Drawing 2: Parallel Project

bike in tidal mud - Copy copySarah Youseman is a student on the new OCA drawing course: Drawing 2 – Investigating Drawing. In that course, students are required to complete a ‘parallel project’ which offers a degree of freedom with regard to subject and execution and run throughout the duration of the course. It offers students a chance to engage over an extended period with a body of work. What’s interesting is that Sarah has found that the more structured exercises and the parallel project are feeding one another.

Although the example outlined here uses a specific location as a way of anchoring the project, but that’s not the only solution. I’m particularly pleased that Sarah is using the work of other artists – and consciously integrating some of their thinking and techniques – to understand how a landscape might be approached. This isn’t plagiarism, but a sort of ventriloquism. Even if an artist tries hard to mimic another, something always intervenes to make the results different.

Bryan: You’ve decided on a place near your home to be the focus of your Parallel Project. Can you give a quick description of the place?

Sarah: I have chosen the Thames estuary coastline between Greenhithe and Gravesend. This is primarily an industrial area featuring jetties and piers, cement works, some smart riverside residential developments and some leisure gardens.

Wind turbine - Copy

That sounds varied. It could offer a chance to highlight or exploit issues of regeneration or land-use, or are you drawn to one thing rather than the other, or is it the margins that really attract you?

The regeneration tends to be smart and practical yet sterile. I am drawn to the discarded such as finding unexpected beauty in piles of aggregate or a story in a broken, abandoned bike.

You’ve said in your notes that it’s somewhere from which you feel excluded. Is that just physical, or is it a deeper feeling of not-belonging?

The sense of exclusion is twofold; firstly there are physical barriers – large boarded fences which surround all the interesting bits such as cranes and diggers peppered with ‘Private Property’ signs but secondly, and more importantly, it is not my world. I am an intruder, an interloper sketching, note-taking and photographing interesting shapes, tonal values and thinking about possible compositions. I haven’t got a clue what is actually going on. Their world is real stuff, making things, earth moving, men – only men – in the high-visibility jackets eyeing me with suspicion. I am seeking to express this sensation in my work.

How is the course in general feeding this project (or vice versa)? Are techniques and lessons resonating with the parallel project?

Yes, very much so. I have found that each project will trigger off an idea that I could relate to the parallel project. Also some work I’ve been exploring involving tidal mud in the parallel project seems as though it’s going to crop up further in the course and so tie in rather well.

Are you looking at any artists in particular in relation to an idea of site-specificity?

It was studying Prunella Clough that triggered off the site-specific idea. I had been looking at her crane studies and I know she spent time working in Gravesend. At the moment I’m looking at the work and ideas of Richard Long.

That’s quite a leap. Long’s works are evidence of a process in (or perhaps a dialogue with) the landscape, and only pictorial as a side-effect. Melding two distinct approaches is a great way to create something new. How might the geography / geology of the site influence the work? Are you moving towards something less figurative, for instance?

The two finished pieces have become about the geography/geology of the area rather than the people. The starting points have been about using site-specific materials such as chalk, mud, grass and stones to create an abstract-style organic work. I then have juxtaposed a figurative motif with the addition of a collaged wind turbine in one work and a realistically drawn bike in the other with the intention of given a playful tug back to the sense of place and scale.

How does it feel to have a project that’s self-driven and less bounded by exercises and so on? Could it take over all your OCA time?

To start with it was difficult. I like the safety of having a brief and ticking items on a list. Now that I’ve got my teeth into something that has given me the freedom to explore a subject in a way I want to, I could just keep going. I have time-managed this so far by taking breaks from the exercises at a suitable point That is, once I’ve written up a project, and also when a part of the project then drives an idea.

As I will submit my work for assessment I am mindful of exactly how much evidence of study and finished pieces I need to produce. So far I have spent about two separate weeks of dedicated work on the parallel project and produced two finished pieces. I have several ideas of what I could explore next but will proceed with the course for now and then return to the parallel project once I have had feedback from the next assignment.


  1. BB 10 February 2014 at 4:03 pm

    The complete artist. Talented thoughtful and honest

  2. emmadrye 10 February 2014 at 7:09 pm

    It’s fascinating to see the course being inhabited and filled out by exciting and adventurous students. Both Clough and Long have a way of taking the overlooked or the less obvious perspective and cherishing it. I think they are a good pair to position yourself between and reflect on. Artists like Long remind me to think about process and to pare back and stress test the internal logic of my thinking in a certain way. Artists like Clough remind me of the pleasures of developing a personal language and private world of experience and expression.

  3. annemacleod2013 10 February 2014 at 8:47 pm

    Sarah Youseman’s work is very accomplished and it’s interesting to learn something about what’s involved in Drawing 2. I’ve been thinking about doing this course and this post has encouraged me to find out more.

  4. bryaneccleshall 11 February 2014 at 9:10 am

    I’d be interested to read what other students are doing. Basing the project on a location is a good, strong idea, but there are loads of other options. I did start a discussion in the ‘Coffee Shop’ part of the message board, but it didn’t really take off.

  5. Anne 12 February 2014 at 10:14 am

    I’ve found its very hard to get people to discuss their work or any work at all really in a virtual environment. That’s such a shame as for me its so helpful in trying to work out my ideas and what I’m doing, without a dialogue that is very hard to do. Its a shame we can’t get one going somehow somewhere. Not all of us can afford time and money to keep travelling around the country/continent for study days!

    Anyway in that spirit I can try and join the discussion as although I’m not doing drawing 2, in photography landscape 2 (old version) it asks for a ‘season portfolio’ which involves photographing the same general area for a full year. Rather than photographing the ‘seasons’ in a literal manner I’ve been exploring the woodlands near to my home and photographing traces of human activities in the woodlands that seemed to me to speak of something…a feeling… that I couldn’t put a name to.

    I’ve found it really worthwhile exercise as over the period of the year I’ve got to realise the place in question is not what it appears to be or is promoted as for tourism. Rather than a medieval forest (as its billed) it turns out to be degraded heathland that used to be a lived environment, now in some areas its become almost a woodland theme park! The turning point for it seems to have been the 1950s when all the rabbits got myxamatotis (sorry can’t spell it) and stopped grazing the saplings as they grew up from the seeds that came in from ? somewhere. I won’t mention who owns this land although I do have permission to photograph there:-)

    So over time I’ve started to identify this feeling more closely through repeatedly visiting and making the work and asking myself which photographs have this ‘feeling’ in them and which don’t, so that helped me in working out what it was more closely and making it more conscious. It took almost the whole year to begin to understand it, I’ve really enjoyed the process of having an extended project and allowing things to develop in more depth than is possible usually.

    So although this place doesn’t have much obvious similarities with Sarah’s location, it has had me thinking about marginal and dynamic environments….so I was wondering if Sarah has looked at the idea of ‘Edgelands’ – those marginal places on the edge of built up areas, there’s a book we have on the photography reading lists http://www.amazon.co.uk/Edgelands-Michael-Symmons-Roberts/dp/0099539772 that I think might have some things relevant to her work in it.

    Well done Sarah – its really interesting to hear about your work, good luck with it.

    1. bryaneccleshall 12 February 2014 at 4:13 pm

      I recently read a German word that we don’t have in English that means ‘the feeling of being alone in the woods’: Waldeinsamkeit.

  6. starrybird 15 February 2014 at 9:59 am

    I really like the idea of the parallel project. In Drawing 1, it was in the final assignment, when we explored a subject in multiple ways, that I felt my work really took off. You can immerse yourself in a subject, and achieve a greater visual understanding, than you ever can in a set exercise.

  7. Bryan Eccleshall 16 February 2014 at 12:15 pm

    I was hoping that Sarah’s generosity and openness would lead to some other Drawing 2 students contributing thoughts about their own Parallel Projects.

    Taking on something so ambitious and open can be a daunting prospect in relation to an otherwise very structured way of studying, so it’s great that Sarah has managed to build a structure in which she can work.

    There’s potential, here, to explore all sorts of issues around contemporary use of space. It’s a hot topic in architecture (and in other less formal land-use: see fracking protests and the Occupy movement).

    Although not explicitly dealt with in the work, there are all sorts of possibilities in relation to an investigation of what ‘public’ and ‘private’ really mean. The use of a tidal range is also a great metaphor for a kind of drawing. When drawing we make gestures which leave behind marks. That’s similar to the tide going out and dumping all sorts of stuff on the beach. Scouring that line (or finding a way of replicating it), might offer ways forward.

    Sarah’s obviously interested in how the trace of technology appears in this landscape. How might technology map this landscape? Is there invisible technology? What happens when a natural landscape is surveyed?

  8. Indigowolf 17 February 2014 at 9:25 am

    Not having enjoyed the rather literary approach to ‘edgelands’ by Symmons/Roberts can I suggest a look at the original paper by Marion Shoard.
    And for a more tactile response to relating to a landscape the work of Richard Mabey, Robert MacFarlane or the late great Bruce Chatwin.

    As an artist I find that repeated visits to a specific site constantly and subtly re shapes our perception of the place which then effects the next interaction with the space. It is a beautiful iteration of self and space.

  9. Sarah 18 February 2014 at 4:28 pm

    Thanks everyone for your encouraging comments. I’ve ordered Edgelands as something that could be a great springboard for further ideas. I need now to get back to the area with a sketchbook and camera and actually get on with some data collection to make further works rather than tie myself up too much by over-intellectualising the project (is that a word?).
    What are you other D2 guys doing?


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