Tag Archive for: art ideas

black & white duoMaking two paintings just using black and white as a tonal painting exercise seemed a natural progression of my new contrast project, even if it is way outside my normal colour comfort zone.

What did I hope to learn?

Our eyes see high contrast shapes more swiftly so how can we use that to lead the viewer’s eye around a painting in a pleasing way, using differences? Strong tonal difference is seen first, often from across the room and getting this structure right is essential to the overall impact of a painting, but you can be more playful within areas that are closer in tonal value so that there is interest when you  notice things that aren’t so immediately obvious.

Using differences in mark making, scale and shape can also help in the ‘design’ of your painting.

Beginning and adjusting

So starting with just simple marks and then reacting each time we add more to the painting is a good way to play with what impact we can have. This seems simple, but it was hard!

I wanted to avoid all my usual forms of reference – no allusion to landscape, just using simple forms.  I was prepared with different size brushes and I started with black… It felt very harsh!

When it felt like enough I switched to the second board so it didn’t become too repetitive. The aim was to avoid using mid tone greys as these can too easily become indistinct.

I tried to take photographs throughout so I could keep a record, but inevitably there were times things moved pretty fast. I thought might be easier to show in a video:

At the end of the first session I stood back and looked what I had done: two big bully boy scribbly eggs and some awkward lines that were similar in length which just emphasized the same shape. Not a great start.

Printing out the images at 2 inches square four times on an A4 sheet meant that I could add and subtract tonal areas just using a pen and tippex. This felt slightly like ‘cheating’ as I was avoiding resolving the issues I had created by using paint. But it allowed me to explore alternatives more quickly by expanding the darker shape on one panel and by covering it over on the second.

Different painting adjustments

It feels really good to obliterate things by painting over them! This in itself is a great lesson – too often I can feel wedded to a certain area of a painting too soon and the wish to preserve it can be so strong  I want keep it – even if it’s in the wrong place and doesn’t fit the overall composition. Seeing how a painting can be improved by painting over what isn’t right felt like a revelation. The improvement is more satisfying than the loss of what has gone. And it hasn’t completely gone – there are always traces left behind that add interest and texture.

If you know my work you will recognise these are VERY different from what I usually do. I was trying to keep away from anything representational on purpose. No landscapes, no tricks of lighter tonal value receding into the distance of a landscape. I was treating the surface of the painting as a flat plane and aiming to create balance rather than any illusion of three dimensions.

Black image adjustmentFixing in Photoshop

After I had finished I took one of the panels into Photoshop and made some further adjustments:

It was a painting of two halves, which can work, often where you have a horizon of land and sky but I needed a way to make it easier for your eye to move from left to right across this painting.

By breaking up the line between black and white and adding more lighter areas to the right hand side, this gives a way for your eye to travel over more easily.

The three white areas in the top right were similar in size so I made one larger.

That small white dash in the middle of the black area? Placed rather centrally between top and bottom? I elongated that and pulled it more towards the top.

The bottom area felt quite heavy so I broke into the black space and increased the whiteness of that light patch at the bottom so it pulls your eye downwards.

All these changes could be made with paint but I think they give more variety and liveliness. You ‘move around’ within the space so you find new things to look at in all areas of the painting. There are some similar shapes (where did the boats comes from?!) which means it feels a bit cohesive.

You could also make similar changes at a smaller scale using pen and tippex as I did earlier. Or by photocopying your black and white image and then using the second copy as source material to collage over the first image to ‘try on’ different possibilities and see what makes the design feel stronger.

But I’m not painting in black and white?!

… and neither will I be usually. 🙂 In the next post I’ll show you how doing this exercise has already helped me identify elements of a painting I’m working on which could be improved if I paid more attention to the value, rather than get carried away by colour!

Is tonal value something you consciously think about in your work, or notice when you look at paintings? Let me know…

When I was invited to take part in this artists’ blog hop I thought what a great way of sharing ideas and building new links to other artists. You write briefly about the the person who invited you, answer some set questions and then introduce three other artists to pass the baton on to.

I first met the lovely Julia Elmore through an online challenge and was immediately struck by her seemily calm and gentle approach to creativity – so different to my usual frenetic ways! She has a broad way of encouraging creativity in your everyday life. I took part in her 21 Days of Creative Freedom course earlier in the year and enjoyed it as a way to get me over a creative hurdle as well as to feel part of a supportive group. You can read her blog-hop post here and explore her ideas.

Now ready for the Q&A….

How does my creative process work?

Sketchbook ideas that haven’t yet translated into anything else

I’m still not sure I know the answer to that one! I usually start by collecting. Sometimes objects or found printed material, but often using the camera on my phone as it’s always as hand. Using the viewfinder to compose and re-crop allows me to play with different compositions. Often it’s colours or textures that catch my eye. These become starting points for drawings; the fact that the screen goes dead after a short period of time is helpful as you have to hold the image in your head. It helps me concentrate on the key elements I want to incorporate. I also use collage as a starting point and often do larger drawings or paintings and then use a view finder to cut them up and create smaller compositions as starting points.

Usually I start working on a piece with some kind of plan but once I get going that usually goes out of the window. It’s this balance between control and allowing myself to react to what happens spontaneously that excites me. It’s a balance that is easier in painting but that I still find hard in printmaking where you can be so driven by following a process.

Tube drawings

Tube drawings

I draw in a small sketchbook too; usually I draw things that will never translate into any finished work (people on the tube or at cafes) but the practise keeps me on my toes and stops me being scared of the blank page. Sometimes the tiniest sketch of an idea grows into something you never expect – and you never know which one that will be!


How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My background and training is in graphic design and I think this comes through. Working out a composition has similar principles to designing a satisfying page layout. Design tends to be neat and tidy and I like to push against this with the more gestural marks as a contrast to some tight and precise marks – I have used printed elements such as the lines in dress making patterns as part of my paintings.

Let’s Go This Way

I’m also still drawn to letterforms and graphic shapes so these often appear. My most recent set of prints started by noticing the stonemason marks in the pavement – a personal mark hidden in an urban landscape.

Etching with chine collé

What am I working on now?

I’m gearing up to do some large scale paintings. I love making prints but I’m yearning to do some work that’s more instinctive, bigger and with colour! These will be landscape in the broadest sense – a reaction to where we are. I visit Dartmoor often and find the space there enormously invigorating but I have no desire to make representative images of it. I’ve lived my whole life in London and find living here inspiring too. Perhaps I will find a way to combine both?

Even though I’m desperate for colour I’m going to start with some big black and white drawings, using ink and charcoal. I find working at a large size helps keep the marks gestural.

Why do you do what you do?

Being able to bring something into existence is magical. I love making things; transforming furniture, inventing and making costumes, changing things at home. But these things are just part of life. Making art is like putting a stake in the ground. Sometimes it feels like a personal indulgence. And so what. Without art I was lost and it gives me a chance to reflect and to consider how I view the world. What could be more important?


So, having answered the questions myself, I am passing the blog baton on… to three artists friends whose work or approach inspires me. They will post answers to the questions above on their own blogs next Monday, but please feel free to check out their creative output right now!

First up is Michelle Avision who is my inspirational printmaking tutor at Morley college. She also owns and runs her own print studio Slaughterhaus in south London. I usually only see the teacher side of her so I have enjoyed catching up with her painting blog from Scotland over summer. The video gallery on her site shows some footage of Michelle being interviewed where she talks about setting up your own residency structure and how she works in the open and transfers ideas back to the studio.

Next is Niki Cotton whose blog I found through a post she had a written about struggling to make changes to a painting and showed all the stages she went through. This side of creating art is one you never get to see in the finished works hanging on gallery walls and it takes a bravery to reveal it. Get to know the real Niki at nikicottonart.com UPDATE: Read Niki’s post here

And finally is Sarah Boyts Yoder who I discovered via Pinterest. She works in Charlottesville VA – the wonders of being inspired from across the pond! She uses bold painting and collages shapes to create vibrant works that play with colour, marks and composition in an exciting way. Take a look through her work at sarahboytsyoder.com and I promise you will leave with your fingers itching and feeling braver. UPDATE: Read Sarah’s post here.

And a sneaky extra bonus… I came across Amanda Foshag during #DrawingAugust. She is primarily a textile artist but some of her drawings are beautiful – take a look and see what she creates over on her Facebook page.

I am delighted that you all agreed to take part and I can’t wait to read your replies when you post next Monday. Thank you x