Throwing graphite dust at paper and burnishing the surface with charcoal and a soft rubber resulted in a shiny surface broken by lines of powder that I attempted to fix in place. I was thinking about the novel Perdido Street Station (China Meilville) as I drew this. This is classic steam punk fantasy with soaring descriptions of a twisted urban setting for a crew of hybrid warped and strangely sympathetic characters.

Experimental drawing class has begun again. A big class this time – about ten of us. Twenty or so imaginary sketches in charcoal and graphite made by strangers will, I think, be melded into a larger image and reshaped. Sounds like fun.

These workshops have changed the way I work, making me more open to mixed media and experimentation. I gained the confidence to submit work for exhibition for the first time. This is the piece:

And the exhibition is at the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists.

Just to add – thanks to Kevin Ryan for the experimental drawing workshops at the Midlands Arts Centre.

Drone III: We Must Leave These People No Place To Hide

Intelligence led, quasi-judicial, remote, aerial, guided kill

We must leave these people no place to hide

Hooligans, ne’erdowells and terrorists

The government writ no longer runs

These people

No place

We must leave


Drone II

How might it feel in my home town if we walked under constant surveillance from a kilometre in the sky?

If those remote eyes guided missiles?

If any male over 18 years were defined as a legitimate target?

If any gathering of more than three people were viewed as terrorist activity?

How might we live our lives, buy and sell, celebrate and mourn, work and learn, protest and be free in fear of sudden, targeted, guided but blindly lethal attack?

How much or little might our society have to change for this to be thinkable?


Experimental drawing: shards

The chosen reference for our experimental drawing workshops  is the work of Anselm Kiefer.

His work is carried out on a large scale, constructed thickly with paint, clay, ash, straw, metal, glass and the written word.  The images constitute a dialogue, perhaps more an argument with recent history, art and culture.

Responding to his art challenged me.  Paint combines with solid materials stuck to the surface.  Is this collage or mosaic or painting or a display of found objects?  Are the components iconic or, like individual pigment granules, devoid of individual symbolism?  Other than scale, what distinguishes this art from a child’s picture of glued autumn leaves?

In my first layer, I blocked in a silhouette of my home town in acrylic rose and phthalo green.

Weeks then elapsed.   I returned with toolbox, a hammer, glue, white porcelain plates,  bark, feathers from a predated corpse and tarmac gathered from a surface disrupted by a root.

I suspended the shards and granules in a sea of glue and swept into shapes using a plastic blade.  In my mind, there was a direct link back to this earlier work in charcoal (

Two more weeks have passed since.  Paint and glue has dried.  This week, I spent some time drinking coffee, just looking and thinking.  Then I tried to recreate and expand the obscured cityscape, painting into and over this surface.  I will post that next layer sometime soon.

I have only seen Anselm Kiefer’s paintings as photographs.  I cannot find an example displayed in the UK although the Tate and the National Gallery of Scotland seem to have archived a number of pieces.  I did not know of him earlier in the year when work was exhibited at the White Cube.  My knowledge of him to date is largely gleaned from the internet, including

Fine artist Chris Wood comments below and introduced me to the work of Julian Schnabel.  I post the link here so anyone else interested in this theme can follow it.

Experimental landscapes IV: St Abb’s Head

The final one in the series:

Drawn from memory, sketches and photograph on my phone.

Charcoal and white gouache, watercolour and chalk pastel.

Experimental landscapes III: between breakfast and homework

Bridging the gap between breakfast and homework this morning, we folded a piece of purple typing paper to create a book with panels as numbered pages.

Unfolded, we took turns drawing a continuous line across the panels aiming to create double pages in the book from the discontinuous panels.  We began with a dinosaur theme but the middle pages got hijacked by a fairytale castle and somehow the last ones became cityscapes.  We wanted to colour it quickly and the paper would not take paint, so we used thick chalk pastels, too big for the job.  No finesse here.

I refolded it, sewed the spine and cut the pages .  Here is the sequence of pages, with pretentious words added.

This quick game was based on the method suggested by Greg Poole and described in the last post.

Experimental landscapes II: St Abb’s Head

Arriving at St Abb’s Head, I began an experimental approach suggested by tutor, Greg Poole. The overall purpose is to mess with your head and warp your cognition as you transfer observation to page. I took a page and folded it thus:

Imagine this folded into a book, with the spine on the left and pages still uncut. I numbered each panel, as a book, from front, one, two through to the back. The idea then was to draw each landscape on a double page of the book … but remember that unfolded, each of this pair was disconnected from the other. Regrettably, after three panels, I became hyper self-critical and abandoned this.

Still, I keep thinking on how to do this again. A key aim was to make us think about edges. In sketching nesting kittiwakes on page 1 and 2, one bird crosses from one panel to the next, but each was drawn separately.

They don’t quite match in the middle, but that is the point. Drawing each panel knowing it had to extend to the next meant I did not frame my picture neatly within my rectangle. My visual narrative thus extends to the rest of the world.

Greg is an interesting and insightful artist and tutor. In a very informal course structure, he kept me thinking.

St Abbs Head: Experimental landscape I

St Abbs Head is a majestic torn and contorted precipice colonised by kittiwakes, guillemots and razorbills among others. I was somewhat overawed, perched myself looking down onto the cliffs with birds soaring out to sea and returning to their nests. I attempted a technique I’d used before but never outdoors: layers of charcoal, gouache and pastel, seeking textures and colours emerging from greys.

This approach works by building layer after layer, allowing these to dry over days, permitting time to look and think. As an open air sketch, it risks being crude and overworked, making texture for its own sake.

That same day we were scheduled to take the boat to Fidra to draw the nesting birds there. The first landing party had left and we stood on the quay waiting for the boat to return for us. It seemed a long time. Here’s a page from my pocket book of Fidra through the telescope.

Actually, the boat had grounded, wrecking its steering gear. Our colleagues who had landed had to be rescued by the RNLI lifeboat. That’s why we ended up at St Abb’s Head for the remainder of the day.

Interestingly, it is claimed that Fidra was the geographic inspiration for Stevenson’s Treasure Island. I have previously illustrated a scene from that book: a high basaltic plug stands proud behind a marsh from which birds rise in alarm at the sounds of foul murder. I’d used the layered charcoal and gouache and ink approach step wise over some weeks.

Kittiwakes nesting on Dunbar castle

I post these sketches of nesting kittiwakes for completeness and my own reflection.

This was Sunday, the first day of the seabird painting course. It was drizzling intermittently. I realise this was the first full day I had ever spent just drawing birds.

I struggled, balancing an umbrella against a stack of lobster creels, holding it against the wind. My bulk teetered on a ridiculously small folding stool. I was swearing under my breath as I dropped one thing then another.

I found it hard to really look, fiddling with binoculars and putting them down to draw. Then I used a scope with my left eye, trying to draw using my right. Neither was satisfactory. I just could not retain the image long enough in my mind to draw from it.

I used my familiar pair of acrylic inks, paynes grey and sepia, topped off with a simple layer of sap green. I tried drawing directly with the brush. OK, these are sketches of moving birds, but as the week went on, I saw what others can achieve in watercolour in outdoor conditions. There is a mile to go here …

Later in the week, comparing my crude pencil sketches with those by other participants, I realised I shade with diagonal lines only. There is no subtlety, no building of shapes of through blocks of tone. Well … this is called learning.

By the time I attempted this last sketch, rain closed play. You might just make out the birds nesting amid the rain spattered inked wall.

The next day was rather better.