Research Point: LS Lowry, David Hockney

I love LS Lowry’s work. I like any artist’s work that seeks to strip a subject down to its essence. Another artist who achieves this is Alfred Wallis. I first came upon him in Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge (well worth a visit) There are some of his paintings in The Tate, St Ives.

In his excellent book, The Drawings of LS Lowry, Public and Private, Mervyn Levy begins his introduction with a quote from the artist: “Can you tell me sir, why does a painting cost more than a drawing..? For one thing (with a drawing) you haven’t got colour to get you out of a mess.” (Levy. 1976.Pg 13)

Mervyn Levy goes on to say that, “Drawing is the most perilous and the most rewarding of the visual techniques.”

“Drawing was an art which Lowry never trivialised. He drew constantly on scraps of paper, on envelopes, on bits of card, but even his slightest notations are perfectly precise.” (Levy. 1976. Pg 13.)

Lowry invites us to see the beauty within a supposedly ugly industrial environment. Learning from this, I have tried to see the beauty in my own environment, living as I do within spitting distance of Hatfield Business Park – formerly the British Aerospace site. I have tried to capture the essence of the area in which I live. But I have been stymied at each turn by the very “newness” of it. The following picture is the closest I have come to recording how I feel about the estate.

This is an image of some flats. The roof design is in keeping with the nearby hangar – converted into a David Lloyd gym- but once housed historic aeronautics designs such as the Dehavilland Comet.

Even this image would have appeared somewhat antiseptic without the addition of a ubiquitous discarded Asda trolley.

Perhaps I’m being too hard on myself and my skewed view of an all too familiar new-build estate.

Another artist in whom I have faith to provide necessary inspiration is David Hockney. Purple tarmac? Pink or royal blue tree bark? I love it!

Seeing the essence of what is in front of you rather than a conventional view. Perhaps a little exaggeration of the natural presence of these colours but my! Does it warm ip a scene?!

In his Royal Academy Exhibition “David Hockney: A Bigger Picture” (21 Jan-9th April 2012) David Hockney’ s landscapes inspired a resurgence in my own meagre practice at that time. I felt that I could have painted these works myself. It was so accessible, the work, for me. Some of the works exhibited had been produced on an iPad which at that time was still quite innovative.

I loved the colour juxtapositions as well as the homage to Van Gogh’s starry sky. Not everyone was similarly impressed, of course. A friend who saw the same exhibition found the colour choices “overwhelming”.

I felt that I’d been invited to see an alternative view of my natural environment in a similar way to Lowry’s view of beauty in an otherwise unprepossessing scene. Hockney reveals the quality within living things rather than simply green or brown inanimate objects. We are very lucky here in the UK to have outstanding countryside, flora and fauna. To have it pointed out to us in such a way brings a fresh view to otherwise jaded eyes.


Hockney. D. (2012) ‘The Bigger Picture’. Exhibition. Royal Academy of Arts. (21st Jan – 9April 2012)

Levy. M. (1976) The Drawings of LS Lowry. London: Jupiter Books

By the way, Ted talk worth seeing

Play Time

Moon Face

Does this count as a landscape? I suspect it falls more into the category of illustrative art rather than fine art. I had fun creating this. The colours and composition used are from a long lost picture I did for my niece on her 7th birthday. Now my niece is in her 30s and has reached the age where nostalgia creeps in. Hence I spent today recreating that long lost gift as near as I could remember.

I was having a conversation recently about my general attitude to coursework and realised that there is a gulf between my approach to personal projects , such as the above, and that towards coursework. I would very much like to bridge that gap.

In order that I can achieve this, a new attitude needs to come into play. “Play” being the operative word. My tutor keeps reminding me of this. Hopefully I’m not so rusted into my current approach that I cannot loosen up a little.

Tomorrow I shall pick one of the coursework exercises and see if I can “make it my own” somehow. I need to ask myself relevant questions, such as:

What is there in this exercise that I can turn on its head?

Can I use interesting colour/media combinations to achieve a fun process as well as a satisfying outcome?

Am I able to adapt the exercise in some way to use a method I have used successfully in the past?

What limitations are there in the Exercise that may spark off interesting effects through compromise?

Research Point: Landscape Artists

A while ago, I discovered a thin but nevertheless criminally expensive volume on Lina Bo Bardi in the Serpentine Gallery in London. Despite its price tag I had to have it, because I loved her drawings. They were not all necessarily the most technically adept but had a naivety that appealed to me. It put me in mind of an exhibition of amateur art in the basement of Selfridges (which had, at the time I saw it, made me nostalgic for my ‘o’ level art days when experimental play was so much easier to do than as a fully grown adult).

The illustration that caught my eye in relation to this research is (pg 12) No 8, Lina Bo, Roman Urban Scene, no date. (Lina Bo Bardi, Drawings, Zeuler R.M. de A. Lima.) The reason it caught my eye was due to the colour choices the artist has made. Orange, yellow, blue, green and purple. These are the colours I chose for my drawing for Project 3: Exercise 1: Composition: West View.

West View

The way the light is depicted also puts me in mind of more of my own work using a similar palette.

Another artist whose work gives me a taste of inspiration is Sandro Botticelli. In Primavera, he arranges the figures as though actors on a stage. There appears to be scant regard for realism in the setting. It is a sensual and decorative illustration of a scene, or even a series of scenes cleverly arranged onto one support- in this case tempera on wood. I like the effect of the figures’ godlike luminosity. It is perhaps not a true landscape as the figures take up most of our attention. They seem not to be so much al fresco as chez nous, as though born from a page of ”Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak. The sharp contrast between the three fates’ pale beauty and the depth of darkness of the background is especially appealing. It lends them greater significance in the scene and sends the hairs up on the back of my neck in awestruck wonder.

Talking of contrasts, let’s now go look at JMW Turner’s “Rain, Steam and Speed“. Encouraged by Camille Groult to go see his paintings, the novelist, Edmond de Goncourt described one work as though having been done by “a Rembrandt born in India.” (“A Wonderful Range of Mind” Gage. J. 1987. Pg15)

This painting, though revolutionary in its depiction of the up-to-the-minute technology of the time, nevertheless conforms to the conventions of landscape art in that it submits to the “rule of thirds” that we take for granted today in cinematic art.
Here, the engine flies like a bullet from a gun straight towards the viewer (or like a protagonist who’s come a little late to the story) two thirds of the way across the landscape from the midst of a steam cloud, as well as one third up from the base of the canvas. Like any graphic novel as well as most western art, it reads naturally from left to right. In spite of, or should I say, due in part to having followed these conventions, Turner’s painting conveys the contemporary feel of a moment of excitement captured like a snapshot in time.


Gage. John. (1987) ‘JMW Turner. A Wonderful Range of Mind’. Yale University Press.

Lemaitre. Alain J. Lessing. Reich. (1993) ‘Florence and the Renaissance. The Quattrocento’. Paris. Editions Pierre Terrail.

Zeuler R.M. de A. Lima.(2019) Lina Bo Bardi Drawings. Princeton and Oxford. University Press.

Assignment 3: Waterloo Sunset

Waterloo Sunset (after 2 hours work)

After doing this drawing I realise how short a two hour period can be. This piece requires further work but as the assignment was to work no more than two hours on the finished piece I felt I could blog it after that time had lapsed.

However, I shall work on it some more tomorrow afternoon. I feel it could benefit from a bit more contrast to give it a certain dynamism and gravitas.

I used slate blue mountboard and drew straight onto the surface with black white pink orange and brown pencil crayon.

Thinking about it about an hour on, I feel it could benefit from a little purple shading in the background to define it as seperate from the mid ground and foreground. Also, I wish I’d added a gull or some such coming into land on (the reinstated) Waterloo Bridge parapet in order to lend credence to the look of unexplained surprise on the woman’s face. Although, thinking again, she has the look of the persecuted about her – hinting at a less than salubrious underbelly to the pretty London scene.

Waterloo Sunset (a little over two hours work)

Assignment 3: More Preparation

I haven’t blogged in so long I have almost forgotten how. Almost, but not quite.

View from a bridge #2

.. as simplified from the following…

View from a bridge #1

I changed my mind about the subject for assignment 3. I decided to save the “Lovers Entwined” for the next unit in the module to do with figurative work. Instead I captured this view from a bridge of the London Eye etc. I didn’t like the solid concrete of Waterloo Bridge from which the view is taken so I substituted it with the much more ornate Blackfriars Bridge.

The view has been truncated somewhat due to this wide expanse not readily fitting into my square sketchbook. But I like the effect of focusing all of the interesting bits more closely together. The eye doesn’t need to wander too far to find something to rest upon. The view of Big Ben in the background, seen here clad in scaffolding thus rendering it unrecognisable, is an indistinct grey. The London Eye is only slightly more detailed being that bit closer to my point of view. The lamp posts on the left appear to march into view. They are enlarged from their origins as they are such a good feature. I think that I will make the one furthest away that bit smaller in contrast to the nearest in order to emphasise distance in the finished assignment piece.

I’m going to play around with simplifying this image a little further to see what joy I can get out of it before embarking upon the process of drawing a finished piece.

Assignment 3: Preparation

Prep sketch for Assignment 3
Prep sketch including hedge

I did these two sketches today. I like the potential of contrasting colour and light effect between the front of the West facing houses on the right to the dark purple/grey foreboding of the sky.

Both drawings are in my sketchbook, which is – somewhat awkwardly – square rather than “A” series aspect ratio. This does mean that, when it comes to laying the foundations of the final piece, I shall have that little bit of extra space necessary to add interest to the bottom right hand corner in the form of a subtle (I hope) hint at a pair of lovers entwined created by the sinewy branches of the hedge.

I went to see the Leon Spilliaert exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts last weekend and came away inspired by his seamless use of mixed media. Although I do not wish to mimic his work too faithfully, I do feel it would be no bad thing to be able to name him as an influence.

Before embarking upon this course, my work leant more on the side of the erotic and sensual in content and style. When it comes to this subject I find myself rather hesitant to discuss it openly outside my inner circle. In this picture I feel the inclination to allow myself a somewhat looser rein having seen this couple naturally formed in a hedge in St Albans. At once at home and at odds with their suburban environment, they appeared to beg to become immortalised as such.

A rough preliminary sketch of “lovers entwined”

Summary: Tutor Feedback from Assignment 2

I received positive comments on this blog having successfully transferred from to which is more easily navigable.

Positive feedback on my potential for further development as well as the likelihood of passing the end of course assignment should this potential be realised.

In order to achieve this I need to focus more on the following:

Push the boundaries of experimentation further. Be more “ambitious and exploratory” with unexpected mixed media combinations.

Daily sketching from direct observation of my immediate environment.

Encourage play and experimentation.

“Blend material in a more holistic manner” ( note to self: Leon Spilliaert is a good example of someone who achieves this with his mixed media drawings. Discuss further in this blog)

Research the following artists:

Gordon Cheung

Graham little

Susan Turcot

Michaël Borromans

Charles Avery

Lucian Freud

David Hockney

Paul Noble

Dryden Goodwin

Reflect back on the work of other artists in relation to my own. Express a “reflective and critical” response to observations. Show more of why I understand and appreciate artists’ work.

Leon Spilliaert

Just back from the Royal Academy where I saw the sombre toned drawings of Leon Spilliaert. It was a timely exhibition for me as a drawing student as this artist specialised in drawing with ink, conte sticks and pencil rather than painting in oils. I was impressed by the expressive use of ink washes and how he’d achieved a consistent texture using this method.

Tree behind a wall. (1936) Leon Spilliaert

Later, I went onto the Wellcome Institute opposite Euston station to see the ‘Play Well’ exhibition (24/10/2019-13/04/2020). I like this venue. It is possible to see unique articles on display and then peruse Blackwell’s well stocked book shop and have a cup of tea.


‘Play Well’ exhibition. The Wellcome Institute. London (24/10/2019-13/04/2020)

Leon Spilliaert exhibition. Royal Academy. London. (23/02/2020-25/05/2020)

Vija Celmins

Vija Celmins is (Wikipedia) “a LatvianAmerican visual artist best known for photo-realistic paintings and drawings of natural environments and phenomena such as the ocean, spider webs, star fields, and rocks”.

Born 1938, she fled from Soviet occupation of Latvia with her parents in 1940 to Germany where she lived in a refugee camp until 1948, then was relocated to the USA (aged 10). Speaking no English, she focused on – and was encouraged by her teachers in – drawing, painting and other creative pursuits. In 1955, aged 17, she went to art school in Indianapolis, graduating in 1962, then on to UCLA, obtaining her Masters in 1965. Thereafter she has lived in Venice and finally New York, pursuing her practice and teaching.

Celmins’ repertory includes drawing (mainly in pencil), painting, sculpture and, latterly, woodcuts and charcoal. Since the 1960s, she has focused on work that balances abstract with photorealism, often with no reference point (no horizon, depth of field, edge nor landmarks), thus stripping them of context. Recent work includes prints and mezzotints of her trademark subjects such as night skies and ocean waves. Her work has been extensively shown internationally and commands pries in excess of $1m.

I started my exploration of Celmins’ work by watching, several times, the course-recommended video “Vija Celmins / Desert, Sea and Stars”. I was unimpressed; I immediately suspected phoneyism: “I don’t really call it drawing….I was using a pencil and paper as my medium”. ?!!! She then goes on to talk about meticulously painting found objects, saying her work is “redescribing what I see”. I tried to maintain an open mind as I heard her say (admit?) “I’m not an idea artist”.

Next, I watched the Tate’s video “Explore the art of Vija Celmins”.  This features the artist in her sparse, tidy, clinical studio, working from a photograph of the night-sky, picking out individual stars as tiny spots on a copper plate – a task she has been working at for three years, so far. She is clearly process obsessed – indeed, toward the end of the video she concedes that the pitted plate itself as much a work of art as the image itself. To me, her painstaking dedication and repetition, border on pointlessness.  Why is she wasting her life away like this? Is it a product of – perhaps even an excuse for – lack of ideas? Is it driven – ironically – by the stellar prices her work will realise?

Anyone who risks calling themselves a creative artist also puts their head high above the parapet. I dislike the thought of being the one to ”shoot” that head off, lest one day someone should take pot shots at me (would chance be a fine thing?). But I am also aware that, in the scheme of things, my ammunition will have little effect. Vija Celmins’s art will continue to sell for extreme sums (regardless of those opinions of ”philistines”such as my humble self). At the end of the day, who am I to argue with that fact? But at the same time, I feel a little sorry that this artist appears not to have reached her full creative potential – self-actualisation, in my view – being more than just pounds, shillings and pence.

I have been listening to ‘My Life as a Work of Art’ by Katya Tylevich and Ben Eastham read to me by my friendly elf in an attempt to understand better the world of contemporary art. So far we are on the subject of Martin Creed’s work.

Watch this space.


Tate. Vija Celmins. ”Painting takes just a second to go in”.

Part 3: Project 5: Exercise 2: Study of a townscape using line

View from my bedroom window

Continuing on in playful mood, I find that early on in a drawing, I rapidly find myself reluctant to finish. This distrust of completion – or just plain laziness, if you prefer – ever plagues my creative output. I have several incomplete pieces inspired by the exercises in this Part 3 of the course. I shall have to set aside time just to finish off these projects in order to be able to send a selection to my tutor for assessment. At least they should feel like ‘easy wins’ compared with starting afresh with a blank sheet.

Following day after an hour’s ‘play’

I decided to ‘dirty up’this pic using a black conte stick to rough up the areas of grass in the shade of the buildings. It added a bit of gravitas and made it a lot more fun to draw. Pictures that are fun to produce can (but not necessarily) be more interesting to view. Certainly, for me at least, if I’ve been bored by drawing it is communicated clearly into the resulting outcome.

Once I’d added bright yellow highlighter pen to the sun kissed houses to the right, the white of the paper took on a faintly lavender tinge. I will use this effect again in the near future I think.

Lesson learned: if I’m not having fun, change things up a little in order to turn a ‘task of work’ into a game to be played.

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