ATV - Ex 1.8 - Portraying by Drawing · ATV - Pt1 - PJ3 - Picking & Portraying · Textiles 1: A Textiles Vocabulary

Flowers – Picking and Portraying. So what have I got?

I gave myself the challenge of making big, bold, bright paintings of my flowers.

This is totally out of my comfort zone. I prefer fine line drawings and more abstract mark making. This has left me feeling slightly worried that I haven’t been experimental or original enough during this exercise. On a personal level it has been very enjoyable and forfilling. It was not very long ago that I wouldn’t have had the confidence to attempt a series of paintings without using photocopies or tracings.

So I could ease the pressure of making accurate paintings I decided to use Procion MX Dye to paint the backgrounds and some of the basic shapes, they are very easy to apply, generally vibrant and create organic graduations of tone.

I then chose to use pastels to actually draw the flowers. I’m not a big lover of pastels, I’m drawn to buying them because they always look so lovely in their boxes or displays but they usually just sit around, still in their wrappers, so I thought this would be a good exercise to get them out and put them to some use.

I liked the idea of making some dreamy painting with lots of dispersed colours, all running into each other and layering up over time and with continued applications. To add some texture I also got some brusho pigment grains ready to sprinkle onto the wet dye.

As a base and rather than be restricted to the size of a sheet of paper I have used lining paper. This worked really well; it made me feel I could splash dye all over the place and make big bold statements. I could be free with my mark making and expressions and not become overly obsessed with making accurate renditions of the flowers.

In the end, I filled up 3 pages/table tops with colorful flowers. I don’t think I pushed any boundries or developed anything new but for me this was a whole new painting experrience. It was lovely having this all set up in my workroom and I was able to nip in first thing in my pyjamas to lay down a few quick layers, then keep going back  during the day, right up to bedtime to add more paint or detail. Very gentle and therapeutic.

My first page consists of a failed attempt to use Jacquard Solarfast to make a background with the shapes of some of the ephemera I’m always picking up off the floor.  I hadn’t realised (stupidly!) that it needed UV rays to work properly. So that’s one to try again when it eventually stops raining!!

Then I went on to doing what I had originally set out to do and make an attempt to capture the abudance and bright beauty of the flowers whilst they are still fresh and sunny. Looking back now I think I could have added a little bit more detail or contrast with brusho but I didn’t want to over work these first 2 pieces. I love the way the dye clings to the edge of the brush strokes but I’ve no idea how I might interpret that in stitch, french knots maybe?


I had sidestepped the pastels quite nicely on the first page so I made myself start with the pastels on page 2.  I used Neocolor I wax pastels to draw the shapes of the crazy structural flowers from one of the bouquets. I was looking to capture the shapes of the rigid leaf like petals and plasticky stamens with the smooth oily pastel. Quick rapid strokes worked best. Over the top I painted a Procion MX dye wash and added some highlights to the background with a soft pastel. Painting over the wax resist is a wonderful process, it just brings everything to life.


On the left hand side of the page I made some quick painted impressions of the gladiolas and lillies and left them to completely dry. The flowers are starting to wilt now and the colours are darkening and becoming more intense.

The gladiolas were getting quite sticky so inbetween the drying paintings and pastel drawings I laid down a gladioli stem and painted round it  and then pressed and hammered at the petals to transfer some of their colour. It was exciting to see how the colours developed under the dish cloth I used to cover them so I could press down with plenty of force. The finished article was a little too simple so I added some pastel detail and a little bit of iridescent white ink to give some highlights.


Back to the pastels then and a few doodle style scrible details on a couple of the gladiolas. I’m happy with the layering of the colour and the Procion MX dye makes a perfect base for pastels because it adds a little bit of texture for the powdery pastel to grip onto.


I had a mad idea to spray some primer onto the page using some leaves as a stencil but it really didn’t work and I ended up with a big battleship grey cloud. Odd to say the least! So I went a bit crazy with the next gladioli and added some more pressed petal colour and splashed on some more layers of dye.

Photographs of the pages take well to being digitally manipulated and these are a couple of my favourites.

I would love to be able to make paintings in this style so I’ve stored this idea away to be worked on at a later date.  I’m wondering if I could use a photograph as a base and if I could add layers of textured paint to replicate the small geometric dab like marks.

I might even use these as part of the drawing folio that I will consider for the next exercise in this project to complete a small collection of stitch samples.

By the time I came to the third and final page the flowers were really starting to decay and were slowly starting to fall apart. I decided to use the sunflowers as stamps and I painted them with procion dye and pressed them onto the lining paper. Very little of the dye transfered so I added more dye with a brush to represent the petals.

Then I had a go at the back of the sunflower and created the alien! These is another blog about my attempts to save this monstrosity.


I then had a go at a couple more pastel drawings, I don’t think the sunflower adds anything to the party but the lttle bells are quite sweet, they look better now the dye has dried fully around the oil pastels. I must have overlayed 3 or 4 different colours now and I love the way the oil pastels stay very defined so you can keep adding to the background and playing with the tones and composition without losing the original drawing.

At a later date I would like to expand and build on this technique, maybe trying to scrape away some of the pastel usings pins or sandpaper.


The little scabious flowers were really drying out so I thought I might have a play with using then as a stencil and maybe getting some of the colour to transfer on to the papers. So I dousted them with dye, layered them with paper, a dish cloth and some wood and flattened them with the flower vases and my hands.


The paper in the sandwich has some potential but the effect on the lining paper was just a big blue puddle! It did look quite nice with the reflection from the water in the flower vase shining on it.

After it dried it did provide a very nice base for a few flower sketches. Scabious is one of my favourite flowers and I felt very intimidated with the prospect of drawing them so I fell back on an old technique I use in these situations and drew with my eyes on the flowers not the paper and once I’d got the basic shapes down I added some more detail with the pastels.

On the little purple flower I wetted the petals with dye and added a few grains of brusho on the trip of a brush and worked the colour as it developed into the paper to get even more of a graduation and mix of tone and colour.

The pink delphinium like flowers were tiny and delicate so I decided to draw them big and bold with lots of bright pink, by the time I started them the page had begun to fill up with the edges of other experiements which gave me an interesting and spontaneous base to work onto. These pink flowers always make me smile. There is nothing new or exciting about them but sometimes it is nice to produce something that is just pretty.

I had been using some Modge Podge glue on the ugly alien sunflower and whilst I’d got it out I decided to use it to make some glue prints with the sunflowers. I hoped that the glue would work as a nice resist and wouldn’t pick up too much colour when I painted over them with the watery dye.  The big sploges didn’t work so well but the more defined prints actually look quite nice. I just kept adding more colour and then walked away to let the colour dry before going back and adding more colour.


As the sunflowers dried whilst I was working around they became paler and paler so I started to add more colour with dye, pastels and Inktence blocks. In the end I think I went too far and I’m glad I’ve photographs of the paintings a long the way. It does fit in quite well with the final page but I have lost the delicateness of the original  painting.

Overall I am very pleased with my flower pages; I used pastels and enjoyed the results; I painted flowers that actually looked like flowers and the Procion MX dye worked as I intended and created a huge variety of tone and colour.

It is very different to the sketchbook on the Textile Archive which is full of line drawings of detail and mark making to record textures and fabric. It is going to be interesting to see how the 2 elements come together for the next exercise of stitch samples.

ATV - Ex 1.8 - Portraying by Drawing · ATV - Pt1 - PJ3 - Picking & Portraying · Textiles 1: A Textiles Vocabulary

Tricky Sunflowers 

This morning’s painting session started quite well. I used some Procion MX dye to do some sunflower prints. The flowers are starting to rot and are ponging, so it was time to cut them off before they turn to mush.

I liked this but the tone was created by the wetness of the dye so I added some more colour. I still feel it’s a little bit flat but I’ve shown some rare restraint and I’m leaving them to dry before I add more colour.

The backs of the flowers are beautiful in a Wabi-Sabi way so feeling brave I thought I’d have a go at drawing one. Oh dear, oh dear. I created an alien!!

I couldn’t bear looking at it so I ripped off some of the green leaves and placed them over the offending item.

Better? I’m not too sure yet. But I’ve gone ahead and added some glue and pinned the leaves down, in the vain hope that they dry flat.

I’m in love with these pins that I bought from the Dovecot in Edinburgh, they are for pinning down butterfly and insect samples. They are so delicate and pretty, I might just leave them in.

In case you were wondering what the backs of the sunflowers should really have looked like when painted, here’s a digitally manipulated ‘painting’. 

Outdone by an IPhone – huff!!

ATV - Ex 1.8 - Portraying by Drawing · ATV - Pt1 - PJ3 - Picking & Portraying · Textiles 1: A Textiles Vocabulary

Flowers – Alternative Reality

Flowers are bright and bold,  they are both delicate and strong. For this exercise I don’t want to get caught up in making detailed, accurate drawings. I want to be bright and bold, I’d like my marks to be expressive and representative.  These two pages from my sketchbook have some examples of flower based drawings that I like.

To me they represent the concept of Alternative Reality, as defined by Helen Birch as “Real world reference and, imagination, experimentation and design”.


These next three paintings are examples of what I’m looking to achieve with this more relaxed and looser approach.


ATV - Ex 1.8 - Portraying by Drawing · ATV - Pt1 - PJ3 - Picking & Portraying · Textiles 1: A Textiles Vocabulary

What is drawing?

Well? Drawing is drawing, isn’t it? You take a pen or a pencil, or maybe some charcoal and make some lines on paper to represent something that you are looking at or imagining. Can it really be that simple?

In her book, One Drawing a Day, Veronica Lawlor lists the following tools as recommended for drawing. 

That’s pretty clear then? So everything else is mark making, painting, mixed media, or any other description or label. But that’s just what they are labels; categories and in the modern world a #hashtag.  

The increased use of computer databases has encouraged us to use labels to facilitate quick and accurate searches and there is a danger that this will create an atmopshere of rigid definitions but it’s done nothing of the sort. at the same time as we are becoming more dependant on Google and hashtags we are seeing an explosion of creativity and it’s in art using a variety of objects and methods; recycling, found objects, eco dying and a general mixing up of all the different schools of art, design and textiles. 

Now anyone can find a way to ‘draw’, to be creative. If nothing else you can pick up an adult doodle colouring book and enjoy the simple pleasure of putting pen to paper.

But human beings are stubborn beings and we’re often not happy unless we are critiquing ourselves.

God forbid we get too big for our boots so despite all these new ways to express our creativity there is still an issue around the negative feelings so many of us have about drawing and being able to draw. 

It has taken a long time and lots of reverse psycology to get me drawing. 

When drawing for designs for textile and embroidery pieces I have always told myself it’s just mark-making and I’ve mixed it up with photocopies, stamping and tracing. It helps me relax because I don’t need to rate myself on accuracy or worry about how the picture is going to look in a frame. I’m looking for the motifs, the shapes and the marks that will make good stitches. I can be free to stylise the subject matter; doodle, collage, trace and rub. I can use digital programs to manipulate the image and colour to make it more appealing or complete.

If I was to buy a book of drawing I would expect to see pages of pencil and pen sketches. lots of tone and cross hatching, full of reality and accurate. Think Leonardo da Vinci, all of those drawings of taut muscles and flying machines!

I always believed being able to draw was something I could only dream of, it always looked like drawing was a skill you were born with and had to study and work on almost from birth.

Helen Birch helped change my views, her wonderfully simple book Freehand is full of examples of drawing that uses more modern techniques. There is colour, collage and digital imagery. Then, there is the excellent book Drawing Projects by Mick Maslen and Jack Southern in which they take head on the restrictions bought about by our traditional education systems and our need to express reality.

Loosen up, that’s the advice coming through from so many places, just start, have a go; take a line for a walk.

The simple act of drawing without looking at the pen or the paper is very rewarding and freeing. It’s a couple of years since I made these sketches but I remember it as a pivotal moment. I shocked myself, my hands could follow my eyes; I could enjoy drawing and like what I drew. It gave my confidence levels a huge boost and maybe one day I will actually finish the embroidery I started based on one of the sketches.

 Drawing is not just about visual accuracy, it’s also about feeling and using all of our senses to express what we see.

A representation, a record , a visual ‘copy’ of an item can be done in many ways and drawing is just one of these ways. Drawing is a habit, it’s a skill that can be learnt and with time and practise improved.

There are no limits on how and what you can choose to use as an artist to portray or record an item, a concept or an idea, and drawing is only one of these ways. It is not all of the ways. Sometimes a photograph is all that you need, or a texture rubbing or a huge blob of colour. 

At the end of the day it’s all semantics; a distraction. What is important is to decide what you want to use and to focus,  learn as you go; making any changes after well considered analysis or you end up getting tied up in technique not your feelings and your expression. 

All of the pictures used in this blog can be found on my Pinterest boards: OCA – What is Drawing and Flowers – OCA – Research