Reflection on first tutor feedback

I haven’t been in a classroom environment for Art for about 25 years and I realise that my way of appraising and assessing is far less creative and interpretive than when I was young. This is most certainly a product of following the scientific route in higher education then pursuing a career in Finance, where there almost always is a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ answer at the end of a logical working.

Consequently, from my perspective the discussion with Ilsa had a slightly revelatory quality, reminding me of an approach long forgotten and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m wondering if and how this course of study will impact my professional performance. I’m new to my current role, which is the most senior and commercial I have ever held and I have a feeling it will be a positive influence.

I have re-visited some of the exercises in Assignment 1 with Ilsa’s comments in mind:

Project 2, Exercise 2.

I used charcoal again to depict two glossy white objects on the same dark reflective surface, this time in my sketchbook, so much smaller. My aim was to describe the shadows more accurately and to achieve a better balance of tone that more convincingly depicts that the objects are white.

I think I managed this more successfully than with the bowls but only marginally so. I’m finding that I lose the extremes of tones with charcoal (interim shot below demonstrates this) so I’m going to experiment with fixative as a part of the process rather than just applying to the finished piece. I also need to concentrate on not touching the lightest areas with my charcoal-dusty fingers….

I think the base of the cup is quite successful. I concentrated more on how the thin dark line of shadow disappears from view.

Project 2, Exercise 3.

Line-drawing, being more deliberate with the marks resulted in a far better drawing. And I did this one in public!



There is now a page in my sketchbook that makes me laugh at myself…. the dreaded ‘drawing in public’. I started to draw the seam of my jeans so that I wouldn’t be looking up. Then had a word with myself and started to draw the dirty, ellipse-rich crockery on the next table but the waitress came and cleared it away! Foiled!

So I bit the bullet, got the charcoal out and did a really quick and rough tonal study of my own teapot and cup. It’s far from polished but I did it in front of strangers and that was my aim yesterday. So I kinda like it.

Pre-submission thoughts…

I am absolutely loving this course and so far I like what I have produced. I’m extremely glad I decided to do it.

I am not yet in the habit of drawing every day. I also didn’t appreciate that I should be doing studies in support of the main pieces. Now I have looked at a few other students’ blogs, I remember from A-level days that this is an important part of the process. My sketchbooks are woefully scant…. I have found, to my surprise, that I am almost crippling self-conscious about drawing in front of strangers and this has stopped me a few times. I just have to ‘suck it up’ and get on with it.

I anticipate that another criticism I will receive is that I’m not experimental enough. This is valid- I’m naturally drawn to Realism and the more conventional-looking Impressionism. But then I love Henry Moore…. I will be more aware in future.

In my defence (!) – I am slightly obsessed with charcoal at the moment which I can see lends an impression of uniformity to my work so far.

So here are the few pencil drawings I have in my ‘portable’ sketchbook:


ASSIGNMENT 1 Still Life of Meaningful Objects

Make a still life from objects that trigger a response for you. With a single light source, use a range of drawing tools and refer back to the experiments you did with texture and expression.

Reasons for choosing each object:

Eternity perfume – I have worn this almost every day since the age of 17 and friends and family say it “smells like me”. I also wanted the challenge of depicting something transparent.

Champagne cork – from our wedding day in 2005.

Saucepan – this set of pans was the first thing my husband and I bought when we moved into our first flat together in 1996, we still occasionally remark upon that when cooking and smile. It is the same set as the stock pot from my ‘reflective surfaces’ piece and I was keen to do that again.

Cat’s paw stamp block – my parents bought this for me and it just makes me happy for some reason.

Ruby Slippers – since the age of about four I’ve been a massive fan of the 1939 Wizard of Oz film starring Judy Garland. I have 12 pairs of ruby slippers but these are my favourite so they have to feature!

Stephen King novel ‘The Dark Tower’ – this book is the final instalment of my favourite author’s wondrous but terrifying 8-volume epic which is, quite simply, the best thing I have ever read.

Album of gig ticket stubs – live music is a huge part of my life and this small book contains many, many tickets spanning back to the 1980s. Lots of great memories.

I used willow charcoal, grey and white charcoal pencils, paper stub, putty rubber, standard eraser.

This piece is only A3 size. Hopefully I’ll get better at articulating the instinctive actions I take but the only way I can explain this decision to ‘go small’ is that grouped together, all these special things felt very concentrated and blowing them up to greater than life-size didn’t feel like the right thing to do. In retrospect I feel the resulting piece is successful in this size and, to me at least, some of that ‘concentrated emotion’ comes off the page. Of course this may just be because it is a picture of things I love anyway- it’s very hard to be objective!

I remembered to take progress shots!

I also took a photo of the objects, which I include after much deliberation. I was hesitant to do so because it isn’t at quite the same angle that I viewed the grouping from; it doesn’t show the interesting C-shaped reflection of the ruby slipper in the saucepan that I could see, for example (there’s a sentence I never imagined I would write!)


The finished piece:

What worked well…. a satisfyingly long list!

I’m pleased that I managed to capture the distortions of shadows and pan-handle through the glass of the perfume bottle fairly well.

The use of stippling with the charcoal pencil gives a generally softer effect than other media would, but with defined dots also present and that nicely evokes the glittery outer surface of the slippers.

I love the fact that the champagne cork works so well from a distance. Up close it is quite indistinct and I worried about it for a while, not being able to decide what to do with it. But the distance of review-by-photo shows me that actually, I was right to do nothing.

Most of the novel. I particularly like the way that a simple row of dots fools the eye into thinking it sees the edge of the fabric binding inside the spine. The dust jacket of the book is glossy and I find the reflection of the album on top of it an interesting bonus.

What didn’t work well….

I’m slightly disappointed with the saucepan after being so pleased with the result of my ‘reflective surfaces’ exercise. I think this is in part due to scale. I wasn’t able to be quite as free with the charcoal. Also I think it is due to the greater range of tones and textures in this piece; the contrasts aren’t as stark and striking. I guess the curved shape of the pan also contributes, whereas the stockpot has straight sides and reflections which, again, is more striking.

The tail of the bookmark ribbon. It looks like a cartoon! I even cheated and moved it to retry but it still doesn’t work…. I see studies of ribbon in my near future…..

I’m unsure whether the ticket album works. When I look, I see pages stuffed with tickets but I suspect that’s because I know what it is. Would an observer who hadn’t seen the photo see the same thing or just assume it was a strangely rendered book with exaggerated shadows?




Project 2, Exercise 4 Shadows and reflected light

 Choose two objects with reflective surfaces. Use charcoal and putty rubber. Show the reflected light and shade of one object falling on another and leave as little negative space as you can.

This piece is on bright white A1-sized paper. I purposely chose two objects that had different degrees of reflectiveness. Well, my newly-kindled love of charcoal continues! I found this exercise utterly daunting to begin with and felt a bit lost but with a few sweeps with the side of the piece of charcoal, that feeling evaporated.

Modesty be damned- I am so pleased with this piece that I’ve been showing it to everyone! I do have a couple of frustrations- firstly I was wearing my glasses instead of my usual contact lenses and they slightly distort my vision. Consequently the coffee pot has a bit of a lean. But never mind. I love it anyway.

Secondly, I just now realise that I didn’t put any background in at all, not even implied shadows at the bases! The pots are floating in space…. I don’t want to touch it any more but I won’t forget in future.


Research Point – Odilon Redon, Atmospheric Potential of Tone

The first thing that strikes me about Odilon Redon’s Two Trees is the almost threatening atmosphere. Even though the scene incorporates very light areas that appear to possibly be the paper -Redon is known to have scratched pigment away right back to the ground [ref1] – it seems to me to depict a night-time scene. The depth of shadows behind the trees seem to contain suggestions of sinister figures.

Review of his other work reveals many pieces that are highly unsettling, and high contrasts between the lights and shadows contribute to this greatly. Redon’s trees seem anthropomorphised to me in many cases and this adds to the discomfort. Interestingly, this next picture employs a similar balance of light and dark tones with great contrast as the one above, yet seems to me to be lit by bright sunlight. The subject matter is no less eerie so I find this hard to fathom.

Another piece in which Redon employs large, almost solid black areas is ‘The Black Torches’ where he has drawn a fallen torch belching thick acrid smoke which rises up towards the ceiling and obscures the background of the scene.

The way that the figures appear to have drawn back from the torch instead of righting it adds to the disquieting atmosphere.

In Redon’s 1868 piece, ‘Landscape’, he uses high contrast to evoke a positive, anticipatory feeling. I think the drawing is of a momentous sunrise. Redon picks out the figures and foliage in the foreground with sharp highlights whilst using heavy shadow on the near side of the huge tree to accentuate the light coming over the horizon behind it.

Odilon Redon uses high contrast to great effect in his noirs. In the below-referenced article [ref1], the author discusses Redon’s use of fixatives during the process of working on his drawings. I’m interested to try this method in order to keep the deep shadows, having recently blown half a drawing away inadvertently!

I think Redon would have been extremely excited to have seen the development of pigments like Vantablack [ref 2].



1. ‘A Technical Investigation of Odilon Redon’s Pastels and Noirs’ by Harriet K. Stratis, writing in the Book and Paper Group Annual for the American institute of Conservation.

2. Vantablack


Project 2, Exercise 3 Creating shadow using lines and marks

Experimenting with different media, use hatching, lines, stippling etc to create four distinct grades of tone.

Arrange some objects together and do a loose line drawing. Use the above mentioned techniques to to indicate three-dimensionality.

I bought some proper drawing pens as I feel like this sort of technique lends itself to their use. This is something I do a lot of in meetings at work as it helps me concentrate- my notebooks are dotted with cubes throughout. I chose a book for the easiest shape to show grades of colour, then added a small pot of paint for a shape that is simple yet pleasing to depict, then a pencil-sharpener for a bit of detail.

Of course with pen there is no going back! My newly-discovered method of looking at the photo to pick up problems with perspective shows the spine of the book is at the wrong angle. Otherwise I am quite pleased with this simple drawing and the grades of tone I have managed to portray.

Project 2, Exercise 2 Observing shadow using blocks of tone

Place two pale simple-shaped objects together with a single light source to the side. Use tone to give the impression of three dimensionality.

I chose two different-sized and shaped white ceramic bowls, which I love the shape of (there are a lot of bowls in my house), and used natural light as my source. I placed them on a dark varnished wood surface to create a more interesting context. I used willow charcoal and grey and white charcoal pencils, taking away with a putty rubber, on low-grade A2 paper.

I’m in two minds as to whether I like this paper; a hard piece within the charcoal scratched it and I couldn’t cover the damage. It is visible in the area at the base of the right hand bowl. This is a shame because otherwise I think the piece works well. But then I think the picture has a ghostly feel to it, almost a soft focus, which is a result of the paper not having much tooth, and I really like that.

I enjoyed the method of starting with crude blocks of tone and then refining and working those into the spectrum of greys. I wish I had taken some progress photos. I’ll try to remember to do that in future.

Project 2, Exercise 1 Groups of Objects

Loosely describe a group of at least 6 differently sized and shaped objects, considering weight, transparency, spaces between them. Evidently I was not very good at reading instruction at the start of this course! My work cannot be said to ‘loosely describe’ the objects; I got caught up in the process and the drawing is rather more detailed than I think is called for. Having said that, I’m pleased with the result except for the base of the mug in the left drawing. This is the first still-life I’ve done for decades and I was surprised how I naturally returned to the techniques I was taught in the past to capture proportions and angles with an outstretched arm and charcoal stick/pencil. I used willow charcoal and charcoal pencils, taking away with a putty rubber. I used low-grade un-bleached paper.

Observation – I’m taking photographs of my work in order to add them to this blog and this provides a view that I can’t see in real life. The base of the cup looked ok to me until I looked at the photograph of my drawing. Is this the discovery of a useful tool or will it stifle me later? I will be showing others my work almost exclusively via photographs of it…. I know myself well enough to see that this will become part of my ‘is it finished?’ process. I wonder if anyone else does this. I’ll put it to my peers in the email group.

Update- I had responses from a number of people, all saying they do the same and further describing other methods of review such as looking at the picture in a mirror, or upside down, or converting the photos to black and white to check contrast and balance of tone.

Project 1, Exercise 2 Experimenting with Texture

Aim to try to depict various textures using different materials, tools, and methods. I didn’t make notes as I was doing this exercise so this blog entry is being composed several weeks and several pieces later. I look back at this page of my sketchbook now and see that I was very restrained in this first part of exercise – I’m going to re-visit it and have more fun.

The one that was very successful was dropping ink onto wet paper to represent the soft downy parts of a feather, and drawing the ink out with a stick to depict the tougher fibres and the shaft at the base.

Experiment with frottage. I haven’t considered incorporating this as part of a piece before. In my mind, it was something you do on a school trip to a museum or cathedral. I still haven’t used it in my subsequent work so I need to bear this in mind. I am completely enamoured with the willow charcoal at the moment so other media are not getting a look in! I did enjoy finding surfaces around the house that ‘work’ with frottage, some that I didn’t expect such as cork and watercolour paper.