Understanding Painting Media Research into artists who paint on metal

When I first tried to research artists who paint on metal I struggled to find any. Then by chance I looked for metal sheets for artists and found that aluminium sheets for artists was called Dibond. When I googled artist who use Dibond I was surprised how many artists I found.


In Painting 1 I came across the work of contemporary artist George Shaw from Coventry. Shaw paints realistic depictions of ordinary scenes in the English suburbs. The presence of litter and graffiti in his work creates the sense that people have been there. He focused on everyday, familial things that could be perceived as uninteresting or mundane. In fact he was simply painting the suburbs that he grew up in. His preferred media is Humbrol paint on metal. Humbrol is used by amateur modelmakers. Shaw feels that it has a distinctive quality making his paintings appear smooth and shiny. I think his work is reflective of the place in which he grew up. There is something charming about that.

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The Sly and Unseen Day      The Passion

Joana Ubach was first introduced to painting on aluminum when she saw the artist David Kessler’s works. She was facinated by the movement of light on metal and the photo-realistic quality of the images.


Joana Ubach began to create non-representational work and experimented with light on metal. She creates movement by pouring oil paint onto the aluminum then etching into it. By layering paint she created shadow and in other areas it created light.

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Shana Levenson paints on aluminium. She prepares the surface by sanding first, then painting on water and a thin layer of grey gesso. She repeats the process several times and finishes by sanding. Shana likes painting on the smooth surface rather than the canvas. I like the way the light makes skin on her portraits looks so soft and iridescent.

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Vanessa                                                  Sibling bond

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Lace                                                      Stripped

Katie Allen, Welsh artist also paints on dibond. Influenced by the Indian culture after a visit to India she developed a style that brings a sparkle to her home country of Wales. Anyone who has visited Wales will know that it is a beautiful country. You don’t have to drive too far to find tumbling waterfalls and towering mountains. Katie Allan paints the seasons in Wales in detailed abstract patterns. Her work is very refreshing and almost magical. She makes use of the reflective properties of the aluminium surface then further reflects the light by decorating her paintings with mirrors and jewels.




Artist Xenia Hausner uses mixed media to create her vivid works of art. She adds a little twist to her work by painting a narrative with mysteries with context clues in each piece.Her featured works are oil on Dibond.



All of the artists I looked at had very different styles but all used the dibond surface to the same end. They all wanted to create light by using the reflective properties of the aluminium.

In a vimeo, Shana Levenson talked about the versatility of the dibond surface. She talked about how easy the panels are to store in comparison to a canvas. She felt that a canvas can be easily bashed and are tricky to repair. She also felt that the paint could be pushed about and manipulated easily and you don’t need as much paint because the surface is smooth.

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Domestic Spanker                           Family Portrait

Geraldine Swayne lives and works in London. She is an artist, musician and film-maker whose work has been exhibited in a number of high-profile exhibitions in Europe. Geraldine Swayne specializes in miniature paintings of people ‘up close and personal. Her miniature paintings invite the observer to look closely and respond to the evocative scenes that she claims are an emotional narrative. In an interview for Lawrence Alkin Gallery she talked about her ‘travelling portraits’ and likened them to a very old form of painting known as Memento Mori or traveling portraits. The idea of carrying her gallery in a suitcase to hang wherever she laid her hat seems to appeal to her quirky side.

I think what’s interesting for me as a sign language teacher is the facial expressions that tell a story. Her portraits are not about beauty and heightened emotion so much as picking up on subtle facial gestures and body language – sometimes very interesting body language!

Geraldine Swayne began to paint on metal when a friend gave her a few tins of Humbrol paint and they sat in the kitchen just mucking about. Working with Humbrol paint sounds quite challenging. It dries quickly and if overworked it apparently slides off the metal. The finish is quite beautiful – strong, silky paint with a smooth appearance. Geraldine Swayne says the experience changed her life. Her little paintings are unique. I must admit I am itching to try working with Humbrol.

Until now I had not even considered the possibility of painting portraits or landscapes on metal. I would have looked at them and thought the colours were very bold and the brushstrokes flawless. I feel that I will look with different eyes at such paintings. I would not have considered why the paint looked so bright. The reflective property of metal must make it a compelling ground to work with. I must admit I am intrigued to investigate its properties in my own painting.

















Understanding Painting Media – Review of Part 2

When I first started Part Two I was a little apprehensive. I am not fond of paintings of collections of objects and my feeling that there was very little that I could produce that was different to the paintings that were already out there. When I read the list of media to explore I was immediately transported back to my youth when I explored mud paint on my dad’s whitewashed walls. The difference now is that I am an adult and I am not going to get into trouble for it. My problem was to make my work according to my age…not easy if the implement to paint with is a stick or a pin. How well did I do?

Demonstration of visual skills: materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills.

The materials we were asked to explore were things from around the house; crockery, pens, shoes, jewellery, make-up, clothes, photographs, white objects, socks and cutlery. I found myself laying out the objects in a variety of ways then photographing arrangements that I liked. In retrospect I probably should have sketched my ideas using a variety of media as evidence that I was not only exploring compositions but that I was exploring media also. My thumbnail sketches perhaps show my intended composition.   I didn’t manage to find an interesting composition for clothes…or at least compositions I found interesting.

In my painting of shoes I felt that make-up was going to be an appropriate media to explore colour but I was concerned with the application. It was quite a challenge as the colours were difficult to mix and they weren’t the colours I was looking for. The application was tricky because nail-polish dried quickly and the brushes were not fine enough to control. I tried using paint brushes and found that the only way to stop the quick drying process from damaging the brush was to coat it in fairy liquid first. That way the brush was protected. Of all make-up that I used, I liked the nail-polish because of its lovely shine and the strength of colour. I went on to paint a miniature of my necklace using nail-polish. It is by no means perfect but it let me see the possibilities with that paint.

My line drawing of make-up using ink and a stick was not at all creative and left me feeling quite frustrated. The stick was difficult to control and I felt that it should be used for drawing in muck and sand and not on paper (well at least not when I am drawing with a stick).

Jam and wine to paint my socks was never going to be a masterpiece. The pigment in both wine and jam was weak. It was difficult to produce a line with jam as it wanted to stick to the brush and when it left the brush it clumped together forming a rather uneven line. I guess that is just the quality of jam. I tried heating the jam to make it runny. It worked a little but cooled down very quickly and took on an even stickier texture than before.

I loved using icing sugar as painting media. I knew it was going to be sticky and difficult to manipulate. I used both a paintbrush and a knife to push the icing around the page. The problem of creating tone with just white icing meant that I had to use thick and thin applications depending on the tone I wanted to achieve. It was very quick to take shape compared to the other paintings I had done. I chose icing for my white objects because it seemed fitting at the time. If I revisited this exercise I would like to use coloured icing. It would be interesting on water icing because the colours will ’bleed’. Royal icing would end up looking like a birthday cake as the icing is harder and does not bleed.

I painted part of my collection of fossils using coffee, which I really enjoyed. For dark areas I mixed the coffee with a small amount of water then to create a variety of tone I just added more water. Like the icing sugar it was very tacky. The composition I opted for was to place the fossils in the rows in the same way that I would when cataloguing them – it seemed a natural choice. I keep fossils in compartments and I toyed with the idea of painting the fossils in compartments but I wanted to show the shadows of the fossils because it somehow seemed important to show that these creatures from millions of years ago should have a shadow. Profound perhaps, but I prefer to think of it as respect for such a beautiful creature.

Painting on stone was perhaps my favourite surface to paint on. I guess my interest in geology had a large part to play in this. I have a huge quantity of stones that I tend not to confess to having because it makes me sound a little eccentric. The formation of rocks and crystals really fascinates me. I chose a red slate rock from the Devon coast. I should have used a rock from Ireland since the photograph I selected from my collection of photographs was of Ballintoy in Ireland. It was the last holiday I had with my Dad before he died. We had booked a holiday in Devon for him but that year he didn’t make it. I guess the link between the two makes it seem right to me (not to another living soul).

The stone was not refined in any way so it had beautiful undulations as a result of the ravages of time and tide. I sound a bit like Viga Celmens when she explores found objects but I love the thought of holding a stone that has a million years of memories then giving it one more. The undulations were perfect for the harbour painting. To paint on stone, the surface needs to be primed by painting it white. If you don’t prime the stone the colour is transparent and takes a lot of layering which then leads to the risk of paint chipping. The size was a touch restricting and I had to use a magnifying glass and a tiny paintbrush.

When I researched the work of artists who use unusual surfaces I came across Phil Hansen on a Ted Talk. His world was shattered when the pointillist artist developed ‘the shakes’. He realised his limitations then explored outside these limitations. The talk could not have come at a better time for me as I had just had an accident and had broken my ribs making painting almost impossible. That is when I tried out ‘painting’ on a banana using a pin. The banana was an even smaller area to ‘paint’ on so again I used the magnifying glass. The colour was achieved by pricking the surface of the banana with a pin – no paint involved. The action of pricking the banana was painful. I am not sure that it would have been less painful before the accident because it was a repetitive movement whilst gripping the pin that caused the pain. I liked the result but it was really just quirky rather than arty.

I also tried painting on fabric using a small piece of sandpaper and crayon. Crayon is a texture I hate and avoid like the plague. However, the process was interesting. I drew one of my shoes and beads onto sandpaper using crayon. I then ironed the image onto the reverse side of the fabric, placing a piece of paper on top of the fabric to avoid wax transferring onto the iron. I needed help with the iron but because the process was fascinating my son didn’t mind.   I then touched up the image by using crayon on the front of the fabric. Then, placing card on the back of the design and greaseproof paper on top, I ironed it again. The process of using card and paper was to stop the transfer of wax. The texture on the fabric is not waxy at all. The colour is not as vibrant as painting using acrylic but I like the effect. Watching the colour drain from the sandpaper is amazing and yet so simple.

Quality of outcome: Content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas.

I love the idea of presenting my ideas in archive boxes in the way Susan Hiller presented her work for the Freud Museum. I have done this with the stone and fossil. The box is not so much a library of work as a memory box. The message on the outside is my memory and the image on the stone inside is where my memories took place. I hope that the viewer might just ask questions… What was the memory? Does the box symbolise the importance of the memory? Is the fact that the memory is in the box is a demonstration of how significant the memory actually is?

I am not sure what questions a viewer might ask but I rather hope it makes her/him think of their own valuable memories and the people they create them with.

My fossil in a box is meant to reflect the way we look at things in the world and the sanctity of life that once was. I guess it is about being mindful of things. I do this exercise with children where I give them rocks of various sizes and ask them to write a word on each stone. The words are things they value most in life. So the biggest rock should be the thing they value the most…such as family. Once they have written their values on the rock we build them into a rock sculpture with the biggest rock as a foundation and the others balancing on the one thing they value most. I think rocks are strong foundations and the fact that one day we will become part of the rock is so incredible. I hope my fossil is a message about how we leave a mark on the world. It makes me think of the kind of mark that I want to leave behind.

I hope that my thought process reflects a demonstration of creativity. I am not sure if it is imaginative or creative so much as it is a reflection of my voice. I think people might read this and think I am scatty. I am glad in a way that most people wont read this. They will observe and perhaps the questions they ask about my work will give them the understanding of the message that I am trying to communicate. They might attach their own feelings to my work or even start to think about things in a different way. I’d like that. I don’t think I want others to really see my thought process…this is kind of like a diary that I think should be private. Some people wear their heart on their sleeve, artist on their canvas.

Context: Reflection, research critical thinking

I think the most influential artist for me during Part Two was Phil Hansen when I saw his TED talk called ‘Embrace the Shake’. As I mentioned earlier Phil Hansen worked as a pointillist artist until he developed a shake. He realized his limitations and began to explore beyond his limitations. At the time I was really struggling to do simple tasks and thought art was out for me until I saw his TED talk. It made me think about what I could and could not do. The accident gave me time to think about what is important to me and how I could express it. I researched artist who used unusual media, surfaces to paint on and artist who used collections.

It made me consider how I would paint a collection of objects on a piece of A2 or A1 paper/board. It wasn’t going to happen. When I researched native Australian art it struck me how small the paintings actually were. When I saw how they divided a piece of bark up using dotted lines it made me think of how I could use small pieces of bark that put together could make a large painting. I found A5 bark on line and thought that if the painting is about collections of objects I could dedicate a slice of bark for each item. Susan Hiller collated pictures of ‘rough seas’. I like the idea of producing 3 rows of 3 paintings (I would do 4 rows of 4 but for now I will be pushing it to do 3 by 3) Her pictures are dry prints rather than wet prints. It makes them very interesting in colour.

For my assignment I wanted to keep to a theme of nature. Given that my chosen ground was natural bark I decided to paint plants. I toyed with sweets and teddy bears as a collection but I felt that both have been done in so many ways that I would not be able to make my work individual.

In the assignment piece I have written notes that I hope reflect my critical thinking throughout Part 2. By experimenting with such a range of media and grounds I feel that I am beginning to develop my artistic vocabulary. I have lots of ideas rumbling about my head of things I can do to expand this ‘vocabulary’ and develop my abilities. I have a desire to use mixed media and fabric. My research has led me to look at different approaches and how to develop my use of media. I hope I have reflected on this throughout this part.

Understanding Painting Media Part 1 Tutor feedback and response

Formative feedback

Student name Elaine Wilson Student number 513218
Course/Unit UPM1 Assignment number 1
Type of tutorial (eg video/audio/written) written

Overall Comments

A lovely set of paintings Elaine, with a clear interest in landscape and the ocean. This early set of paintings was about really pushing to open up the possibilities of paint handling. I am not sure you did all you could in that regard but it is a job that is part of an ongoing artistic practice and some people prefer to open things up slowly so we can continue to work on that through the course.

Assignment 1 Assessment potential

You may want to get credit for your hard work and achievements with the OCA by formally submitting your work for assessment at the end of the module. More and more people are taking the idea of lifelong learning seriously by submitting their work for assessment but it is entirely up to you. We are just as keen to support you whether you study for pleasure or to gain qualifications. Please consider whether you want to put your work forward for assessment and let me know your decision when you submit Assignment 2. I can then give you feedback on how well your work meets the assessment requirements.


Feedback on assignment

Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Quality of Outcome, Demonstration of Creativity

It seems to me, looking at this work, that you have a couple of skill sets – one is around drawing with a fine ink pen and using a wash to create areas of tone with that, and the other is a watercolour practice that uses areas of white paper and a set of techniques to create certain effects in that medium. If these are the skills you already have and perhaps your ‘go to’ solutions – then this first exercise was about ripping up the rule book and being as unselfconscious as possible in terms of hunkering down and just being with the paint. I really like this course because I feel it privileges the relationship you have with the materiality of paint itself. It is not called – controlling painting media – it is called understanding it. That process of discovering the materiality of paint and building an intimacy with it is so pleasurable and exciting. Risks do pay off and remember you are making this work to learn, not to make consistently good work – those two aims don’t always run together.


The ones I want to focus on in this report then are the ones that I feel taught you something or pushed the envelope. I am doing this without reference to your log at first – I will then look to see your opinions but I quite like letting the work speak for itself at this stage.


  1. The black painting is atmospheric and you have used colour experimentally. How might you use this principle in your more naturalistic paintings? Think of the layering of famous landscape painters you admire – how does the history of paint application evoke mood or create intriguing spatial relationships?


  1. This has an experimental use of splashing which still fits in with your detailed fine approach and is at just the right scale – hard to do on such a tiny painting.


  1. This has a slightly experimental use of colour and a some freedom with the way the colours of the natural landscape have been appropriated and rejigged in the painting. The composition is interesting and the radical difference in paint handling between the distant landscape and the close foliage is effective.


6 & 20. These stand out as being the bravest in terms of getting stuck in and actually using paint. Here you are pushing paint against itself and building forms. You are letting the paint work and do what it does best. 20 is more effective than 6 because in 20 the brushwork describes form more sensitively. How you move as you push the paint about is so useful and informative. You only have to look at the writhing brushwork of Lucian Freud to see that. There is some really effective paint handling on the right hand side of image 20 – well done.


Most of the rest feel to me like they are not particularly ambitious (although of course they may have felt quite different to you) and so although they are competent and at times (number 9) beautiful I’m not sure they quite do the job of helping you to understand the medium any more than you already understood it? – you can tell me I am completely wrong of course.


I am also interested in numbers 12 and 13 because when you are painting larger objects – not seascapes, your paint handling is not working for you and so this suggests that it would be really useful for you to work at this aspect. The accurately yet fluently described corner of a rocky outcrop in painting 20 gives me a sense of how you might improve here. The bird has brushmarks that do not work hard enough to describe form, they stroke along the bird but actually the form of the bird is more interesting than that. The girls are illustrated so that the brushwork there does not support the construction of the form much and it is demoted to a sort of colouring in.


This is only a level one painting course so far to early to say ‘I can only paint seascapes’ or whatever (not that I think you are saying that). You have lots of potential here and I feel it is really worth the effort to pursue this paint handling so that you can tackle a range of subjects and aspects of the ocean and sea shore such as figures and animals as you have here , with ambition and confidence.

Process / Material Research

Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Demonstration of Creativity

You have done plenty of material research and looked at a wide range of artists. At times your need to complete a painting to a certain level has obscured the path to learning so that you haven’t quite got into the groove of the way of working you are investigating. I don’t want to make assumptions but sometimes it is more useful to do a bad version of something with full intent than neaten it off to a reasonable standard but lose the method? I hope that makes sense.


There is some evidence of a bit more energy and risk in the sketchbook – and thereby a slightly wider range of approaches..

Written Research / Critical essays

Context, reflective thinking, critical thinking, analysis

At times you are thoughtful and careful in your analysis of artists and your reflection on how they relate to your own practice. At other times I can’t see the connection (Picasso for your painting of your niece) and I would like to see more rigour. You clearly have strong opinions and a social justice agenda which can be pursued through your material process as well as subject matter so I suggest you look to that? You may want to protect your practice from that but at present it is visible in the text but nowhere in the visual submission.

Learning Logs or Blogs

Context, reflective thinking, critical thinking, analysis

You have understood the brief and your reflection demonstrates that you understand the objectives in terms of learning. I feel that you could have been more ambitious with your learning – even at the risk of making ‘bad’ work. Remember this painting is for you – not an audience.


I take your point about your personal voice but for you personally I feel as if it might give you more licence to experiment if you broaden out your enquiry into what that might be. Try to be constructive but inclusive. Expand your parameters and then look to actively synthesis new and odd ways of making into your ‘schema’ or toolkit. I know that you have done this, and recognise the value, but I do feel that you could be bolder and achieve more through greater ambition and slightly less concern for finished outcomes.


Unfortunately the blog address you gave me did not work and I am having to work at the edges of the day just now due to no wifi in the gallery I am working at. I want to get this report to you as it has been delayed by a temporary home wifi blackout as well so I will send it as is, but if you can rectify the blog address then I will amend this report. Your sketchbook is a combine sketch and log book so I have plenty of detail on your process and research.


Try to be a rigorous as possible is discerning where the learning is in your work. You have done a lot here – really spend time pulling out what you are going to build on and what needs further time / though / material play. It’s not about reflecting whether you have met a certain standard – it is about understanding your own practice and development.

Suggested reading/viewing


Victoria Crowe

JMW Turner

Barbara Rae

Ian McKeever

Michael Raedecker



Pointers for the next assignment

  • Reflect on this feedback in your learning log.
  • Focus on constructing form through brushwork
  • Build a process where you can fail / take risks
  • Remember these paintings are tools for learning
  • Retain the energy of your making in your work
  • Don’t rely on formulas for practice – let the subject and materials drive the solution

Please inform me of how you would like your feedback for the next assignment.   Written or video/audio. I think video would be good so that we can discuss things in real time and cover some of the points raised here as well.


Please remember that OCA request that you do not upload tutor reports in their entirety to your blog. These reports are private ‘conversations’; between us. Keeping them private ensures that, whilst still behaving professionally, I can speak openly about your work and in a form appropriate to you. I believe that for effective pedagogy, I need to be able to write in a different way than I would for a publicly disseminated platform which would be more formal and less specific.


Well done, I look forward to your next assignment.


Tutor name Emma Drye
Date 15/08/2018
Next assignment due 15/10/2018 This is the date I will put in my diary to review your work, so the work needs to be with me in advance of this date. It is fine to change this date to suit your needs but please do give me notice so that I can manage my workload. Please don’t pay over the odds to get the work to me special delivery – just email and change the date!

My Response to Tutor Feedback

I’d like to thank my tutor for her detailed feedback.

I think it was a bit of a wake up call to me to get my act in gear and take more risks. My tutor talked about ripping up the rule book and building a relationship with the paint. I think that she is right, I do play safe and I have been guilty of controlling the paint rather than experimenting with it. I think this would concur with the enjoyment that I got when working with painted or unusual grounds. My black painting gave me a great sense of satisfaction because I learned to work the paint in a way I had not done before. My tutor asked me to consider famous landscape artists I admire and think about how the application of paint evokes mood or creates intriguing spatial relationships. I love the work of Monet. His painting of Régate à Argenteuil is so atmospheric. The direction of his brushstrokes and broken lines in the water along with the complementary colours of the orange boats against the blue sky makes the painting so lively. The movement in the water… cool colours against the warmth intensifies the desire to be there.

I also love the work of William Turner. The swirling water blending into the sky almost swallows the steamboat. The colours are dark and ‘angry’ with blue skies peaking through the eye of the storm. I love the way Turner creates distance by omitting detail and blending colours of the storm with the colours of the boat.


J M W Turner, Snowstorm: Steamboat off a Harbour’s Mouth (1842

In my seascape with gold I have tried to blend the sky and the sea to create a hazy distance.



My favourite painting is the rocky outcrop with crashing waves. I agree with my tutor that the direction of paint makes it work. I enjoyed the movement of paint and the freedom it gave me. The contrast between this piece and the painting of the girls on the beach and the bird is more evident now. When I look at the paintings side by side it is clear how ‘stiff’ and ‘lifeless’ these paintings are. I totally agree that the brushstrokes do not work. The subjects should be fun but they are not light and cheeky because I have not worked the paint. I think I would be more inclined to treat portraits differently now. I hope that I will the future be able to be more expressive with portraits.


My tutor felt that I was not as experimental as I could have been. I think she is right. I was too busy trying to create a link between my paintings and to ‘finish’ them that I overworked them and did not explore the media. I have grown to dislike painting 12 and 13 for that very reason. They were the two paintings that I felt just did not fit the criteria but I didn’t quite understand why. My tutor suggested that the brush-marks didn’t work hard enough to describe form. I didn’t have the understanding to articulate that but I now realise that even the feeling of painting these pictures was not there. I did not have the connection that I had with my other pieces.


In my critical essays I have voiced my opinion about social injustice but my tutor says this is not present in my work. My idea was to present paintings of people such as Irena Sendler and Malala Yousafzai so that the observer might ask the questions about their part in history. Ideally I should have painted a collection of marginalised women so that collectively questions might be generated. I am not sure how to get round that. Annie Kevans painted a series of portraits of female artists who found themselves overshadowed by their male counterparts. Her collection regenerated interest in their work and therefore allowed observers to recognise them as successful women artists in their own right once again. If I painted a series of portraits I would like them to make a statement – not necessarily a political statement but perhaps one that could make a difference to others. The Faces of Santa Ana was a project set up by artist Brian Paterson to tell the stories of California’s homeless community with the rest of the world. His paintings were sold and money donated to the homeless. I love this idea of putting back into society. The notion of raising awareness in such a way makes art a powerful tool.   A thought for the future perhaps.

In some of my work my tutor could not see the connections between my research and my paintings. I need to work on this as I think I assume too much. My head knows what I am trying to say but my brush is not quite on the same channel. I will try to be more analytical in my thinking and try to make more connections.


Finally, I agree that I have become so fixed on the outcome that I have missed opportunities to be more expressive. I think I need to experiment more with a greater range of media and grounds in order to feel more adventurous. It’s a bit like reading a variety of genre to expand your vocabulary. In this case I need to expand my creative vocabulary.


Thank you again to my tutor for her constructive advice.



Understanding Painting Media Part 2 Assignment 2


I am not going to say I was influenced directly by the work of John Hedley but when I visited a gallery in Wales and I was quite taken by his work. He painted abstract paintings on slices of tree. Normally I struggle to understand abstract but I didn’t even try to understand. I was immediately drawn to the beautiful patterns he created on the wood. He used bright colours highlighted with gold. I imagine that he has simply followed the patterns on wood. I immediately connected with his work. It reminded me of one of those times when my dad told me about the biology of trees – the spaces between the rings tells us if the tree had experienced times of drought and conversely times of plenty. The concentric rings of the tree tells us how old it actually is.

I love trees. Nature is very beautiful. I think that is why I wanted to paint on wood. I didn’t want to create similar work to John Hedley as it would not serve the purpose of the assignment. His work was a reminder to me of my feelings towards nature.


As a little girl I thought that the big trees were like wise old men. They were big because they had lived a very long time and their bark had grown crinkled with age. The branches were his arms reaching out to cuddle and his leaves were like an umbrella to protect us from the rain.


I researched bark painting and found that although bark painting has reached the far corners of the globe it originated in Australia.   Native Australians would paint sacred designs on bark. Sometimes the elements of a story would be evident but often the markings were symbolic. Dotted wavy lines would signify a dream-like story of a path of a creator spirit. There seemed also to by a hierarchy of native Australian artists who created such spiritual paintings and the ‘apprentice’ artist who was only allowed to paint stories. The interpretation of such paintings is difficult for non-indigenous cultures to understand. I think an interesting feature of this wonderful Australian art is that the painting is divided by a series of blocks to depict different scenes in a story, with the all segments telling the entire story.



Geometric designs are representational symbols.   The meaning of these symbols would depend on context and on who painted the painting.


The same symbol would therefore have different meanings. For example, a circle might represent a water hole, a campsite, a mat, a campfire, a nut, an egg, a hole left by maggots, etc., depending on context. Sign language is also like that with the same symbol used in many different ways and can be interpreted through the context.


Nahua Indians of Guerrero, Mexico also painted traditional designs onto bark. They would prime the bark by boiling it then beating it with a stone so the fibers would fuse together. They would begin painting by applying a coat of ochre then adding their design of bright village scenes, wildlife and nature.

I didn’t want my painting to tell a story as such. I wanted my painting to show my collection of flowers. Having broken my ribs I was very restricted in movement and was looking for answers that would allow me to embrace my limitations. I sourced A5 panels of tree bark from the internet. Rather than split the painting into sections, I chose to use panels to represent aspects of my collection that together would be one composition.

In Part 1 my tutor suggested that I throw the rule book away and stop trying to control the paint and try to understand it. I hope that I will be able to show how I have done this.

I found that bark had to be primed with a light coat of gesso or acrylic paint. I chose acrylic paint as a ground and gouache because I liked how you could push the paint on the acrylic surface. I had originally toyed with painting teddy bears or sweets but rejected this in favour of nature. Besides the texture of the bark was not right for the subject and when I researched I found that both teddies and sweets had been painted by so many artists. I wanted my paintings to be different to that of others.

Flowers seemed to be a natural choice for the bark. I coated the bark with beige titanium as a ground for the paint. I then selected a number of flowers (some I am told are weeds) that had interesting qualities. The poppy had delicate leaves, the fuchsia had soft matt petals and the flower with the unusual green and black calyx was shiny and rubbery with a beautiful soft purple flower. Some had lots of layers of petals and others had few petals. I felt I had a good range of shapes and colours.

I looked to a number of different artist who painted flowers and objects from nature. Although I loved Vija Celmins work with nature I couldn’t see her style influencing my bark paintings. However, I feel that I echoed her approach to art. She talked about how her subject photographs made the un-accessible more accessible. She also spoke about how she would handle found objects in an almost meditative way. When I approach my work on fossils and rocks I do so in a mindful meditation giving thought to formation and history. Andy Goldsworthy enjoys working with natural objects. He tries to understand and discover nature by exploring it with his senses. “I want to get under the surface. When I work with a leaf, rock, stick, it is not just that material in itself, it is an opening into the processes of life within and around it. When I leave it, these processes continue.” 1

In this assignment I had to photograph my subject because I could not paint outdoors. I wanted my collection to be a diverse range of shapes and colours as well as texture.

We were asked to use a strong light on the subject. I wasn’t quite sure how to do this. Photographs are 2 dimensional and lighting on a photograph limits the notion of 3 dimensions. Therefore, the light did not seem appropriate. In painting 1 we looked at using the background to make shape and tone. I used this approach for much of my work. I had to play with the backgrounds in order to create shape and tone in the flowers. The ability to move the paint about to create the desired effect led me to use acrylic on the ground and gouache to paint the flowers. When I painted the flowers I still found it very difficult to show light using gouache. I tried painting the flowers white then over painting them. Gouache went a bit cloudy so I had to use acrylic paint for this part. I think it worked fairly well. The acrylic made the colours stronger and brighter and so I was able to under-paint the areas I wanted to show light.

The undulations on the bark may have been problematic but I was conscious of not getting bogged down in detail and concentration on tone and colour. The background colours are varied. Again I tried to make my focus colour and not detail. Using the painterly qualities of gouache on acrylic I could push and drag the paint to create new colour and tone. Gouache dries fairly rapidly so the painting had to be quick. Fast was fun… It felt playful – I wanted to reflect that in my work.



In this is painting I used the wood itself as a background with only a light coat of beige titanium on the bark. I painted the shape of the plant using white acrylic.


I used the background to create the shape of the petals. I like the line and composition of this painting. It is soft and gentle and makes me feel relaxed and calm. I think it is the pale grey, blue and lilac tones mixed with the pastel green leaves that are calming to the eye.


I tried painting on scrunched up cling-film, then transferring it onto a pale blue ground. I liked the ground but I added brush-marks on top using opaque colours to add the illusion of light.

The white flowers were ‘painted’ on white acrylic patch. I use the term ‘painted’ loosely here. I squeezed the paint straight from the tube then moved it about using a knife. When dry I added yellow/green anthers to the flowers. The buds were painted first of all with white acrylic then green and finally a smaller white/cream dot on top. I needed to do it this way in order to build up colour and tone.


I am told this plant is in fact a weed. That is a pity because they are growing rather well in my garden. I went through the same process of layering the paint in this painting. I am pleased that the flower (weed) is the focus and the leaves are muted and soft…almost out of focus. I felt that the leaves were similar to those in Paul Cezanne’s painting ‘Flowers and Pears’ in that detail is subtle with patches of tone indicating light. Cezanne made use of the negative space in order to create shape. I was conscious of doing this in my painting.


This is my least favourite because the dark background is too dark. The only positive is that the background created the shape of the flowers. Perhaps I should have added more flowers and reworked the ground.

I think if I had spent more time working the ground with lighter green and yellow that it might have looked more pleasing to the eye. I think I didn’t make the flowers big enough to command the ‘canvas’. The saving grace is the hints of other plants in the background.


I like this painting because it reminds me of Renoirs ‘Roses’and the flowers in his vase of flowers. They are almost out of focus but tone gives them shape. The flowers in the background almost melt into the blue ground. Only the sepals give this painting fine detail.

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When I decided to paint poppies as part of my collection I looked at how Georgia O’Keefe painted poppies. I particularly liked how she painted ‘Oriental Poppies’ with orange and yellow translucent petals.


I tried various ways to create the light on the petals. In the end I under-painted areas on the petals with white acrylic on the areas where light made the petals seem almost transparent. I think it worked. I built up the colour several times not because the quality of the paint but because I wanted to make a marked difference between light and dark areas of the petals. I think the rough bark added character to this painting and created shadow of its own. I think I got quite adventurous with the colour. I wanted to use a complementary colour against the orange petals to make flowers appear bold and more vibrant.   I am pleased with the result.


When I painted this I wanted to create a background that looked almost like a galaxy behind the flowers. I had been looking at Vija Celmin’s work on the ‘Night Sky’ and liked the notion that the plant was a tiny part of the infinate universe…part of the ‘big picture’ if you like. I think it is as Vija Celmins says the accessible flower making the inaccessible night sky more accessible.


This is the last piece of my collection. It is a relatively simple piece. The buds in the foreground show the light from the sun whilst the buds in the background lose that detail. It creates a bit of distance in the painting. I used a lot of blue to create the shadow and the ‘out of focus’ leaves. I used a dry brush technique for the background. The light would appear to be coming from the white area in the back of the painting. In fact the light was coming from above.

The overall effect of the bark paintings is that they appear to have a lot of texture and colour. The texture creates light in the raised areas and shadow in the dark areas.



Analysing my work

How does it make me feel?

When I looked at my finished collection I tried to look at it as if looking at it for the first time. It was difficult for me to be impartial as I immediately connect with the painting. The connection is personal. Too often I look at my work and categorise it by subject or colours I like. In this painting I have handled the bark, touched the flowers and felt the texture. I see the world with wonder and the flowers fill me with that feeling of wonder. How many different plats are out there? Millions…all different, unique and each plant part of a collection that man cannot comprehend. That feeling I guess is personal but I hope that observers can make that connection.

Do you like the work?

I like the work because there is a quality about the brushstrokes that makes it interesting. The surface is so textured that fine work was never going to happen. The backgrounds are painted rapidly to create a movement and atmosphere.   Together with the background and ground the painting is expressive.

What does it remind you of?

The paintings hark back to my youth when I spent a lot of time working in the garden with my parents…not really knowing the names of the flowers but feeling the tight little buds and soft petals and appreciating the beauty in each. My parents loved flowers so I guess that the painting reminds me of good times.


Part of the composition annoys me. I don’t like the centre piece. It feels ‘forced’ and ‘hash’ by comparison to the other pieces that make up the composition. The painting of the poppies shows consideration to foreground, middle ground and background with buds out of focus in the middle / background and detail in the foreground. The first, second, fourth, sixth, seventh eighth and nineth also demonstrate this quality. I am tempted to rework the fourth piece to make it more in line with the others. The individual paintings do enhance the meaning of the painting. I wanted to painting to reflect the diverse range of beautiful flowers and textures.


The background of the paintings is abstract whereas the flowers are impressionist in style. An impression was necessary because the texture made it impossible to paint tiny detail. The abstract background was to create the illusion of depth so it needed to be significantly less detailed than the flower.


There is a mixed pallet with some use of complementary

colour. For example the oranges of the poppy against the blue background make the colours appear brighter. The soft pinks of the rosebuds set against soft green leaves works to create a warm feeling.


The subject is made important by painting the flowers onto bark.   The undulations on the surface of the bark reflects the ravages of time endured by the tree. The soft petals reflect the newness of growth that contrasts with the age of the bark. It is an example of old and young working in harmony. That contrast would be lost on any other ground.


The piece doesn’t have a name. If I had to name it anything I might call it ‘Eternal youth’. The sentiment would be that nature is as old as time and is always reproducing. No matter what it never gets old.







Understanding Painting Media Two Ex.2.4 Painting on a painted surface

Paint a thin wash of colour on three or more sheets of A4 paper using ink or water-based paint and leave them to dry. Choose a paint medium you’d like to try and depict another of your collections.   This time really look at the tone of the collection.


My collection of kitchen utensils

I found some watercolour tubes of paint that my children got for Christmas. They were from Au Natural (Au Natural went into liquidation at least 10 years ago).  The paint had an oily texture and appears to be more of the consistency of Acrylic paint rather than watercolour.

I applied a wash to three pieces of paper – one of green watercolour, one dark blue and one yellow as well as sponge painting using blue paint also on A4.


I painted kitchen utensils onto the green watercolour paint. It had the texture of painting on gloss. In the end I had to paint several coats and I was becoming quite frustrated with it.


I then repeated the exercise using the yellow paper with brown ink. It was very time consuming. As an exercise I could see the importance of tone . I used hatching and cross hatching as well as the application of watered down ink painted on.


The third painting was different because I scrapped my blue ground and used a sheet of modelling polystyrene.   I painted it with black acrylic, allowed it to dry then painted it with PVA. This time I did not allow it to dry completely before I coated it with a mixture of green and blue acrylic. It took 24 hours before I could paint on it. The ground I had was crackled like old paint. I thin painted on this ground using acrylic paints. The painting is vivid and I think it shows the tone in the objects.


The first time I tried to make the paint cracked I bought a crackle medium but it did not work. Rather than throw away the ground I painted some of my cutlery on it. I think the contrast of black and white and shades of grey is quite pleasing.

I would be inclined to use the crackled ground for rustic pieces of work or to use for mixed media and collage work.

Understanding Painting Media Ex 2.3 Painting on a 3D surface

Choose another of your collections to depict. Consider the examples discussed in the introduction to Part Two. Paint an image of your collection or objects from your collection on one of the following surfaces.

Paper cup

Piece of wood


A handbag


A conker



I chose to paint one of the photographs from my collection of photographs. It is a little harbour in Ireland called Ballintoy Harbour.

I paint a lot on stone but mostly for crafts and for school games.


This painting was a little different. It was a miniature using my finest paintbrush and acrylic paints on red slate stone.


Before painting I coated the surface in white acrylic. I found that if you don’t coat with white acrylic first the pigment is transparent and does not offer the range of colours that is needed. The scale of this painting made it impossible to add in all of the detail so I had to be selective.   I found this painting so therapeutic. Having never really painted a seascape on this scale before I was not sure how it would turn out. I didn’t want it to end up looking like a ‘crafted paperweight’. I like how I was able to use the undulations on the stone to represent the harbour wall and the shape seemed to be perfect for this painting.


How could this ground be used

I think that miniature landscapes and seascapes would be ideal for slate stone. Rounder stones run the risk of looking more like a paperweight. I love stones which probably sounds a bit crazy but I think it is amazing that you can hold something that is millions of years old in the palm of your hand. The fossils that I painted in a previous exercise are estimated to be about 95 million years old. The sad thing is that people pass them by, stand on them, throw them in the water and for most people they don’t give heed to the crystals created by chemical reactions or the fact that the little fossil was once a living creature. Awesome! So I think by giving these pebbles and stones a chance to be admired once again has to be profound.

Balintoy was the last holiday I had with my Dad. My photographs were a collection of events, memories and special people. My poor Dad was so ill during the holiday that we spent most of our time admiring the beautiful countryside and talking about days past. I remember sitting at Balintoy, saying nothing. You can do that with someone you know well – no awkwardness about silence. I chose Balintoy for that reason. The stone I painted on was from Devon. I had booked this holiday for Dad’s 70th birthday. He didn’t make it. So the stone was kind of a link between a memory that was and a wish that I could have had more memories with my best friend, Dad.


When I finished the piece I painted a wish flower and the word ‘wish’ with a pyrography iron. On the bottom of the box I wrote a message for my Dad. The box is like a memory box…inside is the treasure. Looking at it I don’t think you would make the connections that I make. I hoped the observer would perhaps ask questions that might lead them to what is important to them and the wishes they would make.

Understanding Painting Media Ex.2.2Large-scale line painting


Create a line drawing in paint on a large sheet of watercolour paper or lining paper (A1 or larger). Choose another one of your collections to paint using any of the materials listed in Exercise 2.1 or acrylics, watercolours or inks. You don’t have to paint the whose of the background colour in unless you want to.


I thought that I will not doubt be painting line drawings in acrylic, watercolours and inks throughout the course so I opted for jam and wine (wine was not on the list but I sacrificed a few drops in the name of art) and I tried painting with a stick. I would have preferred to paint in mud using a stick but it would have been harder to evidence this.


This was not my favourite exercise. I have come to the realisation that I want my mark making to be more pleasing to the eye. The lines are basic and whilst I realist that line drawings are a handy preliminary exercise when planning a composition the lines are (in my eyes) not attractive on their own.


This sketch was a collection of makeup and perfume bottles. I underestimated the scale of the sketch so I did the same again.


I tried to do an outline of my sock collection (that was my entire collection of socks) using wine and jam. It was a sticky mess. I didn’t like using either. Its kind of ironic because I spent ten years of my career in nursery getting children to paint with jam, berries, plant juices and mud and now when I am asked to paint with such forms of media I struggle so much.


How could this be used

I am not sure how I would use this except as a tool for exploring and using with children. I think the exercise was perhaps good in letting us know that there is a wide range of possibilities that we can paint with and that each has unique painting qualities.