Monday, 19 January 2009

A Scottish Diversion

This is the picture I mentioned in my previous post, the one I began in order to divert myself from my Yorkshire picture.

Actually, it's not such a bad idea to have a few pictures on the go at once, it's useful to give yourself some distance from a piece, in order to gain the perspective necessary to judge it more accurately. The Castlerigg picture, for instance, is now looking a touch less impressive than it did last week. Too flat, too smooth, a bit clumbsy.

For the Scottish picture I printed the photograph on my inkjet printer, I had an idea that I'd like to do something that was almost black and white, perhaps to bridge my pen and ink work with the colour work I'd begun doing. So I begun by working on a white gesso base on paper, drawing in 3b pencil. The drawing was a bit lame, and the photograph, though clear, was confusing me. I wasn't doing a very good job of copying it, and this knocked my confidence somewhat. So I painted over the pencil, as had been my plan, in gesso again, made semi-transparent with white acrylic paint with a tint of blue. Then more pencil work again. Okay, but not brilliant. Another coat of gesso, just plain gesso this time, a thin coat just to stop the pencil from coming off on my sleeve and hand. I worked over the gesso and original pencil with coloured pencil, a nice set produced by Derwent, 12 Drawing Pencils, which are produced in earthy colours. They're nice to handle and the pigment feels rich when it goes on, but I'm not sure how lightfast these pencils are. I worry about the lightfastness of materials, and am trying to find out more about the archival properties of the materials I use. It's not something I used to worry about too much, but as I get older I suppose permanence is something which plays on my mind more. A few years ago I invested in a set of Signature coloured pencils, these are advertised as being superbly lightfast, but I'm not certain how coloured pencil, or oil pastel or that matter, would compare to the light fastness of say oil paint? Again, it's something I need to research.

The Scottish beach drawing has had its ups and downs so far, and as it currently stands I'm not too pleased with it. I made a tiny graphite sketch, in order to work out the tonal strengths of the image, and altered the viewpoint of my composition, as I realised that I had over estimated the amount of the photograph I could reproduce on my small piece of paper. I used a pallette knife and acrylic paint, more oil pastel and coloured pencil, as well as a little Indian ink and dip pen in an attempt to add a little crispness to those rocks, but so far I'm still a bit down in the dumps about it. I plan to have one last go at it and then call it a day.

The size of this piece by the way is approx 42cm x 33cm.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Standing Stone Picture almost finished, I think

I'm quite pleased with parts of this picture now. I worked more using oil pastel and Signature and Caran d' ache coloured pencil, mainly Diox Violet, which I dipped in water so it goes on mushy and rich, in the heat of working I did actually moisten the pencil by sticking it in my mouth, but I decided that this might not be the wisest thing to do, health wise.

I made a conscious effort to draw the picture together using tone and colour, in particular the rich reddish purple colour and texture of the heather, which I achieved by using coloured pencil and oil pastel. I was also aware that the 2 diverging pathways could open up the perspective of the piece, this, and the contrast of the pebbles/scree in pencil picked out on barely worked gesso ground against the surrounding almost impasto oil pastel work, are effects and themes which interest me and which I will be exploring in future pictures.

The one area where I'm uncertain and unsatisfied are the distant fields, most of this work was done in coloured pencil, with just a little overlay of oil pastel. I was unwilling to work much in oil pastel in this area, as I didn't want to flatten the picture, but at the same time, I'm not sure if the effect is a little more sketchy than I had wanted. I think I'll put this picture aside now for a short while, turn it to the wall like a naughty child, and check on it later. See how I feel about it then.

Oh, and while I'm here I should give the dimensions of this piece. They are 54cm x 37cm approx.

Saturday, 17 January 2009


Once I got to the situation where I was actually happy with the way my picture was developing, I got scared. At first, time came to my rescue. There wasn't enough of it to work on my picture. Then when I had the time (or at least the slim crescent moon of an opportunity) the fear got worse. I began another picture, from a photograph that I'd taken last September in Scotland, of a beach I can't remember the name of now (I'll find out), a beautiful, windswept expanse of black volcanic rock and pinkish, almost white sand. I'll make a separate post about this picture later, needless to say the anxiety I had begun to feel about my North York Moors painting infected this new picture, because it very soon began to go wrong. Then, determined not to stumble twice, I pulled the Scotland picture into something of a decent state, and found the courage (literally) to work some more on my North York Moors picture.

I realise that often, my need to do something tempts me to rush on in my enthusiasm, and draw (or write) blindly, without really looking or thinking about what I should really be doing. The need to achieve something is so strong that I tend to get a bit headstrong when I should be more cautious or contemplative. This was in danger of happening with my picture (both of them). So I tried to look at it and think about those tonal values a bit more, and also to work at the picture bearing the whole thing in mind, as opposed to getting carried away with one little part of it. There was little 'parts' of my picture that I was quite pleased with, you see, the way you can get pleased with a line in a poem to the detriment of the rest of the poem. So I have to try to fight my vanity, even if this means letting go of that little patch of oil pastel that I really quite liked, but to think of the whole of the composition, how it works tonally (as that seems to be the key for this piece for me) and texturally too. Texture plays a big part in my memory of the moors, so I would like to convey this in some way with my picture, using layering and juxtaposing of the various media used (in this case oil pastel, coloured pencil (both in dissolved and dry state) and possibly later, Indian ink) to create a lively and co-ordinated image.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

I thought I'd ruined it

Continuing from my pencil sketch, my next step was to add some colour. I have a portfolio of vivid memories of my brief visit to the North Yorkshire Moors, of texture and the rich purple and yellow ochre hues of the heather and the bumpy, rutted pathways. The poor little digital photographs spat out by my inket printer came nowhere near recreating these, but at least my photo's gave me a something to hang my memories on. Plus, of course, short of getting on a train back up to Yorkshire, there was no way I could recover enough detail from memory alone to put pencil to paper.

So I washed in some colour, using acrylic ink and watercolour. Urgh, I thought, what a disaster!! It's too flat, the composition's too bitty, the double drift of pathway and strewn bolders split the picture in half giving me 2 focal points, neither one of which are particualarly scintilating, I may as well give up now!!!

Feeling a bit desperate, I began to work in oil pastel, referring to the little black and white sketch I'd made when consolidating my 3 photographs into a composition, I realised that I needed to get some tonal order into the painting, to draw it together by finding similar tonal areas throughout the composition in order to give it some substance, some depth, and to stop it literally floating off the page with banality!

I worked on the distant hills with coloured pencil, using coloured pencil to outline the tumble of rocks and the standing stone itself, then using oil pastel I blocked in the darker, heavier areas, largely the purple heather.

It was at this point that I actually began to like what I had produced.

Monday, 12 January 2009


Using my pencil sketch and my 3 photographs, which I printed out on my inkjet printer, I worked up a graphite drawing on a piece of paper I had stretched earlier. I seemed to have lost the knack of stretching paper lately, a little piece always seems to escape the gumstrip and the paper bubbles, or maybe the gumstrip I'm using just isn't very good.

Anyway, I primed the paper, because I plan to use oil pastel and I'm still not sure whether it's safe to use this on unprimed material or not, I seem to find conflicting information when I try to do a little research. So I primed the paper with a mixture of acrylic gesso and acrylic paint (white with a little blue added to give a cool tint). I leave the brush marks in the gesso, so when it sets it gives a nice tooth to draw on. I hadn't planned on making more than a few marks in pencil, but I enjoyed using pencil on the rough surface, and I thought that making a tonal drawing might help me make a more rounded piece, finding the tonal values would help hold the 3 photographs together more convincingly compositionally. I've never worked this way before, but then to a degree art should be an on-going experiment, shouldn't it?

The photograph of the board and source material at the top of this page isn't my studio by the way. I'd love a studio, ideally one with a glass roof and a window looking onto the sea, here maybe, but I don't have one, instead I make do with finding space anywhere I can, mainly on the bed in the spare room, or in the evenings, I join Mum in the living room and work in front of the tele'. Part of the beauty of visual work is I don't need silence, not in the way I do when I write. At the moment I enjoy listening to Radio 4 in the box room, or watching (well listening) to DAVE on Freeview, Mock the Week, QI, Have I Got News For You, Never Mind The Buzzcocks, entertainment while I work.

Here's where I work sometimes, when I can, on the bed in the spare room!

Anyway, I gave the graphite drawing a quick burst of fixative, but it's still coming off on my sleeve, so I decided to give it another coat of gesso, just plain acrylic gesso this time so it sets transparent and locks the graphite beneath the surface.

I'll start working on this next, just got to think how I'd like to do it.

Sunday, 11 January 2009


I begin by combining 3 photographs I took with my digital camera on holiday last September in North Yorkshire. I love the textures of the moorland, the scree, the heather, the broken down tracks, the muted colour and the sense of wildness, despite the fact that, as you can see in the photograph on the left, you are never that far from civilisation. These little scraps of wilderness manage to be comforting and forbidding, lovely and austere at the same time. G and I were following a walks leaflet, which we had bought from the wonderful Moors centre, a fascinating place with permanent informative displays about all aspects of the North Yorkshire Moors, as well as changing exhibitions of moorland inspired art. I was interested and surprised to learn that far from being the totally untouched and natural spaces I had always believed they were, the moors were actually man made, and the result of agricultural development. The standing stones, many of which litter the moors, are thought to have been in existance for thousands of years.

I decided that, instead of basing my new picture on one photograph, I would challenge myself by combining several of them, as I have done before, many years ago, when I was an art student. Despite feeling that I'm a little rusty as an artist, I began with thumbnail sketches and very quickly worked up a rough graphite sketch in 2B pencil.

Saturday, 10 January 2009


With my nose still glowing from the aftermath of flu, I have been working on my picture of Castlerigg Stone Circle, overdrawing and stippling in Indian ink to give more definition and contrast to the stones themselves and distant foliage. I then worked a little more in both coloured pencil and oil pastel, mainly on the distant foliage and misty hillside. One thing I've learned from this is that it is possible to find a happy combination of oil pastel and pen and ink, this surprises me, as I'd thought the pen would slip off the oily surface, or the nib would scratch and clog up, but this doesn't seem to have happened.

I'm also surprised by how quickly I've got to that fearsome stage, where I'm afraid to do anymore work to this piece in case I spoil it. This seemed to come much later when I was younger, or maybe it's the toffee-state of time that grows more brittle with age. I dread to think what the future might bring if this is the case, an artwork finished in the blinking of an eye? Maybe it's just that fear becomes more familiar a reaction as I get older, in which case, I have to be careful how I progress from now on, finding courage to proceed while at the same time, retaining the judgement not to rush ahead for the sake of it. This, I think, is one of the trickest aspects of artwork in progress.

The work as it stands so far. Not sure if I'm going to be working on it some more yet, probably best just to let it rest for a while before looking at it with fresh eyes.

Detail of the above picture - showing pen and ink work over oil pastel and coloured pencil. The yellow colour is underpainting in a mixture of gesso/acrylic paint and acrylic ink.

Thursday, 8 January 2009


I've been experimenting with oil pastel, and mixing this versatile and quite comforting media with other media, such as coloured pencil, water colour, liquid acrylic and Indian Ink. I've posted a small piece on my website here.

Working from photographs, within the last few days I've attempted to escape the dregs of flu I've had since the day following Boxing Day, and also the apathy (and basically, dithering-sickness) that's the bane of my life, by begining a new mixed media piece based on a photograph of Castlerigg Stone Circle taken in September 2005.

Here's what I started with, the photograph, which was taken by my good friend G on his digital camera (I somehow lost all the ones I took at the same time).

Hauling myself out of apathy, I found this piece of paper which I stretched some time last year, I think I began a drawing on it, hated it, and painted over it with a mixture of gesso and acrylic paint.
I began working very loosely in orange and green liquid Acrylic and coloured pencil. When the ink was dry, I began working in a mixture of coloured pencil and oil pastel. As I was losing definition on the stones themselves, I began working in black Indian ink and dip pen on these.

Today I worked some more in a mixture of coloured pencil, using Derwent's Inktense pencils dipped very briefly in water so the colour is very dark and intense. I also worked with oil pastel, I'm using Faber-Castell Goldfaber Studio oil pastel and Daler Rowney's Artists' Oil Pastels, which are lovely soft, crumbly and give a rich covering of pigment.

Here's a close-up of the work to-date.