Understanding Painting Media – Niki Gibbs

Open College of the Arts

This blog is my log of documenting my journey through this module of my Open College of Arts course, starting with a montage of paintings of found images that are pertinent to me right now.


Exercise 2.3 Painting on a 3D Surface

Understanding Painting Media Part 2

Choose another of your collections to depict. Consider the examples discussed in the introduction to part 2. Paint an image of your collection or items from your collection on one of the following surfaces;

•A Paper cup, •Piece of wood •stone •A handbag •Packaging •A Conker •Porcelain

People have so much stuff!


Future Fossils

I was inspired to paint on stone for this project by the Gwineth Rowland Collection of paintings on stone held on display at Lambeth Hospital in Brixton, London.  The artworks are a part of the Edward Adamson Collection that is part held by the Welcome Collection in Euston, Edward Adamson ran the Art class at Netherne Hospital from 1956-1985.

I have been collecting Nitronites (Nitrous Oxide canisters) that have been discarded in the street for a while and see them as future Fossils. A hopefully short period in our social history where the desire for squirty whipped cream has, as a by-product, resulted in people using the dispensers to fill balloons and get a short high from inhaling the gas from the balloon. As this practice is illegal they are thrown out all over the streets so that people are not caught in possession of them.

I see them as FUTURE FOSSILS. I just imagine someone finding one embedded in a rock far into the future and wondering what on earth such a thing was used for! It is this idea that I have expanded upon to create the first of my works for this exercise.

Nitrous Oxide canister on stone in water based oils

The first example is painted on a stone that I got while going on a guided tour of Netherne Hospital, which is now converted to flats and houses, I specifically looked for one so that I could commerate  the work of Gwineth Rowlands, but at the time I had no idea of what I would paint on it.

A future fossil would be a perfect; I am really into fossil hunting and have collected many lumps of stone and rock in my life.

Painting on a 3D surface, especially an uneven one, poses some challenges; the image that you paint looks different from different angles and can look different again when photographed. This stone had a slightly raised area on it that corresponded well with the cylindrical shape of the canister, so that was my location on the stone for the painting of it. Although I painted it accurately to shape, it still looks a bit off shape, however, they are often found bent and would not be perfect if encased in stone! I then went to look for an actual fossil example to compare it with and found another rock with some fossilised coral stem or belemnites in it. I then painted another canister on this stone that also has some shell remnants in it. This stone works better at it illustrates my point of ‘Future Fossils’ wit accurate reference to the real thing.

Nitrous oxide canister future fossil

This stone was painted on with water based oils as I wanted to get a look that is somewhere between painterly and blended.

Policeman’s Helmet

Policeman’s Helmet with single canister

I then decided to paint the Nitronite canister on to an object and painting it onto a policeman’s helmet felt very apt considering their illegality! I was going to paint one big one, however when I finished it I felt it looked a bit lonely and would look better if it more represented the shield that is normally on the helmet. I had bought the helmet from a party shop and had to carefully cut and slice the shield badge off of the front it with a sharp scalpel and marker pen over the residual glue marks. Having painted the middle canister centrally on the front in a larger format I then painted two more closer to original size either side of it in a fan shape. Just the volume of grey shield colour in this arrangement is closer to the real shield so works better as a double take!

Policeman’s Helmet with 3 canisters


Nitrous Oxide canisters with plate collections

I also wanted to experiment in actually painting on the canisters. Firstly I used the Humbrol Paints to paint directly on the shiny metal surface, then I wanted to see what they would look like on a colour. I bought a selection of spray paints and sprayed a selection of them by attaching them with blu-tac to a newspaper and spraying them from various angles to cover them in entirety. Although this gives an even surface, it does chip or scratch easily. I painted the images on top of the spray painted background in the Humbrol enamel paints and then sprayed varnished the whole thing in attempt to protect it from scratching. One of the pieces has a bubbly texture that came about during the first spray, maybe there was something in the first spray?!

Painting on canisters tests

I detail the Humbrol paints are a liquid consistency that spreads to settle in a pooling fashion. I used a ‘0’ and ‘00’ brush to paint small details onto what is already a small curved surface. Gravity will affect the paint on more vertical surfaces as the paint will volumize at the base area of themark. I did feel that the spray painted surface held the enamel paint better than painting directly on the metal surface, and I had to wait for each layer to dry before I added another except in areas that I wanted to blend or mix in some way.

I thought long and hard about which collection to paint on them. I had wanted to paint a collection that had some association with the canisters, however I did not have collections that I thought would be appropriate and translate to such a small surface.  I finally realised that the configurations of objects that make up a figure in composition would look just as good soI settled on my plate collections. Happy people with their arms up go some way to an alignment with laughing gas! These collections have been simplified into basic shapes and patterns, the paint is just too thick and the surface too small to  go into much detail. I also think that at this scale they loose their origin as plates and become a series of shapes and patterns. The painting its self I am not that pleased with, I would like it to have been much neater, but I just found the tiny brush and gloopy paint not that easy to work with.

The final outcome reminds me somewhat of traditional Eastern European dress with the bold multi coloured flowers

The compilation of images below show my plate collections that I photographed at the beginning of this section of the course and used as reference to paint the nitrous oxide canisters

Plate collections photographs

Exercise 2.2 – Large Scale Line Painting

People have so much stuff!

Create a drawing in paint on A1 or lager paper, also make a painting using any of the materials listed in the previous exercise.

A1 line paintings of white objects, Nitronites (Nitrous Oxide canisters), decorative boxes and shoe collections.
A1 Line paintings of white objects, Nitronites, decorative boxes and shoe collections

White Objects

White objects collection

Taking my photographs of my collections I selected a few that I felt would look good painted. The first is my painting of ‘A Collection of White Objects‘ is done in coffee and calligraphy ink painted on with a paintbrush. I have done this painting on as I like the natural edge that the handmade paper creates, it is slightly smaller than A1 at roughly 58x80cm.

I felt that the white objects on white paper worked well with the coffee applied much like watercolour to depict the darker tones and shadows. The arrangement of the objects is part of the series ‘People have so much stuff!’. These objects were found from around my house and are made up of sentimental, ornamental and useful items. People obtain objects for many reasons throughout their lives, for many reasons ranging from gift or inheritance to purchase of necessity or pleasure. People often get a sense of elation, a dopamine hit at the act of receiving or purchasing something and may grow an attachment to the object, this is why I have depicted the characters with their hands up as this stance often conveys that same emotion.


Nitronites - Nitrous Oxide canisters - Lino print

This depiction of some of my collection of Nitrous Oxide canisters is lino printed onto a black acrylic background. I cut 6 lino canisters out that represent the width of them as they go from being round to fully squashed, a set of 3 for the silver ones and another set of 3 for the rusty ones. I had to overprint each one about 3 times with a different ever lighter colour on it and a print using a straight cut side to depict the highlight. I used a cut out template of the curves to ensure that I printed them in a symmetrical fashion. Making this character look quite tribal I feel reflects the sort of tribal culture that sees people using Nitrous Oxide to obtain a feeling of being high and then incurs the littering of our streets with an object that is used to get that quick high before being thrown out of a car window!

This print was also done on Khadi Rag paper 58x79cm

Decorative boxes

Decorative box collection

This image is taken from my photograph of my collection of decorative boxes that I have acquired over my lifetime. The photograph that I worked from I feel did not actually do the boxes justice so I brought each one of them down when I painted them to study them individually from life. I is painted in acrylic on a black acrylic background on Khadi Rag paper 58x79cm. It is really nice natural paper to work on and absorbs paint in a similar way to a smooth watercolour paper, but can behave a bit like blotting paper if the paint is very wet. This painting really came to life as I painted the deepest shadows and brightest highlights on and brought the detail and personality of each box to life.

However this is more like a painting than a line painting so I didn’t really feel that I had answered the brief of a line painting so I decided to do a different collection to explore painting in line in a bit more detail.


shoes collection on cxollage

I had not been able to lay my shoes out when I photographed them, so I photographed all of them individually in numerous configurations. I then selected individual images of the shoe pairs and collaged them together in Illustrator to create my composition. I made this character more animated that the static collections. We use shoes for walking and moving around, we are very active in our shoes and I have some fairly funky shoes! So I wanted to create a composition that had some joy and movement in it. I collaged the background in newspaper images torn in colours to form the impression of the character rollerblading down a path on a hill overlooking a cityscape in the evening. I sketched the character out before collaging it so that I didn’t have to collage it all and then painted each pair of shoes in place. I then painted a loose white line around the character to give it a ghostly or luminous feel. The big shoes that I painted in as wings in the background do not have a line around them and have a watered down wash over hem to make them feel more translucent. Finally I taped a piece of string to a nib pen and dipped it in calligraphy ink to draw in the final black line.

Sketchbook test with string taped to nib pen
Sketchbook test with string taped to nib pen

I used string as it holds the ink well and gives me a slightly flexible, variable almost-but-not-quite-controllable line. This line is very lively and gives a sense of movement to the character. It would not have been so obvious without the white line painting around the individual shoes. It didn’t quite come out as was in my head, I think the shoes were bigger in my head! I did try a quick sketchbook test which gave me confidence to be messy, and it was fun to try out an experiment with painting, line painting, ink and mixed media on full size A1 cartridge paper.

I think shoe person celebrates the joy of wearing the correct shoes for the right occasion and having that collection to choose from. Our shoes become very personal to us as well as being practical and useful items. I have a lot of shoes, but I am sure I am not alone and that there are people out the with many more than I have!!

Collections photos - White Objects, Nitronites, Decorative boxes and shoes.

Exercise 2.1 – Unusual painting Media

People have so much stuff!

It suggests that in the course notes that we should keep our drawings small at this stage no bigger than A4. I found this quite frustrating at first. For some of the collections or materials  I would have felt happier depicting on a bigger scale that would allow me to get messy with the media and go into more detail, however I am experimenting with new media and it is good to understand how it behaves on different surfaces before you embark on your artwork!

I had photographed all my items on black (except the white on white example) as this would help to have a consistency in background if I wanted to collage any of the final images later.

  1. Nail Varnish Tree

Painting medium; various makes of nail varnish

A4 black card.

I first completed a colour chart of all the different coloured nail varnishes on black and another on a white ground. The strength and depth of each colour varied greatly between the two grounds. Sometimes the nail varnish goes down streaky or transluscent, over painting would be required to get a more solid finish. Using the different colours to depict the image brought to light the variations in translucency between the different colours and makes. Applying it like paint and applying highlights gave a sense of simple 3D effect. I would use greater layering if I were to paint it bigger.

  • Eye Make-Up character

Painting medium; Eye shadow and khol pencil

A4 black card sprayed with hairspray before and after application of colour.

The hairspray gave the surface a sort of grip that the eyeshadow adhered to well, although it did tend to blow away when I tried to spray it post application of make-up!

The final result was quite soft with not much depth of colour, but an interesting test none-the-less.

  • Bracelet character

Painting medium; Humbrol enamel paints

A4 black card sprayed with hairspray before and after application of colour.

The enamel paints with a bit of spirit dilution does seep into the paper a little and create a translucent surface, a bit water colourish!

  • Necklace character

Painting medium; ink using the wood end of the paintbrush

A4 Khadi handmade paper with petal inclusions sprayed with a coating of varnish before application of colour. This paper is really absorbent and the coating of varnish goes some way towards lessening the ink spread. Using only the wood end of the paintbrush dipped ink this is quite a difficult medium to work with on such an absorbent surface. I layered the colours to create some interest to the line but this is not the most successful!

  • Key character

Painting medium; Diluted instant coffee

A4 calligraphy paper with watered down instant coffee

I painted the coffee mix on with a paintbrush in a manner similarto watercolour painting. The off white colour of the paper lends itself well to the coffee colour.

  • Belt character

Painting medium; eyeshadow with ink applied with wood end of a paintbrush.

A4 black card sprayed with hairspray before and after application of colour.

Technically, the wood end of the paint brush is not correct, the ‘wood end’ is usually painted or coated in some way. The ink flows off the end of a coated brush end in a very different way than the end of a piece of raw wood which is very absorbent and tends to soak up the ink rather than apply it onto the paper. So with the coated wood end of the paintbrush I detailed in line with black Dr PH Martins inks after I had blocked out areas of colour with eye shadow painted over a background of coffee mixed with PVA and a spray varnish to give some key for the eye shadow to attach to.

  • Nitronite character

Painting medium; Humbrol enamel paints and coffee with PVA

A4 hardback envelope reverse with acrylic textured background to resemble tarmac.

Collecting nitrous oxide canisters from the roadside as I cycle around I have become fascinated by the different patinas and journey stories of each canister as it gets run over and flattened on the road. The silver ones are represented in Humbrol enamel paints and the rusty ones in coffee mixed with freeze dried coffee and PVA. This is a sort of up-cycling so I felt it apt to paint on a recycled envelope. I put a bit of ink shadow under each canister. The ink soaked into the acrylic background to create some shadows and with the white highlights I got some sense of the cylindrical canisters or flattened rusty ones.

  • Nail grooming Tree

Painting medium; Humbrol enamel paints

A4 grey metal plate with wash of diluted Humbrol enamel black paint background.

I put a dark wash over the background to help the collection stand out. The shapes of the clippers and tweezers making interesting branch like shapes, a bit of grey shading brought the items to life and the nail grooming tree is born! As I was using enamel paint I wanted to see how they would behave on metal. They do sit much better than on paper, however, the paint can dry quite quickly so it is best to decant a few brush loads onto a mixing tray and keep the lid on the pot to keep the paint good. It is also good to clean and dry the brush regularly to prevent paint build-up. Over painting was required, but I like the shapes and lines created with this image, it could have been a bit bigger in frame composition wise, but was drawn  freehand without sketching out first as I had done with the others.

This was in the end a useful exercise in seeing how these materials behave and how they sit on different surfaces. They are useful preparatory pieces for larger works.

Photographic reference

Nail Varnish
Nitrous Oxide Canisters
Nail Grooming

Understanding Painting Media Part 2

Unusual Materials: Collections

Collections of household objects arranged to create a scene

People have so much stuff!

The preparatory work for this second part of this module was epic! While photographing the collections that I found around my house I find that I have an emotional attachment to the objects that make up the collections. Some I prefer to others, some of better quality than others, some different colours, different sizes, different ages, some have sentimental attachment. I have collections of things that I either use or interest me that I have accumulated over many years. Collating these collections involved a serious tidy-up come re-organisation of the whole house in order to find them in the first place and then return them to appropriate ‘homes’ around the house that I will be able to find them again!

It was actually quite a work out as objects were retrieved, sorted, laid out with much bending and squatting, photographed and then relocated individually throughout the house including up the ladder to the attic.

Having photographed a 20 year old unintentional shoe collection (which also served to pictorially label each of the shoe boxes, easy to locate and decide on when choosing your shoes) I had discovered that I have limited space on which I could lay out my collections, at most the area of a laid out by a kings-size black sheet in the back garden. I photographed each pair separately thinking I could arrange them later, however when I laid out the next collections the act of arranging them  became more important, the arrangement had to be pleasing to the eye and I had to enjoy laying them out!

People have so much stuff!

These are my things and I am one person! There are millions of houses all over the country, all over the world that all have their collections of stuff, big, small, specialist, trivial, used and unused. How many tool collections? How many crockery and cutlery collections, toy collections, book collections, jewellery collections, clothing collections, specialist collections? The list is almost endless!! All in use or stored somewhere, in working order or damaged, all originally produced somewhere and transported to its current location. Paid for, gifted, or acquired in some way each item has a creation story; need, design, production, sale, acquisition destination, resale, gift , damage, repair and so on until stored or possibly discarded or destroyed. How much did all this stuff cost and how much is it worth, personally, practically, environmentally or even historically!?

This got me thinking that each of my collections had a personality in it’s shapes and uses and creating some symmetry began to form into tree or people-shaped arrangements. Mostly they are depicted with their arms up as this composition felt quite gleeful, as a static image they are quite designed, striking and uplifting. As well, they are characterful and encapsulate ‘People have so much stuff!’.

Once I had photographed all my collections, well not all, but a good many of them, I then had a bit of time off to reflect on the projects ahead. And to process all the photographs!

Part 2 research point

This research looks at artists that use and interpret collections as a art of their art practice, collating every day objects and arranging them in a way that is both repetitive, cataloguing and story telling.

Julian Walker

Produces collections of work that are presented in a museum style presentation layout. His work can be found in the British Library, Norwich Castle Museum, the Wellcome Collection amongst others. He runs workshops at the British Library in literature, language, art, history and the culture of the book.

His interest in displaying his collections appeals to me as I have a tendency to end up collecting things for various reasons; to use on a future project, I like them, they are useful or I need them! In his work he allows the viewer to see the differences in individual items when viewed as a collection, as well as appreciating the grouping, layout and composition that arranging a number of objects can achieve.


Lisa Milroy

Born in 1959 in Vancover, British Columbia is known for her paintings of everyday objects laid out in patterns or lines. She works in a number of different styles ans often depicts the same subject matter in various different layouts and configurations.


Paul Westcombe

Was born in Inverness in Scotland in 1981 and has exhibited widely in groups and solo. His work of intricate drawings on disposable cups was borne of boredom when working 12 hour shifts as a parking attendant. The works have a wry sense of humour and are drawn on whatever materials came to hand such as disgarded tickets, toilet plungers, mop heads…and paper cups post coffee.


Lee Edwards – Gallery Domobaal

Was born in Kent Uk in 1981 and lives and works in London and is represented by Gallery Domobaal who have exhibited his work of tiny paintings on found objects such as cut small branches and stones.

David Dipre

Works on 3D media painting in a thick impasto style. He was born in London in 1974 and currently still lives there. The main focus of his work is around the face and depicting it on unusual surfaces.


Cathy Lomax

Was born in 1963 and is an artist and curator mainly working in portraiture and director of the Transition Gallery. She used to work as a make-up artist in the fashion industry before becoming disillusioned and taking up doing a part time MA at Central St Martins School of Art while still working. She has a fascination with Hollywood golden age movies which has influenced her film series where she has collated a collection of images made up of still from films and exhibition American Tan which explores elements of American culture.


Alli Sharma

I looked at Alli Sharma’s work in the part 1 of this course, specifically her emotional portraits painted in a loose brush stroke style that captures a story behind the mask of the painting. In this section looking at collections I found a couple of her humming bird images that allude to the nature of collecting.

Tabitha Moses

Her work ‘Investment’ is part of her personal exploration into having fertility treatment to have a child later in life. Her work explores the symbols of fertility from many cultures and is embroidered on hospital gowns. Her other work explores small collections as in these examples Brides and grooms.


Gwineth Rowlands

Whilst doing an Outside In Step Up course at the Wellcome collection interpreting collections I looked extensively into the Adamson Collection which is a collection of 6000 works that were painted by patients at Netherne mental Hospital in Surrey in the studio run by Edward Adamson from 1952 until the early 1990’s. Most of the works ar paintings on paper, however there is a collection of works by Gwineth Rowlands that are paintings on stones that she gathered from the surroundings and grounds of the hospital. The works are currently on permanent display at Lambeth Hospital.

Jim Golden

Is a photographer that photographs collections of groups of objects. He lays them out on the ground and photographs them from above. His work may not be painting, but I thinkthat the layout and compositions of his groupings relevant to this part of the course.

Darrell Gibbs – Sukie

Darrel is an illustrator and designer who uses a lot of recycled materials as well as printing his designs on products; stationary and gifts. One of his other are forms are his mini museums of old stationary that he sells on his website www.sukie.co.uk

Lee Cutter

Research on artists who use collections and paintings of collections as well as painting on unusual media for OCA Understanding Painting Media part 2

Works by carving images into prison issue Buttermilk soaps that highlight aspects of his experience of incarceration. His display of 99 carved soaps was displayed and sold at the Royal Academy 250th Anniversary show in 2018. This may not be painting, but his method of drawing into soaps by carving the detail alludes to this aspect of the course.

Reflection Part 1


Demonstration of technical and visual skills – Materials, techniques, observational skills,visual awareness, design and compositional skills

Quality of outcome – Content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner with discernment.

Demonstration of creativity – imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice.

Context – Reflection, research (Learning Logs).

Part 1

Comp reference Exercise 1-1 artwork

Reflecting on my work through Part 1 I can say that I enjoyed working small, I have been working on a much larger scale for most of my other work, so it was a change of experience to work on a much smaller scale. I really tried to mix my media and try as many combinations as I could whilst honing each technique to be appropriate for my subject matter in my image. I learned a lot about how the different mediums work together; for instance the way that black ink sits and soaks into gesso and gouache to give a grey translucent appearance and how varnish over gouache brings a base colour through rather than preserving the white

Exercie 1-2

I found the instructions quite confusing in relation to the use of Black and white and colour. It could be said that I used too much colour in the exercises, however I did base most of my images in a monochrome of base white or black, trying to limit my use of colour. When put together the majority of the images resonate tones of black to greys to white and the colour acts as a highlight. In the final assessment I tried to use this to best effect by placing the incidences of colour comfortably placed throughout the collection retaining a balance that interests the eye as it moves around looking at the individual images, yet also sits comfortably when viewed as a whole.

Technically I am happy with my images, I tried to keep in mind some of my research images of other artists and apply some of their styles of work to my own. Inevitably my images tend towards something that is my own version with elements of their working practices reflected in them.

Assignment 1 comp

Finally I wanted to express my own voice with my selection of found images in my final assignment. I researched my subject matter (Insect extinction)to find images that not only depicted insects, but looked into some images that are consequential or informative of my message; for instance using a graph and images of humans pollinating trees as there are no insects to do it for them. I have tried to record my thinking process and research as best I can in my learning logs. I have tried to be as thorough as I can with my research, although maybe my working practice is something that I find easier than researching and recording other artists. I do however visit galleries and look at other artists and the world around me with interest all the time and feel I subconsciously absorb a lot of visual stimulation that I translate into my own work without necessarily writing it all down!

Assignment 1

Cut 20 squares of HP Watercolour paper (15x15cm). Using the materials that you enjoyed most in the exercises in part 1 make a painting of one found image on each piece of paper. Once you’ve made them arrange them in a grid next to one another to form a large painting.Photograph the work. You can return to images that you have already painted or use new ones.

‘If we and the rest of the back-boned animals were to disappear overnight, the rest of the world would get on pretty well. But if the invertebrates were to disappear, the world’s ecosystems would collapse.’ Sir David Attenborough

Quote taken from www.buglife.org.uk

Extinction Rebellion – Insect Extinction

I wanted to make a point with my collection of found images for this assignment. Having just witnesses the Extinction Rebellion protests across London, I felt it important to highlight some of the so far less voiced extinction threats that we face. Insects are vital to our survival; we have all heard about the decline of the Honey Bee and the prospects of our crops not being pollinated, however, not so much is discussed about other insects vital to the continuation of good healthy ecosystem that supports great bio diversity and extensive food chain. This collection of found images is selected to convey a message that raises awareness and also educates. This assignment is done on Royal Watercolour Society HP 300gsm paper that I cut into squares from the sheets. This is the order in which I painted them; I painted each image as I felt its inclusion would enhance to story of the final collection.

Extinction Rebellion symbol and Butterfly

Extinction Rebellion symbol and Butterfly

This image I found online and to me captured a bold symbolic message that I felt would sum up the collection of images for my Insect extinction theme.

The background is painted in Gesso, I wanted a clean surface to paint the black on. I used black acrylic, but maybe should have used gouache to get a flatter finish. I used ink to paint the colour on the Butterfly wings and Quink ink to paint the black around the edges as I knew that the ink would seep into the gesso and give me a slightly translucent feel and off-black effect to differentiate it from the symbol.

Chinese tree pollination

Chinese tree pollination

This image of humans pollinating the fruit trees in China is a striking example of the extremes that humans have to go through to ensure a crop of fruit when the insect population collapses. Climbing into the trees and individually pollinating the flowers with paintbrushes laden with pollen from other trees.

I chose to use a blue/grey watercolour background for this image. I want to use the same for the extinction rebellion image so the two squares balance themselves when placed in a collection. I dabbed on grey then white splodges with a sponge and a brush to represent the flowers. I then painted in the people in black and the branches on top. Finally I added a few extra flowers so that they sat on top of the people creating a slightly different edge to the flowers that the ones that I had painted around.

Dead Bees

Dead Bees

Since my topic is insect extinction I felt that this image of dead bees helped tell the story.

I painted this image twice, I felt I wanted a darker background at the top so that there was some depth to the scene. The second background I painted with a gradation to help achieve this. The paynes grey puts a slight tone to the background that will help the black and white bees stand out. I painted the black first, then through grey to white highlights. I drew some black lines in Calligraphy ink to add some detail and sketch, then added some clear varnish to define the wings. The two attempts were not so different, but the darker second one felt stronger.

Extinction Rebellion

Extinction Rebellion

This image is the one that really sparked my idea for this theme of insect extinction. I walked over Waterloo bridge when it was closed to the protest to show my support and saw a similar scene to this one I found online, so the image is imprinted firmly in my memory

On a blue/grey watercolour background I painted the background and people in shades or white-grey=black. I did the banner in colour so that it stood out and accentuated that by adding some other small spots of other colour; yellow and blue. I wanted to keep a loose lively feel to the mark making to give the scene some life.

Decline in invertebrate graph


I wanted to represent a graphic to illustrate some statistics to back up the facts around insect extinction, this graph having both graphic and pictorial imagery I felt suited my purpose the best.

The background I chose to use is a wash of acrylic paynes grey, fairly evenly spread and quite translucent. I painted the insects as white silhouettes as I wanted to give a ghostly impression, and painted them in white acrylic so that I could paint varnish over the top. Gouache may have picked up in the varnish and clouded it as it has a much less stable surface. I painted the graph in gouache so as to get a flat graphic feel and had to wait for the graph to dry before I painted any additional lines as I didn’t want it to bleed. I had to touch a few areas up once I had painted the black lines.

I painted some of the lettering on in white acrylic with a fine brush. Unfortunately the lettering ended up a bit squashed so I decided to draw this again using the same technique and this time writing all the lettering on in pen, which I think looks better and cleaner.



This was also an image that inspired this series and is very evocative as an insect that we are all familiar with.

This was painted on a streaky paynes grey background to represent the leaf and then the insect was painted tonally in acrylic. I added a little blue and dark red on the eyes to bring it to life and tried to keep a painterly feel. I am not 100% happy with the composition, it is a little low in the page. I added some streaky textural lines and a ground shadow to help with this.

Fly Head

Fly Head

One of the most powerful aspects of insects is their alien appearance when viewed up close. Understanding the make-up of an insect’s biology is fascinating as every hair serves a function and their huge multi-faceted eyes and extraordinary mouth parts become clear.

I started on a white gouache background as I want my over drawing to soak in the paint from the top layers. I sponged on paynes grey watered down to create a background texture and painted the fly head in in acrylic before drawing on top in pen and calligraphy ink.

Fossil Dragonfly

Fossil Dragon fly

This image demonstrates that insects have been around for millions of years in a similar form as they exist today, even if this species may be extinct. This fossil of a dragon fly is a beautiful example.

I first covered this paper in slightly diluted Quink ink, allowed it to dry and then bleached it with a dilute bleach solution and a sponge. I painted the dragonfly in a medium to neat Quink ink and added a few acrylic highlights to finish it off. I used a brush and a dip pen to draw the image.



I think the ladybird is an insect that has an emotional response with people, they are often seen as charming, adorable and have fascinated many a child. This is why I have painted them bright red with a few precise brushstrokes to convey their form. I had Meimi Thompsons fly in mind although I have not succeeded in her level of abstraction

This image is painted on paynes grey textured background with acrylic paint on top, the background and leaf on which they sit all in monochrome in order to further accentuate the ladybird.

Caterpillar to Chrysalis

Caterpillar to Chrysalis

The magical metamorphosis that the caterpillar goes through to change into a butterfly is a marvel. I wanted to use this as a metaphor for the change that we as a society need to make to avoid an insect collapse within our society.

Painted on a black background to convey a dark threat that we face I painted acrylic on acrylic. The gouache black was too dead for the feeling that I wanted from this image, the acrylic has a bit of a sheen to add a lively element to the image. I wanted to use some loose brush strokes for the detail to liven it up as well. I put a varnish over the chrysalises to highlight it as it would match its opposite image of the emerging butterfly

The Emerging Butterfly

The Emerging Butterfly

This is a continuation image of the metamorphosis of the caterpillar to butterfly and fits well in my story flow as the butterfly is also shown on the extinction symbol.

Painted again on black acrylic I decided to add some colour of this painting as it ties in with the extinction logo and also has a sense of hope and beauty about the sequence. I put a varnish over the chrysalises and butterfly to accentuate it and help make it feel a bit special.

Medieval bees

Medieval bees

I wanted to show bee hives and this image showed that we have been keeping bees for hundreds of years and that they have been looked after and ‘farmed’ by humans for their honey throughout history.

I used a background of Quink ink for the background as it has a yellowish tinge that reflected the fossil image and helps convey the past. I used black watercolour to paint the image as I wanted to create a nostalgic feel. I then sponged on a bit of diluted bleach to texturize the background and front edge of the table to liven the image up.

Bee Keeping

Bee Keeping

I thought it would be good to add some modern day bee keeping into the story, it should probably be placed next to the dead bees to illustrate bee decline.

This image has no background, I painted it in watercolour to try and echo to a nostalgic feel of an idyllic life, in black and white it has a sense of times gone past to allude to the possibility of insect extinction.



Cicadas are very endangered in the UK which is why I chose to include them. We normally associate them with Mediterranean climates but they were way more common here in the past.

I put the cicada on black to signify their vulnerability and painted the cicada in whites and greys and used white to highlight. I actually mirrored my image from my reference as I felt the composition worked better with my insects looking in different directions rather than all the same way.

Wood Ant

Wood Ant

Having watched a programme recently about a rare wood ant that was being conserved somewhere in southern England I felt it appropriate that I included the Wood Ant in this series. The Wood Ant is vital in it’s environment keeping the soil healthy and providing food for other creatures such as birds and insect eating mammals. Loss of habitat is the main reason for its decline and is now only found in small protected pockets of land.

Painted on a painterly paynes grey background that I then overpainted with Gesso which gave me a pale grey base as I applied it slightly translucent. I then painted the stem that the ant is on in Quink ink as I knew it would sink into the gesso and give me a particular knocked back look. I then painted the ant on in mars black and titanium white with mixed shades. I wanted to keep a painterly feel to the image. I did map the shape out with a rigger brush first, but few of those lines are still visible.

Stag Beetle Stamp

Stag Beetle Stamp

The Stag Beetle is featured on a series of stamps issued by the Royal Mail to highlight the insects that a threatened by extinction. It is a truly majestic insect and rightly deserved a place in the collection. By using the image of the stamp I am showing some of the ways that raising awareness of insect extinction is currently being voiced.

Painted on a Gesso  background I painted the stag beetle in acrylic with a bit of red to bring out the colour of the beetle. When all the images are placed together I feel that by duplicating indications of the colours that I have used sparingly balance eachother out better when the colour is reflected elsewhere in the collection.

David Attenborough

David Attenborough

Sir David Attenborough is the face and voice of our time in highlighting the consequences of human actions on our environment. This image is taken from a documentary highlighting Climate Change as he spells out the threats to our planet as our population increases and the pressures of our disposable lives leave their mark on the ecosystems on our planet.

As I lay out the images as I paint them I am drawn to the fact that reflecting the style in one image into a new one really helps balance the whole composition and thus brings some level of enhancement to the individual image within the composition. I used acrylic white on the hair, but did the rest of the face of David Attenborough in watercolour, reflecting the beekeeping image I did earlier. There is more tonal contrast and the addition of a small inclusion of blue watercolour on the shirt and a muddy green on his coat and background. I also used some white watercolour emphasise some highlight areas.

I wanted to include a human face in the story of this collection of images as not only do I identify that we as humans are responsible for the decline of insect populations, there is a ray of hope in the voice and message that Sir David Attenborough raises may be heard and educate the population to want to seek solutions.

Flying Bug

Flying Bug

All the insects that I have done so far have been either stationary or dead, so I felt it important to bring in this essential element of their lives. This image gives a really good vision of the way that the insects wings that are kept hidden under a harder shell break free and power into action as the bug leaps into flight.

To create a sense of energy and movement I created a painterly background using paynes grey and white acrylic mix and painted the bug on in a range of mars black to white acrylic marks. I added some loose brush marks to indicate the movement of the wings as if in flight. It didn’t quite have the impact that I had intended, maybe a lighter background would have helped!

Blue Dragonfly

Blue Dragonfly

In the overall vision of this collection I felt that I would try one that stood out, this close-up really catches your attention, I need the viewer to engage with the collection and draw you in, maybe a weird set of bright blue bug eyes would serve that purpose.

I liked the comical look of this image and so painted it in a slightly more graphic style using gouache. The background is white gouache with a sponged on grey and I used quite a bright blue to depict the insect as I wanted it to really stand out. I painted in a flat gouache style; painting shapes in gradating colours to represent form rather than a blended technique.

Bee and Flower

Bee and Flower

I painted this image as I felt that the composition was missing a flower to tell the story of pollination. I had painted this image in earlier exercise 1:1 but I wanted to use less colour this time to try and keep to the black and white theme, just a bit of blue and yellow/orange which also reflects in some of the other squares. I painted a varnish over the top of the bee which makes the wings look transparent. The image is painted on a background of wet paper with added Quink ink to give me a random pattern/texture that could give the scene some depth.

Ladybird Spider

Ladybird Spider

This spider is on the 10 most endangered insects in the UK and so I felt deserved a space in my story. By introducing a spider, which technically is an arachnid rather than an insect, but I felt widened the level of awareness that the problem does not stop with 6 legs.

On a white gouache background I sponged a darker grey gouache to indicate the textured surface and then painted the spider in acrylic with a shadow of watercolour so that the colour soaked into the gouache rather than sat on top of it. The red of the spiders back reflects the red in the ladybird and would then draw your eye around the final composition.

I think that I have created a collection of images that introduce the idea of insect extinction to a wider audience through this collection of images. I have tried to use the minimal colour to advantage to draw your eye around the composition and draw you into study each image. If I had done them all in black and white that the eye will get lost in a blend of monochrome and the message would have been diluted. This way there is a little enticement in each of the colour images that are backed up some purely black and white squares.

I actually made 21 images so I had to play around with my arrangement for some time to see what I felt worked best and which one to remove. The photographs of the images that I have posted do have some reflection on them, mainly the ones that I have used varnish on or the black acrylic is photographing shiny.

The final order of selection is also selected to balance the spread of black, whites, greys and colours so that your eye is drawn around the image as well as something that you read diagonally and across from left to right in text fashion. I photographed them in my garden as I felt that appropriate for my subject matter.

Selection story

This graph shows the problem…. Insects have been around for hundreds of millions of years…. They have evolved intricate ways of seeing….. Dragonflies have amazing wing dexterity in flight…. They go through an incredible metamorphosis in their life cycles…. Humans have harvested the product of hard work in the form of honey….. Hear the words of God Sir David Attenborough when he warns us of the impending decline in the health of our planet…… Insects are vital for pollination of most plants including our crops….. Many invertebrates including spiders are on the endangered list….. If we want to continue to grow crops and harvest honey….. We need to wake up to the problems that we face, informing the wider public in such campaigns as Royal Mail stamps…. Even our friendly charming ladybird faces decline…. The Cicada is already on the endangered list…. And a specialist species of Wood Ant…. Even insects we are really familiar with and have less affinity with such as the fly could suffer…. Once transformed this miracle of nature turns into a thing of beauty with the ability to fly…. Extinction Rebellion tried to open the eyes of the world to the threats that our sustained existence on this planet impact on our environment…. We pollute the land with pesticides which kill off the insects and have seen a third of the bee population in the US vanish…. And will end up having to pollinate our crops by hand like the they do in China where they have experienced insect population collapse…. We need to act before we face the 6th Extinction – The insect extinction.

Artistic reference

This is a selection of the works that I feel influenced some of the styles that are present in my final composition. For instance I can see the influence of Brian Alfred and Gary Hume in the Graph and the Blue Dragonfly, Alli Sharma in Beekeeping and Sir David Attenborough, and Memi Thompson in the Ladybirds and Ladybird Spider, Mark Fairnington in the Stag Beetle and Annie Kevans in the Ant.

Photographic Reference

Niki Gibbs