Once again the life drawing session includes 8 poses ranging from two to twenty minutes. For these sketches, I draw invisibly with white crayon on white paper, then either painted over it in gouache, or wet the paper and drew into the damp areas with a darker crayon. The white crayon forms a resist to the water based pigment. The last step is putting in an outline, maybe, or darker colours or perhaps some background colour. It’s all an experiment.

Start with highlights

The first drawing illustrates the technique: on white paper draw in first the highlights in white that will variably resist pigment in the next stages. I am creating shapes with some randomness then enclosing the subject of the drawing in lines. The larger figure from the same pose on the same page is built conventionally applying colour and line first. I don’t know why I am doing this, but it’s fun and feels meaningful.


Here again are drawings using white conte crayon and clear water to create an invisible image on white paper, developed by dragging a darker crayon over the marks, so the pigment is caught by the damp surface while sparing the drier areas of the white crayon resist. Then I draw lines into this to find the image.

I was trying for an inside out self-portrait, drawing without seeing, running my left hand over the bony prominences of my face, kneading the soft tissues, while drawing with my right. In this first, the empty sockets are coloured with the after image of pressing my eyes.

In the second of two pictures drawn in yellow, I imposed a green line showing what a face “should” look like: preconceived notions more than observation.

In her book At The Existentialist Cafe, Sarah Bakewell offers a bullet point summary of existentialism: that it is concerned with concrete human existence, different to that being other things have because we make choices and create ourselves, though constrained within situations. This is what Sartre regards as our being free. Anxiety is inseparable from existence. Human existence is ambiguous, both boxed within borders and transcendental.

Tree Being

Describing phenomena is not just about copying what I see but about the interface of my mind with the subject matter. What elements do I want to capture rather than what received ideas about trees do I want to impose on my drawing.

Here are a couple of sketches of the same trees on the canal bank, first drawn in pen and crayon, and a second time just dragging crayon across dampened paper.

Here I am looking up the slope to trees growing on what was once an iron age settlement, drawn in clear water and the damp image developed by dragging crayon over it.

Again looking at trees growing on the ancient settlement, I drew in water then crayon, sometimes laying down pigment, sometimes scraping back the soaked surface to reveal white again.

Then I started throwing Inktense semi-opaque watercolour onto it, with rather unclear purpose, also scraping back with a knife.

Then much later, I drew back into the dry surface in conte crayon, off site and no longer constrained by copying what I could see.


In a book club with friends, we are reading At the Existentialist Café by Sarah Bakewell. It is a challenging book. More than a century ago, in the university town of Freiburg, in the south east corner of Germany, Edmund Husserl drew on earlier philosophers and developed the philosophy of phenomenology.

In brief, this is a method of philosophical exploration, to describe things, i.e. phenomena, as we experience them, reaching out into the world with our minds (termed intentionality) and applying a tool called epoché to boil away second hand or received ideas. Phenomenology sidesteps old philosophical questions about the nature of the mind or of reality by looking instead at the interface between the mind and reality.

Sitting at a table, looking at a vase of flowers, I tried to clear my mind. I drew in white conte crayon on white paper without looking. I developed the image by painting with clear water that skated across the white crayon resist. I dragged the dark green crayon lightly around the paper so it largely spared the dry white drawn areas and coloured the clean damp paper. I then tried to reach out to the flowers in my mind, rapidly outlining their shapes in blue, and picking out some leaf shapes in yellow.

This concept of phenomenology seems to describe what I try to do when drawing. Irrespective of my draftsmanship, for me drawing is a reaching into the world and using visual imagery to “describe phenomena”..