Part 5: Towards Abstraction

Exercise: Abstraction from study of natural forms

I approached this exercise with a little apprehension as I have always viewed abstraction as a form of imagination. I don’t have a great imagination! However I have come to understand whilst studying this course that it is the process of developing your painting that is so important so why should creating an abstract be any different You don’t have to imagine the outcome, you can follow the process and see where it takes you.

working through ideas

I chose to work with a pheasant feather that I happen to have to hand. It has a repeating pattern as well as a detailed micro-structure that appealed. I was also reminded of an abstract painting that I thought was by Hans Hartung that I had come across when researching abstract expressionism. I have since been unable to find any reference to the fact it was actually painted by Hans Hartung so it may just be in the style of… however regardless, I wanted to use this image as inspiration (view here)

pheasant feather
Sketches for abstracting a feather

My initial sketches revolved around the micro-structure – of the tiny barbs all lined up at an angle to the main rib. From here, using the (in style of?) Hans Hartung painting as inspiration I decided to lay down a series of broad coloured bands roughly corresponding to the close up structure of the feather. I  mixed up a set of colours in oil paint thinned quite a bit with liquin. The colours were quite warm brown tones and I chose to use a russet transparent acrylic wash to cover the ground first.

Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo of me placing these colours on the coloured ground. However I repeated the process on a plain white ground and this is what it started out like. The masking tape is keeping an area corresponding to the midrib clear of paint:

Laying down blocks of colour

I painted in the midrib, then used a palette knife to smear the paint sideways to create feather-barb like shapes in the paint. This allowed the coloured ground to show through the thin layers of paint. There was also a certain amount of blending that occurred a the edges of each stoke. (The whole painting was very wet so it was hard to get a good photo without glare).

creating the barbs (version 1)

I wasn’t happy with the midrib so I scraped that back and made it wider. I also added some white highlights to try to show the light bouncing off the feather vane in the way that I had observed. I did this by dropping white paint on and dragging back – it didn’t work!!

Adding highlights (version 1)

I wish I hadn’t put in the white highlights, however to remove them would mess up my vein structure. So I used a technique I had used in the impasto exercise, I made a print to remove some of the paint. I actually really like the impression of the patterns on the negative!

This enable me to rework the areas that had contained the highlights by re-blending the barbs. The finished result is this:

Feather abstracted, final painting

I really don’t like the result – so much for process! However I do think there is a bit of potential if the more messy parts are cropped out. In this version the main rib is no longer such a dominant feature and the unevenness of the top barbs is less evident. I still don’t like it but it works better as a composition.

Feather abstracted (closer crop, coloured ground)

NB. I had repeated the process on a white ground for the photo graph at the beginning. Here is the resulting end point of that piece. The same colours were used for the painting, it is amazing the difference the coloured ground makes. I prefer the coloured ground version, there is a much warmer note to the painting. However, the colours had a tendency to muddy. The white ground version is much cleaner in this regard, however much of that is down to the technique of blending the barbs. I was better at it the second time, and I didn’t have to try to remove the highlights! This however isn’t really a completed piece and I have treated it as a study.

Study on white ground


Exercise: Abstract painting from man-made form.

In the previous exercise I was very much driven by looking closely at the form of the feather and then replicating that in some way, following a set of logical steps to create a painting. I don’t feel that it worked very well so i tried a different tack with this exercise. I painted a very quick study of the electricity meter, then listed the features that stood out. I then tried to use my imagination and imagine those features in a different order!

Study of electricity meter


  • The numbers on the dial
  • The red number at the end
  • the wires coming out
  • the texture of the board behind contrasts with the metal box

in  my mind I took these elements and reassembled them in an abstract way (this is me using my imagination!). I used oil paint diluted with zest-it solvent to create a very watery background.

Abstract elements of the electricity meter

I knew this wasn’t finished but I got this far and had no idea where to go next so I left it for a couple of days. On returning I felt that the good bits were the way the very thin paint had picked up the texture of the primed oil paper, the crossing of the wires and the ghostly numbers. The bits I didn’t like were the metal boxes, and the fact that I hadn’t got the red in yet. With very little idea of how to proceed I made a list under my original sketch of things that an electricity meter symbolises:

  • use of energy
  • energy flow
  • time passing
  • use of resources
  • engineering, both mechanical and electrical
  • money

From this list I was aware that my brain made a mental shift towards the whole energy flow and I suddenly envisaged the electrical readout of a heart monitor. The wires then took on a new meaning, connecting to life. From there I have no real recall of the process of how I modified this painting however I used the image I had of representing the heartbeat whilst I put paint on the paper in fairly random ways. I used many different things to apply the paint, except using a paintbrush in the conventional manner. This was the final result.

Energy loss

I was stencilling numbers on in quite a random way, when I realised I had put a zero towards the end of the heart-beat line. I realised that I had only put in one heart beat followed by a long straight line denoting no electrical activity. The zero suddenly became more poignant – it could be the last heart beat. So I added a couple more zeros to emphasis this point.  I am pleased with the amount of texture that I have managed to incorporate. There is definitely a feel of graininess inspired by my original sketch. I wish that I had managed to retain some of the wiring from what is now the underpainting- I could have escaped back to reveal parts maybe.  The industrial grey is also a little uninspiring, and although it was intentional it does look in parts as if the black and white have just got muddied together.


These exercises took me very much out of my comfort zone (as so much has done on this course) and I approached them in two different ways. In the first I analysed the subject, drew sketches and developed a painting from there. This was the method that at the time I felt comfortable with. For the second exercise,  whilst I did do a painting sketch, the final piece very much came from my imagination – and this was sparked by delving into the emotions evoked by the subject rather than being driven by the subject itself. I enjoyed doing the second exercise more than the first, in the end, on the second day of painting, I completely let go! Of the two paintings, the second I consider to be the more successful. I wouldn’t want it on my wall, but I have been very surprised at how many of my family and friends who have seen it who like it (no one likes the feather!)

For me the learning curve here has not really been about actually painting but rather about the psychology behind the process of painting and I feel as if I have just made a huge step up that curve: understanding what is driving me. I have to feel connected to the subject in some way as I have previously established. However that connection doesn’t have to be a physical one or even an emotional one. It can be simply a thought process or an idea by association.Whilst writing this I am very excited. This opens up far more possibilities as to where my painting can go. I am going to try to carry this ‘letting go’ approach forward into my final project.


Part 5: Towards Abstraction

Adding other materials

Exercise: Preparing a textured ground

using torn pieces of heavyweight paper, pieces of corrugated card, some absorbent tissue paper and copious quantities of PVA glue I created a collage on a large piece of cardboard. I had  in my mind the idea of painting a jungle and I was working on the premise that the different texture of papers would provide a structural basis for the trees. Once dry i coated the whole lot with gesso and then used acrylic paint to create my scene. This was entirely imagined but I allowed the forms to emerge from the idea of having at least one large buttress rooted tree trunk in the foreground and a dense undergrowth receding into the background. Jungles are dark places so I used the recesses in the paper to be the highlights. I added some light falling on the buttress roots and a tall plant to the left, bringing out a yellowy green colour. [NOTE: The yellow all but disappeared when the painting was dry! You can still see it in bright light]

Jungle on textured ground

I like the effect of the paper collage, but the corrugated card was too crude (at least for here). Having said that I did like the piece on the bottom left. It created a 3D effect of foliage. The large piece on the top right was supposed to do the same as a swathe of tree foliage. However the layering of the corrugations hasn’t come out as much and thus it doesn’t work so well.

Exercise: Mixing materials into paint

I didn’t make a proper painting for this section. After the exercise above I felt that using these techniques were not where I was at at the moment. However I can see the merit of having references to the types of effects you can achieve so I made the following textured ground sample sheet, incorporating from top left anticlockwise: feathers, sand, glitter, acrylic impasto paste, and pumice bits. I mixed all except the impasto medium with black acrylic paint before painting on the sheet. The impasto medium I applied directly. Once dry I dry-brushed a bit of orange acrylic over each part to bring out the raised edges and reveal the pattern.

Mixing materials into paint

Whilst I am still not enamoured with these techniques overall I am interested in the effect that you get when you bring out the grain using a highlight such as the orange here. I don’t have a specific use in mind for this but I shall put the whole sheet in my sketchbook for reference.

Adding other materials

Part 5: Different Ways of Applying Paint

Exercise: Impasto

For this series of exercises I set up a still life of three small sunflowers in a jam jar on the edge of a table in my studio space. I chose this arrangement because of the colours (its been a very drab winter and I thought the colours would be uplifting!). Also I liked the idea of using various impasto techniques to create the sweeps and shapes of the petals and the leaves. I used acrylic paint mixed with a clear-setting gel thickener as a medium to create the following studies:

Impasto Using a brush

I was slightly disappointed with this experience! Having got all excited about using one sweep of paint to create petal shapes, I found that the paint didn’t quite behave as I was expecting. For a start it didn’t want to come of the brush, and when it did it was in a much thinner layer of paint than I had hoped for. I tried to follow the instructions regarding only mixing paint on the surface. Whilst I have definitely achieved a non blended look, I did find that the addition of further colours of paint into wet areas didn’t tend to leave ‘multi-coloured streaks’ rather the colours mixed in the process of my actually transferring the stuff from the brush to the support, and thus ending up with quite muddy areas! Some of the petal areas have worked, especially the ones onto which I have added a highlighted area. The leaves and stems however didn’t work so well, in part because I had to load the brush so much to get the paint to come off the brush and had to press quite hard, that the delicacy of the lines were lost.

I also found it hard to create a sense of depth to the study. The colours (in particular my green and brown) muddied really easily so any sense of using tone to create depth was lost. This is particularly evident with the middle flower which should appear further back than it does.

I was also really disappointed as to how dull the colours were once dried. I have noticed before that my (cheap) acrylics are not particularly good at maintaining vibrancy once dry, but I wonder if the medium made it worse. There is a slight fogginess to the colours of the painting as a whole!

Impasto with brush

Impasto using a painting knife

My next attempt was slightly more successful, I didn’t have quite the same problem of transferring the paint as I did with the brush. I was able to sculpt the paint more and manage to go some what to achieving the shape of a petal or leaf with one sweep of the knife. The paint also came off more thickly, creating a more impasto effect. There is no subtlety to the flowers!. I used a couple of different sized painting knives, however putting in linear aspects such as the stems and jar edges were very difficult. Correcting mistakes was nigh impossible. Whilst you can scrape paint off with a knife it was difficult to do so without disturbing other areas.

Impasto with painting knife

Impasto with scratching

For this exercise I put lots of paint in blocks onto some primed card. I didn’t worry about the details of the table rather just used a different colour to denote its presence. I used the end of a paintbrush to then scratch into the paint to ‘draw’ my picture. Once again the paint didn’t behave as I was expecting – the colours didn’t drag into one another particular, rather a trail line was just left in the paint. I was hoping that the support would be revealed under the scratch lines, but it was stained by the paint so there were not particular areas of highlight revealed. All-in-all it was a bit of a non-event! The whole thing was done quickly and was very sketchy, however the large amount of paint on the surface of the primed card seemed a real waste for something that really didn’t convey much. So I grabbed a piece of primed canvas and lay it over the top of the image. I applied gentle pressure over the whole thing then peeled off the canvas. Below are the original positive (after the print taken, I failed to get an image before) and the negative print.

The results of this were interesting on two accounts:

  1. The negative conveyed the scratches much better than the positive, the white background providing some highlighted areas. With a little thinking through and the more judicious use of a toned ground (or partially toned, leaving areas of white) this could be quite a powerful technique
  2. Where the surfaces were pulled apart, surface tension has caused some really interesting textures in the paint. This is quite hard to see in the photo but on the original positive it is quite clear. Whilst this is probably a bit of a cross over into printmaking, it still could create some interesting textures in a painting context. Perhaps small areas could be created. I wonder too what the effect would be to rub graphite powder or such like into the ridges.

I decided to investigate this technique in a more controlled way. I painted an image of one sunflower onto card, using paint daubed on thickly as above. I added blobs of white to highlight areas, and touches of red/orange to darker petal areas. I pressed a second primed piece of card over it and peeled the surfaces apart. As hoped the paint took on great textured patterns, in this case the negative being stronger than the positive (which I subsequently painted over but failed to get a photo first!!) Whilst this is not a finished piece, I do think that it has more interest in terms of texture, tone and form than my previous studies in this exercise.

Impasto print negative

Reflections: The possibilities of Enhancing previous work

This exercise has made me realise that texture is quite a powerful tool for painting. Controlling it however is important. There can be too much! I was disappointed with the brush work impasto but maybe the results would be different with oil and perhaps a thicker medium (artist quality paint may also help). I can see that impasto can be used to construct with paint and possibly I could have used thicker paint or a painting knife to sculpt some of the near foliage on this landscape painting. This would bring the foliage more to the fore, increasing the sense of depth.

Stage 4. Final Painting. Kiau, Sabah. Oil on canvas

I have already used scratching into paint to good effect in ‘Walking the dog’ although as my tutor pointed out i probably overdid it on the right hand side. I would agree. The mid-section however has a really good sense of dry stalks as a result of this sgraffito technique. I would like to use scratching back more. Care needs to be taken to get the width of the scratches right. In this panting the ones on the right that don’t work are done with a blunt point making the marks cumbersome. If they had been finer, I think they would have fit better

Walking the dog. Oil on paper

The surface tension texture effect might be useful in paintings of trees, perhaps like this one below. This is study that I started but didn’t really know where it was going. Small strips of paper used to ‘pull’ the paint may have enhanced the near tree trunks or added a different texture to the leaf areas. Used carefully I think such an effect could bring a painting like this together more. At the moment there is no focal point and it is very much smooth trunks contrasting with painterly leaf marks. A texture across both areas would pull the painting together more and perhaps provide that focal point.

Tree study in oil on prepared oil paper


Exercise: Dripping, dribbling and spattering

I started by working out some simple but vibrant palettes to use in this exercise. I chose to work in acrylics on a variety of primed, found surfaces (different types of card).

Selecting colours for abstract painting

Here I roughly coloured the ground a deep grey, then dribbled contrasting yellow and green paint from a large brush, flicking it occasionally to get a lined effect. I added the red to give some drama. In places the colours have run together creating some interesting patterns (I think this is a bit like the effect that the impasto ‘dragging’ was supposed to have but didn’t work for me). I tilted the cardboard a little to create subtle changes in direction of some of the marks.

Abstract 1

Here I used a brilliant pink ground, then dribbled and splattered black white and orange onto it. The black and white were dribbled from a squeezy bottle. I smeared some areas with a paper towel, producing the grey areas.  I added further splashes of pink to areas that became to monochrome. I really like this painting and am amazed at how different it looks when viewed in different ways.

Abstract 2 landscape
Abstract 2 portrait

For my third painting I used a pouring technique. I poured paint onto the middle of a stiff piece of card to form a puddle. I then poured paint on a different colour into the middle of this puddle, and let the second colour push the first out. I repeated this many times using orange, blue and white paint, each time letting the newest layer push the previous ones out in concentric rings. I finished off with a splatter of pink to break up the largest areas. This took ages to dry (even though it was acrylic), around 5 days! This gave lots of time for the paint to do interesting things. There is some merging of colours, but not as much as I expected. There are also some interesting textural effects going on as in places the colours have separated a little, especially where orange has run over the blue. There are also lumpy bits in the middle caused by the last bits of paint not being mixed with the water evenly.

Abstract 3


In doing this exercise I gained an understanding as to why so many abstract paintings are huge. I felt really constrained by both the size of the support but also the area in which I had to work. These very much became an exercise in having fun, but i wasn’t able to tap into other expressive emotions that often drive the painting of such works. i would need more space to move by arm and body in a way that allowed that expression to come through.

How much of these techniques you can use very much would depend on the type of painting you were doing. I liked the odd addition of a splatter, especially in breaking up broader areas of colour, but if  not careful it could look just like that – a splatter! I did like the true-ness of a line that could be achieved by a dribble of paint from a full paint brush as seen in Abstract 1. The marks have a certain energy to them and the direction is less controlled, however the lines are thin and crisp. I like the idea of attempting a continuous line painting like this in the same way you can do a continuous line with ink or charcoal. I am not sure how this would be achieved practically, running paint out of a bottle didn’t quite have the same effect in abstract 2. The line is more beaded. Something to work on!

Part 5: Different Ways of Applying Paint

Part 4 Painting from a working drawing

Apologies, this post should have been posted immediately before my post on assignment 4.


Chose a subject you are familiar with and make 3 drawings

  • A linear study
  • A tonal study
  • A colour study
  • Paint a final piece away from the subject and preliminary studies drawing on memory of the subject.

Preliminary studies

I took some liberties with this exercise to fit with the circumstances I found myself in. There is a copse of trees on a hillside that I don’t see very often but I have always admired it when I do see it (too far away to visit in a day). The mental image of the scene is one that tends to stay with me. I love the way that the light shines through the gaps of the tree trunks, the view of the horizon below (the hill is at the top of an escarpment) and the wind-swept nature of the trees up the hill. So when I found myself passing the hill recently with my sketchbook, coloured pencils and a tin of water colours in the car, I used the opportunity to stop and draw the scene.  I started with a simple line drawing, which I repeated twice changing the position of the trees within the frame to create a stronger composition: the trees leading off to the edge of the image. In doing these quick sketches (and they were quick) I became even more aware of the negative shapes between the tree trunks, and the light coming through which ha attracted me in the first place. The whole composition was actually very simple.  I took a reference photo and continued on my way. later, using the linear sketches and the photograph I completed a quick tonal study of the hill and trees using charcoal. It became immediately obvious that this image was one of strong contrasts. There was variation in tone in the tree tops (especially where the light fell on the top surfaces) and on the grassy hill, but the biggest contrasts were between the hill-tree structure as a whole and the sky around it. The negative spaces once again leapt out at me. I then completed a colour study in watercolour (the only paints I had with me). This was a little unsatisfactory as it was hard to get the darks dark enough and I am not very good at actually handling the wateriness of watercolour, so the light tones (denoted by lack of paint) ended up  in slightly the wrong places on the tree tops. The negative spaces also were less defined in this medium. However back home I decided to continue using this image for this exercise and proceeded to complete my final piece in acrylics.

Final Painting

Working on my success of the previous exercise, I concentrated on keeping my marks for this piece loose, fluid and quick. I worked on enquiry with paint, in this case being driven by the negative spaces between the tree trunks.

I completed this painting from memory of my sketches and only came back to look at them after I had finished. Using an A3 sheet of acrylic paper, I started by blocking in the area occupied by the trees and hill using a variety of greens and browns in quite a haphazard, loose way using broad brush strokes. I didn’t’ stick to an outline rather just covered the general area with haphazard paintbrush marks of various shades and tones. My reasoning behind this was that it was the negative shapes that really interested me and I wanted to emphasis them by blocking them in on top of the existing painting. I blocked the main area of the sky in a pale wash of paynes grey, starting to pull the form of the trees into shape. The horizon below was blocked in with a darker wash.

I then used raw umber to darken the tree trucks and emphasis the shadows on the ground and in the tree foliage. Then, taking titanium white made dirty by paint on my brush, mess on my palette and bits of wet paint being dragged on the canvas I set about defining the negative shapes of the tree line. I kept my brush marks loose in order to create an atmosphere of cloud. I also let the colours already on the paper ‘shine’ through. Finally, I consolidated some of my ideas and experiments in using other implements to remove paint, and used the side of a palette knife to scratch in the tree top highlights in a very textural way.

Trees on a Hill. Acrylic on paper


What went well…

I am very pleased with the resulting final painting. I have managed to maintain the loose style I have been aiming for and have created some interesting textural areas by scratching back. There is a sense of space in the painting, created by the aerial perspective of the horizon and the emphasis on the negative shapes around the trees. I am particularly happy with how my treatment of the negative spaces worked out. Putting them in last allowed their ‘lightness’ to be emphasised which is what had drawn me to the scene in the first place. I feel this is an enquiry into that light shining through.

The three preliminary sketches undoubtedly helped formulate this final piece. I had a strong memory of the linear and tonal sketches and drew heavily on those memories for the final piece. The colour study was less useful to me, probably because I had used the slightly unsatisfactory watercolour paints. However as I wasn’t too worried about keeping colours 100% realistic this probably wasn’t an issue.

I am very pleased that I have managed to consolidate my more successful parts of other paintings here: the sense of enquiry, the application of paint (and the removal of paint too).

I think that being away from the subject when I painted it was a great help in allowing me to maintaining the looseness and freshness of the piece. I couldn’t get bogged down in detail as I had no memory of it and wasn’t able to look it up. This was in fact quite a powerful lesson and one that I will take forward.

What could be better…

There were a couple of features that have been lost along the way that would improve this piece. Firstly, the sense of the hill receding from the viewer has been diminished from the linear sketch to the final piece. The hill now looks a little flat. More information regarding warm and cool tones on the hill-side would help rectify this. Secondly the windswept nature of the trees has also been lost. I am not sure this matters so much in terms of the subject but some of the drama of the scene is lost as a result. Whilst I was very aware of this when making my linear sketches, details are not present in the tonal or colour painting (done from photographs). It is as if being away from the scene took the importance of this from my mind and I haven’t really considered it. My trees become more upright as I go along! I could add this back in my changing the negative shape around the tree line, however I didn’t want to lose the atmospheric texture of the present skyline so have left it.

Over all I feel that this is one of my more successful paintings.


Part 4 Painting from a working drawing

Part 4 Painting Outside

Painting outside isn’t something that I have really done before beyond a few watercolour sketches in a sketchbook. I haven’t done anything formal. Have to say that the idea of having to take stuff with me somewhere and the need to complete a painting in daylight within a strict time frame before rushing back to do whatever I have to do next (usually child related) including having time to unpack my kit does not install me with a feeling of great joy!  However I did make an attempt on three occasions. However, on the first two days I had set aside time, the weather was not conducive to painting. The first time was during a howling a gale. Trees were coming down and I made the decision not to leave the house!. The second time I had available was a miserable day and it was pouring with rain. I wanted to paint a landscape of a valley a short driving distance away. This would enable me to load the car with my kit and park up next to the view thus saving time me valuable time. On the second afternoon I ventured out in the vain hope that  the weather would clear a little. I sketched the view from the dry of the car. The rain didn’t stop! I went home.

I returned two days later. The weather was still miserable but the seemingly constant rain had turned into showers and whilst the weather was still murky, damp and chilly, I was lucky to have a relative dry period to complete this exercise. I returned to the same place, with the intent of painting the above view. However on actually getting out of the car I found a spot about 5m to the right where the trees in the foreground were more in view. I was also able to crop in on the view to leave out the near fence. I did another quick sketch of the largely unchanged view although the trees could now be a point of interest to lead your eye to the trees in the middle distance.

The actual horizon (which on a clearer day is visible above the tree line) was obscured by murky cloudy/mist. The far fields merged into this murk. I wanted to try to get this lack of horizon across in my painting.

I really didn’t enjoy the whole experience which was a shame. I found it hard to manipulate colours on a palette (paper plate) without a table as support. I found the time pressure constantly interfering with my thought processes (even through I had set an alarm to avoid exactly this) and then on top of this, I was ill-equipped: I had brought oil paints and a canvas board, dilutant (liquin), brushes and palette knives but NO tissue paper for wiping brushes (or hands). Valuable lesson, never pack your kit in a hurry (or at least double-check!!) With nowhere to put brushes down safely other than on the paper plate, they constantly rolled into the paint and the handles became covered, colours accidentally mixed and I got covered in paint. In fact reflecting back, the whole thing was slightly comical!

The upshot of it all was that all this negativity transferred into my painting which ended up quite unsatisfactory as I ran out of time before I could rectify the many things wrong with it. I would like to go back and repeat this exercise but doubt I will have the time before the end of the module.

I am a little ashamed to put this up as a finished painting – because it isn’t. The ploughed field is too warm and light and leaps forward at you, the bright grass in the distance should also be cooler (and I am pretty sure there wasn’t a white field in front of them both! The foreground trees are of a boring shape (too much like the reality) – I should have incorporated some interesting branch shapes and included a greater variety of tones. The valley itself is too bright green and appears flat rather than a hill curving away from the viewer. The depth of the valley is evident through the darkening of the green towards the bottom. The tones of the middle ground trees are probably ok, the plough field jumps forward of them causing your eyes to water! The one thing I do like about this is the sky and the disappearing horizon. You can’t tell where the actual land mass is, and this is quite how it was on the day.

Onwards and upwards….

Painting outside. Oil on board
Part 4 Painting Outside

Part 4 Project Expressive Landscapes

Creating Mood and Atmosphere


I walk my dog in the fields around my village on a daily basis. The countryside is not particularly spectacular, especially this time of year when the fields are either ploughed or lying fallow with the stubbly, decaying remains of last years crops. The leaves are starting to fall off the trees and the grass has lost its vibrancy. It’s just run of the mill, agricultural countryside. However one thing that you do notice is the sky. There is lots of it and you see weather coming long before it hits you! As an island nation we are constantly remarking on the weather. We don’t have patterns that are generally stable enough for us to take for granted, nor do have time to get used to a particular set of conditions before it all changes again. Hence the well know British obsession with the weather.

For this exercise the mood I wanted to convey, as odd as it seems, is one of ordinariness. So many landscapes are of depictions of drama, maybe huge vistas or spellbinding colour. Much of our environment isn’t like that however and as much as I like looking at all of the above, I wanted to paint something ordinary with an atmosphere of familiarity with the weather, neither a barmy sun nor a misty atmospheric fog. Somehow both of those felt more achievable! How do you make ordinary interesting to look at?

I had seen some really lovely atmospheric paintings by a contemporary painter Zoe Taylor whose expressive paintings contain a variety of brush marks and strong sweeps of paint to convey a sense of space and mood in her landscapes. Using her work as inspiration I set about investigating my own landscape.

Initial sketches

I chose a view of a green footpath along side a hedge with a ploughed field to one side containing power lines. I know the area well a chose a point at which the path rises a little then dips away into the distance. I wanted to give the viewer a sense of walking that path on an average (whatever that is) day at the turn of Autumn. I thought I could use the pylons to add interest into the image.

My initial sketch was about whether to do a traditional landscape orientation or to move to portrait to incorporate a lot of the sky that dominates the view at this point.


I was very conscious of wanting to creating loose marks that show enquiry throughout this exercise. I wanted to bring back that sense of energy and enquiring mark making that I was just beginning to appreciate in my portraits that so far has been a little lacking in part 4 (city scape study excepted).

I was undecided on the format so I started two paintings simultaneously to see which would win out. Using oil, thinned with W and N liquin (quick drying) on commercial oil paper I blocked out two compositions.

Initially I like the portrait format. with the land in the bottom third it gave loads of space for a cloudy sky. The pylons were a little lost however. I put them in by eye, meaning I moved them across from where they actually were so that they were in the image, but they felt a little cramped. Never the less I continued to layer colour on my areas to develop both images.

Intermediate stage of portrait orientation

At this point in proceedings I changed my mind about liking the portrait orientation. The problem of the cramped pylons was bothering me and I felt that whilst I was developing a sense of the place, I wasn’t getting the sense of a journey. There was not enough at the sides to guide me along. I think some of these issues could have been resolved by placing the land much further down the canvas so that the view of the land was very much truncated. However given that I had a landscape orientation developing nicely along side, I worked on that instead. Unfortunately I failed to take an intermediary photo of it.

Final Image

Walking the dog. Oil on paper


I am very pleased with the outcome of this painting. I get a sense of place, a sense of journey and a sense countryside that whilst not dramatic in any way, I would like to be in it. It has that sense of ordinariness that I was after yet it is depicted in quite a sensitive way. I have managed to keep the light,  throughout the composition, but especially on the ploughed field and on the grassy path. Consequently the air is also full of light (if that makes sense!) The direction of the brush marks were very important to the sense of journey. The clouds needed to be billowing without being overly dramatic. They are however what greets you as you walk along that path. The inclusion of power lines were more important than I thought. Not only do they add to the sense of journey, but they also add a bit of height to the foreground. The painting would not work so well without them. I scratched back to white paper in places in the foreground to give impression of near grasses. I quite like the effect although I can see that it would be easy to over do! This is something that I observed in the work of Zoe Talyor and I am pleased that I included this technique here. On the whole I have managed to bring myself back to a place of more enquiring work with this piece. It is on a slightly different register to my two successful portraits and the city scape study, but it does show development.


Part 4 Project Expressive Landscapes

Part 4 Perspective

1. Linear Perspective

For this exercise I chose to paint a view that I see regularly on my way to work, that of the High street in Chipping Campden, a well-preserved historic Cotswold’s town. I love the honey-colour of the stone especially after it has been raining and the sun then comes out again. I drew part of this High Street for exercises in Drawing 1 and I have alway wanted to have ago at painting it. I chose a less well-known part of the High street that has tall houses and an interesting kink in the road. By cropping in close to this kink you get a wonderful sense of the pavement curving around, with two different vanishing points. I am aware that my better work is quick and spontaneous, however as this exercise is about understanding linear perspective I had to take time to do preliminary pencil drawings on my support to ensure that my lines were heading to a vanishing point.

Preliminary sketch
Gesso layer

I had a large piece of mounting board which I covered with gesso to make a suitable surface for oil. I wanted to try to add texture into my painting, to give a sense of the stone. Not really how to go about this, I added another thicker layer of gesso over a brief pencil outline of my main vanishing lines. I let brush marks remain in this thick layer. Once dried, the effect had flattened somewhat but was still visible in places.

Using a mixture of payne’s grey and raw umber I then drew with my paintbrush the main lines extending to the two vanishing points. I used my pencil lines as a guide, but stuck to the lines that would ultimately be in shadow in my final piece (ie I didn’t’ do an outline of all the buildings!) I simplified the brickwork in places.


I then used a broad brush to add in thick lines of a mix of yellow ochre and white following the line of the building in the direction of the pavement, trying to construct the linear perspective with the paint and to maintain a loose brushwork style.  I repeated the process with the furthest building using the different vanishing point as a guide. Once these lines were established I then started to block in the main colours of the windows, roof, pavement and sky. I then left the painting to dry for a few days before returning to it.

Intermediate stage oil on top of gesso

My final working of this painting was to bring some of the freshness back into it. I had lost some of the lovely stone colour and the first building has developed a bit of a lean! I tried to rectify this as much as I could without losing the character of the building itself. It is still leaning a little too much though.

High Street, Chipping Campden.


What worked…

I am very pleased with the sense of journey in this painting. The pavement stretches ahead of the viewer and the bend in it is believable. The line of dark doorways and windows of the first building really help establish this distance. I have tried to maintain a looseness of the brushwork, but the essence of this is lost a little with the layering of the paint.

What was less successful…

My verticals need to be more vertical (this is a problem I had when drawing large-scale too!) I used a ruler as a guide but still managed to get a weird slope. The top line of windows does not follow a line of perspective very well. The second window on the top row doesn’t appear to be tall enough. My construction with paint also has been lost a little in the layering. The painting is quite boring as a result, not because of the subject matter but because there isn’t much energy in the piece. My preceding painting of the city scape, whilst not overly successful in its execution has more of this energy even though the paint application was quite experimental.


2. Aerial Perspective

I chose to paint a simple mountain landscape with a tall grass in the foreground from a photograph. I mapped out a quick sketch to make sure I was encompassing the three principles of aerial perspective, namely

  1. controlled loss of focus
  2. loss of colour saturation
  3. change in colour temperature

Using acrylic on acrylic paper I completed this painting. originally the sky and the far mountains were too saturated and did not show such a controlled loss of focus. I wanted to paint over the mountains and the lower sky with a dilute transparent white but only had titanium which was a little too opaque. So I painted a layer of gesso over instead, which seemed to do the trick!

‘Blackboy grass on Mount Stuart’. Acrylic on paper

I believe this shows all three components of aerial perspective, some with more effect that the others.  The foreground is in focus with a gradual haziness towards the far mountains. There is loss in colour saturation, although I lost the more saturated top part of the sky that would seem nearer to the viewer with the addition of the gesso. As it dried the seemingly darker top lightened too much. The greens in the foreground are warmer and have more yellow hues about them (interestingly the photo shows these greens to be more saturated than the actual painting appears, probably due to slightly blue conditions of lighting). There is a distinct colour shift to cool greens at the base of the middle mountains.

I also experimented using a palette knife on its edge to create interesting grass shapes  in the foreground. Looking back at this however I can see that I have lost my darks in the dry, spiky foliage.

In this particular painting, all three components of aerial perspective were useful. I can however see instances when a controlled loss of focus may be less important than the others (see for instance the work of Dora Corrington) , however a cooler colour change and loss of saturation would appear very important at denoting receding space and distance.




Part 4 Perspective