Assignment 1, Prep

Angela Johnson Online

I am interested in the accessibility of online images and how they can affect and shape our lives.  I decided for this project to select my images from Facebook as far as possible, and when I ran out of source material, from the internet in general.

I wanted to find 20 people with my name.  I already knew of one, Angela Johnson, the first woman to be sentenced to death on Death Row in America.  What else would I find?  Angela isn’t a popular name any more so most of the women were in their 40’s plus.  Most of them were American or English.  Some black, some white.  The most intriguing fact was a general pull or aspiration towards the divine or the religious. How was it possible that a tenuous link, such as a name which wasn’t given to us by our own choosing, could end up linking us with a common theme?

Questions that arose:-

What does it mean to be Angela Johnson

Who am I?

How can they be me?

What’s in a name?

Does the devout root of the name Angela (angel) subconsciously affect us?  If we aim for the highest of ourselves, it also reflects as a polar opposite, and so creates or attracts the lowest.

Judgement, pigeon hole – the same and different – it brings up a need to try and separate the group, to find some individuality

Self – what is self? How can we experience the pure nature of self if it is not partly through identity?


I started work in my sketchbook, trying different ways of drawing the faces. I wanted to get to know these women before I began painting.  This part of the work brought up issues of confidentiality and privacy – was it really ok for me to have downloaded someone else’s photos and start using them for my work? It also created a connection between me and the person I was drawing – it made them more real as I contemplated who was this Angela Johnson and what defined them.  One of the images was of a woman who had died and it was her daughter who had posted the picture on her Facebook page – strange looking at a ghost of an Angela Johnson that no longer lives. Also challenging looking into the eyes of the Angela who was the first woman to be sentenced to death – how is she different to me? – I found myself wanting to understand what could have gone so wrong with her that she was involved in luring 5 people to be murdered.

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After my drawing prep I spent time considering the style I wanted to work in. I managed to produce a painting in Cathy Lomax/Annie Kevans style for one of the women – I had reduced my mark making down well, however, I felt there wasn’t enough character coming through for the piece – it was all too clean and easy somehow.


I want the overall energy of the collection to be challenging – I don’t want it to be fun or comfortable so I researched Marlene Dumas’s work – particularly the ‘Rejects’ series.  When I saw these works in person last year I was really moved by them.  I, therefore, wanted to experiment using ink with this project. It is not a medium I am experienced with so there were going to various challenges from the outset:-

  • to reduce my mark making
  • to only use 3 strengths of ink to assist with the reduction of marks.  This will also help focus on tone and will encourage my awareness of light
  • to think about the quality of my brushstrokes, the application of the ink and how I would tailor this to each specific image

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I studied a number of the ‘Rejects’ images and noted how diverse the mark making and ink application was.  This is an area I need to work on further, particularly having tried out 12 test pieces on 15 x 15cm squares (see below).  I felt that the textures and application of the ink were not varied enough although I did quite a lot of experimenting, trying different brushes and applying different types of washes then painting on wet, dry pages, or letting the under coat dry and then painting on water before the next layer of ink etc.

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It was a really helpful exercise painting the above as I learnt a lot about the application of the ink and the different methods I could use.  I still need to build further on bringing more texture into the pieces.  On reflection I also think the composition needs to be a bit more dynamic.  They all look a little too similar in the portion of the face that I have chosen to draw so I need to be mindful of that for the main assignment pieces.



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