In conclusion



So I’ve come to the end of the Foundations Drawing course, rather stumbling over the finishing line. That said, I fully appreciate why the final projects are the way they are and if nothing else it showed up where the boundaries of my comfort zone are with a big fat fluorescent marker.

What this course gave me:

  • permission to take the time to really investigate the artists I already enjoy and to discover those I wasn’t aware of before
  • a kind of structure to some of the thoughts that were swilling around my head about various things to do with family, time passing, what art means to me
  • the shove I needed to dare something other than a doodle with a biro

What I need to persevere with in my drawing:

  • investigation, experimentation, making time, and perseverance itself

And yes, I absolutely want to carry on.

PS. My current learning log is zimbolina & the otter. Other past sites are:  zimbolina & the terrapin (for OCA Drawing Skills) and zimbolina & the narwhal (for OCA Understanding Visual Culture)





From Sketchbook



I sketched this plant right at the beginning of this course, so wanted to see how things have changed since then. I don’t think any of these has really succeeded but I could sense that my approach was different – my drawing was more confident and I was looking at what I had to say about the plant, rather than trying to replicate it on the page.

I’ve just taken first steps with watercolour – what a slippery medium! – though my second attempt (top right) is way better than the first – I took my time to test colours and tried to benefit from the transparent qualities of the paint where light fell on the leaves.


I’ve take two life classes and the biggest difficulty has been getting heads to sit on necks – so I’ve been practising: sketching people from my window, using the oca drawing figures supplement, trying out the real-time life class Croquis Cafe online, and finally my boys revising. Just trying to get proportions right. The head seems to be the hardest bit to add on! Either too big, too small or not really attached to a neck. Sometimes I get the head right but make the face too small…



Pigeons – inspired by George Shaw’s Payne’s Grey series. I don’t have Payne’s Grey in my tiny Cotman box but Shaw describes it as a mix of ultramarine and sienna, first put together by artist William Payne. The Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna of the box gave me perfect pigeon grey. After watching another based guide to watercolours online, I experimented with paint on dry paper and paint on wet paper.


Figure drawing resource #145, Croquis Cafe

More of my home-made Payne’s Grey and though this poor woman looks as though her skin has actually been painted with grey emulsion paint I’m really happy with the face and the foot so I’ll try to keep them as a reminder that I just need to go in more delicately. I tend to rush – always trying to cram something in to a 10 minute slot of time.

Project 5.3 Drawing and Photomontage (from Option 2: Narrative)


This is an awkwardly personal thing, inspired by a trip to Hamburg to see my mother’s oldest friend, when I found out about the grandparents I’ve only known through a handful of photographs. In this photomontage I’ve placed them in a photograph I took at Hamburg’s ‘miniature world’. (Though I use it to represent Hamburg, it’s a scene from Berlin: rubble, burnt houses, soldiers).

These miniature worlds seem to reach us in a way that a photographs can’t. Perhaps it touches an inner child and releases that ability to imagine that we lose along the way to adulthood. Maybe it’s simply the three-dimensions – we can peer into houses, hover above, crouch down to street level. It’s voyeuristic in a way a photo can’t be.


Photograph from Hamburg’s Miniatur Wunderland

Over just a few days in 1943 allied bombing virtually destroyed Hamburg, killing 42,600 civilians and wounding 37,000. Incendiary bombs created a 1,500-foot-high tornado of fire that swept through the city, the temperature reached 800c. In the morning the streets were piled high with corpses.

When my grandparents’ apartment block caught fire in that bombing raid, my grandmother took her children in her arms and prepared to jump in to the canal from the window but the canal water was on fire. She ran to the front of the block and found the street was melting.  When my grandfather heard of the raid, he deserted his post and returned to Hamburg to find his family.

When I had the idea to place my figures in a miniature land, I planned to use a Hamburg street scene with a Tiltshift treatment to get the same effect. But the photos of Hamburg after the allied bombing are so shocking I couldn’t do it. The surreal nature of this miniature world with its plastic figures and toy cars keeps reality at a safe distance – and somehow that ties in well with Germany’s post-war silence.

In the photomontage the mounted German soldier is outside the display box of this miniature world, behind perspex. He can be seen as helplessly standing by, or as a figure of authority, impassive and emotionally removed. The mother and children are faceless – their story could be told tens of thousands of times over by other German families. The family photo I used was taken a few years before the war – a few years before Hitler changed what it meant to be German for generations to come. I kept the sketches light and pale – I want them to have a ghostly quality – the ghosts in the cupboard.

What makes this story so interesting to me is the conflict of emotion it provokes. Can we sympathise with a mother facing this horror alone, two small children clinging to her? What about the father away at war who hears that his home has been set ablaze? Can we find that sympathy when they are German? Is it OK to feel sympathy for her but not for the man in uniform? (All men aged 15-60 were conscripted in to the German army). What about the young boy forced to join Hitler’s youth movement? Can we feel rage that the allied forces used such horrific incendiary devices on a civilian population?

Even in writing the short paragraph that describes what happened to my family during the bombing, I feel uncomfortable using any kind of words that might demand sympathy. I can only report it in black and white. Two generations on the collective guilt is still in my DNA.



Eis und Blut, 1971, Anselm Kiefer

When I was putting this together I thought a great deal about Anselm Kiefer. I had seen his exhibition at the Royal Academy in 2014, and more recently Bohemia lies by the Sea (see Reviews). As a consequence of that I listened to the Royal Academy’s podcasts on him – especially the panel discussion about his book Heroic Symbols and the performance art project ‘Occupations’. Also on Tate’s website is Lara Day’s ‘Inhabiting Collective Guilt and the Inability to Mourn’.

The German language has a word for ‘those born after’ – Nachgeborenen – which only serves to underline the monumental burden of being born German to the generation whose fathers made up the German army. Kiefer tackles it head on, which depending on your own interaction with his art may be seen as brave, attention-seeking, worrying…Though it’s interesting to ask that if he had chosen to ignore what was all around him – what would that have said about him? The very fact that he is German gives an ambiguity to his work that forces us to question ourselves.

Lara Day puts it very succinctly in the RA panel discussion. In his works Keifer is asking “am I a Nazi because I’m a German? am I a Nazi because of where I was born? Am I a Nazi because I am making this gesture? If the answer is yes, then are we not just continuing the (Nazi) idea that blood and soil ties identity and behaviour to where we are born?”

While my mother (7 years older than Kiefer) left Germany at her earliest opportunity to marry an Englishman, maintaining her role as one of the silent generation, Keifer isn’t hiding. He is tackling history head on, grappling with what it means to be German, and demanding that we question our own position alongside him.

George Shaw – Payne’s Grey


The Time Machine, 2010, George Shaw

I haven’t seen George Shaw’s works in person but I clearly remember seeing the first online. With a red telephone box, by some railings, in the rain. That this scene was so important he dedicated hours to capturing it shot straight to my heart. When I found out the artist sometimes wears cardigans it was a full-on crush.

I’ve devoured the paintings online. Each one seems to spark recognition, though I grew up far from Tile Hill there are common elements in that 1970s architecture and street furniture. The triangular top to a wooden fence, pale grey paving slabs as pathways, the separate block of garages – an allotment for those who prefer to tinker with grease over fertiliser.

I think they also spark recognition in those that have that melancholic mix of nostalgia, romanticism and regret sloshing around inside them, all to a soundtrack by The Smiths, of course.

There’s a longing in these works to go back to the days when time didn’t pass. When were suspended in endless days. When these scenes were the wallpaper of our small worlds and we saw them day in day out. The bus stop, the wall by the bus stop, the alley short cut, the phone box. A phone box alone can spark the sharpest memories; the stench of piss and smoke, getting out of the rain, heavy books swinging up on hinges, pages torn out, that smooth black warm receiver. Though of course time did pass, just that we were too young to notice, and now all those years are lost and time is playing its cruel joke of running faster as we get older.


Wednesday Week, 2003, George Shaw


I love that Shaw finds a place, a still, a snapshot and in that he sees balance, beauty, interest. If it’s recorded, it’s loved, it becomes beautiful.

I ordered the catalogue to his Payne’s Grey exhibition at the Baltic in 2011 in which he quotes from Richard Ullmann’s biography of James Joyce: “The epiphany (for Joyce) was the sudden ‘revelation of the whatness of a thing,’ the moment in which ‘the soul of the commonest object …seems to us radiant.”

I love the idea that this group of paintings is done in just the one colour – it should be enough – I’m one of those that never tire of telling the kids about black & white TV, and how yes, we did see colour in it.

But some of these work better than others for me. Shaw himself writes that the paintings he is most often drawn to are those that “look as though the weather has just fallen on and stained the paper as it passes through the day…” and some of his Payne’s Grey works capture exactly this. A raindrop has sploshed down with dreadful predictability, bringing with it the dark grey cloud – most especially in the painting of garages (I think it’s just called #1). Those days where cloud meets puddle and the world feels submerged.


From Payne’s Grey 1-14, 2007-2008, George Shaw

He captures sunlight on a cloudy day – from when the sun has victoriously broken through, to when it is so feeble it can barely be bothered and all the way to when it is just plain absent.


From Payne’s Grey 1-14, 2007-2008, George Shaw

There are a couple of works in the catalogue that I can’t help but feel would work better in colour. I long to see the side of a house solidify – it is just too ghostly as it is – or a strip of lush green grass to break the monotony. After all, that is what England is so good at – breaking the monotony with a patch of green. Maybe this is part of the fascination of this series, the black & white TV-ness of it – we layer our own colour where we need it.


From Payne’s Grey 1-14, 2007-2008, George Shaw

I need to mention the trees. I find some of them really unsettling – there is often one spooky tree dominating, with branches like evil tendrils. I don’t have a problem with trees, but there is something about the trees in some of these paintings that are slightly other worldly, and I wonder if it was done deliberately.

As I take first steps to understand watercolour myself these words of Shaw in his catalogue ring oh so true: “Watercolour painting is a thoroughly fascinating activity. It is, like murder, very common but when one tries to do it oneself proves quite difficult and is often best performed in the thought rather than in the practice.”


Bather Stepping into a Tub, Edward Degas, c. 1890


I’m not crazy about all those pastel ballerinas but I like this a great deal. Particularly the yellow and the blue and those shapes made by leg, arm and breast. They’re so deliberate, so important. Without them the whole piece would be flat. The shadow in front of the knee, the reflected light on the inside of the tub. By contrast her upper back is almost disappearing into the yellow wall. And the colours on the body: green, yellow, pink,   blue, grey, the lower leg in the bath a dark pinky red.


Sketch copy in situ

Naked Man, Back View, Lucien Freud 1991-1992


Often a painting known online and then seen in the flesh can take my breath away – but this had been hung in such a way that all I could see was reflection. Maddening! It is huge, and the presence of all that flesh is disconcerting. His back is almost too much for me, I find my eyes flitting between head and leg rather than get lost in that expanse of flesh. Looking at it again online, the overall shape is surprisingly compact, the naked rectangle of body with shortened limbs – just like the naked footstool he is sitting on.

I wonder if it is more the pose that makes it disconcerting. Here’s a man – a flamboyant exhibitionist – who seems to be wanting to make himself smaller, to hide away. I can almost imagine him wrapping his arms around his legs, resting his head on his knees to block out the world a while. The size of the painting (182.9 × 137.2 cm) creates such a contradiction –  the already huge physical bulk of the man made larger still and yet he shrinks away.

I’d like to know how much Freud directs his poses because this feels very much like “leave me alone”.


Sketch copy in situ

This man was a performer, he danced, and despite his bulky torso his legs look strong, fit for purpose – and yet those feet, while strong, show the pressure they are under – flattening out under the heel.

I haven’t done a great job here, the calf too big,  knee too small, but I get such pleasure from copying these strong and confident lines.

If the kids ever leave home and I stop working I will do this all day!


Life Class

My second life class – slightly less intimidated but still having to quieten my nerves before that first mark on the scary expanse of white. Two minutes for the first poses, five for the next three.


We finished by drawing our poses over a series of pre-painted splodges of paint. The idea is to use a white crayon for highlights, over the purple paint. I didn’t find the white really shone out enough to look like a highlight, but the challenge of incorporating the splurges while still trying to fit all the complete poses on one sheet was interesting enough.


The teacher taking the art class pointed out that I use quite a consistently heavy line – my aim for the next class is to try to vary that line. And as I write I realise this is a familiar comment from my oca feedback….

I’ve enjoyed my first two life classes enormously. Infuriating and exhilarating in equal measure.

Things to work on next time around:

  • I almost always start out too big and very often can’t get the entire pose on the sheet. I’ll try to map out the scale of the figure first.
  • I find the hardest part is getting the head in scale, on a neck, and in position. I will make time to practice heads on necks in advance.
  • Though I enjoy drawing hands and feet, when they are attached to limbs I seem to fudge them, and definitely make them far too small.
  • Vary the line