Research Point – Odilon Redon, Two Trees c.1875

If only we could all manage to convey so much feeling in our work as Redon does here, the clever contrast between the dark shadows and brightly lit trees focus our attention, giving the trees a vitality that is almost human-like. The use of chiaroscuro focuses the eye on the parts you might normally skip, forcing you to look at the detail of the varied marks used. It is evocative, expressive and almost emotional, the left tree leans into the right tree, rather like two people meeting for a private conversation.


Redon was a French symbolist painter, printmake, draughtsman and pastellist, with a clear love of detail, even in the small details of the flowers and the darkest areas.

Around this time he made many other works of art, including this Angel in Chains, very colourful but still with the powerful contrast of light and dark


A few years earlier in 1872 he drew Fallen Angel, again with the same focus on the interplay between light and dark, he understood the dramatic element it added.fallen-angel-1872

It is clear to see the influence of Rodolphe Bresdin on his work, his master and teacher who was himself interested in depicting nature and its intricate details.39

Clifford Ackley, chairman of the Department of Prints, Drawings and Photographs of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, called Redon ‘the father of modern art, coming of age with the onset of the French Symbolist poetry movement of the 1860s, he sprung more from literature than the visual arts, eventually having a huge impact on surrealism.’ His other works depict a surreal world of impossible landscapes, strange creatures and demons.


He was a close friend of Les Nabis, the prophets or symbolists, who believed in the idea that colour and shape could represent experience. He was influence by Rembrandt and his chiaroscuro technique and also  by his many years of working in monochrome. It taught him the importance of tone.ophelia


Assignment 1


Final Version of Still Life in graphite, charcoal pencils and compressed charcoal on cartridge paper

This has taken far too long to complete as I had surgery on my finger in December but I figured it was good practice to work on my first assignment. I spent an inordinate amount of time sweating over what objects to choose so finally picked ones whose shapes I most appreciated. The vase on the left is a special memento bought on a recent holiday to Canada, where we used to live and my son was born, so this piece does have a special meaning to me. I chose charcoal because it is my favourite medium although in choosing the pencils my work is not a loose as it would be so a lesson learned there!

Although I hope I have created believable shapes through tone, light and shadow, I would ultimately say this does not convey much feeling. This is clearly an area I need to work on, but I am not a hugely demonstrative personality either so we shall see how that works out!

Looking through my work I have noticed some objects have a tendency to lean to the right so that is something I have been working on, I’m not quite there yet either. You may observe that the right side of my objects are not quite the same as the left, again, a topic for consideration and further practice going forward.

Going back to the beginning of this process, my first attempt was in chalk pastels and a few different objects. As an experiment, to do the opposite of what I had bee doing, I used chalk pastels in unrealistic colours, I wanted to see if I could create a realistic depiction, which I found to be very challenging, perhaps something to be explored again. I deliberately lined them up in a very static composition, I have been looking at Giorgio Morandii’s work and wondered how to get the perfect balance and again tried something that I imagined to be wrong and I was right about that!


Version One, chalk pastels


Version 2, willow charcoal








My next quicker version was in willow charcoal which I quite like, even though the bowl didn’t work well, I liked the grouping of the other objects and decided to keep those in.





I also enjoyed the next quick sketch, also in charcoal, you can see a theme developing here, but I did try a new object.


Version 3, charcoal

Time for a change, I decided to go big, and change the composition, not bad but not loving it, more practice though to get the finger working again.


Version 4, charcoal

When I mentioned my tendency to lean to the left, and my struggles to get the proportions right, it was suggested to me to draw in chalk on black, I cannot recommend this exercise enough. For some reason it seemed to work quite well. I will definitely be using this method again and was pleased with how it looks.


Version 5, white chalk

Another exercise I worked on was bold contour lines, again as a warm up to my final version, mainly in an attempt to get proportions right:


Sketch 6, chalk pastels

This penultimate sketch was intended to be my final version but I couldn’t get proportions right.


Sketch 7, charcoal pencils

Ultimately I learned from this not to over labour things, I still need to practice basic shapes and I need to work faster, freer and show more emotion. I’m now about to parcel this up and send it off so will update this with the feedback from my tutor.