Assignment One feedback

I recently submitted Assignment one and have received my feedback (assignment-one-feedback).

On the whole I am very pleased as there are a lot of positives in there.  I guess starting something new and submitting my first piece of work had some anxiety in there as I was actually quite nervous to open the document.  Anyway, the nerves were for nothing as there is some detailed comments that are very helpful for moving forwards.  For my own benefit I have split the comments into sections so I can use them moving forwards:


  • I am gaining confidence with my own voice both visually and contextually.
  • I am engaged with the course.
  • I am working well in terms of evaluation and reflections.
  • The submission was solid and personally challenged throughout.
  • Some elements of risk
  • Interesting outcomes in emotive marks
  • Evaluated and critically analysed well
  • Good range of studies on texture
  • Captured 3D qualities well
  • First page of sketchbook was an excellent start
  • Texture encapsulated very well
  • Reflections in learning log support studies well
  • Able to zoom in and look at what I have in front of me
  • Good annotations in sketchbook
  • Basic shape drawing is good
  • Experimented with a few different media
  • Critique own work well in learning log
  • Show an understanding of positive and negative space
  • Connect to objects on a personal level
  • Final piece shows interest in textural qualities
  • Colour pallette works well when referencing calm
  • Good attempt at first large drawing
  • Good understanding of dark and light tones
  • 60 second drawing captures the mood of still life well
  • good sound reflection around the work of Odilon Redon from a general and personal perspective
  • very confident larger scale drawing that fills the page
  • used the putty rubber well
  • managed to make an interesting and complex composition for final piece
  • written very carefully around choice of objects as well as the placement of hidden items. This is very interesting and something that perhaps you could hold on to when moving further into more personal work.
  • final drawing does manage to lead the eye around the final drawing with ease
  • some lovely moments in there such as the light hitting the glass jar containing your paint brushes
  • crab is an unexpected yet charming addition as it is not easy to read whether it is real or man made
  • written a good solid reflective account of Part 1
  • research is explorative and informed
  • Your log is being used well and you are clearly recording and documenting your learning through this tool
  • learning log is organised and easy to follow.

Action points:

  • Take more risks
  • Make more use of my sketchbook for development
  • More sustained preliminary work before assignment piece
  • Develop ideas at length before doing large pieces
  • Look at exhibitions that challenge me
  • Really look closely at techniques and media in exhibitions.
  • Check video upload
  • Look closely at artwork in the flesh
  • Further evaluation of frottage exercise
  • Consider looking at abstract nature of frottage page as a whole
  • Do small studies on objects before incorporating them into big piece
  • Show development from initial idea
  • Further practice in drawing ellipses
  • Keep up writing lengthy reflections
  • Work on more emphasis of midtones
  • Take care on details – only draw what is interesting
  • Consider varying compositions by drawing small thumbnail sketches
  • Varying the weight of line, working with broken lines to widen experimentation.
  • take the time to measure the depth of ellipses
  • Work on dark backgrounds to show objects that are black an white
  • make decisions visually through drawing taking the time to draw several small scale versions in your sketchbook before deciding on the final and most interesting composition for you
  • further study of mid tones would allow you the opportunity to really decide where the light hits and where it recedes as aspects of light areas held within this still life are a little confused at times
  • Squint and decipher or take a photograph to help you understand where the light falls. Don’t work from the photograph
  • label the pages of your sketchbook against the exercises
  • written a good solid reflective account of Part 1
  • collect things of interest, postcards or images from exhibitions and so on in sketchbook too
  • Extend your learning links beyond Wikipedia –  use required reading books
  • See at least one exhibition that takes you out of your comfort zone within your next assignment
  • evidence in a little more detail the wider reading
  •  cite as many exhibition visits to your work in detail.
  • Purchase a copy of Vitamin D2 to help you with your understanding of more contemporary artists.

Artists to Look at:

  • Richard Long
  • Robert Smithson
  • Andy Goldsworthy
  • Jeanne Claude
  • Christo
  • Ai Weiwei
  • Van Gogh – landscape drawings and marks
  • Rembrandt, Matisse, Renoir, Charles Avery and Reny Lalique for variations in mark making


Assignment One – reflections and self assessment

For assignment one we were asked to find and draw a selection of objects in a still life arrangement.  The objects were to be ones that aroused some kind of feeling inside us and we were asked to pin up some of our previous work on making expressive marks around us whilst we worked.  I chose a selection of objects around the theme of ‘happiness’ as can be described here in my previous post.  Before drawing the objects, I played around with some angles and arrangements to try and get a composition with some interesting tones, shadows, shapes and reflections.  I used my smartphone camera to take some photos of the different arrangements and in the end worked from a combination of viewing the real objects in front of me and using the camera image too.  I worked with a selection of charcoal sticks, charcoal pencil and a small amount of white classroom chalk.

Overall I am pleased with the final drawing.  I feel like it has captured the right degree of happiness but with quite a dark gloomy atmosphere.  I wanted to try and get this dichotomy of feelings to highlight that my happiness always comes with a hint of anxiety due to my bipolar disorder, this is something I picked up on in the exercise looking at emotion.  I also like the story the picture tells, the fact that all these objects that say happiness to me are propped up and surrounded by psychiatric medication, medication that is usually hidden from view.

I learned a lot from the exercises leading up to this and the final drawing.  Prior to this course I had never worked with charcoal before and it is quickly becoming one of my favourite drawing mediums.  I like the fluidity and looseness it gives me, I always feel a little tight and unsteady using pencil.  I have actually extended my range of charcoals now so that I have a mixture of pencils and loose sticks.  I also learned a lot from my research into still life and how to set up compositions using the rule of thirds, creating interesting shapes and how to select objects, this was from reading books about Picasso  that made me think about how we select what we draw and paint to more technical books about drawing itself.  On a more technical note I have learned how to observe more carefully and from practising some of the techniques in the required reading book ‘Drawing…’ I have improved my drawing skills.

If I were to rework this assignment piece I would change the lighting setting slightly to give the crab more emphasis, when in light he creates some wonderful reflections which aren’t picked up in this drawing as he was too shaded.  I would also experiment more with different media and try doing the same composition in paint or ink.  Also, I would like to try this same set up in colour as I feel different colour hues would add to this drawing.

I feel like I have achieved so much already in this course.  I started off quite a novice at drawing, with my experience limited to quick sketches for my paintings.  I now appreciate drawing as an art form itself and have done some reading around this.  I have experienced new media: charcoal, graphite sticks, pastels and have worked on a new large scale of A1.  I have also done reading around historical artists and their drawings, subscribed to Art Monthly and watched TV documentaries on Artists and their art.  I feel also with the help of the online guide that my reflective practice has improved.

In order to draw this still life I put into practice some of the drawing techniques from the books I read and considered the advice from the TV documentary.  I have also used the course book and tried to show expression and create atmosphere in my drawings.  I think I achieved this darker atmosphere that I was looking for in my drawing.

I plan on revisiting this theme of dark happiness but in a different medium, I want to recreate it but add some acrylic colour in there as as an experiment.  It has also given me a list of things I want to work on as the course progresses: I still need to experiment with media more, I want to continue working on my 3D shapes and textures.  I can do this by looking at more examples, perhaps by fellow students and by doing more research into drawing techniques.

Overall though this assignment has left me feeling excited for how my future studies will go.  I already feel like I have improved but I know there is a long way to go.  I know a lot more art theory than I did a few weeks ago and I am daily drawing now which is going to lead to even more technical improvements.

Self Assessment against learning outcomes:

On successful completion of the course, you’ll be able to:

• demonstrate drawing skills using a wide range of drawing media

I feel like I am improving in this area.  I have used pencil, pen, paint, charcoal pencils, watercolour pencils, ink, charcoal sticks, chalk and soft pastels.  I feel like I am now more comfortable in charcoal and this is currently my favoured drawing media but I feel like my pencil and pen shading needs a lot more work.

use drawing, tone and colour to represent three dimensions

Again I feel like I am improving in this area, my 3D shapes have improved as seen in my final assignment piece and I am comfortable with charcoal tone but feel like my hatching needs a lot more work.  Colour not yet covered in this course but I use colour a lot in my painting.

explain the rudiments of linear perspective and other drawing systems

Not really covered yet in this course but I have experimented with perspective in my paintings and sketches.

reflect perceptively upon your own learning experience.

I feel like this is a strength of mine due my experience in teaching others.  I am getting good at looking at my work with critical eyes and making notes on what I need to improve on.  Using the template in the higher education guide has been a huge help in this area.



Research and ideas – Still Life and Happiness

As my theme for my still life is happiness, I decided to do some research to see how other artists have used this theme.

The majority of the paintings and drawings around this theme are bright and colourful and contain items like flowers.  This, on sale aat is a prime example.  Another example is a slightly different example where the artist Helen Bradley uses a vegetable to portray the transient feeling of happiness.

Although I can admire the qualities of these paintings, as I have explained in previous logs my idea of happiness is a little extraordinary.  I want to incorporate objects that make me happy or remind me of happy times but I also want a darker element to my composition.

Assignment one


In this assignment we were asked to find a few objects that trigger a response and place them together to form a still life.  We then had to set them up in a space that created interesting shapes and angles and to light them in a way that they make tones obvious.  At the same time we were to place the experimental mark making sheets we made for exploring texture and gesture near by.   We had to work on A2 or A3 and use a range of drawing tools to create our still life.

Before I started out on this assignment I conducted a lot of research into still life and drawing techniques.  I watched an excellent TV documentary on the history of still life and it’s place today.  From this I picked up a lot of tips and it made me think a lot about the choice of my objects.  One of the most useful tips I got was about composition and so I played around with a lot of objects to create shadows and interesting negative spaces.  I also tried to keep in mind the ‘rule of thirds’ and using the grid on my camera I placed objects at the thirds intersections to try and create some interest.

My choice of objects look perhaps a little odd to begin with but they are all linked with the theme of happiness.  There is:

  • A small sculpture of a mother holding a baby that I was given as a gift when my daughter was born.  This reminds me of the happiest day of my life when my daughter was born and aesthetically I have always enjoyed looking at the soft smooth curves on the piece.
  • A blue crab ornament.  This was given to me by my partner’s Mom the first time I visited them in Virginia so it reminds me of him and his family and also a great vacation in the USA.
  • 3 books (although one is deep in the shadows so not clearly seen).  There is a New York City guidebook as it reminds me of where I first met my partner.  The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien as it is my favourite book and one of the few I can reread time over and an old book called ‘The Company’ which was one of the first gifts my partner gave me.
  • A metal incense holder as one of my coping mechanisms for my bipolar disorder is meditation.  I also like the shape of this particular holder and it gives some interesting reflections.
  • A glass jar of paintbrushes as discovering painting and art has been a major source of therapy for me.
  • As a background is a suede photo album of pictures from University that bring back happy memories, I also thought a dark textured background could be interesting.
  • Scattered throughout the piece are boxes, packets and pills.  These are because I have to take a lot of psychiatric medication each day in order to have some happiness.

Going back to the composition for a moment.  I tried to view from lots of different angles to get the set up I wanted.  The composition I chose in the end was to have the light shining very brightly, with additional lighting from above, at the sculpture and having it sitting on a very white box of medication.  This makes it look as if the box almost isn’t there to symbolise that I don’t like people knowing I am a parent who needs psychiatric drugs and I tend to keep the medication hidden from others but I know I need it to ‘hold up’ my parenting role.  Similarly the other packets and containers of drugs are hidden in shadows and behind other objects, like they are always there lurking in my life but I try to keep them hidden from view.  The very front packet is creeping out into the light just like sometimes I can’t always keep my symptoms hidden from others.  I wanted the main focal point to be around the more ‘normal’ happier objects like the ornament and the sculpture but I feel perhaps like I have highlighted the box of medication too much.


TV Documentary : Apples, Pears and Paint: How to make a Still Life Painting.

As I know Assignment 1 is on the general theme of still life, I was intrigued by a BBC documentary on iPlayer entitled ‘Apples, Pears and Paint: How to make a Still Life Painting.  The 90-minute show is both a history of still life in art and full of characteristics of the different still life techniques.  I can honestly say I learned A LOT from this very informative show and recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about Still Life in art through different movements.

What I did find thought-provoking throughout the documentary was the ideas behind what still-life represents.  It is something I will consider more as I prepare for assignment 1.  The show made the point that we’re bombarded with images but the story of still life isn’t about looking, its about seeing.  Still life asks us to stop and consider the world anew and to take pleasure in the simple things, to understand the beauty of nature whist at the same time valuing the material world.  Almost everything has aesthetic qualities and to appreciate the moment and ordinary things, still life can help.  It isn’t about painting the most valuable or significant objects with obvious signs of importance.  It asks us to consider things we normally neglect.

The TV show defines a still life has having four main elements: the objects, their place in space, lighting, framing and how composition works.  These are things I will definitely experiment with when I compose my own still life in the coming weeks.

The next part of the show was an interesting history of famous still life pieces of art. It considers the importance of Still Life through the movements, how it has been relegated many times but then rose again to play the key role in revolutionary movements.  Like a lot of art it has always been intertwined with religion, politics and wealth.


By Caravaggio – Own work, user:Lafit86, Public Domain,


‘Basket of fruit by Caravaggio (1596)’ which was painted with realism and detail is historically the first known painting of basket of fruit, people had never seen a painting like it and it is considered the first major still life.  It opened a new chapter in art history but is  Caravaggio’s only still life.  In the painting you can see he was full of doubt, all the fruit are imperfect and damaged like the worm eaten apples which are said to represent Eve’s apple that condemned man.  It also contains religious vine leaves to represent Christ as vines make wine that is his blood, so it thought to be a painting about death and hope for eternal life with huge doubt.  Even the vines are withering to show salvation isn’t certain and in fact the whole basket on ledge as if about to fall.

However, Caravaggio was not the first to paint still life.  He actually resurrected a popular ancient discipline. In ancient Egypt there were paintings with elements of still life, in   Ancient Greece too.  However, the finest example of ancient world still life was discovered in Pompeii (Xenia art) where 2000 year old Roman still life frescoes were found. They were to represent gifts between hosts, trade in goods and ideas, diplomat visits and in general to advertise to the wider word how cosmopolitan Roman life was and what hospitality to expect.  The paintings were of domestic humble things, range of textures, natural and man-made, overhang the edge of the table, they helped to define the rules of composition and direction of light in paintings.  Still in the majority of gallery paintings, light comes from the left hand side, it is thought it is maybe to do with literacy in the West which also from left to right.

From popularity in Roman Xenia art, Still life fell to be destined to be considered the lowest form of art.  Pliny the Elder who wrote a Natural History, considered the first encyclopedia wrote a whole paragraph on still life.  He described it as ‘simple and base things’  and the painter of low and mealy things, it was considered a base form of art.  Pliny’s work set the tone for future centuries that still life was to be seen as vulgar and low status and it disappeared with the Roman empire until Caravaggio resurrected it.

In the medieval age there was no place for ordinary objects due to the rise of Christianity in art.  The church had no place for secular ordinary objects and as still life did not contribute to Christian society it had no place.  All objects were symbols, e.g. apples to represent Adam and Eve, you wouldn’t see just an apple, you’d see apple, tree, Adam, Eve and serpents.

The introduction of oil as a binder during the renaissance allowed more realistic objects to be painted as previously artists were limited to the flat dull tempera.  In the 15th Century the Church still commissioned most artworks but gradually painters started pushing Jesus to the background of scenes and more prominence on every day objects was seen with many more elements of still life.  Caravaggio was the first to replace all religious symbols and just painted the basket of fruit.

Basket of Fruit has been in the same Milan gallery since 1607.  Its founder Cardinal Federico Borromeo began commissioning other still life works of art as he enjoyed the style of painting so much.  He collected work from people like Flemish painter Jan Breugel’s ‘Bouquet’.


Artists from Northern Europe would then start visiting Milan as part of their training and returned influenced by the Still Life paintings they saw as a result, Holland provided the golden age of still life.  The market for still life exploded in Amsterdam around 1600 and then spread around Europe especially during protestant reformation where extravagant Catholic art was torn down.  Holland became free from Monarchy and the Catholic Church and so embraced secular still life.  Holland also became richest country on Earth in 17th Century and you see worldwide objects in the still life, exotic fruit, Chinese ceramics, luxury goods, symbols of wealth that decorated homes.


‘Still Life with Cheese, Floris Claesz. van Dijck, c. 1615’


The demand for still life became so high, artists would invent new compositions using old drawings to satisfy the amount of customers, so the paintings were not necessarily from observation.  This can be seen in paintings where flowers that couldn’t be in the same season are together in one painting.  Banquet pieces of art also appeared which were uninhibited displays of possession and wealth, objects like lobsters, cut tulips (which were very very expensive at that time).  However symbols also appeared things were painted having been pushed over to show wreckage as consumption, the principle of corruption of wealth.  Although Holland was embracing the secular there were  residual religious sentiments, Calvinists shouldn’t be celebrating wealth and so reminders of mortality show up to satisfy the protestants.  Symbols of death appear like skulls vanitas paintings were common to show the futility of accumulating material possessions.  Militia symbols were also commonplace to show the effects of war, musical items again were symbolic,  as soon as you stopped playing music at that time it was dead as recording was unavailable.  The general theme being to celebrate riches but also with an undertone of meaning that it will all fade one day.

‘Still life with a gilt cup’  – the cloth could be pulled out from wealth at any moment.


Spanish painters also took up still life e.g Cotan’s bodegone art which were austere larder pieces of art.  Food was displayed within a concrete block and suspended on string but painted in a very realist style, it got back to this idea of looking at simple things (Cotan lived a monastic life) but in an unworldly way.


As the centre of the art movement moved to the French academy in the Louvre, the hierarchy changed again as they viewed human figure art as the most important, the placed still life bottom of the heap again.  It wasn’t until Chardin that it beganto be taken seriously again.

‘The buffet’ Jean-Baptistse Chardin 1728


Chardin was the first to have some objects in focus and others not and so introduced a slightly new style of still life. In the French Academy, still life was one of the few disciplines women were allowed to do.  Women could not acquire figurine painting skills as they weren’t allowed to view naked men but they could look at baskets of fruit.  Anne Vallayer Coster in fact was one of few women to be accepted into the academy based on her still life works.


In modern art it was Paul Cezanne with his rushed, imprecise distorted style (the antithesis of realism that had dominated for centuries) that showed still life in a new way.  Cezanne  emphasised painting is about how we see things and what we see is not fixed, you can see this in things like the double outline of apples in how work.


He painted very simple objects were the form and reflection was his  main interest and he concentrated on how scene was perceived, abandoning the fiction that painting is reality.  The rules of painting could be bent allowing reworking of the visible world and impressionistic painters like.  Renoir, Monet and Gaugin followed.

As photography skills developed, artists started to move away from the photographic look and concentrated on what painting could do that photography couldn’t.  Art can add emotion and no longer had to look real,  photographs couldn’t capture texture or create 3D texture like paint could.  This became the foundations for cubism through the likes of Picasso.

Green Still life – Picasso 1914


Cubism allowed exploration from different viewpoints at once a sort of spatial chaos and still life became illegible and experimental.  Instead of reality and photographic quality paintings, perception has become the central idea that everyone sees things differently.

What I find particularly interesting is the role of still life today.  Like I mentioned at the start, the TV show highlighted that we’re currently inundated on a day to day basis by images and material possessions.  Still life is one of the most common features in modern day advertising, we see it in bus stops, on the side of buses, as photos in magazines.  However, do we appreciate the objects that it depicts?  We bring so much new stuff into our homes we don’t often stop to explore the relationship we have with those objects.

Life certainly isn’t still anymore but what still life does is make you stop and look closely, observe closely, not something we do anymore commonly, we seem to like change and newness has prestige. We buy new stuff but don’t study it.  Perhaps when I do compose my own still life for assignment one this is something I will focus on.



Apples, Pears and Paint: How to make a Still Life Painting 2014, television program, British Broadcasting Corporation, London , Watched online 21 November.