Material Differences

It made sense to carry on with the staircase as my subject, as I have spent so much time in the hall recently, and it was the one I liked most from the previous exercise.

Having already drawn it four times, I decided to do a quick sketch trying to decide on composition and perspective. This is the sketch. My main aim was to get the proportions and relationship between all of the elements balanced.

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quick sketch of hallway

Even though I marked the heights lightly I got a bit lost drawing the newel post and consequently the proportions are wrong, made a mental note to get the height right next time. I also decided not to draw the whole door but to cut part of it off. I’m trying to think why this image appealed to me and I think because there are a few possibilities in it, meaning you can go through the door, or up the stairs or turn around to whatever lies behind.

Here’s the final product:

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final drawing of the hallway and stairs


I used A3 paper as this particular pad has a hardback so was easiest to work on. I started off using a mechanical pencil as I knew I would need to work slower and be more careful with the smaller details. I then used compressed charcoals for tone. I used the pencil again to add texture and detail and used about 3 or 4 erasers trying to get highlights, remove smudges and try to correct some wonky drawing. I finished off using the darkest compressed charcoal to add contrast.

As you can see, I need to practice drawing straight lines, there is some wonkiness in places, not helped by the drawing being photographed ever so slightly askew. However, I am happy with the tonal values, especially as I had used a white charcoal for the highlights and ended up rubbing it out as I didn’t like the effect. There was a lot of erasing and redrawing this one, trying to get all the intricate details right. It forced me to slow down and really take my time over it, which is good because I often work too fast. It shows a few different marks, which I am always trying to expand on, the tonal values have variety and the perspective is not too far from reality, so overall not a bad attempt at this exercise.


Contemporary Look at Domestic Interiors

In researching contempory artists who focus on domestic interiors, I happened upon an interesting article by Nicola Moorby on the Tate website. It discussed how artists from the Camden Town group often painted women in domestic settings, whilst excluding female artists from membership. It’s also interesting to note that at that time, men were responsible for decorating and furnishing the house.

In the Edwardian era things changed, the campaign for women’s suffrage grew and more women worked out of the home. Traditional roles were challenged, as husbands commuted to work so the decoration of homes fell into a woman’s domain. In spite of exclusion from various groups, female artists began painting domestic life from their point of view, finally able to display their own tastes. They painted their tastefully decorated rooms ( see The Chintz Couch), places where they were comfortable, whereas the male artist depicted them engaged in domestic activity, such as Douglas Fox Pitt.

How times have changed, but what I liked about women artists from this time, such as Ethel Sands and Vanessa Bell, they began to include themselves in the domestic interiors in a different way. In Vanessa Bell’s Conversation Piece at Asheham, 1912, the only thing that is missing here is the artist herself, she is very much a part of this social interaction, making a social statement about equality.

Going forward, I discovered some contemporary artists interpreting domestic interiors.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby


Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Tea Time in New Haven, Enugu, 2013, Acrylic, coloured pencils & transfers on pencil

Njideka is a Nigerian-born artist, now living in America, her work combines elements from both countries in a mixed media format. This is a large piece of mixed media which perfectly combines many elements, with multiple layers,  representing herself and telling her story.

This is a different way of showing the dining room, the composition has the table almost coming out of the picture, pushing up right into the face of the viewer. The shadows of the chairs are made of other images. The table has many objects, arranged in a casual, non-formal way.

Whilst seemingly an ordinary, everyday scene of a dining room, there is clearly more than meets the eye, there are references to Nigeria and America, making a more global and political. The many layers express her personal journey from her home place to the life of an immigrant. Undoubtedly there are questions of identity, nationality, and gender, woven into a scene, mixed with memories from Africa.

The next image is a very different view of an interior by David Diao which caught my attention for this very reason.


David Diao, Salon 2, 2011, acrylic and silkscreen on canvas

The image on the right shows Andy Warhol, David Whitney, Philip Johnson, John Dalton and Robert Stern in Johnson’s house, a famous modernist building, The Glass House.  The left image shows the artist, comfortably reading a newspaper at leisure, in the same interior. His image is smaller and depicts his own artistic connection to the men on the right, famous architects, artists, the trendsetters of the day, and yet he feels apart from it, perhaps diminished.  Apparently, all the men on the right are gay so possibly there is a connection there too.

The colour turquoise sets a tone of calmness and creativity. and may be a link to another artist, Barnett Newman, an abstract expressionist and colour field artist who often painted in a different shade of blue, known for his existential tone.

To understand this, Newman’s quote about sense of place seems to express it perfectly “The painting should give man a sense of place: that he knows he’s there, so he’s aware of himself. In that sense he relates to me when I made the painting because in that sense I was there… [Hopefully] you [have] a sense of your own scale [standing in front of the painting]… To me that sense of place has not only a sense of mystery but also has a sense of metaphysical fact. I have come to distrust the episodic, and I hope that my painting has the impact of giving someone, as it did me, the feeling of his own totality, of his own separateness, of his own individuality and the same time of his connection to others, who are also separate.”¹



They are after you, whoever they are. You are not playing against him tomorrow. You’re playing the system itself, 2012. charcoal on paper

Rinus Van de Velde is a Belgian artist who, in dealing with the realities and challenges of life, he has created his own fictional characters. His black and white charcoal works are like photographs, documentary style, adding to the effect of someone playing a role.

Van de Velde says that photographs are viewed as being true and factual whilst drawings are not, they are seen as fictional. He is playing with idea of what is reality, by using a character in his work,  this allows him to depict different situations with changing points of view, without revealing his personal beliefs. In this way, his themes can be universal and have multiple viewpoints.

At the same time, he often uses references to real life people, here it is Bobby Fischer, making a connection between the chess player and the artist. He has said in an interview²  that the caption is clear and specific, adding that we should not trust the drawing. He is testing the possible meanings in an image, and believes that the art work in isolation has no meaning, hence the long captions. He is asking us to question the work, what is real, what is imagined and leaving to us the viewer to decide.

It is an interesting viewpoint from above, reminiscent of a scene from a movie, looking down on the character, trying to get into their mind. The composition cuts diagonally across the paper, the man lies in an awkward, uncomfortable way. The viewer feels the tension which is uncomfortable, looking at this scene.

This effect is similar to that experienced when looking at Philip Pearlstein’s nudes, he uses mirrors to reflect further angles and views. It feels very matter-of-fact, but the complex composition of limbs and cropping the view, adding many folds of fabrics, adds a dynamic quality of movement, direction, form and structure, see Two Seated Models in Kimonos with Mirror 1980. The image seems cramped with so much to take in, it is hard to know where to focus, challenging the viewer.  Extremely realistic, yet we don’t have a full view, often we can’t see their faces fully, or their heads are cut off. Almost as if he is deliberately keeping the full story from us. some would say this makes it more abstract, it certainly makes us detached from the subjects.

Even though this is a photograph, by David Hockney, it’s an excellent example of an image taken from multiple viewpoints and a little reminiscent of Anthony Green’s Study for Mrs Madeleine Jocelyne with her Son, 1987. Taking an everyday object and making into something more interesting, more complex, playing with the horizontal lines of the desk drawers and the vertical ones of the floorboards. The factual nature of a photograph is embellished with a narrative of the multiple views, as if we were actually walking through the room and past the furniture and able to see everything.


David Hockney, The Desk, July 1st 1984, Photograph

Hockney believed that photography was flawed because it only showed one single perspective, by using this method it allowed for more and yet these works were inspired by photography.  He called these images ‘joiners’ and believed he could add movement, space and time by using this technique, better than the effect of wide-angled lenses.



  1. Sylvester, David (1998). The Grove Book of Art Writing. New York, NY: Grove Press. p. 537. ISBN 0802137202.



Vitamin P3, New Perspectives in Painting, Phaidon


Composition – An Interior

The only place I could find that seemed to fit all of the criteria was the staircase, which may sound odd but there was a lot of different lines going on, contrast between light and dark and also a mixture of textures. As I could not think of anywhere elseand I spend far too long already agonising over what to draw, I decided to just do it! (this has become my mantra, in an attempt to stop overthinking and procrastinating)

For the first drawing, I sat on the stairs, looking through the banister, using willow charcoal for a fast sketch.

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on the stairs in willow charcoal

Not surprisingly, I found the angles difficult to capture but I think I got the turn of the stairs almost right. I’m not sure if you can make out that the items hanging behind the banister are coats but they look like fabric at least.  As is happening frequently of late, as soon as I see the uploaded image, it doesn’t look finished so I end up going back and working into it some more.  Hopefully, the fact that I am recognising this means I am growing in some way and am able to admit my mistakes and go back and rework drawings. The first attempt seemed weak and bland before so I have added more contrast and some depth.

My second attempt was sitting near the front door.

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hallway in willow charcoal

I struggled with drawing what I could see in front of me, finding it difficult to fit it all in! By coincidence, it was interesting to see in the OCA weekly round-up today, Jim Unsworth discussing Lesley Norman’s work. She has distorted perspective to get more viewpoints in a scene. In case you missed it, here’s the link Lesley Norman. I think I am trying to draw what’s in front and also to the sides of me.

Again, I reworked this slightly as it didn’t have any tone or contrast. The banister was a nuisance, quite fiddly to draw with charcoal so I compromised, I can see areas that are slightly off but I’m happy with the coats hanging, that’s probably my favourite part. I haven’t quite managed to get the depth of the under stair recess though so, on reflection, this needs more attention.

I was feeling quite frustrated with this by now and re-read the exercise and concluded that I had done it all wrong so impulsively went off and drew something completely different.

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dining room window in willow charcoal

After I did this I thought it was awful and quit drawing for the day. Now, I think it’s not that bad and has quite an interesting composition which may need further investigation, and maybe more care and attention.

As I did not want to redo the whole exercise, I decided to go back to the stairs and finish the job.

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upstairs and downstairs in willow charcoal

I was halfway up the stairs on the turning point so had two different views. I had a view of upstairs and downstairs at the same time. It was somewhat confusing, so much so that I drew a chair that is downstairs on the upstairs landing before I realised how very strange that looked. The downstairs do not look convincing and I pretty much hate the stairs by this point. Even though there are a lot of mistakes I actually kind of like the movement happening here though.

Finally from the hallway

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stairs in willow charcoal

Have to admit I was glad this was the last one but again, I quite like the end result, it seems calmer than the previous one. I’m happy that my strokes are stronger and bolder, because I can be quite unconfident when I’m drawing. This exercise was difficult, perhaps because I haven’t drawn anything like this before, I have a fear of straight lines. Sometimes I feel like I have so much to learn and it can be daunting but occasionally I think I am improving. I have preferred the portrait versions, perhaps because they are cut-off from the full view so you just get a glimpse of something and makes you a little curious. This is something to consider in future.

I googled for paintings of stairs and found, of course, Escher, I don’t know how he had the patience to draw that!

I found another one that seems more inviting by Edward Lamson Henry and also James Neil Hollingsworth.

In conclusion, interesting drawings can be made from staircases, I think it took several drawings to discover this.


Charcoal Workshop

Looking to expand my mark making techniques, I went to a charcoal workshop recently with the artist Michael Wann. Michael is an accomplished artist living in the West of Ireland, acclaimed for his landscape and portrait work. Seeing his work close up was very interesting, they are stunning to see not only because of the size of them but to note the different textures and marks was a great experience. It was an interesting day, he spent the morning talking about his work, techniques and answering many questions.

In the afternoon we were asked to pick an image and draw it. Michael was very encouraging and kept asking us to look at the light, and the contrast, adding many useful tips. I’m so glad I went as my day had started rather badly. Michael helped me hugely as he kept asking if I thought I was finished, and showing me where to keep working when I couldn’t see it. He talked about the push and pull of the charcoal, intentional marks and random marks and getting a balance between them. I understood that not everything is intentional and to push on even when you thing something is wrong; there are no mistakes!


It’s not a perfect likeness of George Bernard Shaw but I am very happy with the result. I learned to really layer on the dark charcoal, and rub out the highlights. . I liked the effects of creating the darkest background and erasing the highlights. It was fun to create the beard hair using this technique. I feel very encouraged by the workshop and am excited to do more portraits in the future.



Quick Sketches Around the House

On reading this exercise I can honestly say it seemed a bit of a chore, it didn’t really appeal to me. However, I decided I would limit myself to sketch a few at a time so as not to get frustrated.

Deciding to make the most of it and get comfortable in my living room, I drew three scenes.

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living room in graphite stick

Have to admit that wasn’t as bad as I thought, the door didn’t come out that well but I made the sofa look like a fabric sofa so for that I am happy. I’m not a confident drawer when it comes to single line drawings so this is something I need to work on.

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living room fireplace

This was not successful, I really lost interest in the detail of all the little nooks and crannys and the perspective is off, perhaps I should have sat at an angle, rather than directly in front of it.

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I discovered it was quite difficult to get everything into one drawing, so bad planning there. Also, the window isn’t quite right so that was an error but I like the composition, cutting off the edge of the chair, although have to admit that was accidental!


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window desk

I found this desk quite tricky so it wasn’t very successful either, I think I would need to spend quite a bit of time getting the angles right on furniture if I was to draw in more detail. Although I think the magazine rack worked out ok.

I moved upstairs to attempt the bedrooms.

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master bedroom with conte stick


For some reason I really enjoyed drawing the material of the sheets and I think the nightstand and books have worked out ok.

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bedroom door


I tried a different view of the same room, drawing the door and also the mirrored doors of the wardrobe. I enjoyed drawing the dressing gowns on the door but had a few problems with the reflection in the wardrobe mirror. I think this is something that could have been resolved if I had spent more time at it but I kept to the brief. Even when sketching quickly I need to plan more and think about the composition.

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bedroom 2 in willow charcoal

Apart from the perspective issues, I thought this was more of an interesting drawing and it works better than the others. Perhaps the stronger, bolder strokes help add interest or perhaps the items on the storage box and around the window just add interest. I’m not sure why but I prefer this drawing to the previous ones. On reflection I think the mixture of verticals and horizontals works well.

Finally, the last drawing of the hallway and stairs

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hallway and stairs

This is probably my favourite, again it was more interesting to draw, perhaps the combination of the horizontal lines of the stairs juxtaposed to the messy shoe shelves, and bisected by the banister post.

It did dawn on me that I most enjoyed drawing the spaces where people had been, this meant something to me, seeing their possessions left abandoned for later use, made a connection. It made me think of the space that we occupy, the sense of us in a place; even when there is nobody there, there is still a lingering presence, which I liked the idea of. I think this is definitely a theme to develop some more.

The strongest drawings are the charcoal ones of my son’s bedroom and the hallway. I think the subject matter had more varying elements so that gave interest and I think the charcoal worked well when sketching something quickly. I also enjoyed drawing the fabric of the sofa, the bed, the dressing gowns wrapped around each other on the back of the bedroom door.

Going forward, a room to study more would need to have a good combination of different objects and lines, perhaps the bedrooms.


By the time I got to this point, I was racking my brain for new ideas of what to draw. I find myself scrutinising fruit and vegetables at the supermarket, and randomly buying stuff! As kiwis were on offer, I tried them with last week’s coconut, arranging them in a two-tone wooden bowl but there wasn’t enough contrast in the colour and the texture. The tones were too similar and a bit blah. Finally I plumped for aubergines as I liked the deep colour and shininess of the skin. I then spent some time searching the house and rummaging through cupboards looking for an interesting dish, turns out my crockery is disappointingly dull! Eventually I discovered a  Moorish dish from Spain that was blue but I thought the tones might work well with the purpley-blue fruit.

Dutifully I sketched it, even though I have realised most of my preparation, and thus decision process, is done in my head! I always read the exercise the night before and spend a lot of time thinking. I know I am supposed to be drawing all options down in my sketchbooks but I think my brain works differently, I am trying though!


aubergines sketch

I wanted an interesting composition so I moved the dish around and decided to place it on a square background as I could see the geometric shapes and liked the combination of triangles and rectangles.

Although I have been trying to use different materials, I do enjoy working with charcoal so tried out a compressed charcoal set of grays that I like. If it didn’t work my back-up plan was going to be coloured or watercolour pencils.

I wanted to draw this from above which meant finding a lower surface level, in thie case a chair. Usually everything goes on the table, but this a different perspective, looking down onto the dish, and it meant I could move the chair closer to the window so the light was stronger. The whole chair was too big to get in, and the chair wasn’t particularly exciting, only in the way the forms cut across the viewer’s perspective, and the lines create different angles which was much more interesting. The perspective would be challenging but I didn’t worry too much, as I didn’t  think being super precise was that important.

The light was lovely on the aubergines, even though they are starting to shrivel a little, they were very reflective and mirrored some of the pattern from the plate. I found drawing the actual plate difficult, perhaps because the pattern was distracting, and I had to remember to add tone to give it solidity.

As I uploaded this onto the computer, I realised it didn’t look finished so I reworked into it.

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aubergines on a patterned plate in compressed charcoal

The most successful part of this is the aubergines, they look shiny and smooth against the patterned dish. Clearly the perspective is a little off so I need to work on that (I think this coming up in a later chapter so won’t worry too much about that now.) I like the different directions of the marks, in contrast with others. The chair and dish don’t work so well but they do work as a contrast to the aubergines and the dish, the aubergines are clearly the main attraction here.

Experiment with Mixed Media

I was looking forward to this exercise as it was so different from the previous ones, and I had no real expectations. I think also I was feeling challenged and a little frustrated with the previous two colour exercises.

I prepared a couple of sheets using a mixture of acrylic paints; green, white and bronze. I really just brushed them on, spraying a little water onto the mixture. It came out a bit dark so perhaps it would have been better to do more of a lighter wash because I really had to work in a lot of colour to make any visible marks.

My approach for this exercise was that, not knowing much about mixed media, not to think too much beforehand and just go with whatever happened. As I watched my paper curling rapidly I realised my first mistake, I should have used a heavier weight paper.

Being conscious of not getting enough depth into previous works, I spent longer getting the composition right, using more objects and moved them around a lot. I’m kind of impatient but was able to quickly find a composition that I liked.

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quick pencil sketch

I sketched onto the paint using soft graphite sticks then decided to use some decoupage paper for a collage effect, to represent two of the bottles; this paper is really light and easy to tear and also easy to draw over. Next I used wax crayons but they didn’t really show up well so I used some marker pens instead, these were strong enough to show through and I had to be quite definite and bold in my marks, primarily to show up against the dark paint. There was a real sense of layering with this picture, probably because I had to do it in stages for the paint and glue to dry and the marker pen seemed to fade so there was a lot of going over. I also used some metallic marker pens for highlights and some coloured compressed charcoal.

This was hugely enjoyable and I am very happy with the outcome, perhaps because I haven’t produced anything like this before. The drawing style was quite bold and definite for me, I had to be bolder and stronger in style so that it would show up. It feels more complete than some of my other work so maybe I am developing this sense of knowing when to keep working into the drawing more. I do hope so as I’ve struggled with knowing when to stop, when to go back and rework something.

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Mixed media

Seeing it on the computer screen, I am very happy with the palette, considering I had to work with what media worked over the dark paint, I think the limited palette works well. One of the difficulties was working over different papers and textures,  as some had different absorbency. I did consider cutting the decoupage paper from the coconut and pomegranate but decided it would look too clean, and I rather  like the overlap and the different textures. There was a lot of decisions to make, especially as it felt experimental in nature, I wasn’t sure what would work or not, but it was quite liberating having no rules to follow, other than my choice to keep everything water based as I thought that would be easiest for my first attempt. In conclusion, a very enjoyable exercise, which surprised me.