Monthly Archives: February 2016

Creative Sketchbook, Chapter 1, Activity 2


Activity 2.1.2: Topsy Turvy Printing

      • Choose a font which you like, or a mix of fonts and type out a page of text. Larger letters will be best. You can mix letter sizes if you wish.
      • Print out your page then turn the page upside down and print again so that you have a second layer of printing on the same page but the other way up.
      • Paste pages into notebook and add colour, or use the spaces between the letters to create patterns using paint or oil pastels to add colour.


Ooh, this was such fun! Some fonts work better than others when printed upside down, and with a bit of practice you can print precisely where you want, over the top of existing print, which produces some interesting effects, or in the white spaces between the lines. You can use the text to make patterns which don’t really look like words or letters at all – I think this was I enjoyed the most.

It works really well with the margins off for one layer of print (I like the background covered in small text), and you can play around with the second layer (in a different size or font) so you’ve got a smaller square or rectangle, and set it centrally, so it’s more or less symmetrical, or offset it to one side, or just use the top or bottom of the page. If you think about it carefully, you could use two different, but loosely connected, pieces of text, so the meaning kind of meshes together – rather like those rounds where people are singing different words and tunes, but it makes a unified whole. Or maybe you could send messages between the lines…

I’ve really enjoyed working on 2.1.1. and 2.1.2, especially as I’m not very technical, and I’ve always been a bit wary of computers, seeing them merely as ‘a tool of the trade’ – a bit like a typewriter, but with some advantages!. I especially loved the way you can print texts on top of each other, or layer them with different papers, and I adored trying to put text on top of photos in 2.1.1, and using one repeated letter to create patterns that don’t look like writing at all. There are so many things I could have tried, but didn’t, or I shall never move on to any other activity, but on the whole I’m quite pleased with my efforts.

However,  I seem to have fallen back into the trap of thinking that one A4 page in a Sketchbook must be used for one exercise, which is a shame, because with a bit more consideration I could have presented much of the work for these two activities in a more interesting way, by dividing the page up into smaller spaces, and tearing or cutting larger printed sheets into smaller areas to work with. Then related pieces could have been viewed together across a page, or two pages, (like the decorated patterns made with letter ‘a’s in 2.1.2). And smaller pieces would have left room for notes on the page. Also, instead of sticking every A4 sheet into the sketchbook, I could have left some loose, in a box file or a folder, for stitched books for Chapter 10.

But I was so intent on printing that I forgot about anything else, like decorating the paper, and presentation, and let the size of the page dictate what I was doing. The little A6 book I used to try out ideas for my zig zag book in Module 1 Chapter 10 was easier to cope with, and I think having a project  focused my approach and helped me ensure I had a clear idea in mind of what I am trying to do, and then I was able to enlarge or embellish  things as I went along. When I went back to Chapter 8 (which I’d abandoned because I was having problems with it) I kept in mind the things I’d learned while working on Chapter 10, and I was really pleased with my Matisse pages, and felt I’d achieved something by moving right away from my previous ‘school exercise book’ approach, so I’m disappointed with myself for not keeping that up.

Anyway, that gives me something to aim for in future work. Meanwhile, here are the pages in my Sketchbook for 2.1.2. The page below was painted with purple emulsion, and printed with a text that looks like writing (Shoreline, downloaded for free). Then I stuck a smaller sheet of deli paper over the top, turned the whole thing the other way up and reprinted over the existing lines of print surrounding the deli paper, and the deli paper (but there are a couple of single lines at the top and bottom). It’s Caliban’s ‘Be not afeard’ speech, from The Tempest, but it’s not very legible. However, I rather like it – it looks kind of old and a bit distressed.


This is one of my husband’s old worksheets, from when he was teaching – we’re using them as scrap paper because the backs are clear, and they seem to be going on for ever. I used green paints and crayons to cover the paper very scruffily, and chose green because it tied in with the recycling message!


This next one is Kathleen Jamie’s The Creel (again – I do love that poem) printed in a font that looks like writing (note to self: just because you like something doesn’t mean you have to use it all the time – be more adventurous!). To be honest it looks a little messy.


Below is Carl Sandburg’s ‘Little Girl be Careful What You Say’. I wanted to try and incorporate hand-written letters as well as printed font, and I didn’t want anything too heavy for the background, so I used a blue crayon, and tried to get a smudgy effect, but I’m not sure it’s quite what I was aiming for.


If I did this next one again I’d do it differently – a paler background perhaps. And the border is a bit startling – it should have toned in with the text I think. And the bigger text could have been even larger, or a darker colour. Or both.


Again, I’d do this next one differently if I did it again. It needs a ;painted background. And it might have been nice with the smaller text printed over the bigger, just for a change.


The page below is a disaster, but I’ve included it anyway. I found this in our stash of plastic bags (you may have noticed I tend to hoard things – carrier bags, paper, books, empty jars and pots, scraps of wool, thread and fabric…). I like it, because it has words on it, and I thought maybe I could print over the top, so I cut a piece out, stuck it to a sheet of paper, and ran it through the printer. But the ink wouldn’t dry, and the glue wouldn’t stick. So I blotted it with blotting paper, and my small, red, printed words blurred, which is OK, but they are not very noticeable. And it needed something doing to it, so I tried ironing it. I thought the heat might distress it – I certainly felt distressed! Anyway, it actually stuck to the baking parchment!!! So at that point I added a lot more glue (but it’s still come unstuck again) and decided to leave well alone.


I love the font on this next one, all kind of scratchy. And I like the black lettering on the lemon background, and it makes a pleasing shape, but the decoration is bit unambitious. And I wonder if I could re-arrange the letters so they look more like mirror or shadow images? Something for the future maybe. It’s from an Alice Oswald poem, and references another poem by Emily Dickinson.


I did try to do another print-out, with a more interesting background around the lettering. I wanted something as scratchy as the letters, but it didn’t pan out as I wanted, and I made a mess of it.


Now this I love. Lots of ‘a’s printed in a slightly grungey looking old English type script,  (Faith Collapsing, from Free Fonts) to make a wonderful pattern. It was worth fiddling around with to get this! But the background isn’t quite what I wanted – I was aiming for a kind of peeling, faded poster look, but the yellow, red and gold is too bright.


I loved the pattern so much I photocopied it, because I doubted my ability to reproduce it, and created this, with felt tips, which looks almost like musical notes… And kind of Tudor I think… I know self-praise is no recommendation, but I think this is fantastic. Is there an easy way to reproduce it on fabric? Or, better still, to reproduce the printed letters, then use Procion dyes to colour them? Presumably I’d have to get something to thicken the dye?

old english 1

And this, trying to use the outer edges of the letters to create a pattern in the negative spaces between the rows with wax crayons. It would have better if I’d spent a little more time and care on it, but it gives the general impression of what I hoped to achieve, and I find it quite pleasing.

old english 2

And finally, this is a page with the same printed design, but trying out different ways of using paints and a gold marker pen. I’ve included a wavy edging drawn with a black highlighter, which is simple but effective, and on one row I used red paint to colour negative spaces within the letters (but not the main space of the ‘a’). I know some of these pictures may look a bit samey, but I enjoy taking one piece of text, or one image (like the castle in 2.1.1) and trying to use it in different ways.

old english 3

I had a bit of  ‘what if’ moment here… Same font as before, but using upper case, printed on tracing paper, then printed on the reverse side, upside down, aligned over the first printed letters.


And that led to this, printed on the reverse, the right way up, so it appears back to front.. Isn’t that amazing!


Or you can layer tracing paper over the top of another printed sheet,  which is an easier way to place it where you want. I had a brainstorm, and this one isn’t upside down, but I’ve included it anyway. However, I think it looks better tipped on its side – it could almost be strips of some kind of embroidered or lacy edging.


This is a piece of paper coloured with tea, and printed with Tea for Two, and overprinted (upside down) with the secrets for making a good cup of tea. But I didn’t line it up properly, and didn’t get the effect I wanted, so I tried printing it again, on the same sheet which, on reflection, made things worse. But you learn from mistakes.


This next one is The Computer’s First Christmas, by Edwin Morgan, with some seasonal words printed over the top. But I rather liked the effect of the white spaces, caused because each line of the poem is only two words long, so when you cover the entire page you get this effect. The font was selected because I wanted it to look like digital text.


And because I liked those white background lines, I printed a topsy turvy page , and it came out looking a bit like blocks of bricks, so I started using a felt top to try and colour in the gaps, but it’s quite difficult, because they are not as straight as they appear, and it doesn’t add anything at all to the page – if anything it makes it look worse. So I’ve left it like this.


Then I had another ‘What if’ moment, and wondered what would happen if I printed part of the poem in a large font, then printed the entire poem, repeated over and over again,  as a border all around the page, printing it out edge by edge. Strictly speaking it’s not really topsy turvey. But because it’s long and narrow it seemed to lend itself to something like this. And it’s fun!

CompXmas 1







Module 2, Chapter , Activity 1


Activity 2.1.1 Samples of Fonts on Computer

Some of the fonts available on Microsoft Word, printed on tracing paper (I know, I got a bit carried away with it) and stuck on to paper which was painted with mauve emulsion and decorated with rows of the letter ‘a’ in wax crayons. It’s not very inventive, but I really like this – I like the colours, and the effect of all the rows of ‘a’s. And I love the contrast between handwritten and printed letters.


This one is quite straight forward, with some sample texts in different type faces, printed on a piece of decorated paper from Module 1.


Below are Microsoft Word Art samples on painted and crayoned tissue paper. The blobs on the bottom left are where I went wrong trying to group some words together  when I formed them into a square –  I don’t think I’ve done stuff like like this since I enrolled on a computer course after I was made redundant seven years ago!
And another go at printing the page, without the mistake, on painted paper. I must admit, I was really surprised at the variety of fonts available through Microsoft, and the effects you can get, especially if you use Word Art as well.


Below are links to some websites providing fonts for free, but I think the paper (another piece left over from Module 1) is a bit too busy to make for easy reading.
Samples of free fonts – again, the paper makes it a little difficult to read the text.
And here are some notes about the fonts available on emails and blogs.
The next few pages are about Drop Caps – they’re a slightly different sort of font available on the laptop (from Microsoft and from a free website) and when I was subbing I used to love using them mainly, I suspect, because it was one of the few ‘clever’ things I could do on my own, without losing the page or the copy I was working on!  So I’ve included some stuff about them here.




Something else we used to do occasionally when I was working was to put headlines on a photo – or even partially on the pic, and partially on neighbouring white space. It was something to be used sparingly (it was very easy to overdo it and detract from the heading, the photo, or both). It wasn’t one of the things I was very good at, but it can look really spectacular, and I’m always reminded of the technique when we have lunch at one of our local pubs. On one wall they have a fantastic display of photos of Tamworth, some of which have been Photoshopped (or something similar) to distort the images, and text has been applied as well. I think they are terrific, and I’ve been meaning to try and do something along the same lines for ages, and now seems to be an opportune moment.


19 20




I absolutely LOVED working with my photo of Tamworth Castle and changing it and adding text. I never knew you could be so creative with a computer, and I can’t wait to play around with Gimp and take my new found knowledge and enthusiasm a little further, and try to put some pictures together in a hand-made old fashioned album. But I think it’s something best left for a rainy day, when I’ve completed a few more activities in this module.

Meanwhile, here is a collection of printed papers, some experimental, and others fairly straight forward. I feel as I could have been a little more adventurous in my choice of papers, fonts and decoration, but I always tend to ‘play safe’. And I’ve had tremendous fun messing around!

First up a traditional nursery rhyme. The page was painted with emulsion. I’m hooked on those little sample pots – you can get the hugest variety of colours, dead cheap, and you can mix them together, or water them down, and use all kinds of other mediums over the top of them, or try wax crayons or liquid acrylic wax underneath. I even mixed some with Polyfilla for the sea pic in my zigzag book for Module 1, and at some point in this module I want to try mixing emulsion with a small quantity of plaster of Paris, to try and create texture. Not on this Chapter though – I’ve already upset the printer by trying to feed it with newspaper covered in gesso, and it’s been playing up ever since.

Anyway, I took the margins off on the laptop, and used WordArt to print outline shapes of the letters of the alphabet, then overprinted it with ‘A Was an Apple Pie’, in a smaller font, in red. Not really very imaginative, but I quite like it.


Next is a piece from one of my favourite poems, by Carl Sandburg, printed on the back of some Christmas wrapping paper – it’s really thick paper, and looks as if it’s been hand printed in brown parcel paper, but I like the reverse aide.


Below is The Creel, by Kathleen Jamie, another of my favourite poems, printed out on a page from a pad of decorative papers intended for journaling or scrapbooking I guess. Again, I took the margins off so I could print the entire paper, in very small print, then re-inserted the paper and overprinted the page, in a larger font.


This one is the first stanza of a GK Chesterton poem. It seemed an apt sort of message to print on an old map. The map is stuck on red tissue paper. I really enjoyed doing this one – I’d like to do more work with some old maps.

The next page shows text printed over a children’s colouring book. You have to think very carefully about the type and size of the font you use, because anything too small or too fine just gets lost among all those bold outlines. And I did try printing over a page that I coloured in with pencils, but the colours were too bright and too solid, and the text just kind of faded into the background, which wasn’t the idea at all. Maybe I’ll try this again at some future date.


I rescued some old music manuscripts from a recycling sack at Oxfam, and I chose Bimbo’s Pome, by artist Paul Klee (in the style of his cat), because it’s about music, and a fun font, because it’s a fun poem. I didn’t try to cover up the notes with paint or tissue or anything, because I wanted them to be part of the design.



Next up is a sheet of newspaper, covered with white gouache, and stuck to printer paper (it wouldn’t go through the machine on its own – too flimsy perhaps). I like the font, but I feel the page needs something more.


This paper was wrapped around a bunch of flowers, which were already wrapped in cellophane, so it wasn’t wet, or damaged, just a bit crumpled. It’s quite thin, so I stuck it to a sheet of printer paper and used WordArt to print decorative, wavy lines of text. Again, I could have done more with this – different text at top and bottom perhaps.


I love this next one. I sploshed pale blue paint on to a strip of thickish khadi paper (I’m not sure what weight it is), the stuck it to some thinnish blue paper, and printed it with a font that looks like hand-written script, in blue, set right. Then I bolded up part of the poem (it’s from John Masefield’s Sea Fever) and set it even further right, so it overprinted the previous print, but only on the khadi paper strip. It’s one of my favourite poems, and blue is my favourite colour, and I love the font, and the contrast in textures of the two papers, and the fact that’s it’s monochrome. Additionally, for me it conjures up the spirit of a particular place (a beach in Ireland, near my grandparent’s home) and the sense of loneliness – but a happy loneliness – in the poem. This worked out exactly as I wanted it. It looks simple, but it took a lot of thought to get the two pieces of text to print out exactly where I planned!


The top sample in the page below is the very top layer of a paper serviette, with the edges trimmed off, stuck on an oddment of pink and white spotted paper. And below that is a piece cut from an old knitting pattern (Oxfam’s recycling bags again – I volunteer in an Oxfam book shop, and get lots of things from them). The words look as if I wrote them with felt tips, but they are a proper printed font, downloaded from one of those free websites. I chose this font because it looked handwritten, and old knitting patterns often have people’s notes scrawled on them.


I can’t eat chocolate, because it gives me migraine, which is rather sad I think, but I bought a bar of Galaxy for my husband, so I could use this wonderful bright pink foil! It’s printed all over with little white ‘G’s, but they’re difficult to see in the photo. I suppose I should have printed it with a ‘G’, but I selected an ‘A’. I tried to distress the foil by crumpling it and rubbing it with black shoe polish, then stuck it to half a piece of stripy, shiny, pink, yellow and green paper, for contrast, and also printed a bolded-up ‘A’ on the other half. I stuck the whole thing onto the sketchbook page, which was painted with bright pink emulsion, swirled around, to try and give a bit of textural contrast. This pleases me, though I’m not sure why!


This pleases me as well, although it’s not my usual choice of colour, and I didn’t get the words in exactly the right places (though the question mark in the apple landed bang on target). This was a bit of wrapping paper left over when I wrapped a present for a friend’s newly-born grandson, and I thought I’d try and have a bit of fun with it, so I cut out the apple to reveal the red paint beneath, and tried to print the words in the spaces, which didn’t work out quite as planned, but I enjoyed myself doing this.


Trying to be different, I stuck silver tissue paper on a sketchbook page, and used a silver stamping pad to make splodgy marks all over it (I like splodgy marks). Then I used a downloaded font (‘Bleeding Cowboy’) to print Through the Looking Glass on the back and front of some tracing paper. It might have worked better with silver foil underneath rather than tissue paper, but I didn’t want it to be shiny. I did consider trying to including a face in the ‘mirror’, but I decided it would be a bit OTT, and less is best. And I ignored my own advice about using an old credit card to spread the glue evenly, so you can see the glue marks, which spoils it somewhat.

Edited: Oops! Missing picture alert! I checked this post as well. I always was rubbish at looking through my own copy or pages – it’s much easier to spot other people’s mistakes. Anyway, the picture is there now.



Module 2, Chapter 1, Samples


Tracing Paper Samples

I drew myself up an Action Plan, and tried to be a bit organised with some experimentation, because I didn’t want to launch into things in my usual scattergun fashion. I really wanted to use some thick tracing paper for printing on – when my daughters were small I printed off outline pictures on tracing paper, so they could make ‘stained glass’, and  wanted to take this a stage further. But I didn’t know how it would react to paint and glue, so I did a sample page:
And I enjoyed myself so much, I did another !  The front and back of this one was quite badly buckled in the top right hand corner, from the glitter glue, which is a shame, because I liked the sparkly effect on the transparent tracing paper – ordinary glitter sprinkled on top of UHU might work better.
I experimented a bit more, on a separate sheet, then made a twisted cord from red and yellow wool, punched two holes in this and the first sheet, and threaded it through, so it lifts up to show the first page:


I recorded my findings on the other side:

 Paint and Paper Samples

I was curious to see how printed text was affected by different types of paper and paint. So I used pages from sketch book and glossy photographic paper, and divided each page into four using masking tape (which, sadly, removed some of the paper and painted surface when I peeled it off). My aim was to try printing beneath and on top of different paints, to see what would happen. I also did samples of one thick paint (emulsion) and one thin (silk paint) on a sheet of blotting paper, but I didn’t do more, because it soaked up the paint in the most alarming fashion, and took hours and hours and hours to dry…

The end results could be a little neater  – the printer is playing up, which didn’t help, and I got a bit confused with my printed ‘labels’ on occasions, which didn’t help either, but you get the general idea.

Some of the results weren’t quite what I anticipated. For some reason I thought printed text from an inkjet printer would sit on top of the paper, rather than soaking in, and I expected overpainting to produce a lot more blurring, especially with thinner, watery paints. But it stood up to paints and inks much more than I would have predicted – perhaps I should have tried watering the paint and ink down more than I did.

Obviously, text is easier to read if it’s printed on a page which has been painted and allowed to dry (as long as the age isn’t too dark or very highly patterned). But if you’re not interested in clarity, overpainting can produce some interesting results, though mine all looked a bit grey, which is the result of black ink running and blurring – I can’t think why I didn’t experiment with coloured inks, which would have looked much nicer!

On the whole the text on the pages I cut out of my sketchbook didn’t blur all that much – I assume that the paper is more porous, and it’s not completely smooth – does that provide some sort of ‘key’ that helps the ink adhere or soak in? And you can get better paint cover on the sketchbook paper.

However, overpainting on smooth glossy photographic paper can distort lettering quite nicely – if you work really quickly when you pull paper out of the printer you can get interesting effects with a paint brush dipped in water, especially if you use a thick, bold print. It’s tricky to get a really smooth painted or inked surface, because the liquids tend to pool and streak on the top of the paper, but you can use this to your advantage and create patterns and textures.

I remember being really enthusiastic about this type of paper when I was making decorated papers in Module 1. Then, I tried distorting the surface with sandpaper before I painted it; now I’m wondering if I could distort it with a heat gun or soldering iron – has anyone ever tried it?

I’d expected all the thinner paints, including water colours, and Brusho ink to make the print blur much more than it did – after all, they are both mixed with water. However, they didn’t really affect the text printed on sketchbook paper, although had some affect on the glossy paper. But I love, love, love, the effects produced by using silk paint, especially on glossy photographic paper.

To be honest there’s not always that much difference between overpainting and underpainting, and scanning the pages doesn’t really do them justice, but it’s given me some idea of how printed text can be used.










Module 2, Chapter 1, Intro


A Kind of Intro

This is a bit of a personal piece, about me, and what words and letters mean to me. Somehow by doing this it makes the sketchbook feel more ‘me’, if that makes sense. I kept it fairly simple, and printed the text on tracing paper, and stuck it on painted pages, then used a double ended felt tip to draw lines at the opening and end of the text.

A Book and a Film

This is me being sidetracked, but these are so brilliant I thought I would share them – if you’ve never come across these they really are worth tracking down, and they tie in really well, not just with Chapter 1 and its focus on the Fantastic Fonts  available on computers, but with the whole module and the way we perceive text.

Module 2, Chapter 1, Title Page



I’m not at all sure that starting a new Creative Sketchbook module in the run-up to Christmas, New Year, Younger Daughter’s graduation (her second!) and Elder Daughter’s wedding was necessarily a good idea, because there has been so much else to do, and I seem to have fallen behind before I’ve even got properly started. Until now I’ve been working on this as and when I can, but normal life has just resumed, and I am loving this module, which is called Word Search, and is all about letters – as in ABC, rather than documents you send or receive (though they can be used for various projects). I planned to post the whole of the first chapter (Fantastic Fonts) when I’d completed all the activities, but I feel have to get something up on the blog or I shall lose confidence. So here goes.

Title Page

This is my Title Page for Creative Sketchbook, Module 2, Chapter 1. The letters are cut from a lovely little book called Outdoor Types: An Urban Alphabet, by Simon Jennings (published by Ilex Press Ltd). It gives a brief history of each letter of the alphabet, and has dozens of images for every letter, including stencilled letters, painted signs, iron work, neon lights, brass letters, wire, inscribed letters, scratched letters, cracks in surfaces that look like letters. They’ve been taken from torn posters, cracked plaster, peeling paint, rusting metal and rotting wood, and they’ve been found in what the author describes as ‘the built environment’, which means they’re mostly very grungey – think urban dereliction and industrial decay and you’ll get the picture. To be honest, it’s a shame to cut the book up, but it’s such a fantastic resource, and I love the photos so much, and it was only 99p in a sale… But now I’ve chopped bits out of it I may have to go and buy another copy!

The Start of Something New


DSC_0270Well, I finally finished Module 1 of the Distant Stitch Creative Sketchbook course (I know, it took me long enough), and I’ve embarked on Module 2. Because I wasn’t very organised with Module 1 it seemed a good idea to spend a couple of days establishing some kind of order. So I’ve downloaded the Workbook, read it very thoroughly, and drafted out Action Plans for the first couple of chapters, with notes on useful materials and equipment, and some ideas I’d like to try out.

I’ve tidied up all my pens, pencils, paints, paper etc, cleaned my work surface, and bought a new A4 sketchbook, and two box files – one for all the bits of paper, junk mail, newspaper and magazines that I’ve been hoarding, the other for alphabet stamps, sticks on and other bits and pieces that caught my interest.

And finally I’ve printed out the Health and Safety guidelines, a time sheet, and the form for costing materials and equipment (with a folder for receipts).  Read the rest of this entry

Creative Sketchbook, Module 1, Chapter 2, Extra Activity


Look at the Work of Andy Warhol (1928-1987)

While trying to sort out the blog I found this in drafts, which was never posted while I was doing Module 1, Chapter 2, but it seemed a shame not to include it, especially as I revised my opinion of Warhol somewhat after completing the module. So I’ve added it in now.


One of many Marilyn Monroe portraits produced by Warhol. The first appeared in 1962, just a few months after the movie star’s tragic death.

Say ‘Andy Warhol’, and what comes to mind… Those iconic screen prints of Marilyn Monroe, like photographic negatives, but in bright, bold, contrasting colours… Ditto the Campbell’s soup cans… Then there’s his white, expressionless face, and the silver hair… His studio, ‘The Factory’, filled with unconventional artists, musicians, actors and writers… And, of course, his comment that in the future everyone in the world would be famous for 15 minutes…

Start looking for more, and you’ll find a wealth of detail about the controversial artist, but somehow the man himself remains elusive, hidden behind the make-up, the wig, and the very public persona. He’s as much an illusion as the iconic images he created in his art.  I’m curious to know what drove him. Was he a genuine innovator, pushing the boundaries of art – or was he motivated by the desire for money and fame? And was he celebrating popular culture, celebrity and consumerism – or was he criticising the shallowness of a society obsessed by possessions and social status?


Andy Warhol, by Jack Mitchell.

He rarely made any effort to explain his work. “If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it.,” he is alleged to have said. (I am still trying to find the reference for this).

In the 1950s, long before he was lauded as a leading exponent of pop art, Warhol was a highly successful commercial artist, and I wonder if it was this that shaped both the way he worked, and his choice of subject – those multiple images of beautiful people and everyday objects  recall the way an advert is used over and over again, as a poster on walls or hoardings, on television and films, and in magazines and newspapers. .But there seems to have been a pivotal moment at the end of the decade when he reinvented himself and his work. Some of his earlier pieces can be seen on the website for the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh ( and I found it hard to reconcile these more delicate pictures, many outlined in ink and coloured with dyes, with what came later.

Warhol Female Costumed Full Fiigure

Andy Warhol, Female Costumed Full Figure,  painted the 1950s – this one reminds me of Grayson Perry, and I love it, because the woman seems so full of the joy of life. (Copyright: The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc

But the interest in death and disaster is already there, as is the fascination with everyday ephemera, the trash and trivia of American life. And even then he was using photographs as the basis for his paintings. Throughout his career Warhol worked largely from existing images: for example the famous portrait of Marilyn Monroe was from a PR photograph, while dollar signs were from banknotes. I’m sure he would have adored the chance to manipulate images with modern computers and cameras.

I was surprised to see how many artistic techniques he used, but it was the silk screen prints which defined his style, building layer upon layer of startling colours, creating multiple images of those rather flat pictures.


Dollar signs were another of the symbols that Warhol painted over and over again. This one was done in 1981, and shown at the Gagosian Gallery.

Whether you like his work or not (and personally I don’t, although I’m enjoying the Warhol-style activities in Module 1), it does raise questions about the nature of art. He may be popular, but he’s always been controversial, and over the years his methods and subjects have attracted criticism and equal measure.

As far as methods go, artists have always explored new ideas, using the materials available to them – without innovation you’d have stasis. As far as subject is concerned, maybe Warhol just produced pictures of things he liked, or perhaps he saw them as potent symbols of civilisation, or perhaps it was all a joke – after all, he’s the man who said: “Art is what you can get away with.” You could even view the dollar signs and Coke bottles as still lifes for the modern age, like those 17th century Dutch ‘vanitas’ paintings, highlighting the transitory nature of human life, and the meaningless of possessions. And who’s to say that a can of soup is any less artistic, or less meaningful, than a carefully arranged dish of fruit?


Coca Cola bottles, 1962.

Warhol has also been criticised for his commercialism, and for using assistants to help produce his work. I think people see this as somehow devaluing art. But through the ages artists have accepted commissions, and many have had assistants who helped, and also produced their own work ‘in the school of’ the master.

Edited 22.02.16: I’ve never really liked Warhol’s work, but after finding out a little about him, and completing Module 1 (which involved lots of work with colour and simple printing techniques), I’ve developed a sneaking admiration for his work, and the way he uses colour. However, I wouldn’t want one in my house (not that I could afford it anyway!). I’m interested in it as a kind of academic exercise – but  I’m no nearer understanding it, and I can’t say I’d enjoy looking at his pictures for any length of time.

Also, I think my view of Warhol changed after I’d done some research on Matisse (and, somewhat against my will, fallen in love with his cut-outs). I can see similarities between these late Matisse works and Warhol’s pictures, with those flat areas of solid, vibrant colour, and the lack of conventional backgrounds, and the seemingly simple central shapes, and the way colour is used so boldly, and how colours and negative and positive shapes alter the perspective of adjoining spaces and colours.


Warhol’s series of 32 pictures of Campbell’s Soup Cans (one for each variety at the time) was first shown in 1962, and is now in the New York Museum of Modern Art.


I’d love to know if Warhol acknowledged Matisse as an influence – I gather that a friend once asked him what he really wanted out of life, and he replied: “I want to be Matisse.” (From Art in America magazine).

And, of course, there are similarities in the lives of the two artists, because American Warhol and French Matisse both took up art during periods of illness. Each seemed to undergo some kind of epiphany whilst ill, and their experience s determined the course their lives would take.

Information from: and

Creative Sketchbook Module 1, Chapter 8, Extra Activity


Extra Activity: Use a computer programme to change the colours of your final painting.

I’ve used Gimp, which is similar to Photoshop, but free. In the past I’ve used it for cropping, making photos lighter or darker, and doing small corrections etc, as well as some effects – it distorts things beautifully – maps look fantastic when you distort them. Anyway, this is my first effort at changing colours. Not sure if I can do it again!

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Well, I did do it again… but I think it probably works better with less pattern, and more solid blocks of colour.

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Let’s try the first Matisse style picture I did… the one with all the pink (8.2)…

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Like everything else, you need to practice this to get the hang of it, but it’s great fun, and could be useful. I shall go away and have a play.

Creative Sketchbooks, Module 1, Chapter 8: Matisse and Colour


Activity 8.1 Find out more about the artist Matisse. Using your computer search engine look for examples of the work of Matisse. Google or Ask are have a good range of images. Or search any art books you may have or can borrow from the library.

I looked at Matisse last year, while I was doing Chapter 5, (Cut-Outs), and I visited the Matisse Cut-Outs Exhibition at Tate Modern & wrote about it here, as prequel to this chapter so now I’m looking at his life, and his paintings. I find him fascinating, especially his views in colour, drawing, composition and so on, and there’s a wealth of of information , but I’ve tried to keep it brief – you’d need to write a book to get everything in.


Note: I’ve only got a few pages left in the sketchbook, and I didn’t want to start a new one just for this chapter, so I’ve taped some pages in.

Page 1, Portraits of Matisse: I was curious to discover the way he saw himself, the way other artists saw him, and the way he was revealed before the camera.

Matisse 1

Page 2Matisse His Life: I’m still trying to get away from ending up with a sketchbook that looks like a school exercise book or a college essay, so rather than printing out the information on an A4 sheet, or scrawling some rather illegible details by hand, I’ve printed the data on yellow paper, and made a zigzag book, decorated with washi tape and stuck into the sketchbook. It opens up and is easy to read, but it’s a bit long, which makes it awkward to photograph, so I’ve printed it here, below the next two photographs:

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Henri-Émile-Benoît Matisse was born in 1869, in Le Cateau-Cambrésis, in the north of France, and died in Nice (where he had lived and worked for almost 40 years) in 1954, aged 84. He was brought up in Picardie, and in 1887 became a law student in Paris for a year, then worked as a solicitor’s clerk. In 1889, while recuperating from an illness, he began painting. “From the moment I held the box of colours in my hands, I knew this was my life. I threw myself into it like a beast that plunges towards the thing it loves,” he said.

Matisse returned to Paris in 1891 to study art. Initially, his paintings were traditional, but his work seems to have changed after he visited Australian artist John Peter Russell in 1896 and 1897. Although Matisse always cited Cezanne as his biggest influence, he insisted it was Russell who explained colour theory to him, and it would be nice to think that the Australian’s impressionistic style and bright, bold use of colour may also have had some effect on his work.

Matisse believed a painter should not be influenced by the art that has gone before. He was always open to new ideas and techniques, constantly exploring new methods, and thinking about the theory of his art. His interests were wide-ranging, and included Japanese art; Moorish art; divisionism (where the positioning of colours affects adjoining colours), primitivism (influenced by African art), and Fauvism (Fauvists gained their ‘wild beasts’ nickname through their use of clashing colours, which often bore no relation to the actual colours of their subjects).

He sought the strongest colour effect possible, claiming that colour ‘contributes to the expression of light’, and that it is a ‘liberation’. He also thought colours must react on one another – otherwise, he warned, you have cacophony. He believed exactitude in art was not important. He stressed that when he painted grass it was not real grass, and said it was the emotion of the thing that mattered. “I simply try to use colours that express my feelings,” he explained.

He also thought the whole composition of a painting was important, and used shape as a focal point – sometimes using positive space for this, and sometimes negative.

“The entire arrangement of my picture is expressive; the place occupied by the figures, the empty spaces around them, the proportions, everything has its share,” he said.

When I studied some of his paintings more closely I could see what he meant, and landscapes and figures are as carefully arranged as lemons and dishes.

In 1940 ill health confined him to a wheelchair, and he was no longer able to use a paintbrush, and that’s when he began creating pictures using shapes, figures and objects cut from paper which was painted by assistants.

His use of pure, vibrant colour, and the sinuous shapes he created in the last 15 years of his life seem to me to be the final evolution of his work, and a kind of distillation of all his ideas and beliefs about art.

I’ve said before, the more I find out about Matisse, and more I look at his work, the more interested I get, and the more I like him. He was very articulate, and obviously thought deeply about his art, and what it meant, and how it could be achieved. His passion for colour remained a constant, but he was always changing, trying new techniques, and finding ways of looking at things.

And I’m amazed at the quantity and variety of his work – not only paintings and cut-outs, but prints, sculpture, books, and stained glass and other items for the Chapel of the Rosary at Vence.

His private life sounds a little complicated. In 1894 he had a daughter by model Caroline Joblau, but when he married Amélie Noellie Parayre in 1898 he and his wife cared for the child, and had two sons of their own. The couple separated in 1939.

Page 3 Matisse Still Lifes

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Activity 8.2: Paint a still life picture in the style of Matisse using a photograph to create the composition

Page 1 Initial Thoughts!

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Page 2 Tracing and Photocopy.

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Page 3 Photo and Colour Matching, with acrylic paints.

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Page 4 Poor quality photocopy (out of ink again) of my Matisse-style painting (before I went back in and tried to improve it), with comments below, and a scanned pic of the painting as far as it went at this stage.

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Page 5 Overview. This page is stuck is a taped-in one.

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Page 6 The Painting! Not very good I’m afraid, but I’ve stuck with it, and it is painted directly on to the page in the sketchbook, which I think was very brave of me!

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These were the various lay-outs I tried for my Still Life painting – I got a bit carried away! I really liked the turquoise paper with the butterflies with the fabric which I did eventually use, but I decided there wasn’t enough colour contrast.