Archives for category: Learning Journal

Mixed media on collaged paper patchwork

Final Answer
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Mixed media on collaged paper patchwork

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


First part of the wall drawing made this morning.

School has gone back only without me as I don’t have a school anymore. What to do? Having focussed on surviving the demise of GMS I now need to think again. I hadn’t really thought about what it would be like for everyone else to go back to school and not take me with them.

Yesterday I pottered about Norwich and didn’t get very far. Today I have been into the school in Lowestoft where I am going to be a volunteer artist in residence for half a term or so. I had sketched out a plan to make a large wall drawing/learning journal/art work/painting/sketchbook and when I last went there I had assumed that I would want to carry on making plates. This doesn’t seem such a good idea just at the moment. The plates were supposed to be commemorative and, of course, there is much less to commemorate now. It is all over.

The same themes of looking back and of recycling past art learning seems appropriate but now the work has to be about change and transition. Relocating myself and the work in a slightly new place. I realised the other day when I introduced myself at the MA shows that my usual ‘handle’ isn’t there anymore. A part of my identity for 16 years has gone with the school. I have others, of course. I could try on ‘artist’ for a bit, for instance.

I started mark making on cardboard on the wall this morning. I was thinking about Fabian Peake‘s work. I met him at the Cut on Saturday at the PV for his show there. I liked the work a lot. Especially the drawings in big plastic bags. Very imaginative and acceptably expressive, quite funny and witty. Quite boldly and straightforwardly worked. The constructions looked very different but the more I looked at them the more I could see the constructional aspects of the drawing and the more drawing I could see in the constructions.

As I have to ‘be an artist’ for a bit then I have to decide what sort of artist I want to be (again). What does my work look like if I’m not being a teacher at the same time? I’m not sure I can remember. This work is still in a school and there is still a public aspect to it. It is still a demonstration of something.

What I want to do is use the wall as a sketchbook/accumulator and work it over and over and see what happens. I need to bring some ideas into my head, I need some stimulus after the break and after using all of my head up on the plates; very focussed stuff. It is receding into the past though, which was the idea to make the plates so that they were connected to the school forever and not transferable in some ways. We’ll see. I could get fed up with painting and want to go back to ceramics in a bit.

What I want to do is some printing, mono-printing and some painting, probably all at the same time. I want the work to be blank and expressive at the same time and to be both abstract and depictive. At the moment I am referencing Lasker, Perry, Peake and Noskowski. We’ll see how it goes.

The thing with the learning journals is that they remain, for me, rather obstinately books. I know the theory that what you write on makes a difference to what and how you write and I agree. It does make a difference. So does the pen or pencil or brush which is why I am such an avid customer of cultpens. But I tend to write and draw on anything that comes to hand and then glue it into a traditional sketchbook. Part of me thinks this is efficient and straight forward. Book technology has lasted so well for good reason. It works amazingly well. Simple, robust, satisfying, water-resistant, battery free. Etc. Trying to reinvent the book with some less effective version doesn’t appeal. But I am very aware that the book is also something of a strait jacket with it’s tediously rectangular pages and chronology implied by order and  leaf turning.

Why can I not make a book that isn’t a book? My new bookbinding skills have enlarged my book vocabulary into some interesting multi-paper books. I have made a couple of these now. They have pages of as many different papers as I can find including graph paper, drafting paper, various sorts of maths paper and so on. These have been designated ‘off task’ books and they are being worked on with variations on automatism, the marks relating to the paper and the showing through of the image before and the dots and lines and so on. Non-chronological and undated. Filled in as I go along whilst watching telly or in idle moments. Trying to break habits of finishing everything and making things match and keeping inside a genre and all that sort of thing.

Still books though.

Today I had some time at school on my own in the classroom because of the strike day. I tidied stuff up and started collecting card ready for the learning journals module. I thought it would be an idea to make a book out of some matt grey board I found so I cut it to size at 15cm square. My intention was to make a book of some sort and, having cut the card, I looked at the pile of it and thought about how to bind it with big rings or string or elastic and so on. It would still be a book though so then I started thinking about a box. In the end I settled on a slipcase design and I found a small CD and drew round that to make the finger hole so that I could get the card out of the box. I used the hot glue gun to stick it together because I like the rough edges it gives, like welding joins on cardboard. Everyone else thinks it looks rough as hell though so I tired to finesse the edges and failed pretty much so I decided to paint it white with a view to it being an undercoat. My intention was for it to be a sort of painting book and to carry the separate bits of card around and mark them up and then put them in the box.

But at some point my decision making changed. I picked up the small size CD that I had used to cut the finger space on the edges of the box and I drew round it on a piece of the card to ‘start things off’, to get the first card in the box with a mark on. This looked quite good. It was more or less in the middle and it looked good, the way a circle int he middle of a square does. So I did another one. And I painted that with the white acrylic. And i did another one. Then I painted a few squares roughly with ahite to get going and to be the background for a circle.

Whilst these dried I got on with a bit more tidying and found some old art magazines and an art history part work and I picked up a full sized CD and started cutting round that on the magazines and sticking them on the card. Then using the holes I had cut as stencils on the card and then sticking down the holes with the paint around the edges from the stencilling and sticking smaller circles n top of the bigger circles and so on. I was basically riffing on circles and collage and white paint and a black drawing pen. The rules of the game changed slightly as each new element came along, as I found something else to collage on or a new relationship between the paint, the cut outs, the holes and the simple marks.

Then a colleague needed some input on monoprinting so we spent an hour making monoprints of various sorts together and I did them as circles with a view to collaging them on. By the end of the day I had thoroughly distracted myself from the various things I should have been doing but I had pretty nearly completed a series of circles on a square riffs. 31 cards mostly marked on both sides. I think they should be called ’62 studies’ or something like that. It is a teaching aid, of course, a demonstration piece for the learning journals modules of a non linear book. It is also an example of a flow of connected creativity, one thing leading to another. Clearly thought about as I did them but quite quickly done and not easily annotated at the time.

Must make another one when I get back from Oxford.


As part of the process of reflection I have been using old sketchbooks at school, taking in old ones and using them for ideas. I have taken in the two most recent ones so far but today I took in a spiral bound one from December to February. I used a couple of the drawings today on a couple of plates, one made of bag ends and one rolled up for me by Nawalla. I used an drawing of a lancer with the sword over his head ready to slash down and one of a 18th century merchant sitting behind a table with a couple of boats in the distance behind him. I turned it into a self portrait as an 18th century plate maker with a couple of boats behind him. Meaning myself as some sort of historic figure making the plate I had drawn in the V&A on 15th January but it could well be me as a Lowestoft Porcelain maker, of course. I didn’t do it in blue though, for some reason. Pretty dumb of me not to do it in blue. It did look good though, an obvious idea once I had done it.

Looking through the book though I am struck by how complete the plan is. The sprig making is just getting going, the trip to the V&A sets all sort of things going in the book. The styles, the major themes, the techniques are all planned out in the book. The Grayson Perry pot and the connection to the heroes theme and the start of the work with the children. I, as always, think I have under reported and I have left stuff out and I don’t think the book can have been used every day and some of the referencing is a bit opaque but, on the whole, it is mostly all there. And there are a few ideas I haven’t used in there yet or that could be revisited from this position. The plates that are referred to in the book take me ages to make, it seems. I am so much quicker and more fluent with them now. Assuming I can get them out of the kiln, anyway.


One of the themes of the work seems to be destruction and damage. It is bound to be. Seeing as this is be conducted in a closing school. Ceramics has an interesting connection with breakage. Shards exist as things and the British Museum is full of shards. Quite a lot of the ‘complete’ things in the BM are made of shards found. I have had some success with a couple of plates that burst in the biscuit stage and I have been able to get them to stay together with glaze which looks fantastic. But the kiln isn’t behaving itself so well this week and I have had a few plates crack in awkward ways that I haven’t been able to live with. I think the kiln is getting too hot at the top and some of the plates are bursting. I have been trying slightly higher temperatures to try to get the glazes to melt thoroughly and this hasn’t helped. I used to think that if I could get the things out of a biscuit fire then the glaze fire was pretty much a formality but recently I have been getting them to crack in the glaze fire too.

This week I put in a fantastic plate with a self portrait in the manner of Guston incised into a layer of purple haze glaze. I don’t think it was thoroughly dry as I was firing it from green. The result was a completely dissolved plate with just a few purple shards in the middle. I’ll have to reconstruct it as it was a cracker. Most of the other plates survived apart from the two very plain terracotta plates I was planning to gold leaf. They both cracked badly. The ‘experimental outcome’ plate with a very fragile edge hanging on in another clay came out fine. I just fired once this week as Shirley hasn’t been in and I haven’t been able to do as much without her help. I made up four plates with bag ends of clay. I drew on gas masks and military hats from the Norfolk military museum with oxide in linseed oil as a sort of ceramic ink. They worked well. So far.

I was using the red sketchbook and using some of the drawings and ideas from that to recycle old ideas as a form of reflection in the work. A reprocessing. I also had some fun with monoprinting using some of the plastic sheets we have found in cupboards in the art and DT room. I riffed on the military hats idea and they came out well. It was nice to work at a different scale and when they are done they are done. I didn’t have to wait to see if I had blown them up with clumsy kiln firing.

Thursday I did a bit of gilding and went round the degree shows at NUCA. It’s a good show, better than last year and some interesting stuff. Huge amounts of effort and work by all involved. The commitment and creativity is incredible really. The illustration was interesting and the visual studies were good. The edges of things were more interesting. And painting looks like a very difficult thing to do. The least interesting things were paintings.


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.

Spent the day at the NUCA drawing workshop with Sarah making books. I just could not get my head around how you sew the signatures together. A number of helpful diagrams have swum before my eyes recently. I cut the signatures at home and I was all ready to go. Once Sarah had shown me what to do I was away, more or less. I made one A4 sketchbook with a pretty wildly bright blue wipe clean cover, an orange ribbon and some flower wrapping paper from Paperchase as end papers. It looks pretty good. Whilst that was drying I sewed 15 signatures of varied paper together to make a random A5 book. I glued on the scrim when I got home.

The idea was to make a couple of demonstrations of hand made learning journals for the summer school; the ultimately customised learning journal. What would it be like of the whole book was randomly papered with graph paper, cartridge and dotted paper and so on? Difficult to make an A4 book like that though I could have a go at a pretty random book with the varied papers we have lying around at school. Would that affect what you did in the book? Would this affect how you feel about the book?

I tried not to be too precious about it all. I can see that one could get carried away with it and then never want to actually make a mark in the beautifully crafted object. My two today were pretty rough really. Look OK from a distance and once they are full of collage and cuttings and photos they should look good. The random one I want to draw in straight away and I haven’t put the boards on yet.

How about making a book in leaves and then binding it together later? Sarah suggested a Japanese side stitch technique.

We also discussed gold leafing a plate. I have some not real gold leaf from Great Art but I realise that I don’t have much clue on how to use it. I want to make a gold leaf plate.

Before leaving school on Friday I emptied the kiln of its glazed contents. Some very fine examples of heavily oxided plates under green glazes. Very pleasing. Some cracks here and there but pretty interesting results.

The old paint cupboard is stacked with plates ready for a biscuit firing next week when we return from half term. Altogether there are about sixty plates in the boxes and on the shelves. The aim of a hundred seems possible, just about. Stopping the project at that point having made one piece of work called ‘One Hundred Plates About Art Teaching’ seems about right. All I have to do is find somewhere to put it.

I got some ceramic paints from Great Art on Friday so I can paint some blanks up over the half term ready for glazing and this will get the score up further. Quantity is a quality, as Lenin had it.

Finished off the big red sketchbook yesterday. This is an 80 page German sketchbook from Great Art which has become something of a beast to carry about. It has been tough though and has taken a lot of punishment over the six weeks of use. Obviously, it has to carry on taking abuse as it gets worked over and used as an example on the summer school at SARU. The next book is the same sort of book in black and I am going up to NUCA on Wednesday to try to custom make one as an example. This seems to be the ultimate learning journal; one you design and build yourself. Whether I can make it as tough as these fantastic German books I don’t know. Should be prettier though.