Assignment 3 Expanse

Initally I had planned to draw a seascape, after being inspired by Vija Cilmins and John Virtue but, on reading the directions for this exercise, I realised I would need to include a man made object which made me reconsider. I really had no idea where to start with this assignment, nothing immediately came to mind.

By chance I happened to read a quote by the writer Olivia Laing about loneliness. I immediately googled it and came across an interesting article, How Art Helped me See the Beauty in Loneliness. It talks about the connection between creativity and isolation. It struck a chord as I had always liked Andrew Wyeth’s work and had recently come across a Monet painting, The Red Cape, which caught my attention. I haven’t thought about loneliness as a topic but, living away from my home and family and friends, it is something I understand. This led me to a little research. I had already been interested in the theme of absence and thought maybe windows would be interesting to consider.

I was really surprised to learn that Andrew Wyeth made over 300 hundred images of windows, I also discovered there is more to windows than light, having symbolic value too. In some of the research in expanse we learnt about artists using trees as an obstacle, to stop the viewer coming too far in. I liked this concept and it made me think about the view outside my back window, the back field can just be seen but the trees in front block the way. I drew a quick sketch of this in crayon, just to see how I felt about it. I quickly realised it was missing a man-made element so dismissed this idea quite quickly.

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crayon sketch of back field

I still couldn’t figure out what to draw and, thinking about isolation, remembered visiting a beach where there was a cottage, right next to it. This appealed to me as it is quite a remote beach and it’s very wild and windy there, it would be quite lonely to live there. I did a quick charcoal sketch.

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charcoal sketch of Achill beach cottage

As I was still unsure, I also drew two other ideas, one of some cottages in a bleak landscape and another quite hard image of a ruined castle on a striking bed of rock.



Whilst I like the contrast of the ruin on the rock it didn’t seem right for this exercise and I felt like the three cottages was a more interesting composition.

By now my head was all over the place and I was still confused about what to focus on so I drew a number of thumbnail images that appealed to me. This was a slightly different approach for me as I usually like to work things out by drawing. Afterwards I realised they were all of cottages so this seemed like the obvious path to follow.

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thumbnail sketches of cottages

I then decided to reflect on advice from previous assignments, one of which was to take time to develop my ideas. I may be in danger of taking too much time on this one, I do think about the assignments a lot. The other advice was to take creative and material risks, this is a tricky one for me and I know I need to do it but find it challenging.

On this note, I was quite taken with the Seurat drawings , and figured I would experiment by drawing in conté sticks like him. It was harder than I thought but I drew two drawings in this style.

The result was fine, the mood seems evocative and dramatic and I quite liked the composition of the one on the left.

In an attempt to try something else, I drew this scene in a soluble graphite to create a wash.

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cottage in soluble graphite

I’ve never done this before so it was new but I quite liked the monochrome aspect so thought I would investigate with a limited palette next.

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cottage in conte sticks, limited palette

This became my preferred subject so I decided to to a drawing in chalk pastels, taking longer over it.

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cottage in chalk pastels

Whilst I was relatively happy with the result it wasn’t what I wanted, plus it was a safe option, I do like drawing in soft pastels but decided perhaps it wasn’t challenging enough. Did I learn enough from drawing it? Probably not so I decided to go back to an earlier sketch and do an oil pastel version.

So I used oil pastels and then, perhaps because oil pastels seem so stark, I decided to use turpentine on it. I had planned just to use it on the background to smooth it out, to loosen the focus a little bit but, once I started I thought it would look odd to stop half way through. I quite like the end result. I left it to dry overnight before going back in with the oil pastels for some more definition. The middleground seemed quite weak so I needed to rework that some more.

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final version oil pastels


The oil version is the one I’m choosing for this assignment. It’s not perfect but it is a much more interesting scene. It’s quite bold, which I like, the composition has strong lines, which I also like but, most of all, I like the dirty, grittiness, the overgrown, slightly uncared for aspect.


Demonstration of technical and visual skills

I really considered the composition for this exercise and ended up choosing the one with a strong composition as I thought it was most appropriate for the exercise. I have learned about perspective and think I have achieved a competence in both angular and aerial here, although I would not say it was perfect.

I’m not sure I am learning as much as I would like when it comes to using new materials and techniques and this needs to be an area to work on. When reading other blogs there are always lots of things I am not aware of and spend time googling them but I feel quite unsure how to approach some of these.

I have struggled with part three so possibly haven’t made as much progress as I did in part three.

Quality of Outcome

I think I am logical in planning the assignment, I spend a long time thinking it over in different ways. This time I tried a few different approaches to trigger the creative flow and I got there in the end. I try to write clearly but expressively about my process.

Demonstration of Creativity 

Sometimes I think I lack imagination. I have tried to experiment but I need to develop this a lot more. I think I am discovering my personal voice, I have a lot of ideas that attract me and try to work on them. I’m only really getting into the habit of using sketchbooks now and I need to improve this but I think I am starting to appreciate them more so again, more focus required on this area.

Context Reflection

I think this is one of my stronger points, I do think a lot and do research. I try to read around the subject as much as possible. I use my local library a lot, even if it’s just to flick through picture books. I’m currently reading The Complete Artist by Ken Howard, How to Keep a Sketchbook by Michael Woods and Edward Hopper: Portraits of America by Wieland Schmied. I do have a process where I work from an idea or something that has inspired me and I work through it until completion.


Laing, Olivia, 28th February, 2016, How Art Helped Me See the Beauty in Loneliness, The Guardian,, accessed 14th September 2017



Once you start looking for statues you find lots, so I was pleasantly surprised to find more than I bargained for.

Firstly I found one of a bust of a historic figure, with stark rather angular features which appealed to me. As I studied it I saw it in terms of geometric shapes which I wanted to capture.

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pencil sketch of historic statue

The features seemed pronounced, almost exagerated so I am quite happy with my efforts to replicate them.

The second statue was outside the church and had a welcoming stance about it.

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religious statue

The challenge here was in the folds of the clothing and the physical features of the staute. It was especially hard to draw with graphite sticks so the hands didn’t work out so well, probably the paper was too small, A5.

The last one is an unusual structure, made out of willow, which I thought would be challenging to attempt.

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willow men in biro

For some reason I thought biro would be the most appropriate material to draw in. I like the structure of the willow, it brings to mind the muscles and sinews under the skin.

A Limited Palette Study

For this exercise I immediately thought of the interesting alleyway I captured earlier. As it was a rainy day, there wasn’t a lot of colour around, other than the grey clouds and pavements so this seemed like the obvious choice.

Although it is quite simply sketched, and far from perfect,  I think the vertical and horizontal lines make it an interesting composition. I like that it is quite minimal with little detail, and it is the shape of the buildings that make it interesting. I missed out a drain pipe because I thought too many verticals would make it seem unbalanced.

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alleyway in colour

I’ve tried to give it a sense of depth by adding more detail to the furthest wall at the back so that your eye is led to it via the curving pathway.

Study of a Townscape Using Line

This was an interesting exercise, figuring out what elements I liked best from my previous sketches and playing around with where to locate everything. I googled the town that I drew just to see what kind of images came up and I’m glad I did because I decided to use a little poetic licence and include the local holy mountain as a backdrop.

My sketches did not give me all of the information I needed but I did use them as a preliminary guide. I found I needed more information and so used the photographs I had taken and also some online.

The weather was wet and cloudy so quite grey overall. Drawing this a few days after I visited the town and took the photos, I was able to forget about the miserable weather conditions and focus on making an interesting composition from the elements of my sketches.

I was a bit apprehensive before this exercise as buildings are not my strong point but building an imaginary town based on elements of a real one was actually fun.

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townscape using line

Looking at it on screen, there are some problems with the bridge and river, the angles and perspective are wrong. I’m not a confident sketcher and clearly need to practice more.

Sketchbook of Townscape Drawings

Living in the countryside I had to drive to a local town to do this. I ended up sitting in my car drawing as it was raining on and off it was quite overcast and pretty dull. This was very challenging and I felt quite frustrated and a little despondent that I found it so difficult.

The first attempt was of a local hotel which had a lot of people coming in and out, cars pulling up and blocking my view, so it was very distracting.

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It seems I am having problems drawing straight lines, maybe because I am not sitting straight or on a bit of an angle without realising. I don’t like the result, it seems quite basic and not very well drawn.

The second drawing was of some houses next door so the perspective was slightly different. Again it was raining and overcast.


row of houses

This was not very successful either! As the rain came in heavier, I drove around looking for some inspiration. I wasn’t able to find a parking space in the centre of town and, as the rain was not helping matters, I decided to come back when my mood, and the weather, was a little brighter.

Once home I found a photo online to work from, it shows the river running under the bridge but it turned out to be very difficult to capture.

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On a different day I decided to go back even though the rain was heavier but I walked around looking for interesting shots to photograph so I could work on this exercise some more. The weather has really hindered my progress this summer and I knew I had to move things along! I got drenched but at least I had something to work from.

This is a tourist town so it has its well known spots but something that caught appealed to me was an insignificant part of town. It was down an alleyway, nobody else was around, it looks quite scruffy compared to the rest of the town but there were some interesting lines that caught my eye.

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Even though this is a basic sketch, I really liked the way the buildings came together with the path curving around and the alleyway going under the arch.

Another composition I liked was the view of a house and church just beyond the bridge and the river. Again, it’s not a great sketch but the composition is more interesting.

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bridge and church

Not a great rendering but I think it captures the compact, almost squished nature of this place, and the way that some places develop around a particular part of town, in this case the river.

I’m not a big fan of drawing buildings but I developed an appreciation for them, especially in terms of composition.


Urban Environment

John Virtue is an English artist specialising in monochrome landscapes, best described as a mix of abstraction and figuration, he succeeds in blurring the boundaries between the two. He follows Turner and Constable in many ways but also uses oriental brush techniques and has been likened to American Expressionists.

He was Associate Artist in Residence at the National Gallery in 2005, where he created works that connected to those in the gallery. He creates abstract works from real life, based on his perceptions and imagination. He worked in black and white paint before switching to pen and ink. This gives his work a more contemporary feel although it is based in art historic landscape of the likes of Constable and de Koninck. He manages to move away from mere pastiche of the Masters and to strip the landscape down to the bare essentials.

His working methods are rigorous, spending hours drawing in hundreds of sketchbooks before painting a remembered or imagined scene, to further move away from too much detail. Yet instead of working completely abstractly his work is also figurative. He studied these landscapes intensely, living in them, taking the same route everyday. His whole schedule revolves around his landscapes, recording the changes visible in the weather, season, time of day etc to an extraordinary degree of observation.

His London paintings used well known landmarks mixed with blurry backgrounds, so that although ambiguous, they are still recognisable. To Virtue the London skyline is another form of landscape, although he has also included weather for atmosphere. See Landscape No 709.

In the video from BBC Culture, he describes the process of building up sequentially the famous sights and then mixing them up, to use them for his own ends, in the way that he perceives the world. He omits ‘the noise’, so no people, planes, or buses, I suspect these would be a distraction. He admits to moving elements around, as if they were structural components, and creates his own new landscape from a familiar one.

For Virtue, colour is a distraction  yet his monochrome works are full of life and drama, even though no people are present, his presence is everywhere. He describes the monochromatic way of working as ‘a way of seeing that resonates, rather than a way of seeing that is comfortable or reverential.’

In his 2014 exhibition The Sea, the sea is painted in black ink, and captures the sea in all seasons and all weather. There is an immediacy to the works, the viewer is drawn right into the thick of things, it’s wild and alive. See The Sea, No 8, and Norfolk No 2 , 2009.

His body of work is a ‘non-verbal diary’ of his existence, how he makes sense of what he perceives. Perhaps this is why his work is so appealing.

This was a happy discovery for me, learning about Virtue as I really enjoyed looking at his work. I have always enjoyed seascapes but am only now realising their importance to me. I grew up on the coast, not far from the North Sea, and had forgotten what that was like until I saw his work. I would go to sleep with the sound of the sea at night and wake up to it, it was always there in the background and I had not realised quite how much I had missed it.

On a recent holiday to the Canary Islands I took a lot of photographs of the beach, the coast and the sea as it was so beautiful, the air feels different there. There is something special about the sea and its unknown depths.

In a previous exercise I mentioned that I want to go to the coast and draw some scenes, this research exercise, and discovering the work of John Virtue, has reinforced this desire. A long part of my life I have been lucky enough to live near the coast and I probably need to appreciate that more.

I’m just going to quickly mention another artist, David Bomberg, and in particular his work St Paul’s and River, 1945. I really enjoy charcoal as a medium and I like the structural aspect of this, it’s heavy lines and soft blurred skies are strong and contrast well. St Paul’s is just about identifiable, again we see details are not as important as atmosphere.

Bomberg was ahead of his time, his earlier works quite abstract but not always well received. He later became a teacher, with students like Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff.

Across the Valley, Ronda, 1954, is another work that is very expressive and quite minimal in detail. Again in charcoal with strong vertical lines and sweeping hillsides, conveying the rolling hills. Smudging and erasing with contrast to create a dramatic landscape.

He spent time in Spain, drawing the impressive Picos de Europa, in Asturias. The huge mass dominating the page in heavy, shading style. These drawings are easily overlooked but are very powerful in their simplicity.


Graham-Dixon, Andrew, John Virtue at the National Gallery, 2005

Schama, Simon, Why I Love the Painter John Virtue, 28 February 2005, The Guardian

Glover, Michael, Great Works: Landscape no 710, 2003-4 by John Virtue ,February 2003, Independent

Dorment, Richard, 23 March 2005, Spectacle in the Swirling Skies, Telegraph

Sheerin, Mark Interview with John Virtue, 27 January 2015 from

BBC, The Culture Show, from OCA website,

Raynor, Vivienne, Art: A Neglected British Genius, 25 September 1988, NY Times

Aerial or Atmospheric Perspective

This exercise seems very similar to the earlier one on foreground, middle ground and background. I have to admit to feeling quite negative at the  moment, I don’t feel as if I have progressed much during part three. It is a very long section and, working alone makes me feel very unsure about where I am going with it.

Nevertheless, I chose a scene of a country road I walk pretty much every day, come rain, snow or sleet. I chose charcoal because it was suggested to use a soft drawing media.


country road

In real life it does feel like going through a tunnel of trees which I think I have shown. It also manages to represent aerial perspective.

I tried a second drawing in soft pastels, choosing a field:

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Clearly I cannot draw a straight line so I need to practice those. This is not a great drawing.

My final attempt was in charcoal again:

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charcoal study of back field

Of all of them I am happiest with this one. It shows the back field behind my house which I love to look at. I think it mostly works well in the front and the background but the middle ground is getting a little lost.

I am trying to figure out why my motivation has taken such a dip of late, perhaps some of it is due to the very lengthy section without any feedback. Perhaps also I need to have some personal interest in the subject matter.

360° Studies

I swear the weather Gods are against me, every time I step outside, loaded with drawing gear, the heavens open. As a result I have been working from photos, which I know is not the same, but in order to get going on this part I need to move on!!

I feel like I am struggling with part three and I’m not sure exactly why. However, using compressed charcoals I attempted  my first drawing:


fork in the road, compressed charcoals

I really struggled with this drawing and I can’t fathom why, I didn’t enjoy making it and can’t say that I am enjoying Expanse in general but this feels like quite a negative drawing. Maybe it’s just a funk or maybe nature is not for me, I’m can’t say.

Second drawing:


lone tree in compressed charcoal

Perspective is an issue with the road on the left, the horizon is wonky, everything is at a slant so not the most successful sketch.

At this point I decided to abandon the compressed charcoal and try regular willow charcoal:


graveyard wall in willow charcoal

This felt a little easier to draw, perhaps because I am more comfortable with the willow charcoal than the compressed? The shapes are recognisable, the horizon is straighter and I think it has more character than the previous two.

Finally, the fourth in the 360° series:


wooded path in willow charcoal

I decided to try a slightly different style here, to use less strokes as the first in this series was very dark. It has lightened it a little. Not an exciting series I’m afraid. Perhaps my mood has been affected by the consistently bad weather here and also my return from a fortnight’s vacation. Hopefully next week will be better!

Cloud Formations and Tone

By now, I should be getting used to the fact that the exercises are often harder to execute than I imagine. I have been waiting weeks for the white, uniform clouds to move on and to see some variation happening in the skies above. On a positive note, I have been observing the sky more than I normally would, and noting how fast the clouds move on windy days and how they hardly seem to budge at all when calm and still.

I have ended up drawing from photographs as I couldn’t wait any longer for the weather to change.

The first one is drawn in soft pastels, which are becoming my favourite thing to use, I like things I can stick my fingers in, and move around. I tried using a brush but it didn’t really work well, I think because it is too hard.

This was a real case of layering in chunky strips of colours in blues, whites, and grays, then rubbing in softly with my fingers and then more finer, sharper layers for more details. I was thinking of Vija Celmins, thinking of how long she must spend creating her intricate works, and I’m just trying to recreate a semblance of clouds.

After I finished I sprayed it with hair spray, which has made it rather grey, which I don’t like but I think it has added some texture, which I do like. A few people had recommended using hairspray as a fixative but personally I won’t be using hairspray again.


clouds in soft pastels

I spotted a dramatic cloud photo on Facebook so I decided to attempt a version in oil pastels, which I am still learning to use. They are somewhat tricky and I used my fingers again, and the hard brush. I’m not sure about the end result if I’m being honest but here it is anyway.

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clouds in oil pastel

This was not very successful. I found myself really laying the oil pastels on thick so I could manipulate them and blend them but I may have reached the point of resistance! This is often a problem for me, I need to learn when to stop and pull back. Using a wet wipe to remove some of the pigment worked somewhat but I find this overworked.

For my final cloud I chose compressed charcoal which seemed the perfect medium for an overcast day. My approach this time was rather like an underpainting with the darkest points marked in first, then adding medium grey and white for the highlight. I blended it in and ended up with this:

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clouds in compressed charcoal

As soon as I saw this uploaded, I decided I wasn’t convinced it was finished so I added a layer of white slanted lines, that looked like this:


clouds in compressed charcoal version 2

I quite like this effect but it looks like rain, and it wasn’t raining. Although I think the diagonal lines add some movement, the clouds still don’t have enough weight to them.

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clouds in compressed charcoal version 3

I blended in some more and am left with an amorphous tone, which lacks definition.

Finally, I worked into this some more.

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final version of clouds in compressed charcoal

I don’t think I can do any  more on these clouds. I’m not fully convinced by them so have decided to stop anyway. I think I have to settle for these.

From a distance some of these images seem to work well, especially the first two attempts. My conclusion is that clouds are very challenging to capture well.