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Helen Capewell
OCA Learning Log
Student Number: 522802
Degree: Illustration
Current Level: 2

Identifying Tools and Materials

Updated: Jul 29, 2020

This was a really nice exercise which I'm overly pleased with the results of.

We are asked to explore different artists that all use the same medium. Looking at how they use the medium in their style, what techniques they use and the tools that help them.

I could have gone for something I don't often use, but to be honest, I'm a big fan of Acrylic paints, a medium I sometimes feel is underrated. I was curious to see how many artists I could find that have included acrylic in their works, and I was surprised by the results!

David Hockney has several paintings that had been created using acrylic. A name as big as his using the medium felt like a nod of acceptance. His work is iconic!

Here is my collection of artist that have used Acrylic as their medium of preference.







I wanted to focus on an artist I follow on YouTube, Greg "Craola" Simkins. I'm blown away by the realism he is able to achieve in the surreal worlds he creates. All done using acrylic! The first painting I found Simkins landed on my homepage of YouTube and it really caught my attention. It looked like an oil painting with the tones and the smooth finish. Thank you to algorithms for hooking me up! I was in black hole of being completely mesmerised by the process videos on his channel

This is the first painting that introduced my to Simkins, the details are incredible!

It was his collection called "Rabbit Season" which I really wanted to focus on in this exercise.

I really love how he was able to create the concrete texture in the wall, it's incredibly realistic. The added details of the distressed and warn down painting of the rabbits on top of this is so beautifully done. Not only is the technique incredible, but I love the pop culture twist he incorporates in his paintings. We are all familiar with the classic style cartoons, Disney inspired etc. Simkins clever way to pay tribute to those feels very familiar and nostalgic. But he doesn't just stop there! He then brings in a world of other animals with weird oddities to them which makes this world seem real, as if it isn't actually that crazy to see these fictional characters that he creates together with an owl.

The rest of the collection in Rabbit Season:

I really wanted to try this myself. I wanted to see whether I could create a similar concrete texture but using an image from the previous units. I decided to look back to the Kokeshi doll I had used to experiment with different mediums. This time choosing a different doll to focus on!

My vision was to incorporate the concrete wall in to the painting with some kind of advertisement distressed like Simkins. This led me to think about combining something modern with tradition. I thought of Japan in general, the colours, the vibrancy and mostly the neons. I tend to think of alleyways lit with neons when I think of Japan. I thought the blue and pink colours of lights would be nice to highlight dirt and cracks in the concrete.

I began with taking photos of the Kokeshi doll. Originally I kept to a straight forward view of the doll in the previous unit, this time I wanted to explore different angles that may bring interest or perspective. I wasn't just thinking of copying the doll this time, I wanted to create a full piece!

The 3 of photos below were the first attempt in casting pink and blue light of the doll. I simply used Tupperware that were translucent in colour. The white light of the bulb out shone the colours, leaving just a tiny tint in the highlight. The picture on the right was with just the pink box. As you can see the result left just a warmth to the image, the colour is very subtle. This weren't exactly what I had in mind so for a moment I stopped.

Then a penny dropped. I just had to darken the white light so it would only shine through the boxes. Screen it in a way! So I grabbed a dark scarf and covered it enough so that only part of the light would shine through. Now this worked! Well, blue worked better than pink but the tone exists!

The view throughout the photos look very similar, yet each had a subtle difference in the angle or where the light came from. In the end I stuck to the original images.

After the photos I sketched very quickly a few loose ideas. I already had the idea in my head of what I wanted to do, but it helps to get the visuals out. I used pin and blue coloured pencils to indicate the neon lights. These sketches were more composition, and seeing which angle would work best.

In the end I did go for a bit of a straight forward view. I liked the sketch at the bottom on the left of the above photo. I did give the view a slightly lower angle that would look up, this way I would be able to get the entire doll in the frame plus a concrete wall.

To create that contrast with new against tradition, I looked for pop culture in Japan. They have some very whacky foods in Japan so it was the first place I searched through. Packaging are bright colours, bold writing and usually featuring a character of some kind. They are really screaming at you! EAT THE UNHEALTHY SNACK! well, If you insist!

I discovered a fairly simple character on the packaging for some snacks, which felt perfect for the vision I had in mind. The character happened to be a famous Japanese children's superhero character called Anpanman by Takashi Yanase [1]. It seems that most snacks in Japan feature a famous character on the packaging, so in a way this merchandising overdrive in the modern world fitted well with my idea where the old meets new. That said, Anpanman is a character from 1973 which was then turned into a popular anime series. I guess this was more of a traditional medium vs digital?

So he became my background star! I had always wondered how artists were able to use well known characters in their works, much like Joyce Pensato, who often included characters like Homer Simpson, Batman and Mickey Mouse in her works [2]. With this in mind, I wanted to be careful on including a famous character in my painting. Because Anpanman isn't a character I designed, I wanted to place him in the background so he wasn't a focal point.

Here are a few photos of my process.

starting with creating the textured background. This was VERY satisfying to work on, and I really enjoyed the process. It all just happened perfectly the first time! I slowly built the colours, the washes and the paint splats. I kept the pink neon in this but it didn't really come across as a light glow. It's one of my favourite features in the piece as I love how it dried!

To achieve the look, I followed a video of Smikins painting. I watched as he poured paint on and let it drip down. I observed as he sponged some texture, flicked paint and sand away the rough edges. I wanted to do the same! although I was working on paper, I did worry what sanding it would do, but actually it worked perfectly! I was flying through this painting, I was totally in a mediative state and really enjoying the process.

After letting the paint dry, I added a dark floor at the bottom and painted in my character following the same process as before. Using the sand paper, sponge, and paintbrush to fade it in until it felt natural. Some of the thick black lines I washed out whilst other I kept noticeable, I think the balance adds to the effect I wanted to achieve. Once this had dried I began to sketch my Kokeshi doll!

I couldn't believe how well this was going! I had no obstacles, I was just confident and content in my acrylic bubble. I do love the paint, and to do something I've never done before in the medium was a delight!

I'm really pleased with the results of the painting. I felt successful in achieving the textured look of Greg Simkin's work, and learned new methods in using acrylic paint.


After receiving feedback from my tutor it had been said that it would be good to show more "working out" in the early stages, to experiment more with the medium and with the composition. I did play it safe with the direct view of the Kokeshi in the first stage of the exercise, and so wanted to make up for it in the second piece, as this was yet to be completed. My next chosen artist I wanted to go further with the research and to gain confidence in using acrylic different to how I have known. Honestly, I have never really learned how to use the paint other than finding a personal way of working with them. Part 2 I hoped by looking closely at my next artists work and trying to understand how the results may have been achieved, I could push my comforts. Perhaps I could create something very different to what I would ever think of doing without the influence.


Naomi Fears

All artists mentioned above had really inspired me for this exercise. Before feedback, I had only shown my interpretation of Greg Simkins. Although it was not an intention to work this way, it did allow room for improvement or space to grow after receiving feedback to then create a second piece as per the brief. I'm glad I did it this way! Feedback suggested that I might benefit from experimenting some more, as this exercise really was the perfect opportunity to build a library of textures using different techniques. With that said, Naomi's work really stood out to me for my second artist to focus in on, her work is beautifully abstract and full of texture. I'm really inspired by the use of space on the canvas and how the continued use of a figure is visible in all pieces. I really felt like her style would be an interesting way to explore the medium further.

I started by researching Naomi's work some more. Described as enigmatic and haunting, Naomi's paintings, to me, encourage questions and a longing to learn the story behind each unique piece. They have a ghostly feel to them with figures floating in a beautifully textured surrounding of colour, as if pulled out of one situation and placed out of context. It's like elements of different photos have been cut out and placed around an empty space like a collage to symbolise a new meaning. Perhaps pushing boundaries on landscape by only selecting key areas and leaving the rest of an image as a void. I get the feeling that some of the paintings are like old vintage photos or polaroids that got damaged in a flood many years ago, and all that is left is a smudge of dampened blend of the ink with just elements of the original photo remaining. I also get the impression they're the negatives of vintage photos, especially the paintings with white figures on a dark background colour.

I was drawn to her technique of layered textures and elements. "Somebody to Love" was the first piece that introduced me to Naomi's work. I can only describe it as if it was the developing photo process of a landscape that hadn't completely developed, or as if a printer had run out of one colour and would only pick on certain tones leaving areas blank. I had discovered an article where Naomi talked about the figures that are present in her work as a mystery to even herself, questioning their presence but described as a means by which she communicates.

"The figure, too, continues to be very important in my work, and while I constantly question its presence, it often seems to be the means by which I communicate." - Naomi Frears - BBC, Cornwall [1]

The mustard coloured background is a full figure that has been painted in dark red and white. The lines are simple with block shading in areas and left bear in the flesh. The white is used to colour the clothing, which is filled sparingly to perhaps hint the creases and details in the clothes. It appears to be a retro short and shirt combo like of a vintage sailor boy. Behind this, there seems to be a pencil sketch of a figure close up which brings all kinds of questions to mind when looking at the painting. Is it supposed to be part of the story, was it an idea that Naomi didn't like and so painted over? Is it a closer crop of the little figure that is visible in the painting? Looking through other paintings by Naomi, the answers to these questions lean more to a previous idea that she may have wanted to erase, but in a really glorious way Naomi is not scared to leave those in the piece which I find really refreshing and very interesting to see. As an artist you want to get close to a work and examine how they might have completed it, maybe see a history of the process hidden within, so to see this in Naomi's work is wonderful. I feel as though it shows great confidence in herself, her work and an understanding of the medium she uses.

From the Garden Drawings: Rousham, although an oil painting, became a huge reference point when creating my own painting. I loved the composition and the elements used to frame the image. I knew from the sketching stages that I wanted to include the nature found in Naomi's work as this piece heavily inspired me. I love how she has faded some elements back to create depth. The colours are warm which adds to the sense of a summers day in the garden. I do wonder how she would have achieved the diagonal lines that are visible over the entire piece; fabric?


I wanted to continue the Kokeshi theme, but this time with a different doll. Similar to the Greg Simkins study, I started off by taking photos. In a lot of Naomi's work there would be some elements of nature as well as a figure, I wanted to include this in the photos in hope I would be inspired in how to marry the elements together. Once I turned to the dark background I felt the flowers I had used framed the Kokeshi really well and balanced the image nicely. Trying different angles this time round it was great to think about the perspective of the image as a whole and how I could use this in my piece.

Whilst taking the photos, I accidentally dropped the camera during a photo being taken. The result was surprising, which then lead to a series of new photos that experimented with motion blur. I thought this could be an interesting way to build a background or an abstract way to convey textures and the Kokeshi doll.

I really loved how the neon colours of the painted designs would stretch across the photo, it seemed to be an achievable effect if I were to paint it, given that the lines were quire thick and clear. I definitely wanted to find a way to incorporate this into my piece. I started with sketching some ideas and later progressed to making tests on different paper using different recycled packaging to experiment.

I liked where I was going from the tests and felt I understood what I wanted to do in terms of how to use the paint, so decided to move on with the process. Recycling an old picture I had purchased from a charity shop of a Buddha on thin fabric stretched like a canvas around a wooden frame, I began layering on the paint. I quickly learned the trick to even attempting to create something similar to Naomi was layers, and a lot of them. I needed to build up the paint to create a rough surface and depth. A process I really enjoyed doing!

I started with layering on the white acrylic which I mixed with a Crimson Red and Tanned Cream to create an off-white tone - I realised in the tests that I didn't like bright white on its own. I wanted to cover the large area quickly and so opted to use a water spray bottle to get a good coverage. I like the texture so far, but had no idea how to progress it from here. To gain confidence, I would jump back to my sketchbook and scrap paper to test techniques. I dabbled paint, I brushed paint, I washed paint over and I even scratched paint off. I wondered how I would get the Kokeshi doll in, and so did a few test of achieving the motion blur effect from the photos using the paint.

Testing a technique for motion below
Testing a technique for motion below

The tests helped a lot, and I was able to decide the next step on the larger piece. Without hesitation I went in with the Crimson read and mixed it with some Ultramarine Blue to darken it a little. Painting a big rectangle to the right had side I just let the paint do the work. I had already gotten to grips with having to let the paint dry before starting on the next layer, so once the rectangle had dried I began layering the motion blurred Kokeshi, just to push the background a little more I did another coat of the Crimson Red and Ultramarine Blue, but this time adding more of the blue to darken it a smidge more. I made the edges of the rectangle blend out to the main background which added to the textured effect.

I again covered the canvas with off-white before moving to the next stage

By this point, I really started to feel the confidence come through when using the acrylic. I was able to make decisions of when to use the water spray bottle and when to just lay on the paint thick, I would mix between dry brushing the paint to soaking the brush with water, both giving a different result that worked well through the development of this painting. I would paint a section then wash it down with white and continued this process through out in an effort to achieve the ghostly look as Naomi's. In all it was a real case of trial and error, but allowing the errors to be part of the painting. Though I really wanted to channel Naomi's style, and so when I didn't like a certain part I would simply paint over it lightly so that you could see the mistake/decision making if looking closer.

Here are some close up photos of the texture in the final piece:

I tried to get a few similar elements within the painting, though this may be too much! I really enjoyed creating the piece and in all feel it was a great learning experience for getting the most out of acrylics. I would perhaps go minimalist if I were to do another similar to the works I had presented of Naomi's above, but I do feel this satisfied my efforts of learning the artist and the medium, plus I've gained new techniques to use going forward. It was very useful to keep returning to the sketchbook for this piece, testing things out before applying to the main canvas was insightful and meant I had confidence in knowing what the outcome would be. That said, this was very spontaneous and natural in terms of composition and texture. I really enjoyed making decisions on the canvas, and removing things I felt didn't work for whatever reason. I just wasn't afraid to get stuck in as I knew what I could do if the composition wasn't working and feel good if you were able to see the mistakes underneath.

A lot of valuable lessons was learnt in this exercise and I feel richer for it. With a little more practise I do feel I would be close to have developed my own style by using a hybrid of all artists found here, which ultimately is something I had been searching for.



Anapman children's picture book series written by Takashi Yanase image from - - cat series in acrylic


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