Reflections on Exercise 1

On paper this seemed like a relatively straight forward exercise and it was one that I thought I would do fairly quickly.  In reality I ended up spreading it out over a few days and really tried to give myself chance to get into the appropriate emotion before carrying on.

I decided to use the same set of 4 materials so that I would have a direct comparison at the end with the emotion being the only altered variable throughout.  The materials were: a charcoal pencil, acrylic craft paint with a skewer, soft pastel, watercolour pencils.  Out of these materials the paint is the one I am the most familiar with, although I have never applied it with a skewer before.  I have used the watercolour pencils before but as a colour medium rather than just a drawing one.  I have also used the soft pastels before, but again never in monochrome.

Overall I am pleased with the final 4 A1 sheets and can see a distinct difference in the type of strokes and movements used.  They aren’t finished pieces of work by any means but they are the starts of learning to use more expressive marks.

I actually learned a great deal from this activity, more than I expected to.  I learned a lot about my own emotions and how easy and difficult it is for me to express certain emotions.  Also, due to my research I took the time to learn some basics about abstract expression and how other artists have created expressive marks to show emotion in their work.  As for the materials themselves, I learned how applying different amounts of pressure can change the look of pastel and charcoal significantly.  Another interesting concept in the acrylic paint rectangle was the volume of paint used and how leaving different amounts of negative space alter the end result.  However, my most important learning point was about the creative process itself.  I hadn’t realised before but when I have created in the past I have always had quite a fixed end result in mind, this process was a new way of working for me as I really had to let go of the end product and just focus on the process and where it lead me.  I had no idea what the final results were going to be in any of the cases.

Emotion and the impact on pieces of work is something I want to explore further and if I were to repeat this I would combine the different materials and focus just on the emotion rather than the choice of material too.  I did feel restricted only using one colour each time and I would like to explore the importance of colour on emotion too.

I’m not sure I have yet put theory into practice, I feel my research is limited so far and I haven’t really incorporated that into my work yet.  I would like to research more in this area and then apply the techniques to my own work.

This has definitely led me to understand the creative process more and I will use this technique in the future to let the process decided the end result for me.  This is somewhat different to me but I did feel I connected with the piece more and it had more of my own personality in there.  This leads me to have some worries as I think this has shown me how I respond to sadness more naturally than joy and I hope this is something for my own personal state of mind that can perhaps change in the future.

Exercise 1 – Experimenting with expressive lines and marks – SADNESS

Words: despair, lifeless, death, unwanted, slipping away, sneaking up, pulling you in, out of control
The last choice of emotion was our own free choice.  I decided to to ‘sadness’ as a complete contrast to joy.  I actually found this one easier to do than my joy one.
Again, I stuck with the same four media and the same order of application.
Top Left:  I started off with a single line across the middle of the rectangle then started drawing some lines close to the original but others moving much far away and getting lighter and more sparse.  Almost like the sense of life moving away from you and slipping away over the horizon.  To me this is what sadness can feel like sometimes, like you are a spectator in life not a participant and you have no control over what direction life is going in.
Top Right:  A similar theme is continued with the idea of life dropping out of existence like you can’t hold on to it anymore.  The fluid paint was ideal for this as it was easier to get this running away and dripping effect.
Bottom Left: A slightly different idea came to me and I wanted to try and portray this idea of darkness dragging you in, like a black hole that sometimes no matter how hard you try you can’t escape its effects.  Being sucked in to dark thoughts and again feeling like you can’t control them.
Bottom Right: This one was a natural line that evolved into something as I thought more about how sadness can feel.  It can sneak up on you like a small stream of thoughts to begin with but as those thoughts build to a huge raving river that drowns you in them.  I also decided to leave the blackness very uneven and not a solid colour as sadness is not one solid emotion, you do have times where it is slightly darker and times of lightness interspersed.

Exercise 1 – Experimenting with expressive lines and marks – JOY

Words: confusion, difficult, playful, erratic, fear
This was actually incredibly difficult for me to do as you can probably tell by the list of associated words.  It has made me realise that I don’t do ‘joy’ well at all.  The main issue is with my mental health condition; I have bipolar disorder and often extreme joy has meant being in a manic phase and so has lead to me getting into trouble.  I think this has now led me to almost fear experiencing joy and not really knowing how to express normal joy.
Top Left: this erratic nature of my joy is show as a mixture of wavy calm lines and sharp spiky ones.  As this was my first image on the page I think it’s clear I didn’t know what direction I was going in and had no idea what I was going to end up with.
Top Right: as this was with paint I found it a little easier as painting is something that does bring me calm joy.  Painting is something I started doing in order to help with my condition and so I do associate it with well-being and ‘good joy’.  I had a great deal of fun with the skewer and paint splatters.
Bottom Left:  The erratic feelings return but this time with slightly more meaning.  I used the pastel and let it flow, again there is a mixture of marks: waves and spikes but I feel this one is more reflective of how I was feeling.
Bottom Right: again I started with no real aim, I was thinking of things that do bring me joy.  My daughter is a big one and as her name is also the name of a flower I think that’s what lead me to draw an almost floral shape.
This feeling of being unsure of emotions and artists with mental health conditions is one that I do want to research further.


Research – Abstract Expressionism

Working on the emotive marks exercises lead me to research how artists had used similar emotions in their works.  After conducting google searches and browsing through various articles I was lead to research abstract expressionism more.

Abstract expressionism was characterised by being expressive art of profound emotion and was around in the 1930s, 40s and 50s although the term was first used in 1919 by the German magazine ‘Der Strum’ to describe the non-representational abstract works of the German Expressionists.  In the 1940s the term was mainly applied to a group of artists working in New York and was part of the movement that led New York to become a leader in the world of art.

What particularly interests me about the movement is the link between the psychoanalytic ideas of Freud and Jung and the artists’ work.  Throughout the movement are strong links between the mind and art and as someone who has a mental health condition this is something I want to build upon in my own work as I progress through this course.

Key artists from this movement include: Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline and Hans Hofmann.

Artists like Willem de Kooning are interesting as his style emphasises the expression of the brush strokes themselves:


In Woman 1 (1950-52, oil on canvas, 193 cm x 147 cm, MOMA New York) this expressive brush stroke is emphasised clearly with strong, angry almost violent brush strokes evident.  There is a sense of urgency in the strokes and you get an image of him standing at the easel applying the paint in an angry rushed manner.  He was described as an ‘action’ painter and according to source she sought to undercover fundamental truths that resided in the unconscious mind.

The other style that countered action painting was ‘colour field painting’ and was typified by Mark Rothko.  The aim to fully immerse the viewer in a saturated field of colour.  This style also appeals greatly to me as I have always found great satisfaction in experimenting with colour and how it can produce emotions within people.  As a scientist, I find colour theory and production fascinating and through art I equally find it fascinating.

Mark Rothko’s Untitled (Black on Grey) (1970, acrylic on canvas, 203 cm x 176 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC) fascinates me, again from a mental health perspective as well as an artistic one.


Rothko was a master of abandoning all recognisable imagery and focusing just on the use of colour as the only expressive media.  When you see Black on Grey you immediately think of dark thoughts, depression, bleak landscapes.  To me it reminds me of an alien environment with no hope for life surviving.  Having had severe depressive episodes myself I can empathise with this bleakness and hopelessness this painting expresses.

Both the use of colour and the use of expressive brush strokes are areas I want to explore further in my own work.

Sources of Information:

Book – ‘Art The Whole Story’ Edited by Stephen Farthing, 2010

Exercise 1 – Experimenting with expressive lines and marks – ANGER

Words: anger, destruction, out of control, frustration, giving up, violence, mistakes, let down, helplessness, internal

I’m not one for expressing my anger visibly, I tend to go off and sulk with people and sink into myself.  Therefore I found this exercise surprisingly therapeutic, it was good to let some internal anger out in an expressive way.

I stuck with the same materials and order as the first emotion: top left charcoal pencil, top right paint and skewer, bottom left – pastel, bottom right – watercolour pencils.

Top left – I held the pencil with a very tight grip in a clenched fist hold and made strong fast marks that naturally ended up with a spiky look.  As I was pressing so hard and moving so fast with the pencil on some of the return strokes the pencil skipped over the paper and left a trail of dots instead of a full line.

Top Right – I started with a similar style of mark marking, lots of paint on the skewer and quite exaggerated spikes, I then flicked some paint with the skewer and ended up tipping a mass of paint on the paper and spread it around in angry strokes with the skewer.  This is quite reflective of the way I tend to react when I’m angry with myself.  I go into self-destruct mode and end up being quite destructive in general.

Bottom left – this idea of self destruct is continued with me smudging the marks I had left.

Bottom right – a single hard pressed pencil mark.  Again this is how I react when I’m angry with myself, I self destruct to the point of giving up.

I didn’t expect this activity to be so self-reflective.  It has made me think a great deal with the way I deal with anger and that anger is usually focused on being angry with myself for my choices and actions.

Exercise 1 – Experimenting with expressive lines and marks: CALM

The finished piece for the emotion calm.

Words: clouds, meditation, flowing, imperfect, wavy, fluffy, music, tea, lavender, not trying so hard, no worries, hakuna matata, gentle, slow

For me calm is when I’m relaxed, have soothing low lights, have time to do things and can meditate.  I get images of softness, clouds, free flowing lines and thoughts, not dwelling on anything, not worrying about things being perfect.  There is a lot of free movement in my drawings, not having an end goal in mind but taking time to slowly and lightly make marks without worrying what they are going to make in the end.

The top left is done with a medium charcoal pencil, I applied very light pressure in an almost massaging way.  I naturally made swirly cloud type shapes that were drew very slowly without any real intent.  My mind almost closing down to thoughts.  I experimented a little with how light I could make the lines but couldn’t stop myself joining the end line to the starting one.

The top right is with a wooden skewer and thin fluid body acrylic craft paint.  Again the movements were slow and dragging, with gentle rolling of the skewer across the paper.  Some areas naturally picked up more paint than others.

The bottom left was using black pastel.  I used the long edge of the pastel rather than the tip, again repeating the same slow wavy movement to create a soft sponge like texture.

The bottom right was with watercolour pencils – a soft grey and a black.  I repeated a similar movement to the first rectangle but this time felt like shading in some of the shapes. Almost like spotting shapes in clouds and making pictures as you lie back on a summer day.  It became almost meditative the art of colouring and finding the shapes, again with no real intent or need to stay in the lines.  It reminded me of the walk the line drawings I would do as a child but this was more relaxed.

Having a calm mind isn’t something I find that easy to do.  In order to get to this state I had a nice cup of tea, turned the lights down low, put on some relaxing music and spent a few minutes just focusing on my breathing before starting.  As I got into the work I found myself relax more and I think this is shown in the finished results, I feel rectangle 4 is more relaxed and calming than the first one.