Part 3 Project 2, exercise 1

Clouds. The day I started this exercise there sky was completely cloudless so I’ve resorted to some photos I took earlier. I really like the clouds we have here; flat bottomed things that often appear in regiments following the river valley as if they’re mirror images of each other. I can imagine some of them as intergalactic tourist boats come to look at us the way we do at fish.


White and grey charcoal on black sugar paper.


Inktense on parchment coloured sugar paper. I keep forgetting sugar paper is very absorbent so there’s not much fluidity for the likes of Inktense.

[By the way, OCA, thanks for the earworm – I’ve been stuck with Little Fluffy Clouds for hours now!]


Inktense on white cartridge. Looks a bit more like a river than the sky!


From a photo taken last summer: a massive dark cloud heading across towards the remnants of the West Pier. When it hit, all the shops under the promenade were suddenly full of customers. It’s a fascinating photo as there are so many types of clouds in one frame – that big flat dark one, some fluffy cirrus types, wispy stratus, cumulus, cumulo-nimbus. I tried biro for this to see if I could reflect the energy of the clouds by using circular movements and barely stopping between types. Not entirely successful but as a sketch I think it’s preserved some of that energy.


26th February. Another biro sketch of clouds from one of my photos as Feb has temporarily become July and there’s not a wisp to be seen.


I tried to do this in one continuous movement as nearly as possible to reflect the energy of this brooding sky over our town. A co-student, Neil Crammond, put me onto the wet finger technique that makes biro just that bit more fluid. And now I’ve just realised that I can see a stomach, liver, gall bladder, duodenum, small bowel, large transverse colon, and the top end of the caecum, and all of them in much the right place, but please don’t ask me how because truly that’s weird!


February 27th. Another atypical February sky so I’m reliant on past photographs. This is oil pastel on gesso-prepped A2 cartridge. I’ve really stripped this down – no trees or house tops on the hills, no trees in the middle or foreground, and no detail at all beyond the texture I built into the gesso. I was back to imagining those clouds with their flat bottoms being tourist ships with viewing ports down onto our landscape, floating by soundlessly, and all of them full of observers taking photos and selfies against our planet. What would they tell people about us when the got home?




Tried letting plain water run down top to bottom to activate the little bit of charcoal in the dark areas but that did very little. It did lodge in the grooves of the gesso though, and pulling a piece of conte through them darkened those areas without the colour running further. I do like the way the gesso allows me to make marks that only show up with the next layer – as if they’re hidden until viewed through a special lens. I’m tempted to reference the Nazca Lines although they didn’t influence me at all, at least not consciously.


2nd March and we had actual clouds today. Yes, that’s L’Oreal Magic Retouch for roots. It was hanging around being redundant after I abandoned brown for a more dramatic colour (metallic mercury, since you ask) and it sprays on really quite nicely. There’s also white charcoal, some blended and some left textured, and black conte on the low horizon.



brown sky


I like the spray effect – especially over to the bottom left where it looks quite atmospheric.


I wonder if the detail is better than the whole, though. May do some more blending.


That’s better.


7th March.

Having a little go at Gogh-esque skies. Inktense, conte, biro. I’m regretting that big, stiff sweep from one spiral to another in the left-hand image but some of the other marks are interesting. Top right is an attempt at rain using a narrow brush on wet inktense. At the bottom is an image made from a photo of the Adur estuary near Shoreham where the tide at the time was low and flat, with small sand bars at the edges of the water. I’m drawn to that strong, long horizon line of the far bank, and the wide skies that always sit above it. The whole is very elemental – earth, wind, and water. It’s also very close to the airport where, in 2015, there was also explosive fire when a display jet ploughed into cars waiting at the nearby traffic lights. The foot bridge a little further up river to the right of the scene became a temporary memorial.

toll bridge


8th March. I’ve taken the curly clouds to a larger stage. This is based on a composite of so many photos of the sea from Brighton beach – sunset and deep, dark clouds that might be storms or just night rolling in.


This is the second pass. After a gesso prep with swirls and streaks, I’ve applied oil crayons to form a resist then added inks and ink washes. I don’t want it looking pretty-pretty though – seas and storms are serious things with no care for us if we don’t respect them; it needs gravitas.



Dirtied up a little with ink and blending. Strange how clouds can form into recognisable shapes that we find remarkable but if the same thing happens in a drawn image, it’s ‘unrealistic’ (cf the dragon above). I recall something similar in relation to writing fiction – fiction must be believable while truth often isn’t.

These are two cloud sketches, both on gesso-prepped cartridge – the gesso mixed with black ink. The one on the left is a composite of many images of clouds I’ve photographed locally, often arranged in like a series of horizons and with an advancing sheet of rain at their base. I’ve used inktense (wet), then biro and inktense (dry). The one on the left is more impressionistic and probably comes out of the storm that’s passed over us in the last day or so. I’m always struck by the impartiality of nature. Wind, storms, seas, sun, have no care for us so we must have care for (and pay attention and respect to) them in order not to fall victim.


Paper towel roll dipped in ink of various dilutions. I suspect the more random nature of this technique is closer to the randomness of cloud formation and structure. Drawing tries to impose a structure but nature doesn’t and, quite often, randomness seems to be ironed out in order to be believable. I’m thinking of some of the painting tutorials on YouTube which may be teaching people how to produce clouds the way everyone thinks clouds should look rather than how they are.

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