1st Clay Sculpture

I decided to do a clay sculpture, to experiment with building an armature and then adding clay on top to create more intricate shapes than I have ever made before. The design was influenced by :
– the columns and ‘fan vaults’ I had seen in cathedral architecture, with peaks and troughs.
– Ink sketches I did in my big sketchbook last week of simplified leaves of canopies which I wanted to represent in marking the clay with little dents.
These two influences create the design of my first attempt at combining trees and architecture into these shapes.

Building the armature

I used wire, masking tape and tin foil to build a supporting structure that the clay would be put onto. The wire was a little thin, but still did the job.
The tin foil wrapped around the wire is there because clay doesn’t adhere to clay at all, using tinfoil bulks thickens the lines and I can do some initial shaping (creating rough curved shapes) but also the rough texture of the crumpled tinfoil is a good base for the clay to stick to.
I used a donut shape of tinfoil to support the structure. In retrospect this tinfoil support wasn’t symmetrical and so the symmetry of the finished experiment suffered, that is definitely something to bear in mind in the future.

Working with the clay

I then began to build up the clay on top of the armature. Building the rough shape first and then using a selection of tools and my hands, keeping the clay wet and malleable. This was SO ENJOYABLE. Sculpture is so tactile and absorbing and way less frustrating than wire! Hmm.

I then added the in-between sections of the four main columns in the sculpture. I should have made the armature for these bits at the start before adding any clay! But alas. I just made my job a little bit tricker. So I added the sections, and completed this side of the sculpture.

Before painted white
Finished sculpture

I’m happy with the outcome of this sculpture as it is, for my first clay sculpture in a fair while! I have only done this side of the sculpture, and that is all I can do until the clay dries. I do want to work on the other side though, at least on the bits you can see from the side.
This shape is designed to be turned upside down and be the inside of the structure that can only be seen by standing inside and looking up. So the outside roof which I haven’t worked on would be just as important. I can’t decide whether I want to work on the outside on a new sculpture and leave this one, or finish this one as much as possible… I’ll think on it.

What works well

Having gaps in the ‘roof’ / sculpture. This would allow the sky / canopy to be seen through it.

Concentric shapes – having a point in the centre of the shape that everything points towards. Even in a flat photograph there is a suggestion that the shape recedes backwards in the centre.

The symmetry – okay so the shape isn’t perfectly symmetrical, but you can see the design was intended to be. For example having random shapes on one side but not the other would definitely not be as effective, the feeling of a grand shape wouldn’t come across and it would feel more whimsical instead.

Details! Having all the lines in the centre meet up and make sense. Having ridges separating parts of the sculpture, defining them. Refining the shapes makes a difference.

What doesn’t work

The shape isn’t exactly symmetrical because some legs of the shape are longer and wider than others! This has two causes:
– the wire was quite thin so would easily bend out of shape as I was shaping the clay
– the donut shaped base made of tinfoil I used to rest the sculpture on wasn’t even on all sides, so the sculpture was pushed out of symmetry whenever it rested on the base.

The dotty indents. They don’t look bad, however I think the shape could look better with shapes that are more uniform and geometrically ordered.

Conclusions, thoughts, moving forward

How much tree inspiration do these shapes have to have? The small indents in the clay are inspired by looking up at a woodland canopy of leaves, but aren’t these shapes supposed to be inspired by the architecture of the trees and of the cathedrals, not of the textures and decoration inspired by trees. Using the indents reflecting trees takes inspiration from something that is important to my painting outside – the movement, texture, sound, light of the leaves, not the solid structure I paint on top.

Saying that, I still want to see what this shape in a painting. So next, before I move onto another sculpture I want to paint this one. See how the shapes transfer into lines on a drawing/ painting. This will allow me to discover how I could improve my sculpture for the betterment of the paintings.

What do I rest this shape on to present it? Wooden supports cut to shape and glued to a base? You could just having the sculpture resting on the wood so you would be able to see both sides of the shape. A smaller base that’s less ugly that the shape could be lifted up from?

I want to try another sculpture with more geometric folds and angles, like the one I sketched for the Kunz drawings. That should be fun – maybe wire vs clay one.
Also I want to add legs!!

Finishing another big painting with a structure

I looked at photos from where I painted and looked at the painting itself to figure out where I would put the octagonal shape and what angle. This 3D shape helps with this process SO MUCH.

After I picked the shape I mapped it out using the 3D shape for reference, having to step back from the shape very often to check angles.

Next I added in the lines coming down from the shape using a technique from the three point perspective work I had been doing; using a long ruler to pin point where all the lines met above the painting, and lining this point up with the corners of the shape and mapping out the angle of the lines that way. It was a trial and error process and took lots of removing and re-adding of lines, but I got there in the end!

I was already so much happier with this shape than the last painting! This octangon shape really creates a feeling of being under a great space, even better than the cuboid shape. I considered leaving the shape as it was, but I wanted to add more details out of curiosity, even if it made the painting worse at least I had tried it!
I did some doodle on my phone with an image of the painting to see whether I should add a top to the shape.

After doing this quick digital sketch (above) and adding arches to the shape I decided to add very subtle lines that would converge at the highest point of the shape. But I decided not to show the highest point because I wanted the brushstrokes to look like they were in the structure, so I let the lines go behind the brushstrokes. If I had drawn in all of the roof it would have ruined the illusion of height.

Finished painting!

What works

The structure! I think this is the most successful structure shape I have ever done on a painting, and I want to continue pushing this forward! You really feel like you are standing under a structure with great height.

The process that creates the plein air part of the painting. It has taken me this term to really find a process, medium, set of intetions, tools etc that produce paintings that excite me!

This painting shows the potential for next term for painting with this octagonal shape, and for more big plein air paintings to come!

What could be better

Shapes inspired by cathedral interiors. The arches I added remind me too much of a pagoda and not enough of the interior or a cathedral! I need to work on using lines and maybe dots to create more of a sense of the cathedral feeling. Or maybe I pair it back to just the octagonal shape? That is for me to explore next term.

Another Big Canvas en plein air

From start to finish in giff form!

Next big canvas using the same stretcher as the first big painting I ever did – it feels small now compared to the bigger stretcher I have!

I am painted in new weather conditions here. I painted in windy, grey and stormy weather. I wanted to see how this new weather affects my colour palette and brushstrokes. Shots from where I painted:

Painting Process Thoughts

I had to paint this canvas in two sittings because I ran out of white paint in the first sitting! And I needed lots of white paint to fill in the grey sky.
Luckily for me the weather when I came back to the same spot the next day was very similar to the first day, so this wasn’t much of a problem.

My confidence is certainly growing with every one of these large canvases. With each new painting I add more layers of paint. I started with very thinned paint to block in big areas. The my paint marks get thicker with less turps on average. The I finish the painting with paint thinned with Liquin. This process has been working so far!
I finish with Liquin thinned paint because Liquin keeps the texture and opacity of the paint, but it makes the paint far more slippy, which means the marks I make don’t drag wet layers of paint underneath. I.e. it keeps the paint layers clean and from mixing too much.

Finished painting (before structure is added)

I think the windyness of the painting is translated onto the brushstokes. I like how many layers of paint there are, on asking a friend who knows nothing about my work he says the painting looks like a jungle scene which I liked the idea of! I like how it makes people play with shapes and ideas and brings out a playfulness (more on that in my small red sketchbook entry 16.03.19).

Reflecting and comparing the three big paintings I’ve done so far…

It’s exciting that each big painting that I’ve done so far looks so different depending on the weather conditions! Looking at them in my studio space you can really how different colour palettes, energy and textures (like rain drips or my finger marks holding the canvas from moving in the wind) add to a sense of the painting experience); this is an important part of my work! And it’s encouraging – although these paintings are so abstracted from the actual landscape, I am clearly receptive of the environment, otherwise there would be no different between the paintings that correlates with the weather.

Rethinking the Cathedral Inspired Structures

I needed to rethink the way I put the structure on the canvas, because the last structure was pretty but it didn’t do what I intended! Which was to make the viewer feel as if they are looking up at a great space and height. I went back to the ink structures and started to rework things and make new sketches.

I went back to this ink sketch above after the last painting when realised this is much more like the shape I want to be creating in my paintings – adding a shape like this would make the viewer feel like they were underneath the structure looking up at it, into a great space.

I started to do a bunch of sketches in my sketchbook and what I realised was that my biggest struggles was how to position the lines of the shapes so that they looked three-dimensional. As soon as I thought of this it reminded me of the cuboid structures I used to do and I thought about adding a more structural shape into these cathedral shapes to help. This ink test that I drew into below shows this process of adding straight lines into the round structures:

After doing more sketches I had a bit of a lightbulb moment! I realised I had been mimicking the shapes of a cuboid in almost all the ink tests. So if I was struggling with the technicalities of this shape, I needed to start with an octagon shape which I could draw with accuracy, and then add the curvy cathedral shapes back on top once I got the perspective right. TAH DAH. I felt like I was going a lil bit full circle back to when I started to use the cuboid shapes in my painting last year. Especially with what I did next:

I didn’t have any wire so I masking taped some nails together into an octagon shape and used to see what angles lines would make when looking at the octagon shape from different positions underneath it. This is what I did with the cuboid shape last year and reusing the idea worked really well! I was able to make sketches from the cuboid shape that looked believable, and then the arches and details could be added later. WOOP.

Adding a Structure to the Big Canvas

After first sitting

This is an image from my first sitting for adding the structure. To make the shape I used the photoshop image (last blog post), photos from the location I painted this canvas in the woods, and inspiration from the ink structures.

Finished painting

What works

Using grey lines next to white to outline the structure.
This was inspired by the photoshop image (last post), that had a grey and white layer and it worked really well to create depth, so I used the same technique on the painting which also worked, because before that the shape was too flat.

Spirals and dot shapes add interest but they are purely stylistic. They add a lot of energy to the structure.

Using a ruler to make sure the lines are straight and thin works well – precision is key here!

What doesn’t work

The angle and perspective of the structure means you look across at the structure instead of up at it. The point of adding these structures is to create a sense of height and depth and scale and it’s not doing that here! This is a major issue in the shape, I need to rethink the way I make the shapes.


Another big painting and rethink the structure I’ adding.

Preparing to add structures to the canvas

I made this photoshopped image of a big canvas and a charcoal sketch. I wanted to see what it would look like if I added the shape to the painting. Results are positive! This shape works best at capturing height and space and the shapes of a cathedral ceiling dome, even though it’s just a sketch in my sketchbook , it was from the result of all the ink drawings.

This shape creates height and drama like the old structures used to, but with far more elegance and intricacy. I can’t wait to put this shape on the canvas! I am going to use a thin brush and white oil paint to apply the shape, the same technique that I used for the older structures.

Ink Structures cont.

I completed this ink drawing whilst looking at this image of the woods – I took this morning when I was painting outside.
With these ink shapes I am mimicking the shapes I see inside cathedrals. Like someone said when looking at the ink drawings: 

The shapes look like you’ve cast the inside of a cathedral.

This is what I’m doing in my head I guess when I make the drawings! And I want this idea to come across with the structures.

The cathedral shape could be flatter on top, not as pointed. This would make the shape fit better into the canopy of the trees and the gap opening up to the sky. Or maybe the shape needs to be taller so that it fills more of the space under the trees. Either way I like this shape! I want to some more tests and then try it out on a big canvas!!

Ink Experiments So Far

I have really enjoyed this change of medium! It’s refreshing to work with a material that you can drip, bleed, layer etc. I am drawing on skills I built when working in ink last academic year, but trying to push them forward and use as varied techniques as possible.

Paper: 90lb watercolour paper and black indian ink.

I want to continue experimenting but now consider what I am trying to achieve with these structures, so I can refine what works and what doesn’t.
I want the structures to create height and depth and a revered quality – the same atmosphere in cathedrals/churches or woodlands. Knowing this I can refine my tests and work out what shapes will work on the big canvases.

Artist: Ross Bleckner

I am trying to figure out how I incorporate the cathedral interior influence into the structures in my paintings. The mediums I have been using- charcoal and acrylic sketches don’t seem to be helping me get what i want, so I want to look at Bleckner’s work to look at how he uses cathedral structures in his work, and push me to experiment with new mediums out of the sketchbook.

The book Milazzo, R. & Bleckner, Ross, 2008. The paintings of Ross Bleckner, Brussels: Editions Alain Noirhomme.

Chapter 9: Articulating the Void: Unknown Quantities of Light (1987-88), Knight/Night (1987-89), Architecture of the Sky (or Dot or Constellation) Paintings (1988-93), and Other Series

Bleckner’s part, despite the odds, and no matter how irrational, [is to] to articulate the void,


Architecture of the sky series of paintings is the one I’m interested in – even the name is great!

The circles are ‘ever-widening’ and go down from a ‘focal point’ at the top centre of the paintings.

Bleckner was interested in constellations, cells, dome shapes, light waves.

It is as if Bleckner were trying to come up with images of our world or the universe whose patterns could tell us or show us something about who or what we are in a more minute but objective and scienftific way.


His architecture of the sky paintings reference the Abstract Expressionists but also reference architecture.

the larger or more universal [painting] – the abstract image, the signs or symbols, the transcendent dimension – yields another, more architectural or architectonic in nature.


The paintings are about the AIDS epidemic. The dots in the paintings can be seen as a number of things relating to this, including the a feeling of universal-ness.

The domes are ‘mapped’ by the spots of paint, arranged in ‘horizontal tiers or arcs’.

The dome beckons the gaze of a single individual… upward into a private, sheltering realm. The dome embodies awe, desire, and consolidation… Its insistent, ascending rhythm draws the viewer upward with all the force of desire, and… delivers him into the empyrean.


Empyrean meaning the (the highest form of) heaven.
^ I like the idea that the dome shapes embody feelings.

Bleckner completed these paintings using complicating layers of paint and resin that required specific drying times in the process.

the constellations of ‘mere’ dots, in these paintings, on a universal level or plane, articulate an architectural figure or vision, one that has as much to do with the cosmic, the heavenly or the divine, the transcendent per se, as it does with the gruff ‘patina’ of earthly experience.


^ I love this sentence! My work is also about this play between the ground, the earth, and great heights, with intrinsic meaning and grandeur.

P.121 is an image from a page in his sketchbook – his sketches of structures are similar to the shapes I want to make.

Looking up ‘as the emptying itself into something larger than itself.’ I get what Milazzo is saying when he refers to the sensations of looking up at ancient churches, sky scrapers or the sky itself. I think this sensation is easy to experience when looking at man-made buildings, especially modern architecture. But for me the wonder that comes with seeing vast and grand spaces is a sense of being grounded in myself. And this is especially true when looking up at forest canopies, or buildings with more religious or cultural gravity than modern day buildings.

“I still see myself looking out of the same window,” Bleckner says “still wondering about things in the sky and things I’ll never know… I like to paint paintings that are full of awe.


^ I am so painting things that I am in awe of too!!!

Bleckner goes on to explain that his paintings move from being one thing to the next when one is looking at them: ‘They go from being things in the atmosphere to being nothing at all..’. My work plays with that line between the representational and anything the viewer identifies it with. And as a result I think my paintings also shift in what they ‘are’ as one looks at them.
This is interesting because it is in reading about other artists and works and looking at them in relation to my own do I realise what my painting and thinking is and isn’t about.

Bleckner’s work also reminds me of the medieval model of the universe – where the sky was to seen to have an edge to it, which was the barrier between the next layer, like an onion with the earth at the centre. This idea of the sky being infinite, as we see it today, vs the sky being a closed space really changes how space is seen! – Since when there are edges to a space, a space can feel vast and grand is a way that an endless space can not feel.
Lots of interesting points on P.120 that I could refer back to! But too much and perhaps not relevant enough to write all here.

Domes, as models for the cosmos, are one of man’s attempts to recreate and rationalize the external world. Moreover, they refer to the Ptolemaic vision of astronomy, which holds that the earth (and therefore man) is at the centre of the solar system.


^ What I was just talking about above! Also the use of domes is an interesting take on architecture!

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Architecture of the sky III, 1988
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Architecture of the Sky V
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Related image
Related image
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The Fifth Examined Life, 1989
Oil and wax on canvas, 92 x 72 in.
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Ross Bleckner Untitled, oils, 2014 45.7 x 45.7 cm (18 x 18 in)

So many of his works are interesting, I have included a bunch of his works here to refer back to.

Chapter 10: Examined Life (1988-91) and Other Paintings (1989-1993) seems interesting but not as relevant I don’t think to me. Might be worth reading though?

Bleckner also works in watercolours to convey his intentions. These works are less refined by as interesting if not more:

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‘Untitled’, 2002
Watercolour on paper
30 x 22 inches (76.2 x 55.9 cm)

It looks like he’s used bleach here to remove the pigment? Or perhaps just skilful watercolour use!

‘Untitled’, 1988
Acrylic and Watercolour on paper
16 x inches 12 inches (40.6 x inches 30.5 cm)

These watercolour works seem to support his oil paintings. I can see ideas in the watercolours that have been defined and strengthened in the oil paintings. The lack of control one can have working with watercolour or ink is good for exploratory work because you have to lose some control over the work. Leading to happy accidents and interesting things to unfold.

Implications for my work

I am going to return to the ink YEY!
It seems a bit symbolic or nicely cyclical to be returning to working in ink. AH.
I want to play around with shapes and dimensions to figure out how I can use the cathedral architecture in my paintings.
It seems appropriate to get out of the sketchbook and work in the medium ink to push myself to act on new things in a refreshing medium.
Ink seems the right medium because of how versatile it is, and because I can play with how much I control the ink – maybe bring bleach back into the process?
Anyway, I am not bothered about colour here so monochrome ink will be good, plus Bleckner’s work has an inky quality. I am going to play with the shapes he used in his paintings and see what happens.