Archives for category: Drawing

Images from a visit to the MAA in Cambridge. Very interesting museum with the upper galleries still exuding the charm and atmosphere of the old dark wooden cabinets and slightly wonky displays whilst downstairs it is all fresh and new with metal duck egg blue cabinets. If the whole place is ‘upgraded’ then a sense of the history of the collection and a lot of atmosphere will be lost in the process. At the same time one can see that a liking for Edwardian display cases may be a minority interest and that they are rather dark and dusty, possibly not up to current curatorial and conservation standards. A difficult one.

I was very taken with the Nigerian wooden masks which are very wonderful and the superb ‘Janus’ mask. An attendant got me a chair when she saw I was going to try to draw it. A great Y7 project ready to go. The masks were accompanied by some fantastic black and white photographs of a band a dancers in the Nigerian village in 1912 actually wearing the masks which really made them come alive.

>Wooden frame with antelope skin drawn across it. The black face faces forwards and represents Father Heaven and the hello face represents Mother Earth. From the Cross River area of Nigeria and collected in 1917.

Peruvian pots


A thumb piano from Kenya.


Drawings in pen and pencil in the notebook.

I spent the day out on Orford Ness. I have long meant out there but I have never managed the trip. You do have to prepare for it as there aren’t any facilities out there and it is quite a long walk round. I took a sketchbook of course and I made a lot of drawings of the pagodas and the other bunkers from as many angles as I could. It was pretty hard work and the weather did everything during the day.

Part of the point was to work in the landscape and to give myself something to work with in the Denes whilst not doing anything picturesque at all. The buildings are eery and strange. Brutal architecture designed to withstand massive blasts, apparently built with vast walls and flimsy roofs. The pagodas were made as an experiment to redirect the blast and drop the roof down on the blast. Fortunately no experiments went that wrong and now the buildings are being left to slowly and evocatively ruinate. The fact that all Britain’s twentieth century wars are represented here in some scattered shard of an explosion or the spent rounds of a lethality test or the tracks of a tank put me very much in mind of Kiefer and other painters of bunkers and history. The MOD shot things across the site from 1913 to the eighties.

On top of the control tower out on the windswept shingle with the wind humming and moaning around the building it wasn’t difficult to imagine the Sopwith Pups and Wellington bombers and Meteor jets sweeping across the shingle whilst necks craned for the splash test. Fantastic stuff. I drew a wobbly panorama on cards peering through the field glasses on top of the building whilst the wind whipped around me. Extreme sketching.

I don’t know if I shall use the drawings but it was quite an experience anyway. As we weren’t allowed to get too close to the atomic blast buildings in case we fell in or something fell on us I had to work from a distance with squinting and binoculars which was a bit like being a spy in itself. I was last one off the site at the end of the day.

Things Written on the Wall





Mark making


Not craft/not art





creativity etc’

Where do ‘ideas’ come from?


Drawing – how you learn to draw etc


Compulsion to draw

Walls – wall display, cave walls etc



Making is Thinking


Relationship between preparatory work and ‘final piece’

Sketches etc



Personal museums


Questions of Storage? What do you keep and what to lose?


Transparent referencing

Combining influences

Copying – meaning of copies

Process and reprocess


Drawing on old ideas

Personal art history

Tacit knowledge

Working as an ‘artist’ in a school


Demonstrating a way of working

Learning journals

Sketchbooks etc

Found imagery

Colour as a found material


Grayson Perry

Tracey Emin




Fabian Peake

Tal R.



Rose Wylie

Dom Theobald

Lily Van Der Stokker

Alan Davie


Lost meanings


Cave Painting

Thomas Nozkowski


Second day of work on the wall drawing.

Second day of work on the wall drawing.

Panorama of the wall drawing

Second day on the big wall drawing. What did I do? I put up some more card and took some of the drawing down from yesterday. I painted two pieces of paper with yellow acrylic. I painted a canvas out with yellow acrylic. I painted a big book on the card with yellow acrylic. I added some bits here and there with yellow acrylic. I rolled out some water based ink on a piece of perspex and I made five mono-prints fairly rapidly. I made two of these onto the primed yellow papers.

I did this with every sign of knowing what I was doing and I suppose I sort of do. I found the diagram of what I had intended in the space. It had been photocopied and then forgotten so I pinned it up on the wall. Despite expecting to do some ceramics I am pretty much doing what I intended. I do know what I am doing in that I am guying my creative process into action by throwing a lot of stuff at the wall, fairly literally. There is a degree of arrangement going on, following on from some things I have seen recently so the roll of card and the blank yellow canvas and the green rectangle of plastic are in the right places. There’s a palette knife taped on which is an ironic comment on the work I saw in Outpost yesterday. There were three big constructions on the wall with very careful arrangements of stuff on them. This was very carefully done and initially quite startling. They had the look of some sort of point of sale display done by someone who didn’t know what they were selling exactly and had probably taken some drugs. The arrangements were ‘fetishising the aesthetic’ apparently so I was fetishising the aesthetic of the palette knife by careful taping on. These works weren’t as good as they thought they were, really. Thinking about it. The paint handling on the copies of the photographs was quite poor and whilst it is always difficult in this sort of work to tell if that is ‘deliberate’ or not it really needed to be as slick as the rest of the presentation. And the drawings weren’t very interesting. So, despite the strategies involved I was unconvinced by the work this morning. Int he notes the artist also referred to thinking that one can make work about identity or a self-portrait in a traditional sense to be absurd and shameful, in some sense. Well, that’s me told anyway. I am still trying to work out what he means by this piece of weapons grade rhetoric but I am still not sure. Especially as I have to go into a school in a couple of months and do a project of self-portraits with year nine. It’ll do them until they learn better, no doubt.

What I do this afternoon is go back to the Cut and spend half an hour having a closer look at the Fabian Peake show. The thing that I like about the work here is the mark making and the energy in it. It has a strategy and quite a sophisticated one at that and it celebrates imagination and expression and mark making and touch. In a slightly ironic way, with a tongue in the cheek. It reminds me of the work of some of my lecturers from the olden days and Peake is about the right age for that. His arrangements and studio photographs are a reference for the wall drawing.

What sort of artist do you want to be when you grow up? What style of artist are you? So many things guide one towards being a certain sort of artist rather than another sort. One’s ‘sensibility’ being one. I think I have to own up to being a basically expressive sort of artist. This is not cool, grown up, clever or fashionable. I like artists like Peake because he gives a permission to have ideas and not be fashionable and to make marks and express. The other ‘fetishising of the aesthetics’ guy is more about things you can’t do until you’ve read all the same books as he has so you can understand what ‘fetishising of the aesthetic’ might possibly mean.

So I am clearly referencing Peake in the mono-prints. He has some drawings of houses on his website and I am borrowing from those as part of the strategy of demonstrating transparently ‘influence’ and ‘borrowing’. I am doing the shed though as I have just built  a shed and questions of storage loom large in my life. What to keep and what to throw away? So I am personalising the idea. Some of the other images come out of a red drawing book so they appear to be pretty improvised but they are drawn from these images made when thinking about drawing and how you learn to draw.

What does an artist do in a studio? Going in to make work. Kinda odd. Would I do this if I didn’t have the space? Possibly not. Doing it in a school makes sense. I am demonstrating something so that justifies it for me. I’m still not really making work for myself entirely. It is freed of direct teaching points. I am trying to show a process rather than a technique. I am trying to think about the process whilst demonstrating it. There is a degree of publicness to it in this context.


Opened the kiln and took out some very fine plates. Interesting glazes on some and all of the biscuit fired ones survived my packing.

Made four plates again. The first one used another lino cut I found under the radiator yesterday and the new clay stamps that I took out of the kiln today. I was pleased with these. The raised screw head worked very well as did the impression of the lego wheel. The failure to reverse my initials was embarrassing though.

The new sprigs of ‘Teacher’ and ‘Mr C’ also worked well. It is a bit late in the day but I thought it was probably time to make some artist teacher plates and, probably, some teacher plates. Today it was artist teacher.

I also found some Guston pictures on the web and played with those in the book. I have long been a fan of Guston and I wanted to make some plates inspired by his work. It was there in the bacon sandwich on the Dunwich cycle ride plate from a long time ago – inspired by his sandwich drawings. Today I channelled his book drawings with one about learning journals, another one of sketchbooks in a pile under a table as I was flicking through the ten books that I have accumulated this school year. And I finished off with a self portrait based on his drawing of a painter, scratched directly into a layer of purple haze glaze in a rough and ready manner. Only I made him a potter, of course. Fun stuff.

Glaze firing tomorrow.

Two days spent as a exam moderator last week which was very interesting. Managed to make four plates with Shirley’s help on the days I was in and fired the kiln twice. I loaded and fired the kiln with a glaze firing on Wednesday and tried out a lot of glazes mouldering at the back of the cupboard. The big reveal moment wont be until tomorrow morning. I’m looking forward to that.

The plates I made on Wednesday came out well. Shirley had rolled out the usual four bits of clay and I trimmed them up and put a layer of coloured slip on ready for some sort of incised mark. I didn’t have a lot of time to do anything too developed as I had to sort things out for the days out and so on. I looked in the current sketchbook/journal which is a relatively recent one and there weren’t any appropriate ‘ideas’ in there. The books have become so much part of my thinking that without the books to tell me what to do next I can’t function! I only tend to carry one around at a time, of course, so when I fill a book I go through a peculiar change over period where all the accumulated thinking of one book gets left at home and I start with a fresh and underdeveloped book. This is obviously stupid and I do sometimes carry more than one book to get over this. But it does become the case that there is a big pile of books on the shelf over there and there are some great ideas stacked at the bottom that I have forgotten about or haven’t finished off and they are sort of ‘stuck’ at the bottom of the pile.

The retrieval system of books inevitably doesn’t provide instant access to everything all of the time, especially if I am working in two places like this. I should probably take all of the books into school and use them all there in these final weeks. There is a sense of vulnerability to that though. I am leaving much of a doctorate in a cupboard in an art room fifteen miles away! I really need to sit down and go over them all again and reclaim the ideas and fold them into the current state of play. There are currently seven of them so that would take a bit of time.

I have also been further complicated things by making books. I went up to NUCA and spent the afternoon learning how to make books with Sarah in the Drawing Workshop. I made a fairly successful blue A4 sketchbook which I have used as a studio book to keep a better chronology of the plates as they are made, fired and glazed. At the moment they are all recorded in the books but the chronology is unclear. They are made and recorded, biscuit fired and often recorded and then usually recorded when glazed and finished. This means they pop up in the books as batches which is a bit difficult to unpack. It makes sense in terms of a learning cycle as how my efforts come out of the kiln tends to inform how I make the next batch so it fits the learning/reflect/play/make cycle but it is more difficult to see the progress of a plate from idea to make to final outcome.

I want to play with the idea of making the books more as part of the learning journal thing and how the recording and processing of the ideas and activities affects and informs the outcomes. The big sketchbook from Great Art with a of other peripheral stuff and notes and drawings glued in is pretty efficient but it is also a container, a restraint in some ways. Of course. How does changing the container change the thought? So I wanted the skill of making different containers, hence the book binding obsession this week. I went to Norwich and got some new needles and thread from Anglian Fashion Fabrics and I made a pretty neat A6 sketchbook yesterday. The big fat multiple paper drawing book is about to get its fourth binding though as I have mucked up the other three so far.

The plates on Wednesday I drew SCVA heads on from a forgotten sketchbook on my desk from a trip with Y5 some years ago. The first red one I did with a sort of abstract drawing but that wasn’t entirely satisfactory. I picked up the sketchbook and quickly inscribed the drawings into the clay with a needle before I went home. The last one which was based on a drawing of an Inuit cork head was particularly interesting. It was a more complex drawing with a lot of mark making and shading going on. I drew it onto a plate with a layer of dark slip painted on and another light blue layer sponged on top. So my mark making was a sort of negative drawing, including some blurring and shading. I was drawing with a white incised line and reversing out the drawing as I did it. One of them I drew into a layer of green glaze painted onto the wet clay. Should be interesting.

After the Christmas and New Year lay off I have got back into making the plates again. I made one last week which is another demonstration plate, showing a range of decorative ideas to help the pupils with their commemorative plates. I have had a lot of fun in libraries and museums following up research ideas and I have learnt a lot about pottery.

I was in London Friday and after the course finished I made it over to the British Museum for their late night opening. I was particularly after seeing a BRB, a bevelled rimmed bowl from Mesopotamia. I saw these on a BBC programme about the dawn of civilisation. They are apparently so plentiful around Tell Brak that the archeologists have to rebury the things. I made a little drawing of this really very humble object which is symbolic of a great deal.

It is thought to be a ration bowl because of the standardisation of the the size, pressed into a standard mould as they are. This implies that one group of people were being rationed by another group of people, that there were workers and overseers already. Social organisation inferred from a pot. Very interesting. I also found tin ware plates and a huge Thomas Toft platter and spent a couple of hours sketching.


An afternoon away from the hurly burly of school and being head of year eight. Relatively peaceful. I worked on two plates. One the still life that I printed last week of the Day of the Dead classroom and other bits and pieces. I put another layer of ground on it to rework it further. I also dipped the self portrait print that I had worked on in the classroom when the pupils had been working on their self portraits in their sketchbooks.

I had this brilliant idea to use up a lot of paint and the large card that is under a table at the back of the art room. We were all going to do a self portrait project based on Gormley and Quinn and drawing round ourselves and so on. The idea was that the outline was drawn directly from the body rather than being a depiction in the way that Gormley’s things are directly from him. That was my link anyway in formulating the idea. I thought of Klein and death masks and all sorts as I developed the idea. The first groups on Monday were under enthusiastic though and I gave up the presentation after the yawning and gazing out of the window got on my nerves and we drew a self portrait in our books instead. On Tuesday and Wednesday the groups were more positive and they quite enjoyed themselves with the large scale work and the message will have got round to the Monday groups, probably. Anyway, when the first groups were working in their sketchbooks I modelled concentration and observation and drew out a self portrait on a plate I had ready in the cupboard.

In the workshop I dipped it for a relatively restrained 50 minutes and printed from that. The result is OK – sketchy and relatively under worked compared to most of them. I intend to leave it at that and move on to another one.

Self portrait etching drawn from life Monday 4th October in school.

Looking through the sketchbook I can see that the Whiteread show has had an effect. I was varnishing some collagraphs and ended up varnishing some pages in the book and using scraps of spoilt paper as collage. I found some isometric paper on the desk and started using it to draw on as does Whiteread. I drew some improbable structures in idle moments, enjoying the puzzle like way they come together if you can keep using the isometric framework logically. I could see that the drawings might appeal to the sort of kid who is interested in drawing a s technical thing. I can remember being fascinated by the wonder of perspective and spending hours drawing street scenes and girders coming towards me and rockets going away from me and all that. I was always interested in the minutiae of learning to draw and illusionism is part of being ‘good at drawing’. When you are a kid is it much more? There is a sub-section of ‘being good at cartoons’ I guess. As I drew these improbable forms I realised they looked a lot like the drawings I did some years ago as part of a project based on plugs. All these things looping around and coming back to earlier ideas and connecting to the work of other artists and to learning to draw. I can see these insignificant drawings having these connections to learning to draw, inspired by Whiteread to pick up this isometric paper, linking back to an earlier body of work about plugs which I did with pupils and in my own work, and these link to Whiteread’s switch drawings which I had been unaware of. Complicated. And easily forgotten.
And in a couple of weeks I will have moved on to another mild obsession and these pages stained with the influence of Whiteread will be forgotten. It seems difficult to concentrate on anything for any length of time. This seems to be a feature of the work and the research. I have always been a bit like that any way. Discursive would be kind. Easily distracted more like it. This has helped me be a decent art teacher as my interests and influences are quite wide and I am technically versatile. But the downside is that my work flits about from one idea to another. This isn’t helped by the way it is produced within and around a timetable of hours, fitted into broken up days. We don’t let the kids get really focussed on something for a day or two and we don’t allow ourselves to either as we live these oddly fragmented days. I am beginning to realise that the project is an in depth look at work produced in fragments and I am beginning to see that the work can be left as fragments, left as unfinished ideas or partly done. The big self portrait painting I did as part of the Clemente week hasn’t been touched now for a fortnight or so. The last thing I did was put a bit of shellac into an eye. I don’t think it is going to get any further than it is and I think that is OK. It is what it is. I think that if I go over it or work on it more then I will be working on it with a feeling and interest which has moved on to something else.

Obviously having a holiday from a PHd is unlikely but the closest I got this summer was a few wet days in Canterbury reading Cloud Atlas and drawing in the crypt of the cathedral. How much of a holiday that is, exactly, reading a different sort of book and drawing a different sort of thing I am not sure. Why draw on holiday? Do all art teachers take drawing things with them? For this trip I took watercolour paper with me and bought another pad of it in Chromos in the city. I drew with pen and a couple with pencil and I got particularly interested in the ancient and very mysterious figures on the columns down in the crypt. These were called jugglers and griffins and so on but they are very weird things. Apparently dating back to 1100. Fun to draw in the gloom and no photography allowed so the only way to get an image is to squint and draw. Will I do something with them? Is there an etching in there? I’m not sure at all and I am not sure the exercise is aimed at that, gathering material. It slows the eye down and forces concentration and looking at something closely and that is enough in itself really. I have lots of these types of drawings from all sorts of odd places. A long standing habit.

When I first got interested in drawing and realised that there was something there that I had to learn how to do, that it was a skill to practice, then I became an inveterate reader of ‘how to draw’ books. This was when I was between twelve and sixteen, when I was working my way through the books in the Anstey library. There were books called ‘How to Paint and Draw’ which showed you everything there was to know about drawing and painting. I practised how to shade and how to make things ‘three dimensional’ and so on. I was fascinated by the possibilities but, somehow, never that brilliant at them. My work always looked a bit, sort of scruffy somehow. Certainly I remember that there were some people who were much better at pencil rendering than I could ever be. I couldn’t really see the point in copying a photograph in graphite. I never really got the fascination with photographic realisation with art materials. This may have been because my Dad is a photographer so my other obsession was getting the f-stops right on my Lubitel 2 (real photographers just use an exposure meter to check they’ve got it right, Paul). Why draw photographically when you can put a roll of Tri-X in your camera?

Probably my favourite ‘How to..’ books were two by the artist and illustrator Paul Hogarth, Creative Ink Drawing (1968 Studio Vista) and Creative Pencil Drawing (1964 Studio Vista). Not only did he have a nice line, a nice loose line, and a very un-photographic manner, he also had a great Romantic back story about fighting in the International Brigades and knocking about Europe after the war and drawing the ruins in Germany. Every drawing had a story to go with it. I even wrote the guy a letter and he was good enough to reply.

Amongst all this ‘advice’ everyone insisted that one should carry a sketchbook at all times. This all coincided with ‘O’ levels and being expected to have a sketchbook. I was thrilled with the A3 spiral bound book I had when I started the ‘O’ level course at Quorn Rawlins. It is a habit that has stuck, on the whole, ever since. My sketchbooks were adored on Foundation and fascinated other students on the degree. And since then I have generally had one knocking about. There are a row of them behind me, A5 Winsor and Newtons.

More recently the habit petered out. I chatted to friends who did not keep books as a matter of course and I started to feel that the books were too closed down and shuttered up, that a lot of energy went into them which could be more productively spent making things that were more out there and exhibitable. I would buy a book and it would not get used, a few drawings at the beginning and a few clippings and then nothing. There seemed less point in keeping a book to have ideas in that I didn’t have time to realise.

Looking at the show in NUCA though, that wall of pictures, I realised where the sketchbook had gone. I had just made it a lot bigger and on lots of bits of paper. The impulse to make work like that, in the way it had been in the old books, when I had a sketchbook habit, was there in the wall of work. With something else as well though, more public and confident.

The sketchbook is now a ‘learning journal’ which is sort of working alongside this blog and a written notebook and a little sketchbook and bits of card and watercolour paper and the etchings and two paintings.

Drawing on holiday seems to have something of that lad carrying a sketchbook all the time, like the books say you should, about it. I resist the temptation to ‘draw interesting characters you might see in the street or cafe’ these days so I might have moved on a bit. Of course, one of the things I am doing is sort of demonstrating to pupils that you should carry a sketchbook with you at all times and that a holiday can provide you with new and interesting drawing opportunities. Whilst I am extremely unlikely to ever deploy these Canterbury drawings in the classroom I am, at some level, perpetuating the same drawing habits that got me going when I was a lad.

Whilst I can see that in some ways this is a good thing I can also see it as being really quite naff. It is part of the half life of the picturesque, clicking away behind notions of how to draw.