Experimental drawi …

Today I learned that the Warwickshire Cricket Ground executive suite serves excellent sausage, onion gravy and mash.  Tonight was the last experimental drawing class of the term but I was having a cracked tooth repaired.   I was gently steered to the most expensive of several options, the dentist working to keep the eagerness out of his voice.  Home: my wife had baked a celebratory cake.  What, she musesd over the icing gun, should I write for someone forced from her job by a bullying manager?  (Later, I see the answer was “good luck”). My son was still awake talking loudly to a reindeer.  On Saturday, we agreed, we will make the reindeer a bed from a shoebox.

The last art I did was an ink sketch of Briony, the life model.   I have learned that I need to build the image then destroy it before rebuilding.  This did not get far enough at the time. 

Since then I’ve been thinking about colours, dividing the paper into quarters to some extent based on the colour wheel.  I tried this out on the ipad

So keeping to the formula, I painted over the original while waiting for my mouth to recover sufficiently so I could eat.

When it dries, I think I will draw back in in pastel.

white birds

Soon far from the rose and the lily, and fret of the flames would we be,

Were we only white birds, my beloved, buoyed out on the foam of the sea!

The inspiration for this painting is from the Waterboys album An Appointment with Mr Yeats.

life drawing

Thanks as always to Briony – a great model with regal poise.

Someone described my blog as a “mixture of joy, despair and hope” which made me laugh.  I can say I was despairing after life drawing last weekend.  I had clear ideas and couldn’t persuade the gouache to work the way I wanted – it wouldn’t lift off the prepared surface to create negative shapes nor build to create layered colours.  The preliminary sketch above was the best thing to come form this session.  Huh!

Here are a couple I did earlier.


this is how it dried, then modified on the iPad

Continuing the saga of this seascape, based on the cliffs at Bempton on the Yorkshire coast.

I came into the studio last Saturday for life drawing and photographed this dried version.

Then on the iPad, I drew into this as an experiment before the final layering tomorrow.

This gives me ideas about how to take this forward – the green is too green for a start.

I think I will make minimal changes to the existing layers.  Perhaps I’ll use a morning newspaper and paste on the shreds of George Osborne’s budget (the Guardian’s headline “income tax cuts benefit the 300000 richest households”) to make the birds.


One summer, when I was a student, I rented a room in the attic of a vicarage.  Answering my own sense of isolation, this seemed a grim outpost of the empire of bleak.

When I first came to enquire, the landlord, an ex-naval chaplain, refused to receive me until the end of Banns Hour.  We sat in silence, for there were no couples seeking their banns to be read.  In that joyless place, I doubt there were ever couples attending during Banns Hour.

The atrium of that building held an ornamental table on which sat a very large ornamental pot.  It was filled to the brim with rubber bands.

From the train, this part of London appeared still as it had after being re-modeled by the Luftwaffe.  Grey narrow streets were surmounted by a huge residential block with sparse slit windows like loopholes in the walls of a fortress.  This image stayed with me over many years.

Recently, I tried to capture this, setting the weight of the opaque paint against the grey transparent watercolour.  However, the balance I saw in my mind’s eye was only achieved by digitally manipulating the brightness and contrast.

Here is a further attempt, now setting the distant tower blocks against a dark sky.

I had been brought back to this, strangely, by a recent news item.

That summer, I resolved my loneliness by rejoining the Labour Party.  There was a by-election and we fought against the odds against a bitterly homophobic campaign.  Three decades on, I read that the winner of that election and now long-serving parliamentarian was wishing a happy 60th birthday to our unsuccessful candidate.  A few years ago, he had apologised publicly for the tone of his winning campaign.

Why is this of interest?  I read with increasing amazement the way in which the Republican primaries appear to being fought over narrowly defined sexual politics.  In the UK, I think and I hope that electoral polarisation over such issues is confined to the dustbin of history.

mmm … on reflection this sounds smug, like I’m suggesting UK politics is somehow better than democracy in the USA.  That’s not my point – both systems are much more complex than this.  It is simply a narrative – the coverage of the Republican Primaries made me reflect on changes in UK politics over my own lifetime.  Along with a picture that had some distant relevance.

Its just a blog, right …

experimental drawing – waiting for the paint to dry

So now I had 40 minutes waiting for this mess to dry


There is a bar downstairs and I was sorely tempted to go for a pint.

Instead I attempted another quick sketch contrasting the greys from layers of gouache and charcoal with cleaner surfaces build with white and paynes grey acrylic ink.


Experimental drawing – building new layers

Once I’ve posted a painting here, I feel I can destroy it.  Thanks to Kevin, the class tutor, for the discussions as I executed this.

I started with this


I spent a while looking at it.  This painting is just a platform for drawing in the roosting and soaring birds.  The shapes are too well defined but lack grandeur.

I drew back in charcoal to create a dark and friable ground then painted over with very wet gouache.  This suspended the carbon granules in pleasing shapes and released underlying colour into the new layer.I started to draw in to the base of the stacks in sepia ink but this hit pooled water and spread.  The dilemma was to stop or lift this out.

I stopped.  This is how it looked after drying a bit 40 minutes later.

The ink puddle seems to have moved – did I do that?

I will see this again on Saturday morning when I am in the same room for life drawing.  It will have dried as it is or will have been hung vertically to drip. I’m not sure what to expect.

Next week – I will draw back into this and re-define the shapes and colours and finally add the birds.  I am not sure what is the right medium for this.

experimental life drawing

Yesterday, in the life drawing session, I followed a class plan intended to help free us of some of the constraints on our drawing.  I covered the paper in a variegated wash in acrylic ink to form a ground.  In gouache, I blocked in the warm light spilling across the lower limbs and lifted out from a white wash to form the head and torso.  Then, before the break, we were told to partially destroy this. I washed over it in dilute sepia ink both covering and smudging the still wet gouache.

My plan then was to add back the minimum of marks.  I meant to find the key highlights and depth of shadow and mark just these, looking for contrasts in hue and tone.  How easy to be seduced by detail though.  I started to draw into this with pastel, standing too close without breaking between making marks to just look.

I am happy enough with this outcome and pleased with this experiment in mixing media.  However, I can see how a more subtle, more expressive drawing might have been achieved with fewer marks.

In parallel to this process, I had sketched rapidly in charcoal to get an idea of the main shapes.

experimental drawing

In the two hour session, I wanted to build the bones of a landscape that can be developed with further layers.  This is based on a photograph I took on the Yorkshire coast.  I’ve posted previous sketches from that area.

I reserved the huge area of limestone on the left into which I threw transparent watercolour.  I blocked in the rest in charcoal.  I floated white then coloured gouache liberally over the unfixed surface.  The unpainted reserved area was accidentally spattered with gouache which started to define its 3D shape.  Finally, I used a fairly unyielding paper towel to scrape away at it, first merging colours, then revealing deeper layers and finally lifting the paper surface itself.

The foreground does not yet give a sense of the wave-cut platform at right angles to the stacks.  These walls themselves need to convey a greater feeling of being massive.  Also what is missing are the birds.  Hundreds of birds roosting in the cliffs and soaring across spaces.  I will work into this and post the new version.

Life drawing

Here are two attempts of the same pose from different angles.  In the first I continue to explore the combination of charcoal and gouache.  Unlike the previous post on experimental drawing, I fixed the charcoal before painting over it.  This results in a quite different effect – the paint sticks to the surface instead of skating over the carbon layer.  Once again, I am trying for the contrast between the opaque and transparent use of paint.  I think opaque medium is called body colour, but ironically, I used this for the background.


The following week, instead of continuing with this, I opted to start from scratch in pencil and work solely in transparent watercolour.

Conclusion … start with a bigger brush and work more consciously light to dark.