Agnes Martin (1912 – 2004)

Living in Chile – so far away from the UK it is impossible for me to attend study days/student visits to galleries organised by the OCA.  So I need to invent other ways to fill in this gap in my studies. I have been visiting galleries both in Chile and outside of Chile during my travels this year: Bolivia and Germany.  Other trips this year include Colombia and Mexico.

This morning on YouTube I came across the work of Agnes Martin – an abstract expressionist who was lucky enough to reach the age of 92 – painting right up until the end.

I always thought that in expressing ones inner feelings in a painting was about making fast energetic, maybe furious marks – as in De Kooning or Pollock. In the work of Rothko he wanted the viewer to feel the emotions of his paintings and even cry in front of them.

The paintings of Agnes Martin however are quiet peaceful paintings with muted pastel colours (except for a series in black) – living a solatory reclusive life (not even reading a newspaper during the last 50  years of her life – to avoid distracting her thoughts/feelings) she poured her emotions into her works.

Happy Holiday 1999 by Agnes Martin 1912-2004
Agnes Martin, Happy Holiday 1999
friendship 1963 agnes martin
Agnes Martin, Friendship 1963

I personally cannot see the emotions within these paintings – they are silent, peaceful yes, but also cold and calculated. I need to find a gallery with the works to witness first hand if I would react differently to them. Martin very carefully calculated the division of the lines and would immediately destroy any paintings that did not meet her rigourously standards – this for me is cold and religiously extreme.  If you looked up close the lines and marks were imperfect  – this was deliberate and part of her technique.

agnes martin blue flower 1962
Agnes Martin, Blue flower 1962

I am intrigued by her work and wish to imitate her on perhaps a smaller scale at present and on paper.

References (From YouTube):

Tate shots – Agnes Martin

Agnes Martin Artist – video by Jennifer Kiley

Agnes Modern at the Tate Modern on The Art Channel

Moma – How to paint like Agnes Martin / IN THE STUDIO with Covey D’Augustine



Part 3 Expanse

Project 1 Trees – Research and ideas

Trees don’t follow the laws of perspective, or don’t seem to, because they are so complicated, with lines going in so many directions

David Hockney. A bigger message Conversations with David Hockney by Martin Gayford. Thames & Hudson 2011.

When I think about drawing trees, I immediately think of Hockney’s paintings and studies for his Woldgate Wood series, Constable’s sketches and studies of trees, the trees of Jean Baptiste Camille Corot and after recently reading about the work of Frank Auerbach, I am also inspired by his rapid/expressive drawings of trees:

Auerbach tree on Primrose hill
Frank Auerbach, Tree on Primrose Hill

Other ideas on the extreme side – I would include the wonderfully expressive paintings and drawings of trees by  Joan Mitchell:

Tree II, 1992. Color lithograph © Estate of Joan Mitchell.

In reading Martin Gayford’s book on conversations with Hockney, I was interested on a section about his methods used for the painting of Woldgate Woods – painting with memory and photographs. I have also painted from memory in the past and it is an excellent way to include emotions/feelings into a painting without getting too distracted by technique and details. In the book, they discuss how Hockney uses his memory to paint. Constant drawing practice plays a large part and helps to train oneself to edit out parts of what you see – simplifying and experimenting with media. This practice makes it easier to use the memory to recall images and draw them in a more personal, emotional way.

David Hockney. Woldgate Woods 2006. Oil on canvas

Hockney recalls a story about the French philosopher Henri Bergson. He was sitting in a cafe opposite Rouen Cathedral, and he said that the only way you can see the cathedral properly from here is to get up, walk right round it, and then come back here….The point is (says Hockney) that you would then have a memory that you were looking at…..Of course if the subject is in front of you, it’s up to you, it’s the memory of a second ago, five seconds ago, a minute ago. Each memory will be different in quality, but if you train yourself, if you make notes in your head, you can use them very well.  

For drawing inspiration, I looked at the drawings of Constable and Corot:

Corot willows-and-white-poplars-1872
Corot, Willows and white poplars, 1872

Constable’s elm trees drawing is a mamouth work of a stature in keeping with these giant elms, whilst Corot’s minimal and accurate use of both line and shading are something that I want to master in my sketches/drawings.

Ref. Martin Gayford/David Hockney. A bigger message Conversations with David Hockney. Thames and Hudson 2011

Part 3 Expanse

Project 1 – Trees

I found drawing trees a challenge – with so many variations, heights, forms and colours. It was also difficult to select suitable trees for drawing. In the end I sketched trees from afar, nearby and at a suitable distance according to the exercise requirements. I did not always follow the exercises exactly.

As a warm up I just went out sketching:



and then a small sketch using coloured pencils:


In Chile there is a famous native tree – the Araucaria.  It is a tall pine tree with distinctive form; not quite sure if I have captured it in these small sketches in my pocket sketchbook:

Exercise 1 Sketching individual trees

For this exercise I chose a fir tree not far from my house. It was drawn using a small piece of compressed charcoal on a bright overcast day:


This was a huge towering tree with spreading branches – very beautiful. I was interested in capturing the overall form and movement of the tree with its large branches … also trying to imitate the movement and line of the individual branches.

I then chose another evergreen fir tree.


This time I used indian ink, white chalk and pencil.  I felt that this was a brave experiment that did not quite work. This was a dense tree – a bit like the large cedar trees found in graveyards in England.

I have since walked past this tree several times and the overall form is very like the drawing above – so maybe this was more succesful than I at first thought.

Exercise 2 Large observational study of an individual tree

The large tree drawn above in ink was my subject for this study.  I worked in an A3 sketchpad with large 2B and 6B pencils and gradually built up layers and textures:


The tree trunk and branches reminded me of an elephant. I do not think that I have ever drawn anything like this before and had to find my feet regarding the shading and textures.

The modelling of the tree trunk was not successful but some parts of the texturing worked well. The upper part of the tree put most of the trunk in shade and there was an even light all around the tree, so difficult to model without any form of directional lighting – perhaps it would have been better early in the morning or late in the afternoon on a sunny day. It was cold and overcast when I was sketching – not ideal!

During the sketching sessions on the same day, I also made a colour study of the fir tree using oil pastels – I love the effects and colours that you can achieve using oil pastels and was very happy with this study although it could be judged as quite flat!


I must remember next time to take some baby wipes with me to clean my hands during sketching – you can see the thumbprints on the page due to dirty hands after drawing with charcoal.

After receiving my feedback from Part 2, I decided to make a further observational study of an individual tree to improve the tonal range in a drawing and render the form more accurately:

Charcoal on A2 heavy mixed media paper

This was a very large Eucalytus tree with beautiful exposed roots and dark overhanging branches. I believe that this was a much improved study and I increased the tonal range of the drawing whilst maintaining expressive use of line.

Exercise 3 Study of several trees

Watercolour and pencil on A2 heavy mixed media paper

This was a study of a group of very tall Eucalyptus trees – the day was a very bright sunny day, late morning so the sun was already quite high. I was drawing for at least one hour and the sun was moving fast. The left hand side of the tree trunks had a bright white patch which I did not capture – I therefore used some yellow to give the trees a glow.

I would like to go back and make a sketch similar to the Corot drawings in my recent research, as this is a picknic area and I could include people in the sketch to give a better sense of scale.

This was a group of similar trees so I was unable on this occasion to distinguish one species of tree from another. The mass of foliage included very bright patches on the LHS and very dark parts on the RHS of each tree. I used a grey base colour for the trunks and added yellow to the LHS of the truck to indicate the sun hitting them. I then relied on line and a little shading using pencil to render form…not very effective. I managed to simplify the shadows on the ground, the background, the masses of foliage and a sense of depth by fading out one of the trees.

To improve this drawing further  I could have observed better the position/form of the trees to give a greater depth, I should have used a greater range of tones in the tree trunks without resorting to line/pencil shading, and I could have been more delicate with the foliage by using delicate lines in support of the green washes. A mountain, horizon or other feature in the background together with a few figures would have given greater depth and scale to the drawing.

Part 2 Intimacy

Part 2 Intimacy

Assignment 2 – Still life

During the work making sketches around my home I noticed a particular subject that I wanted to explore – in our lounge dresser we have a collection of souvenirs/presents from around the world – China, Russia, England, Spain and Chile.

I was also interested in using the idea of a large group of objects as the subject – similar to some of the tables of objects painted by John Bratby – see featured image above (John Bratby. Still life with chip frier, 1954 – detail).

I also wanted to use bold colours – so I explored the use of oil pastel blended/worked with white spirit, and incorporate soft pencil (and line work) also blended with white spirit – to demonstrate use of colour in drawing, accurate and expressive depiction of form, and a range of mark making with contrasts in line, tone, texture and form.

I took many photos of the subject at different angles and because this drawing would be made over several days, I decided to work from photos displayed on my large computer screen – this also meant that I could work at any time of day. The initial exploration/experimentation worked well and I already had an idea of what I wanted in respect of composition…


I then laid out the initial drawing using a 6B pencil and whitespirit…

Then colour was added using oil pastel/6Bpencil…

When I reach what I felt was enough colour, I then reworked the lines and added deeper shadows.

My final drawing….

Souvenirs and presents. Oil pastel and pencil on A2 250g mixed media paper.


Assignment 2

The use of colour in drawing: During the course of Part 2 and in particular in this final drawing, I have used colour to render form, to improve depth and to represent accurately the objects drawn.

The most appropriate medium for the subject: In this assignment I have experimented with pencil and oil pastel blended with white spirit – something very new to me. I wanted bold colours in this drawing and I believe that I have achieved this aim. The paper chosen worked well and helped produce textural effects as in the background.

Composition and context: The objects are all housed in a dining room dresser which has large double doors. I wanted to represent both sides of the cupboard using views 90 deg apart. My daughter was a little puzzled by the white space in the middle – which could be seen as strange – however it was intentional. The use of repeated colours and more door showing on the left helped to balance the composition.  The objects were not moved at all and were drawn as seen.

The objects are a mixture of sentimental personal items, presents from relatives and souvenirs from my travels abroad.

Mark making and contrasts in line and tone: I have used various mark making techniques in this drawing – including sgrafitti, brushwork in the background, textural marks with oil pastel and line/cross-hatching with pencil, also a combination of brush and line to manipulate the pencil marks in the guardsman’s busby.

Accurate and expressive depiction of form: Within the constraints of the still life subject chosen, I beleive I have achieved an accurate and expressive depiction of form.

Experimentation with idea, material and method: This was certainly a departure from the norm for me and as a method it reminds me of a childrens book illustration (with the teddies) – the material and method was an experimentation which I believe worked except for the fact that the use of a pencil drawing overlaid with bright oil pastel in places became a little muddied.

Part 2 – Intimacy

Part 2 of this course has been an exciting journey exploring many different types of media both wet and dry, and has given me many ideas to use in future work.  I have tried to incorporate influences from contemporary artists as well as find my own application of their styles/working methods.

Demonstration of technical and visual skills:  My technical and visual skills are improving, but this is held back by the lack of time to practice daily. I work on the course most evenings and more intensely at weekends – family commitments allowing. Part 2 gave me the opportunities to explore subjects that I enjoy – in particular flowers – and use a range of potentially very expressive media that I have previously not used.

Quality of outcome:  I was particularly pleased with my still life using pastel, the monochrome study of eggs laid on newspaper, and interior sketches/final interior drawing. They have I believe shown a huge improvement in the quality of my work and demonstrate that I have the ability to achieve a positive/creative outcome to the exercises through creative experimentation/thought processes.

Demonstration of creativity: Whilst I have during this part of the course been creative in use of materials and line work – I have much to learn and still a huge amount to explore further. I will continue to explore and experiment – in particular with some of the methods used by John Piper, Frank Auerbach, William Kentridge, Raoul Dufy and Joan Mitchell.

Context reflection: I need to work on this issue more in the following parts of the course. I have read several books during Part 1 & 2 (this is something I need to reflect on), visited many art galleries and carried out a limited amount of research.  I need to include these activities more in the thought processes, methods and preparation of my future work.