Exhibition: Jerwood Drawing Prize 2017

This exhibition brought home to me once again how diverse the definition of drawing can be.  Pencil, performance drawing, charcoal, video, stitch, oak & iron dye to name but a few of the mediums across an equally diverse group of subjects.

This exhibition reinforced my need to push my personal project and I wrote about a couple of the artists in my sketchbook (right-hand side of page).


Clockwise from the top of the left-hand side are:

Caroline Holt-Wilson, Traces, 2017 – this drawing of a tear in the page has a strong narrative for me of pushing through barriers and leaving something of yourself.

Tahira Mandarino, Portrait of Father Sitting, 2017 – another drawing with a strong narrative signifying family, love, loss,  How a simple, single object can have such meaning for an individual and bring back powerful memories.

Lucinda Burgess, Borderlines, 2017 – this drawing crosses the boundary between a drawing and sculpture as it moves from the wall onto the ground.  The drawing for me not only talks about the boundaries within art but the boundaries we place on people and society.

Another work I found interesting was a video by Ann Mendes, On Drawing.  The most interesting element for me was the interview with the Moroccan cleaner of an artist-in-residence that Mendes attended.  The cleaner could not read or write so she had a little notebook in which she put down telephone numbers and other information,  notating them with drawings showing a particular characteristic of the individual so she would remember who the number belong to, giving an insight into her thought processes.  The drawings also had a child-like simplicity which we often try to return to in our art.

Venue:  Sidney Cooper Gallery, Canterbury


Exhibition: America’s Cool Modernism – O’Keeffe to Hopper

This exhibition was arranged in three sections :

  1.  Abstraction, Elimination, Revelation – which looks at experiments in abstraction
  2. The Emptiness of Precision – art dealing with the city and machine art
  3. Home-Grown America – art dealing with a return to the land

There were quite a few images which caught my attention in the first section –

  • Edward Steichen, Le Tournesol (The Sunflower), c. 1920.  The simplification of the shapes and the bold use of colour with complementary colours next to each other to increase their intensity.
  • Paul Strand, Abstraction, Bowls, Twin Lakes, Connecticut, 1916 and Abstraction, Porch Shadows, Twin Lakes, Connecticut, 1916.  Both focus in on the subject to such an extent that the resultant outcome is an abstract image.
  • Georgia O’Keeffe, Black Abstraction, 1927.  Here is not the image and the narrative behind the image that attracted me – it depicts the moment as O’Keeffe is losing consciousness as she goes under the anesthesia.

In the section section:

  • John Taylor Arms, The Gates of the City, 1922.  The composition of one of the bridge towers fills the frame with the suspension wires crisscrossing the image and the lighter background images fading away into the distance.
  • Jolan Gross-Bettelheim, Bridge Cables II, c. 1940.  The massive bridge cables soar from the bottom to the top of the image, they have a sense of weight and strength.  Again, an image where close-up representational art becomes abstraction.
  • George Josimovich, Illinois Central, 1927.  A simplification of the shapes of the building and the city landscape is flattened in both shapes and colours.  My eye moved round this painting picking out different shapes; colour had been repeated in different areas to provide unity and aid the movement of the eye of the viewer.

In the final section:

  • Paul Strand, White Fence, Port Kent, New York, 1916.  It was the narrative in this photograph which drew my attention – why is the fence preventing entry, what is going on in the barn and the house?
  • Edward Hopper, Night in the Park, 1921; also, Night Shadows, 1921 and The Railroad, 1922.  These drawings had the hallmark single figure so indicative when I think of Hopper’s images.  They create narrative of a single figure in a vast empty space – what are they doing, why are they alone?

This exhibition made me think a lot about my personal project and how I needed to take my drawings further.  I wanted to simplify them and make them more abstracted, to  create a greater sense of narrative for the viewer.  On my return home, I put a couple of the more influential images in my sketch book (left-hand side of page) and wrote about them.


Overall, the exhibition was thought-provoking and reignitied my interest in abstraction.  At this stage, I don’t think I want to draw images that are fully abstract as I find the images based on an actual object/view have more narrative within them than those which are fully abstract.  Of course, as I progress through the degree programme that might change.

Venue:  Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.



Unit 5: Personal Project – Further Development of Ideas

I attended two exhibitions whilst thinking about my progress on my Personal Project.  Both exhibitions changed the nature of my final drawings.

The first exhibition was America’s Cool Modernism – O’Keeffe to Hopper at the Ashmolean Museum and the second was the Jerwood Drawing Prize 2017 at the Sidney Cooper Gallery.  At the former, two images in particular caught my attention – Georgia O’Keeffe, Black Abstraction,  1927, which depicts her memory of losing consciousness whilst going under anaesthesia (link to image here); and, Paul Strand, White Fence, Port Kent, New York, 1916 which interested me for the tonal value and sense of narrative (link to image here).

The Jerwood Prize 2017 exhibition really made me think about the definition of drawing.  Three works caught my eye and I put images of these in my sketchbook.  Caroline Holt-Wilson, Traces, 2017; Tahira Handarino, Portrait of Father Sitting, 2017; and, Lucinda Burgress, Borderlines, 2017.

A full review of the exhibitions are under Research.


Seeing these exhibitions confirmed in my mind that I had not pushed the drawings far enough so I began to think about how I could develop my final images.  I still wanted to go with the idea of landscapes as a metaphor for events in my childhood which have shaped me as a reluctant exhibitor of my art but perhaps to make them more abstract and conceptual.  I wanted the viewer to have to think about the image and try to perceive what it means either for me or them.

I first re-looked at the night sky image which was about my middle name being left off my birth certificate (Searching for Simon) and I thought about myself laying on the ground on my back looking up at the stars, trying to find the constellations pointed out by the park ranger.  There was a sense of vastness, and of something being both full and empty at the same time.  I therefore drew two sketches, one looking down at the ground and me; the other one of me looking up.


I preferred the latter.  The white empty small dot represents me as a child (a signifier which appears in the first four final drawings; on the fourth drawing of the series it is linked to my actual image), the night sky looked circular to me and I added the Aries constellation.  I developed this image further as I remember some light cloud cover partially obscuring the stars when we were looking up, which would add some further tonal values to the drawing.  I did not want the clouds to dominate as they were very light so try a couple of experiments laying graphite over charcoal powder and vis a versa.

Graphite over charcoal worked best so I reflected on the image and composition using a photograph on A4 paper.


The corners needed to be higher in tonal contrast, bolder marks were needed on the ‘clouds’ and some areas needed to be darker overall.  The eye did travel round the image and whether intentional or not the cloud marks also came to represent the feel of my body on the ground as I looked up.  I decided to add in the Aries constellation.

The square format suited this drawing and gave it a contemporary, almost photographic, feel and I decided to keep this format throughout the whole series of five drawings to help link the series.

The next drawing was the over-shadowed (Eight of Eight) drawing which now became a woodland setting.  This drawing is about me being the youngest of eight children and always feeling a bit over-shadowed by my older siblings.

This was sketched using graphite and charcoal powders, charcoal and PVA glue.   Again, after the initial sketch I did a reflection page.



I did work this up into what I thought was a final image.  First, masking off the white dot, adding a base layer of graphite powder and then developing the tree trunks using charcoal and charcoal powder.  I rubbed in the powders using cotton wool balls and defined shapes with cotton ear buds, using clean bits of both when I needed to rub back an area.


I sprinkled graphite powder and then fixed it with fixative to give the background some texture.

I finally added the overhanging branches using charcoal bits with PVA glue.


Whilst I think this image was successful it was still too representative for me so during the making of the final image I re-worked it (see Final Images post).

My third image concerning unfinished sentences (Unfinished Referral) was still going to be an unfinished bridge.  This drawing is about my slow development of language, being unable to construct complete sentences at age 6 and my referral to an Educational Psychologist.

I struggled with this image as I wanted to introduce words into the picture without making it too literal or have the words dominate the image with the viewer reading the words as text rather than as part of an overall image.  When reading about Ben Nicholson (Ben Nicholson, Tate, 2008) I came across a technique he used based on palimpsest – a document that has been repeatedly inscribed and erased.  This immediately gave me an idea to use this as a subtle background within this image.  I wrote text describing my early life and the factors which have made me a reluctant exhibitor and kept erasing them on the area was full.


I also did some quick thumbnail sketches to look at the composition of the unfinished bridge.


My fourth image was about me being the youngest of eight children (six surviving) but because of the age differences often being alone and pursuing my own interests (….But One).  These interests often made me a bit of an outsider as I grew up as I liked classical music, learn the french horn and played in the orchestra, sang in the school choir and liked watching wildlife.

As a family one photograph of me is known by all my brothers and sisters – me and my brother being photographed with two monkeys at Maidstone market (not something I would condone today as I do not believe any animal should be used in this manner).  I thought long and hard how I could use this image as I wanted to integrate it into my final drawing.

I attended an OCA workshop on sketchbooks run by Karen stamper in Ipswich and she introduce a technique of using Brasso cleaner to remove parts of a photograph.  This seemed the solution to me.

I scanned and printed the photograph on glossy paper and then used the brass to remove parts of the image.  Both tries did not work out as, in the first, I got a good and surprising negative photographic image for the background figures (I only wanted me to remains a positive image) but a red tint; in the second, I got less red but a more positive image in the background characters.  I need me to be a positive photographic image and the rest negative, to give that idea that I grew up in a large family surrounded by people but was often alone.

As this experiment did not work out I asked an OCA Photographic Level 3 student, Michael Colvin, to help me use Photoshop to create a negative and positive image in one photograph.  He helped me use a pen stylus to define the outlines, invert the images and take out the background.

I did a quick sketch of figures around one of the photographs to see if my idea would work.


My final image of the series would be the emerging ‘fish’ which I did not want to change (Reveal).  This is about my slow emergence as an artist, who is willing to share their drawings with others.  I therefore moved on to making my final images, content to make any adjustments as I drew them.

Research: Personal Project

When undertaken research for my personal project I looked at artists who were influential in my choice of subject matter, style of drawing or chosen medium.  My overview research centred on the set book Vitamin D:  New Perspectives in Drawing by Emma Dexter, Phaidon Press.

Artists who captured my initial interest include:

  • Anna Barriball – drawing over photographs
  • Shannon Bool – drawing on found paper
  • Michael Borreman – narrative and figures facing away from the gaze of the viewer
  • Ernesto Caivano – multi-narrative panels, use of pen and ink
  • Matt Greene – style including use of more freely applied ink areas as background with precise drawings for main subject
  • Yun-Fei Ji – style
  • William Kentridge – use of charcoal
  • Julie Mehretu – way marks pull together fragments within the wider drawing
  • Vik Muniz – style, particularly Prison XIII, the Well, After Piranesi, 2002
  • Glexis Novoa, use of graphite on rose marble paper in Dia de la Victoria , 2002 and graphite on travertine marble in From Murano Grande, 2002
  • Silke Schatz, geometric lines and grids
  • Zak Smith, style of free and expressive marks

I also looked at Contemporary Drawing from the 1960s to Now by Katherine Stout.  Artist include:

  • Grayson Perry – narrative and self exploration
  • Tracey Emin- exploration of self and monoprints
  • Gilbert and George – use of photographs in drawing
  • Paul Noble – style and imagined places

I pulled together scanned images of the drawings into my sketchbook as  a sort of inspiration board so that I could refer back to some of them and ensure I was pushing my work as far as I could.


Unit 5: Personal Project – Initial Thoughts and Development of Ideas

I started this project by thinking about my strengths, weaknesses, what interested me  over the last four units, my tutor feedback and what I wanted to explore further.  To help me in this process I constructed a mind map so that one thought triggered another.


From this one of my struggles has always been that I am reluctant to show my art to others.  This course is helping me to overcome that barrier and I now attend the OCA Thames Valley Study Group where I share my work with others, however, i began to think back to my past to see if I could understand where this barrier originates.  I do have a ‘tormented artist’ background (whilst from a poor background my mother and father did everything they could to ensure we were a loving and supportive family) but did identify on the mind map a number of factors which could have contributed to this barrier.  I posed this idea for my personal project to my tutor and she was OK with the concept.

My first exploration was around a story I was always told as I grew up that my father on registering my name after my birth just gave my first name rather than my full name.   A small thing I know, but it is something that you remember as your older brothers and sisters continually retell you the story.  I produced a couple of sketches to explore this initial idea, using part of my birth certificate in a collage with texture paste in the first and ink/bleach in the second.


Whilst the concept of using part of my birth certificate within  a layer of the drawing was interesting, the images themselves were not a route I wanted to take further.

I moved on to look at using the middle names of my 5 surviving brothers and sisters (I am  the youngest of 8 children) with my middle name Simon being missing.  I used Roman Capitals as names are often inscribed in stone in this font and it seemed fitting that the other middle names would be inscribed in official records but not mine.


I used colour to move the eye around the image and left the empty squares for Simon in grey tones.  This was too much a ‘graphic design’ rather than a drawing for me and I was going back to my safe zone of controlling the outcome too much.  So I moved on.

I then thought of instead of ‘Missing Simon’ I should look at searching for Simon – finding myself.  I also could link this to my feeling that my artwork is never good enough and not wanting to show it.  I thought about using landscape as a metaphor for my concept around a series of drawings exploring my reluctance to show art and did a couple of sketches.


The first was an alleyway next to the Registry Office and the second, a dumpster.  I liked the idea of landscapes as a metaphor and it links back to my research on Georgia O’Keeffe and her use of images to explore personal issues.  However, these two images have very negative associations which I did not feel justified in conveying.

I therefore moved onto a more positive approach and thought about a drawing of woodlands with many paths.  I love nature and grew up going wildlife watching so this generated better memories.  My first sketch was of a woodland setting with different pathways and my second was from a memory of camping at King’s Canyon National Park in the US a couple of years ago and going up to the top of a mountain with a park ranger, lying on my back and looking at the night sky.  I thought I could use this memory for searching for Simon.


I thought the second image had some merit and decided to explore this concept of using landscape as a metaphor further with some of the other issues I had identified in my early background.

As I have said I was the youngest of 8 children and always felt a bit overshadowed by my older siblings; I explored this issue in some landscape sketches.


When I was 6 years old I was referred to an Educational Psychologist as my language skills were not developing at the expected rate – I was not able to construct complete sentences.  This referral concluded that I did not need any special support other than the freedom to grow as an individual.  The psychologist felt that following the death of two of my siblings, my other brothers and sisters had become overly protective and were anticipating my needs and therefore I never needed to construct complete sentences.  I began talking and they finished my sentences for me.

I wondered how to depict this and did a couple of sketch ideas.


At this point I stopped exploring my ideas and wanted to have a bit of a think about the direction I was taking so undertook a bit of research into other artists who inspired me either for their subject matter, style or use of the medium (also see Research post).  I put images in my sketch pages so I could refer back easily.


After thinking for some while, I decided to continue my idea of using landscapes as metaphors for my issues and decided to develop some larger, more resolved sketches for some of the issues to see if they worked as a concept for a series of drawings.

I went back to the night sky memory and developed an A3 sketch.  I built up layers in the  drawing, using graphite powder to draw in the distant hills and charcoal/charcoal powder for the middle distance.  For the trees and foreground I poured some ink on a textured floor tile and then printed this onto the paper to indicate the general shape of the trees and the foreground.   The tree print became quite solid after printing so I rubbed this back using sandpaper.

Process images:

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to finish, I drew the tree shapes and the ground in charcoal.  Finally, I rubbed back the torch beams with an eraser.  Finally, I added the star constellation Aries for my birth date.

Resolved Sketch:


I moved on to the issue of being overshadowed by my siblings and did an A3 sketch of some mushrooms I had seen.  I wanted to go in quite close as a contrast to my first sketch above.  I used drawing inks for an element of less controlled and graphite in this image.

My next sketch was around my undeveloped language skills and I used an unfinished bridge as a metaphor for this element.


Finally for my last image in the  series I knew I wanted something which signified me emerging as an artist.  Whilst on holiday in Wells, Somerset in April I saw a fish in the moat surround the Bishop’s Palace and this immediately made the link for me.  From an initial sketch I produced this image.


I think the vagueness of the image is successful – it a human face emerging or a fish face?  Also, the link to someone emerging from the depths into the light, struggling to be seen all have strong links for me.

I decided to move forwards with all these images and for the night sky image, experimented with further textures for the trees (using charcoal powder in PVA glue and collaged tissue paper) and then reflected on the drawing and composition, having printed a small photograph of the drawing on an A4 sheet.



I also reflected on the drawing of  the over-shadowed mushroom again using a printed photograph of the drawing on A4.


Again, I paused and thought about my direction with this project.  I still was not entirely satisfied that I was pushing myself and these drawings far enough.  They were still too representational and literal.  I wanted my final project to be more contemporary, be routine drawing and reflect something about the future direction of my art.  ‘Personal voice’ as a concept kept coming into my head.  I took a short break and decided to visit a couple of exhibitions so I could look afresh at my work.

Unit 5: Personal Project – Artist’s Statement on my Project Proposal

Title:  Exploring through images of landscape why I am reluctant to show my artwork. 

When deciding on this project I looked back at my previous four units, analysing my strengths and weaknesses, as well as thinking about what I have found stimulating in other artists work.  From my own work I determined that I wanted the main focus of this project to be based on landscape, although used like a metaphor for issues in my background that I believed have contributed to my reluctance to share my work with others.

Looking back at my previous research into other artists, works which have a strong narrative and were based on a personal experience has the greatest impact on me as the viewer, as well as  those which were not quickly read as pure depictions of visual appearance.  Works such as Paula Rego’s Depression Series and her self-portraits after a fall; the drawings of Anish Kapoor; the strong sense of narrative in Peter Doig’s works; and, the seemingly simplicity of Five Nocturnes by Russell Crotty.

I do not have a ‘tormented artist’ background but do believe I am a product of both my genetic coding and of development/environment factors.   I did not feel at this stage that incorporating information about genetics would be within the scope of my ability (although would be interesting for a later project) so want to concentrate on my early developmental environment.  The four factors I eventually decided to explore further were:

  • the non-registration of my middle name Simon – not a big factor in itself but a story continually told by my siblings during my early life;
  • being the youngest of eight children (six surviving), often feeling over-shadowed by my older siblings;
  • being referred to an Educational Psychologist at age 6 as I could not construct full sentences;
  • whilst being part of a large family often being alone.

The final image I wanted to portray was of me now, the slowly emerging artist.  

I also want to test my ability to draw and reinterpret the landscape so I did not want to do straight visual depictions of a scene.  I therefore have resolved to work mainly from observational sketches and memory rather than directly from the scene.  I also want to use charcoal in the drawings as this is a medium I found most challenging during the course, particularly trying not to use it like I would use a pencil.   

My final project would therefore be a series of five drawings; based on landscapes linked to my background factors; linked as drawings by either subject matter, style, technique, or medium; and have a narrative which leaves the viewer wondering what it means and being able to impose their own meaning on the artwork.   

Proj 6, Ex. 3: A Portrait from Memory

The hardest part of the exercise for me was to think of someone to portray who did not look generic and uninteresting.  At first, I thought of a young bloke I had seen the other day in Canterbury.  I had received a parcel at Christmas and keep a piece of brown wrapping paper which had an interesting surface texture.  I decided to use charcoal on this, using the paper as the mid-tome and try to draw the image without an outline, thereby achieving lost and found edges.

I was not really happy with the result and could not picture the image in my mind so decided to rub back the image and try again.  This time I thought of an older man I had seen and had another go.

Again, I was happy with the result so rub back the charcoal.  All these attempts were building up another surface on the paper and adding layers of history to my final piece so I was not worried by drawing and then rubbing back and re-using the paper.  This is in stark contrast to how I would have felt at the start of the course, when no doubt I would have thrown the paper way and kept re-starting on a new sheet of paper.

I sat down and thought about all the people I have seen recently and who I should draw.  Suddenly I remember a young man I had seen on the tube when I was travelling to the Modigliani exhibition who had thick jet black hair which caught the light and was dressed quite retro including quite old-fashioned glasses.  I therefore build up my tones again in charcoal, drawing over my previous attempts.  I then lifted out the charcoal using a putty rubber to create the skin tones.

When I look at my image I was quite pleased with the result especially as I doubted that I could draw someone just from memory.  I think I have caught the thick hair and features quite well and he does have a slightly dated look to him.

After taking a break I realised I had not put in any highlights so added some in white Conte crayon.  I think this improves the image and brings out the structure of the face a bit more (the white is not so bright in the actual image – I think the flash has highlighted the lines).