four sketches of objects in Matisse’s studio

Henri Matisse collected objects and placed them as actors centre-stage and in the wings in the dramas of his still life images.



He used cut out shapes to position his players and the cut outs themselves became art.


He spent a year searching for a Venetian carved wood chair and was delighted with his find.

These six last images include a couple of illicit photographs, and scans of post cards and illustrations in the book accompanying the exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts exhibition, “Matisse in the studio“.  I love the simple lininess in the third and last of these illustrations and the simple blockiness of the cut-outs and just the idea of exploring the relationships between the contents of a studio full of things.

felt tips

A couple of weeks ago, I went drawing in Birmingham with the artist who blogs as outside authority. OA had recently been at a workshop led by Sarah Cannell and had been encouraged to draw using three randomly chosen sharpies, using colours to annotate the composition, for example to outline shapes of interest or represent receding layers. After OA caught the train home, I nipped into the art shop just before it closed and bought three felt tips – chisel tipped at one end, brush pens at the other – and went in search of a subject. In this view of the old Curzon Street railway station behind the Woodman pub drawn on a scrap of brown paper, I almost but not completely missed the point of this technique. My colours were not randomly chosen – by selecting a cool lilac, warm orange and a green I found myself representing the colours I could see. I slipped into using a bit of conte crayon to bring out highlights and darks, pulling the pub forward. Still, it made me think differently.

Found surface

Artist blogger, outside authority, and I spent an afternoon in Birmingham, during which OA made about 20 drawings and I made two.  Here is what was supposed to be a simple sketch in conte crayon on scrap brown paper from the canal side in Brindley place.

We had started the day at the Ikon Gallery, viewing the exhibition of lithographs and other work from German print-maker, Kathe Kollwitz.  I find it difficult to put into words the impact of her images.  She lived in a poor neighbourhood of Berlin across the end of the 19th and through the early 20th century.  Much of her figurative art depicts her own face as she aged and approached death.  Her depictions of women, domesticity and oppression carry an intense humanity.  One wall showed the same scene in multiple variations, the mother holding her dead child.  On the other wall, I found images of households where the shadows obscure the male figure while the woman is highlighted.  I had to look and see the dark silhouette of the man’s back, hands behind him, standing in despair across the other side of the bed: what had taken place between him and his wife who is lit in the foreground?  Again, light shows a mother in bed with three beautifully drawn children in the covers.  The dark mass to the fore is a man, head in hands: unemployment reads the title and I guess the children are hungry.  One I found intriguing and then shocking, a woman lying on her back, her left leg projecting to me, foreshortened and intrusive, in the wreckage of a herb garden, a child in the dark background: raped, said the title, reflecting on an event at the start of a peasants’ rebellion.  I thought back, in contrast, to an exhibition, the legacy of Rubens, a couple of years ago, and the paintings of jolly rolling frolicking flesh to depict rape in classical mythology.

Look back

This little sketch was made in the late afternoon walking down a path through wood and bracken.  Huge limestone boulders in the gloom of the trees brought to mind the petrified carcases of trolls, as viewed by scared hobbits who had forgotten their family history.  I had walked too far down the path by the time this idea had come to me, so drew what I could see looking back at the wood.

The last sketch of the holiday.  Out on a long cycle ride, I had watched clouds build up and lightning flash across the distant mountains.   I was daunted by the spectacle and could find no way to express this.   Then I took shelter from the downpour in a vacant goat shed.  Cycling on to l’Albufera nature reserve, I drew the clearing skies on a bridge over a waterway on a small sketchpad with conte crayon and water.

Olives and mark-making

I remained intrigued by the shapes, surfaces and tones of the gnarled olive trees growing amid limestone blocks in Mallorca’s mountains.  I was reflecting on a workshop I had attended with fellow artist blogger, Outside Authority, led by artist Oliver Lovley, where we concentrated on building shapes with different pencil marks.  Searching for guidance I found this sketch, on the News Illustrator Facebook home page, owned, it turns out, by Richard Johnson, field artist and journalist for the Washington Post.   His draughtsmanship is beautiful, skilled and illustrative.  I used a photograph taken in Mallorca and sought to emulate his mark-making technique for this drawing.

Here is another, earlier attempt done standing in the shade on one side of the road, looking at a tree apparently grafted onto a stump leaning over a fence.  The picture is on a much smaller page and more textured surface and I resorted to brushed water to merge the marks, which sort of missed the point of the exercise.

In the English Midlands, trees are mundane by comparison.  Here are three sketches of the same fallen log, eaten from inside by a fungus erupting in strange black fruiting bodies.  These too were undertaken with Oliver Lovley’s workshop and Richard Johnson’s technique in mind.


Olives and ink

The roots of the olive trees gripped the limestone and the limestone blocks grew into trees.

I drew this in ink dripped on the paper.

I shaped it with a stone and stick.

I hoped it would dry quickly while I drew but the afternoon was drawing on and the sun was no longer hot.  I placed it flat to photograph it.  The movement disturbed the ink, the pigments merged and the tones were lost.  I rebuilt it, applying more wet ink, keeping it flat and still in the sun.

However, my time was done and I needed to walk back up the steep path.  I wedged it between two pages with the thought it might leave a print. Instead, the paper adhered to the drying ink.

With hindsight, I should have ripped them apart, leaving torn paper stuck to the ink for another layer.  Instead I separated them carefully and wiped of the excess ink.  Its looks like this now, waiting to be drawn on again.