This blog is now closed. I plan to put photos of my future work on my new Facebook page, here.

For anyone interested in the history of modern art from a marxist perspective, there is an interesting text here, together with a subsequent discussion.

Thanks to everyone who followed and commented. I’ve enjoyed my foray into the blogosphere…

Martin Tomlinson

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Nove Mesto

Quick charcoal sketches in Nove Mesto nad Metuji, Czech Republic, August.

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St Agnes, Scilly Isles

Quick charcoal sketches made on St Agnes in the Scilly Isles, late May:


St Agnes church


St Warna’s Well, St Agnes

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These are from a very enjoyable day last week on the Downs above Shoreham, looking across towards Chanctonbury.  A big thank you to local artist Sue Haseltine ( for all her enthusiastic support and practical suggestions. I can really recommend her teaching and workshops.

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Back to Seven Sisters

Charcoal, chalk, chalk pastel and acrylic, 160x85cm

I wanted to do one last piece before the end of the project that would employ all the ideas and techniques that I have been exploring: working outdoors directly onto raw canvas; working at a large scale; bolder expressive mark-making and use of colour, with a limited palette; multiple-perspective, semi-abstract impressions with a strong sense of place.

The above was largely completed on the clifftops of the Seven Sisters yesterday; at the top there is an impression of Cuckmere Haven and at the bottom an upside-down Belle Toute lighthouse.

(Interestingly, I’ve just noticed there is the suggestion of a female figure in the painting, with straggly red hair and rather large thighs; this was completely unintended but I do find it satisfying to make this kind of connection to the mythologies and magic of landscapes; the place is called the Seven Sisters after all…)

I love working like this in the outdoors; at its best it feels like an almost spiritual experience, completely involving the brain, eye, hand and body in a concentrated effort to capture not only the place but also, just as importantly, the experience of being there.  There is also a satisfying feeling of ritual involved in the walk required to ‘enter’ the landscape; in this case down the Cuckmere river valley to the sea and a stiff climb up onto the vantage point of the clifftop.

I think with this piece I was definitely influenced by Helen Frankenthaler’s painting, which made me realise I shouldn’t be afraid of leaving areas of blank canvas. I  also felt less self-conscious about treating the resulting mark-making and painted areas as an image in their own right, with their own symmetries and patterns and qualities to be expanded and developed.

I realise the whole project in a way has been leading up to this, trying to find a way to capture the landscape as directly as possible, with the minimum of intervening processes or iterations. In this way the canvas literally becomes an impression, with the textures of the ground showing through and marks made by pieces of chalk picked up on the spot. It’s also an object, with folds and creases and fraying edges.

So all in all this seems a fitting place to end the project. But then it was always a journey rather than a project…

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Helen Frankenthaler

Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011) has been described as helping to create a “lighter, more lyrical kind of modernism”. She was influenced by the work of Arshile Gorky and Jackson Pollock and is viewed as a major post-WW2 Abstract Expressionist artist.

I came across her painting ‘Mountains and Sea’ (1952) a while ago and loved its epic quality and subtle, gentle colours.

But reading more about her painting style several things strike me as relevant to my own project: she combined use of charcoal and thin washes of colour (some dabbed with a sponge) with large areas of bare, unprimed canvas, and, after seeing Jackson Pollock at work, she worked with her canvasses flat on the floor. She also, interestingly for me, was very aware of the canvas itself as part of the painting, explaining the process thus: “It’s a kind of marrying the paint into the woof and weave of the canvas itself, so that they become one and the same.”

Frankenthaler was influenced by the critic Clement Greenberg who held that “the essence of modern painting was the expunging of all references to the visible world“. To me this is ultimately the dead end of Abstract Expressionism; it parts company with the physical world, and there is consequently no sense of place in Frankenthaler’s painting.

(Quotes from the blog Rap361,

Helen Frankenthaler, ‘Mountains and Sea’, 1952, oil and charcoal on canvas

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Back to Devil’s Dyke

Back to the sketchbook after a break of over a month. I was interested to see how my style might have changed after my more abstract experiments in the studio and efforts at bolder, more expressive mark-making.

The first two sketches of (I think) a hawthorn bush I jokingly think of as my homage to David Hockney; I was seriously inspired by his recent RA show and ever since I’ve found myself for the first time really noticing blossoming hawthorn bushes. Hockney is also known for depicting the same scene through the seasons. The joke with my quick sketches is that the first was hastily made in thick drizzling mist – it was literally the only thing I could see to draw in the murk – while the second was made only the day after, in breezy May sunshine.

Charcoal and acrylic on paper, 40 x 30cm

Charcoal and acrylic on paper, 40 x 30cm

I felt more confident and less self-conscious, and some of the sketches started to show more expressive mark-making and use of chalk pastel.  My use of very thin acrylic washes also helped to quickly capture scenes, with some potentially interesting effects from the interaction of water and charcoal/pastel on the paper; mottling, marbling etc. My attempts at skies are still pretty crude though.

Charcoal and acrylic on paper, 40 x 30cm

Charcoal, chalk pastel and acrylic on paper, 40 x 30cm

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