Category Archives: Part 2

Part 2 – Reflection

When I look back at where I started this part of the course, drawing some seed heads in a vase, and compare it with my end point, I am amazed at the journey I have taken through the projects. I have tried to respond to my tutor’s encouragement to be less conventional, more gestural and to work large.

I have tried to explore lots of media and supports in this part of the course but in the end have refined my materials down to quite simple ones, charcoal, ink, graphite, clay. Increasingly, my work has become monotone. Colour seemed to have little to offer my final subject and was almost a distraction. Kentridge observed,  “When I worked with colour, I was always stuck with the question ‘Does this look nice?” (Maslen and Southern, 2011). There is always the temptation to make colour pretty or representational. It can have its own symbolism which has to be considered. I have actually found it liberating to work in monotone and concentrate on the expressive mark.

Taking the loss of my father as a subject has been pivotal in giving me something to explore beyond the conventional. Trying to express abstract ideas, rather than direct representation, has been very challenging but also liberating. The physicality of working large and very quickly (albeit sometimes over a long period of time) feels like my right place.

Each work is the culmination of the work that went before it. I could not have drawn the work which I believe is the best in this series (the ink and salt piece) if I had not made small exploratative studies in my sketchbook, made a scrap book of materials, or painted the earlier acrylic work. I could not have found a spontaneous abstract expression of the eyes if I had not looked at capturing a defining characteristic through the shape of the eyes. I used to get down-hearted if a work or even a thumbnail was dreadful, but now I see this as just building my mental dictionary of marks. Life drawing has been particularly important in building these mental references.

My work seems to be most successful when, having done preparation and research, I am in the right mental place and I almost disconnect my thoughts from the process. Perhaps this is a consequence of working gesturally, but I seem more successful if something goes in my eyes and out of my hand without consciously touching anything between. If I think too hard about my marks as I work, they become stiff and contrived. This does not mean that the work is not considered. I have thought about it hard before hand, and I may stand back and consider for minutes or days before another phase of quick gestural drawing.

There has been a long running discussion thread on the student forum about what it means for work to show ‘evidence of a developing personal voice’. This is such a hard idea to understand. One tutor defined it as ‘making work that’s conceptually sophisticated, personally motivated and contemporarily convincing’. At the end of these projects, I finally feel as though I have some understanding of this and have made my first steps towards achieving it.


Assignment 2

The objective of this assignment is to draw a subject with using materials directly related to the subject. Rather than use the subject as an applicator of materials, I have chosen to use the relate the media to the subject.

For some time, as part of thinking about the garden as a subject for my parallel project, I have been considering what materials and media from the garden I can create and use. I make my own charcoal using pruned materials, hazel, willow, hornbeam, make my own bamboo dip pens and I have researched making inks from bark, oak galls etc, but haven’t progressed beyond research yet. My ground is heavy, London clay in brown and yellow, and I have thought about using this as a pigment. I discussed the idea with some people at Art in Action this year. One illustrator using traditional materials suggested that clay would work well with egg tempera. Talking to a supplier of traditional materials, they suggested grinding clay and making pastel sticks of it using gums. Online searches yielded flour paste as a possible binder for liquid clay paint.

At the end of this section of the course, my ideas are all centred around the human presence, and clay came to have a different significance for me. Both the Quran and the Bible say that God created man from clay, and this symbolism occurs in other cultures, too. There have long been scientific theories proposing that life initially occurred on Earth through the effects of static electrical discharges through clays and in recent years there have gained support from a wider academic audience. Ideas of life and death, presence and absence are also explored in Isabel Allende’s story ‘And of Clay Are We Created’.

These cultural ans scientific connections have led me to continue to represent my father as a distant and indistinct figure, but this time using clays from my garden. I dug different coloured clays from several areas of the garden and ground them in water using a mortar and pestle. The watery clay was poured into yogurt pots and allowed to settle for a while. The top was then skimmed of organic matter and some water poured off to give a thin creamy mixture. Some samples did not create a suspension in this way and were abandoned as too gritty or too full of humus. The yellow London clay, beloved of brickmakers, made the best paint. I used a heavy weight NOT watercolour paper hoping that it would withstand the water involved and that the texture would hold the clay crystals.

I considered the addition of gum arabic or acrylic mat medium, but decided to leave the clay natural. I did not want to alter the way that the clay would move in the water or on the support and I did not want to be constrained by small quantities. I used a big brush but mainly my hands and fingers to pour and drip the clay and then push it around, so in retrospect, I have drawn a subject using the subject as implements.

The piece is closely informed by my earlier drawing using ink and salt, but here rather than absent, the figure is present, coalescing from the watery clay surrounding it. I have created a hint of a curved surface and the figure can be read as rising up from this Earth. The figure is perhaps my father or perhaps  generic ‘Man’.


‘Are We Not Clay?’ Clay, 54 cm x 76 cm






This piece isn’t as successful visually as the earlier one because the variety of mark is more limited and the composition of the figure less interesting and also less intriguing. It would have been possible to create a more dynamic pose, had I had a model, but this may have endowed the figure with more character or personality than I wanted. One can think of works in which Adam is being brought to life, such as Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel or Blake’s Creation of Adam, which have a much more obvious and literal narrative, rooted in the Abrahamic texts, than I was looking for. I would have liked the pose to be less conventional whilst retaining simple suggested form.

The use of clay creates that elemental connection between subject and media which was the objective. The clay has flowed and pooled, supporting the narrative of creation. The work probably cannot be fixed and the particles may fall of the surface eventually, but that seems entirely appropriate; ‘dust to dust’. The fact that it is ephemeral is completely consistent with the underlying subject of life/death, presence/absence.

2.3 Contextual Focus – Cornelia Parker

Poison And Antidote Drawing (2010) is part of a series of drawings started in about 1997 and several such drawings were created in 2010.  Parker is drawn to dangerous materials and processes. The substances from which her pieces are made matter as much as the visual content, ‘The material is often where my thinking starts.’ ( Aesthetica Magazine Ltd, 2016)

Originally the drawings used only ink to which poison had been added, but at some point she decided to look at opposites and contrast two opposing ideas or substances together. “I began with the idea of different sorts of oppositional things. “I was thinking of Hitler and Freud, for example, in terms of how they seem to personify contrasting parts of the psyche. I also wanted to make something physically dangerous.”(Drawing, 2000). These blot drawings reference the Rorschach test created in 1921 to help unlock deep seated emotions and characteristics through a patient’s interpretation of a blot. Parker is challenging us to make our own interpretation of these drawings. She may also be making the point that opposites exist as counterpoints to each other; black is only identifiable as black if we have the concept of white.

The series developed to use Quink and correction fluid to which poison and antidote had been added respectively. These carrier materials mirror the subject, correction fluid being the antidote to ink. The materials and technique mean that the outcome of the process is unknown to the artist. She has added jeopardy at each point, the danger of the material, the lack of control over the outcome, the uncertainty of our interpretation.

In this Poison And Antidote Drawing (2010), the correction fluid was viscous enough to have created texture which gives the blot an organic feel, adding to the psychological context. These later drawings look rather like sections through a brain or a skull. The inclusion of organic substances increases this association and amplifies the significance of the work.

The inclusion of culturally significant materials of objects in a work heightens our emotion response to a work. This can be negative or positive. Since the mid 1900s, artists have included their own or others bodily fluids (or in Manzoni’s case, solids) as a provocative element of their work. Warhol got friends to pee on canvases treated with copper pigments and Quinn used his own blood, frozen to cast a self-portrait. These inclusions create a physical link between the work, its creator or context and the observer.

One of the most moving experiences of my life was visiting the caves of Lascaux. These caves contain some of the greatest prehistoric art ever discovered but, due to the increased humidity caused by visitors’ breathe, access to the caves is now closed to the public and one visits a replica nearby. Does this matter? It is clearly necessary to preserve the caves and the replica is an identical 3d copy of the main chamber and passages of the cave. The paintings come to life in the simulated flickering of lamp light. The 3d nature of the paintings, which isn’t apparent in reproductions, is demonstrated with bulges in the rock (fibreglass) utilised for haunches, fissures for manes. But it isn’t the original. It has been tidied up, in particular the floor made safe.As an amateur astronomer, I cannot look at it and this ‘I am standing just were the artist stood about 17,300 years ago’. The hand prints and finger marks no longer really represent the physical presence of a fellow human across time.

I can look at wonderful NASA photographs of the universe, especially other galaxies. These are produced by combining images taken at a variety of wavelengths and therefore do not represent anything we could ever see with our eyes, even if we were in space. As an amateur astronomer, I look through my telescope at a distant galaxy and, if I am lucky, it appears as a faint grey smear, but I get a huge thrill out this because I am directly connected to what I am viewing; photons which left that galaxy millions of years ago are falling directly on my retina. I think that this is exactly analogous to being in the presence of a work of art rather than an illustration, and even more so if the physical content, rather than the visual content of the piece, is culturally significant. I feel particularly moved in the presence of sculpture, say, which preserves the thumbprint or other sign of the presence and intent of the artist.

Finally, I had a bit of fun making my own take on the blots in the context of my current ongoing project on Presence/Absence. No bodily fluids were included.


Presence/Absence, liquid graphite on Washi, A4


Aesthetica Magazine Ltd, A.M. (2016) Aesthetica magazine – Cornelia Parker. Available at: (Accessed: 22 September 2016).

Drawing (2000) Available at: (Accessed: 22 September 2016).

2.2 Drawing Through and 2.3 Narrative

When I made a painting of a significant tree in our garden by drawing through layers of paint, I felt that the physicality of the process, the inherent destruction and violence of tearing back into the medium and even the support, the immediacy and speed of working, would be most appropriate for a subject about which I felt strongly, even angry, about. My research into indirect portraits also made me look at not just the subject but the power of the emotion of the artist and viewer.

For a considerable time, I have been considering how I might make work about the loss of my father when I was relatively young (mid 20s), how I still feel his absence after more than 30 years and how angry I still am with him for dying and leaving the family in difficulties. I  dream regularly that he did not die but just walked out on us and has will just walked back, if as though nothing had happened. Often, in my dreams, he is just standing there, at the periphery of my vision, an almost unseen presence. I recognise these subliminal thoughts as perfectly natural in the face of sudden, unexpected loss, so I am not hung up on it, but they do exist and I have wanted to express them through my art.

The techniques of scratching through, addition and obliteration seem to me a good way to express these feelings and to express my anger and loss. I was thinking about this as I carried out research into indirect portraits through possessions. That research morphed into looking at indirect representations where the subject was distorted or suggested but not represented realistically in detail. That is what I have attempted here.

As suggested by my tutor, I am trying to work large, and the use gesture. In this piece, I have used the largest support I have available, 60 x 90cm, which was prepared with gesso and a ground of dark blue acrylic paint. A piece of coloured tissue was applied to vary the surface and add depth. Following the theme of absence, I decided, looking through my scratch-through samples, to work from dark to light so that the figure would appear almost as a hole in the picture plane. The figure is to be suggested as a presence which is also an absence.

My next layer was laid on very quickly with a palette knife using a combination of reds. I wanted the colours to reflect my anger and also make the work unsettling, so I have selected complimentary colours. I have wiped and scratched back through the layers, using my hands, nails and other implements,  to ‘discover’ a suggested figure. I have used slow drying medium to lengthen the working time to enable me to work on this scale. That has the result that I can work quickly and instinctively on each layer but then have to wait a day or two for that layer to dry before continuing. I have tried to suggest that the figure is turned away and perhaps moving out of the picture plane but not really worried about that too much.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

At this point I was unsure about the last grey/white layer. I felt it was too flat due to being opaque. It didn’t have the sense of physical space I was feeling for. I photographed the work, imported it to a photo-editor and drew on it roughly to see if I could find a way forward, perhaps by going dark again.

dad white dad dark

dad white _ red dad dark2

I think that the dark background best creates a sense of absence in space and the added lines give the figure some, but not too much direction and definition. I wanted this final layer to be transparent, so I brushed the work with washable Indian ink which I could swipe out, wash into, etc. I used a red oil pastel for the lines but wished that I had had a larger, stronger, red oil stick.

marks (1 of 6)

Acrylic, ink, 60cm x 42cm



The Indian ink has picked up underlying texture  and created variable tone with transparency. It also produces soft edges which work against hard edges of acrylic to add to the sense of physical depth.


This piece has been a visceral response to personal feelings using the physicality of the technique. It has not been particularly considered and analysed during the making; I have just torn into it.  I think that this gives it an immediacy and power which I could not have achieved if it had been developed through thumbnails etc. However, I could not have done it without the research into narrative and representation and without having completed the tree work. These put me in the right place to express my feelings in this way and it is a subject I plan to follow in the next project, even though I don’t have any of my father’s clothes etc. However, I do think that this is a piece where ‘the materials contribute significantly to the way the piece is read’ and so this project is merging into the next project.

2.3 Narrative through materials

I have continued to explore this theme in my sketchbook looking at the characteristic of various materials and how they could be used to create a sense of depth and presence/absence. I have now moved to working in monochrome because the possibilities of ink, graphite and charcoal excite me, but mainly because I want to eliminate possible cultural readings of colour or any prettiness.

In my sketchbook researches, I was looking for an impersonal representation, an ambiguity about whether the figure was animated or not. I found it difficult to avoid marks that suggested a shroud or veil; this isn’t intended to be ghoulish.


dad-6-of-11 dad-5-of-11

These figures remind me of Anthony Gormley’s drawings of figures and I suspect I was drawing on the memory of these.

I also looked at some old photos of Dad to see if I could isolate any identifying features which I could select, or use on their own, but without success.


One of the ideas I wanted to pursue was how I might give a physical presence to the space in which the figure was absent/present. I used a piece of plywood and prepared it with a skim of filler using palette knives. Since the resulting surface was very porous, I prepared it with diluted gesso, diluted so that it did not fill the texture. This was then painted with water and liquid graphite. The graphite can be manipulated in the water and moved around. It can be reactivated and washed away, allowing me to create an ‘absence’. When dry, the surface was worked back into with pencil and graphite block.


Graphite on plaster, 27cm x 31cm




Plaster on board has created a characterful surface which allows for a range of tones through the puddling or swiping of the graphite. The surface is accepting of linear marks but these are permanent and cannot be manipulated, resulting in a strong contrast between the types of mark. The marks made by the graphite block are too heavy and lumpy in places such as the right hand margin of the figure. The graphite has a silvery etherealness which works well for he subject. Washing the figure into the background has created a presence which is also part of the structure of the space it exists in, but this is undermined by the hard edges in some places. In trying to give the figure volume, I have also suggested some sort of binding, which was not my intention and I really dislike. However, I do think the nature of the physical surface has created real variety and interest and has given structure to space, which is what I was looking for.

Narrative through Possessions

The two previous works about my father concentrated on the use of materials and technique to create narrative. The  course suggests the method of making a portrait of  a person through their possessions. I have very little let of my father’s personal possessions but I do have some masonic medals which I have not found an appropriate way of passing on. My father was heavily involved in freemasonry to the point that he rarely spend an evening at home with my mother. When he died, he was about to retire and they hoped to spend more time together. Part of my anger about his death is, I think, because my mother was robbed of this. I realise I have a resentment about how much time he gave to his masonry.

The medal doesn’t really evoke him, for me. The next work is very much a development of the two previous pieces but the absence is here symbolised by the masonic medal, white gloves and fringed leather apron. I never saw him wear his regalia, so that is very much from my imagination. I think there was a sash, too, but I don’t remember that.  I have very few photographs of Dad, and those are when he was very young, so I have tried to vaguely find his features in the graphite. He is deliberated detached from me, the observer.

Unlike the acrylic painting, this work has been developed over a much longer period. Without a photographic reference, I have searched for a sense of the mass of my father in the space by adding and removing layers of graphite, removing and restating over and over again. This has resulted in so much graphite burnished into the paper in places, such as the right side of the face, that finally it could no longer be added to or removed.


Graphite, 85cm x 60cm


dad-detail-1-of-1 dad-detail-2-of-1


The medal is larger than real life size and certainly larger than it would have looked on his chest. I have drawn it straight on whilst the figure is slightly below me, and turned. I have tried to give the medal a importance and force of its own. It has light motes shining off it as if it glows with inner force. I could have drawn it in more detail with pencil rather than block graphite, but I think that this would have altered the dream-like mood of the work.

The soft graphite (a Derwent XL block) creates dense dark tones which I have drawn back into with a wedge shaped plastic rubber. This has created soft marks and dense blacks which support the sense of a dreamed or imagined presence.

The figure is stiff and still, like a dummy. The form is lost and found repeatedly against the background tones. I am sure the proportions are wrong, not having any reference, but I don’t think that is material; this is meant to be dream, not reality. The right hand side of the apron is definitely all wrong and the hands are unreal. However, I do think that the intended narrative is successful.

Final Piece

I have realised that I think of space as being far from empty and maybe that results from my interest in astrophysics. Even intergalactic space is full of electromagnetic forces, gravitational waves, photons and particles. I see space as having texture and structure and being influenced by the presence of objects within it.

This final piece is the culmination of thinking about the presence/absence of my father in the space of my dreams. The figure is barely suggested and exists by inference in a landscape of marks which respond to the void.

I started by very loosely suggesting my figure in white and black oil stick. In order to create the variety of mark and texture, I painted the support with a strong solution of salt which surrounded my figure and occasionally intruded into it. I drew into this with shellac based Indian ink on a 3 inch chisel brush, the largest I own. This allowed for strong, expressive marks of varying thickness. I worked very fast on the floor and ink got dripped around. Water was used in places to soften an edge, and this also dripped in places.

In order to give some loose narrative and characterisation, I used the work I had done looking at my father’s eyes to create some semblance of ‘mask’ of the eyes and imply the head turning away from me. To consider how I might develop this treatment of eyes I want to look at the work of Marlene Dumas.


Indian ink, oil stick, salt. 56cm x 76cm

ink-dad-6-of-5 ink-dad-5-of-5 ink-dad-4-of-5 ink-dad-3-of-5


This final piece is the culmination of a series of works and sketchbook explorations which was very quick in execution but the result of a long process of thought. It could not have been created without everything which went ahead of it.

Since I was working quickly and instinctively, not all the marks are as well judged as each other. In particular, I regret the two fine all most parallel, sweeping marks across the middle of the torso. One, stronger mark linking the external space with the figure and implying movement would have been better.

I believe that it is the most successful of the works and has both drama and ambiguity. The subject is apparently very simple, a figure turning away, but this is only suggested and the observer can place many interpretations upon it.  The richness of the mark making creates visual interest but also an physical environment that the figure exists within. The more closely you look at it, the more detail of texture is revealed but the large scale of the brush marks make for a strong large scale composition.


2.3 Narrative – Research

The aim of this project is to harness materials to give expression to personal experience and create a narrative. The suggested method is to make and indirect portrait of someone about whom we have strong feelings via the representation of a possession. As a background to this, I have looked as a range of indirect portraits or self portraits.

Two of the most famous indirect portraits are by Van Gogh in which he painted the chairs in which he and Gauguin habitually sat. Each is represented by their possessions, tobacco, book etc, and their different characters evoked by the different constructions of the chairs and the different colours used; one is day , the other night. However, the empty chairs also signify absence.

Perhaps one of the very earliest indirect portraits was by Samuel van Hoogstaten’s Tromp D’Oeil (1666-7). Here the artist has depicted himself through a still life painting of objects which appear to be tucked into a noteboard. Here he is displaying virtuoso painting skills to create a complete illusion of three dimensional objects. These create a narrative of a busy life with correspondence waiting to be answered,a man of letters. The meaning of other objects was perhaps more immediate at the time than it is to us. The presence of the two combs perhaps indicates nice attention to person appearance or hygiene. It would be ok to let him come into your house to paint you. Clearly there are many subtle messages here projecting a marketing image for the artist.

Tracey Emin’s  ‘My Bed‘, (1998) is an intimate depiction of her life and relationships at a particular moment. The bed is directly analogous to the chairs of Van Gogh and the personal items scattered around create a narrative as clearly as if each had a bubble caption floating above it. Like Hoogstaten’s self portrait, this can also be seen as a piece of personal promotion within the contemporary art market at the time, creating a ‘brand’. The strength of this work lies in the honesty of grubby detail and in its immediacy. It challenges us to examine our judgements. Pawel Althamer produced a similar piece, ‘Self Portrait as a Businessman‘, (2002-4), but it lacks the personal edginess and frankness of Emin’s piece.

An interesting and amusing example of portraits of artists via their imagined palettes by Matthias Schaller looks at each artist through the materials he (mostly ‘he’, only one woman is represented) used, their mark making, strength of gesture, and colour palette. I am not sure that the individual palettes are enough to evoke each artist, or even just their work, but the project is engaging as a whole.

Bacon’s portraits are indirect in that the human figure is the subject but we are not expected to recognise or engage at a personal level with the sitter. The figures are distorted by the artist, capturing elements at different angles and combining these into a conglomeration indicative but not representational of the subject. They are deliberately unsettling, “the clotted, grainy paint dragged over the unprimed surface sets up a visual discomfort similar to the scrap of fingernails on fabric” (Peppiatt, Available at: (Accessed: 18 September 2016)).

This element of unsettling the viewer is important in creating an impression without representation. If not creating a likeness, then some other impact is important.

Anthony Gormley creates indirect self portraits. ‘Bed’ (1908-1) is a self portrait by absence. The figure is in negative, having been removed by Gormley eating at the bread and wax of which the sculpture is made. This is a piece with strong religious themes and the figure may be Gormley but also suggests Christ, both through the resemblance to the Turin Shroud and also through the significance of eating bread. Of course, Gormley has gone on to produce countless replications of himself but all are detached and anonomised to some extent. His drawings of the human figure are a lesson in materials and marks.

I conclude from these researches that an indirect portrait needs to connect with the viewer and the subject at a deep emotional or symbolic level. It needs to say something about the artist as well as the subject.



2.2 Mark Making Materials

This project is aimed at extending the range of materials used for drawing and in particular to look at the opportunities offered by layering up materials and scratching through. I have tried to extend that by looking at other ways of layering up and working back into materials.

Firstly, I have looked at artists who use a layered approach and considered their different techniques and outcomes.

Cy Twombly used house paint as a layer to draw through to create works in pursuit of the ‘primitive’ such as ‘Untitled’ 1954, where he has delineated simple, totemic forms with energetic marks drawn through wet house paint.  The spontaneity of the artist is present in the work as if we have just watched him create it. The drawn marks have a roughness in contrast to any line drawn with paint of a brush. They convey power, intent and vigour.

Looking for contemporary artists which use this technique but to different effect, I found the work of Lorene Anderson through the Artsy portal.  She works on a grand scale using layers of paint (emulsion?) . Layers are applied in wide sweeps and then drawn back through with a tool with large, even teeth, perhaps a garden rake. The effect is to produce calm, rhythic shaopes which evoke waves or organic forms. The calmness is enhanced by the choice of a pastel, cool colour palette.

Another artist found through Artsy is Mario Trejo. He is fascinated by space, time ans mathematics, as I am, and used layers and scratching through to make networks of linear marks which evoke a space/time dimension. Many of the works are rather repetitive and the geometrical quality of the lines and the shapes they form don’t involve me. I find more interest in the more organic nature of his work ‘All Kings Die’ 2014. The more random marks have more to say.

Mary Didoardo makes works were she paint an underlaying work, over paints it and then scratches back to reveal a dynamic strip or ribbon of the original work. Some times she inverts this process creating a distressed and scratched through background on to which she adds a linear painted design. Some of her works are reminiscent of the forms of Twombly but lack his forcefulness.

I did lots of experiments with different media, supports and tools.

marks (9 of 14)

Acrylic paint is effective but very quick drying, so would be difficilt on a large scale. Open acrylic paint gave longer working times but mushy results. Effectiveness is also very dependant on the relative tones of the layers and the contrast in colours.

marks (10 of 14)

Acryl gouache worked very well giving softer, more naturalistic effects than acrylic, but was still very quick to dry. Gesso or acrylic over indian ink gave interesting results. Drawing into acrylic with water, spattering and dripping gave interesting marks, as did palette knives and bamboo pens. Some of my favourate marks were drawn with a thumbnail in a damp tissue.

marks (11 of 14)

I applied what I had learnt to developing a parallel project sketch of the huge oak in my garden, the ‘Old Man’. In my sketch, I had been looking for large shapes to describe mass and structure, and I felt my pencil marks might be interpreted well by this technique.

marks (8 of 14)marks (4 of 6)

Add detail pic, add colour sketch

In order to work larger than the samples, I worked quickly applying the paint in sections with a palette knife, and this made it difficult to integrate some of the areas as i would have wished. The paint was drawn into with a fork, bamboo pen, my nails and the end of the brush, dripped into and wiped into with a damp tissue, particularly the sky.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


marks (6 of 6)

A3, ‘The Old Man’, acrylic

Working in this way has produced a quite dramatic, textural result. It may be only an image of a tree, but I feel it has a force of presence and mass.  The work is A3, because of the drying time issue, but would have even more force if it were A1 or bigger.  I chose colours which were related to the real local colour without attempting to be directly representational. I made a decision to work from light to dark in layers, since this had worked well in my samples, and the effect is of a rather unearthly twilight.  I enjoyed working quickly and spontaneously which has produced a really interesting interplay of textures and marks between layers but also unintended hard edges where the media dried too quickly.

I have slipped back into convention again, in subject if not so much in representation. I need to extend this work to a less conventional subject. The technique has an inherent violence. In places, I have attacked the paint so much that I have made holes in the paper. I think it could be used very effectively to describe a subject about which I had deep seated feelings, especially anger. I have therefore decided to produce a larger work, carrying forward this technique into the final project of this part of the course.



2.2 More Mark Making – Positive/Negative/Layered

Experimenting with scratching through from one layer to another lead me to consider other processes or mediums which would allow the building up of positive and negative marks, adding to and taking away media. I recently bought some Indian ink from Seawhites only to find that it was not the shellac based indian ink I was expecting.  It is a rather blue ink which is water washable rather than permanent. I decided to see if it could be manipulated with bleach for negative marks. Experiments on Japanese paper (washi) showed that the ink had to be wet and the bleach thin but not dilute to work.


Here the paper was inked with a wide brush but some areas missed. Thin bleach (Miltons) was dripped and drawn on with a bamboos pen. The paper was washed to remove the bleach (and quite a bit of the ink) and then ink reapplied with a bamboo pen when dry. This has produced interesting textual effects and the light and dark marks create depth. The translucency of the Japanese paper adds to this effect. Washing the paper has produced delicacy.


Here bleach and water have been applied to create a suggestion of tree trunk and branches. Water and bleach have been spattered to create the feel of light through leaves. I have then tried developing some of these shapes with pen and ink but find this contrived by comparison.

I tried to refine and control this medium and got through lots of paper. I found that I could use salt and bleach to produce various effects. I tried this on watercolour paper as a more robust support.


‘Orbit’ Ink, water, bleach, salt, white acrylic ink. A3

The ink is rather dead on this support and didn’t move or react as much as on the washi. My marks, inspired by astrophysics and astronomy, are harder, crisper on this paper and lie heavily n the surface. I tried these same, simple marks on the washi.


‘Starbirth’ Ink, bleach, salt. 72 x 26cm

By not washing the paper, I have retained detailed marks recording the movement of the ink. However, the bleach and salt must limit the life of this piece. To make it big enough for large scale marks, I have had to tile the paper but I think that this works better than smaller, fiddly marks. The paper is marked on both sides so this would be interesting bound in an artist’s book. I enjoy both the happenstance and physicality of making work where the materials are allowed to evolve with only initial intervention. What I was going to do, the idea, shapes and rhythm was planned, but I had no idea of the final outcome.

The ink and bleach drawings remind me of early cyanotype photographic images. Combining photography or digital images with drawing and printmaking is something I hope to explore.  I have found the work of Gail Erwin who is working in this way, combining several layers, sometime of different media or technique to produce rather ethereal effects. Her inspiration of earth, trees, the elements in expressed through representational images, often digital, but also through direct impressions such as tree textures and and direct materials such as rust, soil, impressions, shadows and natural objects used as stencils for ink and photo printing. The works are placed within series in her website and are combined into installations for exhibition. The simple small works such as the torn paper series or the small natural cyanotypes build together to create a richer whole  but the rigid geometric placement of some, such as Mandala, jars with the naturalistic content. The larger layered pieces evoke a memory of physical objects. The combination of rust print with tree rings is visually interesting but there is no obvious connection between the two.

Printmaking is a useful process for developing mark-making, layered up, added and subtracted, as evidenced by Barbara Rae who combines many layers, sometimes in different processes.

marks (12 of 14)

Vine Path, Barbara Rae, 1995 Etching, 40 x 45 cm p78, Lambirth and Wardell 2014

marks (13 of 14)

An Ceo Driaochta (Detail), Barbara Rae, 2008 Etching and Collagraph, 59 cm x 59cm , p 117 Lambirth and Wardell 2014

It is possible to combine the marks in a print with other marks made on paper through chine colle or subsequent over-drawing with pastel, as Degas did, or with oil pastel, as Barbara Rae sometimes did in earlier work. I was keen to see if some of the painted and drawn tissues I had created could be combined with painted and drawn marks through wood lithography.

marks (2 of 14) marks (1 of 14)

Domestic lithography (‘kitchen sink lithography’) is available using aluminium foil but the texture of wood appeals to me more. In this process, marks are made on thin wood, in my case scrap plywood, with  a variety of mediums which repel water. The wood also allows negative marks to be made using wood cut tools. Since the wood is wet when printed, I was unsure whether chine colle with delicate tissue would work (especially as the tissue had been weakened by being wet first).

The first step was to make a test plate trying out marks and materials. I researched the process and found a useful blog here and video here.

Marks were applied using pigment pens, bamboo pen, various brushes, sticks and fingers. Mediums used were furniture wax, oil stick, oil pastel, Indian ink, acrylic medium, acrylic paint and shellac varnish. Negative marks were cut in.

woodlith (1 of 1)

The board was painted with gum arabic and left overnight. The plates were inked and printed on to light Japanese paper  which are particularly sensitive to woodcuts and so I hope would work well with this process.

marks (7 of 14)

First impression on Hosho paper

marks (5 of 14)

Second impression on lighter Washi paper

marks (4 of 14)

Third impression on Washi, some marks are crisper, some tone lost

The marks changed through the successive prints. I don’t know of this is because I got better at inking and wiping, or whether the board improved to to the developing water content of the wood. The lighter paper was better than the Hosho, recording crisper marks. I used a small roller to experiment with local colour, but this has left obvious roll-over marks. I think this is inexperience with the wiping but also a bigger roller would be better.

The details of pen and brush marks have been well recorded. Indian ink and acrylic paint worked very well and changes in the density of the ink allowed different tones. All the media worked to some extent, but the oil stick and oil pastel marks decayed very quickly. I think the underlying tone from the wood adds interest and the grain could be specifically utilised in more characterful wood than this off cut. The wood grain softens the edges of the marks, giving them an organic feel.

The limit of readily available Japanese paper and my press is just under A3. To make larger work, I would have to piece paper together. A larger drawing on wood could be cut up, printed and then re-assembled. An appeal of this process is that I could paint and drawn on wood in a very direct manner. Prints could then be worked on and developed in different ways. The artistic process becomes branching rather than a single straight line.

Researching artists who combine layers, especially using wood lithography, lead me to the works of Marilee Salvador. She has produced a series of prints in which she has combined a woodlith base layer overprinted with etchings. The method chimes with her organic subject matter. She extends her printmaking into mixed media by drawing over, layering up and assembling into installation. The inspiration of biological processes is obvious and the installation follow this idea through; the prints climb up the walls, spill organically across the floors.

Having done a mark making experiment, my next step was to draw and paint an image on wood for printing. This was based on a sketch of the negative, dark spaces in my rhodedendrons.

marks (3 of 6)

The block shapes were painted on the wood with shellac based indian ink. The density was varied to give variety of tone. Some lines were added using a pigment marks and some ‘subtracted’ using a wood cut tool. However, I decided that these looked far to contrived and restated them much more loosely using a Dremil and pointed bit. I had decided to work larger, and so had to print onto heavy printmaking paper, rather than the smaller sheets of Japanese paper.

marks (2 of 6)

The results were disappointing. The cartridge paper did not pick up the subtleties of tone and did not pick up the pigment line at all. This lack of repeat-ability must be partly due to my lack of experience with the method but also the change of paper. I tried to add interest with two colours, but that has left obvious brayer marks and also added confusion to the image.  The area to the top left has the variety of tone I was looking for and combines the wood grain with the cut line. All in all, a mess, but all information for the next time.

I think that this has been a particularly useful exercise in terms of investigating what drawing can do and how it can be incorporated directly into my practice as a printmaker, beyond the sketchbook. I didn’t get to a place where I could use the tissue papers as a layer under printing, but I have decided that whilst it is useful to consider what printing can bring to drawing and mark making and visa versa, I shouldn’t get too distracted by it.

I am looking forward to the opportunity to make an artist’s book, having had several attempts before. In order to keep samples of experiments and notes on materials, I have made a small concertina book. This has the advantage of being flexible, literally, when it comes to the thickness of the inserts, and I am finding it very useful.


Card cover with accidentally altered image


Samples and notes





Lambirth, A. and Wardell, G. (2014) Barbara Rae prints. United Kingdom: Royal Academy of Arts.