My Overall Self Assessment

I have had a challenging and interesting time working my way through this module. The steady progression through the projects has taught me self discipline, diligence and patience. I enjoy keeping sketchbooks more and more as a way of looking at my environment and am starting to understand that it isn’t the quality of the drawing but the content and the understanding of what I am looking at that is most important. I think that I’ve approached every project with an open mind and explored quite a few different methodologies in most of them so that I don’t get locked into any particular style. I’ve decided to not think about finding my own voice but to let it try and find me, this way I can let the works of the myriad of artists who influence me stimulate my imagination rather than just trying to emulate them.
Before I started I didn’t think I could write and didn’t know how to think about artists work and practices but now I’m becoming more confident of my own opinions and my ability to analyse in a critical way. I can now say that what I’ve read, the exhibitions I’ve seen and artists whose work I’ve compared, has started to give me greater insight and I gain more pleasure from them due to the discipline of ordering my thoughts and then writing them down.
From the viewpoint of the tutorials I’ve received, I have found a growing confidence because the feedback has been very encouraging and the criticisms have been beneficial. The main areas I need to improve on are all relatively technical and I would hope to improve with practice. I find tonal form, particularly in the figure, very difficult and capturing a likeness of anyone, other than myself, hard to do. I realise the importance of contrasting tones and need to overcome my fear of being too light or too dark especially with charcoal and putty rubber. I find them hard to control and I realise I need to work hard to tame them. The same is true with soft pastels as the more I try to work with them the more frustrated I become, especially after closer scrutiny of Degas and Paula Rego who are geniuses with them. My drawing with any medium that leaves a firm line is always more successful and I tend to think that most of my best work has been done with the pen.
The pieces that I’ve chosen to send for assessment are neither what I would consider my best work nor are they developing any particular theme but each piece I’ve included has been a struggle in one way or another;  a struggle that sometimes I’ve resolved and sometimes just decided it was time to stop struggling. What I hope does come through when they are all viewed together, in particular the assignment pieces, is an underlying narrative and a growing ability to tell a pictorial story. If I’ve succeeded in any small way with this then that would mean I’ve gained all I could wish for from this course.

Christopher Filtness May 2018


Reflection on Tutor Feedback for Assignment 5.

I’m very happy with the feedback received for assignment five and am almost starting to  believe in myself and my abilities.

I will use this opportunity to expand upon the ideas generated by my thoughts on early religious frescoes and paintings and how these thoughts have influenced my final drawing.

As always, one stimulus leads to another and my process started at a compositional stage. Before starting this course my main concern was landscape, particularly the Suffolk countryside. My compositions, often based on the photographic “rule of thirds”. So when I embarked on this  and other drawings with figures from part four, I realised that the composition stemmed from a more central viewpoint. I realised that many 14th & 15th century masterpieces were similarly formed, this has led to the thought that these paintings were always for the church and often show the central figures adored by the minor players surrounding them as can be seen in this detail from Raphael’s Sistine Chapel Madonna.Sistine Madonna Raphael

The colours most often used for these figures were blue and red. The red pigment  was made from Cinnabar and blue from extremely expensive Lapis Lazuli. These colours have been used since the 12th century. The Madonna was most often adorned with Lapis drapes to show that no expense was spared in her depiction. So I’m now thinking of the medieval period and the technique of tempura applied directly onto plaster allowing the brightness of the colour to fade over centuries and layers of plaster to crumble and craze. I felt these influences could be incorporated into my drawing as my clients gown is a rich blue and I was wearing a maroon fleece. This led me to try a coat of gesso on my paper support and has led to several happy discoveries about the way light washes of colour absorb and how interesting the results of drawing over this with just an HB pencil can be. I also rubbed down the deeper blue with light sandpaper to enhance the slightly distressed feel of a Giotto like the detail shown here.Giotto di bondone

This has all lead my thoughts to  comparisons of the relationship between church and parishioners and hairdresser and customers…………………..
Continue reading “Reflection on Tutor Feedback for Assignment 5.”

Drawing One : Part Five, Personal project and written element.

I discussed my ideas for my personal project with my tutor and made a rough plan.

After revisiting all my previous assignments I have decided to try to incorporate nearly all of them within this final piece. My first assignment was titled “tools of the trade”. This was a still life in black and white of some of the tools and implements I use every day as a hairstylist.

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My initial thoughts for this final drawing therefore were to stick to the autobiographical. Like a first novel that is best written about what you know it should follow that the same goes for my first assessment drawing. I want a drawing that encompasses all I see every working day. My view is always via a mirror which throws up all kinds of thoughts and challenges about gaze, image reversal, barriers, relationships between the viewer and the viewed and on and on.

My first influence was a Murrillo self portrait in the national gallery where the artist had placed himself within a trompe l’oeil frame so I could incorporate the mirror in my salon in the same way. Then I thought of the duality of full face and profile evident in the Picasso portraits on show at Tate Modern and decided that I could achieve the same thing if I made my subject a triple portrait. I mapped out the rough idea of the composition and felt it had some potential so did some further studies on A1 paper to see if it would still work.

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At this point I was getting a kind of Renaissance feel about the composition, possibly Raphael or Piero della Francesca.  Also the fact that the total image within the mirror frame was just a two dimensional surface and three dimensional reality was the side from which the viewer would be looking. This brought to mind the Velasquez las Meninas and also led to thoughts on Venus and her reflection held in the mirror by the cherub. I have now tried a further large study in ink and have more or less got a balanced composition. I know I want the foreground to be a reflected still life of the tools and the middle ground reserved for the figures. I took some photos to see if  this could all work properly and had two  thoughts. Firstly the background in which I had wanted to include a fading landscape of the garden was too busy and distracting and I needed to remove the rug and and place the pot plant to balance the drape.  Secondly, looking at my model in the blue gown brought to mind  earlier Italian Giotto frescoes.


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With the fresco idea in mind I’ve decided to experiment with a gesso and have done some little tests that give interesting results especially because, as I have been accused and accuse myself of colouring in my drawings, I decided to apply colour washes first and then draw over them. Graphite pencil works really well in this way and the texture of the gessoed surface seems to enhance the feel of a mediaeval religious wall decoration.



I’m ready to start on the drawing and have decided to map out the mirror frame and the main composition lightly in pencil and I will leave any marks from alterations and mistakes clearly visible.  I’ve used grey oil pastel frottaged over the gesso with a trace of a black shadow to make the mirror frame appear to stand out. I’ve applied some colour washes to specific areas so that they will underpin the drawing on top.

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I’ve decided that the outside view would definitely be a step too far for me and have deliberately brought the background forward to prevent the drawing from being too busy and to let me try to focus on likeness and gaze. It is important that I try to capture the client looking directly at the viewer, in this case herself.  There are points that are reached during a drawing where there is no going back and no where to hide, this can become stifling as any major mistakes cannot be rectified. I often feel this holds back my drawing more than the forgiving nature of painting in oils.


My self portrait has gone well and I’ve decided to leave out any detail in my clothing as it then adds to the feeling of an old fresco where the red pigments always fade quickest. My hands holding the back mirror also seem to work well and the profile sits well in its frame. I’ve had difficulty with the full face likeness but think that the eyes are directing their gaze in the right direction. Does the lack of expression show ambiguity to the result of the hairdressers labour or is it the nature of portraiture? Overall I think it has come together reasonably successfully. The likeness of  the sitter could be a lot better and her hands have been challenging, I am also wondering if the water spray on the left and the product on the right should have been drawn in front of the frame so both front and back reflection could be seen. This might show the boundary between reality and reflection more clearly or it might just look like I was trying to be too clever.

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My aim with this drawing has been to show my understanding of composition, line and tone, form and shadow, perspective and story telling.

My influences come from Giotto, della Francesca, Raphael, Titian, Van Eyk, Velasquez, Picasso, Hockney & Rego.

Reflections on Part Four tutor feedback.

I didn’t get a great deal of feedback from the work I had produced for assignment 4 as I had pushed my time to the limit to get it all done.  Hence it was suggested that we would work on what I had posted in my learning blog. I think it was pointed out that some of the work was undercooked and the odd piece overworked but I am still on course to complete Drawing One by the May deadline.  My own concerns are the difficulties I have capturing a likeness with a portrait, self portraiture seems easier as the scrutiny needed doesn’t matter when directed at ones self. So I think I’ll always struggle with the face and the figure but that challenge is what spurs me on.

Most of the tutorial was spent discussing my ideas for my assessment piece and what I want to attempt. I hope I am not being too ambitious by deciding to try and incorporate everything I’ve learned and experimented with over the duration of this module. Having the ideas is one thing but now I need to find the talent to produce the work.

Reflections on Part Four

There have been some lovely discoveries the occasional success and a profound understanding of exactly how difficult it is to capture the human figure or a likeness of the human face.  I am torn between the exacting measurements of Euan Uglow and the fluid distortions of Modigliani and find myself no where near either. I don’t know if I’m just lucky if a drawing goes well or just unlucky if it goes badly and I really need to find out soon. I have decided that when I have completed this module I’ll never put myself under so much pressure again. I need the luxury of more practice, I want to work on a subject for long enough to get it right. I feel that the majority of the work I’ve produced for part four just isn’t me.



Firstly looking at the drawings of Graham Little I am reminded of Sarah Moons fashion photography from the 1970’s whereas Elizabeth Peyton’s work is rather like David Hockney’s coloured pencil drawings. It is interesting that she chooses to show her pop idols as they were in their pomp 40 years ago.

Marlene Dumas, on the other hand, has her own unique voice and I find her portraiture very interesting.  Her Figment-Homage to Andy Warhol 2002 is such an uncanny likeness and completely disturbing in an effortless sort of way. Two more examples are her portraits of Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas.

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While on the subject, I did see the Tacita Dean Portraits exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery and have to admit to just not getting it! Poor old Merce Cunningham trapped in a dance with no music and the room full of the deafening whur of projectors, and my hero reduced to an old man laughing at his own inner jokes while making me desperate to start smoking again and forcing me to sit through it until the end out of my own stupid politeness. The light in this dismal darkness for me was her short film with the poet Michael Hamburger talking about apples in his Norfolk orchard. A reminder to re-read The Rings of Saturn by his friend W.G.Sebald.

Further thoughts on portraiture can be found in my reviews of Soutine, Modigliani and Cezanne.

Vitamin D, New Perspectives in Drawing, Phaidon 2016.

The National Portrait Gallery, London.


Naked or Nude?

¹ “To be naked is to be deprived of our clothes and the word implies embarrassment which most of us feel in that condition. The word nude, on the other hand, carries, in educated usage, no uncomfortable overtone. The vague image it projects into the mind is not of a huddled and defenceless body, but of a balanced, prosperous and confident body: the body reformed”

I would argue that the “nude” in art over the centuries has has been used as a depiction of the ideal form or body shape prevalent to the fashion of the time as in these works by Boucher and Ingres.


Where as the “naked” in historical paintings would be more like the depictions of Eve feeling her guilt after succumbing to temptation. Compare with these paintings by Cranach and Gossaert.


In the hands of the contemporary artist the “nude” is more of a “naked” portrait. Since the arrival of  Freudian phsychology it has become a vehicle for showing the inner workings of  the mind of both the sitter and the artist. The works below are by Lucian Freud, Stanley Spencer and me.


¹Clarke, Kenneth. The Nude: A Study of Ideal Art. 1958.

I recently visited Tate Britain to see the All Too Human  exhibition and have read John Berger’s Ways of Seeing and Gill Saunders The Nude:A New Perspective and have come to realise that the naked figure, be it male or female, can be a subject for an artist or an object for a viewer. So the painter chooses the subject to paint according to his or her will or desire and in so doing turns the subject into an object and might then also, within the process, show the viewer a part of him or herself. The viewer may then look upon the object that the painter has shown in anyway he or she may choose therefore rendering the depiction of the nude figure to be seen in any light that a post Freudian society sees fit.

Berger John, Ways of Seeing, Penguin Books 1972

Saunders Gill,The Nude:A New Perspective, Harper and Row 1989



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It’s hard to draw your own feet in a mirror, the real ones get in the way of the reflection. There are many wonderful examples showing how perspective works just as strongly when representing the figure as it does in the landscape. Here are some well known examples as well as one or two lesser known favourites.

St Eulalia

John William Waterhouse
Saint Eulalia exhibited 1885
TatePatrick George

Patrick George  at arms length  1994 Browse & Derby



The Dead Christ, Andrea Mantega c.1480

Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan


Bill Brandt

Bill Brandt, Nude, Hampstead 1950