Category Archives: Parallel Project

Parallel Project – Media Removed

This post analyses further researches in to present and absent media though repeated applications of paint and then removal to build a history of marks.

At the London Original Print Fair, I saw Basil Beattie’s mono-screenprints on Two Rivers paper. Some years ago, when I was painting watercolours, I bought some of this wonderful handmade paper, but have never used it, partly because I have moved on from mannered watercolours, but mostly out of fear. It is just too beautiful and too expense to leap into. I see the proprietors occasionally through canal and life drawing connections and at art fairs where they demonstrate the handmade process. They often have Oliver Lively demonstrating on their papers and his process is very interesting to watch, as he often scrubs away, quite violently, at the surface. Last summer, Oliver suggested that I buy one of their small sketchbooks to liberate myself of paper fear. This came back into my mind after see the Beattie prints and also some recent sketchbook disasters trying to paint on cartridge.

I have phoned Two Rivers to order sketchbooks for summer travel. Chatting about painting and printmaking on their papers, their advice was to use it, and then if that wasn’t a success, scrub it off under a tap and start again, because the surface sizing will take repeated media removal. Suddenly, this long drawn out thought process over their paper has played into my researches on adding and removing media.

The paper is highly textured and stiff as cardboard, with irregular deckle edges on all sides. For my experiment, I used acryl gouache, as I hoped that this could be removed, especially if not completely dry, but the acrylic content might mean that it would not be completely removed. I want to leave ghost marks, although i have no idea what their character might be.

Detail showing the record of earlier marks in the paper texture.

Each layer has been allowed to dry a little more so that the marks have gradually become more defined. This latter layer was allowed o dry overnight and then a scotchpad taken to some areas. So, no paper fear now!

28cm x 38cm

This, probably final, layer uses rich, black, barely dilutes gouache. The character of the paper is clearly visible even in the blackest areas.

This is amazing paper. I cannot decide whether this is ‘finished’ and whether it has any great merit beyond research, although, in that respect, this was a very useful experiment.  I enjoy the rich and varied tones and the layers and variety of of mark. The final layer of marks was developed in response to earlier marks using a photo and drawing app on the ipad, but the sweep of paint at in the lower half has come out too symmetrical. This goes away into a folder for a while, to be got out later and considered more objectively. It may get developed, or completely painted or scrubbed out to produce a new surface, or left alone.

Research – Anish Kapoor Drawings

Anish Kapoor’s drawings have a resonance with my exploration of absence and presence. He uses black gouache to visualise ideas of nothingness, a spiritual letting go of materiality. The drawings offer a window through to an alternative space or dimension. This is achieved through a negation of the surface of the support  through the use of dense, matt, black forms which the eye sinks into. He also uses red of which he says, ‘Red has a terrifying kind of darkness in it’ (Aftab, 2015).

The drawings are mysterious, compelling, contain everything and nothing. Deliberately, he invites the observer to place their own meaning on the work. Kapoor has become a Buddhist (Anish Kapoor in Conversation with Marcello Dantas, 2006) and the drawings have a great deal in common with Zen art in which simple formalism, without perfection, seeks to create a inner state of calm detachment within the observer.

As a piece of physical research, I have experimented with black gouache and the painting of simple shapes which might or might not have a metaphysical symbolism. Before looking at Kapoor’s drawings, my sketchbook explorations were about presence/absence but here I am simply investigating the physical properties and opportunities of the medium.

I have worked ‘wet in wet’ in order to have soft edges with a tonal gradient. The whole support was washed with water on both sides before any paint added. I used the biggest brushes I have with substantial pools of paint available. I have tried to apply the paint in a few continuous strokes to achieve strong shapes and then allow the medium to move as it wishes. In a few, I tried using oil pastel as a contrasting resist, only to find that it doesn’t resist acryl gouache. The studies started off small, at A5 and grew bigger as I gained confidence.


AV Acryl Gouache, oil pastel on cartridge paper, A5


Gouache, oil pastel on cartridge paper, A5


Gouache, oil pastel on cartridge paper, A5

I thought I would replace the oil pastel with water colour paint, mixed strongly and see how the two reacted to each other.


Lamp black and red watercolour on cartridge paper, A5

The watercolour black was much flatter and less interesting than the gouache.

The 300gm cartridge was cockling and influence the movement of the paint so I moved to using hot pressed water colour paper. One of my fellow students once said to me that it was good idea to buy expensive paper and put it away for a while. Then, when you come to use it, you have forgotten how much it cost, and could be liberated from fear of using it freely. This is great advice which I try to follow.


Gouache, watercolour on HP Saunders Waterford paper, A5


Gouache on HP Saunders Waterford paper, A5


Gouache on HP Saunders Waterford paper, A5


Thicker gouache on HP Saunders Waterford paper, A5

The fractal marks where the gouache stops spreading are fascinating. Red seems an obvious contrast to black, but what about other process colours, blue and magenta? I remember once mixing a lovely purple watercolour wash of ultramarine and quinacridone magenta only to have the colour split on the paper with the magenta travelling for miles. I have done the same here, to see how the different colour react with the black.


Gouache and watercolour on HP Saunders Waterford paper, A5


The gouache seems to repel water into the watercolour paint, but the magenta lies above the ultramarine pigment in suspension, and stays floating in the extra water, drying at a different rate.


Pools of black gouache dropped into a wet support to see how they react against each other, A4


Gouache, HP paper, A4

Here, a large mop brush full of gouache was rolled across the paper three times, creating some wonderful marks which remind me of sun spots. I seem to have travelled quite a way from Anish Kapoor here. I thought I might investigate an alternative medium which might offer the matt density of gouache, pastels.


Sennelier pastels, A5

The soft, intensely pigmented pastels offer a luscious matt surface but completely smooth tonal transitions would be dull whilst linear marks appear rather crude; an opportunity for future research.

Having used up all my small store of magenta, I returned to red, but reversed the process, painting in red and dropping in some black gouache. I limited myself to four marks with my biggest brush on the largest pieces of Saunders Waterford I have in stock.


Watercolour, gouahce, HP paper, A3


Watercolour, gouache, HP paper, A3

This final work is definitely my favourite of the day and reminds me of Louise Bourgeois drawings. Without any intent, it would be easy to infer a sexual interpretation to this image. Red is a dangerous colour with all sorts of baggage. In deciding what gesture to make in this work, I was thinking of Zen calligraphy and the Zen figure of enso, an open or closed circle, as used by artists such as Jiro Yoshihara. The way the paint has migrated here is beautiful.

These drawings offer a new vocabulary of marks which I find very exciting. I realise that my ambition for my art is to say something very simple and direct, with very simple but subtle marks. I want to create something which becomes more interesting and more complex, the closer you observe it. I want to make art where, every time you walked past it, you could pause and notice a new fascinating detail.


Aftab, K. (2015) ‘Anish Kapoor: I have Nothing to Say”’, 15 April.
Available at: (Accessed: 4 January 2017).
Anish Kapoor in Conversation with Marcello Dantas (2006)
Available at:
(Accessed: 4 January 2017).


Parallel Project – Falling Further

I have been researching ways of creating depth in the picture frame and negating the support surface. One way has been to use an intense matt black, but another might be to use a contrast of materials for subject and background and exploit the translucent nature of delicate paper.

To create several layers of translucent colours, I used Inktense pigments. These are water-soluble but become permanent. Subsequent layers will not effect earlier ones. They also have the effect of interacting in a granular way when suspended in water. In order to apply multiple layers without over-soaking the paper, I experimented using a gelatine plate and monoprinted successive layers. The gelatine plate has an intrinsic water content which stops media drying out too quickly and also helps release them from the surface. I was keen to see if it would work with water-based media rather than the more normally used acrylic paints. The cloud-like shapes in my samples persuaded me to revisit the subject of a falling figure.

In the small sample below, there are several layers of Inktense monoprint layers with the figure monoprinted using Indian ink. The ink transferred very well, retaining brush strokes. A similar experiment with acryl gouache failed.


Sketchbook sample

The transparency of the background makes the figure appear to float. I monoprinted a number of A3 sized supports and then added a figure, monoprinted using Indian ink.


36cm x 26cm

I have struggled to find a balance between obvious brush strokes in the background and a sense of cloud-like structure or volume. The ink dries in about 90 seconds, so there is little time to paint the figure accurately. However, the way the brush marks have been picked up give the figure movement. The imperfection of the edges and extremities makes the figure more abstract and more intriguing.


36cm x 26cm

This figure appears to be sinking into a mist or being swept by waves, a result of leaving obvious brush strokes.


This is the most successful figure, with the brush strokes giving volume and structure but the lost and found edges adding mystery. The character of these marks could only have been achieved by monoprinting. The translucent, almost luscious, background is hopeful rather than ominous.


Detail 16cm x 20cm

Parallel Project – Fractured Memories

Whilst talking to my sister about what family photos might be available as references, I realise that we have completely different memories of aspects of our childhood. This is inevitable since different people, events and places have a different impact depending on your age at the time, your emotions and experiences.

This thought came at the time when I have been playing around with photographic images, both personal and appropriated. I have been experimenting with methods of transferring images for inclusion in works on paper. Ideally, I want to go beyond collage and actually integrate the image with the surface, avoiding difficult edges, changes in texture and thickness etc.


Transfer experiments and notes

One method uses acrylic medium, painted over a printed image. The medium is applied in several layers, allowed to fully dry and then the paper is soaked and rubbed off the back, leaving ink embedded in an acrylic ‘skin’. This is very effective at transferring a detailed image but the surface is, inevitably, plastic and shiny, even using matt medium. The skin can be cut or, better, torn and adhered to the support with pva or more medium.


‘Skin’ applied and drawn into

I was excited to find an intriguing alternative during the study visit to the Rauschenberg exhibition recently. For his series illustrating Dante’s Inferno, he used an offset method, soaking an image in solvent and drawing over the back with an empty ballpoint to transfer the image. This transfers the ink directly to the support and allows it to be completely integrated with other drawing techniques. With some experimentation, I found the process worked well with newspaper or magazine illustrations. The result looks as though it has been drawn, as indeed, in a way, it has.


I had been thinking about the fractured memories and how to represent this using photographs. In my sketchbook, I have played with a large scale inkjet photograph of my father’s eyes, transferred to a skin and torn into pieces.



I wanted to put together these ideas using an appropriated family photograph and solvent offset. I was lucky enough to find a large period black and white photo of a family group in a newspaper article which seemed perfect for the subject. The girl in the middle is several years older than the babies and will have entirely different memories of this occasion and of her parents at that period of their lives.


30cm x 30cm

The offset gives a slightly ghostly image, as not all of the ink is transferred. I used this to my advantage by transferring the older child’s face twice in order to add to the sense of dislocation. The marks made by the pen give the effect of drawing but also of personal interpretation. The marks going in different directions also indicate a lack of one absolute truth.


This method of transfer allows me to intervene in the result in addition to getting rid of the issues of edges or surface changes. It isn’t just a photograph, it is a specific interpretation of the image. It has dream-like quality perfectly suited to exploring the subject of memory.

I hope to make a series of works around this theme and plan further experiments using family images if I can find a way of replicating them, scaling etc which will transfer. I suspect this means using a commercial laser copier or printer. Experiments using images from a home laser printer were not successful.

Parallel Project – Absence/Presence

One of the themes emerging in my sketchbook is exploring pairs of words as ways of interpreting absence and presence. This has lead to experimenting looking at the boundaries between states, holes in one medium leading to another, positives and negatives.

beyond-2-of-10 beyond-9-of-10


This is a kind of doodling, experimenting with materials, ideas and attempts to deny the picture plane and, to some extent, the hand of the artist. I am trying to both direct the medium, but also allow it space in which to express its nature. Scaling these experiments up is proving to be difficult.

Dense, matt black is a recurring element. It helps deny the picture plane by giving the surface depth and making it hard to focus on. It references the unknown and unknowable, defying space and context. Undoubtedly, I have been influenced here by my background in astrophysics and also by looking at the drawings of Anish Kapoor.

Experimenting with shapes and media, adding and subtracting,  produced this little sketch in which I was thinking about how light might behave around a hole in a dark space.


This is small, only about 10cm sq but explores a new medium to me, Wolff carbon blocks. These produce a seductive, rich, velvety black and can be manipulated with a plastic eraser. To further explore the idea and the medium, I developed the idea on a bigger scale working in positive and negative. It was extremely difficult to keep the right hand side of the support clean even though I masked it with newspaper. I work on both sides simultaneously, trying to balance without symmetry.



60cm x 30cm

It has been extremely difficult to photograph this, persuading the camera that the black is absolutely black and the white pristine. The shape on the left is not as successful as the original sketch at suggesting the diffraction of light at edges. The carbon can be manipulated but leaves a trace of its presence which was difficult in this work but could be exploited  elsewhere.


Parallel Project – A Family Photo

I have been considering lots of ways in which a presence which is also an absence might be represented or suggested.  Some of these are literal, with a figure broadly representing my father being left as a negative space in a drawing, or drawing into with an eraser, such as the lower two thumbnails here.


Other ideas have been less representational of a figure and more about holes in matter or space.

A study visit to Tate Modern this week to see the current  Rauschenbergh retrospective has coincided with considering his ‘Erased de Kooning’ which was included in the exhibition. I thought that it would be interesting to take this idea and move it into this project by erasing my father from a drawing. That is, I wanted to create a careful, possibly photorealistic, drawing of my father which would take time, care and attention to detail, and then erase it. The erasure should leave faint traces of the drawing and the drawing should include context highlighting the erasure.

I based the drawing on a family photograph, indeed the only photograph that exists showing Dad, Mum my sister and myself. It is a typical, poor quality, happy family snap, although my sister is looking mulish and clearly didn’t want to stand still.


I wanted the faces to be realistic, but was not concerned with details in clothing, shoes etc. I also decided that the background should be largely dispensed with, apart from some sense of ground to anchor the figures. Generally, I dislike working from photographs because of the poverty of information which even the best contains, and the flat results. However, it is important here that the drawing has the quality of a family snap.


Working things out in my sketchbook

I worked with a 2H pencil to achieve fine detail with a sharp point, and also to make an impression in the paper which would be left on erasure. The choice of medium was influenced by Peter Blake’s portrait drawings illustrating ‘Under Milk Wood’ which he discusses and shows examples of here. The faces are tightly controlled and the drawing becomes looser and more expressive as you look down the figures. Tone has been developed in the background to create an environment in which an erasure can exist.


A3, pencil on cartridge paper

The likenesses of my sister and myself came immediately but I found my parents’ faces very difficult, with the result that they are very over worked. This became an asset, however, when I erased my father, as a ghost of the eyes remains. In order to be more objective about their faces, I turned the drawing and photograph upside-down, which was a good aid to analysis of shapes. However, since this was drawn over many hours sitting at a table, as opposed to my usual practice of working quickly at an easel, I have distorted the perspective. I have noticed that this is an error I can easily make working on a horizontal rather than vertical plane.


family-detail-3-of-1 family-detail-2-of-1 family-detail-1-of-1


I have deliberately tried to work outside of my normal ‘comfort zone’ with this representational approach because I felt it was dictated by the concept.

The family group, with the obvious missing figure, has a poignancy, especially as there is a direct connection between the little girl and the space where someone should be. Although it is obvious from the nature of the group, who the missing figure is, it isn’t spelt out why they are missing and the other figures are all happily smiling. The more spontaneous, looser marks in the clothes and foreground have more energy and interest than the careful precise marks on the faces, but an exact, realistic representation of the characters is important to the concept. The high tone of the graphite lacks a visual impact of darker media producing a quiet, almost contemplative work.

One possible development of the piece would be to tear out the erased figure completely and then mount the drawing on a black support. This would, however, make it much more obviously referencing death. Another development might be to take a copy of the photograph and draw over it.

Parallel Project – In the Space Between

I have been experimenting with gouache and ink to explore ideas around layered space, voids, different places or states coming into contact. This particular little sketch, using layers of gouache and areas of water on Japanese paper reminded me of a figure, half seen or disappearing. This goes back to the central theme of my father leaving.


Gouache on washi, 10cm x 10cm

I thought this could be developed into a much larger work using charcoal and eraser, building up multilayered marks which would create depth and space. To allow the build up of marks and provide tooth, cartridge paper was painted with thick gesso in strong, random brush strokes. The A1 paper was cut down to a nearly square format, so that the figure would dominate the drawing but still have space to ‘move’ into.

I would like to explore using multiple photographs of a drawing to create an animation and so I photographed the development of the drawing to learn about the process. The drawing was done on a bright sunny day, on an easel facing a patio window with vertical blinds drawn to provide flat light. An SLR camera was positioned on a tripod and photographs were taken through the process of drawing.

The drawing was build up with charcoal and compressed charcoal and worked back into with a mars eraser. I tried to get a balance of linear and black marks but was conscious that I did not want to suggest and character or features in my figure and removed any marks which, for instance, might suggest hair.

The rough gesso has supported the build up of multiple layers with soft and hard, positive and negative marks. I allowed texture of the gesso to dictate some of the drawing, for instance the beam of light from the left. The texture and rhythm of the brush marks remain powerful in the final drawing.

Final drawing, charcoal, 60cm x 50cm

It is interesting to watch the marks develop through the drawing and see myself taking reactive decisions. The video suffers from the movement of the board on the easel when vigorously rubbing out, so some sort of registration system would be needed if I want to work this way. The camera settings produced violent jumps in exposure, presumably as the areas sampled changed from white to black and sometimes back again. This resulted in some frames being very overexposed and all detail in light areas lost. I need to experiment with different programme settings. The tripod got moved a couple of times as I knocked it with my foot. I need to register the position of the drawing and the tripod, perhaps with tape on the floor.  The fade from one frame to another needs consideration and refinement, possibly with a better video editing tool.


This drawing portrays a figure, half seen, perhaps imagined or dreamt, in a dark space illuminated by light from the right and a dim beam of light from the left. The figure is featureless, with unnatural flat planes giving it the feel of a sculpture, but the turn of the shoulders and angle of the head, turned towards the viewer, suggest a living person. The space the figure inhabits is full of matter which obscures the figure in places and intrudes into it. Where the figure starts and stops is not clear. The viewer may find this work both disquietening and sombre but, hopefully, intriguing and involving.

The composition of the drawing is very simple but the texture and layering of marks create a space beyond the picture plane into which the figure is fading. Increasingly, I am trying to grapple with complex ideas through very simple compositions but which have a richness of detail.

I have posted this drawing on the student site for critique, asking for people’s interpretation of the mood and what the figure might represent. Comments were: ‘detachment’, ‘uncertainty’, ‘sadness’, ‘contemplative’, ‘the unknown’, ‘memory…something fading or emerging from the past’, ‘sadness, regret, something significant has recently happened here’, ‘sombre, deathly and sad’, ‘moving and affecting’, ’emotion is rather neutral shading into the optimistic’. There was considerable discussion and disagreement about who the figure might be, male or female, a statue, and some people found several figures or faces in the drawing. I am pleased to have created a drawing which stimulated both emotion and discussion.