Aim: Materials and the way they are applied can be very expressive and can imply a narrative without using words. Take time to experiment with the expressive potential of a range of materials and then make a selection to create a piece where the materials contribute significantly to the way the piece is read.

Method: Think of a person for whom you have strong feelings or hold a strong opinion. Find an object or item of clothing that reminds you of that person. Make a piece of artwork that uses the object to provide the imagery but uses the materials to give the viewer a sense of the person.

Reflection: Now reflect further on the potential of these ideas. For example, what effects could you create by juxtaposing apparently incongruous materials and subject? Imagine an enormous violently applied drawing, engine oil on sheet steel, of a newborn baby. How would that read?

The series of drawings below fall into one of two sets, my father-in-law and mother-in-law.  Bill is a horticulturalist just turned eighty but he doesn’t know how to slow down and keeps on going. His trusty old boots never far from his feet.  Of course, I wasn’t lent them long enough to do a series of drawing from them so my old boots had to substitute.

Valerie, (age unknown, at least in public) is a florist and keen gardener whose blooms and arrangements are the envy of many.  I selected her tools of her trade, a trowel and sun hat along with a few picked clematis flowers in a glass of water.

“Bills trusty old boots #1” – pen and watercolour wash (A3 cartridge paper)


“Bills trusty old boots #2” – pen and black ink (A3 cartridge paper)


“Bills trusty old boots #3” – wax crayon (A3 cartridge paper)



“Bills trusty old boots #4” – pencil (A3 cartridge paper)


“Valerie’s Gardening tool #1” – pencil (A3 cartridge paper)


“Valerie’s Gardening tool #2” – pen and black ink with watercolour wash (A3 cartridge paper)

To make a greater point of the materials used (media) I decided to use a more basic method of application.  In these final three drawings the ink was applied by a pipette.  This acts as an ink reservoir and ‘gently’ (sometimes dribbles the ink as it is applied.  You need to keep the pipette moving all the time or the result is an uncontrolled flow and a mini lake on the page.  Freud may like ink blots but I do try to minimise them.


“Bills trusty old boots #5” – black ink applied by pipette (A3 cartridge paper)



“Bills trusty old boots #6” – black ink applied by pipette (A3 cartridge paper)


“Bills trusty old boots #7” – brown ink applied by pipette with ink wash (A3 cartridge paper)

This final drawing of the old boots is also done by pipette using brown ink; they are brown boots after all.  To complete the tones and further provide some volume to the objects I have also utilised the ink in wash format diluted by water to provide various tones to depict the boots and their immediate surrounding in front of the blind covered window.

Showing these series of drawings to one of my sons and asked to name who they might represent, he correctly identified Grandpa and Grandma.  So I must have at least captured an essence of who they are.

The potential for further drawings of these boots would be to scrape some of the mud off and make my own ink / paint.  By adding some gum Arabic I would in essence end up with an earth colour or earth.  Further developing this could be done utilising boot polish in brown or black.  The polish could act as a colour in addition to a resist if the oily properties were to be utilised.

Computer modified photo of new born baby

Juxtaposing these old boots along with a baby’s first shoes could show the difference between a grandchild and grandfathers feet and slashing mud and muck over the baby’s shoes would bring an unsettling edge to the image.

An enormous violently applied picture of a baby in engine oil on a sheet of steel!  the first image that springs to mind of a baby is cleaning and sweet smelling all soft and warm and quiet.  But the instances after a child are born are anything but this image.  Blood etc. covering the baby can look very dark and oil like, so maybe this is not such an incongruous image after all.  But for many of us this image of baby done in oil on steel is unsettling and far from how we like to imagine babies!