Category Archives: Research & Reflection

Assignment 5- Background Research

During this assignment I have looked at and researched a number of artist’s work.

I have particularly sought out artists who have a loose approach and who produce landscapes of various  styles.  I have been especially interested in mark making and how different styles can bring a subject to life as well as how abstraction can be simultaneously introduced.

I looked at Jeanette Barnes as part of the reflection on feedback from assignment 3.


I have also looked at Henry Moore.  Also at how he manages to combine abstraction, whilst retaining both a sense of the subject and interesting marks.

Three Reclining Figures 1971 by Henry Moore OM, CH 1898-1986
Three Reclining Figures 1971 Henry Moore -


I have been particularly struck by the style of Dennis Creffield, who went to Bomberg’s classes at the Borough as a teenager and was profoundly effected by the master’s approach. He recalled that ‘structure’ was a key term for Bomberg. Another was ‘the spirit in the mass’, that is, the animating, inner being of any thing as opposed to simply its physical mass. 
In 1987 Creffield was commissioned to draw all the medieval cathedrals of England. This work shows that the methods of the Borough Group survived for many decades. The emphasis on structure as defined by bold charcoal drawing was well-suited to the vertical forms of Gothic architecture.
Peterborough: Approaching the West Front 1987 by Dennis Creffield born 1931
Three Reclining Figures 1971 Henry Moore -
Canterbury Cathedral 1987 by Dennis Creffield born 1931
Three Reclining Figures 1971 Henry Moore -
David Bomberg (1890-1957) was the most audacious painter of his generation at the Slade. His treatment of the human figure, in terms of angular, clear-cut forms charged with enormous energy, reveals his determination to bring about a drastic renewal in British painting.

With the advent of World War I, Bomberg enlisted in the Royal Engineers, and his harrowing experiences at the Front brought about a profound transformation in his outlook.  Bomberg explored a radically different path during the 1920s. His disillusion with the destructive power of the machine at war led to a few years spent experimenting with ways of making his stark pre-war style more rounded and organic.

The Mud Bath 1914 by David Bomberg 1890-1957
The Mud Bath- David Bomberg 1914

The way in which Bomberg reduces the human figure to a series of geometric shapes may reflect his fascination with the machine age, which he shared with the Futurists and Vorticists. This painting could also represent the human form, stripped to its essential core.The scene is based on steam baths near Bomberg’s home in east London, which were used by the local Jewish population and which also had religious associations. They were, perhaps, a place for both physical and spiritual cleansing.

Throughout the 1930s Bomberg’s art became broader and more impassioned as he sought to convey the essence of his response to landscapes in Scotland and Spain and during World War II his outstanding series of Bomb Store paintings did not lead to further commissions from the War Artists Committee, despite his repeated requests. His last years were darkened by the realization that his art remained overlooked and even belittled in Britain. His final landscapes and figure paintings include some of his most powerful works.

St Paul's and River 1945 by David Bomberg 1890-1957
St Paul’s and River 1945 David Bomberg 1890-1957 Purchased 1975
This shows the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, seen from the west with the River Thames on the right. Bomberg made many drawings of St Paul’s during the Second World War, when it survived the Blitz and became a symbol of Britain’s resilience. He made further drawings shortly after the war for a ‘panorama of London’ that was never realised. 
The definition of form by the use of strong structural  charcoal lines is typical. Equally characteristic is the contrast between these vigorous lines and the soft smoky shading, for example in the sky.  This is an image I wanted to take forward into my approach to assignment 5.


In terms of examples of depictions of  industrial architecture I was especially taken by this water colour by Gordon Mitchell Forsyth, (1879-1952) The Hoist Shelton Bar.  Although this is less abstracted is much more precise in its depiction of its subject, the “accidental” marks created by the watercolour create a vivid sense of atmosphere.

Leon Kossoff (born 1926) has established himself among the most significant contemporary chroniclers of London’s people and architecture. The intimacy of drawing as an art form dovetails with Kossoff’s intense and sustained interest in the London landscape. Kossoff renders the city’s plazas, buildings, demolition zones, and construction sites with a sense of immediacy and energy.

Leon Kossoff, “Arnold Circus, Saturday Afternoon,” 2012, charcoal and pastel on paper, 

The charcoal drawings are expressive evocations of place. Vigorous black line defines the forms and suggests a dark and brooding atmosphere, while subtle marks of color invigorate the scenes. Roughly drawn and hectically composed, these works convey a certain spirit in London’s streets, neighborhoods, and gathering places.

Leon Kossoff, “King’s Cross Stormy Day no. 2,” 2004, charcoal and pastel on paper


Leon Kossoff, “School Building Willesden,” 1979, charcoal on paper

There is an energy in Leon Kossoff’s drawings which bring movement to the cityscapes. The pattern of Kossoff’s work has been to pursue, sometimes obsessively, a single subject over a period of years. On the mornings he did not have a sitter arriving in the studio, he would set off early to a chosen spot with his drawing board to work out of doors; then he would return to the studio to paint – a laborious process through which the final image would emerge only after many months of applying and then scraping away paint.

Willesden Junction Landscape
 Extending lines … a detail from Willesden Junction Landscape (1962). 

It seems that Kossoff has frequently been drawn to landscapes that suggest a state of transition: either because they are undergoing literal change, such as the St Paul’s building site; or because they are, like tube stations or railway lines, the zone of humans on the move.

Kossoff’s territory is, more frequently, the overlooked: the railway siding; the demolition site; the Victorian school building seen from across a busy road; the underground station. These views present themselves to him with a kind of inevitability.

“It is a question of the eye and the mind,” he says. They are the kind of landscapes that many people would hesitate to regard as “scenic”, but that carry their own rough loveliness. “Perhaps everything’s beautiful,” he says. “It’s a question of how you experience things visually.” He adds: “Something happens when you see Willesden Junction stretching out in front of you. What else can you do but draw it?”

He worked for years drawing and painting Kilburn tube station. Eventually the faces in the crowd turned unbidden into the faces of people he knew as he painted. He points out to me the face of his father, and that of his wife.  They are pictures, as he says simply, of “life going on”.

Sheep's Head on Newspaper 1955 by Peter Coker 1926-2004
Sheep’s Head on Newspaper 1955 Peter Coker 1926-2004 Presented by the artist 1981
Peter Coker takes a similar abstract/ energetic approach to still life. Using loose, often single, strokes to suggest contours and shadow.
Drawing for 'Butcher's Shop I' 1955 by Peter Coker 1926-2004
Drawing for ‘Butcher’s Shop I’ 1955 Peter Coker 1926-2004 Presented by the artist 1987
This drawing depicts the interior of a butcher’s shop. A large slab of meat hangs in the foreground towards the right-hand side, with two others just discernible behind it. In the background towards the left, the figure of the butcher is seen from behind as he leans over his shop bench. The chequered design of the tiles on the walls of the shop and the rail from which the meat hooks hang define the enclosed space of the shop. The drawing was begun lightly in pencil and then the main lines were gone over again with stronger, darker strokes to summarise the forms. At this stage the artist enlarged the side of meat at the top and bottom. The butcher’s feet were drawn in sketchily and then rubbed out.  The amendments seem to introduce motion to an image which is largely of a static subject.  The lines are confident and fluid without being drawn into developing detail.
Study for 'The Gorse Bush' circa 1957 by Peter Coker 1926-2004
Study for ‘The Gorse Bush’ circa 1957 Peter Coker 1926-2004 Presented by the artist 2002

Similarly in this landscape (black and white chalk and gouache on white paper), Peter Coker depicts a study of dense and dark foliage.  Whilst being just a study rather than a final work I am struck by the looseness of his marks, their confidence and fluidity; creating depth, texture and shadow predominantly through single strokes.  In the foreground, loose, often single, strokes suggest uneven terrain or tall grass. For the foliage beyond, Coker used closely drawn lines, which create a jagged silhouette and suggest the thorniness of gorse.


Mercedes Matter, Tabletop Still Life, ca. 1936. Oil on canvas

Mercedes Matter (1913-2001) was part of the abstract expressionist movement.   Close friends included Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Franz Kline, Philip Guston, Alexander Calder and Willem de Kooning.  Her first mentor, Hans Hofmann, cultivated tensions between sensuality and self-discipline, between drawing and colour.  In early works she abstracts flower arrangements into rectangular planes of colour,  but these soon give way to more propulsive, looping forms, shaped by competing relations of figure and ground.

Her works maintain an assertive vigour and there is a severity to her art; its fierce angularity suggests an appetite for abandon constrained by geometry. Although close friends with Pollock, and an admirer of his work, Matter resisted his method, remarking in an interview, “What I like least … is the liberation.”

After 1960 Matter’s work tends more towards density.  Still life is no longer a step on the way to abstraction; painting doesn’t point beyond the objects, but hovers around their simple physical mass. Her high-keyed colors become more earthy and muted, and then disappear entirely in the large, powerful drawings, which appear through the 1980s and 90s and often include cows’ skulls collected near her home in Connecticut. Matter excavates the projections and voids of the skulls, as though to impart their airy hollowness to the entire arrangement; united in an overall mesh of marks, the objects seem to levitate from the table.


Mercedes Matter, Still Life with Skulls, ca. 1978-98, Charcoal on canvas

I am struck by the “architectural effect” of this still life,  it’s energy, fluidity and abstract style, and I am drawn to comparisons with Jeanette Barnes, Dennis Cressfield, Leon Kossoff and David Bomberg, all of whom I have mentioned above.


This almost takes me back to Paul Cezanne’s Green Apples (1873) where the work is much more figurative, but also energetic, bold and almost abstract in its marks.

Paul Cézanne (1839–1906) was a French artist and Post-Impressionist painter whose work laid the foundations of the transition from the 19th-century conception of artistic endeavour to a new and radically different world of art in the 20th century. Cézanne can be said to form the bridge between late 19th-century Impressionism and the early 20th century’s new line of artistic enquiry, Cubism. Both Matisse and Picasso are said to have remarked that Cézanne “is the father of us all.”  Cézanne’s often repetitive, exploratory brushstrokes are highly characteristic and clearly recognizable. He used planes of colour and small brushstrokes that build up to form complex fields. The paintings convey Cézanne’s intense study of his subjects

Reflections on Assignment 4

In tutor feedback from part 4 of the course my tutor suggested that I look at a number of artists.  She suggested that I should try to develop more confidence in handling media, especially with more dynamic/ aggressive mark-making.  To highlight what she meant by this she pointed me towards Tracy Emin and Richard Hamilton’s work.  I had already looked at Richard Hamilton’s work whilst carrying out research for part four Research Point- Energy in drawings.  I can see her point, as both of these artists produce works that contain a huge amount of energy.

Tracey Emin works in a wide range of media including painting, drawing, film, photography, sewn appliqué, sculpture and neon text. Her art is primarily expressionistic, a cypher for memories and emotions that can be frank and poetic, intimate and universal.  Using her own experience – and frequently her own body – as source material for the work, she explores ideas of self-portraiture and narrative disclosure, both intimately bound up with her own biography. She grew up in the seaside resort of Margate and her work often refers to traumatic episodes from her childhood  in a unique form of confessional art that often deeply resonates with her audience.


Tracy Emin- I Think of you All the time, 2015, Acrylic on canvas

This picture is radiates a sense of frenetic freedom in the application of paint on the canvas, whilst still managing to capture a sense of its subject and  accurate physical proportions.

German artist Kathe Kollwitz began her career as a painter until, inspired by the prints of Max Klinger, she began creating etchings, lithographs and woodcuts, eventually abandoning painting for graphics. She is an inspiring example of an artist whose content and technique merge to create deeply affecting works of art. Her weighty subject matter is made only more potent by the way in which she chooses to render her images.

Her subjects were “rough” as well, often drawn from the poor and downtrodden in Berlin, who her husband attended as a doctor. She remained committed to pacifist and socialist ideals throughout her career. Much of her early work in particular was shaped by the death of one of her sons in the First World War.

Mother with dead child- 1903

In the drawing above, the way in which it is rendered underscores a moment of terrible anguish. The features of the child’s face are just barely visible, almost as though they become less solid and more ghostly by the minute. The softly rendered, quiet areas of the drawing are juxtaposed with areas of urgent, scratch-like hatch marks, creating tension and a sense of desperation.

Käthe explored the human condition not only by connecting with and depicting those around her, but through a life-long practice of self-portraiture as well. Her intimate self-study resulted in over 100 self-portraits between her early formative years and her death in 1945. She often depicted herself in isolation, the surrounding white of the paper becoming a kind of abyss. Kollwitz had the rare ability to communicate visceral aspects of her inner life through her outward appearance, leaving the viewer with a vivid impression of her state of mind. Looking at her self-portraits, we catch intimate glances of her awareness of mortality, her commitment to depicting the social injustices around her, her strength and her compassion.

Her use of harsh lines and intense marks somehow lift the images from mere depictions of an image to pictures radiating a deep sense of emotion and intensity.  This is all the greater for her use of a monochromatic palette and the lack of a background in which to contextualise the image.

Further artists to look at regarding line making is Henry Moore.  I already did some research on his sheep drawings Henry Moore- Sheep Drawings, but I wanted to look further at his work following my tutor’s recommendation.  He

During World War II Moore was asked by the War Artists Advisory Committee to document life on the home front. He drew people sheltering in bomb shelters in London underground stations. These drawings, along with those he made later in the coalmines, are considered among his greatest achievements.  The picture lacks detail of individual faces and limbs, but radiates a strong sense of the crowded gloomy conditions in a tube station during an air raid.

Shelterers in the Tube 1941 by Henry Moore OM, CH 1898-1986
Shelterers in the Tube 1941 Henry Moore OM, CH 1898-1986 Presented by the War Artists Advisory Committee 1946


Henry Moore- Heads, Fish and Standing Figure, 1950—1951 ( Pencil, wax crayon, coloured crayon, chalk and watercolour wash )

I love the loose marks in this page from Henry Moore’s sketchbook.

Henry Moore- the artist’s hands 1974

The looseness and delicacy of the marks in Henry Moore’s hand pictures are beautiful  You can almost reach out and expect the picture to have 3D form.  At the same time, he doesn’t about over detail- giving the viewer just enough to fill in any blanks .

Throughout his career, Moore utilised a wide range of techniques and media, such as line drawing and cross-hatching, gouache, chalk and crayon, to bring two-dimensional forms to life, creating impressions of movement and radiance and carving human forms from a sheet of paper in a similar fashion to the way in which he carved expressive forms from slabs of stone. With these works on paper, Moore was not drawing simply as an exercise. Instead, the artist was drawing for ‘the pleasure of looking more intently and intensely’, emphasising that these works on paper are not simply sketches, but instead illustrate important stages in Moore’s development as a draughtsman and sculptor.

Peter Doig- reflection on assignment 3 feedback

My tutor is keen fr me to loosen up in my approach and she suggested I look at the work of Peter Doig.  I found a good Telegraph article about him- The telegraph -Peter Doig.  in more than one article I found about him, it was commented that his works often fall somewhere between the figurative and the abstract.

Swamped by Peter Doig 1990

I looked at the painting “Swamped”, which he painted in 1990, see and the canvas exhibits all the hallmarks of his style over the next decade. It features a canoe,  afloat on a sluggish bog, thick with reflected sulphurous yellows, russets and reds. A maelstrom of brushstrokes creates a bewildering sense of visual confusion, so that the painting teeters between the figurative and the abstract.  The surface is extraordinarily complex and dense, in places mottled and stippled like a piece of corroded metal with sensuous, textured, questing application of paint. Doig was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1994.

One of the most successful examples of this earlier work is the Concrete Cabin series, (see link to research point here) several large paintings of a modernist building by Le Corbusier at Briey-en-Forêt in north-eastern France, glimpsed through a tangle of trunks and foliage in a nearby wood. The paintings enact the tension between representation and abstraction that is at the heart of Doig’s work. The building’s clean geometric lines, often fleshed out with panels of primary colours so that the structure resembles a painting by Mondrian seen from a distance, are obscured by looser, darker, more furiously energetic marks representing the forest. Flashes of thick, white pigment signifying bursts of sunlight cling to the dark trunks like luminous lichen. Bolts and blobs of bright paint stud the canvases. Drifts of speckled, deliquescent colour float across our view, like surrealistic clouds. The more you look at these scenes, the stranger they become.

Peter Doig- oil on canvas 1994 Coburg 3 + 1 more

In  Cobourg 3 + 1 More, in which an alpine forest and four figures in the foreground are almost hidden by a hazy blizzard, Doig captures the texture of plump snowflakes cascading from the skies, at the same time as alluding to and reworking Abstract Expressionism.

“Painting is about working your way across the surface, getting lost in it,” Doig once said. It’s worth following his advice.

Jeanette Barnes- reflection on assignment 3 feedback

My Tutor suggested I look at the work of Jeanette Barnes after reviewing my Assignment for part three of the course.  I can see why- her work is very fluid and captures a sense of motion and business within a city.  This is something I would love to be able to develop as I tend to have a much more stilted approach.

Jeanette Barnes’ work is urban landscape. She has a method of capturing a sense of people  moving within the architecture and of making buildings come to life.  She often focuses on changes within the city – buildings being demolished and new architecture.

Her method of working is to do lots of sketches on location at a chosen subject -generally using a soft pencil, graphite stick or charcoal. Back at the studio she generally uses willow charcoal or conté crayon on large finished pieces.

To begin the large drawings, she ties a piece of conté or charcoal on to a cane so she can work on the whole of the drawing and not get drawn into working on small areas too soon. This allows her to stand back and think of the whole composition deciding early on where light/dark areas will be.  As the composition changes this may change and areas may be erased.


Research point- self portraits

Research artists’ self-portraits. Begin by looking at historic examples, such as Rembrandt and van Gogh, and then use the reading list and other resources at your disposal to look at some self-portrait styles that have emerged in contemporary art. How do contemporary artists approach tone, medium, pose, story, etc., in self-portraiture. Make notes in your learning log.

Albrecht Dürer, was the first great career self-portraitist and painted himself (c 1500) with flowing crinkly locks in an unforgettable image that is generally considered ‘Christ like’.ürer,_Munich) 

I found this very interesting link to an article about self portraits on the Tate website;  William Hogarth’s self portrait is featured in the article, which is a statement of the artist’s professional ambition. The picture contains a number of coded messages-

The oval canvas containing Hogarth’s portrait appears propped up on volumes of Shakespeare, Swift and Milton, authors who inspired Hogarth’s commitment to drama, satire and epic poetry. On his palette is the ‘Line of Beauty and Grace’, which underpinned Hogarth’s theories on art. Hogarth’s pug dog, Trump, serves as an emblem of the artist’s own pugnacious character

The Painter and his Pug 1745 William Hogarth 1697-1764 Purchased 1824
The Painter and his Pug 1745 William Hogarth 1697-1764 Purchased 1824

In the nineteenth century one of the most famous and most prolific of self portraitists was Vincent van Gogh, who between 1886 and 1889 drew and painted himself over 40 times.  His technique that grew more and more impassioned in brushstroke, in symbolic and intense color, in surface tension, and in the movement and vibration of form and line. 

Unlike van Gogh’s paintings of his sitters, in his self-portraits he seldom directs his gaze at the viewer, and when he does its glaring and fixed. His self-portraits vary in intensity and colour, perhaps a reflection of his state of mind.  Van Gogh’s inimitable fusion of form and content is powerful; dramatic, lyrically rhythmic, imaginative, and emotional, for the artist was completely absorbed in the effort to explain either his struggle against madness or his comprehension of the spiritual essence of man and nature.

I was interested to look at three self portraits by the artist Stanley Spencer.   The first in ink and chalk on paper (1913) has distinctive Old Master qualities in its network of cross hatching, a characteristic reminiscent in particular of the drawings of Michelangelo (1475–1564), in whose technique Spencer was interested. He was a student at the Slade school of art where students were encouraged to study techniques by the old masters.

Self-Portrait 1913 Sir Stanley Spencer 1891-1959 Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to Tate 2005
Self-Portrait 1913 Sir Stanley Spencer 1891-1959 Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to Tate 2005

Spencer’s first self-portrait in oils, was painted in 1914. In its dark and rich colour harmonies and its strongly modelled form, the painting attempts to emulate the style of an Old Master painting.

Self-Portrait 1914 Sir Stanley Spencer 1891-1959 Bequeathed by Sir Edward Marsh through the Contemporary Art Society 1953
Self-Portrait 1914 Sir Stanley Spencer 1891-1959 Bequeathed by Sir Edward Marsh through the Contemporary Art Society 1953

The last was painted in 1958 just before his death.  It struck me how much the style and feel of the portrait had changed since his early life.  The work is remarkable for the unflinching scrutiny of the artist’s gaze, and its use of extreme close-up to convey a sense of physical and psychological intensity.

Self-Portrait 1959 Sir Stanley Spencer 1891-1959 Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1982
Self-Portrait 1959 Sir Stanley Spencer 1891-1959 Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1982

I adore works by Lucien Freud.  I visited an exhibition of his in my twenties and was blown away by both the emotional content, and the stark honesty of his work.  His brush-work is full of energy and imagination while his use of colour conveys the slightest change in tonal values to create tension with rhythmic relationships.

Reflection (Self-Portrait) Lucian Freud (1985)
self-portrait-1985.l freud
Freud did not begin to employ thick sculptural brushstrokes until later in his career when he adopted a radical change in approach and technique, a decision which lost him some important supporters in the art world at the time.  His works are noted for their psychological penetration and their often discomforting examination of the relationship between artist and model.
Freud’s early paintings, which are mostly very small, are often associated with German Expressionism.  From the 1950s, he began to work in portraiture, often nudes (though his first full length nude was not painted until 1966), to the almost complete exclusion of everything else, and by the middle of the decade developed a much more free style using large hogs-hair brushes, with an intense concentration of the texture and colour of flesh, and much thicker paint, including impasto.

As suggested I looked at Tracey Emin’s self-portraits. She often uses monoprints and draws fast and ‘blind’ to produce expressive, frantic marks.   Her previous conceptual style freed her from the constraints of conventional drawing and believes that accuracy and representation are crutches in drawing This is why Tracey states, “Some of my favourite drawings I have done with my eyes closed – or so drunk I do not remember making them.”  Her drawings are eruptions of emotion swathed in memory. The need to express the feeling is released spontaneously through the pen or pencil without premeditation.


“Self Portrait in Mirror” by Tracey Emin. The artist said of this piece, “When I looked at it, it was like when you see yourself in a mirror you didn’t know was there.”

I get the impression from looking at different self portraits that contemporary artists have a much greater licence to approach the use of tone, medium, pose, and narrative much more flexibly than the traditional old masters had.  There seems to be as much importance placed on emotional narrative, context and sense of place as in capturing resemblance.

Research point- artists who work on the face in different ways

Look at contemporary as well as historic artists who work on the face in different ways. Use your research to inspire your own experiments. Look at the reading list as well as other sources and make notes on what you find in your learning log.

I have a very useful and interesting book “The artists complete guide to drawing the head” by William L Maughan, which talks about the traditional techniques used by old masters for painting portraits.  Chiaroscuro was the result of observing light and shadow on form and paying particular attention to the edges between the two is fundamental to capturing a likeness.  It was Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) who in the late 1400s, first realised that duplicating the  shape of the shadows was fundamental to creatine an illusion of 3D form and capturing a model’s likeness.  In his studies Leonardo identified two distinctly different shadows: a form-shadow (caused by turning away from the light source) with a soft edge and secondly a cast-shadow (where the light casts a shadow on an adjacent surface) which produces a hard edge.


The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci (1503-17) is probably the most famous portrait ever painted.  Leonardo perfected a technique known as sfumato, which translated literally from Italian means “vanished or evaporated.” Using this technique he further softened the edges of a contour, creating imperceptible transitions between light and shade, and sometimes between colours,. He blended everything “without borders, in the manner of smoke,” his brush strokes so subtle as to be invisible to the naked eye.  Since the human eye can’t focus on more than one depth of field at a time everything beyond the focal point will be less defined and blurry.

Looking at the subtle approach of Graham Little who uses coloured pencils and fine repeated marks and lines.  His style is almost photorealistic- although not quite “photographic”.  the portraits are almost too perfect- rather like an airbrushed image- which lends a sense of unreality to otherwise very perfect pictures.  The ultimate contradiction!  It is interesting that this “blurriness” creates an unrealistic finish, while the sfumato effect on Mona Lisa renders a sense of believable form.

Now looking at the more fluid blocking in of tone by Elizabeth Peyton Although both Little and Peyton use colour to draw the face in a ‘painterly’ manner, I feel that Peyton is more “artistic” in her approach.  The “watery”  watercolour effect of a lot of her portraits I viewed resulted in rather tonally flat, 2 dimensional, sketchy stylised images.  I felt that where the sitter was known to me that the likeness was not great: e.g.John 1971 (1997) and  Prince Harry and Prince William (2000) – where facial tints and colours are blocked rather than shaded to give a rather angular/ robotic effect.

face John 1971 E Peytonface prince harry & prince william- E peyton

Elizabeth Peyton’s picture of  Daniel, Berlin (1999) is rather less angular as it has more shading from built up layers of watercolour washes- although it does retain sone watery effect and is still quite sketchy in its finish.  It is quite moody and rather depicts a sense of a glamorous male fashion model..

face daniel berlin E peyton

Other artists have dealt with the face rather differently.

Have a look at my post about the BP portrait artist awards I visited in Edinburgh.  Here I was much more impressed with the photorealistic style of Michael Gaskell compared with that of Graham Little.

Other contemporary artists I looked at were Andy Warhol’s pictures of Marilyn Monroe.  I find it amazing that the image so strikingly resembles her even though it is reduced to the minimum sum of its parts.  Maybe this says something about how our brains recognise faces.

face warhol


Lucian Freud 1922–2011 The Painter’s Mother IV
(1973)  There is an intensity of light in much of his works and his perspective is often surprising.  For example in this portrait of his mother she is painted from slightly above so she appears to be looking down.
The Painter's Mother IV 1973 Lucian Freud 1922-2011 Bequeathed by Simon Sainsbury 2006, accessioned 2008
The Painter’s Mother IV 1973 Lucian Freud 1922-2011 Bequeathed by Simon Sainsbury 2006, accessioned 2008

Vincent van Gogh’s painting of The Old man with a Beard (1885) Oil on Canvas -captures a different approach to portrait painting.  In the vein of impressionism b=he attempted to capture a sense of the “inner life” of the sitter rather than simply the purely physical resemblance.  He used brush strokes and captured a sense of light to bring the picture to life and give a sense of his qualities.  I find it interesting that in contrast to other portraits by Van Gogh this picture is realistically dark and monotonal- recreating some of the style of old masters more conservative approach to portraiture.
face Portrait-of-an-Old-Man-with-Beard

Henry Matisse 1905- uses non-realistic wild colours and dramatic brushstrokes to create a sense of simplification and abstraction, whilst capturing a resemblance of his friend Derain. Both Matisse and Derain’s radical use of colour led critics described them and their associates as ‘Fauves’ or wild beasts, and ‘Fauvism’ became an important parallel to the rise of Expressionism in Germany.

Henri Matisse 1905 Andr? Derain 1880-1954 Purchased 1958
Henri Matisse 1905 Andr? Derain 1880-1954 Purchased 1958

Research Point- Energy in drawings

Richard Hambleton is the forgotten father of street art.  His pictures have a sense of energy depicting rapid motion and movement.  See the link and also the image below in which you can almost taste the heat and dust as the horse gallops and bucks with the frantic rider on its back.   The sense of movement comes from the way the paint has been applied in  frantic brush strokes.

movement Richard-Hambleton-Valmorbida-Phillips-AM-04

I also loved the picture below of a ballet dancer by Degas, which is much more still, but which still evokes a sense of movement.  The repeated position of the leg help to create a sense of movement, as well as the repeated lines behind the dancer’s back and above her back leg.  The outline is not static even though there is definitely a sense of care in the way it is drawn.

movement edgar-degas-danseuse-c3a0-la-barre-dancer-at-the-barre-c-18801

The pencil drawing New Balance Sneakers vs KFC Bucket by David Haines also depicts a sense of movement.  (http://www.davidhaines. org/work02.html)   I think this is because it is depicted like a freeze frame in a film, where the viewer knows there is a before and after moment!  It is clear that there is forward momentum in the objects flying through the air.  The centre of gravity of the man in the middle is unbalanced and you get the sense that if the bullies let go he might fall!!  The actual style of the drawing is very restrained -the artist has focused on creating a very detailed rendition of the scene, but it still creates a sense of movement. The drawing is slow and careful.


Research point- historic and contemporary artists whose work involves the underlying structure of the body

Look for historic and contemporary artists whose work involves the underlying structure of the body

In researching his subject the first and most obvious artist to look at (in my mind) was Leonardo da Vinci.  He drew and painted many beautiful anatomical drawings and this was explained beautifully in a Telegraph article ( transcribed below:

One day, probably during the winter of 1507-08, Leonardo da Vinci found himself chatting with an old man in the hospital of Santa Maria Nuova in Florence. Sitting on a bed, the man revealed that he felt nothing wrong with his body other than weakness, despite being more than 100 years old. “And thus,” Leonardo recorded, “without any movement or sign of any mishap, he passed from this life. And I dissected him to see the cause of so sweet a death.” It was not the first time that Leonardo had sliced into a corpse: by 1508, by his own reckoning, he had conducted more than 10 human dissections. Nine years later, this tally had risen above 30. But his study of the cadaver “del vechio” (“of the old man”), as Leonardo called him, rekindled his long-held obsession with the structure of the human body.

leonardofinal_2627141b leonardo shoulderandneck2 leonardo IMG_3181_london2012_gueensgallery_davincianatomist

In the years that followed, the pre-eminent polymath of the High Renaissance embarked on arguably the most exhaustive and insightful campaign of anatomical investigation ever waged in the history of medical science. The fruits of this research, a series of 18 mostly double-sided sheets known collectively as the Anatomical Manuscript A, overflow with more than 240 meticulous drawings as well as 13,000 words of notes written in his idiosyncratic “mirror-script”.

Another artist who did numerous Anatomical Studies of the human body, was  peter-paul-rubens  (Flemish, 1577 – 1640).  It is thought that he planned to produce an instructional book on human anatomy, which he never published.

Follow this link to a beautiful example of his work, showing three figures with defined muscular structure of the back, buttocks, and legs, drawn almost as if  without skin. The skillfully drawn forms show his complex grasp of the human body in three dimensions.

An interesting contemporary contrast is Fernando Vicente.  He produced a series of works which he entitled “Vanities” (2008)

“For a long time, the inside of the human body has been reserved for the exclusive use of medicine and science. It is time to claim it for our own contemplation.”

Thus does Fernando Vicente summarize the concept behind his Vanitas series.  His models, oblivious to their own exposure, tantalisingly reveal muscles, tendons, viscera and bones, presenting us with a difficult yet disturbingly enticing experience.

fernando-vicente-vanitas- corazonada

Equally captivating are his Anatomías and Venus  series, the first being  an exploration of the body as machine and the second a reinterpretation of classical feminine beauty in a contemporary alternative framework.

In his final year at the Pratt Institute, New York, 25 year old Danny Quirk worked on a series of paintings that he called ‘Anatomical Self-Dissections’.

danny quirk anatomical self disections

He recently graduated and is an aspiring medical illustrator. He produces surreal and beautiful portraits exploring our perception of what is beneath our skin.  He ‘dissects with a paint brush’ turning eye catching body paintings into anatomically accurate renditions of the body for educational gain.  Visit his FB page Danny Quirk Artwork.

danny quirk2 steph-step-by-step-1024x457

danny quirk thoracolumbarbodypaintsmall-1024x822

Another artist I have stumbled upon is Sarah Simblet.  I have one of her books:

  • The Drawing Book: An innovative, practical approach to drawing the world around you by Sarah Simblet 
  • She has also written a book called Anatomy for the Artist (Which I have ordered and hope to learn a lot from)

I love the freshness and looseness of her work.  She explores the anatomy of the body and also produces beautiful realistic sensitive figure drawings that reflect her understanding of structure .

sarah simblet anatomy for artists

simplet sketch-book-for-the-artist-2-638

Research Point- Foreshortening

Try lounging on a couch with a mirror facing you from the foot end, then draw your body as you see it in the mirror. Your feet will be huge in comparison with the rest of your body. This effect is called foreshortening. Can you find any images where the artist has used foreshortening to create a particular effect?


This is just  a very quick sketch.  The legs are a bit mutated- they were in fact reclining in front of me off the edge of a long stool.  Feet are probably disproportionately small!!  I found it really hard to draw and sit because the only mirror I could find was in the bathroom!!

Foreshortening is the visual effect or optical illusion that causes an object or distance to appear shorter than it actually is because it is angled toward the viewer. Additionally, an object is often not scaled evenly: a circle often appears as an ellipse and a square can appear as a trapezoid.

In painting, foreshortening in the depiction of the human figure was perfected in the Italian Renaissance, and The Lamentation over the Dead Christ by Andrea Mantegna (1480s) is one of the most famous of a number of works that show off the new technique, which thereafter became a standard part of the training of artists.

foreshortening Andrea_Mantegna_-_The_Lamentation_over_the_Dead_Christ_-_WGA13981

Foreshortening refers to the technique of depicting an object or human body in a picture so as to produce an illusion of projection or extension in space.  The artist records, in varying degrees, the distortion that is seen by the eye when an object or figure is viewed at a distance or at an unusual angle – for example a body viewed from either the feet or the top of the head.
A Supine Male Nude, Seen Foreshortened c.1799-1805 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
A Supine Male Nude, Seen Foreshortened c.1799-1805 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Saint Eulalia exhibited 1885 John William Waterhouse 1849-1917 Presented by Sir Henry Tate 1894
Saint Eulalia exhibited 1885 John William Waterhouse 1849-1917 Presented by Sir Henry Tate 1894 this painting of St Eulalia by William Waterhouse– Eulalia’s dramatically foreshortened body leads the eye towards a void at the centre of the picture.


More contemporary examples of paintings strongly incorporating foreshortening include the following:
Duarte Vitoria’s “Lush” is an extreme example of foreshortening .  (Portuguese artist born 1973).  The feet are drawn from an ant’s view rendering them really huge in comparison with the rest of the body.
foreshortening Lush
Similarly, Jenny Saville’s “Prop” (1993) Oil on canvas.  Here foreshortening has been used to emphasize scale and mass. combined with the viewing angle, the foreshortening suggests a precarious pose; the full figured model is shown balancing/ propped on the stool with her left thigh l;coming in the foreground.  The head is tiny by comparison.
foreshortening jennysevilleprop7ftx6ft

Research point- Depiction of nudes over the centuries

It was the art historian Kenneth Clark Kenneth_Clark who maintained that there is a difference between nakedness and nudity.  A naked human body is exposed, vulnerable, embarrassing, he wrote in his 1956 book The Nude. “The word ‘nude’, on the other hand, carries, in educated usage, no uncomfortable overtone. The vague image it projects into the mind is not of a huddled and defenceless body, but of a balanced, prosperous and confident body … “

The nude has been a recurrent theme in art ever since man started to draw.  The nude had a place in cave drawings, ancient Greek and Roman art, and more recently in European art.  The depiction of the nude tends to follow the social mores of the geographical area and the era.

In the paleolithic era, an  early depiction of the female figure was the Venus von Willendorf (24,000-22,000BC)  In early civilizations the main dominant gods were of female deities symbolizing the power of motherhood, fertility and creation.


The ancient Greeks and Romans accepted nudity as a fact of life and were not worried by it.  Particularly the nude male body was revered, especially as a god, sportsman or warrior.  Statues had an idealised idea of beauty and proportion.  Mid 4th century BC started seeing female nudes- also based on ideal proportions. The


Aphrodite of Knidos was one of the most famous works of the ancient GreeksculptorPraxiteles of Athens (4th century BC), famous for its beauty,   meant to be appreciated from every angle, and for being the first life-size representation of the nude female form. It depicted the goddess Aphrodite as she prepared for the ritual bath that restored her purity (not virginity), discarding her drapery in her left hand, while modestly shielding herself with her right hand.

Medieval Christian attitudes cast doubt on the value of the human body, and the Christian emphasis on chastity and celibacy further discouraged depictions of nakedness, even in the few surviving Early Medieval pieces of secular art. Completely unclothed figures are rare in medieval art, the notable exceptions being Adam and Eve and the damned in Last Judgement scenes. The ideal forms of Greco-Roman nudes are completely lost, transformed into symbols of shame and sin.

The rediscovery of classical culture in the Renaissance restored the nude to art.  Donatello’s second statue of David, probably of the 1440s,was the first freestanding statue of a nude since antiquity- several decades before Michelangelo’s David (1501–04).


Nudes in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling paintings reestablished a tradition of male nudes in depictions of Biblical stories


Creation of Adam– Michelangelo- Fresco- sistine chapel (1512)

The female nude finally returned to Western art in 1486 with The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli


In Baroque art, the continuing fascination with classical antiquity influenced artists to renew their approach to the nude, but in more natural, less idealized proportions, perhaps working from live models.  Figure drawing was seen as the way to learn to draw and academies were set up for the purpose.   Both male and female nudes were depicted.  In the later Baroque period a more playful style emerged.  Rubens set great store in life drawing drawing.


The Three Graces – Rubens (1639)  The painting of the Three Graces provides the opportunity to combine three studies all from different angles.  There is no attempt to hide parts of the body that had previously been (sometimes awkwardly) covered.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, classical subjects remained popular, along with nudes in historical paintings. In the later nineteenth century, academic painters continued with classical themes, but were challenged by the Impressionists. Edgar Degas painted many nudes of women in ordinary circumstances such as bathing.  Eduard Manet shocked the public of his time by painting nude women in contemporary situations.


Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe- Édouard Manet 1862–1863

In the early  twentieth century the subject of the nude was transformed by ideas of modernism-  with experiments with form and the rejection of realism.  In early abstract paintings the body is often portrayed as angular, disjointed or fragmented.

Les_Demoiselles_d'Avignon picasso
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon Picasso 1907
In mid twentieth century,  Abstract Expressionism emerged in America.  Technically, it was an important predecessor to  surrealism, with its emphasis on spontaneous, automatic, or subconscious creation.
Kooning 1953 Woman3

Woman III (1953) by Willem de Kooning, the human body in Abstract Expressionism

Lucien Freud was one of a small group of painters who came to be known as “The School of London”; creating figurative work in the 1970s when it was unfashionable. However, by the end of his life his works had become icons of the Post Modern era, depicting the human body without a trace of idealisation,  He said “I paint people, not because of what they are like, not exactly in spite of what they are like, but how they happen to be.”

Freud -Benefits_Supervisor_Sleeping

Benefits Supervisor Sleeping (1995)  Lucien Freud