Project 1: Exercise 1.4 – Poetry, prose, lyrics

For this exercise I am instructed to choose a piece of poetry, prose or lyrics and to use it to inspire a drawing. I considered several pieces including the song ‘When September Ends’ and also the words ‘without rain there would be no flowers’ from the poem ‘A Letter from Heaven’ by Ruth Ann Mahaffey – both have very personal meaning to me and I wanted to work with words that emotionally affected me.  I also looked through my CD collection for further ideas and re-discovered  the music of Lord of the Rings – this lead me to a website called the Tolkien Gateway and the words of the poem ‘To the Sea, To the Sea!  The white gulls are crying’.

The instructions were to do around 10 rough sketches at A5 or A4 size first so that I do not work with my first response and also to try and get the linear narrative onto a single picture plane – in part this was why I ruled out my first choices along with one other from the website.  After I had done the rough sketches I was to choose one for further development into an A3 size piece of work.

My chosen poem is as follows:

To the Sea, to the Sea!  The white gulls are crying

To the Sea, to the Sea!  The white gulls are crying,

The wind is blowing, and the white foam is flying.

West, west away, the round sun is falling.

Grey ship, grey ship, do you hearing them calling,

The voices of my people that have gone before me?

I will leave, I will leave the woods that bore me;

For our days are ending and our years failing.

I will pass the wide waters lonely sailing.

Long are the waves on the Last Shore falling,

Sweet are the voices in the Lost Isle calling,

In Eressea, in Elvenhome that no man can discover,

Where the leaves fall note; land of my people for ever!

img_4788My first set of drawings include a trial of an idea for a piece of work based on the Walking Song from Lord of the Rings (top left of the 4 sketches) but I did not feel that my ideas were going to work when I considered the ideas that seemed to flow freely for my chosen poem.

The other 3 sketches show rough and developing ideas for the art work – starting off with the idea of a ship sailing away from the shore with the setting sun which I felt did not have the content to depict the whole image and I would have to narrow the passage down to just a few lines.  In the sketch that can be seen bottom right I had the idea of almost a porthole type of piece with the distant shore of Eressea appearing in the distance through a portal.

img_4790I tried doing some variations on both my original sketches without the portal and also with it too – I could see at this point where I could start to develop it.  I started to consider adding words around the portal as a reference to some of the commercialized logos for Lord of the Rings and also whether the image in the window could be done on tracing paper or in pastels with the trees done using stitches – I tried a little painting on a piece of tracing paper using watercolour paints but did not like the buckling and the soft pastels just rubbed off straight away so both ideas were dismissed.  At this point I am still considering whether to fully stitch the trees to add an element of texture but I am also starting to think about creating the trees through the use of the words of the poem – I am wanting to be experimental and as the course material instructs have some fun with the drawings whilst still creating the story of the poem.  The image in the bottom right shows a change in shape of the ship which I really liked – it felt it changed it from merely a sailing boat to that of a recognisable ship.

img_4791I have realised that I want the tree to play a major part in this image and be prominent in the foreground and my fiance has suggested a Japanese influence may fit the style that is developing.

I experimented with two different styles of trees inspired by Japanese art and found on google images – the lower one I feel has a cartoon style appearance which detracts from the poem whilst the upper image is more suggestive of woods which are mentioned in the poem.  I have also looked at this point at how I will portray the distant island and again taking inspiration from images on Google of Japanese art inspired an island based on volcano with impressions of distant trees and shores with calmer seas lapping at the shore.  What I also had to consider were the words ‘the wind is blowing, and the white foam is flying’ and so wanted to have the appearance of a rough sea in the foreground as the ship sails away from the land of the living towards the land of the people that have gone before and research found  the woodcuts of Katsushika Hokusai.

Also known as The Great Wave. Katsushika Hokusai. ca. 1830-32 Edo period. 25.7 x 39.9 cm. Print. Metropolitan Museum of Art - credit H.O. Havemeyer Collection.

The Great Wave.
Katsushika Hokusai.
ca. 1830-32 Edo period.
25.7 x 39.9 cm.
Metropolitan Museum of Art – credit H.O. Havemeyer Collection.

Hokusai had created ‘Thirty Six Views’ including ‘The Great Wave’ and his woodcuts were of the genre called ukiyo-e or ‘images of the floating world’ (Farago, 2015).  Hokusai’s works were amongst the Japanese pieces that influenced the Impressionist artists including Monet who owned 23 of his prints.

I personally love the form and simple Prussian blue colour of the waves – Hokusai had pioneered the use of this colour ink which was a pigment that was imported from Germany or England via China.  The waves for me depict stormy seas and winds that create the foam that I wanted to depict in reference to the words of the poem.  In the top image of my last photograph the rough outlines of my version of these waves can just be seen.

I had planned on choosing from a selection of images as the course material suggests but this piece feels like it is developing its own path and own suggestions organically and naturally and so I effectively dispensed with choosing one image from several to develop a piece of work from.  I feel the development of the sketches meant I am able to capture the essence of my text due to the combination of two scenes working together to create one overall linear image. By using the portal I am able to work with two different types of paper and media – Fabriano watercolour paper (300 gsm Not) and an acrylic paper which would also be suitable for using calligraphy for the words around the portal and if I decided to use the poem to create the form of the tree.

img_4794I decided to sketch my idea on an A3 sheet of cheap paper to see if my planned proportions would work.

My sketch has not photographed clearly but the tree is in the bottom right and the falling sun top left.

A small element that can be seen is the lighthouse on the distant island represents the people with the light calling out and welcoming the ship towards the land – I decided on a lighthouse as I freely confess to not be confident in sketching figures.

As I develop this image I am also realising that I am very emotionally involved – I am very much aware that my parents really liked Lord of the Rings and had read the books but it is more than that as I am from Plymouth originally … there is a lighthouse on Plymouth Hoe that overlooks Drakes Island and that view holds many happy memories including just sitting with my family on the grass.  My father used to love sailing and as a small child we often sailed across Plymouth sound, although I do not remember this, and I have realised I chose this poem to represent my late Mum and how I envisaged her sailing towards an island such as this – my parents also emigrated to Florida  a few years before she died and used to go out on their boat up a river into the Gulf of Mexico towards small distant islands.  What I am trying to say is that this poem has become a very personal and very emotional passage and represents something that words maybe cannot express.

img_4793Working with my sketches I tried one rough idea using soft pastels to get an idea of colours at this point – this is something I would like to develop separately to this exercise when I can purchase some larger sheets of pastel paper and include much more detail and concentration of form and emotion.

img_4796The penultimate piece I used a combination of mixed media paper and watercolour paper – this enabled me to trial the idea in an A4 format.  I am relatively happy with the portal scene and the ship but there are too many branches for the trees and a feeling that one can represent many.  The proportions and colours I feel are appropriate although the sun is too prominent and too much of a ’round ball’ and does not give the impression of falling as the poem states.  I do like the words of the poem being used for the tree as it creates a sense of movement and texture whilst telling the story behind the image.

img_4797I enjoy calligraphy, although I am somewhat out of practice, and decided to try a slightly italic version of my favoured Roman style.  I also wanted to experiment with nib size and height – I used a size 5 William Mitchell Round Hand nib with my holder but used a slightly more compact 4 nib height for the bulk of the letter form with a 2 nib height above and below to allow for the remaining parts of the letters.  I have an understanding the differing appearances that can be created using differing nib-widths and heights and the combination chosen I feel was appropriate for what I required in this final piece.


img_4786The final result combined all the elements I required – the influence of Hokusai’s woodcut prints can be seen in the waves which create the appearance of wind and foam.  The tree in the foreground has the words of the poem – I simplified the form and used the calligraphy to create the branches and also to give substance to the landscape.  I included the white gulls in both the foreground image and also in the portal image.

All the elements of the poem I feel I have been able to recreate in this one linear image through the use of the two different papers and 3 different types of media.  I used the acrylic paints on the acrylic paper due to their vibrancy and also the texture created – I used a mix of ultramarine and Payne’s Grey to create what was intended to be indigo but in fact appears closer to the Prussian blue of Hokusai’s prints.  The portal image has been done on the aforementioned watercolour paint and I used a restricted colour palette of Winsor Lemon Yellow, Ultramarine and Quinacridone Magenta plus also Neutral and Payne’s Grey to create a softer appearance and an impression of atmospheric perspective – I wanted the sea to be calmer and the island to have the impression of trees whilst the lighthouse shines brightly inviting the ship towards it with its welcoming light. The sky has also been worked using these watercolours (professional quality) and the sun has been reduced to an impression of a sunset – the sun is falling in the sky in the poem and this for me personally means sunsets.

Overall I am really happy with my final image – it developed from the early sketches very naturally and I did not feel I was having to fight my ideas but was able to just go with whatever felt right.  This image was worked instinctively throughout and also emotionally from my choice of colours to my the influence of Japan – what I have not said is that my late Mum wanted cherry blossom trees in remembrance and cherry blossoms are highly significant in Japan hence my interest in Japanese art (fallen cherry blossoms were thought to represent fallen warriors whilst cherry blossoms in bloom represent new beginnings and new life).  If I was to add on thing to this image it would be the impression of a cherry blossom tree but I have not done so because it bears no reference to the poem – I wanted to purely concentrate on the words and not be distracted.

This has been one of my favourite of all the exercises I have done throughout my time with OCA and one that I wish to repeat with other poems using differing artistic influences.  This has certainly been my most personal piece to date and a second will be done for my own home – at the time of writing the finished piece is not yet stuck in my sketchbook!  I do strongly feel that this has been my personal response to the poem and I have managed to evoke the words of the poem.


Farago, J. 5 April 2015. Hokusai and the wave that swept the world [online]. [Date Accessed:  20 February 2017].  Available from:

Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2000-2017.  Under the Wave off Kanagawa (Kanagawa oki nami ura), also known as The Great Wave, from the series Thirty-six View of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjurokkei) [online]. [Date Accessed:  20 February 2017].  Available from:

Tolkien Gateway. 2016.  To the Sea, to the Sea!  The white gulls are crying [online].  [Date accessed 20 February 2017].  Available from:,_to_the_Sea!_The_white_gulls_are_crying




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