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”..

the art of not giving a f*ck while drawing

For each of three twenty-minute life drawing poses, I drew first in clean water so I could not see an image, then developed this by dragging a conte crayon (hard pastel) down the paper so the water caught the pigment to create a rough shape. I then drew into and around that shape.

In the second drawing, I also used opaque Inktense water soluble paint to draw in a sense of her tattoos.

I was trying to liberate my drawing over an obsession with accuracy. I succeeded at that at least

The warm up 2, 5 and 10 minute poses I focussed on just her feet using a soluble graphite pencil and water.

Bric a brac sketches

Following a theme from the start of the week, here are sketches of assorted objects: volcanic rock, a cream jug, a carved stone elephant. Each piece started with a hard conte crayon scraped downward over paper on which water and dry areas set out the basic shapes in the sketch. I like the magical sense of the picture revealing itself. The picture was built with crayon, Inktense water-based paints, white acrylic ink and water.

less is more

I used photos from a gig I went to last Tuesday in a series of watercolour exercises aimed at gradually reducing the amount of line and paint I apply to the paper. The top two were the last I did, the rest are a jumble of earlier attempts. The more white paper I leave the better the effect. The gig was by the fabulous Bonfire Radicals, an experimental folk band.

Experimental simplicity

Here are three coloured twenty minute life drawing poses on tan paper with construction lines drawn in conte crayon and the figure painted in white, black, burnt sienna and cobalt blue.

In addition, the two, five and ten minute drawings on black paper were drawn freehand in just white and black gouache, following on from this picture I admired last week in the Manchester Art Gallery.

I switched between different sketches, either using a large flat brush filling space or a soft squirrel mop that comes to a point and tends to free flowing lines.

Gouache nudes again

Here are more sketches done in grey brushpens (the 2 and 5 minutes sketches at the bottom) and in gouache on toned paper (10 and 20 minute poses). The palette is simple, white, ultramarine, burnt sienna, with some elements of cobalt blue, crimson, terra verte, lemon yellow. I am using a single flat brush for almost all the marks. The idea here is to use the time discipline of these fast poses to force me to prepare mentally and then make fast mark making decisions in paint. Since I did these, I visited the British Art Show 9 exhibition at Manchester Art gallery where I saw Hurvin Anderson‘s painting “Is It OK To Be Black?” I really liked the simple expressive heads painted in with broad continual brush strokes of white on black. Something like that seems worth a try this coming weekend.