Let’s get that out of the way to start with. If you’re following this blog because you’re a huge fan of the singer formerly known as Scary Spice I’m not her; we just happen to both be called Melanie Brown…and have the same middle initial, but that’s where the similarities end. I have started this blog to document my thoughts, feelings and work during my time as a student with The Open College of the Arts. So that’s a bit about me, there may be more to come soon. For now I’m happy that I’ve figured out how to blog and am positive about the start of a new adventure in Drawing 1.
Although popular in Chinese art as far back as the Tang dynasty, landscape was not considered a subject matter in its own right until the 17th century in Europe. Until this time it served purely as a background to paintings of other subjects such as portraits or religious images. There are a few exceptions; Albrect Durer, who never confined himself to just one subject matter or media, painted watercolours that are cited as some of the earliest examples of European landscape art.
In the 1600’s, as the understanding of perspective improved, landscapes became larger and more complex. Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin – both an influence on Turner and Constable, travelled to Italy to draw and paint landscapes in the style of the earlier Greek and Roman classical artists. Along with painters of the Dutch Golden Age, they were the first artists to become known primarily for their landscapes, which became very collectable in the U.K. after their deaths.
It is not a coincidence that the word landscape is derived from the Dutch word landschap (a patch of cultivated ground). The popularity of religious imagery in still life painting in the Netherlands meant that landscape painting, with its reminder to the viewer of God’s creations, became increasingly fashionable. For this reason, the Dutch preferred a ‘natural’ look to their landscapes rather than the classical, stylised work of Claude and Poussin. At this time work by artists like Jacob van Ruisdael, Hendrick Avercamp and Aert van der Neer, became in vogue among the wealthy.
Avercamp’s scenes of people bustling in the snow remind me somewhat of Lowry’s paintings of factory workers in the 1900’s, both have a cluttered chaotic look. Van der Neer’s use of layering and scraping away paint to create areas of light and shade, are particularly impressive to me as they create a dramatic feel. I find it interesting that he chose to paint at dawn and dusk, creating a different mood to most other landscape paintings of the day. The unusual light creates a mystical quality to them, perhaps to support the religious theme popular in the genre at the time.
Although still thought of as a low subject matter in the 18th Century, landscape painters working in Italy and The Netherlands began to influence British artists. Thomas Gainsborough was one of the earliest landscape painters in England and one I have a connection to being from the same town of Sudbury. As a child, I visited Gainsborough’s House countless times to see his work. The portraits that he’s so famous for did not interest me at all, it wasn’t until I saw his landscapes that I got excited about Gainsborough as an artist. I later learnt that he considered himself a landscape artist and longed to be free to paint them but for financial reasons chose portraits. I think it shows in his work, there’s a sensitivity and lightness, especially in his early landscapes. For me the connection is not just because I was aware of his work from a young age, but because there’s a familiarity with his subject matter. He painted scenes that I recognise as my home county; I can see Holywells Park, which is probably my favourite landscape of his, from my balcony right now. It’s a painting that you have to see ‘in the flesh’ to appreciate; the way Gainsborough has dealt with the light in this image is superb. For me, in this instance, Gainsborough has captured the huge expanse of the Suffolk sky and countryside with more feeling and sensitivity than Constable (I’m aware this is a controversial statement)!
Both Gainsborough and Constable have work exhibited in The Wolsey Art Gallery in Ipswich where I now live. It’s interesting to see both artists together and compare their approaches; Constable paints a romantic view of Suffolk, one that I can appreciate but which doesn’t particularly engage me as much as other artists. I can’t quite put my finger on why this is, possibly because he uses a lot of brown and earthy colours in his paintings which make them feel muted (perhaps that’s just age). One that I always stop to look at is Golding Constable’s Kitchen Garden as it’s a lot more vibrant than his others and captures beautifully, the flat open spaces of Suffolk.
I was lucky enough to get a look at some sketches by both artists which aren’t normally on display. I find these drawings exciting as they feel more personal, I can imagine the process that the artists have gone through to make sense of their subject matter. I think the fact that you can see their pencil marks in such detail makes them feel more intimate than the paintings on display.
Unlike Constable, Turner travelled widely in France, Italy and Switzerland. With a style of painting that was freer and more expressive than Constable, his time in Italy and the influence of Claude and Poussin is reflected in the classical approach he took to the structure of his paintings. Using watercolour over oil, Turner was able to create dramatic explosions of light and colour that appear quite impressionistic and have an abstract quality to them. His work often shows the destructive quality of nature with stormy seascapes such as ‘The Slave Ship’ 1840 which documents slaves being thrown into the sea during a storm. This is both a commentary on the power of nature and on the anti-slavery movement at the time. The esteem in which he held Claude was evident on his death when he bequeathed two paintings to The National Gallery with the condition that they were hung between Claude’s ‘Landscape with the Marriage of Isaac and Rebecca’ and ‘Seaport with Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba’.
What British artists begun, the French took and revolutionised with the emergence of Impressionism. During the 19th Century interest in the landscape genre increased hugely. Painting en plein air as Constable had done before them, Monet, Cezanne, Renoir and Degas worked with a spontaneity that captured the ever-changing colours and light of the landscapes before them. Monet, in particular, revisited the same objects over and over at different times of day to experiment with the way light changed on his subjects. The Impressionists brought a new life and a new way of looking at landscape painting that brought it to the forefront of popularity at the time.
In contrast to earlier landscape artists, who wanted to show the beauty of nature, the 20th Century saw a shift toward more urban, gritty landscapes. At a time when towns had become industrialised and populations had exploded, L.S. Lowry’s paintings of North West England showed working class life. Paintings like ‘Going to Work’ and ‘Coming from the Mill’ were images that ordinary people could relate to. I find it interesting that he limited himself to just five colours, I think it’s part of what makes his work so distinctive, however the most impressive aspect of Lowry’s paintings to me, is his choice of light backgrounds which make the factories and figures within them ‘pop.’
The 20th Century saw yet more experimentation with the landscape genre. Paul Nash was one of the earlier pioneers of the modernist movement. In ‘Equivalents for the Megaliths’ his abstract, surrealist style replaces the huge stones at Avebury with simplified geometric shapes.
His take on the landscape around him was affected by time spent on the western front in WW1 and later WW2 as a war artist. The Menin Road shows a landscape ravaged by war. Tree stumps draw your eye from the water filled shell holes to the smoke filled sky and beams of sunlight shoot down resembling searchlights following the two figures trapped in the centre of the image. This is a powerful image full of the same symbolism that he used in his landscapes in later years.
Today, George Shaw continues the tradition of British landscape painting. Using Humbrol enamel paints,he creates highly detailed images. In his series ‘My Back to Nature’ he shows a darker side to the environment around us. His choice of subjects has an uneasy feel to them, like a crime scene or a still from a horror film. I quite like the discomfort that his paintings create; they seem a long way from the idyllic country scenes of Monet or Constable. Shaw’s work continues the evolution of landscape art with an interesting twist; his painting of an old mattress is titled The School of Love, after Coreggio’s piece of the same name. The original shows Mercury, Venus and Cupid in a forest clearing, Shaw’s modern day alternative is a far less romantic image, but the influence of 17th Century classical painters are still evident in his work and he cites them as an influence.
An unspoilt view is not all that common anymore and the development of landscape art follows this progression from Claude’s classical paintings to Turner’s violent scenes of nature, Lowry’s smoggy factories and Nash’s paintings of the devastation of war. We have lost the notion that nature is a work of God and see it as ours to do with as we want. Perhaps the popularity of artists like George Shaw is a comment on our own changing tastes and the realisation that our relationship with the world around us has become a far less sentimental one.
I have to admit, I wasn’t familiar with John Virtue’s work until I started this research point, however I was instantly drawn to his monochrome landscapes. The abstract paintings, which are usually in white acrylic, black ink and shellac, are often created in series, with Virtue returning to a local area and sketching from lots of different viewpoints .
In his series at Blakeney Point in Norfolk, he uses bold brush strokes to create powerful repesentations of the sea. Living close to that coastline, this is a very familiar image to me and I think he’s captured the power of the crashing waves incredibly well. So much so in fact, that I feel transported to this place and can smell the salt in the air and the wind battering my face.
In his paintings of London, John Virtue uses blurred lines and drips of paint which suggest to me a a city scene obscured by grime and smog. There are only a few discernable landmarks which give the viewer a clue as to the location. I enjoy looking at these even more than his sea scapes – I feel like I can see the in a new way, through these paintings. Also the fact that he’s included buildings like St. Paul’s Cathederal and The Gherkin as a reference but the rest of the image is quite mysterious.
What I think resonates with me most is the connection Virtue’s work has with the English landscape artists of the 19th Century. They feel like a twist on a well tested technique – big sky, river, buildings in background. He does cite Constable and Turner as well as the Dutch and Flemish artists – Ruisdael, Koninck and Rubens as influences and I can see this in his work. It appeals to my love of abstract art and at the same time brings me back full circle to local artists, like Constable, that I was familiar with growing up in Suffolk. There is also a timeless quality to his paintings, they could be a scene from Victorian London, buildings obscured by smoke from the chimneys of coal fires and factories.
Nowadays I seem drawn to either monochrome or to incredibly bright colours in an artwork, anything in between doesn’t really do it for me. Virtue uses black and white in a bold manner, seemingly without any tones inbetween; the starkness of these images appeals greatly. I also like the lack of information, the fact that you interpret the scene in whatever way it speaks to you, perhaps that what I enjoy about abstract art in general, that it makes you think about what the artist is trying to show you. Not that all great art doesn’t do this, but when given an image with a clear subject matter I think “Ok, that’s a nice painting of a church” for example rather than “Why has the artists chosen to paint a church like that and how did they get there?”
As a convert to John Virtue’s work I’m going to look for more examples, although they seem few and far between on the internet. I’m going to keep an eye out for any exhibitions that I could get to, as I think seeing these in a gallery would be even more impressive and I’d love to see more of it.
Following on from the previous exercise I wanted to have a go at using a similar technique but with colour. To be honest I really had no plan with this drawing other than to create something with a wash that built on the ideas from the pencil drawing I’d just finished. I chose this church in the village of Boxford as it’s where my family are from and a place I’m very familiar with.
It interests me, although it’s far from my best work from a drawing point of view, there’s a quality to the blending of colours that I like. Something else to think about and get to grips with perhaps.
I chose an area of the drawing from the previous exercise for this study and wanted to use colours that reflected the river and the sky, going with a combination of blue and black for my darkest tones, green for the mid-tones and the white of the paper as the lightest tones.
It was quite a difficult exercise and I struggled to get the depth of the buildings using these colours.
I tried in my next drawing to use the colours as solid blocks and give the sketch a more abstract feel. I didn’t worry too much about detail and approached it more like an illustration. I wanted the viewer to get a sense of the cluttered buildings all squashed in together. Deciding the colours in the first drawing were quite dark and gloomy, I opted for a lighter green and purple and did away with black altogether.
It was an interesting process – one I’m not sure about yet – but it has given me something to think about and one I’ve learned from.
Moving on from the old factory building, I wanted to capture as much as possible of the entire waterfront looking from Stoke Bridge, a viewpoint I’d sketched from earlier. I like the symmetry of the buildings and the way they all seem to support each other and become one large mass. As the you look into the distance you get a glimpse of the boats in the marina and their masts echoes the parallel lines of the university building behind them.
I worked in black pen for this study and tried to get a balance of adding detail without going overboard as there’s a lot to look at here. There are areas where this has worked better than others – where the drawing gets cluttered to the bottom right it seems too busy.
It was another blue sky, sunny day when I did these sketches, which created some lovely reflections in the river. I haven’t been able to make them look very convincing at all and was a bit frustrated as I couldn’t get to grips with drawing them using pen.
My preliminary sketches gave me enough information to get the shapes of the structures but the perspective seems a bit iffy round the biscuit factory on the left. I made a few mistakes around the wine rack too. Overall I’m fairly happy but have areas to work on in the future.
I chose a view of the river a little way out of Ipswich this time. The tide was out so the boats were sticking out of the mud which was a nice change as the mud created some interesting textures. I drew in sketching pencil and added a wash to see how it would affect the look of the shadows and tone. It’s a new technique for me and one I wanted to explore it further and get better at using it.
I think the wash was quite successful as a base to build on – especially in the sky. The cross hatching has helped to add something to that effect. Although I’ve also used it in other areas of the drawing it isn’t as visible and so has not really added anything to the sketches in those parts. I’d like to try something similar in colour to see if it would create a more interesting final image.
Statues have been a welcome change from drawing buildings. I wanted to choose a slightly more interesting statue than the normal ‘figure on a plinth’ to begin with.
My first drawing was of the Giles statue in the town centre as it always makes me smile. I concentrated on Gran as she’s the dominant figure and by far the largest of the collection. The statue stands on a set of circular steps so I was able to draw her from the bottom step looking up slightly. I haven’t drawn the whole of her as I concentrated on what was the most interesting part to me, her head and facial expression. The state is made from metal (bronze I think) and has a lot of nice grooves and texture to it which make her seem more lifelike.
On a visit to the Ipswich Museum with my daughter there was a sketch showing ideas for the design of the war memorial in Christchurch Park. I took a photo, although it was hard to get a good picture with the lighting in the room. Although this wasn’t the winning entry there are a lot of elements from the drawing that made it to the final design. I love all the little sums along the right hand side too, I’m not sure if they relate to size or price but whoever did this sketch obviously thought about it a lot. Afterwards I went to look at the memorial itself, but it was a smaller statue remembering those who fought in the Boer War that caught my eye. I decided to draw it in charcoal as it had lots of interesting areas of light and shade, the light hitting the back created some really nice shapes and showed up the detail in the casting. From my position, it looked like the figure was turned away which added to the solemnness of the soldier’s expression and pose. To me this appears a much more personal looking memorial than the big blocky sculpture made after the subsequent wars.
Lastly I drew the Question Mark which is a relatively new statue to the town. It was yet another sunny day (30 degrees)! and it created some great shadows on the path around it. In contrast to the Boer War statue it’s surface is smooth stone with one side white and the other black. The way I approached this drawing was quite different to the previous two, with it ending up being a far more precise and time consuming process, as it seemed to fit the object.
I’ve been into town so many times in the last month to look for interesting areas to draw but just I can not find anything to inspire me. Although I’ve concentrated almost solely on the waterfront, it is the only place I feel I can connect with the buildings and surrounding area enough to draw well. The high street is depressing; a mixture of mobile phone and pound shops. Where once there was an exciting mix of independent stores and high street chains everything now either looks the same or is boarded up. Therefore I’m going back to the river for my townscape drawings and hope that:
- It isn’t boring.
- It has enough variation to adhere to what’s required of part 3.
- It helps me with the next assignment as I’ve drawn so much of it already that it should show progression through my work.
I keep getting pulled back to the derelict Burton’s biscuit factory that I sketched on my walk and have photographed over and over since but have, until now, not found an exercise that it seemed appropriate for as a subject. I’m not sure if this is just me (and I am slightly concerned at being taken to the loony bin for admitting this) but it’s like having an itch that I can’t scratch if I don’t draw something thats been nagging at me. So before the men in white coats turned up, I looked at different areas of the building that interested me and sketched them.
During the first sketch, I tried to write down as much as possible of what came into my head, which to start with was what the building looked like and what it was made of. Then when I got into the drawing more, I remembered that as a teenager my dad had taken me along the docks which were still working at that time. He’d been asked by a haulage company to print a calendar and he asked me to paint a picture that they could use – it was my first paid job. I can’t believe I’d completely forgotten about it! I wasn’t even living in the town at the time so it’s strange that now 25 years later I’m living just metres away.
Once I’d sketched out a couple more interesting views I made a more detailed study in charcoal and then added colour with chalk. I wanted to draw the old and new next to each other to show the changes on the waterfront. Looking at the contrast between the white apartment block and the decaying factory building, I was struck yet again at the amount of character the old working building had compared to the homogenous new one; it’s appearance reminds me of all the disposable items we use nowadays, in comparison the Burtons factory looks sturdy and resembles a monument. I’ve attempted to capture this in my drawing of the two buildings.
Overall I’m fairly pleased with the final outcome of this drawing. It has become more of an emotional response to the brief than in previous exercises which I’ve sometimes felt a little detached from. Some of the angles are off, I think the chalk works well for the factory, not as much for the apartment block but the drawing has most of the expression and feeling that I was hoping to achieve.
As I’m lucky enough to have a balcony at the top of my house I decided to get up there and draw the view on either side. To the right is a row of Victorian terraced houses which I sketched in charcoal as I like the association of the smudgy black marks it makes with the rows of chimneys along the rooftops. My idea was to show how you can see less detail as the houses stretch into the distance where they become more or less a shape without too many features. Looking back at this image now, I feel I could have added the fence that separates these houses from the back gardens in my street. The drawing finishes at the top of this fence which would have given the viewer another object that moved from foreground to distance and may have given it a better composition. There again as I’m writing this I’m now changing my mind again and quite like that it stops where it does.
To the left and sitting just before the river is a lovely old maltings which has been converted into offices. I wanted to be brave with this drawing and tried to use the parallel perspective exercise from project 4 to draw without a ruler and go straight in with pen. I then brushed over the drawing with water because I wanted to add some softness to the image and I’ve been experimenting with ways to use this a lot recently. I’ve found out that I need to work on this a bit more as in some parts this technique hasn’t worked. I do like the way it has separated the colours out of the black ink – under the cloud on the left for example and I think further experimentation will bring better results. The out building in the foreground is horrible as is the car park. I’m ok with the perspective of the maltings building itself but as an image it’s not where I want it to be on the whole.
In slight annoyance at my previous attempt, I took myself to the pub at the end of the road and whilst enjoying a drink drew what remains of the oldest part of the river. I’m not 100% sure what this wooden structure was for but what remains of it is broken and it has green algae hanging from parts of it. Across the river is an island that has warehouses and building supplies stored on it. I thought I’d have another go at oil pastels – I’m fairly convinced they are not going to be my forte but if I don’t keep trying I’ll never get any better at using them. I went with a technique I used in part 2 when I layered lots of colours on top of each other then used different shaped tools to make marks into the oil pastels to expose some of the layers underneath and create texture. This seemed to work well for natural objects in the drawing; the grass and wooden posts, however I’m frustrated that I can’t get this media to do what I want. In my head I have a picture of what I want this effect to look like but I can’t seem to get there.