Etiqueta: John Virtue

Part 5 – The personal project

Part 5 – The personal project

Early research and experimentation

I started this part by brainstorming ideas for the Urban Landscape:


From this very busy and too overwhelming chart, I made another more specific one:


I heaviliy studied the catalogue of Leon Kossoff’s London Landscapes and was intrigued by his frantically scribbled drawings and Gouache paintings – I stuck some in my sketchbook:


and then made a larger copy of one of his drawings of Arnold Circus…


I used smooth paper to allow me to blend the pastel and to make marks with the charcoal with as least amount of grain as possible. Using a slightly bigger scale showed me just how skilled Kossoff is – the amount of mark making and range of mark making needs to increase considerably.  I did not achieve this in this piece of work but gained a sense of what is required.

Studying further I came across Dennis Creffield who went to the same evening classes as Leon Kossoff and Frank Auerbach – their teacher was David Bomberg, whose famous charcoal drawing of St Pauls rising from the ashes of bombed out London – his use of charcoal (burnt wood) significant – was obviously a strong influence on both Dennis Creffield, and much later John Virtue, in their drawings/paintings.

The following pages from my sketchbook show copies of Creffields drawings/paintings:



I particularly liked these drawings as they allowed me much more freedom in mark making and representing forms in a more abstract way.

Going back to Kossoff, I experimented a little with gouache and used the following as a basis for this investigation



I used gouache, soft pastel and charcoal.  Kossoff made many versions of this scene all around 70 x 90cm, my version is just A5. I did however make the following observations:

  • He has typically used a high viewpoint
  • All his versions were made in gouache with one in oil
  • He makes use of contrasting/complementary colours
  • He uses several layers of colour to build up his base for the image and then uses heavy dark gestural linework or dabs of paint to complete the painting.

I did not continue with this line of investigation as I saw it as more painting than drawing. I hope to get the chance to explore this again in POP1.

At this stage I also explored the use of collage on its own and building it up more with graphite and pastel:


Local marketplace, Rancagua

I sketched in my local marketplace and then worked from photographs in pencil and gouache:


and pastel:


I liked the colours which reminded me of one of Frank Auerbach’s paintings which I then copied in oil pastel on mylar:


The effect of oil pastel on mylar was interesting but difficult to control and maintain clean. It is something that I will try and take further in the future.

Finally with David Bomberg and John Virtue in mind, I made a black and white sketch of the scene using charcoal on gessoed newspaper:




  • Leon Kossoff, London Landscapes – Catalogue
  • Frank Auerbach, Speaking and Painting by Catherine Lampert

You tube videos:

  • BBC Four, British art at war – David Bomberg
  • Leon Kossoff, London Landscapes trailer
  • John Virtue, London paintings and sea paintings


Part 3 Expanse

Project 5 Townscapes

Research Point – John Virtue and Robert Birmelin

I am very interested in the work of John Virtue – especially his large London works. I particularly like the way he paints a sillouette of the scene and then using marks/textures and the light on the landscape to build up very complex layers of interest – his mark making is very much that of an action painter (Jackson) – dripping, rubbing, spraying – large and small gestures – and his influence of Turner and Constable, painters well represented in the National Gallery Collection. Virtue uses many sketches and works also from his memory of the scenes he paints – reiterating the importance of a sketchbook and sketching – in both tone and line:

john virtue sketch 3
John Virtue – London sketches
John Virtue sketch
John Virtue – London sketches

john_virtue painting

There was another link that interested me – that of his contact and interest in the work of Frank Auerbach who was taught by David Bomberg, an artist that painted scenes of Blitzed london after the war.

Photo of wartime London during the Blitz

I my own drawings below there is evidence of a fight between nature and man – and man’s imposition on the landscape both rural and urban. John Virtues images are more cruel and stark – stripped of what he calls the ‘White noise’ and absent of people – just himself against the landscape and elements.

Another artist of great interest to me is Robert Birmelin who uses the urban environment as his subject matter. I am interested in his use of overlap/transparency to depict not only perspective but movement and the passing of time.


In this example people pass by in the metro, the transparency recording different moments in time.  The eye line position strategically placed with the viewer looking across a stairway – in which the subjects are moving past at different heights both near and far adding an extra level of interest.

I intend to find a use for this approach in my urban landscapes and also in Part 4.

Exercise 1 Sketch of townscape drawings

I went out early in the morning to produce these drawings to make use of the shadows produced with the sun low in the sky. I found it difficult to find a comfortable place to sketch and many of the drawings I made were done standing. My favorite place was an abandoned petrol station which I sketched and photographed for future use.

The left hand sketches (not good photographs) were made standing using a 3B pencil within a 10cm square. The RH drawing was a quick sketch in the style of Frank Auerbach. Light was fairly strong and low from the RHS. There were some very clear tones of both white and black – as can be seen in this B&W photo taken from a slightly different angle:

DSC_0568 (2)

Before leaving the scene, I took many photos at different angles and distances to use later. It was also beginning to get very hot so I also decided to finish sketching for the day outside.

I also made  similar drawings of the side of a church in the same street:


I spent more time on these drawings sitting down on the opposite side of the street. At first there was hardly any traffic and the street was quiet and peaceful.  As I finished the drawings there were more people about and the traffic started to build up. This is an interesting building but difficult to find a good/safe viewpoint. I included a couple of figures to give a sense of scale to the drawing.

I decided to take the petrol station drawing further.  It intrigued me as this is a very busy street and very close is a very large workshop/school for the Copper Mining Industry – the principal industry and the biggest employer in the area. First thing in the morning it is peaceful and quiet and this pertrol station – deserted – is a strange sight among the hussle and bustle. The morning was warm, no breeze, clear blue sky, and ideal for this type of scene – deep shadows and very bright highlights. I wanted to experiment with mylar further and I liked the effect of pencil on mylar – so wanted to try graphite/coloured pencil.

This exercise was more about shapes and shadows etc so my line drawing with the central sign was ok but was only suitable if drawn tighter. I did however try out the effects on mylar:

Both drawings were to loose and drawn very quickly – also the coloured pencil ws muddied by the layers of graphite. In the RH drawing I used a graphite block to fill in rather than pencil and I liked the effect and depth of tone.

Final drawing:


In this drawing there is a feeling of abandonment, the expanse of sky also assists in the eerie feel – no ,ovement, no people, the only sign of life a car – also abandoned. I was not shy in my use of tone and have used a wide range from deep black to erased white. After finishing the drawing I saw that there may have been a better composition!


This crop does not have the same sense of space and abandonment but is a better stronger composition. I should think more about this type of opportunity in future.

Exercise 2 Study of townscape using line

In this exercise I found that I did not have much patience in detailed sketches of buildings. I found myself wanting to rush them except when people were involved – this excites me more – movement, the hustle and bustle of the high street. I took a break for a coffee and sketched in the cafe/mall – this interested me more than the churches outside.

Fineliner in black and red

This was a rather hurried sketch – there were problems with scale and perspective which may have led to my impatience in finishing this sketch. This the main church in the town and is placed in an historically famous square – famous for a battle defeat against the spanish just before the independence of Chile. I sketched in the morning on a warm day with strong directional sunlight – the square is difficult to sketch due to many trees placed around and infront of the buildings – which lends itself to cropped details only.

Brush pen and coloured pencil

This second sketch using a brush pen and coloured pencil would have been better worked on a larger sheet of paper with charcoal or ink washes.

I went for a coffee and sketched the cafe in an open mall which I enjoyed – there was great potential here and the opportunity to include people and movement:


Whilst sketching here I was reminded of the drawings and paintings by Robert Birmelin and his use of transparent overlapping images – For instance his Study – Steps Series, Yellow Shoe 2005. Black chalk, conté pencil, and acrylicwash on 90lb cold pressed Fabriano Classico:


I took several photos to use as reference including this panaramic shot – there is a temptation here to overcomplicate – but the Birmelin example shows that simplification is key in what is really a complex drawing:


After this coffee break, I went back to the square:

1.4mm grip pencil – 3B

This view also had potential for taking further and I liked the inclusion of people in the foreground, middleground buildings and tower block in the background.

Moving on to the main thoroughfare I enjoyed making rapid gestural sketches of the movement of people and a band playing.



Out of all of these sketches I wanted to take forward the main thoroughfare sketch – an opportunity to include people in an urban environment – I do like the movement of people in drawings/paintings:

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Charcoal and soft pencil on 250g mixed media paper

The day was hot and the shadows harsh, the main thoroughfare was busy with people rushing about – I love making quick drawings in this type of environment.  I should have spent more time drawing, but took several photos that I montaged to get the feel of movement and perspective that I wanted in this final drawing.

Some of the marks I made were erratic and not as balanced as I would have liked – also maybe I should have stuck to just charcoal alone. The drawing was made on A2 but A1 would have suited me better – I did feel a little restricted. The shadows on the left under the tree were poorly made and should have been deeper, the trees were drawn in a manner not reflected in the rest of the image and on this occasion (using line) I felt uncomfortable trying to use just line without some form of tonal contrast.  I started the drawing by building up a level of tonal contrast smudging charcoal with my fingers before using line – next time I need to go for greater tonal contrast at this point.

Exercise 3 A limited palette study

Every day I pass the local football stadium in my car early in the morning and on my return from work – I had noted this as an interesting subject. Located in the same street as the abandoned petrol station it has alonside it around 5 very large publicity towers and there a more further up the street – something I that to me seems an invasion on the landscape – a bit like my early protest of the electricity pylons in a field. There is another interest for me in the drawing – on the bottom right – in the traffic light junction. An attraction possibly due to travelling a lot and having had a great deal of changes in my life – crossroads and paths taken (or chosen for me) – like a motif.

The limited palette study was drawn using a mixed media of charcoal and pastel on a heavy mixed media A2 sized paper prepared with a backgound of blue/ochre gouache.

I have started to use my sketchbook more and during the week had taken some photos of the stadium from my car. I made fast sketches of these photos using a 9B pencil whilst thinking of the John Virtue London paintings:

I then went out early in the morning and made two more sketches in my sketchbook – on pages previously prepared with newspaper collage:


DSC_0923 1

I decided to take these sketches further to use as the subject of my Limited Palette Study:


The drawing was completed using blue and ochre pastel with black charcoal, but because I had used a blue/ochre gouche background – I had to include the use of white pastel for highlights.

As a study to create depth using a limited palette – I had given myself too bigger a challenge and did not consider this enough in the choice of subject and the construction of the composition. There were some very complicated angles/curves and I did not consider the lines/angles of perspective as in earlier drawings.

It is possible to use a limited palette to create depth and in hindsight I could have toned down the LHS stadium stand – drawn in dark charcoal – perhaps this could have been a darker blue but without so much detail. Being early in the morning – there was no traffic and nobody in the street – giving the scene an abandoned feeling!

Exercise 4 Statues

During my trip to Bogota, Colombia I was able to sketch some statues – one was the main subject of a quick pen and watercolour sketch I made of Parque Santander:

DSC_0931 I then found a lovely garden square in front of some old buildings – just off of Plaza Bolivar – a statue of Rufino Jose Cuervo. I made two pen and watercolour sketches from different angles:



Part 3 Expanse

Project 2 Landscape

Exercise 1 Cloud formations and tone

Early morning clouds, Santiago CHILE

After watching the videos and studying the work of Vija Celmins, I was intrigued by the way with certain of her works they were executed over a long period of time. The piece of work would evolve and grow over time, and the artist’s mind and thought process might also change over the same period. A process similar to oil painting which also evolves over a relatively long period of time – waiting for paint to dry etc. Whilst the paintings appear still they have a sense of depth and also one of infinity – time that does not stop. Stars appear and disappear, they grow brighter/duller, they move very fast but appear slow – there is so much to capture in just a simple (or seemingly so) subject matter. The universe is constantly moving like her waves another subject with a surface that defies capture, defies taming and suprises nature itself with its power that has a range from tranquillity to a force so destructive it can change our maps forever.

Clouds are constantly moving, forming, dissolving into space – they have a smell and form a damp humid atmostphere – for instance walking or driving on a mountain road in cloud you can experience the sense of capturing or living in the cloud.

This exercise was both frustrating and in a way thrilling – a chance to experiment and to really see if one understands the use of tone or line to represent a three dimensional object even as fleeting as a cloud!

Small sketchbook studies using line…


Cloud mark-making using a twig with indian ink/water…


Experimenting with mixed media/brush using tone…

These studies using a brush were quick but frustratingly unsuccessful.

Thinking about a bigger study and using John Virtue’s London paintings as a guide, I made a cloud study experimenting with a different support…gessoed brown wrapping paper which I had to stretch as it got wetter. This paper is extremely delicate when wet! I then made the cloud study using compressed charcoal:

Evening cloud study. Compressed charcoal on gessoed brown paper (100 x 80 cm)

In this drawing I have captured movement, perspective and form whilst achieving a full tonal range (although this was a little dampened by the application of fixative after taking this photo).

The support is fragile and brittle – and I am now frightened of removing it from the board – it cannot be rolled up and will have to be mounted on card.

Exercise 2 Sketchbook Walk

This for me was a actually a bike ride not a walk. I used a small sketchbook and a fineline biro.


This Polo Club is source of inspiration for me and I look forward to seeing/sketching the horses/riders in action soon. I sketched reasonably quickly trying to incorporate as much detail as possible but trying to create an atmosphere as well – the club house is a restaurant and is actually dwarfed by the mountains and polo fields – although this is not captured in my sketch.


The horse paddocks with mountains in the background has great potential with horses in the foreground, stable blocks and trees in the middleground with mountains and clouds in the background.


I was actually going to make a completely different sketch at this spot but liked the dead tree trunk to use as a frame for the fields, far off buildings and mountains.


I have ridden past this spot many times and was interested in the wooden fruit tree supports that have been left to rot in this abandoned field. The pattern of the supports is repeated in the very large imposing pylons that cross the field. Not sure what the yellow plant is that has invaded this field – perhaps rape seed – it will not be there for long as the hot summer sun will destroy it until next year. This has a potential to develop further and with an architectural feel to the pylons is an opportunity for me to explore the style and methods of Julie Mehretu? Perhaps on Mylar if I can get some.

In the meantime I took lots of photos of the field from many angles and made a watercolour sketch (on a very overcast cold day):


Exercise 3 360deg studies

It was difficult to find time to go out and draw in an expansive landscape but finally I found a location about 30 mins away looking towards the Andes mountains.

It was also difficult to find a safe location to park the car and set up my easel/gear to draw uninterrupted. The day was sunny, hot and cloudless but gave a clear view of the mountains and surrounding countryside.

My drawings were made in my new landscape size 6″ x 12″ 130lb sketchbook in pencil and ink markers:

Looking east towards the mountains
Looking south
Looking west
Looking north

Some of my direction notes on the drawings were actually incorrect.

The first two sketches captured large chunks of the landscape and the last two homed in on smaller areas. It was as anticipated difficult to capture everything and editing/simplifying was essential, especially in 15 min sketches.

Research Point

Upon researching historic and contemporary artists who work in series with the landscape, I was deeply impressed with the work of John Virtue who I wish to go back to in the next section on Townscapes/Cityscapes. The scale of his works and the way he works up quick small sketches into large scale works is an inspiration.  My recent work in indian ink is showing more confidence and I feel ready to go bolder – ever darker with a greater range of tonal contrast. Nicholas Herbert’s work on the Chiltern Hills is too poetic for me although I appreciated his influences from Turners work. Hockney is a favorite and I may use his influence to build an image of my road in the townscape section of this part of the course. In particular his road pictures where he makes a picture about his journeys: Mullholland Drive: The road to the studio, 1980  and The road to Malibu, 1988.

I have been researching the work of Julie Mehetru – an artist that, whilst she is not a landscape artist, she has used architectural drawings and urban spaces in her works on both modest and gigantic scales! Whilst I cannot move to her scale at present, I want to explore working on Mylar and creating similar spaces to her works such as the Untitled. 2000 works found in Drawing Now. Eight Propositions by Laura Hoptmann, 2002 – where she uses coloured pencil, ink and cut paper on Mylar. This will be a challenge for me also because it may mean more controlled use of line and a methodic form of working – well outside of my comfort zone and I could go to A2 maybe. In particular I want to explore her use of what she calls the 3rd space – a space outside of the picture plane swirling, deconstructing and exploding – a space that is also truly three dimensional.