Helen’s learning log

This is the post excerpt.

I have started this blog as a record of my learning on the Drawing Skills course, unit 1 of a BA(Hons). I have never had a blog before so I ask for your patience as I learn how to construct it. I am keen to get on with the projects so this will develop as I travel on this exciting road. start a new post.

Facing the sun


Observing shadow using blocks of tone

I found this a difficult exercise for three reasons
• The light from my window kept changing as the clouds came by and I couldn’t find a satisfactory arrangement with my desk, light and still life set up. I ended up photographing the second set up when the sun was bright and working from the photo.
• I couldn’t decide which objects to draw, first trying two objects that were ceramics I struggled with the shapes even though they were simple, Fig. 1. I then opted for two simpler objects but then had perspective to consider, so not so simple, Fig. 2.
• I found the charcoal difficult to handle even with gloves on. It didn’t go on the cartridge paper evenly, I couldn’t seem to make the darks dark enough the charcoal came off on my gloves. It was hard to get detail with the charcoal stick without smudging where I didn’t want it to go. Not my favourite medium.

I have greater admiration for Redon and his ability to achieve detail in his charcoal drawings.

Fig.1 Ceramic pots

Figure 1 was drawn with natural light (coming and going) in my sketchbook. The contrast in tones doesn’t seem great enough to me. I darkened the right side of the small pot to make the light look lighter but I see now it looks like shadow that wasn’t there. I photographed it my room.





Fig. 2

Figure 2 was drawn from a photograph taken with bright sunlight on the objects. I photographed the drawing outside. The proportions of the objects does not look correct, the box is actually wider and so is the drum on top of it. I will try to remember to measure things next time.



The atmospheric potential of tone

Tone is the effect of light and shade in a picture, other words with similar meanings are value, chiaroscuro and grisaille.

Tone ranges from pure bright white to deep dark black (the absence of light), there are many tones of grey in-between. Monochrome drawings or paintings demonstrate the effects of tone and the artists ability to depict forms, atmosphere and the relationships between them. Extremes of the tonal scale can be seen in grisaille works such as Montegna’s “Samson and Delilha” (“Andrea Mantegna | Samson and Delilah | NG1145 | National Gallery, London,” n.d.) and Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Virgin on the Rocks” (“Chiaroscuro | Glossary | National Gallery, London,” n.d.) an example of chiaroscuro.

Grisaille or, a painting in grey, was used in the mid nineteenth century to imitate sculpture and is used by artists to establish the tonal values of their painting before adding further layers of paint often using more colour. Chiaroscuro on the other hand has much clearer tonal contrast, in Italian chiaro meaning clear and bright and oscuro meaning dark and obscure.

To create monochrome tonal pictures the medium used would be applied to the support with differing thickness and weight and strokes applied in various shapes and proximity. In the case of charcoal, light areas can be created by lifting out the charcoal with an eraser.

Redon’s 1868 Landscape (Buser, n.d.) is an example of this technique, working from dark to light. Another approach to creating tonal values in a picture is to mix with another colour, for example analogous colours (side by side on the colour wheel) or complimentary colours (opposite on the colour wheel).

Odilon Redon (1940-1916) is described as a Symbolist painter, one who expressed mystical ideas, emotions and states of mind in his work (Oxford English Dictionary). On exploring his paintings and drawings it is clear many are the result of his imagination rather than drawing from life. The period when Two Trees was drawn in 1870’s to 1900 was after Redon returned from service in the Franco-Prussian war and it can be deduced from this body of work known as “noirs” the horrors he experienced. There are several of disembodied heads and eyes and menacing, macabre creatures like “Tadpole”, Spider and The Teeth.  In “Two Trees” there is a sense of mystery and danger. What is there beyond the trees? If you went from the light through the dark portal between the trees, danger lurks there menacingly, tiny pinpoints of light lifted out, like the eyes of creatures.

In other work Redon creates a different atmosphere using tonal contrast, for example in “The Queen of Sheba” (1865-1870) she is completely lit against a dark background with a tiny moon shining through the clouds. The shape and features of her form and delicate folds of her gown are all visible as though to say, look at this beauty, like a celestial being. Whereas the lithograph of “The Reader” (1892) highlights only some features the face and the beard, the back of the chair he is sitting on (the lightest) and some parts of his book and desk all lit by light from the window, perhaps moonlight again. We have a picture of a sage, cerebral old man reading in solitude in his room. Yet another atmosphere is seen in “The Raven” (1882) a simpler picture, the silhouette of a bird on a windowsill in daylight framed by the window frame. On the face of it there is nothing menacing about this picture it is almost like an illustration in a children’s book.

The use of dark backgrounds does not always depict night time or menace as in Seurat’s drawing of a “Seated boy with a Straw Hat (1882) (Buser, n.d.). Seurat has used simultaneous contrast where putting a dark tone next to a light one makes the light area appear even lighter.


Tonal values do have the potential to describe atmosphere in a picture but it is the subject matter and the relationship with the tonal values not the values themselves that convey an atmosphere.


I tried to attach references to the paintings of Redon I mention above from a website called the-athenaeum. Exploring the website I found it purports to store images of artists work not available in public collections. I looked to other websites for the same images and found some but not “The Queen of Sheba”. The quality of the images found was very different and for example “The Reader” had many lighter areas so my description above is not correct.

This research has been a lesson learnt, beware of the quality of images on the internet and use reputable websites.


Andrea Mantegna | Samson and Delilah | NG1145 | National Gallery, London. (n.d.). Retrieved August 15, 2017, from https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/andrea-mantegna-samson-and-delilah

Buser, T. (n.d.). History of Drawing | Thomas Buser. Retrieved August 14, 2017, from http://historyofdrawing.com/

Chiaroscuro | Glossary | National Gallery, London. (n.d.). Retrieved August 15, 2017, from https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/glossary/chiaroscuro

Groups of Objects

12th August 2017

I have been struggling for a few days with this exercise.

The challenges were

  • perspective, box shapes and ellipses
  • drawing freehand straight lines
  • changing viewpoint as I moved and the group of objects looked different.

Having arranged various objects from the kitchen cupboards on the table I decided to sit at the easel to draw thinking I wouldn’t move my viewpoint so much as if I were standing. White conté crayon on black paper photographs better than black on white paper I find, so I worked with those in the first instance. The board was set up on the easel at an angle. No possibility of erasing mistakes.

I tried to look at the size and positioning of objects in relation to each other, how much they overlapped and how far forward on the table they were. I managed to fit in all the objects on a horizontal plane but in some instances the smaller objects forward of the main group became displaced in my drawing. Tops of objects looked larger or smaller as I moved even slightly.

Frustration with perspective found me drawing over my drawings, redrawing the same group but sometimes making the same sort of mistakes even though I was drawing carefully. Looking at the drawings now, some parts look right and some parts look wrong. The example drawing in the handbook appeared to have been drawn using a ruler so sometimes I did too. Feeling my drawings needed to loosen up and be done faster and more expressively, I changed tack and using a large sheet of lining paper taped flat on my table, I drew the arrangement of objects on the top of my cupboards with charcoal. At least the objects would be at the same height. I wasn’t faster or more expressive because there were so many factors to take into account. The size of objects and relation to each other were reasonably accurate however although the cupboards are different sizes and the sides are not straight. There weren’t any cylindrical objects.

Perspective is an area needing more study and I note is addressed later in this unit. I also need to consider how I set up still life so I keep my viewpoint fixed. I am a bit confused about whether drawing what I see is entirely the right way to approach it or to not trust what I think I am seeing and just use the rules as it were.

I had forgotten I have a book on perspective and will be referring to it and practicing. Drawing Perspective by Gilles Ronin, Published by A&C Black, London in 2011.

Here are some of my warts and all drawings.

Experimenting with texture

6th August 2017

Exercise 2 Experimenting with texture (p20 Handbook)

Drawing in sketchbook (pictures below, note not in order of description)

Natural sponge – uni-ball gel pen drawing the convoluted shapes, kept losing track of where I was. Highly irregular, soft surface.

Conker- Very prickly, rested it on white paper so pencil outline showed up. Managed to keep rounded shape quite well just drawing prickles.

Dipped pointy stick in ink and rolled it in one direction on page. Interesting effect like tree bark or if you look at it side on it is a silhouette of a crowd of people walking away on a wet road or a hot hazy day (except they have too many clothes on for hot temperatures).

Acrylic ink dropped onto very wet watercolour (Rough 300g/mpaper). The ink split and spread out quickly and smoothly into the water. Reminds me of a sunflower with a dark centre and uneven edge as it joins the lighter petals.

Acrylic ink dropped onto dry watercolour paper and sprayed with water- Depends where you hit the ink with the spray as the ink tracks into the water. Effect is like a piece of moss with tiny fronds as the ink follows the indentations of the watercolour paper.


  • A small scallop shell in my sketchbook with a chunk of graphite. Messy dusty disaster.
  • Scallop shell with pencil on printer paper – difficult because shell is curved not flat but created a recognisable shell texture.
  • Woven fabric with pencil on printer paper- no impression made, fabric too fine, pencil not suitable.
  • Wood effect vinyl floor on printer paper with pencil – texture did come through but I am getting pencil lines.
  • Fine twig with block of soft graphite (wearing glove) on printer paper. Made an impression but messy.
  • Graphite rubbing of orange peel, texture not coming through paper too thick. Tried tissue paper (from clothing packaging) much better result.
  • Graphite block on tissue paper rubbing of book cover revealed the fine woven texture.
  • Graphite block on tissue paper over towelling- fine texture hardly distinguishable.
  • Charcoal block, tissue paper over heavy weave basket together with fine wrinkles in the paper looks like insects crawling across the paper. Effective.
  • Pencil on tissue paper over leaf- paper tore. Threw it away.
  • Charcoal block on recycled loo paper over heavy-weave basket – pattern in paper adds another dimension, effective.
  • Graphitone pencil on origami paper (from Christmas crackers) over hosta leaf- fine but distinguishable leaf veins seen.
  • Pencil on origami paper over side of steel retractable tape measure casing, pleasing.
  • Pencil on origami paper over plastic 50cl Buxton drinks bottle-another success looks a bit like bones and joints.
  • Charcoal pencil on origami paper over pelagonium leaf- can just distinguish veins of the leaf.


Experimenting with texture 2




Experimenting with texture 6

Conclusions from my experiments.

  1. Different textured objects require different media to get a good rubbing (texture clearly visible) assuming you want a clear image, you may not.
  2. Thin paper is more effective but can be too thin and tear.
  3. The texture of the paper has an effect on the result.
  4. Whether the paper is wet or dry affects the behaviour of the medium.
  5. There are an infinite number of possibilities and combinations and one must stop somewhere.
  6. Before starting a work consider what medium or media would be most suitable to achieve the desired outcome, this may involve some experimental preparatory work.
  7. Time should be factored in if a deadline is in place.

Expressive lines and marks

4th August 2017

Exercise 1 Experimenting with expressive lines and marks. Learning log.
Calm, anger, joy and confusion.

I was feeling calm when I started this exercise. Having had grandchildren all day I had tidied up after they left and sat down for a while to recover. I chose four drawing tools, a charcoal pencil, a pastel, oil pastel and Indian ink with a sharp wooden skewer to apply. I quickly tried out some marks in my sketch books as thoughts came to me.
Lightness, smoothness, stillness, order, languor were the words coming to mind. (Maybe languor was about the tiredness).

Expressing emotion
Fig. 1 Calm

Panel 1
Moving on to the folded A1 sheet I drew with the charcoal pencil in the first panel, top left. My thoughts were of a calm sea with sunlight shining on it. I had tried gentle waves in my sketch book but they were too active. Holding the pencil in my hand my arm moved lightly across the paper from left to right in sweeping strokes. As I drew further down the panel it occurred to me to make the vertical space between lines larger so it looked as though the water was receding into the distance. I couldn’t help imagining an actual body of water.

Expressive drawing
Fig. 1.1 Calm detail

Panel 2
The panel to the right was my next one, I was drawing with oil pastel, it just occurred to me I naturally started working on top left first. Soft, smooth, flowing, rounded, elongated drops down the page reminding me of raindrops running down a window pane. I was now thinking about being inside my home feeling safe and warm with rain outside not able to reach me.

Panel 3
Bottom left, I drew with soft pastel. The marks were smaller than the previous ones, like little crescents. As I drew I began to think of fur and how stroking an animal like a cat is calming and believed to reduce your blood pressure (can’t stop the nurse thinking) I noticed a shape developing and I began to think of feathers and birds then a murmuration of birds. I decided not to fill the panel completely but to leave space and the imaginary flock soaring in the sky.

Panel 4
I wasn’t sure how I would create a calm effect with ink and a pointy stick but just did what came naturally and dipping the stick into the ink I dropped it onto the paper, I blew the drops and looked at it. The ink didn’t go far because I wasn’t using a straw to direct the breath but immediately an image came to mind of pollen and seed heads blowing in gentle convection currents. There is even more space left on this panel as it was just a puff of pollen or spores ejected from the fruiting body of a fungus.

I certainly felt calm whilst doing this part of the exercise. I was surprised I was able to put something down in each panel as I haven’t tried to express feelings in this way before. I find the results quite pleasing.

Looking after small grandchildren takes you through the whole gamut of emotions and I recalled feeling angry today as the four-year old continued to do what he was told not to do repeatedly.

Expressing emotion
Fig. 2 Anger

Panel 1
I started on top right to make myself work differently. It took a moment or two to get going as it felt wrong. Using the charcoal pencil I struck the page and dragged it violently in spikey movements as I bristled with anger. The charcoal juddered as I gradually lifted it off the paper making an interesting stuttering pattern. The point broke off but I managed to complete the panel. Like a hedgehog saying “keep away from me”.

Panel 2
Top left was started more quickly with fast strokes of the pastel sideways on creating thick,dark, blocks crisscrossing over the area, stilted, deliberate and forceful. There was plenty of anger and confusion. Why was he behaving this way? It doesn’t endear him to me and I know he can behave in a gentle, cooperative and loving manner. I filled the panel.

Panel 3
For some reason bottom right was next with the pointy stick dipped in ink. How could I make angry marks with this stick that doesn’t hold the ink and has such a spike on the end? I quickly dipped and zigzagged across the paper aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagh!. Spatter went on the panel above and below, this is what happens when you express your anger it affects others around you.

Panel 4
The oil pastel marched across the panel like soldiers in line or black dominoes moving down from top left to bottom right getting bigger as they came. Thick, dark, black, planks. The anger started gradually and built up more and more and more as I drew. I didn’t know I had it in me. I didn’t know I was going to make the marks in this pattern I only made straight marks in my sketchbook.

Marks on this angry sheet were darker, heavier and made in shorter outbursts of movement with my arm. The exercise made me feel like I was letting off steam.

6th August 2017 writing up what I did yesterday and doing the last sheet (fourth feeling)

I have been feeling a lot of joy lately but how to put it onto paper? I tried not to think too much and start drawing in my sketchbook. Five images came to me and I discarded one because it was more about warmth than joy although initially I had associated the two feelings.

Expressing emotion
Fig. 3.0 Joy

Panel 1
Bottom left this time, continuing my “doing things differently can be a creative act “theme (remembered from a leadership course I attended years ago).
Charcoal pencil with a new sharpened point making quick wiggles down the paper, exuberance, party poppers, bursting with joy. Looks like kites flying in formation. Uplifting, high spirits.

Panel 2
Right bottom. Love of life all encompassing, round babies ‘ giggles. I needed to do this drawing in landscape format so drew a little arrow to indicate direction of view (am I too directive and controlling of the viewer here?).
With the dirty pastel I made rounded shapes like clapping hands and hearts raised up like elated worshippers in joyful rapture and thankfulness, don’t get carried away Helen. This pastel is so messy.

Panel 3
Top right. The pointy stick and ink, more dots, fizzing with happiness, celebration, maybe prosecco? Light headed with bliss.

Panel 4
The remaining top left. This oil pastel may be getting too much like a drawing of something. It’s again to be viewed in landscape and is about vocalising, shouting for joy, singing, whistling, sharing joy out-loud.

I have noticed the marks are tending to the conical or triangular? It’s like a lens reflecting a light beam. I am the source of joy, it comes out and is shared and dissipated in the ether/space/air around me.

I don’t know what to do for my other feeling. I’ll do a mind map and see which has the most potential.

Fig. 4.0 Mind map

Mind map done, such a useful tool for getting going in your thinking. I found myself writing down physical feelings too which highlighted the different meanings of English words. Many of the feelings I had not experienced deeply but plumped for “confusion” which I am feeling now regarding sorting out my systems for recording my work and research on this course.
I don’t have another A1 sheet of paper so am using lining paper which I use for the children to paint on. It is slightly narrower than A1. I straightened the end and cut a piece with a guillotine.

Temporary drawings
Fig. 5.0 Confusion

I picked up each drawing tool and drew spontaneously in my sketchbook. The fact I have even been able to do this exercise surprises me as I do have a tendency to over think things. I was able to draw four different images straight away and used them all without modification.

Panel 1
Top left. I quickly made a variety of different marks all over the panel with the charcoal pencil. Different thoughts all over the place, intermingled, no order, mess, chaos. Can’t find anything, there is no clarity.

Panel 2
Bottom left. With the oil pastel I drew an entanglement of loops like wool, wool pulled over my eyes, I can’t see the wood for the trees. There is no separation or compartmentalisation of thoughts. A jumble of ideas.

Panel 3
Top right, why don’t I wear gloves or something when using this soft pastel?
My drawing is a path going nowhere except around in circles, no purpose or direction.
Where is it leading? I can’t see what I am looking for.

Panel 4
Bottom right. My first thought was a “scattergun approach” (or spatter gun), an indiscriminate selection, allsorts, all over but individual, no grouping, filing, sorting. No one answer just lots of possibilities, which shall I choose? The point on my stick has blunted so as I dip it in the ink and draw I can now create thicker lines. I begin with drops and then spread them out. I start thinking they are like stars in the sky not bullet holes, which one is which, do they have names, how far away are they? They look more or less the same but each one is different, which is the brightest and biggest? I don’t know where to start deciding. I can’t do a mind map for this.

I sprayed my sheets with cheap hairspray to fix the powdery substances so they don’t smudge. I have photographed the images in daylight but there is yellowing, I need to address this somehow. I have watched the video about photographing work, need to find it again.

Exercise 1 has been revealing, I was able to produce something, to draw marks and lines to express feelings, indeed my imagination ran wild. Not sure how this happened but it feels like a positive step forward.

Temporary drawings

At last I have worked out how to optimise photos and resize them in the blog but situating in text still time consuming so will improve in future. My posts with pictures should be more timely from now on.

3rd August 2017

Temporary drawings
Fig.1 Chalk outline on path

I engaged the co-operation of my grandson who lay down on the dry concrete flags. I drew round him with chalk. The ground felt grainy and uneven and the small piece of chalk ran out as the ground was taking up the chalk in the textured surface. It was physically awkward working on the ground bending down. Otherwise it was quite a fun exercise to do with my grandson as apparently it was tickle being drawn round. The image was gone in a few days washed away by the rain. Human subjects move despite being asked to keep still.



Temporary drawings
Fig.2.0 String laid down on black paper
Temporary drawings
Fig.2.3 Screwed up string dropped

String experiments. Figures 2.0- 2.3 Interesting shapes can be created with a piece of string.

Temporary drawings
Fig.2.2 String folded in half and dropped



Fig. 2.1 String held at one end and dropped
on path
Fig. 3.0 Twigs on path
Temporary drawings
Fig. 3.1 Twigs on desk








Twig drawings Figs 3.0 and 3.1

Twigs were lying on the grass as we ran round playing hide and seek. I couldn’t resist picking them up and laying them on the path. I noticed the shadows made by the sun shining on the twiggy lines, two lines for the price of one. I brought them inside and placed them on my paint- splattered table, a clearer picture but it couldn’t be the same.

  • Random actions can create a drawing.
  • The line itself may be interesting or appealing but the shapes created inside and outside it are also important .
  • Deliberate actions don’t always create the expected outcome.
  • Unexpected outcomes can be valuable in terms of visual appeal.

These lessons are useful as I can incorporate this method into my art work either as a preparatory exercise or to create a more imaginative final piece. Different media will be more or less flexible.