Working with music

The brief for this exercise is to listen to several pieces of instrumental music, at least 10 minutes long, each different in mood, instrumentation and style; and paint what the music evokes.

Watercolour exercises 32 (9)

J S Bach (1685-1750)_ Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV 565 in watercolour_ 21 June 2015

56 x 38 cm 



Watercolour exercises 32 (10)

W A Mozart (1756-1791)_ Symphony No 41 in C major KV 551, 1. Allegro vivace in watercolour_ 21 June 2015

56 x 38 cm



Watercolour exercises 32 (11)


N Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)_ Sheherazade 1. The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship in watercolour_ 22 June 2015

56 x 38 cm



Watercolour exercises 32 (12)


J Rodrigo (1901-1999)_ Concierto de Aranjuez  2. Adagio  in watercolour_ 22 June 2015

56 x 38 cm



I was quite methodical in this, listening to the music to let it inspire my choice of colours and shapes; first making notes while listening and with a vague notion of form and colour painting while the piece was playing.



it’s not about me

I’m having a little bit of trouble with magnification so I will try to reset my focus and dwell a moment on what Art means to me, what I am trying to say by painting, which to me is like another language, as are words, or music for instance. I am trying to give life its fullest expression, not me, but life!

What does life mean to me: it is both everything and a separate force that decides everything and makes everything. It does not belong to me, it belongs to everyone and everything and it really wants us to engage with it. That is the most important and that is what I need to be in touch with in order to make sense to myself.  Life is in everything, all creatures all rocks and plants, the weather and time, but it also exists as a separate force which helps us all the time to shape this planet and ourselves. This is what I try to listen to. It is not good or bad or hot or cold or up or down, it is all those things depending on need.

Each and every one of us, everything, has a separate relationship with life, but we can choose to listen to it, or not. Not ask it what we want, but listen to it. Like every relationship it has to be individual. There are no tricks, just keeping your ears, eyes and all your senses open.


Free Expression

The course now offers the opportunity to experiment, drawing on thoughts, memories and associations. We are reminded of Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee in particular, who were probably the least formulaic in their search for authentic artistic expression. Both had strong associations with music; we are given some titles or we can choose our own.

Watercolour exercises 32 (3)Peacock and Bird_ 8 June 2015_

56 x 38 cm 

this was an image that made me think of a peacock, it turned out quite different from what I expected and the Bird only ‘appeared’ later

Watercolour exercises 32 (4)

Tree-lined Path_ 10 June 2015_

50 x 35 cm

a photograph I took of Dollis Brook looked to me like a tree-lined path from a different angle

Watercolour exercises 32 (8)

Sky-painted Sky_ 19 June 2015

56 x 38 cm

while I was trying to think of how to paint abstract, the sky painted something like this


Watercolour exercises 32 (2)Watercolour _ 5 June 2015 _

56 x 38 cm

For this I zoomed in to one of the photographs I took for the previous exercise. I wanted to remove the masking fluid but find it adds to the picture so I will leave it.

N.B. : I misread the instructions, magnification is meant to be about one image. So I will call the other two paintings “Free Expression” which is the next exercise and probably describes them better anyway. And I will continue with the image of the rose under magnification.

Watercolour exercises 32 (5)

Watercolour_ 13 June 2015_

56 x 38 cm

I tried to change light to dark and dark to light, using green, yellow and grey as a colour palette.



Watercolour exercises 32 (6)Watercolour_ 16 June 2015_

56 x 38 cm

Same image. Darkened midtones and printed both image and reverse, then cut them in half and collaged them, selecting an area to paint. I started with a small drawing to get used to the shapes.

                                                            Watercolour exercises 32 (6a) - Copy

                                                              Drawing_ 14 June 2015_ 12 X 8 cm



Watercolour exercises 32 (7)


Watercolour_ 18 June 2015_

56 x 38 cm

in monochrome

Research Point – making marks

Watercolour exercises 32 (1)

Rose painted with feather_ 4 June 2015_

14.8 x 21 cm






Looking for ways to paint abstract; in THE ART OF WATERCOLOUR magazine (#18)  is an interview with EBAN, a painter who lives in France and whose work can be seen on his website I find his abstract paintings really appealing and he says he sometimes paints with a feather! One of his paintings is in the gallery.

Themed collage and painting

Combining elements from different views into a single composition.

Watercolour exercises 31 (6)

Photocopies made into collage_ 1 June 2015_

29.7 x 42 cm.  




Watercolour exercises 31 (7)


Pencil and watercolour_ 1 June 2015_ 1

9 x 29.7 cm


Watercolour exercises 31 (8)



Watercolour and pencil _ 3 June 2015_

29.7 x 42 cm


Collage made from random elements; Sketchbook 2; 6-7


Watercolour exercises 31 (1)Papier Collé came about as a way of trying to solve the problem of ‘local colour’. In painting, ‘local colour’ is the natural colour of an object, unmodified by adding light and shadow or any other distortion.  Local colour is best seen on a matte surface.

The Cubists of Montmartre were constantly trying to find better ways to represent local colour as well as an object’s shape. At the analytic stage of cubism they separated colour from shape and thereby removed the distortion of light, but in order to do so they had to use an ‘average’ colour. This irritated them as they intended to retain the object’s integrity.

In 1911 Braque had the idea of introducing printed material (such as newspapers or envelopes) in his work; this had the advantage of not posing the local colour dilemma, as being a flat object it had no shadow. The following year Picasso and Braque started adding materials of little depth, such as wood and marble. The real objects were preferable but they sometimes painted them in too.

They soon realised that the papers and materials they added created their own relationships with the other objects in the paintings and could add a three dimensionality without adding to the light and shade issue.

List of other artists who used papier collé:

Fernand Léger (Maison Forestière), Louis Marcoussis (paquet de scaferlati), Jacques Villon Watercolour exercises 31 (2)(Atelier de mechanique), Juan Gris (Nature morte aux roses) and Henri Laurens (Guitare).  Ernst (Le chapeau fait l’homme) Picabia (Centimètres)

Man Ray, Janco, Hausmann, Kassäk, André Masson, Joan Miró and Kurt Schwitters (Merzbilder) who made of collage his main medium of expression.

Abstract artists: Sonia Delaunay, Kupka, Moholy-Nagy, El Lissitsky, Alberto Magnelli and Henri Matisse (Zulma).

Collage could be used as easily by abstract constructivists like Marcelle Cahn, Mortensen or Lardera; by surrealists like Toyen, Enrico Baj or Cornell; by kineticists like Vasarely; neo-Dadaists such as Rauschenberg; independents such as Alberto Burri; or new realists Daniel Spoerri or Arman.

Started as a response to a technical issue, papier collé is now almost a universal means of expression.

Ref: The French online Larousse  « DICTIONNAIRE DE LA PEINTURE »

Research Point; Abstract Art History



We are asked to do a little historical survey of abstract art.

Humans, early humans, have been on this planet a few million years, but the earliest record we have of them making any art is found in cave paintings dating from around 40,000 years ago. These are mostly hand stencils and animal figures, but also non figurative forms.


Visual images have served any number of uses and one of them was to portray accurate replicas of what the eye could see. We called this art, and perhaps art became defined by this function, until the advent of the photograph and a whole host of technological advances that meant the image could be represented accurately at any level of magnification using tools different to the ones of the painter.

This is where abstract art gradually emerged. Pablo Picasso is quoted as saying: “There is no abstract art. You must start with something. Afterward you can remove all traces of reality.”

Artists no longer bound by having to contain their image in a visual reality that could be seen by the eye, started to represent other aspects of reality which could nonetheless be expressed visually and which the painter was perfectly placed to portray.

Modern Movements

MODERNISTS like Wassily Kandinsky, Kasimir Malevitch, Henri Matisse, László Moholy-Nagy and Pablo Picasso wanted to break with tradition and progress into new artistic territory. They were anti-establishment and experimented in different ways but all believed that ‘with the right means, an essential truth could be presented and understood for the benefit of humankind’.

The search for this essential truth seems to have been a driving force behind many of the movements that followed.

EXPRESSIONISM (1905-1920) had two main groups: ‘Die Brucke’ (the bridge)  and ‘Der Blaue Reiter’ (the blue rider). The first was founded in Dresden by four students: Fritz Bleyl, Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. Their manifesto read: “we want to free our lives and limbs from the long-established older powers. Anyone who renders his creative drive directly and genuinely is one of us.” Their work was semi-figurative.  Der Blaue Reiter, led by Wassily Kandinsky placed more emphasis on mysticism. Kandinsky believed openness to emotion could bring connection with the spiritual realm. When Paul Klee met Kandinsky he recorded ” I came to feel a deep trust in him. He is somebody, and has an exceptionally beautiful and lucid mind.”

I felt an unusual serenity whilst trying to copy his painting in my sketchbook and his paintings do seem to me to have a lucid quality.

The members of Der Blaue Reiter believed colours and abstract shapes carried meaning in themselves, much like music. Kandinsky heard music when he saw colour (synaesthesia: two normally separate senses which combine as one)

CUBISM (1909-1914) Georges Braque, Juan Gris, Fernand Léger, Jacques Lipchitz, Pablo Picasso. In Braque’s own words: he and Picasso were like two mountain climbers roped together. They furthered the techniques pioneered by Paul Cezanne. Picasso would emphasize the geometry of things and paint different objects in one work from slightly different perspectives, or parts of an object from different viewpoints. It made the forms look fractured. Braque made landscapes that reduced everything to cubes. They became more geometric, less realistic; they began to fracture the objects into greater number of shapes, called facets, in monochrome beige or grey, to avoid the expressive quality of colour. ‘It was as if Cubists wanted to combine in one work all the past and future views of the subject to get a more real sense of it.’

It is perhaps not surprising that artists, trained to be sensitive to their environment, painted a world that seemed to have decided a simplistic view ought to prevail and would ultimately make sense.

NEO PLASTICISM (1917-1944) Piet Mondrian, Gerrit Rietveld, Bart van der Leck, Theo van Doesburg, George Ventongerloo. Term coined by Piet Mondrian to describe the abstract mode of ‘De Stijl’ (the style), this consisted mostly of grids and black lines that enclosed flat areas of colour and spoke in a radically reduced visual language. This was a group of artists, writers, architects and designers brought together in the Netherlands.  De Stijl argued that ‘abstract art predicated on geometric order and spiritual harmony could produce peace and positivity in a European society blighted by suffering.’ Van Doesburg worked with the Bauhaus art school in Germany in the 1920’s. He also adopted diagonal lines in his work, to the consternation of Mondrian who resigned in 1924.

BAUHAUS (1919-1933) Herbert Bayer, Johannes Itten, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, László Moholy-Nagy. Founder Walter Gropius derived the name from ‘bauen’ (to build) as well as ‘bauhütten’, Germany’s medieval builders’ guilds whose collegiate character he hoped to emulate. Their founding manifesto was to “create the new building of the future which will be all in one: architecture and sculpture and painting.”

Here geometric abstraction became not just more refined but it spread beyond painting. Bauhaus became a commercial success, as long as the political climate allowed it, they produced furniture, wallpaper and textiles. All based on the teachings and ideals of Johannes Itten, Paul Klee, Kandinsky and later Moholy-Nagy and Hans Meyer as well as some of the students turned teacher Joseph Albers and Herbert Bayer. Even when the school was closed down some of the artists took those ideals to Britain and America where some of them became University professors and continued to have an impact.

SURREALISM (1924-1945)  Andre Breton’s first manifesto of surrealism proposed it as “psychic automatism in its pure state, by which is intended to express the true functioning of thought. Thought expressed in the absence of any control exerted by reason and outside all moral and aesthetic considerations.” Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud argued that neuroses were caused by repressed memories and that dream analysis and free association could release them. Breton suggested that the unconscious had a creative potential to revive post war culture. Spanish artist Joan Miró painted bright biomorphic forms instinctively, declaring ‘as I paint, the picture begins to assert itself under my brush’.

ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM (1940-1950) Franz Kline, Willem De Kooning, Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko. The term was coined by New York critic Robert Coates in 1946 to describe American painters who invented new idioms of abstract art to communicate their deepest feelings. They rejected geometrical abstraction, their language was more about the crisis of faith stimulated by the conflict. They pursued automatism, letting the unconscious flow, but were influenced by existentialism, in the sense that they saw the artist’s condition as one of isolation and anxiety, rather than the more optimistic surrealism which imagined that neurological equilibrium could be achieved.

POST PAINTERLY ABSTRACTION 1960-70)  with Elsworth Kelly and Frank Stella ensued. This was about the anonymous application of paint. Morris Louis pours streams of paint on the canvas not to accentuate gesture but to remove it, the paint does the work of spreading.

POSTMODERNISM (1970-) I mention it here because it seems to have brought to an end the abstract momentum. Post modernists dismiss the notion that any essential truths exist or are possible. Jean François Lyotard explained the term as an “incredulity towards metanarratives”, the doubt that a single ideology could either accurately define our condition or lead to progress.

What I find slightly incongruous is that artists having been given back the freedom to do whatever they wanted, promptly went about trying to define the boundaries of that freedom. For instance the proclamation by the expressionists in Die Brücke (“we want to free our lives and limbs from the long-established older powers. Anyone who renders his creative drive directly and genuinely is one of us”)  implies that there are those who are not like them, and therefore not free. But art had been freed from its self-imposed limitation and the absence of a label does not seem to stop the impulse to paint, which is at the base of all movements and has always been there.




Reference:  “… isms _ understanding modern art” by Sam Phillips and Wikipedia

edit 26.04.17 with apologies for late reference, also “Cave paintings change ideas about the origin of art” by Pallab Ghosh, BBC /News/ Science & Environment

Research Point; Goldsworthy

Think about the differences between using pure watercolour and mixed media.

We are asked to look at the work of ANDY GOLDSWORTHY who uses the melting quality of water and gravity to create images which appear to be painted by nature itself. For instance Source of Scaur, made by mixing snow with ground red stone taken from Scaur water. He thrills at finding red stone everywhere in the world and sees a connection, a direct connection with us. The only reason our blood is red is because it contains iron, the same is true for the red stone. His love of nature is existential. As much, he says, as he would like to be able to work in a studio, he needs to be outdoors.

In 2003 he went to Nova Scotia for a commission and made a film showing the process of his work. He created an ice crystal sculpture weaving through a rock, like a meandering river. It kept breaking and when it did he was inconsolably cold, but in the evening, to his great delight, the sun conspired to set behind his finished sculpture, illuminating it, whilst a small hill provided a dark background to show it off. He comments in his video “it is water, the river and the sea made solid.”

Water has this remarkable quality and it can be celebrated equally well in its pure form as complemented or contrasted with other materials.