Creative sketchbook course – Manchester

I attended a two day course on Creative Sketchbooks with teacher Brian Raymond at Creative Art Courses in Manchester. Fellow students were mainly from the OCA on fine art/drawing and textiles courses. Debbie, a fellow student, organised a subsidy for the cost of the day from OCASA and the tutor. Thanks Debbie!

Brian taught us a number of ways to make sketchbooks more vibrant and useful. My particular interest is using sketchbooks to develop ideas and Brian took the time to work with me on this.

During the course we learned:

  • how to prepare sketchbook pages using collage and underdrawing covered with gesso or emulsion paint which created a more interesting base for drawing than a white page.
  • using a series of drawings of a plant in pen and ink to develop areas of interest and ideas. Brian emphasised the importance of keeping previous work visible to encourage this development.
sketchbook course 1
First sketch
Sketchbook 2
Developing sketch looking at folds in leaves and negative space
sketchbook 3
Developing idea of transparency and folding
  • using a page decoratively to reflect a theme while doing an investigation of a theme – through activities such as frottage, colour & texture studies, experimenting with materials.
sketchbook 4
sketchbook 5
dividing the page and using sections to explore different aspects such as colour and pattern
sketchbook 6
creating an artists page based on the work of Kitty Sabatier
sketchbook 7
pushing aspects of the drawing – line, colour, collage, Using Kitty Sabatier as an influence.
Sketchbook 8
Final piece using ideas and techniques developed in the sketchbook
  • Annotating sketches comprehensively to look at what is interesting, what works, what doesn’t.
  • inserting pages and using interesting formats such as fold-outs, layering, etc to add interest to a sketchbook and make it more coherent.

I really enjoyed the two days and will certainly take many of the ideas learned into my sketchbook work. I am not comfortable with creating a sketchbook as a decorative object in itself but the ideas of page preparation, concept development and experimentation, annotation and artist research are all really helpful. And I do like my final drawing too!

After completing the course I found a couple of videos on sketchbooks on the OCA website which are also useful:

Turning sketches into finished work

Keeping a sketchbook useful

Research point. Historic and contemporary artists who work in series with the landscape

I’m delighted to return to Peter Doig. One of my favourite artists who produced a series of paintings based on Le Courbusier’s Unité d’Habitation apartments in Briey-en-Forêt, north east France. Doig recorded the site using a hand-held video camera then painted his series over a number of years. Four of the paintings in this series were exhibited at the Tate Britain in their Peter Doig exhibition in 2008. Fortunately, the exhibition is still on the Tate’s website and the series of pictures can be viewed here. I love the way the thick woodland around the building creates strong verticals against the building’s horizontal lines. There is a strong feeling of a battle going on between nature and human creation.

I recently saw a film about Monet ‘Exhibiton on Screen: I Claude Monet’ which was an exploration of Monet’s life through his own letters read out by an actor while the film showed the work he was producing at the time the letters were written. It was an excellent film and described the struggles Monet went through including painting the facade of Rouen Cathedral at different times of day. Through the series Monet explores how to portray different times of day and weather through variations in colour and tone.

Georgia O’Keefe produced a series of paintings of the Cerro Pedernal mountain in New Mexico which she could see from her home. Like Monet. O’Keefe explores the changing colours and tones due to weather effects and time of day.

Georgia O’Keeffe | 10 Facts On The Famous American Artist | Learnodo ...

Arts Everyday Living: A Journey to O’Keeffe Country–The Wonder of ...


Painting the same subject repeatedly allows an artist to build up information for themselves about how landscapes change depending on weather, time of day and season. Over longer periods of time changes in actual landscapes can be noted such as trees growing or dying and new buildings and roads being built.




Looking at composition and working towards Assignment 3

In the middle of my landscape module it is becoming clear to me I have a fairly limited idea about what makes a good composition. I have to admit I turned to youtube for some ideas.

I came across a 23 minute video by artist Jill Poyard. ‘Developing an Eye for Landscape Composition’ which is aimed at students and is excellent at outlining some of the theories of composition while emphasising that most artists produce work which doesn’t follow these theories! I like the way the video looked at composition in relation to paintings to examine how artists composed their work.

I’d recommend watching the video but my notes are as follows.

Landscape differs from other forms of art in having to tackle:

  • atmosphere: sky, air, and the way this affects how we view a scene especially at a distance
  • weather: has a strong affect on the mood of a painting, sunlight, shadows, rain, mist.
  • land forms and features.

The landscape can be broken into a series of planes with the lightest planes being horizontal and the darkest being vertical.

Determine a focal point and look for lines that lead the eye around.

  • Don’t split your painting in half
  • Don’t place your focal point at the centre
  • Do use an odd number of elements
  • Do vary sizes and space between elements

Rule of Thirds

This is a popular design format similar to the golden ratio. Divide your composition into thirds vertically and horizontally. Place focal points on some of the intersections between the lines. Place your horizon on one of the lines.

Other compositions

A very low horizon line has interest

The L shape is a classic

The S shape leads your eye into a picture – for example a river or road.

A strong diagonal

A large central object – either lighter or darker than the surrounding area


Triangulation – either the whole composition or elements of the composition.

I have subsequently spent a lot of time with a camera taking pictures and attempting to get my compositions to conform to some of these ideas about composition. I instinctively place the horizon lower or higher than the third point suggested by the rule of thirds and also have difficulty with the idea of multiple focal points. I have always been attracted to dark and fairly central focal points and elements of symmetry while looking for ‘lines’ in the composition which lead the eye around the picture.

Research Point. Artists using landscape.

Fig. 1. Landscape with a woodland pool. I find this landscape drawing by Albrecht Durer quite touching. The artist carefully detailed the foreground reeds, but left a section on the right unfinished. It seems to be an artist capturing a scene made unusual by a certain play of light, to help them remember it. Have I seen a sky like this at sunset where the blue fades out to white and the clouds are in shadow? It looks like the kind of scene about which you might say: “That’s amazing. I wish I had my camera.”

Fig. 2. Pastoral landscape by Claude Lorrain. In this drawing I like the way the artists has captured the clouds and birds in the sky. The day looks breezy. The composition is balanced and the use of brown ink and wash in the foreground with a cooler grey ink and wash in the background adds depth to the picture. The textures and tones are all beautifully rendered.

Capriccio with ruins of the Roman Forum
Fig. 3 Claude Lorrain, Capriccio with ruins of the Roman Forum c.1634

In this oil painting Lorrain uses the perspective of the classical buildings to lead the eye into the picture. Despite the towering ruins, I’d describe the scene as lively with the activity in the foreground, the feathery foliage, clouds and birds.

Georgia O’Keeffe. Sky above clouds

Georgia O’Keeffe painted landscapes throughout her life, some quite detailed, some tending towards abstraction. Her shimmering colours brought you into the hot landscapes of New Mexico, the cool turbulence of Lake George, New York or, in fig. 4., the clouds as seen from an aeroplane.  I like the playfulness of this picture.


Fig 1. Durer, Albrecht. Landscape with a woodland pool. watercolour and body colour. 1497.

Fig. 2 Lorrain, Claude. Pastoral landscape c.1665 Pen and brown and grey ink, with grey-brown wash.

Fig. 3. LORRAIN, Claude. Capriccio with ruins of the Roman Forum c.1634, oil on canvas

Fig. 4. Georgia O’Keeffe | Sky Above Clouds II | 1963 | oil on canvas | 48 x 84 inches | Copyright Georgia O’Keeffe Museum


Research – Pierre Bonnard

Tutor feedback from my last assignment suggested that I analyse Pierre Bonnard’s work to look at composition and shifting viewpoints. I have always enjoyed Bonnard’s paintings, mainly for the sense of drowsy heat he captures, his use of colour and the richness of his images.

Pierre Bonnard, ‘Coffee’ 1915
Le Cafe, 1915. Pierre Bonnard.  Oil on canvas. Tate Modern.

Bonnard often features a large patterned area in his work. In this case, the tablecloth takes up about 66% of the picture. Our viewpoint of the table is high while we see the coffee pot, cup, dog and coffee- drinker from a lower angle. The figure on the right blurs into the top of the picture and there is an odd decorative border on the right-hand side. A painted door frame or patterned curtain? The luxurious patterns continue in the background while to the left the floor and wall are simple but colour-saturated. The yellows and reds radiate a comfort and warmth. The light is coming from the right – maybe morning sunshine coming through a window.

Pierre Bonnard, ‘Preparatory Sketch for ‘Coffee’’ 1915Pierre Bonnard, ‘Preparatory Sketch for ‘Coffee’’ 1915

Pierre Bonnard, ‘Preparatory Sketch for ‘Coffee’’ 1915

The Tate also holds preparatory sketches for this painting which show Bonnard exploring different angles for the table and the light falling on the figure. I like the ultra sketchy sketches!

Pierre Bonnard, ‘The Window’ 1925
La Fenetre, Pierre Bonnard. 1925. Oil on Canvas

The colours in this picture are simply beautiful. Everything glows. I am especially interested in the viewpoint of this picture. The artist is very close to the desk in the foreground so at the bottom of the picture we look down on the patterned table cloth, then a little further away the table cloth pattern is at an angle. While some areas are broken up in to almost abstract blocks, the eye is still led into the picture with the zig zag of the window bar and balcony, and, in the other direction with the village houses leading to the hills.

Research: Oil pastel techniques

I found the examples on You Tube a bit off-putting as I didn’t really like the finished pictures very much. There is a useful demonstration of some techniques here. I didn’t particularly like the finished picture but this demonstration shows that layering oil pastels is the way to go to create subtle colour and tonal variations. Maybe oil pastels simply have an intensity of colour that I don’t “see” when I look around me. Having said that, I did feel that my assignment 2 drawing could have done with more intense colour is some areas.

I looked for contemporary artists who use oil pastel. This is made harder by the fact that the medium is often listed as just “pastel”. For example:

Nevicata in blue (Blue snowfall)  by Chiara Crinition on is listed as: Drawing: Paper, pastel and pencil on paper. It looks like oil pastel to me and I really like the artist’s use of bold monochrome.

In Riedstra Project Zapp Notes III c Riedstraon uses “Charcoal, Ink, Conte and Pastel on Paper, Soft (Yarn, Cotton, Fabric) and Other. as their media. I think that the grey, orange and black lines in the centre of the piece are oil pastel which, here, lends itself to bold mark-making.

Research point. Interiors and unusual viewpoints

I found it hard to find contemporary artists engaged with interiors. I wanted to focus on drawings rather than paintings as I feel my research has tended towards looking at paintings so far.

This Research point asks us to look at contemporary artists and ‘analyse their choice of content, medium, format, etc. Consider how their work reflects its context in terms of era, fashion, mood, current issues, and so on.’ OCA Drawing 1, p 51.

Toba Khedoori


Fig. 1 Untitled (Doors) 1999
Fig. 2 Untitled (Table and Chair) 1998

Content: In Untitled (Doors) 1999 (Fig 1), Khedoori uses a very dry drawing style to draw two doors. The doors emerge from the paper but they are not photorealistic. They are in the style of architectural drawings. There is no context for these doors. They remain a blank slate. In Untitled (Table and Chair) 1998 (Fig 2) the two objects are isolated in space but also from each other.

In both drawings, the paper is on a massive scale – each is 350.5 x 486.4 cm – but the drawing is stranded in the middle. Khedoori staples panels together to make the final piece.

Medium: Khedoori uses oil and wax on paper to create her images. A description of her work by Jane Harris reveals that the work is less sterile than might first be thought: ‘Trapped in the wax surfaces like living organisms preserved in amber, hand prints, dust, stray hair, and smudges of graphite and paint mar the technical precision of her drawn, and scraped, images.’ (Harris, 2005: p164)

Format: The drawing is on a large scale and uses two sheets of paper. Again there is a roughness which belies the precision of the drawing.

How does the artist’s work reflect its context in terms of era, fashion, mood, current issues, and so on?  Khedoori was born in 1964 and brought up in Australia but has worked in Los Angeles since 1990. She seems apart from the prevailing artistic trends of the late 20th and early 21st century focusing on traditional materials and quiet, contemplative work.

I found that when I stopped to look at the artist’s work I became really engaged in her process. From something quite alienating, the work became engaging as I reflected on the size of the image, the laborious work which went into making it and the reasons for the isolation and contemplative nature of the images.

Urs Fischer is a very different artist from Toba Khedoori. He works in sculpture and installation but also drawing. His cartoonish drawings are energetic and fill the page with line and colour.

Fig 3. Scenes from the Lost Internal Backdrops 2000
Fig. 4 Scenes from the Lost Internal Backdrops 2000

Content: Fischer’s drawings take a few objects and place them oddly in the picture plane. There is a feeling of movement caused by the angle and juxtaposition of the objects

Medium: Fischer uses marker pens, acrylic paint, and collage in his drawings taking inspiration from comic book drawing

Format: Fischer favours portrait over landscape and draws to the edge of the A3 paper. Objects are cut off at the edge of the paper.

How does the artist’s work reflect its context in terms of era, fashion, mood, current issues, and so on? While the drawings may be seen to reflect the Pop Art movement Fischer has said the movement isn’t a major influence ‘Cartoons just work for me; they provide a language that is very simple and efficient.’ Gingeras, (2005) p 106. In her overview of Fischer’s drawings, Gingeras states ‘He seems to turn to drawing because it is an ideal vehicle to push the limits of his imagination.’ Gingeras, (2005) p 106

I like the dynamism of these drawings and the slightly mysterious quality. They are cartoon-like but don’t make their meaning clear in the way that cartoons do.

Fig 1. Khedoori, Toba (1999) Untitled (Doors) oil and wax on paper In Hoptman, Laura Drawing Now eight propositions. New York: Moma p54-55.

Fig 2. Khedoori, Toba (1998) Untitled (Table and Chair) oil and wax on paper In Dexter, E. (ed.) Vitamin D New Perspectives in Drawing. London: Phaidon p.164

Fig 3. Fisher, Urs (2000) Scenes from the Lost Internal Backdrops, one in a series of 5 drawings. mixed media on paper. In Dexter, E. (ed.) Vitamin D New Perspectives in Drawing. London: Phaidon. p 106-107

Fig 4. Fisher, Urs (2000) Scenes from the Lost Internal Backdrops, one in a series of 5 drawings. mixed media on paper. In Dexter, E. (ed.) Vitamin D New Perspectives in Drawing. London: Phaidon. p 106-107

Harris, J. (2005) ‘Toba Khedoori’ In Dexter, E. (ed.) Vitamin D New Perspectives in Drawing. London: Phaidon p.164

Gingeras, Alison M. (2005) ‘Urs Fischer’ In Dexter, E. (ed.) Vitamin D New Perspectives in Drawing. London: Phaidon p 106