Landscape Blots & Spirited Sketches

Landscape blots or “spirited sketches” is a technique developed by eighteenth century artist, Alexander Cozens (1717-1786). Cozens believed that landscape paintings should not be a reproduction of the actual landscape but should come from inside ourselves, from our own instincts; they should be accurate but abstract representations of landscape. I read about Cozens in Chip Sullivan’s book “Drawing the Landscape” (pp 165-166 of the 2004 ed.). I was interested in his ideas of abstract landscape, which seemed ahead of his time (although Leonardo da Vinci thought that landscapes could be inspired by wall surfaces). I quote Sullivan quoting Cozens (ibid, p.167):

“Composing landscapes by invention is not the art of imitating individual nature; it is more; it is forming artificial representations of landscape on the general principles of nature, founded in unity of character, which is true simplicity; concentrating in each individual composition the beauties, which judicious imitation would select from those which are dispersed in nature.” This quotation comes originally from Cozens’ book “A New Method of Assisting the Invention in Drawing Original Compositions of Landscape”, which was first published in the late 1700s. It is a method which, Sullivan says “relies on accident and discovery” (ibid, p.167)

Here is one of Cozen’s landscape blots, The Lake at the Foot of the Crag (pencil with black, grey & brown washes on paper).

I was inspired to have a go at making a landscape blot – so much so that I didn’t think the process through and made the initial blot – in sepia ink – far too dark:

My first attempt at a landscape blot

This didn’t leave much scope for development of detail, so I tried again, applying diluted ink first and then dry-brushing undiluted ink over the surface once the first layer was dry, as Sullivan suggests in his book (ibid, p.167). Here is the second attempt:

The second attempt at the basic blot

This seemed to have more scope for development but I could not immediately see what to do with it and left it for a couple of weeks at this stage…
Yesterday, I sat down to complete it and here is the “finished” blot. I noticed a passage of light through the centre, which I have developed as a path leading to distant hills. A streak across the foreground has become a log lying across the path…! I thought of developing a rock face but this did not work out, hence rather tall trees on the right! Several of the darker lines have not been integrated into the landscape because I could see no way to do this, leaving it open to interpretation… It was fun to explore, if not exactly art…

The developed landscape blot

Another one of Cozen’s blots can be seen here (the British Museum), with more information about his process.


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