Category Archives: Research Part 3

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.


The artist and the sea. Edinburgh art centre.

I was lucky to have the opportunity to visit the Edinburgh Art Centre at the weekend, where there was an exhibition entitled the artist and the sea. I was interested to see this as I wanted to relate it to some of the tree and cloud work we did in part three, as I realise all these subjects can be expressed in a myriad of ways.

What struck me was the variety of both subject and styles  exhibited; from abstract to large figurative paintings.  The sense of the sea was expressed in a variety of manners; Through portraits of fishermen, collages of shipbuilders, abstract waves, and raditiona/ contemporary coastal scenes.

There were two pictures that stood out for me from the perspective of my interest in drawing.  The first is “Back from the Gulf, HMS Brecon in Dry Dock, Leith” by Douglas Grey (1988).  It is an etching on paper but I was struck by the looseness on his depiction of such a large detailed subject. He noted that he could respond to the scene on a personal level as many of his male relatives had worked in the shipyards.  Both the boat and the figure at its prow cast a sense of loneliness.


The next picture is “The Perimeter Road, Leith Docks” by Kate Downie (1985).  Ink, watercolour and acrylic.  I really like the honesty of this image- I can almost smell the salty air around the loosely drawn flotsam in the foreground.  It is not a romantic image of  the coastline, but one I can relate to- industrialisation, the man made coastal road, rubbish!IMG_1104

Research Point- Contemporary artists- urban view

The urban environment is a theme increasingly adopted by contemporary artists who revisit the art historic subject of ‘landscape’ to offer insights into today’s fast changing society. One example is John Virtue. Try to find some information on the work he produced while associate artist in residence at the National Gallery. You’ll also find works he has made on site on the moors and at sea.

John Virtue is a landscape painter whose work rides a fine line between abstraction and figuration (Taken from

John Virtue and his work

John Virtue at work in his studio
Copyright © John Virtue. Photo: The National Gallery.

His paintings have affinities with oriental brush-painting and American abstract expressionism but above all, they relate closely to the great English landscape painters, Turner and Constable, whom Virtue admires enormously. He also refers constantly to the Dutch and Flemish landscapes of Ruisdael, Koninck and Rubens.

Virtue works from the landscape of where he happens to be living. Immediately before he moved to London, he had been living in South Devon, using the landscape of the Exe estuary as his subject.

He works solely in black and white. All of his paintings are executed on canvas, using white acrylic paint, black ink and shellac.

Have a look at this monochromatic landscape from a series of views of London taken from different points along the River Thames.

I found some lovely sketches of urban landscapes done by John Virtue here:  and

Another contemporary UK artist who concentrates on urban landscapes is Angela Wakefield  Having just completed the exercises about perspective I was struck by how strongly perspective features in her work with a very clear vanishing point evident in some of her work.  For example, this view of the London Underground

I also came across Richard Estes and realised we have had a print of one of his pictures in our study for years.  We saw it at the museum in Madrid and enjoyed the slightly comical nature of the image as well as the muted colours.  Estes is well know for his photorealist paintings- they could almost be mistaken for photographs!  His pictures are full of life, with a sense of business and noise (colour/shape and sound) reflective of the type of pictures you might take with a camera as life rushes past you.  In spite of their realism they capture the mood and feel of the place.  his pictures have a sense of movement and space and use a lot of reflections in their composition.


Telephone Booths (1968), Oil on canvas. Museo Thyssen-BornemiszaMadrid. Painting by Richard Estes

Research point- contemporary artists who work with landscape and a range of viewpoints

Use your reading list and other sources to find contemporary artists who work with landscape and a range of viewpoints and compare their approaches with those of earlier artists. Discuss your findings in your learning log. For example, compare Tacita Dean’s blackboard drawings (click on artists for Tacita Dean) with Seurat’s Landscape with Houses. The Seurat image is widely available online, for example at

Tacita Dean’s modern landscape artwork series “Fatigues”  consists of six panel blackboard pieces depicting the mountainous landscapes of Afghanistan.

Tacita Dean - Fatigues dOCUMENTA (13) / Photo © Nils Klinger / Kassel 2012
Tacita Dean – Fatigues dOCUMENTA (13) / Photo © Nils Klinger / Kassel 2012

tacita dean fatigue1

The writes:

These are drawings of the snow-capped peaks of Afghanistan’s mountains and the powerful Kabul River that flows down through them, made with no more than chalk on blackboard.  The show’s title, “Fatigues,” refers to Ms. Dean’s own exhaustion after completing a major commission for the Tate Modern, but it also hints at a military undercurrent. For more than a decade, Western soldiers have scoured these mountains, which have therefore weighed on America’s collective consciousness. She renders them as haunting forms.

In contrast, Seurat is known for his innovative use of drawing media and for devising the painting techniques known as chromoluminarism and pointillism.

seurat- landscape with houses

Landscape with Houses  Georges Seurat (1859–1891 Paris)  1881–82   Conté crayon

Comparisons of these two painting styles point to the following:  Both pictures are in black and white, but beyond that the similarities seem to be limited.  Tacit Dean works in white chalk on blackboard, while Seurat works in black on white.  Dean’s picture are photorealistic whilst Seurat hints at the image- it is grainy and dreamlike and the light is subtle.  Seurat’s picture is small and drawn in the open-air, while Dean works in a studio, over a long period, and on a huge scale in an almost brutally realistic style.  The finish on her works are quite harsh, the lines defined and the subject dramatic, cold, and harsh, with strong contrasts between light and dark.
Where the two overlap however is in the fact that the viewer is left to fill in the details lower down the pictures- the foreground is predominantly black in both cases and the viewer is tasked with believing and imagining a base to the mountains and a foreground to the houses.
I was looking at the book Contemporary drawing by Margaret Davidson this morning in which she discusses this Seurat picture at length.  I learned how Seurat used bumpy surface paper to create this finish, using the way crayon skims over the bumps leaving white valleys between.  The texture of the paper prevented too much detail being rendered and resulted in drawing that are both vague and subtle.  To create black areas he has to press hard to push the crayon into the valleys- the degree of blackness is directly correlated with the degree of pressure applied.  This tonal effect is a kind of pointillism creating different values of tone.  This technique in turn prevents marks from being too detailed, requires the artist to draw form using degrees of  light, and forces every crayon stroke to break into dots of B&W.  This technique results also in shapes being edgeless, with forms advancing and receding from the shadows.
Another Artist discussed in the book is William Kettridge.  I was encouraged to compare his work with the artists above because he also works in black and white.  He uses charcoal drawings to create animated films (e.g. in which the addition, relocation and erasure of lines creates movement.  I like the way his lines and marks are very smudged and subtle in places, creating an image as much in the viewer’s mind as on the paper/film.  See this link for some examples of landscape drawings from his film Tide Table (2003):

Research point- The golden mean and the rule of thirds

There have been many theories about visual organisation across a picture plane that might be tested – but far too many to discuss in depth here. You may wish to do some brief research into the golden mean and the rule of thirds (and some other less well- known theories if you have time), and how they’ve been applied, to start you thinking about what works compositionally and what doesn’t – and why.

It is much less interesting if the centre of interest in a sketch is dead central and it is often advised to think about placing this and the vanishing point off centre, or off the page altogether, to encourage the eye to travel around the picture.  There are several theories to support this:

The Golden Mean

Rather than recount at length the thinking behind the Golden mean here is a useful link golden-mean-for-artists/.

The Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is a guideline which applies to the process of composing visual images and proposes that an image should be imagined  divided into nine equal parts, like a face of a rubiks cube, and that important compositional elements should be placed along the intersecting lines.  It is claimed that aligning a subject with these points creates more tension, energy and interest in the composition than simply centering the subject.

As an example here is one of my photos, where the “action” is taking place at the lower left intersection as described in the diagram beneath.



Another method for finding the best placement of a subject within a picture is to place the “action” within the rabatment of the rectangle.  This is the perfect square (sides equal to the short side of the rectangle) found inside any rectangle.

rabatment of rectangle

For each horizontal rectangle, there is a right rabatment and a left rabatment. For each vertical rectangle there is an upper and lower rabatment. Placing the most important subjects within either of these squares helps to create a composition that your viewers will perceive as unified, harmonious and balanced.

Other Rules to bear in mind:

An odd number of objects in an image avoids symmetry and therefore creates more interest.

Space can be used to suggest the illusion of movement  in the viewers mind, for example putting space in front of a moving object/person.

Simplification of the subject by good use of light/shade. Lighter areas in a composition draw the eye, as do lines and colour.

Geometry –  triangles are pleasing to the eye, eg; the eyes and mouth in a portrait form a triangle.

Movement – Good use of the line, space, motion, shapes, tone can keep the eyes moving around the image.

Other things to bear in mind are that there should be a focal point which should not be located dead central to the page.  the arrangement of the composition would ideally lead the viewer’s eye around the picture.  Sparkling contrasting elements create interest- as do a variety of shapes between objects.

Research- Trees

I came across this lovely sensitive drawing of a tree by Keith Vaughan.

Drawing of a wall in front of a large tree [1942] Keith Vaughan 1912-1977 Purchased by the archive from Thos. Agnew and Sons Ltd in November 1990
Drawing of a wall in front of a large tree [1942] Keith Vaughan 1912-1977 Purchased by the archive from Thos. Agnew and Sons Ltd in November 1990
I was struck by its simplicity, given the time I have taken trying to capture the “essence” of a tree.  This is a beautiful tonal sketch which evokes more atmosphere than detail.  Detail is hinted at by abstract lines.  It captures the mood through addition of shadows and creation of depth by bringing the wall to the fore.  I can almost feel the sun on my shoulders as I walk past.

Along the similar theme there is even less detail in the sketch below, but the viewer can see clearly the roots protruding below the fallen tree-trunk.  Background trees are just hinted at with a few lines suggesting branches.  There is space in this sketch- no fear of not filling the page.  Again this reminds me that you don’t need a lot of detail to create a sense of a subject.

Drawing of an uprooted tree [1942] Keith Vaughan 1912-1977 Purchased by the archive from Thos. Agnew and Sons Ltd in November 1990
Drawing of an uprooted tree [1942] Keith Vaughan 1912-1977 Purchased by the archive from Thos. Agnew and Sons Ltd in November 1990
Conversely, in Ellen Altfest’s painting of The Tree (2001) (oil on canvas 152.4 x 114.3 cm)  a fine detailed approach is used to create an image where the viewer almost feels they can reach out and feel the texture of the trunk.


Ellen Altfest is a realist painter based in New York. She paints still lifes and male figures from life in painstaking detail and her work is noted for its precision and accuracy.

Gray Tree is an oil painting by Piet Mondrian (1912) on canvas on a board 78.5 × 107.5 cm. It is presently exhibited at Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, The Hague.  Painted as Mondrian began to experiment with Cubism: its foreground and background elements seem to intermingle, and the palette is very restricted. The picture focuses as much on the negative space between and around the branches as on the tree itself.