Completed experiment and moving forward


I continued with the same combination of mediums for this piece; ink with brush and pipette, white pastel drawn on and sometimes smudged. I used paper with less texture for this experiment which I don’t think worked as well. Paper with more texture gives pieces a more ‘painterly’ feel, with more prominent brushstrokes and texture.

What worked well

Marks made with the pipette in washed down ink are very effective at giving the impression of branches. The chalk created nice texture to the trunks and works well as a highlight. It also adds depth by highlighting branches at the forefront of the image.

What didn’t work 

Too much chalk applied to the trunks, meaning there is too strong lines of chalky white in the image and not much elsewhere. It’s distracting and flattens the image. Being more sparse would suggest more and bring greater tonal balance. Too much grey, not enough black and white. This is partly because of the paper. The ink runs down it easily and absorbs the ink quickly. This means, especially in the lower half of the painting, the ink builds up and loses contrast.

What next? 

IMG_0068 I have begun to rework this experiment. I wasn’t happy with it so instead of starting again, I want to keep adding and taking away Buildings layers and playing with what works and what doesn’t.

I have started with a wash of white gesso over areas that are overdone. It’s lifted untouched areas off the page already.

I could do another wash to build up opaqueness in some areas, then work with more ink and pastel on top.. or colour..?




I also want to start experimenting with colour. At the start of this project I was intent on looking at colour and light, and how intensity of light affected the atmosphere of a scene. Perhaps I can return to this?

To begin this movement towards working in colour I want to do some research into artists that use colour in their work, and the theory behind it. The artist Mal Levittoux who I’ve already looked at is very relevant but I need to look at more examples.

Techniques for including colour so far:

  • Washes of colour – in acrylic? gouache? oils?
  • Linear work in coloured pastels. Could also smudge pastels for softer finish.

Artist Bae Bien U

My recent experiments reminded me of Bien U’s photographic work of trees and forests. It was the monochromatic filter and the misty background that is similar to my current experiments.

It’s been interesting in my most recent ink experiments trying to capture a sense of height and ‘loftiness’ to the treetops. Looking at these photographic works and the different camera angles used will help me figure out which angles would work for me when taking photos for reference and selecting compositions.

bae bien u



Completed Experiments


This is the first experiment I completed in ink, bleach and pastel. I am not too happy with outcome but I needed a piece to test the medium with. The problem I think is I was too controlled. Although my brushstrokes are fairly random and fast, the movement of the brushstrokes itself if too constrained. I was too heavy with these brushstrokes in ink, and the white pastel which meant I ended up fighting against what I had already put down to create something better.

The shading and texture on the main tree works well, it’s the trees and branches that surround it that is the issue.

At first I thought to just leave the piece and move on. But since having a talk with my tutor I am considering re-working the piece soon. Now that I have a clearer idea of what works and how to get what I want from the materials.

Perhaps washes of colour or white, to cover marks and build up layers. Letting parts show through, like the main tree, and others cover to build on top or leave blank.. hmm.


This second experiment is much more successful. I was careful not to apply too much too fast. Pausing between layers and making conscious decisions about each mark. I also used some new techniques, like using a pipette to drip and mark the page with ink. And dry brushing bleach onto the page, then adding ink which bleeds into areas the page has bleach.

This approach gives the medium more control, and allows me to describe less and give more of an impression.

The sense of height has also been captured well here, perhaps because there is less detail and ink at the top of the page.

I want to do another experiment in the same mediums, pushing this technique further, and pushing the limits of impression and abstraction.

Step by step Experiment


I want to document the process of my next experiment. This is so I can look back once it’s finished and review what layers work and which I could have changed. Since these current pieces are so focused on layers, this documentation of each layer works well.





Water and ink wash. With paper towels put on top when the wash is still wet.

I wanted to get rid of the stark white background, since the sky in the photograph isn’t white.

I added the paper towel textures because I wanted to create imperfections and impressions of where the trees would sit on top.







Putting ink on wet bleach in areas where the foliage is dense. What I found worked best is not adding too much bleach at once, so bits of the paper have been left. Then when you add the ink, it doesn’t bleed into all areas, just some, creating the impression of dense branches:


Next I added white pastel, to highlights on branches, and tree trunks I wanted to stay pale.











So far I like the half finished look of the piece. The fact that nothing is too detailed and specific makes the piece more interesting than my last experiment, which tried too hard to give too much away. There is a fine line between over working and underworking a painting.

Texture, control, layering & Artist Mal Levittoux

After my previous two experiments I have become interested in texture, control of the medium and layering different techniques to create the impression of a landscape.

Below are some paintings from the RA Summer Show 2017 that I visited last year that demonstrate this idea well.


Both of these paintings play with this idea of abstracting the landscape. You can see the movement of the artist in the brushstrokes. There is an element of letting the medium control the outcome, especially in the top painting. Letting different mediums sit together – blend, bleed into each other, separate etc to create these patterns and textures that remind the viewer of a marsh scene.

One artist that uses these ideas a lot in her work is Mal Levittoux.

Levittoux’s work explores the balance between abstraction and recognisable shapes. In the top painting the only recognisable shape is the dandelion (top-centre). Using one familiar item in the painting gives the viewer enough context to then start making sense of the rest of the painting. It’s like giving the viewer clues, then letting them interpret and create their own meaning for the rest of the composition.

On Levittoux’s website she writes in her description:

Just as in the conversation there is a secondary silent dialogue in which the real exchange of feelings takes place, so in painting, there is a rich background of unstated knowledge, a tapestry that is never unrolled.

The colours and lines built up in layers really capture this sense of the underlying and unstated. The idea of a tapestry works so well with the rich visual she creates.

Levittoux’s painting feel very whole and complete without having filled in all the details and covered the whole canvas. This idea reminds me of when I was halfway through my last experiment:

IMG_0063Looking at a piece half finished you can see the process and layers far more easily. It is a much more revealing showcase of work, because we are not just seeing the perfected finished piece.




This idea of leaving spaces in paintings/drawings works so well in Levittoux’s work perhaps because the scenes she is drawing – nature, is always constantly moving, growing, dying. Therefore having a piece that shows what marks have been put down far before and hints and what else could be added is fitting.

What next? 

In summary, there are some ideas that I would like to experiment with next:

  • Leaving pieces more unfinished, not having to fill in every part of the paper, showing the process (less is more).
  • Carry on abstracting the subject, and using recognisable shapes occasionally to give the viewer some context (without telling them everything).
  • Work on a bigger scale. So I have more room for details and big gestural marks.

Out of sketchbook experiment #2


For this second experiment I picked this photograph, similar to the scenes I have been using in the past. For the moment I want to keep the scenes I’m drawing similar, so I can compare technique easily. The contrast in light, and the amount of texture, line and pattern made it a challenge to draw, but I wanted to challenge myself.


A shot from when I was working on the piece. I want to document it here to remember the process.

I started with very gestural lines to block in the angles of the prominent branches.

Then I went in with blocks of charcoal that I could smudge.

Then scratched into the paper with a scalpel and rubbed the charcoal into the scratches to imitate branches.

I would then add more charcoal on top and erase some with the putty rubbeer and my fingers.

This method of working is different to how I’ve worked in the past. Many more layers to creating the final image, but I think it works for this type of scene because it allows the many layers and different patterns to be imitated.


This is the finished piece above. I think the outcome demonstrates how this technique and idea has potential, but there parts that I want to push further and improve.

What works

Scratching into the paper worked. It creates these delicate lines that stand out from the charcoal and give the piece more depth. The expressive charcoal marks play with the idea of simplifying light and dark, abstracting the image. I really like how gestural the marks are, the movements I make when drawing have been captured well.

What doesn’t work 

The images still feels quite flat, especially in the foreground. Although the putty rubber works well at creating light in the background texture, it’s difficult to get sharp lines and very white highlights with it, which means some of the highlights are too grey.

What next 

A bigger piece to work on would give more room for detail and more opportunity for gestural movement. Perhaps some different mediums – ink would give great contrast, and layering bleach and pastels would be interesting. I would also like to look at some more artists.

Out of sketchbook experiment #1

IMG_0062This is the first experiment I have done outside of my sketchbook. I used graphite pencils 2B-6B and a putty rubber to add highlights. I said before doing this experiment that I wanted to experiment with colour, but once again I was drawn to light and dark, and breaking form down to a more simple representation.

As I was doing this piece, my movements were becoming less controlled than previous experiments. Perhaps because I was frustrated with the amount of detail in these woodland images, and wanted to give more sweeping impressions. IMG_0061

I took this photo whilst in the process of making the above piece. (Zoomed in left-middle piece). I was using the technique of smudging the graphite then using a putty rubber to loosely rub over the paper to erase parts. It created the impression of branches, and had this energy to it that delicate, controlled sketching wasn’t producing.

Overall there are aspects of this experiment that work really well. The mix of smudging and scratchy line work make for a good finish. To push this idea further I want to try it on a bigger scale, and with a medium I can be more lose with – charcoal.

Artist Piet Mondrian

Lived 1872-1944.

Completing B&W experiments of light coming through trees has illuminated the shapes and patterns that can be captured in these scenes. I was first interested in Mondrian’s work because of the contrast between his paintings of nature and his grid-like abstract paintings. I want to explore how these styles are linked.

Red Tree, 1908

< One of Mondrian’s early paintings. Expressive, loose brushstrokes and vivid colour contrast between red and blue.


The Tree A c.1913 






< This piece is a reworked painting of a tree, influenced by Cubism.








Composition with Yellow, Blue and Red 1937-42 by Piet Mondrian 1872-1944
Composition with Yellow, Blue and Red 1937–42

< By 1914 Mondrian had removed all curves from his work, and by 1916 there was no subject either, working with other primary colours. This new kind of abstraction he called Neo-Plasticism. Mondrian thought this art was based on a ‘greater, universal truth’ more important than the everyday.




Bridget Riley says in her book ‘Mondrian: Nature to Abstraction’:

“There are two conflicting traits in his [Mondrian’s] temperament… One is a feeling for rhythm, which quickens to pulse of life and seems somehow to be connected with his positive sense of the new; and the other, a love of order and balance, which is at the root of his search for unity and fullness… the lively quality may lead to an extreme dynamism and fragmentation, while the insistence on order can sometimes turn into a bland and almost schematic statement.” 

You can see this experimentation with order and chaos in Mondrian’s work. His early work is so loose and disorderly yet his later works seem to have found a balance between order and chaos.

Reading more of Riley’s writing on Mondrian discusses how Mondrian worked. For example, the painting Pier and Ocean 1915 is based on a small, scribbly sketch of a starry night Mondrian made walking one evening. This sparked a series of experiments that lead to this final painting:

Related image

He then went on to produce a coloured version of the same piece Composition 1916:

Composition 1916 de Piet Mondrian

Mondrian is taking scenes in nature and then reworking them, basing his decisions on something other than the original scene. What then was Mondrian’s work based on? How did he make decisions? Were there aesthetic or theoretical motives? Perhaps it’s a more personal method of working?

Mondrian’s writing in his essay Neo-Plasticism in Pictorial Art in an issue of the journal De Stijl helps to answer my questions:

“As a pure representation of the human mind, art will express itself in an aesthetically purified, that is to say, abstract form. The new plastic idea cannot therefore, take the form of a natural or concrete representation – this new plastic idea will ignore the particulars of appearance, that is to say, natural form and colour. On the contrary it should find its expression in the abstraction of form and colour, that is to say, in the straight line and the clearly defined primary colour.”


How does all this relate to my work?

This idea of making conscious decisions about a painting irrelevant to the scene in front of you is something that has always seemed too extreme to fit into my practice. I enjoy, for now at least, drawing form and colour from what’s around me. But a less extreme version of this, more like Mondrian’s earlier work, where you take a scene an abstract it slightly, is something that could fit well into this project.

Am I getting ahead of myself here? I need to do some painting to explore and think about all this.