A view from a window or doorway

A view from a window or doorway


I looked at the work of a few artists to see some of the ways in which they have tackled compositions that explore views from the window or doorway and how thy have created links between the exterior and interior.

I was drawn to the work of Edward Hopper since he figured in one of my previous assignments that focused on interiors.


Morning Sun

Hopper has an innate ability to demonstrate the juxtaposition between the outside world and the places we live in. Take Morning Sun for example, the lone figure of a woman in her room looks out of her window at the sun over the city. The light is reflected on the wall and also on the bed. It is a lovely link to both worlds. The shadow is almost black in stark contrast to the light pouring in from the outside world.


Word and Silence

This painting links the inside world to the outside by the use of lighting and the composition of the lone woman staring into her tea-cup in the station cafe. Hopper once said that…”If you can say it in words there would be no reason to paint”. I think this painting says it all. The observer sees the sadness on her face, she is alone at the station. She has no suitcase which suggests that she wasn’t going anywhere. She has her back to the train track suggesting that she is not looking for anyone. Her sad expression might suggest that she has been stood up.

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In the paintings I found by Gwen John it seemed that she painted people indoors in natural situations…sewing, getting dressed, sitting in a room. She painted more of the indoors than out. The story she was painting was situated indoors and the outside was by way of creating depth and perspective.

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Raoul Dufy’s paintings show views from sunny Mediterranean interiors. The contrast colours blue and orange/red suggests the artist is showing the cool sanctuary of indoors away from the heat of the afternoon sun.

In this painting the warm colours indoors are in contrast to the cold colours outside. Again suggesting that indoors is a cosy retreat.

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I live in Scotland, beautiful scenery but very cold! My views from my window reflect a different picture altogether. My house is also small so it is very difficult to sit and draw (and given my eyesight it is hard to see).


I pushed the furniture to the side of my conservatory so I could see a little more. The notion that some artist draw or paint from more than one perspective is one that seems to dick in quite accidentally for me and I struggle to keep perspective. I didn’t get the image that I wanted to portray.


A view from the kitchen window gave me lots of lines to frame the picture. The angle was rather tricky because the window is quite high and I am vertically challenged. When I went close to the window I could see the garden furniture. One step away from the window and the furniture is out of sight. In fact the garden shed, fence and trees were all that I can see. After I completed this painting I wished I had taken a reference photograph and had included the sink and crockery.

So, I am not sure if I struggled with the perspective or just that I ended up on my tip-toes to actually paint but this was not my forte that’s for sure.


Next Steps

I think perspective would be a good start! I should have looked to my previous learning about perspective before starting this. Establishing my lines of perspective would have saved time in the long run. Often I found that I would look up from my work to see a different angle. Working from a photograph and establishing the vanishing point is the common sense approach to this composition. I think the only way to save such a painting would be to paint more expressively with thick paint, large brushes and bigger paper.



Research Point Evolution of Landscapes from the 18th Century


In order to make sense of movements in landscape painting since the 18th century it would be prudent to take a quick look at what actually constitutes a landscape.

For it to be considered a landscape the painting had to depict a landscape and show some sort of perspective or scale to indicate distance. Now, the term landscape would refer to the depiction of landscapes in art to include natural scenery such as mountains, rivers, trees and forests where the main subject would be a wide view of such elements. In some paintings, landscapes are used as backgrounds for figures but the landscape would be a significant part of the painting. Landscapes can be painted entirely from the imagination or from actual places. Paintings depicting actual places, including buildings is known as a topographical view. The earliest landscapes (with no human figures) were found in Greece dating back to 1500BC.


As I flicked through styles of landscape paintings throughout the centuries it became clear that this subject is huge, and to focus even on the evolution of landscapes since the 18th century could potentially take a very long time. So, I am going to narrow my search by looking at examples from that timeline, briefly discussing how different artists see and depict them in their particular style.



Staring from Rococo, which developed in the early 18th century in France. It was a pointed move away from the rigid, symmetrical grandeur of the Baroque style towards a more fluid and graceful approach. Some still call Rococo late Baroque even though the composition of Baroque consisted of poses that were regimented by the contrapposto (an Italian term that means counterpose) which amounted to the arrangement of figures on the horizontal plane.   Artists Jean Antoine Watteau, François Boucher, and Jean-Honore Fragonard painted idyllic countrified scenes with their models arranged in almost theatrical poses.

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Der Jäger des Nestes by Jean-Antoine Watteau

In a critical assessment of the work of Jean-Antoine Watteau it was said that rather than create the extravagant composition that was a feature of Rococo, Watteau’s paintings were marked with a note of sympathy, wistfulness, and sadness linked to the nature of love and relationships.


The Scale Of Love by Jean-Antoine Watteau



The interrupted sleep by François Boucher


François Boucher was influenced by Watteau and Peter Paul Ruben. His landscapes were considered to be synonymous of Rococo art in his portrayal of evocative characters often in erotic compositions.

Boucher was also a draftsman. Many of his sketches were preparatory studies for his paintings or for the printmakers. His sketches were sought after as pieces of art in there own right.


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Blind man’s buff by Jean-Honore Fragonard

Jean-Honore Fragonard was also an artist from the Rococo period.   After a prolonged tour of Italy he returned to Paris where he exhibited his landscape paintings. King Louis xv purchased two of his pieces and commissioned him to paint a pendant or campanion piece.



William Gilpin (1724 – 1804) created the concept of Picturesque. Picturesque landscape combines beauty with its emphasis on smoothness and regularity and sublime, which is about vastness and suggestions of power and greatness. Gilpin also maintained that a picturesque landscape should include texture.


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Broodmares and Colts in a Landscape by William Gilpin


Romantic Movement

The Romantic movement which began in the early to mid 18th century was in part a reaction to the Industrial revolution and was characterized by its emphasis on emotion, deep value of the past undisturbed by industry and a glorification of nature.


Caspar David Friedrich was a German Romantic landscape painter of the nineteenth-century. He is now considered the most important painter of the German Romantic Movement.

He was disillusioned by the over-materialistic society he lived in. This led him towards an appreciation of spiritualism which he expressed in his landscape. It was to all intents and purposes a mindful approach to landscape painting. This mindfulness is echoed in beautiful landscapes that appear so still and peaceful.



Riesengebrige by Casper David Friedrich

Friedrich’s English counterparts Joseph Mallord William Turner and John Constable’s work also embodied this spiritual approach to landscape.



The Hay Wain by John Constable

John Constable is best know for his paintings of the English countryside, particularly his landscaped around the River Stour where he lived. He visited many beautiful places in England including the Lake District and Hampstead Heath where he would sketch and paint small, meticulous paintings that he would later transfer onto larger canvases. Later in his career he experimented with different surfaces and optical effects as well as exploring the use of more vibrant colours. Many saw his work a precursor to Impressionism.



Popes Villa at Twickenham by Joseph Mallord William Turner

In Turner’s early work he concerned himself with the accurate depiction of place (topographical). He filled sketchbooks of pictures he would later finish in watercolours. In all Turner left 19000 watercolours, drawings and oil paintings to the British nation. He was commonly known as ‘the painter of light’. Turner was a devout Christian who used light to show God’s spirit in his work.



Landscape Art and Realism 

The Realist movement began in France in the 1850s. They rejected Romanticism and sought to portray real and typical contemporary people and situations with truth and accuracy. Realist’s works depicted people of all classes in situations everyday life situations, and often reflected the changes brought by the industrial revolution.


The Reaper with a sickle Camille Corot



Corot was born in Paris in 1796. He was expected to follow in his father’s footsteps as a draper but his love for painting and a helping hand from his wealthy parents pursue his love for painting. By the 1850’s Corot had become a much sought after landscape artist.

During warm summer days Corot sketched outdoors then painted landscapes informed by his sketches in his studio.

Corot was influenced by realistic BarbizonJean-François Millet, Théodore Rousseau and Charles-François Daubigny. Later Corot influenced many artists such as Charles Daubigny, Berth Morisot and Camille Pissaro.



Jean-Francois Millet – The Gleaners, 1857

Jean-Francois Millet was best remembered for his paintings of peasant farmers. His work conformed with the Realist movement as he became increasingly moved by social injustice.   Millet’s paintings broke with the convention of ‘normal’ academic practice in that scenes of rural life were expected to be small and target towards the middle-class. Instead he chose to paint on a scale that was normally reserved for religious and historical themes.   He faced severe criticism and was often accused of being a socialist. His popularity picked up in the 1860’s.

Despite his rollercoaster of popularity he influenced great artists like Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, and Georges Seurat. His work also inspired artist to write plays and poems as well as further artistic efforts by Mark Twain and Salvador Dali.


The-Young-Ladies-Of-The-Village Gustave Courbet

Gustave Courbet also received criticism for his approach to rural peasant life. However, he continued to paint in defiance of convention and criticism and worked in all genres to execute paintings that wowed the world of art. He observed how weather affected the landscape, he carefully depicted raging seas and celebrated every aspect of rural life in his landscapes. His use of light and colour paved the way for Impressionism.



Impressionism was developed in the late 19th century. It was a style that was characterized by the use of bright colours and the use of complementary colours to represent the effect of light. The manner in which an impressionist painting was executed was usually rapid and consisted of short brushstrokes. The application of thickly applied paint also contributed to the illusion of light and tone.

Monet was the father of Impressionism. The name Impressionism derives from the title of his painting ‘Impression, Sunrise.


Impression, Sunrise by Claude Monet

In the early 1860s Claude Monet met with Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, and Frédéric Bazille. They shared an interest in painting landscape and contemporary life rather than historical or mythological or religious scenes. The four would venture into the country to paint plein air. The notion of painting this way was that it allowed the artist to capture the sunlight and weather on the landscape as it was happening. They did not sketch then return to their studio to finish a piece of work. Instead their masterpiece unfolded there and then and they were able to capture the subtle changes in light.



Luncheon of the boating party by Pierre-Auguste Renoir


The Loing Canal – Alfred Sisley

Sisley began painting as an amateur. He developed his style as he worked with and forged alliance with Monet, Renoir and Bazille.

The Franco-German war caused financial ruin for the Sisley family, forcing him to flee to London. Alfred Sisley struggled with poverty throughout his career. It seems unfair that his talent became widely recognized after his death. His earlier work was influenced by Camille Corot. Sisley’s best works came when he worked with Monet. This was a time when his work was more lively and spontaneous.

Although Frédéric Bazille was a wealthy man who helped to support his friends Monet, Sisley and Manet, it was short lived. The Franco-German war claimed his life.


Family reunion by Frédéric Bazille


Landscape Art and Post Impressionism 

Post Impressionists was an extension of the Impressionist movement. Rather than create topographical representation, they moved towards abstract expression, rejecting the limitations of Impressionism. They acknowledged aspects of Impressionism – use of complementary and bright colours but moved towards a more expressive approach to landscape.

Paul Gauguin began his work as an Impressionist and was included in the fifth Impressionist exhibition in 1880. He moved towards a Symbolic approach to landscapes, painting from his imagination, applying thick paint onto a raw canvas. Symbolism, was a reaction against naturalism and realism in favour of spirituality.


Landscape with Two Breton Women by Paul Gauguin

Vincent Van Gogh struggled for recognition throughout his career as an artist. When his brother Theo introduced him the work of Monet he changed his dark pallet for brighter colours. Under the influence of the Impressionists Vincent shifted away from dark paintings such as The Potato Eaters and Landscape with Dunes to much brighter landscapes. His style also began to change – short brush strokes with swirls of paint that became his unique style. This style offended art critics. In his lifetime he only sold one painting. Van Gogh really only became famous after his death, when his brother and sister-in-law took up the mantle of getting recognition for his work.

I think it is interesting to see how different his early work was by comparison to his later work. The same could be said of Paul Cezanne.

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Landscape with Dunes1883                    Wheat Field with Cypresses 1889


Paul Cezanne

Like Van Gogh, Cezanne started off with a somber pallet. After working with Pissarro, Cezanne soon realized that painting had to be straight from nature.

“Painting from nature is not copying the object; it is realizing one’s sensations.” – Paul Cezanne


1872-73 Village Road, Auvers


Road Before the Mountain Sainte-Victoire  1898-1902 by Paul Cézanne


Meule et citerne en sous-bois (1892)

Paul Cezanne’s work towards the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century changed. It became lighter with blocks of colour that he almost ‘outlined’ with dark angular lines. His work paved the way for Cubism.


Paul Nash (1889 –1946) was a surrealist painter and war artist. He played a significant role in the development of Modernism. During the was he saw himself as a messenger to those who glorified the war. Nash wanted the world to see the detestation that war brings.


Landscape and dream by Paul Nash


After only three months on the front line Nash was injured and returned to England. He later found out that most of his comrades were killed during that particular raid. Nash was devastated. Whilst resting he continued to draw war pictures. When he recovered he returned to France in the aftermath of Passchendaele, with new fueled anger at the devastation of this dreadful war, he was inspired to produce up to a dozen drawings a day. His paintings show the destruction of nature – trees snapped and burnt in a battered landscape, barbed wire from ‘no man’s land’ to represent the tragedy of war.


David Hockney July 9, 1937 –

David Hockney, pop artist, began painting stunning landscapes. His most recent work has been done using his iPad or phone. In an exhibition called ‘A Bigger Picture’ he created a series of Yorkshire landscapes using oil, charcoal, film and iPad.

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Figurative Painting

Peter Doig, 1959 is perhaps the most famous figurative artist.  His landscapes tend to be abstract taking inspiration from photographs, newspaper clippings and movie scenes. He is also influenced by the work of Edvard Munch, Monet and Klimpt.


“The Architect’s Home in the Ravine,”

Doig’s approach is to layer his landscapes by painting the scene in the background then layering trees and branches in front. As an observer you might feel as if you are ‘peeping’ at something that you ought not to.



Contemporary Landscape Painting


Struie Hill Dornoch by Scott Naismith

Scott Naismith is my favourite contemporary landscape artist. In an online tutorial he demonstrated how he used the colour wheel to give a balance of colour in his work. Naismith would paint a patch of green then he would paint from the opposite side of the colour wheel in order to keep that ‘balance’.

Side by side you might draw similarities between his paintings and that of the impressionists in the way he uses complimentary colours, thick, chunky brushstrokes and lively landscapes. The difference lies in how Naismith applies ‘blocks’ of vibrant colours and his use of secondary and tertiary colours.



Artist who demonstrate ENVIRONMETAL CONCERNS


Artist Jeremy Miranda lives in Massachusetts. He works with acrylic paint to create paintings influenced by nature, technology, and memory. His split level landscapes connected by ladders depict hidden worlds.

When I first saw this painting I interpreted it to be symbolic of the effects of global warming drowning beautiful places. I like the way he has used warmer colours under the sea and darker colours above the water where all appears normal but as we all know the climate changes are really just the beginning. It is a very interesting use of perspective – vertical rather than horizontal.



This Modern Surrealist painting is quite anti ‘New world’. The trees are artificial – metal sponge like appearance. The buildings in the background are tonally recessing to create distance. The cloudy opaque wash create an industrial smog which has eaten up the vegetation leaving it bare and cold.


Earth Crisis by Ikahl Beckford

This landscape has a sinister tone to it. The trees are bare with branches sculpted into the shape of desperate, seeking hands. They are reaching through the red mist towards the blue sky at the top of the painting. I think the blue sky could be symbolic of hope. The leaves falling to the ground represent the end of life and the sphere could be the sun which appears to be blocked by the wall of mist. It is a sad vision of what we are doing to our beautiful planet.

I couldn’t find other work by Ikahl Beckford but the artist statement in this painting is very clear. The planet is in trouble.

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Tang Yau Hoong is very creative with negative space. He is an artist and illustrator who works in advertising and design projects. Tang Yau Hoong’s art is conceptual, surreal and imaginative. I love his tree of life with the man walking towards the light, yet above, the branches appear to be dead. It is almost as if he is saying that ‘man’ is interfering with the earth and ultimately life. His cityscape is paradoxically painted green on a green leaf – the city whose pollution chokes nature.


As I mentioned earlier, the evolution of landscape painting is a vast topic. It has changed somewhat since the eighteenth century. The act of painting a photographic scene takes skill. Conceptual art is more than hand eye co-ordination. It engages emotion as well as skill.

If I was asked to select my favourite landscapes I would still say the Impressionists Landscape wins for me. I love the techniques used, how the artist capture movement and play with colour. If a painting can take my mind to somewhere else or somewhere I would like to be then I am most appreciative of how landscape painting has evolved and continues to evolve.






















Assignment 3 Portrait and Figure


Preliminary Sketches


I had my two lovely little nieces in mind for the final assignment. It was hard to decide who I should paint or if it should be both girls. I began just sketching ideas that I thought I might be able to develop. Kaci has just lost her two front teeth so any time she smiled it looked cheeky and not her best look. Callie on the other hand is cheeky – in the nicest possible way.  Callie is a more ‘girly’ girl. She plays with dolls and teddies and engages in a number of role-play situations that would be interesting to paint.


I liked the idea of painting the girls in a dress. I think the folds of fabric appealed to my ‘girly’ side.

I found it really difficult to capture the girls in a nice composition. I toyed with sketching the outline of a girl sitting on a seat substituting the image of Callie instead.


I then tried to paint small colour sketches of the girls to see if I should paint one or both girls. One of my previous paintings was of two little girls playing on the beach. They were far enough in the distance that I did not have to include too much detail. By the time I completed my colour studies of the girls my confidence was hitting an all time low. Throughout the part on portraits I had been setting myself targets that I just did not achieve. Now was no different!


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Callie                                                              Kaci

I felt drawn to painting the girls either on the beach or at the harbour where I could use the colour of their blonde hair in contrast to the greens of the foliage and the blues of the water.


I wanted to try a painting of Callie, mainly because she would pose for longer than Kaci.

I sketched her at the park and quite liked the idea of painting part of her face on a square canvas but I tried painting her head and shoulders whilst trying to capture her cheeky look.



I then tried to set her in a context of hiding in the forest but it didn’t work out. I have to say I am really struggling with portraits – with tone, composition and likeness.


I tried to paint the girls in the living room but ended up with just Callie. The idea behind this one was to create the illusion of depth by looking into other rooms. I thought of having Kaci in the other room so that I would also include scale. I got so bogged down in Callie in the foreground that I gave up on including Kaci in the other room.

I really have been going round in circles with this assignment! I have included my mistakes so that my evaluations can support my development. It was no different for this painting.


This is nothing like Callie! In my learning log I looked at the proportion of facial features of a child and of an adult. This is most definitely something I need to pay attention to when I am doing my under-painting.

In the end I went back to the idea of painting the girls at the harbour in Portpatrick.

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I painted on a coloured ground of burnt sienna wash. Using raw sienna I painted the outline of the girls and the shape of the rocks and distant land.  I worked on the skin to build tone gradually. I found that painting the area with flow improver allowed me to work on the skin for perhaps a little longer than the paint allowed me before. As I worked on the dark shadows I felt that I wanted to build up definition.  Rather than using paint or a texture within the paint I decided to use stitching.     I considered creating a collage using pre-painted rock colours and magazines then stitching it onto the painting.  However,  I liked the shape of the rocks and I decided to stitch areas of dark tone. It might not be to everyone’s liking but I liked it. I felt that the fabric would give the painting a warm fuzzy feeling – the kind of feeling you get on a warm sunny day in Portpatrick.. The direction of the thread on the rocks actually made them look craggy.



Acrylic painting



What went well?

I used several techniques form the course.  I worked on a coloured ground  I worked on a coloured ground and used complementary colours to make colours appear more vibrant.  I used the technique of painting on top of white paint for the delicate flowers and the grasses.  I think that I built up both depth and tone on the skin and on the land.  By mixing a number of skin tones and using flow improver allowed me to blend the colours.  I think before I hadn’t been working the colours enough and perhaps not keeping the skin tones as translucent as I should have.

I feel that I captured the warmth of the summers day and the sisterly love between the girls.  I guess I have become more confident about using some of the tones that I had originally felt quite nervous about using – blues, lilacs and yellows.

I know that stitching is not everyones liking but I liked the feeling – a warm fuzzy feeling similar to the feeling you get when you are standing by the harbour on a warm sunny day, with the blue/green water beckoning tourists to jump in and cool down.

In terms of perspective and depth, the harbour and the gentle rolling hills in the background creased a distance.  I gave the distant hills a translucent blue wash to pull the colours together and to give it the illusion of distance.  I omitted the hotels and houses at the foot of the hills because I felt it would have ‘crowded’ the picture.  As for the children, I painted Kaci slightly taller and a little closer to the front of the painting.  Although the difference wasn’t much it made Kaci look of much it made her look a good bit older than Callie.

I liked the folds in the fabric and the blue tones showing shadow.  On the whole, I quite like the composition.  The two girls holding hands was quite sweet.  I was inspired by Mary Cassatt’s painting ‘Children on the Shore’.  Her paintings of children are playful and loving.  I would like to think that my painting of the girls by the harbour was also loving and playful.

What did not go so well

Although it has been my target throughout this module I still need to develop skin tone and blending.  I feel that I am improving but I still have a lot of work to do in this area.  With exception to my last painting I also think I should work on composition and continue to take inspiration from other artists.

Proportion was something that I struggled with throughout.  Using acrylics was handy in terms of the many mistakes I made that I could just paint over.

I am not sure if it was confidence or frustration that made the preliminary sketches such an arduous task but I feel that I lacked focus.  I was trying to include so many of the things that I had previously learned that it took a long time before I could settle to paint anything.

What have I learned?

Although it might not seem so, I have learned about skin tone and I am becoming braver about using colours that I had never considered to be skin tones.  I have learned about the effects of light and how to create light by using a light and dark contrast side by side.  I don’t think I had appreciated how layering paint using translucent washes or using colour on opaque could enhance colour so much.  I studied Scott Naismith, an artist who paints and lectures at Dundee University.  His use of the colour wheel is fascinating and has encouraged me to try new things and to explore colour, tone and texture.



Research – Artists painting children

I had two reasons for choosing to paint my niece. One, because nobody would pose for me and two she is beautiful!  I toyed with painting both nieces but decided that I would struggle to get a pose that would suit both girls.

The first thing I did was to research artists who painted children to see if I could gain some understanding of composition and style.

Children on the Shore by Mary Cassatt


Mary Cassatt tends to paint children in playful or loving poses. Little girls often wear puffy, plumped out dresses of the time, or are pictured in a state of undress – getting ready for a bath or for bed. Her portraits usually show the children with soft peachy skin in very natural poses.


The children of de Martial Caillebotte (1895) Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841 – 1919)I love this painting of sisters sharing a book. They are sitting on the sofa with the hint of a door to the right. It is a very simple pose.


Magritte exchanges the heads of a mother and a baby – compressing one and enlarging the other. I did not like the affect this painting had on me as an observer. It is unexpected and although the artist may have seen it as funny I felt that it was quite threatening. The title of this painting was originally called ‘Maternity’ and was renamed ‘The Spirit of Geometry’. It reminds me of the film ‘Don’t Look Now’ where Donald Sutherland is haunted by the death of his daughter and comes face to face with an old woman wearing his daughters clothes.  Not something I would feel comfortable painting.

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‘Death and the Child’ is an emotional painting by Edvard Munch. It is a painting of his sister standing by the bed where his dead mother lies. It is thought that this painting was a memory of his sister’s reaction to her mother’s death. Edvard Munch grew up around the ill health and death of his siblings and his mother so his art is very much based on feelings he was experiencing at the time.


Two Girls At The Piano by Pierre Renoir

Renoir creates depth by painting the two girls in one room with the open curtain leading into another room. It is a lovely warm painting both in colour and emotion as the two girls enjoy playing the piano.


Giovanni Dalessi

Giovanni Dalessi 1964 – Dutch painter

I found very little about this artist but my impression of his work is that his portraits fill the canvas, almost magnified features of the person he is painting. The faces lack emotion only the eyes express feeling. The paintings are almost cartoon like.


The Boy by Paul Wright

I love Paul Wright’s style of representational art, using thick, confident brushstrokes. His works are usually large-scale portraits, full of character and incredibly atmospheric. His aim is to capture a vitality and not a mere likeness. I think it takes incredible confidence to handle paint in this way. I would love to be able to paint like this.

I could have gone on researching for a long time but I had enough to continue with the assignment.  So, my next blog is the final assignment.
























Gallery visit – Kelvingrove

I visited Kelvingrove to look at portrait work of famous artists.  I could have spent a week in there, it was just beautiful.


Thomas Carlyle by James Abbot McNeill Whistler

The composition of this painting is basic, almost as if Thomas Carlyle was casually sitting opposite someone and having a chat. Thomas Carlyle was a Scottish philosopher, satirical writer, historian and teacher. He had a strength of character that even in the simplest of compositions he had a presence. The artist James Abbot McNeill Whistler had painted his mother in a very similar composition, one that pleased Thomas Carlyle. ‘Whistler’s Mother’ is perhaps his most famous piece of work.



‘Lady with a red hat’ by William Strang 1859-1929

The complementary colours, red hat and green coat are striking – a statement if ever there was! …..was a ‘new age’ woman who caused outrage because of her affairs with other women.   The pose is interesting – her assertive pose with her hand resting on the chair opens the space in font of her, which usually means the person is open, upfront. I imagine that Vita Sackwell-West , someone who epitomises the new age woman had plenty to say…and no doubt she did!

If you look at Thomas Carlyle’s body language he relaxed and in control. His legs are crossed and his hands closed which would indicate that he is guarded and in control. No doubt he has plenty to say through his various different roles but not today.

I do a lot of talks about body language and facial gesture when I am teaching sign language. I feel I have been naive not to have considered body language in painting until I started this course.


The Fruit Seller by Jack Jordeans depicts a young woman with a basket of grapes standing at the open window of two jovial young lovers. The painting appears to be satirical as the young woman carrying a basket of grapes (grapes symbolises fertility) turns to look at the audience to draw their attention to the couple’s antics.

I am not of lover of this ‘tongue in cheek’ style but I appreciate how clever the artist is to create this ‘mucky’ little story in such a way.


In Cadelle’s painting ‘Orange Blind’ a well-dressed woman sits in what appears to be a stately home. The huge open door leading to another room and the divide between the lounge and presumably the games room creates depth in the painting. Everything about the painting suggests wealth…the woman’s expensive clothes, the silver tea service, the expensive furniture. The observer’s eye is led to the suited man playing the piano, in front of him the closed orange blind. The blind closed during the day could indicate that something is being covered up. Returning to the woman’s body language could suggest that she is uncomfortable with something. She is facing away from the musician and although her facial detail is suggested by the artists use of tone her bright red lips and expressionless face might indicate that she is unhappy.

There is a lot in this painting yet it is perfectly balanced. I think the artist was telling a story but by painting the huge door and huge blind he was hinting that the story was a lot bigger than what you see.



I am not quite sure why I like Lowry’s paintings so much. Perhaps it is because I remember industrial Glasgow with the buzz of downtrodden people making their way to work in dreary industrial buildings. People in his paintings were faceless and live up to the song of ‘Matchstick men and matchstick cats and dogs’.

This painting is called VE Day. It depicts the people of the town celebrating the end of the war. The streets are lined with bunting, people are dancing and waving and tables are being set for a celebration. I think it is clear that Lowry was painting a story.


William McTaggart is recognised for his paintings of children. ‘The Lillies’ could be one of his allegorical paintings linked to the plague of the London or perhaps just one of his many paintings that captures the innocence of childhood. Regardless of his intentions it is a painting that the observer can identify with and I have to say my first viewing of this painting brought a smile to my face when I cast my mind back to my own childhood when we sang and danced the song until we were dizzy. Later in life I was horrified when I found out that the song was about the plague of London that claimed 70,000 lives.

  • Ring a Ring o’ roses – An early symptom of the plague was a red, circular rash.
  • A pocket full of posiesOne superstition was that posies would help protect against the disease, so they would carry the herb with them. It was also used as a fragrance against the disease’s smell.
  • A-tishoo! A-tishoo! – Sneezing or coughing was one of the last symptoms before death.
    • We all fall down This last line states the final
      • result of the plague – death.

The Young Girls by Mary Stevenson Cassatt is a tender moment between two little girls. The soft skin of the girls is in stark contrast with the thick paint of the green background, which I assume is a garden. The background is not really relevant to the painting. Mary Stevenson Cassatt is known for her delicate portraits of children, her paintings of beautiful moments between mother and child and as an advisor to young female artists.


Self-portrait in a Stetson by John Byrne is as it says. John Byrne is not a cowboy nor does he live in a climate that requires one to wear a Stetson. He is an artist, writer and illustrator. Byrne is famous for his work on superheroes and his work for Marvel comics. I think that John Byrne was making a statement – you can be whatever you want to be …art can take you wherever your mind wants to go. I’ve watched an interview with John Byrne and I have to say that he came across as quite eccentric. His self-portrait reminds me a little of the young Rembrandt when he painted a self-portrait wearing a gorget – a metal collar worn by soldiers. He was making a statement ‘I am an artist ready for battle!’ I am not sure what John Byrne was ready for.


I love this painting of Old Willie – the village worthy by James Guthrie. He has a well worn face, no doubt weather-beaten from his toil on the farm. Kircudbright, where Willie was from is a fishing and farming community in Dumfries and Galloway. I am a Galloway girl, so I can identify with the ruddy faced, weather-beaten farmers and workers. Old Willie reminds me of my father. He had that same complexion and hardly a wrinkle for a man of his age. I reckon that these old boys took each day as it came, they worked hard and were thankful for everything. They really were worthy men. I think that this painting exudes the sense of worth and honesty in this man.


The Dominie’s Visit by John Burr 1879 reminds me of the ‘foot-washing baptists’ community where I grew up. The minister would come round to the house and the best china came out. Mother would talk with a different voice and behave like a lady. The minister would give lectures our behaviour, which was extremely good by todays standards. As children we were seen but not heard. Pity help us if we were heard! The painting is again one that I can identify with. The little boy has broken a plate and has been chastised for his behaviour. The minister’s body language shows disgust and both mother and minister have that questioning look on their faces. The artist has painted the door open creating distance but is also an indication of honesty.


Danae and the Tower of Brass by Edward Burne-Jones

based on a story from Greek mythology, where Acrisius, King of Argos is warned that his daughter’s son would one day kill him, so he decided to imprison her in a tower of brass.

Danae had a son, Perseus after Zeus changed himself into a shower of gold and entered the prison through the roof. The prophecy was fulfilled when Perseus accidentally killed his grandfather during a games held in his honour by the King of Larissa.

The painting is tall and narrow which for the observer knowing the story, heightens the anxiety creating a feeling of claustrophobia.




Telling a story

Telling a story



IMG_3057.jpg     IMG_3058.jpgCreate a simple narrative, involving one or several human figures, and produce a painting that gives the viewer the clearest possible idea of what’s happening. For example, a figure silhouetted against a barred window would suggest imprisonment. Another way to create a story is to depict tow or more figures with little or no background detail. The story will lie in how these figures relate – or fail to relate – to one another.

For this exercise, you could work by posing two models or by working on two separate studies. You may find it easier to work first in a drawing medium. You could use the same model in different poses, then combine the figures in a painting to appear as different people.

Use every opportunity

At first I had it in my mind that I would paint a picture of one of the children in my son’s chess club. At the open night he was playing against his grandfather. The two were totally engrossed in the game and it was just beautiful. That would be the night that my camera failed! I am not so good with a camera anyway so I ended up searching for a ‘story’.


Finally, I found a photograph online of two little girls playing on the beach. It reminded me of my own childhood with my best friend. I know that it went against the description of this exercise somewhat but I just wanted to capture the relationship between the girls and the notion of the fun they have just had on the beach. The background is understated but gives the observer just enough detail to conclude that the two girls had just been paddling. It is something that we can all relate to…running into the water, jumping into the cold water then running back laughing our heads off…I still do that!


I began by sketching the girls to see where the light source would be and how I would use tone and space to separate the figures. If I am honest I didn’t know how it would turn out even after my sketch.


What went well?

I think I managed to show that sense of fun and friendship between the girls. I used the negative space to create the shape of the girls face – although I found it considerably harder to do with the blonde haired girl. I think that in parts I got the tone but not necessarily blended too well. I photocopied the painting in black and white to see how the tone appeared. It surprised me to see how the tone actually created shape. I like the hint of shadow on the wet sand cast by the girls.


What I need to work on

If I perhaps had more confidence to work on a larger scale it would have given me more opportunity to explore tone. I am not sure if I need to explore tone using an impasto technique rather than blending the colours. I do need to work on a bigger scale, so I am going to make this one of my next steps.

Research point – figures in interiors

Research point

Look at some paintings of figures in interiors from different periods and chose two or three pictures that particularly appeal to you. At least one of these should be from the twentieth century. Consider what you think the artists intentions are and look at the technical and creative solutions that they brought to the subject.

Edward Hopper was a twentieth century realist artist from America. His paintings depict scenes of city and real life.

I can’t say that his paintings are typical of the style I would normally go for. I tend to like impressionist paintings with thick paint and broad brushstrokes. Edward Hopper’s work is more controlled both in his application of paint and what he is trying to express.

His paintings tell a story or hint at connections. The painting ’Nighthawks’ is probably his most notable painting. It was painted in the early stages of WW2. It depicts three customers in a quiet bar at night. The picture pays attention to the shapes of the buildings. There is no frivolity and it is not the most inviting place to be. The light gives no illusion of warmth. There is a cold feeling about the place. The figures appear to be disconnected. Hopper is concerned about the balance of a painting. It seems that in many of his paintings the figures are carefully arranged to give the observer the notion of balance. At the beginning of war there is much to occupy the minds of the people. I think that Hopper was trying to communicate this.


Nighthawks by Edward Hopper 1942

Hopper uses complementary colours – red brick buildings behind the green bar. The light is reflected on the red wood of the bar causing light and dark contrast.   The glass window behind the couple shows reflections of the people and the hint of the other building behind. This foreshortening creates a depth in the picture as does the shadow of the bar and the angle of the building.

The idea behind Hopper’s paintings is that he wants the viewer to try to understand the story by giving only clues with no definite answer. Although his paintings fall under the hood of realism he provides minimum action, carefully planned positioning of objects and people and leaves it to the observer to complete the narrative. It borders on abstract expression.

The other artist I would like to look at is David Hockney. I studied his landscapes and joiners in Drawing 1 and found them to be colourful, funny, innovative and in some cases crazy. I think it would be fair to say that his work generates many emotions in the observer. However for this exercise I am going to focus on one painting that

I particularly like – ‘The Card Players’.


The Card Players by David Hockney 2015

When I first saw this painting I thought how quirky! It dawned on me that he used reverse perspective making the images appear small at the front of the painting and gradually getting larger towards the back instead of other way round – which is perspective. It is such a clever yet crazy painting. You might look at it and think that it is just a bright painting of card players but in fact it is quite bizarre that the point, or points of perspective are opposite to the norm.  Hockney described how he composed this painting by taking close up photographs of the furniture, then painting them in a composition on his ipad. In doing so he maintained that he was taking the ‘void’ away – the void he believed to be caused by the optics. By removing the void he changes the perspective. In fact, this method means that the composition has many vanishing points instead of one. Hockney felt that Cezanne’s painting of the card players demonstrates photographic perspective…the perspective that he was trying so hard to avoid. He called his style ‘photographic paintings’. He felt that photography without photoshop was too flat.   Hockney described how the eye sees an object from many perspectives and that the eye can see object in 3D. He went on to say that he was interested in creating the 3D effect in photography without the glasses. When satisfied with the image he created he simply ‘painted’ it on his ipad.


I love Hockney’s approach – this perspective looks almost child-like, yet the theory behind it is so carefully planned.   His use of colours is monochromatic and simplistic, almost childlike.

Picasso once said that it took him four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child. I think Hockney was just having fun with colour and perspective.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Hockney spoke about how digital photography no longer needs to be the ‘ultimate realist’ image. He certainly proved that.


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The Card Players 1890 and 1895 by Paul Cezanne

Interestingly, ‘The Card Players’ is part of five paintings by Paul Cezanne, one of which was sold for $250 million. The models were farm hands that worked on the Cezanne estate. It was not a betting game as there is no sign of a money pot. The card players appear calm and subdued in this painting. It is often described as a ‘human still-life’. Cezanne didn’t want his painting to be like other 17th century pub scenes that were defined excitement – drunken brawls, bickering and men behaving badly. Cezanne wanted to go against the grain of what was typical of 17th century art and depicted the gentlemen in the calm way he intended to.