Graphic Design Assignment 1

Assignment 1 – Introduce yourself

For this assignment I chose to go with the idea that my postcard would be something digital and could be posted on instagram.  The intention was to create a set of 6 postcards that would contain key information regarding the brief.

The brief:  Design a series of at least 3 postcards (A6) that say something about who you are, your interests in graphic design and your wider cultural influences or interests.


Who am I?

I’m an Irish woman working in teaching and studying art.  I’ve always had an interest in art and design and in the last number of years have been actively learning and developing my skills in it.  My intention is to produce a graphic novel or two in the future and create some illustrations and designs that give people a happy feeling.

What are my interests in graphic design?

I love organic forms and comics.  In particular I love graphic novels.  The way that the story has to be told through images first and the dialogue supports it means the essence of the message and what needs to be said is important.

I appreciate fine art but am not drawn to it.  I am always drawn to strong and bold graphics or organic forms of surface design.  In particular I am drawn to cute characters such as the Tokidoki designs created by Simone Legno.  They have a vibrancy and energy to them although there is very little detail and the strong outline and Japanese manga inspired faces just draw me in.

Manga is something I’m drawn to also, but the books are quite mature in their content.  Ilya Kushinov is a character designer and Lois van Baarle is a character designer and animator.  Their work is always light and bright.  They create characters that seem ethereal in nature and their colour palettes are always like fresh air.  They have a skill for paring back to the key essentials for an image and play around with light reflections.

What are my cultural influences or interests?

Japanese manga and anime has always influenced me.  The storytelling and how they continuously push the boundaries on it is something that I find very interesting.  Often comics tend to be superhero focused, and although I appreciate that form it doesn’t grab my interest as much as independent publishers.  I find that the graphic novels that are one off stories with human elements and non superhero storylines work best for me.  However, with Japanese manga it is often surreal and fantasy like set in a futuristic world so that works well for me too.

Beauty in Decay is a book that I really enjoy as it contains images of abandoned buildings where nature has taken over.  This  type of imagery always stirs my imagination so I’m definitely influenced by it.

Over the years without knowing it, my childhood cartoons have influenced me greatly.  Cartoons such as Bugs Bunny and Mighty Mouse were enjoyed for the colours and humour.  Ulysses and The City of Gold worked for me as it was Manga and the colour palette was bright and interesting, and finally Battle of the Planets for a more adult themed storyline with plenty of action.

I loved to read when I was younger so Nancy Drew, Enid Blyton, Quentin Blake drawings in Roald Dahl stories and The Worst Witch were all favourites.  Harry Potter was a joy to read as an adult.  It captured that feeling of school so well.

Games have also had a massive impact on my art.  Boardgames and videogames.  Again the aspect of Manga from the Final Fantasy series was a big influence.  The worlds created in the 7th game had a massive impact on how artists designed future games and how moviemakers viewed science fiction.  It has definitely pushed the boundaries on imagination.  Character designs for games have to be easily distinguishable from each other so in a way there are overlaps with it and animation.

So my influences from the world are largely from sources as a child.  Adult influences tend to lean towards more human drama and human spirit based reading and watching.  Nature inspires greatly too but more in a colour palette and random patterns way and how it is resilient despite our constant attack on it.


Expressing this through a series of postcards.

This was interesting as I had a few ideas that I wanted to express but I wasn’t sure how to do it.  A series has to have something coherent running through it that makes it obvious that it belongs to the same group.  This was important.

Colour is an easy way to link the work but if the forms were too busy or different then it might not be obvious that they were part of a series.  It was important to try and express the brief while still maintaining a coherent link.


  1. Sketch in pencil on the postcards – a character or book that influenced me
  2. Watercolour over the pencil sketch – use complimentary colours to set the series up as linked
  3. Sketch on part of the postcard – right hand side for the left card and left hand side for the right card, imagining the series to be a set of 6 postcards that could be put together to make a bigger image in a frame.
  4. Draw a full image – cut it into 6 cards – each card containing a key piece of info – like a jigsaw
  5. Draw 3 images and consider they’re like stained glass windows – so bold graphics
  6. Design 6 digital postcards with a view of tiling it on instagram to show full image
  7. Do 6 completely different postcards but keep the pencil or brush pen the same and a colour wash of the same colour over all to finish so tonally they’d link.

idea 1

This image is a great sum up of the influences but doesn’t tell you who I am.  It expresses all the external influences and gives you an idea on what other artists created that I like.  As an illustration it would work but I wasn’t so sure it was going to hit the brief.

It is a design that I like so I would like to follow up on it but for now it’s a good idea so I left it and went on to the next idea.

idea 2

This was the stained glass idea where I had 3 angel figures in a very flat pose so that their outline would look like a stained glass design.  The other details include the esoteric influences such as angel cards, pendulums and herbal essences and oils.  This is something of me.  It is a part of who I am.  I don’t think it was mentioned before as graphic design in this way didn’t occur to me but I’ve included it here to show a part of me that is important.

The idea would be to have text relating to quotations from books that I’ve read from various authors that I find helpful and that inspire me.  Eckart Tolle would be an example.  His writings are calming and help me to stay present when the stress of work and study start to creep in.

The oils are helpful for the same reason and I try to go down the herbal remedy route for health solutions although sometimes you need both.  Either way I feel this represents an aspect of me but doesn’t include all of the influences.  It also feels less illustration lead and more graphic lead.

idea 3

This was a sketch done simply because of the sunshine we’ve been having.  It included things that do represent me and show my influences via the Tokidoki designs and it shows my general mood when the sun is out.  Even when it isn’t out I’m more of a friendly person and lean towards a positive attitude.

So in this image I tried to include important information in each section so that if it was on its own it would still be identified as a individual image but was belonging to the series.

This is the one I decided to go with as it shows the influences from childhood and graphic design but it also shows my positive mental attitude which links to the self help and esoteric interests.

This was also something I could create in AI and PS and play around with the software to get the results I wanted.  I’m learning these tools still so my skills are not great but I felt confident I could use it for this.

gettyimages watermelon
getty images – watermelon

I did use a getty image for the water melon so that the colours were true and it was accurate.  The other images I ended up running out of time to do.  It will be something I will go back to and complete, but I simply found myself taking too long to create the fruit and drinks so it’s more of a skills issue and I didn’t want to miss my deadline.

The image was given some texture via paper that was scanned in.  It was copied and rotated a few times before adjusting on the opacity and settling for this verison.  I am happy with it but might go back and assess it for the grain.  It could work better if smaller maybe.

I also put up 3 versions of the image on the facebook group page and asked for feedback.  I wanted to see which was the least busy and which worked best for people.  I also wanted to see if they thought ‘go back to the drawing board’ was an option!


The first seems cramped into the bottom half and the vectors are not clean on the dashed lines.

The second has a softer background but is still too cramped.

The third is less cramped but the banner in the middle makes it look more like a stamp or packaging thing.

There is also a question mark on the use of the pill as a Vit.D – it could be promoting drugs but it is meant to indicate the sunshine is pill to your ills so to speak!


I went with this one and then I added the Happy Pride as it is relevant for the weekend.  I tried to post it on instagram in a tiled format but failed – that is a new skill that will have to be looked at as I would like to do an image with a tiled effect to see what it looks like.

Screenshot (177).png

Graphic Design Exercise 1 – Part 1

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Picture charades

Key words for brief:  charades using only drawing

No single words permitted so symbols to represent the film, book or T.V.

I road tested with my instagram followers but not many responded but they did like so I’m going to have to assume that they understood the images.  For my husband it was a bit of a stretch with some of them and he got there simply through knowing my taste in movies.  For the phrases and idioms he got there a lot faster so I was happy with that.

I used markers for this exercise and a range of either half pages in an A5 sketchbook or a thumbnail.  The paper is a nice weight at 170gsm so it can take a certain amount of marker before really looking terrible.  The back of the page does get a bleed through but it isn’t awful for this exercise.

First up I tried some movie images that would hopefully be easily recognized.  The simple one was ‘Ladybird’ so I went for a strong background and a lovely ladybird on top.

The next movie was ‘IT’ and I went for the image of the water flowing into the gutters and seeing the eyes staring back at you.  The start of the movie has it and it’s when a small child is taken first.  The obvious image to go for would have been a child in a yellow coat holding a red balloon.  It’s already a poster so I wanted to try something else.  This was easily recognised although it is quite confusing with the lines.

I tried it again using a red background to represent the balloon and a close-up of the clowns face but funnily enough it wasn’t as easily recognisable (bottom half).  Next I tried ‘Taxi Driver’ and went for the classic New York taxi colours with a contrast of the character as he was and what he became.  When I flipped the image and showed the Mohican haircut then it was identified easily.  It was really tough to decide what to focus on here.  I think even just a close up on the haircut, a beauty spot and the yellow, black and white background may have been better.

This is just a test on things and so the images are not big but I can see how a bigger image and a focus on the silhouette of the taxi driver killer character could be more iconic and so people would recognise him a lot easier.

Next up I tried ‘Blade Runner 2049’ and ‘Thor: Ragnok’.  This had a lot of iconic imagery in the movie but the colour palette is amazing for both movies.  They’ve got this neon quality to the blues and pinks with a dust like quality to the orange.  They’re fantastic.

So I focused on that and tried to convey a main character that is often depicted in the trailers.  Very much the same as the Blade Runner first movie when the image of the geisha selling coca cola became iconic, I went for the woman with the blue hair.

The shape of the head was a little off so I used tipp-ex to fix that then added the range of hands.  They’re not the best but I hoped the general vibe of hologram, glitching and main holographic woman image from the future would be recognised.  It wasn’t.  So I went back to the doodle book.

Next up I tried a different image, trying to portray the contrast in size and show the oversized female form dwarfing over the main character.  Still not recognised.  So I went for a shot of the main character staring at the blue woman with a strong pink that is the light reflected from the city.  The numbers were added and then he finally got it.  This one has a strong positive reaction on instagram as the colours represented the film strongly and the shot of the characters eyes show you he’s staring at someone or something.

Using the markers with the Thor thumbnail was interesting.  I tried to pick out the important info that would convey the character but also show the movie was a different one.  For example, the helmet and the sword are for combat while Thor normally has his hammer.  The cloak is his but this movie is has a beard.  The blue eyes are meant to assist with character recognition.  It kind of worked but wasn’t super obvious.

Just for a contrast I tried the same thing out with a range of idioms and phrases.  This was much more successful and 7 of the 8 images were identified quickly.  The only one that caused some confusion was the 7th which was ‘I’m all ears’ but the size was focused on instead.

Part 2 – Exercises

Projects 1-3 with Exercises complete except of Project 3 Exercise 3.

I’m posting up a range of images that were produced for the exercises in Part 2 as a way of moving forward.  It turns out that nagging doubt about things in the back of my mind was well founded.  The reason wasn’t clear at first, but the reality became apparent after discussing my situation with student support.

The drawing skills 1 is aimed at fine art students and is ideal for those pursuing the painting course.  There are those that would benefit from it on the other courses, if it is something you haven’t explored before.  I had hoped it would develop my skills in perspective and figure drawing to assist with illustration.

The fine art aspect however was taking me away from what I wanted to do thus stressing me out a lot.  The time constraints became really real and I came to the unfortunate realization that it wasn’t a good match for me right now.  I’m continuing with it in a non assessed manner so that I get the benefit of the course at the pace that works while still pursuing the Visual Comm degree.  I love graphic art, strong bold lines, comics and animation.  This is where I want to take my art.  I hope to do that.

So the exercises uploaded are aimed at helping anyone in a similar dilemma and hopefully help others on Part 2.  I’ll post stuff up still but it won’t be in the context of fine art as much.

Project 1 – Exercise 1 – Detailed natural object drawing

Shells from the beach using polychromos pencils, charcoal and pencil.  

Shells were put onto different coloured paper to test which one would make the shells pop.  It was interesting to see how the tones in the shell changed according to the colour of the paper too.

A successful range of images produced as the ridges in the shells were interesting to draw and a subtle coral pink could be detected in the shells when placed on certain coloured paper.  The tones were difficult to achieve using a charcoal stick and I felt that the polychromos pencils stood up to the task better.  Sketchbook was A5 as the pencils are tougher to use when a4 or bigger paper is used.


Project 2 – Exercise 1 – Still life using line – Pepper



I’ve used the same pepper for a couple of exercises here to keep a constant in this and explore the lines, media and colours.  Here I used a technical pencil and H pencil and dip ink pen.  Of all of them I felt that for getting lines the technical pencil was easier.  A HB lead was used and it worked well.  The H pencil wasn’t great and a better option would be a softer lead.  The dip ink pen was lovely and scratchy but more difficult to get some soft tones in it.  A drop of water perhaps could have worked well here, but I wanted to see what the lines would do.

Project 2 – Exercise 2 – still life in tone using colour – Peppers


mixed media 2

This worked nicely.  The polychromos pencils again, this just made the whole blending of colours such a fun experience and the colours used were great and easy to overlap.  There was a point where I had to use black to make the shadows pop more but overall the pepper done this way was enjoyable.  There is the same issue coming up again. The size of the paper being used.  It was a3 again but I’m drawing small.

Project 2 – Exercise 3 – still life in mixed media – Pepper

watercolour travel kit, watercolour brush pens and posca markers.

mixed media1


Pepper as the constant I found that the posca gave a rather interesting finish to the half pepper image as there wasn’t a blend option.  The whole pepper was stronger in colour because the markers were used but again there was no blend option.

The watercolour brushes are okay but I found them tricky to use.  Not the tools but my use of them rendered them awful here, but the colours were stronger in the brush pens than the travel kit.  They just looked muddy from the kit.  So posca win for sharpness but the brush pens could be used better.

Project 2 – Exercise 4 – Monochrome

Lemons some cut and quartered, in a fruit bowl with a net over them.


Lemons in a white bowl were used for this exercise as the combination of the net and the glossy sheen from the juices were an interesting challenge.  Polychromos pencils were used again and I found that although this was a monochrome drawing, some of the pencil colours used to achieve it were not what I imagined they’d be.  The slight shadow cast inside the fruit bowl had an aubergine type colour in it so I added that in.

I printed off a picture of the fruit bowl I had photographed.  There were a number to choose from but I felt this was the best composition as it gave me the net, various shades of yellow (although it looks more orange in the pic) and the flesh of the lemon.


So in this image they look very yellow, in the printed version they don’t.  The composition of the image in that the lemons take up 2/3s of the frame is also what drew me to it.  The image above it would have been interesting too as it appears more centered.  Either way it was interesting to see how the colours went in it.  It was difficult to avoid it going muddy but dodging the use of black seemed to help.  The net was tricking as hell and isn’t clean looking but it got included.


Project 3 – Exercise 1 – Interior quick sketches



both of these were with a dip ink pen and for the top one I used a brush with water to push the ink out more or give a stronger contrast.


Project 3 – Exercise 2 – Interior compostion


I used a viewfinder for this exercise as a way to try and find a good composition first.  This had a lot of straight lines in it but I loved the black on white from the frames of bookshelves, pictures on doors and the mirror.  The shadows being cast were interesting too.

The viewfinder helped as I drew on it in whiteboard marker.  It helped to think of the lines as just that rather than put a noun on it like ‘door’ or ‘frame’.  This way I was more interested in how the lines met.

I used charcoal as it was easier to get the blanket of colour down and lift off the lines with a rubber.  It worked to some degree but again I’m working small, even though it was an A3 pad!  I didn’t use the FULL page.

Project 3 – Exercise 3 – material differences – due

Part 1 – Feedback




  1. It is clear that you are fully engaged in the work and you are starting to explore aspects of drawing from life as well as extend your seeing skills.
  2. You are writing up your thoughts in your written evaluation of each exercise well across the whole of this submission.
  3. Further feedback was that I have good drawing skills and am creative.



  1. Research more and bring it into the exercises and work
  2. Slow down and draw what I see and park the draw what I think I see creative bit for now
  3. Reference correctly using The Harvard System
  4. Explore tone and experiment and play more with materials
  5. Mapping out – more discipline needed here
  6. Sketchbooks – physical form – how much am I using it?



Reflections on Part 1 feedback


This was a mixed bag for me.  I’d just finished one unit and had submitted it and then threw myself into this unit and had an illustrators cap still on me.  On reflection I hadn’t given myself time to breathe and change lanes and really get into the drawing here.  The drive was on producing the work rather than sitting into it and enjoying the process of connecting with a new unit.  The focus was on task completion rather than fully engaging with experimentation.


The other bit present was pressure.  I had myself under a huge amount of pressure to submit Part 1 as quickly as possible as there had been so many stops and starts with Illustration I really didn’t want to miss deadlines or extend for this unit.  I had to pause it while finishing the first one!  I deeply underestimated the workload associated with the course overall.


So after getting the feedback I could only see the negatives.  I read through it twice and effectively lost the will to do the course.  It stayed like that for a few weeks.  My energy just focused on work and other areas of my life as I hadn’t the energy or the will to continue on.  It felt like the things that had given me joy and a will to do this all in the first place, were not even being focused on as the study was dominating everything.  Only in the last week or two have I returned to the feedback and properly reviewed it.


So my feeling at present is that the observations and feedback were great, to the point and exposed exactly what my weaknesses were.  Nothing terrible in that but my ability to see past it previously was just not there.  My head could make sense of it only last week and I slowly returned to it.  I’m not sure why I blocked it as the whole point of the course is to experiment, exercise, draw, explore and really connect with the material.  For some reason I just don’t feel I’m connecting to it right now.


I’m being very open and honest about it here, there were weeks when I wanted to pack it in and just drop the course.  Even now re-reading the feedback, there isn’t anything profoundly negative about it but deep inside it feels like the love for it isn’t there.  That’s never good.


So I’ve a list of things I want to be aware of for Part 2, but I’m going to see where it takes me and see if I get it done for the deadline.  My heart isn’t in it and that makes me quite sad as the enthusiasm I had for choosing the course feels like it has evaporated.  It’s a matter of perspective of course, but something in me just felt like ‘what is the point’ as it took way longer to complete the other unit, assessment was in March, results are due this month…the course feels like it’ll take forever to complete if I’m honest.  It takes up more time than I expected and my life feels like it is little more than a work then study merry-go-round for the last 2 years.  So my enthusiasm to push through this feeling is close to zero and I am not feeling the good vibes of curiosity and a want to go and explore anything.


In fact the last few weeks I went back to simply reading comics, enjoying graphic novels, doodling random stuff and feeling a sense of freedom in ignoring the course.  Life felt lighter without it.  Super moan here – but I wanted to let that feeling out instead of having it mope around my art space for any longer.


So for me personally, the next part is going to be an experiment on whether I want to continue to do this.  If my heart isn’t in it there is no point, but I want to check whether it’s a self sabotage moment because discipline is being called upon or whether it’s a true and honest but not easy admission that this isn’t the course for me.


So in conclusion – the feedback was helpful, the points made bang on and the observations and suggestions on how to move forward relevant.  My own enthusiasm isn’t present and I’ve got to observe why and whether it can be remedied.  You’d think I’d channel these feelings into drawings but I’m that disconnected with it at present that I can’t be bothered to. Not a happy thing to admit or to say out loud and post on a blog – but I’m keeping it honest.

Part 2 – Research on negative space


Research point 2 – Negative and Positive spaces in 21st Century Art

Positive space is the space we see occupied by a person, place or thing.  The space surrounding these people, places or things is considered negative space.  It is the manipulation of these spaces that can create very interesting art and suggest things to the viewer or observer.  In some art a pattern can be applied to cause a trick to occur with the combination of pattern and spaces interacting.

Negative space can be used to great effect in a painting and image.  The Japanese have a word, Ma, which refers to negative space as a moment to pause.  In Chinese it is Wu Wei, the art of non action and non doing which we often are exposed to via Taoism.  This translates in illustrations and paintings as allowing the space to exist to allow human imagination to fill in the gaps effortlessly.

In comics we see the use of negative and positive spaces quite often.  Black and white printing is cheaper than colour and so many would opt for that.  However, Frank Miller makes best use of negative space to suggest action and atmosphere in his graphic novel Sin City.

Frank Miller
Frank Millers Sin City – google image source

Soey Milk is a contemporary illustrator and artist, and often uses negative spaces in her work to allow for room to breathe.  In this image she allows the negative space to show us the flow of her figures hair while the rest of the image can be clearly viewed.

Soey Milk Illustration Onsemiro
Soey Milk – Onsemiro –

On a simpler note images can be created by simply leaving out some of the objects or people and allowing the negative space to direct your attention to the key points or places.

Used in posters and advertising it is particularly effective in stirring up the imagination and making the leap to fill in the space.  It is very effective and with the simplest of spaces chosen, the key message is conveyed.

Here Iron Man is clearly outlined in the shadow but the negative space allows for a minimum use of detail to suggest this.

image sourced via google images 


This image by Sedki Alimam is fantastic in how it uses the skull and the silhouette of the smoke and buildings to bring the image to life.

Sedki Alimam –


Tattoos are a great form of negative space and the designs such as this maximise the use of it.

Tattoo Artists working in negative space –


In the image below, the artist Lauren Blackburn has allowed the image to deteriorate and the negative space to move forward to bring her image to life.  Her focus was on exploring the destabilisation in a fixed image and the associated memory.  Her portrait is made all the more haunting by the fact that she allows the dripping to dissolve the fixed image.

Lauren Blackburn
Lauren Blackburn –


Pinterest –  21.10  14.02.18   20.20 08.02.18   21.13  14.02.18 – Soey Milk images – negative space ads – Lauren Blackburn – Tattoo artists working in negative space

Part 2 – Research Point on Still Life

Research point 1 – a history of still life : From the 16th Century to the 19th Century

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A brief history

Still life began in the 16th century although its origins were from the Middle Ages and Greco-Roman Art.  Religious forms and artifacts featured in many paintings before the 1700s but the later part depicted a range of objects, quite often game and flowers.

Popular forms of still life were food and flowers, with still life of game and fish often depicted in realism forms.  The earliest forms of still life were found on walls and in mosaic designs from the Grecco-Roman period and Egyptian period, but the form of painting became more popular in the early 1600s.

Although the motifs were found commonly in books and manuscripts prior to this date, they were often related to religious symbolism.  The later forms depicted many symbols but were not purely religious in their message.  The term ‘still life’ is derived from the Dutch word ‘stilleven’.  Much of the work that is attributed as being part of the Golden Age of still life was done between the 1500 and 1600s  as Netherlandish art.

Willem Kalf was a Dutch painter that studied light reflections, colour, texture, harmony and contrast.  He’d put odd objects together to create an interesting image but the focus was still on making the painting as real as possible.

The main reason for its rising popularity in the early 1600s, particularly in The Netherlands area, was down to the suburbanization of the Dutch and Flemish society, which in turn gave rise to an increase in value on material objects.  Things were valued and as such, objects were represented in paintings.  Nature was also represented, particularly rare flowers and herbs, along with the symbolism associated with these plants there was the acknowledgement of botanical studies and appreciation of the sciences.

These objects were often held in high value so to have them painted demonstrated the clients wealth.  The mid 1600s is the best representation of this as items imported were often depicted in still life displays such as Chinese porcelain and imported flowers.

Hunting trophies became a popular thing to include in a still life.  Again it related to the prestige and wealth associated with having a full table and the luxury of good hunting.

The traditional form of still life was based on realism and being true to nature and what you were observing.  Towards the mid to late 1800s and the early 1900s, this changed as artists began to explore the texture and form of the objects rather than focusing just on the realism of them.

Paul Cezanne – apple still life –

Paul Cezanne(1879-1882) broke with tradition and created still life paintings that had sloped tables and colour in patch work.  The perspective is skewed in some images and realism is avoided as he pushes for colour, shapes and tones.  A depth was created and correctness was sacrificed in order to keep the painting vibrant.  He deliberately broke the rules.

Vincent van Gogh went one step further and broke the tradition of representation by going with what he felt.  He focused on colour and form rather than accuracy and reality.  He didn’t sell his work and most of it was produced in the last ten years of his life, but he is well known for his work and it has a high value attached to it now.

Both him and Cezanne didn’t want to overthrow traditions but did want to distort it to achieve their goal.  A Spanish painter, Juan Gris, was influenced by cubism and his still life focuses on symbolism as well as literal image of the objects.  There is a dual message in his painting but it is far from the realism of the Dutch painters from the 1500 and 1600s.

Juan Gris – Le Beau – image from

It seems that the form of traditional art was rebelled against and experimentation of colour, texture, form and feeling took precedence. Artists had access to a range of new colours too, so that influenced their approach as well as a deliberate break with tradition.  Cubism rejected the single viewpoint and experimented with different perspectives and views.

Later a return to traditional forms occurred and artists rejected fashionable movements in favour of a return to the art form of the Golden Age in a bid to perfect their craft.  Art was originally for the wealthy and aristocracy, but as this notion of art was questioned and forms experimented with, art became more accessible for the masses and thus changed its form to suit that.



Pieter Claesz
image from

Pieter Claesz  Still Life with a Skull and a Writing Quill  1628  oil on wood

Haarlem Painter

  • Composition

There is a small candle holder, a feather quill and skull sitting on a book and papers with a goblet on its left side.  The wood is filled with the shapes of the objects and there is very little background filling up the space.

  • Lines

The medium is oil and so there isn’t much in the way of lines produced by a sketch visible.  There are lines that are created by the objects however, and they serve to guide your eye around the image.

  • Shapes

Most of the shapes are circular with a suggestion of rectangle from the book and paper.  The quill offers a tapered elliptical shape at one end and a sharp triangle at the other.  It sits on a rectangle base.

  • Tones

The tones are quite muddy and the main contrast is from reflective surfaces of the glass, skull and candle holder.  It feels like everything in the image is old and well worn.  The quill is weathered looking from use and the books pages yellow from aging while the cover for the paper is creased and well worn.  There appears to even be a layer of dust on the table surface.  The skull is even missing teeth.

  • Colours

The colour scheme looks like it was from a blue and orange complimentary scale but the weathered theme brought them into tired looking hues rather than bright versions of the colours.  The glass is a dark finish and echoes a black from the item under the quill, while the white of the quill brings your attention to the centre of the image and leads your eye to the skull.

  • Patterns

There doesn’t appear to be any pattern from etching or a fabric design but the reflections of the window in the glass suggest a pattern of pairs.  Two eye sockets,  the windows of the soul, two window reflections and two white lines from the quill and exposed paper along with the circles under the quill.  The candle stick has a pattern of two surfaces.  Symmetry appears important.

  • Textures

The main texture is from the skull and quill.  Hard versus soft.  Then the glass and candle stick are hard so the book and paper balance that out as they’re softer materials.

  • Process and technique

He used oil on wood but there doesn’t appear to be any wood grain coming through the image.  The soft diffused light on the skull and the strong reflections on the glass are a beautiful way to render those objects.

There appears to be a light from the left and front while the shadow is also on the left and then a shadow is cast behind the skull which is then highlighted by some soft light to set it off.

  • Interpretation and context

My interpretation is that the candle represented burning the midnight oil, possibly working a lot.  The skull represents death and the end of something, as it is sitting on papers and a book I think it suggests that the work related to writing.  The glass is empty, so it would suggest that this work and dedication to it yielded no wine perhaps.

According to  it suggests that “worldly efforts are ultimately in vain.”



Photo 06-02-2018, 16 22 00
National Gallery of Ireland 

Frans Snyders   Still Life Banquet Piece  1620s  oil on canvas Flemish artist

  • Composition

This is a full painting and fully lives up to the name of banquet.  It has a range of food and flowers along with drink and even a live animal at the centre.  The squirrel may not be for eating but the lobster most definitely is.  The centre of the banquet seems to be the fruit bowl which is brimming with an assortment of things.  In fact there is so much abundance on the table that things are piled on top of one another.  The flowers that are dipping into the frame on the left may not be a central feature but they are still important so contribute to the decadence presented to us.

  • Lines and Shapes

Again there are no obvious lines produced from a sketch as it is has been painted over, so I will focus on the lines guiding the viewer in the image instead.  The cutlery is not presented in an orderly fashion, instead it is strewn around the table but it still acts as a guiding line to where the eye should be.  It acts to contain the important objects within that sector.  It appears to me that the image is broken into 3 sections.

The first section from the left has a vertical focus but the flowers are taller and soften the height by the roundness of the buds.  The round vessels in the middle also slow down the eye and we have a similar shape in the tail of the squirrel to the jug.  The glass at the back of this jug helps your eye move up again and into the centre of the fruit bowl in the middle section.  Here it is a festival of fruit and difficult to know what to focus on as the shapes are oval, circular and very round.

We depend on the vines to drop us off at the lobster in the third section and the lines created in the segments of its tail are echoed in the lemon and the melon.  To ensure your eye enjoys this section the knife is perpendicular to the tail of the lobster to cut off a return to the left.  It is a remarkably busy piece and as such you rely on the artist to guide your eye through it or be left to wander and not enjoy it as much.

  • Tones

The background is dark and the table top is neutral and light but without reflection.  It has a light from the front and so we see everything clearly and no sharp shadows are present except for the squirrels tail and plate.

  • Colours

The dominant colours are red, orange and yellow and the accent is green.  The brownish orange hue of the squirrel balances out the hot red of the lobster and keeps the colour balance in the centre of the image.  Without it the red of the glass next to the pink of the rose would sever the image almost in half.  The colours are rich and express the freshness of the banquet, but the abundance of food and it’s piling up suggest it could go off quickly.  In fact the presence of a squirrel suggests that the person holding the banquet isn’t aware of their own abundance.

  • Patterns and Textures

These are present in the glassware and metal containers on the left which are softened by the rose petals.  The centre is well balanced by having reflective surfaces on either side of matt finish fruit and the lobsters glowing shell has a lovely reflective quality that gets stopped by the coarse melon skin.  The bird on the top echoes the same colours as the containers on the left and again it shows us that the animals are stepping in to feast on it as there was more food than was needed.

  • Process and technique

He is constantly wrestling the colours on the canvas and the amount of light bouncing off surfaces.  He has a glass receeding into the background because he wanted the height and transparency only, not the high reflection.  Meanwhile the strong colours of the red grapes and fruit coupled with the lobster have to be kept in a cooler form by keeping the brightness of it through the peachy tones to the left and right.

  • Interpretation and context

My interpretation of it is that the owner of the banquet has no idea of their own wealth and they don’t care either.  They’re happy to avail of the food and abundance they have but there is a gluttony attached to it too.  The fact that it was a bird and a squirrel was interesting so it must hold some meaning.  In that situation a mouse or a rat would have been a more accurate rodent to pick for it.

It’s a Baroque painting so this period would have been extremely lavish in its form of interior decoration and so this painting represents that extreme decorative format well in the food department.

National Gallery of Ireland

Juan Fernandez – A still life with citrons a knife and a Peapods on a Stone Ledge  oil on canvas  mid 1630s  Spanish artist

  • Composition

This is very focused and unlike the other images discussed, it is one fruit only for the still life.  This is very different from the others as we focus in on just the one item and the variation comes from the ways in which the segments are displayed.

  • Lines and Shapes

The main lines for the image are formed from the knife, leaves from the stalks and branches and the peapods.  It all gets used to focus your attention into the centre to where the main feature is.  The citrons are sitting in the centre of the ledge and the roundness of the fruit is offset with the triangular segments and then the half segment.  Within these segments of the fruit we have more triangular shapes to echo the leaves again.  The peas are the only other round shapes present to echo the fruit yet their pods are triangular.  The symmetry is echoed in two citrons and two unopened pods their right.  The sections exposed of the pods echo the segments of the fruit cut.  Even the knife handle has angles on it.

  • Tones and Colours

The contrast between light and dark helps the colours to pop from the canvas.  The centre light on the fruit helps us to see the beautiful yellow but as the skin is uneven there is no reflective quality from it.  The sections of fruit help the light to be reflected and serve to help us see how juicy the fruit is.  This also helps to cool down the tone of the skin of the fruit.  It’s quite bumpy and has a slightly warm yellowy orange tone to it so the clean white of the lemon brings it back to citron colours.

The peapods are very subdued here as are the leaves.  They have an almost dry quality to them as if they were burning in the sun or something.  The background is also interesting as it has this orange hue in it and a hint of red through it.  This is captured in some of the shadows although there is a lot of grey here under the knife.  So I feel like the greens were played down to help allow the yellow to shine and the show in the background was played up as a burnt orange tone to help the yellow stand out further.  To make sure the green still held some hold in the painting I think the aubergine element was added behind the largest citron in the form of an artichoke.

  • Patterns and Textures

The citron has a wealth of texture in it and the leaves are crispy almost.  The patterns appear in the segments and the peas in the pod, along with the almost hidden artichoke in the background.

  • Interpretation and context

He was heavily influenced by the work of Caravaggio and how the painter had a flair for dramatic lighting.  This is evident in his attention to realism in the textures and how the light seems to show the centre part of the image and shroud the rest in shadow.  However, it is the influence of the Flemish painters that gives him his passion for attention to detail.

My own interpretation is that the focus here is on the natural beauty of the object itself and not in any other form of message.  There is a celebration of all parts of the fruit while the peas play a happy part to support that.  I do love how he used every part of the canvas to direct your attention to the fruit.  It isn’t in the middle either, it appears to lean off to the right more and the bunch of leaves on the left emerge out of the shadows to push your attention to the centre.  There is no place to go but to the centre, as all corners have something to push you towards it and where the main feature lies.

So far all three paintings express a traditional approach to honouring what they see.  They focus on realism and putting the form of what they see onto the canvas in a dedicated fashion.  The final result is a thing of beauty and the attention to detail astonishing.  They appear to leap out of the frame and can almost be touched.  This level of attention to detail along with a strong dramatic shadow and light effect was soon to be deconstructed.

Photo 06-02-2018, 16 22 48
National Gallery of Ireland

Jan Weenix –  Game piece : the garden of a Chateau  1690s oil on canvas Dutch painter


This has a phenomenal amount going on in it.  There is now a range of animals in it, relating to game.  There are fruits half eaten and a basket full of fresh fruit.  There is a scene in the background that suggests a house or estate where the person lives or the client lives.  The focus is on the hare, cock and fruit with the extra information behind them adding to the abundance of the hunting trophies.  This is shouting wealth.

  • Lines and shapes

There is the branch or stick that starts at the top of the painting and directs us to the hare straight away.  It is a carcass hanging from it and to its left is a hefty sized bird.  The wings and the feathers shape into a rounded form which echoes the fruit below it.  The front legs point in this direction two while the back leg free rests on the bird.  The half eaten pomegranate has it’s skin point towards the fruit and the basket and this leads our eyes to the right hand side of the painting.  The shadow on the extreme right pushes our view towards the centre slightly and past the hare to the right where further examples of kills are present.  This then presents us with a glimpse of a huge estate from which these gains were made.

  • Tones and Colours

There is shadow along all the edges and the dramatic skies lead us into pale blue calm to suggest that the estate in the distance has an almost heavenly quality to it.  The forefront shows us all the kills gained from a good hunt.  There is no blood present but the limp bodies are plump and suggest they’ve been well fed before hunted.

The colours are soft and fluffy for the feathers and fur and the clouds in the back almost echo this.  The colours are quite muted and soft except for the sharp plum tones and peachy bright hues at the bottom of the painting.  They are balancing the reddish purple tones from the birds head feathers and the grapes.

The blue is the sky in the distance is balanced with softer browns of the fur and ground.  There isn’t a strong green in this and the flowers at the top are to cool the reds perhaps.  Overall there is a feeling of decadence from the colours as they’re quite rich and bright in parts.

  • Patterns and Textures

The main textures noted are that of the bird and hare, the feathers and fur.  There is a fuzzy peach in the basket and the petals of the rose would suggest softness too while everything else gives a sense of softness in the fruit and the way in which they’ve been arranged.  There is a deliberate celebration of the hunt.

  • Interpretation and context

This image does celebrate the hunt but not in the way I thought it was doing.  My interpretation was quite direct and I thought it was celebrating the wealth of the person who commissioned the painting.  The size of the estate they owned could be seen in the distance and the abundance in the foreground.

However this is a painting to which Weetix aspired to.  It represented the type of wealth he wished he had and what the middle class aspired to have and be like.  This is not real but it is out of the imagination of the artist.  Hunting was restricted to the aristocracy only and so although he painted in a realistic style, he was aspiring to something rather than being true to what he saw in a literal sense.

A brief study of colour on two still life paintings:

Stilllife 1 - colour and compositionStilllife 2 - colour and composition


still life images from the 1600s  21.00  14.02.18

still life articles referencing 1600s 20.05  14.02.18  20.20 08.02.18    06.02.18 visit – images own a history of still life  images of still life

E.H. Gombrich, The Story of Art, Phaidon – pages 113, 430-1, 542-3, 548, 578,609.

Images in slide show taken at a visit to the National Gallery of Ireland and posted here for the purpose of research and study only.


Part 1 Assignment 1 – Still life of objects


What did I do?

I created a still life of objects that were important to me, placed them at eye level and then lit them from above from a single light source.  I used A2 newsprint and sketched the still life using a charcoal for one image and a polychromos pencil for the other.

I also tried to apply an effect that I had been trying out via extra work done during the weekend, to see if this would provide me with anything good or different or interesting.


How did I feel or think about it?

It was interesting to have to collect objects that were important to me and it was difficult to pick the ones that would best suit the still life.  I wanted to pick things that were relevant and important, so I chose the things that help me through my studies and other areas.

Glasses – without these I can’t see a thing so they’re extremely important to me.

Rescue Remedy – study and work brings on a lot of stress for me so this is a gem of a thing to have to hand.

Half a lemon – this is a life saver for indigestion and since taking it in water for the last number of months I have found my digestion normal again.  A combo of age and inactivity are to blame for the problem in the first place.

Ear muffs – they help prevent ear infections by keeping my ear warm during the cold months and although a hat is good, it doesn’t target the important bits that cause me trouble.

Anti wrinkle night cream – a miracle and it helps me feel like I can face the day.

Irish breakfast tea – the best tea out there for starting the day with, it just sets me up nicely.  I’m not sure what I would do with that.  Earl Grey and Lady Grey are fantastic but not at 6.30am.

How well did it go?

The charcoal was great because I could block in the items quickly and use the pressure to assess the tone of the shadow to work with.  It got very messy so there wasn’t a lot of key detail in it, but for capturing the placement of objects and providing a rough idea on an image it was good.

It wasn’t something I wanted to go into detail with though and so tried the pencil to assess whether this would work better.

It did not.

I did achieve more detail with it but the colour of the paper coupled with the polychromos pencil just didn’t pop off the page.  It really wasn’t what I was after.  Having used different paper earlier in the week I thought that might be the problem, but the paper I was using as a backdrop was giving me some great shadows and none of the coloured paper I had would have complimented the set up.  A lavender perhaps or even a dark grey, but the colours I had were too garish.

The pencil was finished off with an ink pen and then it was given some colour with other pencils.  I had been avoiding using colour as I wanted to explore the shadow and light aspect of the still life.  However in this instance, in order to bring it to life as such, I needed to inject something.

What did I learn?

Pencil is fine for smaller work – or so I keep telling myself.  However I still need to draw bigger.  An A2 is best and I need to loosen up and go with the size of the page.  I’m still finding myself going to the corner of the page or trying to contain it but it needs a blast of going out the edges and beyond.  I can see that and I just need to retrain myself to do that.

The charcoal is great but the willow charcoal might be better for mapping it out on a coloured page.  More A2 and A1 sheets in colours I like – definitely a must.  I did enjoy exploring charcoal and this has put me on the road to a happy place.

The hatching and line making for shadows wasn’t fully explored in the charcoal drawing but I did employ it in the pencil one.  It worked but somewhere along the line I felt that it made it look too cartoon like.  Then I went and outlined it in ink to make it pop again.

The final images were the ‘glitching’ effect I kept trying out.  The frottage aspect for me was employed in the ear muffs that had a knitted effect and the reflection of the glasses and glass bottle employed the lessons from the earlier exercises.  The lid of the moisturiser was also highly reflective.

As the light was strong the shadows were strong so this is shown in the pencil exercise.

I achieved a good tonal range in the pencil drawing but not in the charcoal.  The glitching was applied to give an effect that I see in painting, but it could be interpreted as a ‘rubbing’ or ‘smudging’ to distract from the image.  I’m not sure if it added to it or is simply a distraction or misdirection.

How can this help me in future exercises?

  • Bigger paper
  • More muted palette for the paper
  • Use artbars
  • Try to pick out objects that frottage could be used for
  • Be more experimental with the hatching for shadow – soft lines even




Part 1 Research Point – Odilon Redon


Odilion Redon; born April 20, 1840, Bordeaux, France—died July 6, 1916, Paris(1)

“I have often, as an exercise and as a sustenance, painted an object down to the smallest accidents of its visual appearance; but the day left me sad and with an unsatiated thirst. The next day I let the other source run, that of imagination, through the recollection of the forms and I was then reassured and appeased.” (2)

A brief history on Redon:

  • He worked in charcoal and lithograph for a large section of his career, particularly in the first half of it.
  • He focused on noir and the depths of black first and then went on to explore the depths of colour.
  • His work is laced with symbolism –(symbolism is a rejection of naturalistic art and an emphasis on the reality of imagination(6))
  • His most famous work relates to monsters from his imagination

Looking at the vast amount of work created by Redon, and reading his quote at the top of the website, gave me a lovely sense of calm about working in charcoal.  The beautiful manner in which he explores the depth of black and how he manages through charcoal to make the images to appear diffused and soft yet creepy and quite dark is inspiring.

It captures the realm of charcoal in a way I hadn’t experienced before and the light lines coupled with the black hole depth of parts of his work, is astonishing.  The layers that must have been applied to get to that depth are amazing and the contrasts are clear still.  There is no muddy quality to the whites and paler sections.  Instead they serve to provide a balance to the image.


This smiling spider(3) is particularly fantastic.  The spider completely dominates the top left of the image and hangs precariously from it.  The dark corner in which it hides has a great quality of shadow that appears to be a series of lines and marks simply softened lightly.  The edges of the page are hugged by the legs of the spider as if they were the edges of the corner in which he hides.

But the spider isn’t passive in this image.  He sits, and waits and the smile that is emerging from his face is quite humanlike and suggests something menacing.

She knows something that we don’t and can see something we can’t.  Are we in the web?  Are we observing or participating?  Do we really know what is going on here?

The opposites in light and dark from left to right corners are amazing.  The eye is drawn straight into the centre but the framing of the piece by the legs forces you to go down and observe the empty space that seems to be waiting for something to appear in it.

I love the weight of the spider in the image, the manner in which it completely occupies the space, the thin sharp spindly legs contrast against the soft fuzzy body of the smiling assassin.

It holds together so much and represents a lot more than a spider.  This image is from a lithograph he created having done a charcoal sketch.  It mentioned on the website that the tiled floor gives the real world placement and 3D form so we are anchored in a place familiar to us.  I feel like it represents more than that, as the proportions seem a little off and we’ve been invited into an extreme close up.  As mentioned you have to question if the smiling spider is the last thing you see before you’re eaten.


Redon suffered from epilepsy and was drawn to the shadows and murky side during his childhood.  He originally went to study as an architect but failed his entrance exam and so went into the world of art.  He had agreed to study architect to please his family but his interests lay in art.


His early work is distinctly dark and full of odd imagery and symbolism and what he called ‘monsters’.  However, he starts to move towards lighter colours in the later part of his career  He was interested in science and during his studies in art, his friend, Armand Clavaud (a botanist) introduced him to the writings of Charles Darwin.  The mutated forms in his charcoal drawings and noir body of work are influenced by the publishing of Darwin’s ‘Origins of life’.   He also developed an interest in spiritualism around the same time.  The concept of mutated forms is also expressed through eyeballs and floating heads with winged parts.

The emergence of Astrophysics as a field of study in the 1860s also gave rise to new inspiration in the field of art(5).  The discovery of stars is well expressed in the lithograph of ‘Germination’, giving the impression that we are all made of stars and the seeds of our future in are in them.

His career in art was put on hold while he was in the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 and the effects left him with post traumatic stress(4).  Through his art it would appear that he worked out his dark thoughts and visions as a means of healing the trauma as the return from the war led him to begin work on his ‘noirs’, monochromatic charcoal drawings.  He was introduced to the transfer method by lithography by Henri Fantin-Latour in 1872 and used it to reproduce large quantities of his work as a way to make money.


It wasn’t until the 1890s that Redon began to work in colour.  Various experts attribute it to a religious awakening, but perhaps it was art acting as his therapist and his life was providing him with a pleasure and happiness he hadn’t experienced before.  The use of colour would reflect his feelings.


What is evident is that his passion never faltered and he was the eternal student in being willing to explore new ways of art and new styles.  He moved into portraits and developed styles in Japonism.  He created a huge body of work in his lifetime and was awarded a Legion of Honour by his country in 1903.  He died in 1916 and some say his anxiety for his son serving in WW1 was a factor in his death.


All images of Odilon Redons works were sourced via Google libraries



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