, a visitors centre, etc, etc.  The very countryside people came to enjoy was almost obscured by the other things.  I began to think about doing a drawing depicting this aspect of my walk.

I tried out a few ideas before commencing the drawing.


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I then started on the actual drawing, building up a background using ink before drawing in pen my stylised record of my walk, incorporating items I had seen and graffiti from the signs.


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When I looked at this drawing, even though it was not finished, it just looked too contrived to me – overworked and over-thought.  I decided to abandon this drawing and maybe come back to the idea at a later date.

After a third attempt I decided to take a break and leave the assignment for a week or so and then decide what to do.

Whilst taking a break I thought back to some comments John Virtue has said about his drawings – he often turned them on their side and upside down to get a different view.  I decided to go back to my original drawing and try again.

I needed to lighten the drawing somehow so used a large sponge to wash off the ink and charcoal as best I could.  I also used a pan scrubber to get some of the layers off!


I then turned the drawing on its side and applied a white ink and then white gouache wash to lighten the drawing.  Some of the under drawing would still show through but in a way that mimics the layers of use the countryside has been subject to over the years.


I then went back up to the top of the valley and used marker pens to quickly sketch the composition again so I was working from a much less detailed sketch.


I then again built up the fore, middle and backgrounds using pens, brushes and sponges, trying this time not to overwork the drawing.


I added further tones to make the distanced and middle ground slightly darker and added the mist haze in the background.


Whilst I am happier with the result than the original drawing there is not enough texture in the middle and back grounds, it is now whiter than I would have liked (but I am cautious about making it too dark again) and the sense of recession in the landscape is not as clear as I would have liked.  I would have liked the drawing to be more abstract but i seem to have a mental barrier to making things truly abstract.  On the plus side the whole experience of this assignment has really brought home to me that it is better when I don’t over think things, even when a drawing is not go well you should persevere and that is amazing how you can wash and scrub off a drawing (including charcoal) providing you have used a good quality paper in the first place.


Assignment 2

As I had worked through this unit I had kept a sheet in my sketch pages and jotted down ideas for the assignment.  I now looked though this sheet in order to decide if any inspired me to make a drawing that would fit the assignment brief.


I kept coming back to my still-life theme of man’s impact on the environment.  However, I wanted to be more positive in my drawing for this assignment and document that in spite of man’s impact, nature is able to fight back and overcome our presence.  I suddenly had a flash of inspiration and thought about an old Hoverport I often visit that was closed in the late 70s or early 80s, most of the structures removed and has been left to nature to recolonize, with part of the site designated as a National Nature Reserve.

I therefore visited the site and wandered around looking for inspiration.  I knew that this assignment was about a still-life or interior so kept this in mind as I looked around the site.   I made some sketches and returned to the site after a couple of days to focus on a steel footbridge that had ivy and brambles growing up through the stair gaps and had been surrounded by other vegetation.

Once home I played with the images to try to get a good composition for a still-life of the stairway and vegetation.  I decided that a close-up view would be best to avoid the image becoming a landscape.

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I decided to take a mixed media approach to the drawing and wanted a slightly smooth finish to the steel of the bridge (apart from the rust patches) and a more expressive, free feel to the marks of the vegetation, to echo the notion that nature was moving to take back the structure.

I had also recently been on a visit to the British Museum Drawing Study Room and seen a drawing by John Napper – Dried Plants, 1958.  In this drawing he had defined the shape of some of the flowers and leaves in some parts of his drawing and had been much freer in other parts, giving a vitality to his drawing which really caught by attention.  I wanted to echo this in my drawing of the vegetation in some way.

I tried out the background first, applying a wax resist to parts of the walkway structure and then adding ink with a brush.  I then added ink for the vegetation, dropping in different colours wet-on-wet.  I liked the effect so decided to push on with my final drawing.


I initially made a pencil outline for the drawing to establish the various areas and ensure I got the perspective correct.  Although I thought it was correct at this stage , I subsequently had to make corrects to the perspective as the drawing progressed.


I then added the wax resist and the ink under colours.


Once these were dry I used soft pastels for the vegetation in the background between the handrail uprights and coloured pencil for the walkway details and rust patches.  I also ued pastel pencils for some areas of the walkway and free leaf shapes within the patched of ivy and brambles.  There were gaps between the stairs where you could see the dark shapes of twigs and some leaves and I used graphite pencils for these elements.  Finally. I added pen and ink lines fairly freely to both define the shapes of the leaves in the vegetation on the stairs and to create that sense of the vegetation gradually moving along the stairs.


I am happy with the result of the approach I have taken.  I feel the drawing does portray the hard, smother steel structure against the more loose, random shapes of the vegetation.  The drawing is also much larger, more colourful and has more layers than I would normally work with so I feel I have stretched that element in myself.

I could have been more daring in my approach and moved more away from the visual appearance but with this drawing I wanted the finish drawing to communicate my idea that nature will gradually erase man’s presence and that whilst our impact might seem great now, eventually nature will prevail and take back the environment.

Assignment 1

When deciding on a subject matter for this assignment I thought about the things I am interested in so that there would be a personal connection; these include wildlife-watching, music, cooking and, of course,  art.  Since school I have always been interested in music and started playing the french horn in the school and a local orchestra.  However, the french horn was never my first choice for an instrument but it was the case of playing the instrument which was needed to fill a place in the school orchestra; I had always wanted to play the clarinet.  So a couple of years ago in my mid-50s I finally started to learn the clarinet.  I decided this would be the subject for my assignment.

I collected a few things together (clarinet, reeds, cork grease, metronome, reed case, cleaning rag, etc) and tried a few quick small sketches to look at the composition.

The trouble with the clarinet was its length compared with the other objects made the composition unbalanced so I preferred the close-up cropped composition.  I also thought this would give a more abstract quality to the drawing.  Drawing objects close-up and detailed was quite difficult so I used a transparent picture finder with a grid inscribed to focus in on a small area and ensure I always came back to the same position when viewing the objects.  I completed a small A4 study using various grades of pencil to see if I liked the composition in a slightly larger format.


I did like the resultant image and although the perspective on some of the keys is slightly out and some of the white tones could have been whiter, I thought the drawing itself was fairly successful.  However, it did not have that abstract quality I was seeking and after experimenting during the unit I knew I had fallen back into the safe option for the assignment and produced a drawing showing the visual appearance of the objects.  I thought about repeating the drawing using more free and gestural marks but I felt this still meant I was not taking enough risks.  I began to think about Ernst and the Surrealists and wondered if I should try a Surrealist drawing.

I decided to have a go at an automatic technique as a basis for a final drawing and settled on the oscillation technique used by Ernst (see Ernst post below) as this seemed to fit in well with the rhythm and beat of music.  I set up a cage (an old cloth wardrobe frame) and hang a small bottle with the hole in the bottom from string and then swung it is a pendulum motion.


At first the ink just dripped rather than flowing freely so I had a number of attempts before getting an effect I liked which showed both drips and lines.


I now started to look at the result and used my imagination to see what images emerged from the lines.   I could see an orchestra pit, a clarinet player, footprints, etc but each time I tried to develop the image it just did not work.  I then decided to take time out and let the image emerge but the more I looked, the more confused I became.  After about two weeks of doing not much,  just staring at the page and getting depressed at my lack of imagination,  I abandoned this experiment and decided I would come back to it another time.

I still wanted to try a surrealist type drawing so began some thumbnail sketches to make a ‘clarinet landscape’.  I thought about the important elements of playing a clarinet – embouchure, fingering, timing, listening, reed and incorporating these into the landscape. I finally found a composition I liked with a cityscape at the top of a hill (it now reminds me of a visit to San Francisco earlier this year and a view from the harbour front).

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I then started to produce the final drawing (A3 size).  The music I had heard as a child which made me want to play the clarinet was Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto so I decided to use the music score as both a background collage and to form some of the buildings and trees.


I wanted to keep the drawing quite free and used an old metronome arm to print the foreground plants marching across the front of the drawing.

I think the drawing is quite successful and includes a lot about my quest to learn the clarinet and play the Clarinet Concerto (a work still in progress).  The composition does not quite work, as originally I wanted the eye to flow up the drawing from lower left to right in a zigzag motion until the top is reached; however, the inclusion of the building at the bottom right means the eye is drawn more to the right side and moves in a vertical motion up to the top buildings.  I think the collaged music score text and the use of the staves for the buildings and some of the trees is quite successful.