Edvard Munch Printmaking

British Museum – Love and angst – July 2019

Love and Angst curated by Giulia Bartram, shows Munch as an extremely versatile printmaker through his work in lithography, woodcut, etching and drypoint . There are a small number of oil and watercolour paintings, but the emphasis is on his printmaking. There is even the large, thick, heavy litho stone used to print the ‘Madonna’ is framed behind glass. This provides a solid and substantial reference to the material nature of the drawing, mark making and inking of his prints.

Many critics and commentators have written valuably on Munch’s complex persona and its reflection in his works. Love and Angst points to these psychological motivations, however aesthetic and (print)making themes are uppermost here. The lithographic drawings are full of flowing and dense drawn marks to represent each subject and Munch’s interpretation of thereof. On closer inspection many of the drawings on the stones have been drawn into with a sharp tool to bring forward detail, highlights and enhanced forms. This technique requires deft handling of the tool to add to the image, through taking away. These scratched sharp marks are particularly apparent in his portrait of August Strindberg.

August Strinberg. 1896. Lithograph. detail.
The Kiss. 1902. Woodcut

In many of his woodcuts he makes use of the wood’s grain across the subject depicted as well as the background. In The Kiss the shape of the embracing couple mark the edges of one woodblock, which Munch printed over a background made from another block, whose grain is prominent. This unusual approach brings an overall unity to the prints with the grain being apparent throughout, as opposed to the norm which would be to remove it from the central motif. It also reveals the printmaking process and materials employed. In the multicolour woodcuts he also uses a jigsaw technique to create areas of colour and distinct lines of subjects. To achieve this he sawed the woodblock into sections. Once again applying dramatic techniques to the printmaking process.

Photography. The exhibition does not focus on Munch’s interest and use of the then growing accessible medium of photography. He referred to family photographs, photographic portraits by himself and others and specifically taken images to make self portraits that he then used as reference for paintings and prints. When conceiving Self Portrait With Wine Bottle he composed photographs of himself, framed and positioned facing a light filtering through the lace curtained window. This created a sense of melancholy as he is set against a dark background with his features illuminated in a form of chiaroscuro. For the painting and prints of Self portrait with Wine Bottle, it appears he uses this image as reference, but places himself in a real cafe environment with a natural overall light illuminating the background. He retains his image of melancholy from his lonely darkened room photograph into the social reality he lives through. The print is included in Love and Angst with its gestural marks describing the tablecloths.

Self Portrait With Wine Bottle. Munch Museum Oslo
Self Portrait With Wine Bottle. Lithograph. Munch Museum Oslo

His use of photography and his feelings of melancholy and hopelessness are encapsulated in his thoughts in his notes on ‘The Fatal Destiny Photographs’ and the aphorism attributed to him in 1904, Berlin: ‘The camera cannot compete with brush and palette- as long as it cannot be used in heaven and hell’.

Arne Eggum presents more detail on Munch’s interests in and use of photography in his insightful book: Munch and Photography. (Eggum, A 1989. Munch and photography. London: Yale University Press).

This slide show shows images from this exceptional exhibition and Munch’s printmaking talents :

previous arrow
next arrow

The Urgency of the Arts. NAFAE /RCA

RCA 15th March 2015. With contributions by two BCU Researchers

The introduction to the day was made by RCA Dean Juan Cruz with a heartfelt expression of grief for the people of Christchurch who suffered in an atrocious terrorist attack on two Mosques.

The keynote was delivered by an a team of presenters: Jordan BASEMAN | Gemma BLACKSHAW |Zowie BROACH | Joel CHAN | Nicky COUTTS | Brian DILLON | Catherine DORMOR | Anne DUFFAU | Chantal FAUST | Rebecca FORTNUM | Johnny GOLDING | Paul HAYWOOD | Jaspar JOSEPH-LESTER | Adam KAASA | Jonathan MILES | Rathna RAMANATHAN | Olivier RICHON | Aura SATZ | Shehnaz SUTERWALLA | Rebecca TADMAN | Joanne TATHAM | Victoria LSH | Hermione WILTSHIRE.

Morning Break out sessions Documents, Environment and ME. Documents included a paper by BCU Researcher Edward ‘Jonnie’ Turpie: Being Vulnerable to the Making, in the Making.

Lunchtime with Posters included BCU’s PhD researcher Soha Alzaid: ‘Recovering the lost visual history of the Ka’ba and Kiswa’. A welcome tour of the Printmaking Department featuring a plate litho press that I believe I used 40 years ago when studying for my MA. Then it was in the Exhibition Road building next to the Painting Dept, opposite the Science Museum and by the V&A

Afternoon Break out sessions: Collaboration, Entanglement and Renactment.

Re-Enactment Chair: Dr Catherine MAFFIOLETTI, Research Fellow, Ravensbourne University London

Qi FANG, Newcastle University. The metaphoric transforming environment in the semi-darkness.

Marita FRASER, Royal College of Art. Speaking With

Xiaoyi NIE, Royal College of Art. Re-enactment? Or A Pilgrimage to Inhabit the Space.

Heather ROSS, Newcastle University. The Loud and the Soft Speakers; A Contemporary Iteration of Kurt Schwitters’ The Silence Poem

Diana TAYLOR, Sheffield Hallam University. Arts and Crafts: Back and forth, time and time again

Ada TELES, University of the Arts London. Copying the work of other artists: an inquiry into artistic identity and authenticity

Caroline WARD, Royal College of Art. Pre-enacting Artificial Intelligence

Performances + Screenings

Curators: Anna NAZO (RCA) & Despina PAPADOPOULOS (RCA)

previous arrow
next arrow

Murat ADASH, Goldsmiths, University of London. One in the Other

Maya AMRAMI, London College of Fashion. Thought-Work: Thinking Through Entanglement

Rose BUTLER, Sheffield Hallam University. Vital Vagueness

Annabelle CRAVEN-JONES, Royal College of Art. Does my algorithm have a mental health problem?

Ada Xiaoyu HAO, University of Brighton. NAUT-ADA: (m)other eye

Yifei HE, Royal College of Art. Reenactment: Paint Against Waves, If All The Waves Can Be Saved

Clareese HILL, Goldsmiths, University of London. The Hyper Present – The Manipulation of Time and Space

Zosia HOLUBOWSKA, Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. Magic as Queer Activism

Anna NAZO, Royal College of Art. Viscosity

Sarvenaz SOHRABI, Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton. Dancing in the Silence: Representing Iranian Women Through Pop Art Aesthetics

Matt WILLIAMS, Kingston University. Soundwalk Version: West Indian Centre – Eclipse (2019)

The conference concluded with the opening of :There’s something lurking in the shadows that might be interesting.


Royal College of General Practitoners

“Can I help you?” Asked the tall young doorman at the Royal College of General Practioners. I am here to meet Susie Freeman. “Ah yes. she is here. I shall find her for you.”  We walked into the spacious busy café and there was Susie waving from a tea table in the central London space that is adorned by her work from the last twenty or so years: WOWI.

My partner and I have reconnected with Susie after many years since we hung out in 70/early 80’s London. The wonder of Instagram and Kevin Atherton‘s recent performance of ‘In Two Minds’ at the Ikon in Birmingham, have brought us together in her show WOWI in Euston Road, opposite the Welcome trust and near the British Museum that also hold and exhibit pieces by her and the Pharamacopoeia collaboration.  

The show is made up of insightful and visually arresting work she has collaborated with Dr Liz Lee to respond creatively to the development and increasing reliance of medical drug prescription.  From flowing dresses to petite handbags, drawers of drugs and tables of antiretrovirals the show draws on the of the amount of prescribed drugs humans with conditions, consume over time. Many of the 28 pieces collect and display multi colourful pills she had personally placed in pockets of fabrics, creating unexpected patterns from unlikely objects. She knits and weaves garments reminiscent of the high fashion world. They are beautiful artefacts in themselves. 

Because of the first impression of fashion the dawning realisation that each piece is a record of a drugs prescription of an individual dealing with a medical condition is emotional and meaningful. The balance of medical information, knowledge of patient adoption and creative clothing is alluring and affecting. The revelations of the vast numbers of pills consumed over periods of human suffering ranges of conditions is reflective and thought provoking. Adorning each piece, large and small, are the brightly packaged plasticised objects are reminiscent of pop art. They are a reminder of how so many are taken by so many, as we traverse 21st century life and seek healthy solutions. The show captures our dependence and our ambivalence towards them encased beautifully in fabrics, garments and cultural hangings.

There is a valuable short piece on the ‘upsides and downsides of drug based medicine’ on the RCGP site.

And more about Susie’s work on her website

And the collaboration between Susie and Dr Liz Lee.

Social Prescription. WOWI is a perfect opportunity for GPs to take up SOS Matt Hancock’s welcome announcement of arts and creative for social prescription

Two entranced WOWI Viewers: ‘Bacteriology Illustrated’ 2008

Now where’s my ramipril, statin, aspirin ………………..


previous arrow
next arrow

Anatomy insights over supper

24 months since my hands began to feel numb and tingling. Not just an irritant, but something definitely amiss. Following GP’s appointments: hand specialist reviews: carpal tunnel elimination; Neurology assessment: traumatic MRI head and neck scans; posterior decompression (growth on the spine) diagnosis (Thank you QE, Dr Littleton and Seddigh): spinal surgery (thank you Mr Metcalfe), physiotherapy (Thank you Gina) and regular exercise, the symptoms are reducing. Shoulder pain is much less frequent, neck pains less painful, hands and fingers cold, but less numb and fewer pins and needles.

frontal scan self portrait #1. A1 Silk screen.

After the operation to remove growth at C3 & 4, I accessed my pre-operation scan images. ‘Seeing inside myself’ for the first time inspired the making of a self portrait. Something I had never embarked upon before. Selecting ‘meaningful’ scans of neck, growth, head and brain I enlarged the small electronic images and applied a bitmap (black and white) matrix to give a texture and the ability to be silk screen printed at scale. The resultant three large scale printed images created an interior self portrait.

vertebrae C3/4.self portrait #2. A1 Silk screen duotone

I had not shared the self portraits until, over an informal supper, I was introduced to an anatomy education expert. I could not resist enquiring about the diagnostic process and my anatomical make up. On showing my self portraits an enthusiastic informed discussion took off, where many of the questions I had been asking about the connectivity of my nervous system were clarified. Her enthusiasm for anatomy and ‘seeing into’ the neurorogical make up I had reflected, brought forth her knowledge of how brain and pain connect. Her ability to access online medical information through applying professional, rather than lay, language along with her engaging sharing of information made clear to me what vertebrae connected to which nerves. Which parts of the brain are responsible for which bodily function, and the relevant size of brain tissue for amount of sensory information.

horizontal brain scan. self portrait #3. A1 Silk screen print

To explain how different parts of the brain process and control she brought up the ‘Cortical_homunculus’. This is a distorted representation of the human body, based on a neurological “map” of the areas and proportions of the human brain dedicated to processing motor, or sensory functions, for different parts of the body. Taking this further the nervous system is connected through dermatromes. Dermatrome, in anatomical terms, is an area of skin innervated by sensory fibers from a single spinal nerve.

Dermatrome Map

Dermatome Map

Cervical vertebra with intervertebral disc

This healthy symmetrical cross section shows how the spinal chord is protected and the spinal nerves are cushioned. There are a number of online examples of MRI scans in the Radiopedia platform which aims to create the best radiology reference the world has ever seen and to make it available for freefor everfor all.

This simple, but clearly explained description of the causes of nerve pains from the neck that had led to my posterior decompression surgery was immensely useful. My anatomical supper expert had been able to explain as she had time. She was not under medical service pressure to move onto the next patient.

We returned to the printed self portraits and drew connection between the binary transmission of signals to, from and across the brain with the binary marks of information required to capture and print the interior self portrait images.

Our anatomy evening came to an end with the sharing of Leonardo Da Vinci’s 500th Anniversary catalogue, published this week and celebrated across the land and in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Da Vinci’s drawings laid the foundations for anatomical study and the knowledge base of today. Current Magnetic Resonance Imaging techniques allow detailed images of inside the live, human body to inform medical diagnosis and treatment. I am eternally thankful for the medics and my anatomical expert for enabling me to create my interior self portraits.

brain neck and head. self portrait #1,2&3. A1 Silk Screen self portraits.

An Urban Sadness

All thats left after 100 years

100 years ago a conifer seed landed in Ingoldsby Court, Moseley Birmingham UK. A tall mature tree in 2018 developed a rotting disease and had to be felled for safety’s sake. In two days the deed was done. Sad, but Super efficient

Morning climb to the last branch

Slide show below

previous arrow
next arrow

Paperlike Drawing

Autumn Acorn bunch Landed in Ingoldsby Garden

This drawing is 8th in the series of Fruit of Drawing. It includes three empty Autumn acorn cups and one still to be released, in search of warm winter leaves and grounds to germinate in the Spring.

This drawing was the opportunity to try and test a new addition to my toolset: Paperlike.  This is a sheet of textured film that adheres to the glossy iPad screen surface.

I have  spent many hours perfecting my drawing technique on the iPad.  First with various styli and finally with the perfectly matched Apple Pencil, which in tandem with the procreate app, with its multitude of variable brushes, is  perfected for the tablet surface. However drawing with these tools has always ‘felt’ materiality different to drawing on paper with graphite pencils. After all they are ‘digital’. I have developed drawing techniques and styles for the smooth surface which over time has made it possible to make rewarding digital drawings. The fruits of drawing series are all made using this approach.

Getting the balance between traditional drawing materials and contemporary digital possibilities is always of interest and like many other human activities technology moves on and the launch of ‘paperlike’ offered a new addition.

It was developed by Jan Sapper and funded through a £40K Kickstarter raise in 2017:  ‘ We optimized the PaperLike for maximum precision and control. The friction is perfect for long drawing sessions or taking notes in endless meetings. And yes, it also feels nice.’ with testimonies like: ‘There’s actually a lot more resistance between the tip of the pencill and the surface – it really changes the way the ipad feels” and “The nice texture and grip, makes it easier to get whats in my head on to the screen”.

 There were a few not so positive reviews, mainly about the application of the film to the iPad screen and avoiding dust. I ordered it and it arrived in a relatively massive box.  Once I got through the paper packaging to the A4 envelope I watched the video and decided to take the dust avoidance advice and fix the screen in the allegedly dust free bathroom.

I nearly succeed, but a couple of pesky bits of dust evaded my cleaning and polishing.  Before drawing I  scrolled around applications with my fingers and the screen certainly felt much more like paper with its paper like, rather than digital glass friction.

Using the Apple Pencil I tested out a variety of pencil/brushes to get a feel for what was possible.  My ‘favourite’ pencil brushes seemed to visually deliver a softer line, with more texture. Drawing was more tactile which I had hoped for. The screen has a rough rag paper coarseness which encourages a  ‘natural’ drawing technique with the drawn mark response more akin to an analogue pencil on paper relationship.

Before Paperlike arrived I had begun to draw the Acorn bunch and rather than start a new drawing I added new layers and began to draw with the new surface.

pre paper like

post paper like

The two images are at different stages of completion, but there is a material difference between them. The first is less textured, the second, after getting used to the textured surface and a range of pencils, is less ‘smooth’ than the first.  As I experimented with procreate pencils I used HB, 6B, Blunt, Narinder and techical pencils. I had never used the narinder and technical pencils in previous drawings as they felt too fine and sharp for the gestural drawing I wanted to make for the fruits. I used the blunt pencil much less than in the previous drawings as it was too textured and difficult to control the spread softly.

All in all I enjoy the grain of the paperlike surface and the opportunity it has offered to draw on a less slippy surface more materially akin to a paper sketchbook, but with the digital opportunities of layering, reviewing and multiple choices of pencils. A step forward bringing digital and analogue drawing closer.

And it sounds different! The pencil sounds like it is drawing on a textured surface.

More Fruit, Portrait and Location drawings will confirm the value as I hope not to have to remove the film from the iPad screen.

More Paperlike details.

Acorn Life Cycle’s First Stage

The first stage of the acorn seedling’s life is fruiting. This is when an acorn grows on the oak tree, which happens through the spring and summer shortly after the tree has flowered in the spring. Different type of acorns can fall at various times. For example, toward the end of the summer or in early fall, fully grown acorns from white oak trees fall to the ground. Acorns from red oak trees fall during late fall or winter.

The Beauty of Uneaten Acorns

Acorns are heavier than many tree seeds and usually fall to the ground close to the parent tree. Acorns rarely sprout or germinate when close to the parent tree due to lack of light through the tree’s canopy. This function is performed by squirrels and other rodents that scatter, hoard and eat the acorn seedlings. Those acorns left uneaten have the chance to sprout and grow into an oak tree.

Acorns need the right soil conditions to germinate and sprout. Most germination of trees will begin during the early spring season. They require loose and moist and nutrient-rich soil in a location that gets plenty of sunlight and rainfall. Given these conditions, the acorn will start to germinate and grow a taproot that pushes deep into the surrounding soil. As the taproot grows down, the acorn sends a shoot upward. This is the first stage in the transformation of the mighty oak tree life cycle.

Reproduction is often aided by birds such as jays, which bury acorns to retrieve later, perhaps forgetting where they stored them.



Calendula’s Cloak, Jann Haworth

This dramatically varied, insightful and warming exhibition opened on Saturday with spoken word performances and a fully engaged debate with four women MPs. Inspired by the bold work of feminist artists and activists, Women Power Protest raises awareness, provokes debate and asks how much has changed for women. The show was very well attended by a diverse audience throughout Saturday with visitors enjoying the thought provoking work on every wall of the Gas Hall.  

It is curated to mark a century since the first women won the right to vote, the exhibition brings together modern and contemporary artworks from the Arts Council  and Birmingham’s Collection to celebrate female artists who have explored protest, social commentary and identity in their work.


Portraits on £10 notes

Condor and the Mole. Lynette Yiadom-Bookye

It showcases pieces by celebrated artists including Susan Hiller, Lubaina Himid, and Mary Kelly, as well as sometimes controversial artists such as Sam Taylor-Johnson, Sonia Boyce, and Margaret Harrison, the exhibition does not shy away from difficult subjects, nor underplay the genius behind these artworks. 

Trilogy. Claudette Johnson


Drawing of visitors viewing Rose Wylie’s Size 8: Orange. 1996.

In November 1918 The Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act passed allowing women to stand for Parliament. 100 years on to commemorate this landmark event in history, Birmingham Museum is delighted to host a panel discussion with four female MP’s from Birmingham and Solihull, chaired by leading feminist campaigner Caroline Criado Perez

Debating Mps with Lynsday Rutter who conceived the debate event.

Participating politicians: Jess Phillips, MP for Birmingham Yardley
Preet Gill, MP for Birmingham Edgbaston
Shabana Mahmood, MP for Birmingham Ladywood
Dame Caroline Spelman, MP for the Meriden constituency (Solihull).

The debate explored what it means to be a woman in parliament today and what the future looks like for women in politics. Caroline led the panel in rich and informed discussion   based on the MP’s extensive experience and knowledge of the parliamentary system. Dame Caroline Spelman was able to compare the changes in women’s engagement in parliament over her 20 year contribution in the house.  Legislative changes and custom and practice were welcomed, but there is still much to do.  The continuing social media abuse faced by female Mps and the need for social media platform companies to prevent or remove abuse was called for.  The chair encouraged questions of no more than ten words from the floor from women, and one man. There was more valuable exchanges and debate than for much of the debate earlier in the week in Westminster.

MPs, Staff and Trustees at the debate.


The show is free and on until 31 Mar 2019.  Go See.

Women Power Protest is part of the Arts Council Collection National Partnership Programme which sees four major UK galleries working together to curate, host, and share a series of exciting and innovative new exhibitions with works drawn from the Arts Council Collection. The National Partner venues are Birmingham Museums Trust, Walker Art Gallery National Museums Liverpool, Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Towner Gallery, Eastbourne.


  • This event is free

IPMACT10- Two Hanging Prints

The IMPACT10 Salle 2 exhibition in Santander was a unique space amongst the Bienalle venues as it was soft carpeted and flooded with natural light. It also housed a wide range of print based exhibits. Many were large scale presentations and innovative in their use of walls, floors, screens and 3 dimensional spaces.
Two of these were works hung from the ceiling.  They were work by Kiochi Yamamoto and Ana Vivoda from Japan/USA and Croatia respectively.  Kiochi Explained that his original submission was a kite, but had been lost in transit.  He had made the hanging print artwork overnight from etchings he had with him and conceived of them being hung from the celiing. Two join them together he had boiled rice and used the mixture to glue the paper prints together.  5 Days later he replaced the impromtu piece with the kite. https://yamamotoprintmakin.com

To the right in the streaming sunlight from one of the traditional windows was a series of hanging prints composed of discreet photographic images and light coloured, but dense marks. This work was intriguingly beautiful and tiled Interactions. It attracted many viewers who enjoyed interacting with the 15 prints. Some were even drawn to touch the delicate works. The QR code carried the information about the Croatian artist : Ana Vivoda. I poped her name into Google and she came up in facebook. I messaged her to ask if she was still in Santander? “I am next door in the symposium” came the immeadiate reply. We met and Ana explained the motivation behind the self portrait was to give a number of impressions of herself, rather than a single image. She also explained her technique – very fine, hardly perecptible photographic traces of herself digitally printed that were added to with light ink through lino cuts. The balance of the inks, images, marks and rag paper hung with small clips and transparent lines came together to make a work demanding return visits and interactions.


Click here for Pictures of the pieces :





and two clips from Kiochi’s work are below

IMPACT10 Santander – ‘Circumstance of asking’

IMPACT 10 Santander

IMPACT10 title was Encuentro, ‘meeting’and there were many new and inspiring meetings of art and people throughout the week of exhibitions and symposia.  There were many print exhibitions from Goya to Yamamoto, Diggle, Single, Mitra Kupfermincand Ana Vivoda that it was hard to select what to view.  On Tuesday I selected Edinburgh Printmakers and their portfolio of artist prints with a stand out gestural litho by Ren Narbutt.

Ren Narbutt, Stone Litho printed at Edinburgh Printmakers

Fred from Tennessee viewing Barbie Kjar’s Tent Portraits

I turned round to see a tent! A long vertical canvas square reaching from floor to ceiling.  People were coming in and out, some entering and closing the two curtain ‘doors’ behind them. I wanted to see what artworks were enticing them in. Three drawn and printed portraits invited the viewer to go up close to the images, face to face with them. One Portrait was deep red giving the tent space a red glow. The drawings were evocative, simple and powerful, reflecting diverse characters.

I exited the portrait tent and watched how people looked at the portraits to their left, right and in front and how they entered inquisitively and exited with more intention than when passing by the many wall hung prints. The portrait tent seemed to afford a material viewing experience allowing the portraits more attention from the viewer as they had made a conscious decision to step inside. They had made a choice to view these drawn portraits and been rewarded for their commitment.


As I observed these goings on I noticed a woman was watching too. I asked her if the portrait tent was her work and she smiled : “Yeah.” In that unmistakable Australasian way of saying yes, in a ‘Yes of course’ sort of way.
We briefly talked about the tent and her three portraits within, which I said very much enjoyed and asked how do you go about the making the portraits?  “I meet them in the street, bars or venues and ask them if they would like me to make a portrait of them.” I was immediately impressed and interested and we talked some more before she had to talk with her other admirers. Unlike me, I asked her to stand in the entry to the tent for a photograph.

“Lets talk more” we exchanged contacts and when I saw her name was Barbie I could not help but ask: “Is your original name Barbara? Mine is Jonathan not Jonnie? Two ‘ie’s’ – A connection was made.




Barbie Jkar 

After a couple appointment hiccups, we met after we had viewed each other’s websites.  Barbie is a much more experienced exhibiting artist that I and I was full of anticipation of hearing her views on portraiture.  She had just mounted a show of 10 portraits in Melbourne. Surprisingly she was interested in how I had curated my recent High Sheriff portrait show. We talked for half an hour sharing each other’s drawing, print and portrait interests, art and personal experiences. We talked together freely and with ease, getting to know if our initial connection was to be fulfilled. Portraiture is something we are both focused on. We shared other artists of interest and tools of the drawing trade. Barbie is Tasmanian, and her Antipodean direct talking is mixed with an ability to stay quiet, pause from time to time to allow conversation to develop. We could have enjoyed more coffee and sharing, but then came the moment we had been building up to: sharing our approaches to the portrait subject:

“Some days I NEED to draw someone.  I know I want to meet someone whose face interests me. I go to places with ‘my looking eyes on’. I will be aware of people in a café, bar, or a music venue and my looking eyes will touch upon a face that I want to draw. There is a moment when it’s as if there is a Light around them. Like a spotlight illuminating their face. I am drawn to draw them.

‘Circumstance of asking’

“I approach them and get into conversation. I Tell them about me as an artist: ‘I draw people’s portraits and I’d like to draw you’. I show them work on my website. I share my previous portrait credentials and evidence of portraits made with people unknown to me at the beginning. I explain I hope to exhibit the pictures in the future, which may be a good opportunity to show friends and family. When I make this first approach I’ve not got to be intense. I am intense, but I’ve not go to exhibit that. I don’t want to scare them.  Through this ‘Circumstance of asking’I am hoping to establish a trusting relationship with a subject to make it possible for them to accept me as their portraitist.”

I can imagine Barbie approaching and engaging with a stranger as her ‘looking eyes’ would be replaced by ‘engaging eyes’ that look directly into the person she has selected, while she is balancing between responding and initiating discussion.  I can imagine her warm, genuinely interested character beginning the first stage of engagement.  However, she has an end goal in mind that is not far from her consciousness in this moment of asking. “Eventually I ask them if they would like to be drawn by me. There are very few occasions that the sitter or I, the artist stop the process and go our separate ways.”

“When it’s a go situation we agree a time to meet at the studio. When they arrive I make some tea, coffee and chat for 15 minutes or so. It is a chat, a further getting to know you and establishing a relaxed relationship before we begin, but I am also looking and assessing what would be the best, most representative, interesting position to place the sitter in. I suppose I am directing them.”

“Then we begin. We are face to face and I have ‘my drawing eyes’ on.  It is intense. While I draw we tend to speak about many things. Many times the conversations become quite deep. The sharing of the intimate space together and my concentration provides a situation of trust, where it feels ok to share thoughts, emotions and concerns.  After the portrait is completed, in one or two sittings, I have become close with the subjects. The intimacy of the portrait drawing session, when I can get quite physically close, along with the sharing of personal information makes it akin to a counseling session.”

It seems to me that when the process begins the fact that there is an end point/product, not an ongoing relationship, gives Barbie and the sitter a space to fill and feel safe together.

In a speedy ‘screen’ world where celebrity images abound and selfies are everyone’s opportunity to portray themselves, the focused artist and sitter relationship is very special. “

“My show of their portraits was wonderful. Everyone came and celebrated their images and the fact that they were real, on paper with the charcoal, graphite and conte in the gallery for all to see. The portraits are in the world to be shared and the subject to be ‘recognised.’”

I wish I had asked Barbie if we could record our conversation in order I could have quoted her verbatim and got the detail accurately correct, but I think this was the thrust of it.

We went on to talk about my approach, which is not as straight forwardly up front as Barbies’. However I do look to share my portraits of those people that my ‘looking eyes’ are attuned to and my spotlight has illuminated their faces and drawn me to first, smart phone photograph them and then to draw them.

The initial feeling we perceived when we met in front of Barbie’s portrait tent that we are on the same wavelength had been confirmed through our conversation. Barbie suggested we share a beer as the coffee ran out long ago and the sun was shining.

While Barbie got the beers in I reflected on my modus operandi. Our conversation has raised questions for me about whether my premise of discreet capturing of the subject through the smartphone could be developed. I am drawn to the possibilities of creating a ‘circumstance of asking’ that works for me, but I am not there, yet.

We kept talking and Barbie noticed similarities in our drawing selections: the focus on the head, hair, hands, and inclusion of elements of relevant clothing. Barbie tends to draw the torso never the whole body.

Chuck Close MOMA Sydney 2015

We talked about Australia, Melbourne and Sydney and the immense Chuck Close show at the Sydney MOMA in 2015. Barbie had seen it too and we discussed his approach(es) to portraiture, drawing photography and print. That show was a seminal moment for me as I saw again what printmaking could be.  It resurrected a calling to make prints.

Thinking back to my time in Melbourne I remembered I begun portraits in Melbourne that I had not shared with the subjects because I had drawn and printed them in retrospect, in the UK. Barbie wanted to see them and took the phone and its small screen under the shade of the table to see the portraits. She was interested/intrigued to see my choice of subjects on the Melbourne public transport system.  It felt good that someone of Barbie’s insight and shared artistic values enjoyed seeing portraits from her part of the world.

This 2 hour meeting of minds in the Spanish sunshine had established we had shared approaches to drawn portraiture.   Even though, and perhaps because we live at other ends of the world, I hope we can share more as we make images of people we are drawn to.


Jonnie Turpie September 2018