Visual Research: Kate Downie (b.1958) – working on location

My tutor suggested me to look deeper at the works and her working approach of Kate Downie (b.1958). She is a U.S. born Scottish Artist who works in and with landscape, working on location with ink and charcoal. She is a member of the RSA (Royal Scottish Academy).

Kate Downie did some journeys through China in 2011 and 2013 where she accomplished various drawings of the country and the townscape of Bejing. She did not only used her sketchbooks but also took much larger scale works that she made eg. on a table in the streets. So quite some traffic of people she was interacting with I assume.  She embraced the chinese ink painting technique in a kind of western fusion contemporary approach. She developed this techniques while working together with Chinese ink painters.

One of her aims is to convey beauty in even ordinary objects, like drawing mountains from observe pile of rubbish. By that she mixes the traditional and more romantic view with today’s reality in her contrasting works.

One of her location approach is to draw large, on rolled paper, and include even parts of the surrounding e.g. grass and mud particles – done with the act of rolling, tapping on the ground etc. By that she fully embraces drawing on location and conveys the emotion of being there. The quote of E.Munch “art is not what you see but what you saw” fits quite well to her approach – a quite interesting statement. For me quite true and compared to photography art (drawing or painting) on location can include so much more of the emotion and atmosphere.

Some of her other projects were:
– The coast road diaries (2009) -a personal collection of the impression visiting different locations. Downie calls her works not ‘landscapes’ or ‘townscapes’, but rather ‘edgescapes’. This to convey her feeling and notion of the subject as being at the edge between road and coast as well as at the edge of her own experience.
– More recently the exhibition work and her residency for the 50th anniversary of the Forth Road Bridge (2014)

Overall, Downie is interested in the conceptual thoughts of seeing and interpreting a scene in front of her. Working on location gives her much more intimate and direct way of expressing her emotions and the atmosphere than working only in a studio.

A few works that got most of my attention:

  • LOST IN CORSICA’ , 2003
    Charcoal and sea map collage on paper (100 x 200cm)
    [online image]. Private collection. Available from:  [Accessed 25 May 2015]
    => a 1:2 format of a super wide angle viewpoint (panorama? looks more like with a fisheye lens) that gives an interesting focus on the center and diminishing sizes of the objects to the left and right. Drawn in charcoal, interesting the added collage of the map
  • Hill Farm’, 2006
    Charcoal and watercolour on primed paper (100 x 168)
    [online image]. Collection of the artist. Available from: [Accessed 25 May 2015]
    => priming a surface and heavily worked in drawing with charcoal and some watercolor markings.
Kate Downie - 'Lost in Corsica', 2003 and 'Hill Farm', 2006

Kate Downie – ‘Lost in Corsica’, 2003 and ‘Hill Farm’, 2006

    Ink and norwegian house paint on paper (76 x 45 cm)
    [online image]. Private collection. Available from:  [Accessed 25 May 2015]
    => a ink drawing on paper, but with house paint on top to indicate the sun light beaming through the houses
Kate Downie - 'Beyond the Karmsund', 2007

Kate Downie – ‘Beyond the Karmsund’, 2007

On her webpage are many of her past works shown:


  • Working on location, not only making sketches, can be in itself a whole concept and approach to work. The direct exposure and direct translation into markings makes a difference.
  • Working on larger scale on location in charcoal and ink and brush gives gives more space for expression.
  • Interesting her approach to include even particles from the location into the works


Working in context – on location in large scale (A2)

Stefan513593 - working on location in charcoal

Stefan513593 – working on location in charcoal


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