Credit: Christine E. Farrar, Zac H. Forsman, Ruth D. Gates , Jo-Ann C. Leong, and Robert J. Toonen, Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, University of Hawaii, Manoa.

The behaviour of corals is as fascinating as their forms and the extent of their diversity. In the video below Christine Farrar explains the symbiotic relationship between coral polyps and the algae which lives upon it, sustains it and provides its astonishing fluorescent colours.

I am currently involved in a collaborative project with Dr Philippe Laissue, a research scientist at Essex University. His work involves cellular bio-imaging which means that he gets to see and photograph utterly amazing micro-images of corals.

In Philippe’s TED x talk he explains the drive behind his development of low-light microscopes to view live corals – so they can be viewed for longer periods without damage.

I am developing a collaborative project at UCS Suffolk with the Fine Art and English Departments. Students and staff will be invited to submit art works and literature in response to images of coral under the microscope and its behaviour. I would like to exhibit the works at UCS and Essex University.

I also hope to form a collaborative group made-up of people who are interested in Art and Science and informing and developing their work overtime.

Some ideas for developing the project to date:

Abstract structures made with Aerogel, displayed underwater in tanks (?), illuminated by blue light, darkened room:
Film of coral reef or interviews projected onto Aerogel structures (?):
A1 photographs of micro-images of corals:
Abstract paintings and drawings – explore use of resin and Aerogel;
Technical drawings;
3D models;
Films of coral environments;
Videos of interviews with scientist/s and artist/s; and
Exhibition of coral specimens.

Aerogel: I first saw and heard about Aerogel a few years ago when researching Liliane Lijn. Lijn worked on a project with NASA who developed Aerogel in 2008. I was delighted to find that it is now available to the public (see www.aerogel.org). It has a fabulous otherworldly quality and is water repellent.

Lijn, Liliane, Heavenly Fragments, 2008, Aerogel, 295cm x 65cm x 65cm

Details of Lijn’s installation: Aerogel Fragments of cone and disc on grey mirror in Perspex case, perlescent metalliccoated square column housing dvd player, projector

Video: Visions of the East, 50’ looped dvd

What you are seeing in the image below is polyp tissue showing up as green around the mouth and base of the tentacles and zooxanthellae showing as red fluorescence from chlorophyll in the tissue between polyps.

Credit: James Nicholson, NOAA/NOS/NCCOS Center for Coastal Environmental Health & Biomolecular Research, Fort Johnson Marine Lab, Charleston, South Carolina.

Honorable mention: Underwater image of live coral Montastraea annularis.

The link below will take you to an amazing coral project in Miami where rather than examining coral under threat the team is looking at hybrid corals which are adapting to withstand modern day environmental threats.

And to share the team’s vision for corals take a few minutes to watch their inspiring video: Coral City.

If you are reading this and feel inspired to join the CORAL project, please do get in touch!

I will share the drawings and paintings I am working on in response to coral in my next blog post.


Specific spaces/environments influence, to some degree, the way in which we work. It is therefore helpful to do something simple like a mental a SWOT analysis from time to time (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) on our working spaces.

As our needs change from project to project, the demands placed on our working spaces change too. A little time developing our working spaces can save a lot of time-wasting and frustration during the execution of our work. This might sound overly organised or controlling but it is important to me that when I begin working, I am free to do whatever I need and want to do in the moment. So, trying to find or adapt things at such a time is an unwelcome and often unnecessary distraction.

I have been researching artists’ studio spaces not least because clues can be found there about how they work and solve problems.

It is fascinating when you find you have fundamental things in common instinctively, emotionally, philosophically and morally with people whose lives are apparently vastly different from our own. I am always interested in connections.

I took part in the 10/10 PRJCT, 2015, UCS. Over a 10 week period, 10 artists took over the same space for one week each (an empty rectangular room with white-painted, breeze block walls) and then put on an exhibition of a body of work generated in response to the room.

Gillian, L-B, Untitled, 2015, Fine Art Print mounted on board

Weirdly for me, for personal reasons, I could not be physically present in the room. So, mine was a virtual experience of the room while working somewhere else. The great thing I learnt from this turn of events is that no matter where we are or in what circumstances (or frame of mind) we can channel and project our minds, transform the spaces we inhabit and generate fabulous art.

If we consider the work and working environment of contemporary artist Julie Mehretu we can see there is a direct correlation between her art and her working/living environments.

Mehretu, Julie, Black Ground (deep light), 2006, [Ink and acrylic on canvas] 182.9 x 243.8 cm

Julie Mehretu set up a studio in Harlem, NY, in 2006. She works with assistants who share her working space; her partner has a studio next door and above their studios in the apartment in which they live. So, this sounds like and tightly knit world where work and home are intrinsically linked.

The interior spaces are highly organised according to needs and purpose; and paradoxically, the world outside is as complex and frenetic as Mehretu’s work. Perhaps this is a good example of what Gaston Bachelard in his book entitled The Poetics of Space, calls “Intimacy in immensity”.

The video below features interviews with Mehretu’s assistants which provides an insight into the highly technical aspects of her work and their role in its development and execution.

In the following video Julie Mehretu can be seen working and talks about her creative process. See the wonderfully inviting recliner chair positioned in front of one of her works in progress from which she sits and relates to her work – in my view an essential aspect of the process of being creative.

Watching a video of Martin Wohlwend at work in his studio in Liechtenstien shows an artist literally getting his hands dirty. There is no dialogue or sound track to the film so our attention is entirely taking up by Martin Wohlwend’s actions.

A note on filming: I am about to make films of myself painting so I was interested to see that out of 161,278 views the video received 152 dislikes. It could be that the video needed editing e.g. the rather slow preparations for painting could have been omitted. The film begins with Wohlwend laboriously removing the wax outer wrapping of oil bars (those of you who have attempted this will know how frustrating and messy this can be). He then precedes to wash the black oil paint off his hands.

I admit to a sense of frustration at first while watching these mundane events as I wanted to see Wohlwend painting but I then found watching the reality of the tedious aspects of gaining access to paint rather amusing and realized that frustration too can to be managed if anticipated e.g. wax wrappings could be taken off oil bars well in advance of beginning to paint, or making a film about painting – especially if you want keep your audience enthralled.

Also, in my opinion, a sound track, or dialogue also holds an audience’s attention more than only the sounds of someone moving around the studio though this does give a sense of the physicality of painting; and the intensity and isolation in which many artists work.

Action: I’d be interested to receive your comments on what holds your attention when watching films showing artists working. Thank you.

Hommage to Egon Schiele
Wohlwend, Martin, Nude 1, 2015, Mixed Media on Canvas, 260 x 150 cm

Publication: If you are interested in artists studios see: Fig, J, (2009) Inside the Painter’s Studio, New York: Princeton Architectural Press.

In this publication Joe Fig shares his research into the studio spaces of 24 contemporary artists. The artists include partners April Gornik and Eric Fischl who work in adjoining studios in North Haven, USA.

The image above shows the architectural model of the Gornick/Fischl studios. To view their work see www.aprilgornik.com and www.ericfischl.com.

To see what the studios look like now they are occupied by artists see the article featured in The Morning News: Inside the Painter’s Studio by Joe Fig www.themorningnews.org.

Gornik and Fischl’s studios look amazing. However, a fantastic studio will not make us great artists.

The following photograph of Frida Khalo reminds us that tremendous determination and integrity are vital qualities in anyone wanting to improve the relationship between their interior and exterior worlds.

In 2014 (the sixtieth anniversary of Frida Khalo’s death) I attended an exhibition of her stunning and very moving work exploring self-representation, at the Quirnal Palace, Rome.

I was with the Italian cousin of a friend who at the last minute could not accompany us. Elisa cannot not speak English and I cannot speak Italian but thinking back it seemed as though we discussed the 150 works for hours.

“They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality”. Frida Kahlo (1907-1954).


Gillian, L-B, Untitled, 2016, [Oil on wood] 1000 x 1500 cm
This painting underwent many transformations. Various squeegees were used to make and merge marks, to blend colours and to differentiate areas of the board. To begin with I used unmediated various shades of green paint.

Stage one was a complete departure from how I started other recent paintings. I deliberately applied a variety of shades of green, unmediated paint using a spatula to make crescent marks which I then spread into ribbons and incomplete rings which emerged like bellowing smoke rings. I then painted over the ribbons and rings, or created a 3D illusion that the paint was behind other lines (see bottom of board).

I began the next stage by saturating a brush with Pip Seymour PM5 medium and began to brush the concentrated areas of paint around the outside edges of the central ribbons and rings of green paint. using brushes felt controlled and slow so I reverted to using a squeegee to push the paint to the outside edge of the board and cut into it with the edge of the squeegee to differentiate intersecting areas of paint.

Some of the marks made by the squeegee look organic – frond-like. There is also sense of ice splitting into a myriad of microscopic cracks, crevices and fractures.

The feather like marks like those shown here remind me of marks produced in mono-printing. I was interested in how a change of direction in the use of the squeegee records the change of direction in time and space on the board as though tracing the changing direction of the wind or the wings of a bird in flight.

It is as though one energy system flowed up against another more impenetrable front which caused the more flexible and reactive front to change direction. This sense of alteration along a plane enhances the organic, active feel inspired by this painting.

I added lines and slivers of light by scraping paint away (see top middle). The wave motion made by the squeegee reminds me of the images made by ultra-sound scanning. I am interested in the way some lines merge while others are elongated or stunted under the pressure of the squeegee. Lines are pulled out to reach their ultimate lengths while others cluster together. Lines also separate and break away. The image above is also reminiscent of photographs of the earth taken from space.

At this stage new colours were introduced: white, purple madder, ultramarine blue; Michael Harding’s kings light blue and cobalt turquoise deep. New colours liberate the emerging picture and produce fresh opportunities for departures, connections and correlations.

White acrylic paint was applied to the board to obliterate the previous stages. Using the squeegee in sweeping motions to slice through the wet white surface the underlying colours shot through to form grass-like forms in a snowy landscape. Perhaps communicating with the familiar constitutes a place to pause before exerting energy once more. To break away from this stage I applied ochre and burnt sienna. Although these are earth colours so have associations with grasses, they broke up and melted the white like blasts of sunlight signifying a new season.

View of entire surface.

This section and the one below – now obliterated – were preserved as studies of colour combinations and for their markings.

This section shows how slashes, scraping and prizing open the surface ochre and burnt sienna revealed the vibrant greens and purple madder tones beneath.

This section from the final version shows the use of unbleached titanium oxide (selected rather than a white for its warmer tones). It also highlights the scoring and scarification beneath the surface which add textures, lines and shadows as do those which follow.


Gillian, L-B, Unfinished, 2016, [Oil on Board], 1000 cm x 1500 cm

For this painting I began by using Michael Harding oil paints thinned using Michael Harding medium PM1 and Pip Seymour Oleo-resin PM5.

I was interested in the extent to which the pigment spread while retaining its intense colour qualities and what happened at the points at which colours blended and merged.

I then introduced unadulterated paint. Obviously unmediated paint restricted the degree to which the paint spread and so the concentration of pigment greatly intensified which added dramatic contrasts to the strength of colours and tones.

There was a mesmerising ethereal quality to this composition reminiscent of silk wafting in the breeze or vapour extending then collapsing. I wanted to add more of the tension and strength achieved using unmediated paint. I sculpted lines into the paint using the edge of a squeegee and spatulas of various sizes.

This photograph emphasises the icy quality of the painting produced by covering large areas of intense blues, violet and amethyst paint with thick bands of white. I then scratched out lines of various thickness. Viewers say they see twigs in a wintry landscape. This painting was a surprise to me.

Following many phases of activity, I have yet to return to this painting in an active mode. Like winter, it transmits to me a sense of something dormant, still and yet restless. I am reflecting on why it appears that this image and this particular colour combination appears to stop me from transforming it still further.

The velvety finish and intense pigments of Michael Harding paints produces a sumptuous, textual quality. I mainly painted wet-on-wet so many of the final colours were blended on the board while working through the paint with various implements.

I could have revealed more of the colours beneath the surface but I feel a sense of shared intimacy with the painting knowing that the earlier nuances are present and yet cannot be seen (a visual oxymoron).

Perhaps, once again, as with human experience we sometimes see the outworking of events but not the events themselves. This image points to a cold, brooding – perhaps otherworldly – abstracted landscape.


Gillian L-B, Untitled, January, 2016 [Acrylic on wood], A1

This completed work consists of multiple layers of acrylic paint built up with wet-on-wet and wet-on-dry paint. The paint was applied using various sizes of grouting tools which behave in a similar way to squeegees though the edge of the smaller implements are fine and sharp. This edge can be used effectively as a mark making tool. Under pressure the implement tended to mix colours rather than create the marbling effect I expected. The only white light available in this painting emanates from the scratched out (drawn) lines caused by exposing the white ground.

The white light is too limited to afford a restful place for the eye to pause. The scored out lines are edgy and agile like streaks of lightening – unpredictable and potentially dangerous as they cut across newly formed coalitions of paint. I feel that this painting has a primitive quality which generates a sense of destruction and potential.

The following photographs show earlier stages which involved a wide range of pale colours mixed with various mediums. Structure gel, including one containing tiny glass beads resembling sand, were applied in an unadulterated form and mixed with paint to add a variety of textures to the smooth surface.

I worked on wood rather than canvas as I want a hard rather than spongy surface to work on. I want to be able to scrape and scratch into multiple layers of paint using as much force as I feel is required. However, I want a textured rather than smooth surface as the 3D textures, together with scrapings and scorings, provide additional areas of contrast, diversity and a gravelly sense of layering and palimpsest.

This board was rotated throughout the painting process – painted portrait and landscape.

This section from an early stage consists of acrylic paint mixed with various mediums applied to the wood and allowed to dry. “Allowed” is an interesting choice of work as once I begin painting, I generally have no desire to pause. I applied structured gel to add a variety of textures which add shadows and resistance to overpainting. The scoring and scratching is made using various sizes of palette knifes.

Two visitors provided very positive feedback on this stage. However, I felt the colours at this stage were too tame as were the gestural applications of paint. I applied some paint using a sponge which produced a misty, cloud-like quality but I felt that this approach to painting was a too understated – too sedate. Some of the scoring was so deep it showed the pre-primed board.

Darker blues were applied; then wet-on-wet white and red to break the cycle of events from one stage to another. I felt strongly that each stage needed to have something unique to add to the evolution of the overall identity of the painting.

After whiting out the background, I began to apply colours in blocks. To eradicate the pale white tones now turning pink, I applied strongly contrasting deep ultramarine blue and hot orange.

This section of the board shows the diversity of the marks made using a wide range of applications of paint and scoring all of which was performed at speed without premeditation. I felt that it was important that I could respond positively to the painting holistically as well as in small sections.

This picture surprised me as it reminded me of Howard Hodgkin whose work I have not examined. Interestingly, when I looked up his work I found the one shown below entitled: After Visiting David Hockney (first version), 1991 – 1992. I had been to the same exhibition and loved the idea of painting the same land and treescapes in each season thereby capturing a sense of continuity despite the considerable visual differences. See video of Howard Hodgkin at the Gagosian Gallery, Paris, 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jd4q4lxHbpQ.

I work in a reverse way to Hodgkin who says that his work is always “pre-planned but trying to understand it is a waste of time”. I am open to pre-planning but I tend to be analytical and cannot imagine not reflecting on my work to develop my understanding of it at some level of consciousness.

It struck me that knowing when an abstract painting is complete comes in part from knowing what gives it a sense of continuity despite undergoing an indefinite period of turmoil and palimpsest. In this way it is like human life – growing-up over time through events which transform us. Sometimes when we have drawn on all we know we can move on – changed – not utterly transformed but markedly so.

This picture shows a section being drawn into by scratching out paint; there is no predetermined logic to the marks though sometimes an area calls out for further intervention – cutting into with energy and light. These slivers of light sometimes obliterate beautiful lines of paint or run beside them for a while or intersect them – they have their own contrasting/complimentary language. These drawings do not come before painting. Some drawings begin during painting. These often only remain as traces beneath new layers of paint. Those drawings which arrive after the painting is complete are the last live communications I record before the silence of drying.