Oi Oil… Still life gone a little awry

So my strengths clearly do not lie in still life drawing and painting. I can see perfectly clear what it is I’m meant to be drawing or painting, but somewhere in my brain the message that’s sent to my hand gets mangled and it doesn’t come out right. I know this can be remedied with practice, I am impatient though. And I prefer things a little more abstract anyway. I prefer there to be something open to interpretation within a piece of art, something that can make it personal and unique to each person viewing the piece.

As luck would have it, the BBC have just started a Bake Off style show but for painters. The first episode was the day before our first still life painting lesson, so it was good to get a few tips and to thoroughly judge and rubbish some, actually quite decent, painters. I went into still life painting class thinking I was about to create a modern masterpiece. No not really, but I thought I’d be better than I was. The BBC documentary is worth a watch by the way, you can find it here.

So, still life’s started as a way for artists to display their skills. A way to show off more than just painting a portrait or a landscape. Artists could experiment with painting different objects and surfaces.

This was what I’d intended to paint…

And this is the process, and what I ended up with…

As you can see, it sort of went a bit awry mid-painting and I ended up with a dark and demonic looking abstract version of the objects I’d intended to paint. I’m rather pleased with it though. I completed the painting within the workshop, so it was done in less than 2 hours. I generally try and complete whatever we do in a workshop, in the workshop, just so I can fully understand the whole process and then create something else in my own time. Painting is no exception. I wanted immediate feedback on my work, so rushed a little. I need to work on my perspective work, as the book in my painting looks nothing like the book in reality. Also the skull was very very difficult for me to paint, I need to concentrate more on detail and layering up colour to get the different shades and tones. I spoke to a tutor and also the studio technician, who were giving me advise on slowing down with each painting and looking at different artists who specialise in oils. layering up colour is the key though, and looking at which colours complement and contrast each other. oil paint has a wonderful way of reflecting the light, so when layered with other colours it can produce some beautiful colours that look very lifelike.

I’m fascinated with colour theory and how we perceive objects and their colour. We may look at something and label it as green, but when we look closer there are yellows, browns, greys, and in contrast shades of red and orange in the shadows. Colour can be used in many different ways to give the feel of the object even if it isn’t the true colour of it. I need to experiment more with shading and colour use, but also work on my still life and drawing skills.

I prefer an abstract approach to painting because I can sort of let go. When I stop stressing about getting it perfect and just enjoy the process or putting paint on a canvas, I’m free to create anything and that’s what I love about it. I use art as therapy, and so I like to vent my emotions though whatever I’m creating. Oil paint is a fabulous outlet for this, not only can many different subjects and objects be painting but it’s a brilliant medium to use. It’s thick and textured, and can be watered down with white spirit (giving the lovely drips on the canvas as seen above), it can be mixed on canvas, and also colour removed and painted over if mistakes are made. It’s very versatile and I look forward to including more oil paint in my work.

I’ve been working on some concept ideas for my final piece, or final pieces. I was going to concentrate on mental illness and explore the idea of split personalities but I’m thinking now I might create self portraits based on emotion or feelings. Or self portraits at different stages of my life. From an abstract perspective of course!  I’ll elaborate more on that in a different blog post though!

Hieroglyphics… Let me be specific…

Hieroglyphs are symbols in any writing system that are used to describe an object, or an idea. For example a symbol of a four legged creature with big teeth could be used to describe a lion, instead of writing the word lion, and a symbol of a star could be used to indicate night-time. Hieroglyphs are commonly associated with ancient Egyptian times from 3300BC.

The word Hieroglyph comes from the Greek words “hieros” meaning holy, and “glyphe” meaning writing. The Egyptians had over 800 symbols to represent object and ideas. Glyphs are divided into two groups, those representing sounds (phonograms) and those representing objects/ideas (ideograms).

Here are two snazzy pictures of hieroglyphs and their meaning, courtesy of history-world.org

Similar use of hieroglyphs occurred in China, Mesopotamia and the Americas but these were not related to Egypt. So even in the earliest days of codified visual communication, there were defined languages and ways of writing messages and information.

Egyptian hieroglyphs were only fully deciphered using the Rosetta Stone, which is a stone carved in 196BC. The stone contains messages from a group of priest praising the pharaoh. These messages were written in glyph, Greek and Demotic, all three being scripts in use in Egypt at the time. This was so priests, government officials and rulers of Egypt could all read what it said. The stone wasn’t translated until 1822 by Jean-Francois Champollion. Champollion could read both Greek and Coptic and was able to decipher seven demotic signs in Coptic. Using these signs he was able to translate the hieroglyphs and then make educated guesses about what other symbols stood for.


By around 1700BC a subset of Egyptian glyphs had been adapted by Semitic speaking people to represent the sounds of their language. This is known as Proto-Sinaitic script as is thought of as the first alphabetic writing system. Because there were only 22 symbols to learn and remember, it was very accessible and therefore spread widely and easily. By the 8th century BC this alphabet had spread to Greece and was adapted to record the Greek language. The Greek alphabet is the basis for for other alphabets including the Latin alphabet (which spread across Europe) and Cyrillic (which is the basis of modern Russian.)



New Horizons : New ideas or a new approach?

I haven’t really thought of a concept for the new brief. I just know that I need to do more experiments with materials and processes and I need to annotate a LOT more. I realised I need to become a lot more ‘arty’ in my spare time. Not just focussing on the brief, but drawing and creating just to draw and create. I’ve downloaded several mock sketchbook pages for inspiration, and I’ve read up on how to analyse art. So I have a sorta basic guide as to what I need to write. My main hurdle in analysing my own work is writing what I’m thinking. I know that sounds strange, but I find that I prefer writing in a concise and coherent way, as I’d write an essay, when really I need to just make my blog and sketchbook annotation an extension of my thoughts. As if I’m talking, to myself.

I’ve had a few ideas for the new brief. I started this course with a view to using it as therapy. I don’t know what I want to do after, and right now I need to stop thinking about that. I need to stay in the present and remember what has brought me here, and what I’m doing right now that’s positive. Those who know me, know I struggle with substance abuse problems and mental health issues, and I’ve not walked the easy path in life. I’m incredibly lucky and grateful that I am where I am now, but years of taking things to not feel and drinking or eating my feelings away has taken its toll. So I’m using this course to kind of get all those feelings out on to canvas and paper. To find a positive and therapeutic channel for my emotions that doesn’t result in self destruction. As a result my artistic process is quite erratic and manic, and then I will have weeks of zero motivation and inspiration.

I find myself drawn to the edgier pieces or art, edgier concepts. Art with a bit more political inspiration, or created from a tortured soul. Something with a bit of grit and substance, rather than bland and aesthetic. I realise how pretentious that sounds, but it’s what I’m drawn to. I’m the same with music, I’m drawn to the troubled and the distressed I suppose. Libertines, The Doors, Hendrix, and a bit of modern rap but I’m leaning more to artists who’ve got clean and appreciate life rather than the glorification of money and drugs. Anyway, art from an edgy place. That’s what I want to create. Well, it’s part of what I want to create. I’ve got three things I want to pursue; photography (that’s going to be my mission over the summer); sellable pieces of art (currently exploring the craft and gift market); therapeutic art pieces (the kinda of thing that will get my thoughts and feelings out!) and because I want to concentrate my brief concepts on my therapeutic art I want to research mental health, addiction a little bit, and I am thinking of focussing on how our society works. Perhaps the attention we give media and technology, perhaps I will look into how history has changed society. I’m a bit vague at the moment but I want to do a lot of research and keep my options open and let my research and creative process guide me organically. I did that with my last piece, and didn’t  really think of my final piece until a few days before I created it. It made the process a bit more enjoyable. This time around I want to make several pieces worthy of being a final piece, but investigate several ideas and just do things a bit more thoroughly.

Over the weekend I spent some time building. I have access to off cuts of oak, and also access to a fully functioning workshop (it also helps that my partner builds stuff for a living so is pretty handy and helpful!). So we spent time using off cuts and starting a few projects with a view to selling things. Maybe not our trial pieces, but in the future! I’ve seen some amazing wooden wall art pieces, and some other pieces that are off cuts and pieces of bark then stitched with thread to create a picture.

These images were my inspiration… Courtesy of Etsy


And this is what I managed to create. I wanted to keep the natural shade and tones of the oak, yet I wanted to create a little bit of colour. I used acrylic paint as a stain, but I think watercolour or even ink might be better as the colour is richer and it soaks into the wood rather than dries on top.






A bit of history…

Have you ever wondered where art came from? I know I haven’t. Just kidding. History is important in every subject, and seeing as I’m studying art it seems only fitting to know a little bit about the beginnings of the subject. Rather that just concentrating on art, we are focusing on the history of visual communication. Which is rather a vast subject to grasp in a few short months so readers this is your warning, don’t expect anything to deep and meaningful! So where did it all begin? A long long time ago! 37,000 years ago are the first recorded cave paintings. Cave paintings can be found all over the world but I took a particular interest in the ones found in the Chauvet Cave in France. These are dated between 37,000 and 28,000 years ago. My first thought is that the artistic style did not change much in that period. There’s a 9,000 year difference yet the images from throughout are all very similar. In comparison to modern day you can see an incredible difference in the art created even just 100 years ago. So maybe this wasn’t art for arts sake? Perhaps this was just the way in which people passed down knowledge and information. Most of the cave paintings seem to be of animals that lived at the time. Especially predatory animals. So it makes sense that a painting on a cave wall would be of the cave lions, panthers and bears for future generations to watch out for. There were no paintings of complete human figures found in the caves in France, but there were many hand stencils and also lots of abstract symbols and shapes. Perhaps this was the first codified language? A way of keeping records?

Other Stone Age art included petroglyphs, which are images created by removing part of the rock. In essence they are rock carvings. Pictographs are patterns painted on the rock.


I’m quite drawn to cave art. Although it seems like ancient doodling, and pictures of random hand stencils and cows and the like, it is the first example of anything being written down. The people making these markings did so for a reason, whether it be to kill some time and draw a pretty picture, or because they had a message to record. It is amazing that some of these drawings have lasted over 30,000 years. It also fascinates me the advancements that have been made not only in technology but in language and communication. In the current age, even though there are language barriers, it is possible for all people to communicate. And especially with the invention of telephones, computers and the internet, that communication is almost instant. We have developed so much from those people drawing cows and lions on a cave wall.


Beyond the book. Concept.

My concept when creating my artist book started with the buzz words dot and dash.  I’ve chosen to interpret these as a metaphor for journey and travel.  I’ve also heavily incorporated the idea of what occurs in our minds,  and tried to illustrate trains (or threads) of thought.  My final piece is in a very minimalist box,  to encourage the audience to dig  deeper and essentially not judge a book by its cover,  so the art itself is contained within.  I’ve constructed pages of a mind,  and woven threads through to evoke the image of ideas and thoughts.  I’ve chosen random colours to signify chaos,  and I chose to bind my concertina book with thread as a nod to the concept of “hanging on by a thread”.  The greaseproof paper is for texture but also to illustrate the mundane ideas and thoughts our minds concoct.  I wanted there to be a lot of contrast,  for my ideas to be portrayed in an abstract yet accessible way and for the book to be tactile and encourage the audience to feel and experience it rather than just read in a traditional sense.