Assignment 2 : Subject as a Medium

Make a drawing of a subject of your choice using the subject itself, or tools constructed from the subject, dipped in ink or paint.

Here are some possible solutions to this brief to start you thinking:

  • Collect a variety of branches and seed heads from a garden or woods. Construct a still life with the majority of your collection but tie small amounts of the remainder to sticks or the wrong end of brushes to make implements that you can dip into paint or ink.
  • Take some pots of ink or paint to the beach and make a drawing using shells and driftwood as applicators.
  • Make a drawing of used cars at a scrapyard using bolts and bits of car as applicators.

This project will allow you to consider the nature of your subject and to make a drawing which makes use of its physical properties in a very direct way.

Bamboo in Maidstone garden Phyllostachys aurea , common name “Golden bamboo” aka  ‘Fishpole Bamboo’

Bamboo can lend itself to allowing man to utilise it is many ways.  The Chinese were first to discover and then utilise these properties.  The stem of a green Bamboo can be cut and shaped to make a flexible nib bed pen, the dried stem can make a pen with different characteristics.  The leaves and stem parts can be processed to produce a paper.  The gardener will be long familiar with the long bamboo canes utilised in gardens and greenhouses for training plants.  The hobby fisherman will also be familiar with the bamboo used as a long flexible and cheap fishing pole.  In nature the panda exists on a diet of bamboo.  In my own garden three bamboos are utilised as a nature screen and shade.

I frequently use bamboo to fashion pens.  In this exercise assignment I have made several pens with different nib sizes as a means to produce this series of bamboo plant drawings.  The characteristics of a bamboo pen are very dependent upon the freshness of the bamboo.  A fresh piece of green bamboo shaped into a pen provides the most flexible and usable of instruments, whilst a dried ‘yellow’ cane bamboo will make a more rigid and fixed nib to a pen.


Bamboo pen and black Ink A3 cartridge paper

Chopping pieces of the bamboo plant worked as a means to get familiar with the plant and its various aspects before attempting to draw it in its entirety.

Alongside here there are tips of stems, mid stem and leaves all drawn in a variety of manners to see which might suit both the subject and the drawing medium.

This was not a fine drawn done by a manufactured pen from fine spring steel.  It is a drawing done by a sharpened stick, in this case a pared bamboo.

All in all, I find this bamboo pen more responsive to the subject and to the medium of drawing than the finer shop bought pens sitting unused in my pencil pot on the desk.

Bamboo pen and black ink with watercolour on A3 cartridge paper


Bamboo pen and Brown ink with watercolour and coloured inks on A3 cartridge paper
Bamboo pen and Black ink with watercolour and coloured inks on A3 cartridge paper

The bamboo had pieces pruned to act a still life for various bamboo elements to be drawn.  Drawing these close-up depictions of the bamboo assists with how I perceive a large clump of bamboo.  One of the main aspects that I take from observing bamboo formed the basis of the final drawing, i.e. the Assignment piece.  I wanted to depict a big clump of bamboo with a truncated view in effect zooming to the centre of the clump and depicting only the middle of the plant.  Bamboo can form a tangled disorganised mess of detail when observed from afar.  However; closing in on the plant centre – the main stems along with details of the leaves slowly become apparent.  I wanted the observer to be at first confused with what he is looked at and the slowly realise that the drawing in fact the middle of a bamboo clump.  This process of observation will then be similar to how we observe the bamboo in real life.

Leaving the paper as a plain white was never going to be an option in this exercise.  I investigated the process of making an ink or pigment from the bamboo plant and only the leaves would lend themselves to giving up some pigment.  A pale yellow green fluid was produced after a process that involved harvesting 50-60 green bamboo leaves, then shredding them and then boiling for about an hour.  The substance was a watery mix of a green substance!!

Making the bamboo ink stain from boiling bamboo leaves;  and combining with Gum Arabic
Bamboo pen and Black ink with diluted black ink on A3 cartridge paper

Reducing this by boiling eventually produced a small (egg-cupful) amount of green ‘ink.’  This was made into a ink or stain by the addition of Gum Arab.  The only down side in this process is the irritation caused by the bamboo leaves on hands, wrists and arms after touching it.  The glow produced by yellow-green stain produces a drawing with a nature and authentic ground colour to the piece.  This was quite a satisfying piece to draw, including the preparation stages.  As a plant bamboo is fascinating and as a subject it is constantly changing its form colour and appearance.

Assignment piece prior to staining paper – Bamboo pen and Black ink on A3 cartridge paper


Assignment 2  – Final Piece: Assignment piece after staining paper
Bamboo pen, Black ink with Bamboo stain  on white A3 cartridge paper

Reflection – Part 2

Below is noted my reflections on the outcomes and my progress through section 2 and the course to-date.

Distance learning by its very nature can be quite fragmented due to the sporadic bursts of activity interspersed with no activity.  Ha, the handicap of a full-time job keeping industrial refrigeration running in a hot summer.  Once again the pressures of work have delayed completing and submitting this section of the course.

Anyway, noted below is a short assessment of how I perceive my progress through Drawing 2.

Reflection against Assessment criteria

Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills

Materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills

I think this part of my repertoire has improved and developed over the last year.  I now feel I can view the subject and visual what I want to achieve and then place it on the paper correctly utilising the drawing field well without too much or too little space around the subject.  Thus I feel I have demonstrated good observational and technical skills in many of the drawings in this section of the course including the assignment piece.  Drawing with a pen and ink does not lend itself to correction and I have developed my observational skills to ensure that I can get the line, proportion etc. correct at the first go on the page.  This gives a sense of confidence to carry-on and confidence is one thing one need when using a dip pen and ink.

Using a dip pen and ink makes each step a deliberate act giving a pace to a drawing which allows enough time to plan the design and composition without over-thinking the piece and getting caught up in what you are doing.  It allows the line, mark-making and drawing to speak for itself.

Quality of Outcome

Content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, with discernment.  Conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas.

This was an enjobable section of the course for me.  I love to able to utilise different materials and mediums in my work and also throw in a bit of invention (fashioning bamboo pens) this was right up my street.

Working with the charcoal and rubbing-out to produce images was the dirtiest of the tasks but the most fulfilling from a creative point of view.  Much of the time a drawing is an additive process as you add line, marks etc. to build up an image.  This section reversed that thought and process to one where you removed from the image to develop it.

This thus ensured that you had to initially have an idea of what you wished to achieve and then work through a process to conception and completion of the image.  This was in some ways similar to the process that a sculptor has in removing stone or wood from a block to release the image within.

Thus this section tested your thought process from the initial concept through to the completed image. 

Demonstration of Creativity

Imagination, experimentation, invention, Development

Developing a black page covered in charcoal into a subtle rendering of a portrait takes a level of imagination that other processes in art do not require!

In drawing 2-1-06 I started from a white sheet rather than a black sheet and covered it in white instead of black.  So having got into the train of thought to work backwards by removing medium to derive the image I again reversed this to remove white chalk from a black sheet to develop the image.   This gives a similar result to doing the opposite though there are subtle differences observable in the depth of tone within the ‘black’.

Again to demonstrate elements of experimentation within my work I manufactured a stain derived from bamboo leaves.  This one-off batch of bamboo stain may not be a best seller or even be marketable it does hint at further potential ideas in the future.  Berries, vegetables may give rise to other stains, though I think many will be fugitive and short lived.

My own bamboo stain changed from a lime-green to a yellow over-night and goodness knows what shade, colour or state it may be in in a few months when it is time to be assessed!!


Reflection, research (evidenced in learning logs).  Critical thinking (evidenced in critical review).

Included within the coursework is research into various artists.  Covered in this section are :

  • Angela Eames, Michael Borremans, Jim Shaw, Cornelia Parker and
  • Euan Uglow

The artist I was drawn to for several works was Jim Shaw, [example his work “Untitled – Banyan Tree”].  Another I was also drawn to for the mystic portraits was Michael Borremans.  However, I was especially drawn to the work by Euan Uglow an artist suggested by my tutor. [See following section].

Looking back at some of my work through this section of the course.  I can see the influence that Antonio Lopez Garcia may have had on the images produced in Section 1 and 2, where the image is hazily emerging from the dark and mid-key tones on the page evident in his figure work, interiors and still lifes.

In section 2 where I covered the page in a heavy application of oil pastel and scratched it off; I was influenced by the work I saw in a Maidstone exhibition of the work of Michael Chaplin, especially his etchings where several works were shown in different stages.

Viewing the work of other artists, whether you like their works or not opens up opportunities and trains of thought that will remain closed until you look.