Project 1: Exercise 1.6 Music

This is an interesting exercise about using music as part of a performance in creating art and inspiring art.  The course material refers to De Waal’s collaboration with the Aurora Orchestra and also the work of David Hockney in regards to his work on scenery projects for various ballets.

I am intrigued by the work inspired by The Rake’s Progress – from a point of art history the series of paintings is fascinating but then to see how these pieces have been used to create the scenery for the opera is incredibly interesting as I progress with my artistic studies.  I have an increasing interest in the ballet as in my spare time I have been watching various ballets and documentaries over a period of some months now – it is the work behind the scenes that I find the most fascinating from the daily routines of the dancers to the hundreds of pairs of shoes or costumes needed to put on the performances but also the work that goes into the scenery with all of it being originally inspired by music.

Many other artists were also inspired by music including as the course material states the work of the Cubists who included instruments or sheet music in their works.

img_4901So what am I required to do?  it seems create a performance using a combination of art and music by first setting up a still life with a suggestion to look at the work of Giorgio Morandi. My chosen objects were a simple pot, a milk jug, a tissue box, plastic beaker and small glass candle holder which I placed on my windowsill – this arrangement and position enabled me to draw it from different angles using different media if I set up a large table in front.

img_4916Initially I decided to work with watercolour paints on Fabriano Not paper (300 gsm) and my palette was limited to Ultramarine, Permanent Rose and Winsor Lemon Yellow in professional quality paints with a student quality Paynes Grey – I am in the process of upgrading and am really noticing the difference in quality. I have also added some details with colour pencils and Inktense pencils.

I wanted to work on my sketches reasonably quickly as our table is not a permanent feature and I wanted the light to be the same in all 3 images as the weather was due to be very different today.  This first image I was expecting to be the most successful but in fact it is the one I like the least!!  I  took inspiration from Morandi’s still life works and tried to almost hide the edges of some of the objects on the back row as I did not want them clear but rather an indication that they were there or an illusion. In this image I also tried to be relatively realistic with the colours and observe the objects closely.  I do not feel it is very successful because although ‘the tones are fudged and the boundaries between the objects more ambiguous’ as a fellow commentated on Facebook I do not feel this representation is defined enough for me personally – it lacks realism but nor does it cross over into impressionism or expressionism and it feels as though it has no real ‘label’ I guess.  On the other hand what I do like is the fact that there is an illusion of depth and an impression of the curves of the pot and the beaker although I detest the jug – the latter just has not worked and it feels like the elephant in the room!

img_4908The second piece has been the surprise – I have not tried charcoal very much before but I thought I would try it as a tonal study and combine it with a little white soft pastel.

I decided to work this piece looking down slightly on the arrangement and I much preferred this viewpoint as I feel it adds interest as well as form.  However I am not happy with the tops of my curved objects and realise that this is an area I need to work on and get some tips on how to draw – creating a realistic ellipse for the top of a beaker, pot or jug will take practice as well as learning the angle and adjusting the perspective.  I am unsure of the nature of the paper as it was some I was sent a year or so ago but it had a lovely texture to it which worked well with the charcoal and pastel – the fold could not be flattened out unfortunately. I really like the tonal qualities of this piece and was able to observe where the shadows were and highlights created by the ever changing light – I worked on all these studies on the day Storm Doris swept across the UK which created wonderful variables in light that also meant this piece in particular had several changes made to it throughout the course of the afternoon!

img_4919The last study I worked on using A2 size paper I changed my position again and worked from the side – this is the piece I felt instantly I would like from the very first few marks.  I used Sharpie pens combined with crayons and felt this was the strongest in terms of marks which give the impression of form and depth.  Although the objects felt squashed to one side of the paper I quite like this offset composition although it was accidental!

This was the piece of work I did swiftly and concentrated less on the detail but more on what I was seeing and how I wanted this still life to be viewed – this piece felt more instinctive and more ‘creative’ for want of a better word.

I could have done more sketches and am aware that 3 was the minimum requirements stated in the course material but I was also conscious of the fact I would not have been able to leave our table down – in our small living room it takes up 3/4 of the space hence its impermanent nature and although normally I could work on my sewing table for larger pieces I am currently in the middle of a charity quilting project which has taken over my box room.

After doing these initial sketches I was required to pick just one that I felt worked best and pin  it up on my wall and to do 3 more A3 size version – this is where my normal desk is large enough happily!  I was required to choose 3 different types of music and use that music to inspire each version – the course material asks such questions as ‘does the music have colour?’ or ‘What moods come from the piece’ or ‘Does the music suggest the movement of a hand across the drawing surface’ along with other similar questions.  The idea was for the music to influence each piece and each piece becomes a performance in itself.

I confess at this point I should wear hearing aids but am very lazy in my home and hence the way I have interpreted the music may be very different to how I would have done if I had remembered to put at least one aid in!  I will over the course of the next two days pick one of the A3 pieces to re-work with the benefit of my hearing aids in – I would anticipate the first one done in watercolours and see if it is different or how it is different … my hearing loss is high frequency and it is remarkable what a difference the aids make so it will be really interesting to see how it effects the ‘performance’.

I chose the final A2 piece which had been worked in Sharpie pens and crayons to take forward as my ‘performance’ piece as I liked the angles of the objects and the fact that many of the edges of the back row are lost or hidden from view.

img_4924So the first musical piece I worked with was Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky – a personal favourite.  I found a link on Youtube for a short 20 minute excerpt from the full suite which was full of different phrases and changes in music and tempo.  The music including areas of  gently lilting phrasing as well as staccato in short bursts, slow gentle melancholy or beautiful notes which then sped up into uplifting and dramatic scenes – I know the ballet reasonably well and could picture the scenes and steps of the dancers but to translate these phrases and notes or the instruments of the orchestra to the painting was incredibly difficult.

I decided to use my previous palette and my notes on the edge of the painting include the fact that I blended the colours in some areas as I suggested the blending of the notes in areas they are not clearly defined.  I also used curved marks to suggest gently lilting phrases or soft quiet,  (pianissimo), sounds which are then overlaid by the sudden increase in volume to forte or fortissimo as the drama changes – I wanted the softly blended and beautiful delicacy of the ballet to be contrasting with areas of drama and the indication of the black swan by the use of the grey in various tones on the objects and the shadows.  The marks on the background I wanted to portray the dancers steps and or pirouettes whilst the deliberate choice of the restricted palette are the colours I feel the music and the ballet suggests – for me a ballet is almost ice-cream style colours although with the addition of blue representing the purity of the art.

Do I like the result?  mmmm I am not sure in truth – in some ways yes because it was an instinctive response but I feel it has lost something in the translation between Sharpie pens to watercolours.  On the other hand, however, the blending of the paints and that loss of form also appeals – the music of the ballet is one of ever changing scenes or moods as the story unfolds.  I think this is a piece of work I am in two minds about – it is a response to the music and at the time I did it it reflects how I responded at that particular time and on that particular day and this I have to take into consideration … I am learning that mood or how I am feeling physically or even the general weather does have a direct bearing on how I approach a piece of work and how I respond to inspiration or stimuli.  It will be interesting to see how the same piece will work over the course of the weekend with my hearing aids in and if my mood is slightly different.

img_4923The second piece of music I chose was Green Day’s ‘When September Ends’ which is on a CD I own.

For this performance I chose the Sharpie pens again but without the addition of crayons and went purely on instinct in reference to what colours I chose – a brown, red, yellow and green.  Ideally I would have used orange instead of red but I do not have it in my collection.

I wanted strong defined marks as I felt the beat of the music created them – the song for my fiance is predictable in its interpretation of a love story ending but for me I interpret it as a lost love at the end of a glorious summer and the memories associated with it. The yellows and greens represent the summer gone by with the reds and brown, (or orange pen if I had had one), as the autumn that is coming at the end of September. My only regret is not to add in highlights of blue representing the rain and purity of memories.  I felt the mood was one of melancholy combined with uplifting areas in the lyrics and the composition and again the colours area representation of that.

I like the strong defined marks in this piece – there is no understating of mood or no edge left undefined with deliberate indication of where the pieces sit on the windowsill in comparison to each other.  The music felt like it was tell me where to put the marks and how to interpret the notes – my fiance is not a fan of this song whereas for me it is a personal favourite as it reminds me not of a lost love but of my late Mum as I think of the memories of our times gone by … perhaps now as I think about it that is why even if I had possessed an orange pen I would have still used red as it was one of her favourite colours.

img_4922For the final performance there could be no other music than South Pacific – the musical.

My late Mum used to have this as an LP and I have loved the songs and the movie ever since I was a child – the movie was released when my Mum was 17, nearly 18, and she was recovering from tuberculosis so this must have been so uplifting and joyous for someone who had been so ill.  I have many happy memories associated with this music and had to use this bright pink paper for the piece – it felt like I had chosen the set background and was ready to pick up the instruments and create the performance.

As is obvious I chose a range of pastels in bright blues, reds, oranges, and purples and overlaid and blended them whilst keeping edges defined and clipped as you hear in the music – the voices sing clearly and eloquently with the notes defined and clear but with a combination of gently lilting songs to uplifting and cheerful but with the occasional melancholy notes which are shown by the use  of grey in the shadows on the windowsill.  Personally I just loved doing this one – it was wonderful fun to get fabulously messy with the pastels and just sketch with what can only be described as gay abandonment!  I now realise I chose the colours of the tropical South Pacific islands, albeit missing the green of the foliage, but I have deliberately reflected the mood of the music in my choice of colours.

For the whole of this exercise I have tried to reach out and take risks with the media I have chosen as well as the colours – I have tried to move away from ‘safe’ colours or techniques and tried to experiment as I felt the need to change and adapt and just to effectively leave the safe confines of what I know and feel comfortable with.  I am unsure as to why but I am feeling in the mood to really take a leap into the unknown and have some real fun with my work as I play and experiment and perhaps the last bright pink South Pacific performance is part of that leap – sometimes it feels as though someone is pushing you away from the safe path which you know towards a path that is yet to be discovered and that you want to peer around the corner or look to see what is beyond what you can see in front of you and just explore.

This exercise started out as one of creating a piece of art and a performance and has become one of a performance that is part of a journey.


img_5049I decided to have a second try at the watercolour which was worked to the Swan Lake excerpt but this time with one of my hearing aids in – my second is awaiting a new fitment.  This variation proved to be exciting and the performance produced was very different and unexpected.

I wanted to use much stronger colours and although I did not have a definitive idea on what colours to use I just went with whatever I fancied – the music did not suggest to me a specific colour but I did feel it wanted stronger marks and stronger tones than the piece I did without my aid.  I could hear the music very differently with clear definition of notes and parts of the orchestra I had not heard before coming through much more clearly – this is striking to me because I am a flute player, or at least was at school and continued for enjoyment into adulthood, and want to get my flute repaired as in the time I have had my aids I have not played and so never heard the tone of my own instrument clearly.  I also now realise whenever I played in my school orchestra or have been to a concert I have never actually heard the music in the way my fiance has – my hearing loss was only diagnosed 6 or 7 years ago and it is believed I was born with it.

The aid make a considerable different in how or where I added marks and I felt inspired to add them where the music directed me to not where I thought they should be although I still wanted to keep the objects recognisable . If I tried again with a different piece of music I question whether I would still keep some recognisable form or whether I would let go even further and let the music guide me to a more abstract piece of work.  I noted that because I could hear more distinction with the notes that I wanted to create marks that echoed those notes with the quavers or crochets etc almost being visible as well as indications of phrases and crescendos or calando (getting softer) or just the defined staccato notes – the dynamics of the music became more important to me whereas they had felt blurred and indistinct before.

I also became aware of changes in tempo and let my brush be guided by these so that my marks again echoed the musical score and tried to re-create the drama of the piece but including the softer more lilting areas.  I felt much more of a connection to the music than I had without my aid and was therefore able to respond to it in a way I had been unable.

I am still not entirely happy with this piece and when I do work with music again I feel that I will listen to the piece several times first in order to get a sense of emotion and ideas of colour before putting brush or media to paper.  I am much more intrigued now with the difference my hearing aid makes in my observations and responses and this is something that I want to explore now through my art and so this exercise with music has proved very revealing on a personal level.


Classical Music TVHD. (2012). Swan Lake Op.20 – Full Suite – Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (HD) Soundtrack Movie Black Swan 2010. [Date Accessed:  23 February 2017].  Available from:

Green Day. 21st Century Breakdown . (2009). [CD Rom]. Burbank, California. Reprise Records



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