Project 5. Exercise 2. Study of a townscape using line

I sat in the window of a coffee shop to do these drawings. There was an overwhelming amount of “stuff” to draw. At the moment, I don’t really know what I’m doing. I’m just drawing and drawing and hoping something will make me think – “Oh! That’s what I’m interested in!”

I like the last two pictures – the odd rolling drawing of the High Street and the detail of the lamp post.

While I was drawing, the owner of the coffee shop came over and said he had taken over a micro-brewery in the town and wanted some drawings of town landmarks for the beer bottle labels – my drawings were the sort of thing he was after! He said he’d be in touch so we’ll see.

townscape 11

I collaged all the drawings (copies) I did in this exercise. I’m interested in how we reflect the nature of looking through art, focusing on some detail and seeing general views. Collaging might be a way to reflect this.

Project 5. Exercise 1 Sketchbook of townscape drawings

I started with some quick sketches then focused on a longer drawing using graphite and coloured pencils. While I tried to get the tonal variations I don’t think there is enough contrast in the final drawing.

I enjoyed drawing the chimneyscape.

I’m finding it very difficult to reflect on the exercises at the moment.

The Coal Coast. Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen study visit

Hawthorn Hive, afternoon 31 May 2000. Beached section of a mine ventilation duct; bricks among boulders. © Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen

The Coal Coast exhibition features documentary photographer Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen work on the East Durham coal coast taken between 1999 and 2002.

The study visit was held on the opening day with a talk from the artist who described how she became involved in the project to document the legacy of coal mining on the North East Coast and its communities. She stayed in a caravan a couple of nights a week and spent the whole day on the beach from dawn to night time.

The photographs document the effects of coal mining on the coast including the litter and mineral/coal deposits. The pictures are in colour and the composition and focus on colour, whether in landscapes or close-up composition is extremely well done.

Does the beauty of the images work with or against the focus on human industrial debris?

I was interested in discussing composition with OCA tutor Wendy McMurdo. The artist’s composition varied with some very symmetrical images and some off-centre. I tend towards symmetry in my composition which is something I am trying to get away from but I was interested in Wendy’s take on this as so many artists do use symmetry. Wendy asked which were the most interesting pictures to look at and I had to admit the unsymmetrical ones had the most interest. Although, I do still like symmetry! In the pictures below – Dawdon, evening September 2001. Your eye follows the receding wooden piles and zig-zagging waves to the end of the cliff and rock which is to the left of centre – however, the horizon is pretty much straight across the centre. In Crimdon Dene, the image is much more symmetrical. The image feels more abstract although it is clear what it is. I feel it is still an effective image.

The Coal Coast
Dawdon, evening 11 September 2001. Wooden piles, remains of supports for rail track for wagons tipping pit waste in the sea. © Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen. 


The Coal Coast
Crimdon Dene, afternoon 15 June 2000. Coal Dust, winnowed from shaly pit waste by action of the sea, streaming on the surface of the sand. © Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen 

The Coal Coast

I was interested in Konttinen’s detailed and poetic captions for her photographs, for example the above picture is captioned: “Hawthorn Hive. Afternoon 24 May 2000. Iron pyrites pounded to sand, bleached shells of starfish: footprints of bird.” I like the way this image seems to be black and white until you notice the tiny patch of yellow/brown on the lower starfish.

The exhibition can be found here

Part 3. Project 3. Exercise 2. Foreground, middle ground, background 

In this drawing I have tried to use techniques to create a feeling of depth. The lane leads your eye into the picture. The foreground contains stronger tones and more details while the background is less defined with lighter tones. The distant hills are paler still, and have no definition. The sky was bright and overcast.

I feel this drawing is generally successful at showing depth.

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.

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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.

The Ashmolean – permanent collection

After the Degas to Picasso study day I took the opportunity to look round the permanent collection. With only an hour to look round I couldn’t see all of the extensive collection. I enjoyed two rooms full of small oil sketches. I didn’t know this was a thing but there were beautiful sketches by artists like Constable, Leighton, Camuccini and many more. These were preparatory sketches for classical landscape painting so were free-er and more modern-looking than the finished pieces. Some were unfinished showing the process of building up a landscape from pencil or charcoal sketches to tone and colour. In this unfinished picture Camuccini sketched general lines of composition in black chalk concentrating on the middle distance rather than the foreground.

Giovanni Battista Camuccini. Landscape with trees and roots.

Others focused on a single aspect such as a cloudscape by Constable.

John Constable. Study of Clouds. Oil on Paper


Frederic Leighton. Gateway, Algiers. Oil on board.

I loved the composition of Frederic Leighton’s sketch ‘Gateway, Algiers’ featuring a glimpse of the sea through a white archway and feeling of heat created by the colours with hints of blue, pink, grey and cream and strong shadow. The line of the sea is on the golden section.

The modern art section of the Ashmolean is small and tucked away but featured some amazing pictures. Sadly, there was no photography allowed.

Wassily Kandinsky. Murnau-Staffelsee 1. 1908

Wassily Kandinsky’s Murnau-Staffelosee 1. 1908. is a stunning landscape painting with vibrant colours depicting a late evening scene. What are those flashes of blue white  in what appears to be the foreground?

I also loved Howard Hodgkin’s “Like an open book” 1989 – 90. The thick, colourful paint makes the picture a physical presence which is reinforced by the painting over the frame. It is like a memory made solid & quite remarkable.  Sadly it isn’t featured on the Ashmolean’s website.

Neither is Jenny Saville’s amazing drawing “Study of arms II” 2015. Charcoal and pastel on tinted acrylic ground on watercolour paper. A beautiful figure study of Saville’s daughter showing the movement of her arms while sitting for a drawing.

To do: I have come to the conclusion that you can’t rely on a modern art gallery to put all their collection online! I will sketch as well as writing notes and am seriously considering taking coloured pencils to better represent pictures in my learning log.