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Susan Oakley - The Open College of the Arts
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Susan Oakley

It has often been commented upon and especially by assessors looking at student submissions that too often the best work is to be found in the sketchbook. At a time when students should be pulling out all the stops and presenting work that is filled with experimentation and confident resolutions their most successful work is buried deep inside their sketchbooks in danger of being lost or overlooked at this most crucial of times.
Susan Oakley is a Drawing 1 student just starting on her journey through the course book. Her A5 sketchbook is a delight to see. You may need a magnifying glass however to make out the tiny thumb nail sketches but they are packed with useful information that can be transferred onto a much larger scale when required. They are part of her way of working and in this she is following in the footsteps of John Constable whose own sketchbooks are even considerably smaller.
The problem arises when students are asked to leave the security of their preferred scale to start working at much larger sizes. What looks good 6 cms across and done with the point of a Rapidograph is difficult to scale up to A1 with the same conviction. Part of the answer of course is to use larger implements – bring out the charcoal , use larger brushes and instead of working through the fingers use your wrist, arm and shoulder to get the right sized marks for the increase in scale.
Susan’s smaller experimental works however are a delight to see. Her 14x10cm monotype of a vase of flowers on an abstract background done with a Rotring Graphic pigment pen if greatly enlarged would not disgrace a contemporary artist entering for a major painting prize. Nor would her even smaller collaged drawing done on the back of a Bran Flakes packet with its sombre atmosphere and serious intent. And then there is the colourful spontaneity of her abstract oil pastel collage, slightly larger this time, but fluent in its handing of colour and line.
These pictures silently nestle in her sketchbook; ideas in germination hopefully to be released at a latter date to become fully fledged. For now they are helping her to think out strategies for improving her approach to later assignments. We might not quite get a Constable ‘six footer’ but the embryo for future possibilities is there and Susan’s work is gaining in confidence and the direction is set.
Trial and error will find the right scale for the work. Size after all does matter.

Posted by author: James Cowan
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2 thoughts on “Susan Oakley

  • I think a broader issue, perhaps common to most courses, is the tendency to try too hard, and to overthonk things when you feel an assessor breathing down your neck…even if only metaphorically.

  • Well said Nigel.This sketchbook work is a delight. Congratulations on being featured in this way. This is a great foundation to build upon. The colour work especially speaks to me.

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