Some reflections on Painting 1

My main aim in studying Painting 1 has been to establish a regular creative routine. That has, I think, been achieved though hard won. At several points on the course I felt overwhelmed, often by trying to balance the demands of the course with ‘real life’ and, occasionally, by the isolation of distance learning.

Somehow or other I kept going and I’m glad that I did. I’ve got a selection of work to put forward for assessment and, whatever the feedback, it is a body of work, and knowledge, that I can build upon.

I have found that the artwork I respond to is full of texture and loose brushwork. This is very unlike the work that I was doing in the beginning. In several Feedback Reports from my tutor I was urged to ‘stop playing it safe’, which, for someone who didn’t know she was doing it to begin with, was hard to work through.

Hopefully I’m beginning to play it less safe. There is a long way to go and a lot more to explore but, particularly during the Personal Development module, I felt I was moving in a new direction.

What I would like to do now is keep this momentum going. As the course has progressed I’ve been noting ideas on projects that I’d like to follow through, mediums that I’d like to try out and subjects, such as psychogeography, that I would like to explore.

Today I sent my work for assessment. In the short term while work, including this blog, is assessed I won’t be making further updates.

After assessment I’ll have a think about continuing with the blog. Managing the updates to the blog was one of those tasks that, initially, was overwhelming but as time has gone on I’ve come to appreciate the discipline of it and also the feedback from everyone who has been kind enough to read and follow it.

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Dumbarton Rock – visual review of series

This gallery contains 3 photos.

Based on feedback from my tutor I’ve been reworking some of the images for Assignment 5 which was a series of paintings related to Dumbarton Rock.  The first version of the series can be viewed below. For the second version … Continue reading

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Psychogeography – some notes on sources

Several years ago I read a book about Pierre Bonnard and the importance he placed on his morning walk [1]. Regardless of where he was he followed a fixed ritual of a morning walk before breakfast to provide inspiration for his work. This idea of walking, almost as a moving meditation, appealed to me and was something that always stuck in my mind.

So I was intrigued when I discovered a thread on the OCA student forum on psychogeography. It was obvious from reading through it that there is a lot of debate about the definition of psychogeography. It would seem that, in its widest sense, it can be seen as the impact a place has upon the individual and the meaning that they themselves bring to that place.

This struck a chord particularly in relation to work that I have been doing on this course on Dumbarton Rock and Suilven where I’ve been contemplating what it is about these places that appeals to me. Another connection was a talk that I had gone to by textile artist Dionne Swift where she spoke of the significance of walking to gather ideas. I read through the posts and, on the basis of some of the comments, bought Merlin Coverley’s ‘Psychogeography’ and Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust.

At the moment, as I’m working towards an assessment deadline, I have only had a chance to skim through the books but, given some of the questions I’ve been asking myself, I intend to do more research into the concept. As a start I’ve collated some of the sources referred to as well as a few more which I’ve come across.

It is a topic which, even at a brief glance, seems to inspire debate so the following offers only a starting point.


Associated with the concept

  • The Situationist International
  • The concept of the flâneur
  • Guy Debord
  • Walter Benjamin
  • Iain Sinclair
  • Patrick Keiller
  • Peter Ackroyd
  • Will Self


  • Ackroyd, P. (2001) London: The Biography. Vintage
  • Macfarlane, R. (2008) Mountains of the Mind: A History of a Fascination. Granta
  • Pryor, F. (2011) The Making of the British Landscape: How We Have Transformed the Land, from Prehistory to Today. Penguin
  • Roberts, M. and Farley, P. (2012) Edgelands. Vintage
  • Schama, S. (2004) Landscape and Memory. Harper Perennial
  • Self, W. (2007) Psychogeography. Bloomsbury Publishing
  • Solnit, R. (2014) Wanderlust: A History of Walking. Granta


Websites and blogs

Related concepts

  • Romanticism
  • Sense of Place


[1] Terrasse, M. (1988) Bonnard at Le Cannet. London: Thames and Hudson

Related pages and posts

Assignments –

Dionne Swift – textile artist –

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From the Duchess Wood to Hidden Gardens

This gallery contains 10 photos.

After a day when, painting-wise, nothing seems to have gone right I decided to look at some articles from art magazines that I keep for inspiration. One in particular, about the work of Kurt Jackson, reminded me of exercises for … Continue reading

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The artistic merits of orange juice…

Abstract from natural forms - or just a glass of juice?

Abstract from natural forms – or just a glass of juice?

Am I working too hard on OCA revision? The other day, while having lunch, my friend ordered a glass of orange juice. I was particularly taken with the slice of orange in her drink- an abstract from natural forms, perhaps?

My friend didn’t understand my enchantment either but she did appreciate the artistic merits of this sign…

Easy to understand directions

Easy to understand directions



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Becoming Picasso: Paris 1901

Courtauld Gallery, London, 14 February – 27 May 2013

These are some notes that I made last year while visiting an exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery in London. The exhibition was based on the show that launched Picasso’s career in Paris in 1901. The suicide of his friend, Carles Casagemas, in that year created a period of reflection and introspection which, in his work, is known as the Blue Period.

I’m currently reviewing work undertaken for the portrait and figure module of the course so this post will focus on a small selection of the work on display that covered those subjects.

In some cases I haven’t been able to find a direct link to some of the images. In that case I’ve linked to a review of the exhibition which includes the image being discussed.

Self-portrait – Yo – Picasso, (1901)  [External link]

While working with a chiaroscuro effect there is nothing subtle about this pose or the way the figure is set against the dark blue background. This contrasts with the vibrant yellow skin tones and the bold brushwork of the yellow and orange cravat.

The drama of the painting is achieved with a very limited palette – dark blues, yellows, orange, white and ochres – as well as thickly applied paint which creates contrasts of colour and texture. The pose, as an artist, and the challenging stare show his confidence at this early stage in his career. This is further emphasised with his signature, Yo – Picasso (I – Picasso).

Self-portrait – Yo  [External link]

This self-portrait is in stark contrast to the previous painting. It was probably produced at a point when Casagemas’s death may have begun to impact on Picasso’s work. Again there is the use of chiaroscuro but it is subtler here. A darker palette of black and blue is countered by more realistic flesh tones. In this painting, unlike the three quarter profile of the earlier image, Picasso faces the viewer, and himself, full on. The challenging gaze is there but it is less assured. The loose brushwork gives the impression of a figure that is emerging, ghost-like, from the shadows which may be a reflection of how he was feeling in relation to the suicide of Casagemas.

Harlequin and companion, 1901 [External link]

This painting may have been a response to Degas’s painting In the café (absinthe) of 1875-76. Café society at the time had a colourful reputation but it was also a place of broken dreams, a place to go when there was nowhere else to go.

Picasso painted many of the characters who lived on the edges of society. In this painting he adds a twist by placing the comic characters of Harlequin and Columbine into Parisian cafe society at the beginning of the 20th century. Are we seeing Harlequin and Columbine or performers trying to eke out a living on the fringes of Bohemian society? It’s a visual sleight of hand which makes you, as the viewer, consider the lives of those who inhabited this world including aspiring actors, performers, musicians and artists.

Absinthe drinker (1901) [External link]

Another of those characters whiling away the day and night. In this case a woman sits alone lost in her own thoughts. Her position, at a corner table, and the way in which she wraps her right arm around herself portray someone who is alone and isolated from those around her.

Again the palette is limited, dark terracottas and pinks contrast with the blue of her dress and the syphon and glass on the table. I like the play of horizontals and verticals. The edge of the table and back of the banquette divide the painting, horizontally, into thirds while the vertical of the syphon echoes the stance of the figure and her hair.


Picasso, Pablo, (1901) Self portrait (Yo – Picasso). [online image]. Available from: [Accessed 05/08/2014]

Picasso, Pablo, Self portrait (Yo). [online image]. New York: Museum of Modern Art. Available from [Accessed 05/08/2014]

Picasso, Pablo, (1901) Harlequin and companion. [online image]. Moscow: State Pushkin Museum. Available from [Accessed 05/08/2014]

Degas, Edgar, (1976) In the cafe (absinthe). [online image]. Available from [Accessed 05/08/2014]

Picasso, Pablo, (1901) Absinthe drinker. [online image]. Available from:  [Accessed 05/08/2014]

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What do artists do all day: Shani Rhys James

BB4, 13th November 2013, 8.30pm. Running time: 30 minutes. At time of writing (August 2014) this programme is still available to view on BBC iPlayer.

I first came across the work of Shani Rhys James when I was researching artists’ self portraits and was struck by her fearlessness in facing her reflection. Despite differences in technique something about her work, particularly the self-portraits, reminded me of the unflinching gaze of Gwen John.

At the moment I’m reviewing course work in the light of comments made by my tutor and one of the paintings I want to redo is a self-portrait. I’d been thinking of approaches but none had appealed until I remembered this documentary and decided to watch it again.

Shani Rhys James was born in Australia but lives in mid-Wales with her husband, artist Stephen West. As well as oil paintings she creates installations and kinetic sculptures. At the time of the programme she was working towards an exhibition that included automata, a doll’s house and a specially constructed room painted with gaudy, floral wallpaper.

The wallpaper is a recurring theme, based on memories of her arrival in London, aged nine, with her actress mother. The doll’s house is also associated with that time. Images of herself and her mother, standing together but apart, represent two people trying to cope in an unfamiliar world.

She makes an interesting observation which struck a chord with me, particularly at the stage I’m at just now of deciding where to start and trying to anticipate how the painting will turn out.

‘The thing is, with a painting, if I knew how to do it; I wouldn’t do it, would I? If I knew what I was going to do, I wouldn’t do it.’

The documentary shows her working process as intense and reflective. Facing a large canvas with a small hand held mirror and a palette knife, Rhys James adds and removes colours, walks back from the canvas and constantly reviews the work. She doesn’t see herself in the paintings but ‘I see an experience, a past experience of a past self. I’m trying to explore and make sense of my own personal mythology’.

In creating a work she finds that ‘I make people face things they don’t want to face’, though she is not conscious of doing this as she paints but just sees where the painting takes her.

The documentary shows Rhys James as insightful and reflective and not afraid to explore her own past experiences. Having tried to work in a looser, more expressive way I find this aspect of her work particularly appealing and the programme has given me a lot to think about in approaching the self-portrait project.

Further reading

Ropek, E. (ed.) (2004) Shani Rhys James: The Black Cot. Llandysul: Gomer Press

Related posts

Mamwlad: Gwen John


John, Gwen, (c. 1900) Gwen John. [online image]. Available from [Accessed 14/08/2014]


What do artists do all day – [Accessed 04/08/2014]

Axisweb – [Accessed 04/08/2014]

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Introduction to oil painting workshop

Portrait in oils

Portrait in oils

As I have worked through the course there are two areas which have been on my ‘To Do’ list. One has been to get more practice of portrait and figure painting and the other has been to work with oils. I got the opportunity to combine both with a workshop run by West Dunbartonshire Council.

The class was exactly what I was looking for which was, really, where to start. I have worked mainly with acrylic and had an idea in my head that oil painting would, somehow, be a complicated alchemy of turps, oil paint and fumes.

That preconception was dealt with right away by our tutor who felt that one of the most difficult things is establishing your kit in such a way that it is easy to use, maintain and move from the studio to outdoors.

We started with a demonstration, learning how to mix a neutral grey from titanium white, cobalt blue and cadmium orange. The grey was used to add the first marks, working loosely, almost as sign-posts for the direction of later work.

Once this was done the main areas were developed, though still keeping the lines loose. Having blocked in the lines of the face I was advised to turn the photograph and the drawing upside down. This highlighted some obvious problems with proportion which were adjusted before starting to develop the painting.

At this stage I blocked in the background and dark areas of clothing before beginning to work on the face. A useful learning point became obvious which was the value of careful observation of the features from the start. Areas such as the ear, nose and right eye needed further adjustment. I was also falling into an old pattern of over-blending, particularly with the moustache, until the tutor suggested bold, single strokes with the edge of the brush to create individual marks which was really effective.

Learning points

Overall I was pleased with the results – the help of the tutor played a great part in this – and aim to use oils when I revise some of my portrait work.

The class was really useful in giving an approach to the whole process of oil painting which is what I had hoped for. There is, however, still a long way to go:

  • I enjoyed just going for it at the start with little drawing beyond the initial marks. However, I need to take the time to get the drawing as in proportion as I can. While it can be tweaked at later stages it is harder to rework.
  • I was inclined (as ever) to blend colours and not be bold enough with mark-making.
  • Holding the brush at the far end of the handle helped me to work in a looser style.
  • I need to experiment more with flesh tones and be braver with darker colours.
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Figure drawing workshop

This gallery contains 9 photos.

I struggled with the Portrait and Figure module of the course feeling, particularly for that module, the need for direct tuition. At the time I researched figure drawing and read books on anatomy for artists but still found it hard … Continue reading

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Matisse Live from Tate Modern

Exhibition on Screen live event, Quayside cinema, Glasgow, 3 June 2014 Running time: 90 minutes

This was the first that I gone to one of the live cinema events and, having done so, would highly recommend the concept. If you can’t get to visit an exhibition it’s a great way to get a flavour of the event, equally, even if you do get to visit, it offers you more context on the work of the artist.

On a visit to London at the beginning of April we just missed the opening of the exhibition ‘Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs’ so this was a great chance to get a glimpse of it. My knowledge of Matisse is based mainly on his paintings and his association with Fauvism so it was useful to gain more of an insight into a different aspect of his work.

With a running time of 90 minutes the programme begins with a countdown which adds to that sense of the live event. A nice touch is a walk-through of the rooms in the exhibition when, for a brief interlude, you have the experience of being at a major exhibition without the crowds.

Presenter Francine Stock co-ordinated a series of live interviews interspersed with recorded material. Nicholas Serota, Tate Director, provided an insight into how the exhibition, comprising the largest number of cut-outs seen together, was curated. Amongst the questions considered by staff were what the artist would have wanted, how to display the cut-outs to advantage and how to create areas of interest and intervals of space that allow the viewer time to reflect.

Other interesting features included performances by musician Courtney Pine, who created a composition based on the ebb and flow of the crowds at the exhibition and Zenaida Yanowsky, principal dancer at the Royal Ballet, who performed a short piece based on the Blue Nudes. This was an interesting way to demonstrate ways in which Matisse’s work influences other genres.

There was also footage of Matisse working on the cut-outs and interviews with friends about his creative process including his work designing the interior and stained glass windows of the small chapel in Vence, France.

I would definitely attend these live events in the future. It is a great way, not just to get a glimpse of the exhibition, but to learn more about the work of the artist overall and the context in which it was created.

Exhibition on Screen, Season 2, will be showing more live events from October 2014 to May 2015 including work by Rembrandt, Van Gogh and the Impressionists.

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