“Select a piece of music and allow your movements to be effected or generated by it while producing a drawing.”

 The piece of music I selected is Olivier Messiaen’s ‘Fete des belles eaux’ (This can be heard at   )

Before beginning my final drawing I spent some time getting to know the music. These initial studies are illustrations of the music. I explored line, shape, texture and different media. I also explored the music with words, allowing the music to suggest the sound through description.



  • depth…a deep resonance…mystery and darkness
  • images of light, flickering, echoing in the dark
  • footsteps, irregular intervals, fading out
  • spiralling upwards, shafts of dark and light, dancing, flickering, waving to and fro reaching crescendo
  • continual contrast
  • a lament, wandering, lost
  • deep sadness, grief…deep water
  • a wail…a yearning…longing
  • distance, far-off meaning
  • beauty of memory, embracing, all-pervading love…continual presence of deep truth
  • a reaching out…a questioning
  • always distance
  • stillness, quiet, fading, echo, nothingness
  • life spiralling forth…humour…joy
  • back and forth, bubbling up…comic
  • tripping movement…then back to the longing, reaching into the distance
  • darkness, uncertainty
  • floating
  • haunting



As one of my targets from the tutor for this module is ‘to think about the best way of achieving your objective through the right choice of media’ I spent extra time in this initial stage thinking through this element. Obviously from the title, the music is descriptive of water and so I did several studies using watercolour.


This was a very productive time creatively but it was very apparent that in using the music in this way, I felt to be using Messiaen’s inspiration. In other words I felt to drawing ‘on the back of’ someone else’s creativity.

It was therefore a right step when the next part of the instruction required me “to introduce an observational element and begin to explore the interplay between gesture and representation.” This however was no easy development at all.

I began to explore at first with a simple self-portrait, listening still to the music and glancing at the image in the mirror for the portrait. This was fine as the music was still very dominant.



However the challenge came when I decided to set up a still life and experiment with this image. The still life contained a jug, a bowl and roses. The intense flowing and rhythm of the music led me to focus on the flowing lines of the objects and my first drawings explored this.



Again I explored different media but the struggle came as the emphasis moved away from the music in my head to the other senses – of ‘seeing’ and of ‘thinking through’ the media element. Immediately I could feel the music becoming just a background sound and I was losing the gestural quality in the drawing. So I went back to using just ink.

All of this exploration had taken considerable time and focus. I could feel that it was time to begin the final drawing and it seemed right after all the preliminary studies to go back to the initial response to this wonderful music and simply let that guide the image, still staying with the still life. By this time the image was in my head so I didn’t need to use the ‘looking’ sense and could concentrate on the listening.

Using an A1 sheet and a large piece of charcoal I just drew to the music. Every line was a response to the undulating haunting movement of the sound. I used my hands and fingers to draw through the charcoal marks and this introduced more tone into the image.


I was pleased with this response. For me it holds all of the movement of the sound and includes the exciting contrasts of sound.

However I didn’t want to leave it there. The studies in the sketchbook using colour had been a failure but I wanted to see how far I could take the image using colour. I selected chalk pastels very deliberately because I had seen what happens to the gestural quality of the drawing if too much thought is happening elsewhere. I selected a very limited palette of pastels and just began to draw with the music playing. By this stage I was not referring to the actual still life in front of me at all – I was looking for an abstract image coming from the music with only a vague reference to representation.


I kept looking at this image which I thought was the final one and there was something I wasn’t happy with the treatment of the roses. They looked superficial and didn’t seem to be part of the image. So I listened once again to the music and was reminded of the contrast in the music with wonderful flowing haunting sounds but also jagged, quick and almost jaunty sounds as well. This contrast in the music gave it a wholeness and I felt that this was needed in my drawing.

So I went back to the image and allowed my mark making with the roses to reflect this contrast.


I decided to listen once again to the music as I studied this image and I can feel that it has captured the lightness, the flowing rhythm of the piece and the rippling effect of staccato sounds. However another drawing is needed to express the haunting depth of the ondes martenot and that would need a complete change of palette. I want to use deep blues, greys and misty whites with only hints of colour to capture this unique sound…a very different still life! The possibilities of creative images are endless from this piece of music.


About pbfarrar

I am an Australian living permanently in England. I have recently retired from the position of Principal of an independent school and have taken up the study of Fine Art with the OCA.
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