Inspiration from Joan Eardley

Research Project 15

Strange New Land

For Project 15, I wanted to develop a collagraph which would depict the grey coastline of the UK as a migrant might experience it on first arriving in the UK. I am interested to explore how other artists had interpreted the coastal theme in their work and was drawn to the paintings of the artist Joan Eardley and in particular to the painting “The Wave”, painted in 1961. 

The painting is a mixed media landscape of Catterline on the East coast of Scotland, painted in the winter months when the skies would often have been dark and overcast. It measures 121.90 x180 cms, is in landscape format and depicts a large wave approaching the rugged cliffs on the East coast shoreline.


The picture plane of the painting is divided roughly into three equal sections: the sky with the land above receding to the background at the top third, the cliffs and shoreline with the wave breaking across it in the middle of the picture plane, and the Sean the lower third. The use of dark grey in the foreground of the work and strong horizontal lines across the painting contrasts strongly with the delicate vertical lines repeated in the centre third, across the breadth of the cliffs. The artist has placed another strong dark horizontal across the upper third of the painting, representing the land beyond the cliffs.


The colour palette of the painting includes neutral dark grey, grey blue and yellow ochre with touches of orange and warm white. The overall effect is muted, and perfectly reflects the type of natural contrasts seen with an approaching storm on the Scottish coastline. The use of muted blues and yellows, colours which sit on the opposite side of the colour wheel, creates colour contrast and interest within the painting. The artist has used a warm white to depict the wave ( the subject of the painting), in strong contrast to the dark grey foreground, effectively highlighting the main subject of interest.


The roughest brushwork is found across the centre of the picture plane, with grit incorporated into the paint for the rendering of the cliffs. This contrasts with the much smoother strokes used for the sky ( the smoothest part of the painting) and foreground. In the foreground, the brushwork follows the horizontal lines which divide the picture plane, separating the cliffs from the shore. This this adds contrast and interest to the painting and keeps the eye of the viewer moving across the picture plan.

Relevance to my own practice

Joan Eardley’s painting very effectively evokes the coastal landscape seen in many parts of the UK. I particularly love the muted complementary colours ( blue grey and yellow grey) the artist has selected. I feel that these would work well in a collagraph of the UK coastline. The composition lends itself well to use in collagraph techniques, where the visual message needs to be delivered using cut or torn materials applied to a surface. The vertical mark making used by Eardley to depict the cliffs could also be represented in collagraph, using corrugated card and I felt that this was something I could used in my own work.

Eardley was known for her expressive style and the incorporation of materials such as sand and grasses into the paint used for her work. This is something which I could consider using within the series of prints for “different” and “Out of the Shadows” to develop the theme further. Another potential route for exploring the theme further could include the incorporation of text as in “Two Children” another work by Eardley.

Experimentation for Project 15

Following my research, I devloped two small acrylic paintings based on the coastline at Beachy Head and using the blue greys and muted cadmium yellows and whites observed in the work of Joan Eardley.


Figure 1: Clifftops after Joan Eardley

Texture was achieved using dripped wax in the lower third of the picture plane. This was then gouged to add a vertical component to the cliffs and texture medium added to acrylic paint on top to build further texture. Colour was added to suggest rocks and sand at the lowest point in the picture plane. One of the most difficult aspects of the painting was achieving the correct balance between abstraction and a more representational approach.


Figure 2: Clifftops after Joan Eardley

Figure 2 tackles the same subject using wax and texture medium as before with the addition of scrim in the foreground to achieve the texture of waves.



National Galleries of Scotland.

Joan Eardley, Two Children, 1963 Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow © Estate of Joan Eardley. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2016

National Galleries of Scotland





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