Category Archives: Research and reflection

Artist profiles: Dryden Goodwin

In the Guardian Guide to Drawing Goodwin says he believes “drawing is about how the mind processes what the eye sees”. This intrigued me as I think with my recent abstract pastels I find drawing to be about how the mind processes what the heart and mind feels. These two quotes about his work also stuck out:

“Over the time spent looking there’s a sort of fantastical element that enters in – an almost hallucinogenic thing where your sense of what you’re looking at changes”. To me this relates to flow.

“That this speculation is always fluid, that no one act of representation, no one point of description, can ever be finally resolved in time” (David Chandler, Plymouth University). This relates I believe to a large degree to his above and below drawings and red studies. These capture several moments which means you also view the drawings in a time lapse too so what he is trying to achieve is in unison with his method. I would like to know if he draws from photos or life to achieve this.

Although I don’t ‘like’ the drawings, I like the concept of exploring what is hidden or revealed between the two moments the drawings capture and that what the drawing is what is between the drawings. I see that as with Paul Noble the choice of style and medium perfectly suits what he is trying to say with his work.

At a personal level I find Goodwin’s drawings jarring. There’s something – almost a sense of disintegration – about them that makes me feel uncomfortable. This is a shame because I’m sure this is not what he intends having read other articles where he talks about the intimacy of the approach and his sometimes close relationship with his subjects.

As a beginner wrestling with even getting the technical basics right on top of telling my inner critic to take the high road, it feels I am some way off from knowing what is right for what I want to produce. I am however very grateful to my tutor for bringing this need to consider technique and medium in relation to subject to my attention.


Does it matter what it means?

I visited the Whitechapel at the beginning of my course and did an experiment. I went into an exhibit and didn’t read up on what the artist concerned was trying to ‘say’ with her work. I made my own interpretation which, perhaps inevitably, was wrong. A question that has stuck with me is whether that detracts in anyway from my own enjoyment (it didn’t in that case) of the work and what the artist is trying to achieve (I’d say it does). In the commercial sense, as long as it is a positive reaction then does it matter?

I repeated a variation on this experiment on Facebook last week. I asked any friends who were willing to comment on what they saw and thought my Trip Tych three pastel drawings.


As an example, this drawing to me was about parenthood and the risk it can go so wrong when a parent with an undeveloped sense of self sees a child as an extension of themselves on which they project all their hopes and fears, through which they live vicariously – the extreme of which is actually a disorder called narcissistic personality disorder. The comments I received from friends included:

  • Two strangers meeting for the first time
  • Reminds me of a flower in the rain on a summers day
  • Seedlings just starting to grow
  • Helpless
  • A woman’s belly and legs
  • Initially sunsets then the more I looked I saw flowers and fire, they’re very relaxing

Although some of the comments are kind of related to what I was thinking about when I drew this, none are spot on. Does it matter? I had some lovely compliments. It’s a bit like my reflections about there not being any new ideas. Does it matter? If I put them on Etsy or some other platform and they started selling like prints, or even if I drew for pleasure and didn’t attempt any commercial success, if what I had in mind is completely different to what people see then as long as either (a) they’re buying and/or (b) I’m enjoying myself and they’re enjoying looking at them then who cares? Their reaction is in no way less valid because they (to borrow from social constructivist theory) bring their own lens to what they see which is unique to them.

Perhaps this is the difference between artists who want to exhibit and say something about the world and hobbyists or those who just want to sell a few bits on craft websites. I don’t know. Would I enjoy it more if people did see what I was trying to say? Again I don’t know. When I think about the surrealist artists I love, they deliberately engaged in producing art the elite would not understand, with all the Freudian symbolism and focus on the sub conscious. It builds on the old question “but is it art?” to say “well if it is, why can there not be multiple possibilities of what xyz piece is about that are all valid”.

There’s no such thing as a new idea

At the beginning of my Foundation course I powered through some of the recommended reading. I find my own ideas come in thick and fast when I’m mentally riffing off what other people are doing. But what do you do if your idea has been ‘done’?

At some point in a gift set I was bought a little bottle of eye and skin firming creme. It is called something like Philosophy and ‘Hope in a bottle’. This struck me as at once absurd and accurate. I am completely immune to being told what to wear by the fashion industry and find following the herd mindless materialism. I rail against it. This silly little bottle of nonsense got me thinking about the ridiculous ways women are expected to primp, pluck and change themselves, particularly the current trend for contouring and strobing to change our face shapes. I fear for the often narcissistic, selfie-obsessed and often vapid world my daughter will grow up in, that prides extroversion and style over substance and introspection.

This gave me the idea of a collage that features words and pictures, like the bottle of hope, that comments on this. Like a medicine cabinet. I began collecting newspaper and magazine snippings and enlisted my Facebook friends in commenting on some of the the things they’d seen that they thought were absurd (anal bleaching – seriously??!).

Then it happened. In one of my recommended reading texts I came across Hirst’s medicine cabinet work. The wind was knocked of my sails. Then another time I was thinking about the popularity of data visualisation and had some ideas about how to use graph type imagery in drawings. I had several train journeys of manically writing down ideas and sketching out concepts which to me were too precious to put into my course sketchbook for fear of someone stealing my idea (not my tutor I might add!!) Then I came across Theaster Gates, started looking into his more recent work and – boom – he’s done it already.

I didn’t know what to do. Should I ignore this because I will have my own slant on things and there is no such thing as a new idea, or do I keep pressing on for my own unique space. After five months of pondering on this I’m still not sure how I feel so I’m posting this to get it out of my system and in the hope my tutor will have some thoughts on this.

Artist profiles: Paul Noble

My tutor suggested I look at Paul Noble (among others), specifically looking at how he uses technique in relation to subject matter. In this short Guardian interview from the series ‘Guide to Drawing’ he talks about using technical drawing with no perspective and  rarely less than a sharp 4H pencil to “shine the sharpest light on the things I depict”. I can see what he means with the cartographic sense you get from his drawings. Weirdly for a style that is so ‘black and white’ there is nothing straightforward about the surreal worlds he creates.

There is so much detail in Nobson Newton and perhaps that’s the point – that we can’t see what is going on in the world with a glance, there’s a huge amount going on, nothing is what it seems and we need to look in detail and think about what it all means. Also ironic as my art tutor at work commented recently that the amount of time people spend looking at single pieces in galleries is ever reducing. Criminal really, when you think about the hours that go in the works. The precision Paul Noble uses is incredible. There’s also quite a vintage tone to his work which I like given he’s commenting often on the new.

On the Tate website he says ‘My drawings begin with their title….What was writing on a page becomes a building or place’. At the beginning of the course I was prone to writing down concepts in my sketchbook to explore and develop ideas before I was ready to think about representing them visually. It’s heartening to hear someone else work in a similar fashion.

By coincidence I got a book on Hieronymous Bosch from the library recently and I can see a connect between the styles. I was amazed to read Paul Noble has been working on this drawing project for 16 years. Could I ever love an idea so much to work on it for so long.

The monumental scale obviously works for what he is trying to say. He knows what he wants to say though. I am starting to be drawn to what I want to explore and say as I am very interested in people’s inner emotional lives and how they are hidden or not, on the psychological pressures of modern life, on the capitalist obsession with extroversion. What medium is the best for this? What technique is best for this? I don’t yet know.

Sketchbook: My first serious attempt at abstract art

After experimenting last night, I decided to fill an A3 watercolour page with a wash using a few shades of pastel pigment picked up and applied with cotton wool. I applied the yellow and then a few shades of complementary purples and blue (see second drawing below). I was so pleased with the effect I spent some time staring at it and suddenly felt drawn to return to an idea I had in my first module of drawing a line that represents my relationship with my daughter. Except this time I was reflecting more broadly the nature of ego, identity, the hopes and fears that having children represent and the risk of projecting ourselves onto them or damaging them in some way. My mind then wandered to that first module and experiments with mark marking.

For reasons I do not entirely understand, and without really thinking too much, some ideas formed in my head of feelings I wanted to represent. I  gently used conte carre to create two lines, and then a gentle line flowing away from then. I went over what I see to represent two figures with water to darken the line. Finally I developed the cotton wool technique further and added the hot orange in the bottom right. I found this to be a deeply meaningful experience and was thrilled with the results as a representation of the mind, of hopes, fears, love, damage and everything that goes with familial relationships and the raising of children.

I wanted to continue the story so then moved onto the next drawing (see first drawing below). For me this needed to represent a stage before what I had just drawn, so I chose to separate the two figures with the warm orange to represent a divide, a thought, a hope, and the second figure bending away from that expectation and pressure.

By now I felt very absorbed and wanted to do the final stage in this to represent joy but also fear as a fragile being moves into the world and begins to find their own way – a child perhaps. I was certainly thinking of my daughter when I worked on this. I decided to reverse the colours as this is her own story, and have organic forms moving into a brighter sunset yellow to represent a dawn for her but a sunset for the parent – loss but in a positive way. Finally after pausing I added the final line in conte carre to represent the figure.

If I were to be harsh I’d say this is unlikely to score my points in high art. Who am I but a beginner using hackneyed colours to represent certain emotions with a crude technique. But if I put ego and what the external world values commercially or technically to one side and speak for me personally, then this is probably one of the most moving experiences I have had. When I laid the three drawings alongside I could see the story I wanted to convey,  I actually loved the result, and I feel there is more in this series I wanted to do to continue exploring the ideas I am thinking about at the moment.

I didn’t tell my husband what these drawings are about but asked him what he thought. He is aware I am reading about and thinking about these issues at the moment so perhaps was biased but he said he could see it was about relationships and in particular parenthood. I am going to ask a few friends who don’t know what I’m thinking about at the moment what they think this is about to see how they respond out of curiosity.

This was a strange mix of emotions – I would be interested to know if my tutor thinks this is normal – I felt very at peace afterwards but also very energised. This work suddenly means a lot to me and contains themes which I think I could spend a life time exploring, and with a technique and medium I really love. I wonder if it scales, so my next thought is to look at how I might work in larger format. This is something my tutor has encouraged and I haven’t felt strongly enough about any idea or confident enough with any media to try it yet but I feel driven to do this now.

When I got up this morning I could see even more things in the drawings that I hadn’t seen before. The figures are almost like needles and thread, like the patchwork of our lives that we weave. I have decided to title the three ‘Triptych’ because it both describes the fact it is three but the subject matter too:

“Despite its connection to an art format, the term is sometimes used more generally to connote anything with three parts, particularly if they are integrated into a single unit”. (Dictionary definition)

Sketchbook: David Blackburn, abstracting and pastels

Last weekend I was looking at a watercolour I had painted of Venice, and decided to have a go at doing it in an abstract way using the Unison pastels my husband had bought me. I didn’t really have a plan, I just decided to pick some colours I thought were complementary and try to emulate using blocks where I could see different colours, brights and darks. Below is my first pass. I hadn’t used a ruler for the horizon and being left handed I seemed to have inadvertently got the blocks sloping downwards which was frustrating. I need to remember to pause and step back more from my work when I become absorbed in it.

I straightened up the lines a little but decided it was too harsh so began to blend the edges between the blocks a little, as well as adding some rounding on the domes of the building to create more interest.

[insert picture here]

I wasn’t sure where to go next with it so decided to pause and research some more pastel techniques. This was quite nerve wracking as the Unison soft pastels go down so quickly and this was working on A3.

I aspire to create the light and warmth that David Blackburn achieves in drawings like the one below, which glow. If I only had £8,000 to buy it! A guide to pastel techniques has just arrived by post so I will experiment further before returning to my drawing.

Artist research: Alexandra Blum

My tutor suggested I look at how this artist investigates positive and negative space. I began with her Boundaries 2014 work which are drawings from her flat window that ‘combine spatial illusion with the materiality of negative space’. There is an odd filmic quality, perhaps due to the off kilter viewing angles and strong vanishing points she uses. In one drawing, airplanes are repeated on different trajectories showing the flight path. This reminds me of some Giacometti drawings where movement is conveyed by multiple outlines of the figure in slightly different poses. I have complained about my fidgeting cats and daughter but maybe embracing this and using the above techniques may produce some interesting results. 

The sky plays a strong role and she achieves almost a fisheye lens effect in some drawings. Using ink means the sky is quite blocky in places but this is softened by wavy edges and finer lines drawn over the top. I haven’t yet mixed brush pen and fine line pens.

Some drawings are in almost negative photo style with the brightest highlights and in one case all of a tree’s branches except its trunk conveyed using negative space. Again not a technique in its own right I have considered. 

These drawings are vastly more complex on studying them than they appear. I can’t say I’d have them on my wall but there are interesting techniques to experiment with.