Part 1: Assignment 1 – a series of paintings


This assignment is designed to help you integrate the techniques and observations you’ve made in the exercises. In the work you produce now you must demonstrate:
• an understanding of different painting media
• an ability to choose the most appropriate painting media and ground for the image you’re making
• evidence of visual editorial decision-making
• experimentation with media and materials
• consideration of the context in which you’ve made the work
• a growing understanding of what interests and motivates you as an artist.

Cut out 20 squares of HP watercolour paper (6×6” or 15x15cm each). Using the materials you enjoyed most during the exercises in Part One, make a painting of one found image on each piece of paper. Once you’ve made them, arrange them in a grid next to one another to form a large painting. Photograph the work. You can return to images you’ve already painted or paint new ones.

When you arrange your paintings you might want to photograph them in different sequences and consider the different effect this has. Placing a white sheet, piece of paper or wall behind the paintings will make them look more unified.

Reflect on your paintings in your learning log or blog. Which are the most successful and why? Which arrangement worked best and why? If you were to develop this work, how would you do it? Which artists have influenced you and how? Reflect on the ways you’d like to develop your work and the essence of what you hope to communicate.

Review of Part 1 Exercises

Throughout the four exercises in Part 1 I was challenged specifically with the concept of drawing/painting small. I usually prefer to use A1 paper and larger canvases, so these exercises made me think afresh about how to go about encapsulating what I saw and what I was trying to convey in a new way.

In all the exercises I made use of a mix of grounds on the appropriate sized paper and attempted to match up my found images with a background that would hopefully suit and allow the image to become something a bit different.

In a similar way, my choice of painting medium from the prescribed lists tried to bring something additional to the painted works when matched up with a style of ground.

For each piece of work I wrote a small commentary that described the found image and the medium used. I found that as I worked my way through the exercises the concept of my interpretation of the briefs developed to include images that interested me, such as landscapes, portraits and figures from photographs, posters, magazines and newsprint and included some more humourous ephemeral images from album covers and a mouse mat.

Some of the found images I used more than once because they attracted me in different ways. For example, the found image of the “Russian women haymaking” taken from a newspaper article spoke to me quite strongly of a specific time and place which is something that Highlanders relate to – a sense of place linked to certain activities. The two paintings I made of the “Russian women haymaking, Soviet Republic of Georgia, 1989” reminded me of similar activities on a Highland croft.

Similarly, the image of Homer Simpson holding his head in anguish is hung on my studio wall next to my computer and reminds me of two things at once – what it feels like to face information overload and the facial panic of Gustav Courbet’s “Desperate man”.

For all the exercises I chose to draw/paint from a standing position using a size 04 Round brush. I find that working in this way allows me to focus better on the task at hand and also goes some way towards freeing me up and being less absorbed in the detail or in driving for ‘perfection’. A lot of my work here is what you might call ‘rough and ready’, but that’s the way I like to work – decide on design, composition, chose ground and medium and get to it quickly, trying to avoid over-thinking things.

One further aspect that I feel I must share here is that I find it fairly difficult to write about my work. It is in the enjoyment and fun of doing the work that I get real pleasure – trying new things (techniques, media, ways of thinking about the work). In the Exercise write-ups (links shown below) I have mentioned some of the better and some of the not so good experimentation in my application of the briefs.

The links to Exercises 1 to 4 are here:

Exercise 1.1:

Exercise 1.2:

Exercise 1.3:

Exercise 1.4:

The link to my Research notes for Part 1 are here:

The Assignment 1 process

The sketchbook for Assignment 1 can be seen here:

From the range of found images used throughout Part 1, I added some additional pieces that got my attention. From this grouping I made 28 sketches in total, including 3 iPad sketches using ArtRage software.

Finished series of paintings

Assignment 1 – series of 20 paintings in order of making

This series was photographed in sequence from paintings 1 to 20, starting at top-left through to bottom-right. I have provided more information about each painting in the 20 individual paintings section below.

Assignment 1 – series of 20 paintings, arrangement 2

In this re-arrangement of the 20 paintings I particularly wanted to place “Happy Trails” (middle-bottom row) below and to the left of “It’s a beautiful day” (2nd from right on row above). There is a synergy in my mind of these two images, both from late 1960’s LP album covers by two of my favourite bands – the cowboy waving his hat to maybe his fair maiden (although my rendition on the 6×6 card shows her as a slightly more plump version of the original found image!)

I also quite like the white on black images at bottom-left and top-right and I have tried here to use images facing in from the left on the left and images facing in from the right on the right.

Assignment 1 – series of 20 paintings, arrangement 3

In the final re-arrangement (I could have spent a few pleasant hours re-arranging the 20 paintings into many different forms and with more time available this is something I would return to) there are a number of placings that I find work for me and make this my favourite composition – 1) the flow of images from bottom left (“Happy Trails”) up diagonally through “It’s a beautiful day”, on past “The Losers” to “Lama Rinopoche”; 2) “Roddy Doyle” observing it all from top-left; 3) the ‘face-off’ of the two images top-right and bottom-right; another ‘face-off’ of the two right-hand images on row three; 4) and throughout it all “Homer” screams his head off from the sidelines – ‘what is this I’m seeing’?

There are many possible combinations as I have said, for now arrangement 3 does it for me.

20 individual paintings

Assignment 1 – (1 of 20). Black ink on white gessoed card “Head of man suffering from Tetanus”

Black ink on a white ground is quite pleasing to work, although I made a bit of a mess of nose and mouth, closing the small spaces with too much ink that I had to use a dot of white ink to bring back a highlight in both (guess what, unless absolutely dry, fresh white ink into black ink tends to wash in and fade). I like the dynamism, most probably agony of this excerpt from Charles Bell’s Opisthotonos (Man suffering from Tetanus). [see my Part 1 Sketchbook, p.3. –]

Assignment 1 – (2 of 20). Gouache on white gessoed card “Lama Rinpoche”.

A more painterly application here, with looser brush strokes and using an old comb to draw through the background vermillion red in representation of the original found image background. I’m not sure if this rendition makes Lama Rinpoche serene or scary? Whichever, he is a person to be reckoned with  – his seeing/searing blue eyes draw the viewer in.

Assignment 1 – (3 of 20). Watercolour on white gessoed card “Russian woman haymaking”.

The toil of the fields exaggerated, this depiction reminds me a bit of Van Gogh, Millet and Breton’s paintings and drawings of field workers and the heads of peasant workers. But, in this image I see more agony and ‘down-trodden-ness’ – I am weary, very, very weary she says to me. However, I have and will continue to survive.

Assignment 1 – (4 of 20). Pottery glaze on white gessoed card “Going to school”.

Gosh, who would have thought you could use pottery glaze as a medium for painting on paper card. As with “Russian woman haymaking” above, there seems to me to be something of a Van Gogh style of painting in this image – loose, almost perfunctory mark making and the big staring eyes.

Assignment 1 – (5 of 20). Coloured ink on black gessoed card “Homer”.

This is my nemesis. Too much information causes anxiety – “Every time I learn something new it pushes some old stuff out of my brain!”. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older. I think the squiggly, jelly like hand on the top of Homer’s head typifies for me the jittery feeling of loosing it – never mind the scream! While the coloured ink was tricky to apply to the black ground (I had to apply several coats) my feeling is that it captures my intention in exploring this emotional response.

Assignment 1 – (6 of 20). Acrylic on white gessoed plaster molding on card “Stella McCusker”.

This is the first painting using a plaster molding placed over the 6×6 card. While it does provide background texture to the image I found it quite difficult to wash in the paint to the fabric – thus the white dots for paint-free ‘canvas’. However, from a distance the overall effect, I think, is quite striking in its own way. Using acrylic paint allowed me to employ a more painterly style of mark making in the facial depiction. One other thought is that on reflection I seem to be favouring ‘big staring eyes’?

Assignment 1 – (7 of 20). White gouache on black gessoed card “Salty Dog”.

This is a bit creepy, as is the original image from the album cover of the Procol Harum LP “A Salty Dog” – a crusty old sea dog, with a monkey/ape-like face. Applying the white gouache to the black ground was a bit troublesome – it seems to me that applying any medium onto a black surface presents a challenge.

Assignment 1 – (8 of 20). Acrylic on black gessoed plaster molding on card “Head and upper body of man suffering from Tetanus”.

Another excerpt from Charles Bell’s Opisthotonos (Man suffering from Tetanus). This time the coloured acrylic worked better on the black gesso ground – depicting a man in true agony, fighting his demons. “The disease is characterised by generalised rigidity and spasms of skeletal muscles. The muscle stiffness usually involves the jaw (lockjaw) and neck and then becomes generalised.” [Accessed: 6 October 2016].


Assignment 1 – (9 of 20). Nail varnish and felt-tip pen on white gessoed card “The untold story”.

An almost fantastical image of an untouchable magical being, but “There will be few portraits, nor ‘selfies’ of me beyond the age of 50 because, again, in this perfected imagery, I have no desire to be seen as I decay”. A wee bit Oscar Wilde Dorian Gray-ish.

The nail varnish was slow and sticky to apply and left some undefined lines around the shapes. The addition of felt-tip pen seemed to help in this regard.

Assignment 1 – (10 of 20). White ink on black gessoed card “Yin and Yang” (from Carmel Gallery Guide).

Again white on black is quite hard to manage, but I think it was appropriate for this “Yin and Yang” image – defining the lines surrounding negative spaces and leaving the eye and imagination to fill in the blanks.

Assignment 1 – (11 of 20). Green ink on cut and paste newsprint on card “Russian women haymaking”.

“Making hay on Harris in the Hebrides, where half the land is now owned by community trusts” – contrast the Russian women haymaking in Georgia in 1989 – seems like an overlap of agrarian rural living, late 20th century rural living and life now in a working landscape. Working the land is hard work, there can be joy in new life and harvesting, but when it comes right down to it this is often not seen as ‘The Good Life’ by those who work the land.

Assignment 1 – (12 of 20). Brown ink on cut and paste print-out on card “Ape and ‘Goose Girl'” (pinching her hat).

What can I say – a bit of cheek on my part, humour even, with the ape in the tree trying to pinch the hat from the Goose Girl’s head. The colouring of the ape in brown ink is intended to marry with the muddy brown foreground of the Goose Girl hearding her flock of geese along a well trodden path. Plus the two fat geese in the background act as somewhat comic interpretations of the Ape’s breasts.

Assignment 1 – (13 of 20). Acrylic on cut and paste print-out on card “Roddy Doyle on ‘Going to school'”.

Roddy Doyle, novelist, dramatist and screenwriter (my favourite is ‘The Commitments’), originally painted by Colin Davidson and here depicted against the backdrop of Jules Bastien-Lepage’s 1882 painting of the boy “Going to School”. Not so much a pose that “…says ‘firm, upright and focused’ whereas the paint says ‘everything is in slippage'”, but more of a depiction that says hard, intent and with a wee bit of red splattering (from the red shirt).

Assignment 1 – (14 of 20). Red ink on cut and paste newsprint on card “Head and legs of man suffering from Tetanus”.

My last excerpt from Charles Bell’s Opisthotonos (Man suffering from Tetanus). It seemed appropriate to me to superimpose this rendition on top of Bruce McLean’s 1971 “Pose work for plinths 3”. My thinking here was to make an image that was a wee bit edgy from the two parts (background and over-painting) and continue with the theme of a body in weird and unnatural poses – the thrusting arms and hands and legs and feet of  the ‘Man suffering from Tetanus’ seem somehow to match McLean’s positioning on his plinths.

Assignment 1 – (15 of 20). Gouache on white gessoed plaster molding on card “Shoulder and hand”.

The use of plaster molding as a ground again presented a challenge, but I wanted to persist in pushing the application of paint onto this base. You can still see the white dots where paint has failed to penetrate, but in some ways the overall effect is still of a painted canvas (Caravaggio/chiaroscuro style) seen from a distance, with the negative spaces of the minimalist white ground dots showing through. The overall effect achieved here is kind-of pointillist in style and also reminiscent of Chuck Close’s later colour self-portrait (oil on canvas) – in my research notes for Part 1 I have observed that this effect is akin to ‘abstracted digital realism – better seen from a distance than up close’, p.12.

Assignment 1 – (16 0f 20). Gel pen on black gessoed card “Foot”.

Painting 15, this one and the following painting are all interpretations of edited sections from Didier Gillis’s 2013 Derive [Photograph] In: Amateur Photographer, 20 August 2016, p.82. The original found image can be found on page 2 of my Part 1 Assignment sketchbook: In his analysis of the original b&w photograph Roger Hicks observes “The tonality is curious, and reminiscent of the dawn of photography.” The 19th-century photographic printing process ‘gum bichromate’ could achieve more painterly images from photographic negatives and I have attempted to replicate this effect in these three experiments with painting media – gouache, gel pen and black ink.

Assignment 1 – (17 of 20). Black ink on white gessoed card “Elbow and hand”.

“Elbow and hand” is the closest I have managed to come to representing a tonal photographic image along the lines of Chuck Close’s black and white self-portraits. I find working in ink quite a freeing experience as the fluid runs smoothly off the brush.

Assignment 1 – (18 of 20). Acrylic on iPad drawing print-out on card “The Losers”.

Highlighted against an iPad sketch of one of my own b&w photographs of rock formations on the Solway Firth – peeking through cavern type rocks out to sea – I placed this dramatic figure pose from Mark Simpson’s “The Losers” In: The Daily Record, 17 September, 2016, p.34. The contrast between b&w background and bright, almost garish colours of the foreground figure provides a sense of unease and of turbulent times ahead.

Assignment 1 – (19 of 20). Marker pen on iPad drawing print-out on card “It’s a beautiful day”.

I haven’t quite managed to capture the litheness and serenity of the young woman depicted on the original 1969 “It’s a beautiful day” album cover. Using marker pen has made the figure somewhat stark in appearance against the more muted background image of my iPad drawing of Ansel Adam’s 1944 b&w photograph Yosemite Valley, Moonrise. My eye deceived me when drawing in the figure on the 6″x6″ card and I ended up with a dumpy and no where near as attractive looking a figure as I had intended.

Assignment 1 – (20 of 20). Acrylic on iPad drawing print-out on card “Happy Trails”.

Waving adieu and adios to his fair maiden, the cowboy from the “Happy Trails’ album cover is a more painterly rendition against the iPad drawing of my photograph “Night Sky” over Mellon Udrigle in Wester Ross. I think the marriage of metallic ArtRage brush marks of the sky and the acrylic brush strokes of the cowboy and horse present a pleasing image with a real sense of movement.

Reflections on Assignment 1

I feel that the different ways in which I have managed to depict facial characteristics has been partly successful. I particularly like the more painterly renditions in “Lama Rinpoche” (no.2); “Russian woman haymaking” (no.3); “Going to school” (no.4); “Stella McCusker” (no.6); “Head and upper body of man suffering from Tetanus” (no.8); and “Roddy Doyle” (no.13). The brush work in these paintings and in “Shoulder and hand” (no.15) and “Happy Trails” (no.20) allowed me to express a more emotional response to the subject matter.

In contrast the ink and pen paintings by their very nature are more stark and less imbued with a depth of surface that can be achieved through paint. Having said this, I find that ink and pen can be used to strike a quick image that still manages to tell a story in a stripped back, unencumbered manner.

I enjoyed using found images as background to “Russian women haymaking” (no.11) , with the textual reference to making hay on Harris in the Hebrides; the cheeky “Ape” and “Goose Girl” (no.12); “Roddy Doyle” on the background of “Going to school” (no.13); and “Hands and legs” on “Pose work for plinths 3” (no.14). I found the matching of a specific found image and an over-painted image could provide quite a strong combined image, each taking and giving something to the other.

In a similar way, I feel that the over-painting of new images onto background iPad drawings also worked quite well, particularly “The Losers” (no.18) and “Happy Trails” (no.20). This is something I would like to explore further.

During my research for Part 1 and exploring the work of other artists in the creation of the exercise and assignment pieces, I have been particularly influenced by Alli Sharma’s black and white paintings; Cecily Brown’s gestural mark making; Chuck Close’s abstracted digital realism; Daniel Richter’s striking use of colour; Jose Toirac’s black and white paintings; Mimei Thompson’s thin colour washes; and Peter Doig’s storytelling through paint.

Moving forward, I would like to develop a more painterly style of mark making while continuing to experiment with overlaying images, and experimenting more with sketchbook explorations of found images in helping to build ideas for new work.

Stuart Brownlee – 512319
7 October 2016