Michael Coombes – Keep Calm and Carry On

Michael Coombes, Age 75, is now retired having worked in the photo-mechanical processes for photogravure printing for forty five years producing books, magazines, and colour supplements. This career gave him making skills in photography, film, impositions and layouts and obviously also trained his observational abilities to a high degree, particularly his eye for detail and composition. He worked alongside designers and artists in a period where graphic design was done without computers, using layout paper and an awe inspiring degree of technical draughtsmanship and that atmosphere seems to have been absorbed by Michael and be reworked in these more personal drawings.

Michael is very modest about his contextual understanding and is looking at how he can use a learning log effectively without struggling to be something he is not. What strikes me about these drawings though is that they are so redolent of context. For a start Michael’s own history in graphic design and printing is apparent, but also there is a Britishness here which reminds me of Stanley Spencer and even Alan Bennett and Phillip Larkin. There is a maturity of intent which may just be an honest translation of Michael’s own state of mind. Figures and objects are waiting, casting long shadows. People glance away or stare straight through the viewer. Spaces are left unoccupied or incomplete. These drawings seem to me to speak of a life lived, memories both fond and regretful. The compositions of course are splendid, and Michael’s manipulation of the rectangle seems effortless until you try to do it yourself. This must be his layout skills kicking in! But ultimately the observational and other technical skills are in service, in my opinion, to the atmosphere of these drawings which is powerful and moving.

For an artist like Michael, who doesn’t enjoy writing but can communicate so powerfully visually, a learning log does not need to be wordy. It just needs to set the context for the work by signposting the relevant influences. When I first ‘met’ Michael I immediately mentioned Stanley Spencer, and got the reply that he is a fan and had used a Stanley Spencer painting as motif for a piece of his own on a previous course. Seeing a student make those kinds of connections, looking at artists who are directly resonant and who can help the student push their own work further is ideal. And a slim log full of urgent, self directed research in note form is worth far more than a lever arch file crammed full of random Wikipedia downloads.


  1. Louise 18 December 2012 at 10:14 am

    I’m assuming Michael is a student? It would be nice to be able to see these drawings, but they don’t enlarge when you click them. Any way this can be rectified? I’d love to look at them.

  2. Emma 18 December 2012 at 10:26 am

    Hello Louise, yes Michael is a student with OCA. I did mention it but very slightly – I should have been more explicit. I uploaded the images that Michael sent me of his work so perhaps they were very small file sizes. I’m sure Paul Vincent will help us out if there is anything to do. Otherwise, a solution might be to revisit Michael’s work later on when I am able to take photos myself of a larger file size.

    1. Louise 18 December 2012 at 4:21 pm

      Thanks Emma. They do look lovely even at this size. I especially like the one of the person on the sofa.

  3. Catherine 18 December 2012 at 11:37 am

    I find Michael’s style very appealing – would love to see the work larger as well.

    ps I’d better get rid of my Wikipedia downloads then!!

    1. Emma 18 December 2012 at 11:39 pm

      I was being a bit facetious Catherine – your tutor will let you know if your logbook needs pruning – don’t start chucking stuff out on my say so!

  4. Alice Cleland 18 December 2012 at 3:19 pm

    What amazing compositions!

  5. olivia irvine 18 December 2012 at 6:45 pm

    The power of the empty space is evident in these drawings. It focuses the intensity.

    1. Michael Coombes 18 December 2012 at 8:54 pm

      Thanks for the comments, but sorry about the files. I have loaded files onto Dashboard MikeC Folders should be better. Thanks Michael

      1. Emma 18 December 2012 at 11:40 pm

        good idea Michael

  6. Dewald 20 December 2012 at 10:20 am

    A very interesting post, thank you… and congrats Michael.

    ‘..Spaces are left unoccupied or incomplete..’ This is something I find very beautiful in the pieces shown here. I wonder sometimes if the ability to create (sketch / paint / photograph) in a way that the spaces are or can be left unoccupied or incomplete, exactly because they are best in this way, doesn’t speak of an internal calmness or quiet, that we who do not have this, often try to fill with something which is most often better left out, and in doing so, carry the clutter and noise from our lives and selves into what we (I) create… It believe this is ability and decisive skill, is so valuable, and wonder if it can be learnt, or whether it can only be reached.

  7. ann robertson 30 December 2012 at 3:29 pm

    It is really interesting for me to see someone else’s work , who like myself is a bit older, not that I think age really matters in art ,or in any other field of study, but it does help me feel a sense of inclusiveness, I particularly like the sense of connection which comes across in Michael’s work. I have just started with OCA and am looking forward to the course and comments from other students.

    1. emma drye 2 January 2013 at 10:10 am

      best of luck with your studies Ann

  8. Pingback: Coombe Magna - WeAreOCA

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.