‘Birds, Cliff & Aviform’ Charcoal & Acrylic Drawing. 65 x 50 cm Handmade paper in Dordogne – Moulin Larroque. © Adam Cope

A romance, a dream, a fantasy. These cliffs in Quercy Périgord, where the people of the Ice Age once lived. They mark my mental landscape, as they must have also made a deep impression on the minds of the hunter-gatherers.

Romanticism attempts an affective fusion between person & her enviroment. Science attempts to practice detached objective observation. The person outside of her enviroment. The slow methodical sifting through of data & remains… But can we ever truly take off the lens of our own vision that shapes that which we think we are clearly seeing… Also, can we we ever see as these hunter-gatherers saw? What would they have made of my notions & prejudices? As an artist, not as an archeologist with their attempts at objectivity & science. Prehistoric art speaks to me 30 000 years later. Not as they intended it to communicate … But should we delegate all of our human past uniquely to be the domain of science? ‘We will never truly know what they meant’ as the guide drones on at every visit… But human history is a history of evolution, where one understanding evolves into another. Intentionally or not.

The meaning of things aren’t stable. Anything can mean almost anything – Jasper Johns

However, preamble aside… one thing is certain : Birds live in cracks & holes of cliffs , than as of now. OK Doubtless not the same species. No swifts in the Ice Age? Crows maybe. Owls yes. Buzzards probably not.

But the vertigo of looking up & seeing the birds swirling around. Then as now.


‘Overhang & Birds’ Conté & Ink. A3.© Adam Cope

I also tried to draw the aviform as part of the cliff, as part of the geology, as growing out from the rock formation itself. As a motif that repeats itself , morphing into various transpositions:


‘La Barbe’ Conté A3 © Adam Cope

There’s a good research paper about ‘abstract’ geometric symbols & signs in prehistoric rock art by Genevieve von Petzinger:

While animal depictions are a common theme in most known regions where rock art is present, the choice of what to portray seems to be contextual, with image-makers generally choosing contemporary fauna from their local environment (Rice and Paterson 1986; Clottes 1996).

  AVIFORM (avi = bird)  : Less than 10% of sites worldwide – 30,000 & 13,000 years ago

(aviforms) are also concentrated in the later half of the Ice Age (almost entirely from 22,000 years onwards), strongly suggesting that this may have been a local invention/innovation, rather than having been something that was brought with the first humans who moved to this continent.

Aviforms are also sometimes named ‘Signes du Placard’ , after another painted cave in SW France : Grotte de Placard in the Charente, following the tradition of naming prehistory after eponymous sites, the geographic place where the element of prehistory wa s first found. Hence cro-magnon, Mousterian, Gravettian, etc. (Most of which are found in France by French archeologists & where accompanied by proud nationalist rhetoric of ‘Les Premiers Francais’ …)   Apparently most aviform signs in prehistoric rock art are concentrated around South West France, with a particularly high density of repetition around the Célé valley in the Lot.

In the nearby painted cave of Pech Merle, not far from the cliff in my above drawing, there’s the famous ‘wounded man’.  A conjugaison of aviform sign & a figurative depiction i.e. the sign doesn’t exist on its own (but we don’t know if this is intentional or not, other than comparing to other groupings of drawings in the cave, where again sign & figuration co-exist in the same grouping).  The aviform sign is attached to a drawing of a man with lines coming out from his body. Some have interpreted these as spears. Others such as Professor Lewis-Williams reads them as suggestive of as symbolic depictions of the physical cramps that shamans sometimes undergo before entering a trance state.

A stray thought : why not wings?  The dream of flight occurs to most children & lucid dreamers… a prehistoric superman power cape? Prehistory is full of depictions of humans dressing up as other animals.



Falaise dans le Célé – “L’Élephante”. Lithographie sur Pierre. Edition de 10. 33 x 28 cm. Création Atelier Pierre Presse. Marcilhac sur Célé. © Adam Cope

Stone lithograph of a cliff  –  “the elephant”

‘The Elephant’ – Drawing of a Cliff. Graphite, biro & watercolour. A3 © Adam Cope


We, mankind, arose amidst the wandering of the ice and marched with it. We are in some sense shaped by it, as it has shaped the stones. Perhaps our very fondness for the building of stone alignments, dolmens, and pyramids reveals unconsciously an ancient heritage from the ice itself, the earth shaper.
– Loren Eisley



 Mountains do not lack the characteristic of mountains. Therefore they always abide in ease and always walk. Examine in detail the characteristic of the mountains’ walking.   – Dogen: Mountains and Waters Sutra


Mountains’ walking is just like human walking. Accordingly, do not doubt mountains’ walking even though it does not look the same as human walking. You should penetrate these words. If you doubt mountains’ walking, you do not know your own walking.  – Dogen: Mountains and Waters Sutra


I came to realize clearly that mind is no other than mountains and rivers and the great wide Earth, the sun and the moon and the stars. – Dogen: Mountains and Waters Sutra

spirit oil painting

‘Spirit of The Valley’ Oil painting. 60 x 80 cm . 1995 © Adam Cope

Interesting to see the same landscape view in three different mediums : drawing, watercolour & stone lithography.

stone lithograpgy cliffs & valley

‘La Vallée de Célé’ Stone Lithography 32 x 28 cm € Adam Cope

saulaic drawing cliffs south france

‘La Vallée de Célé depuis Sauliac’ Conté A3 © Adam Cope


‘Célé depuis Sauliac’ Aquarelle 30 x 45 cm Moulin Larroque papier fait à la main, Dordogne © Adam Cope

Different material, different effect.

Each medium is good for certain effects. In the above three images,, watercolour is delicate colours & brushmarks, conté is so immediate & so fresh, lithography is good for  a design, a powerful composition.

But a medium doesn’t simply mean the actual physical material , such as acrylic PVA wood glue sticky glue, slippery graphite pencil, etc.

Nor does ‘medium’ mean the technique  imposed by the physical nature, the touch, the feel of the actual materials …though an artist disregards this at his peril.   For example, if you wish to attain a granulation effect in watercolour, you need to use a pigment that goes into suspension, not dilution & thus will granulate out onto the surface of the paper fibers rather than soak in deep into the paper & ‘stain’ it, which is what pigments that dissolve in water do.

What does ‘Medium’ Mean in Fine Art Practice?

Train the hand, so that the hand knows what to do. This is done by the hand touching the material. Having contact with the world. It is through the hand of the artist manipulating & touching the medium that art arises. It is in the gestures of the artist’s hand that a deep respect & love for the physicality of materials is seen. After all, we artists deal with some of the most gorgeous of our  beloved planet resources : beautiful reds from madder plants, lovely rich carbons from willow, cobalts & lapis lazuri,

File:Lapis lazuli block.jpg

A block of lapis azuli – wikimedia commons

It is said we live in materialistic culture but actually , I see more & more disrespect & contempt for materials.  Trashed, smashed & built-in obselence. Built by a machine, not the hand of man. Cheaper to throw away than to fix. As we enter into the ‘Age of Resources’, a crisis of supply & consumption of raw materails, where a normal european lifestyle requires three planets of resources, what of art? How does this crazy disrespect for materials effect making fine art?

pile of junk

a pile of junk – unloved, uncared for, rubbish, consumerist debris, waste of materials, uncared for planetary resources

When I see the stone flints of where I live, near Bergerac in Dordogne, South West France, I understand why prehistoric man was willing to walk  for weeks & weeks to find these beautiful & useful materials… then learn how to transform them into tools that have even been found as far away as the Ukraine!  Home habilis = habile = dexterious. Home faber = faber = faire= to make ….We owe our existence to things that we make. They shape our experience & perception of the world.

File:Yarmukian Culture -Sha'ar HaGolan, flint axe.jpg

The Yarmukian Culture is a Neolithic culture of the ancient Levant. It was the first culture in Prehistoric Israel and one of the oldest in the Levant to make use of pottery. The Yarmukian derives its name from the Yarmouk River which flows near its type site at Sha’ar HaGolan, a kibbutz at the foot of the Golan Heights. The pictures are fromYosef Garfinkel excavations taken between 1989-1990 & 1998-2004 –  Wiki

A beautiful painting reminds us that the world is made up of beautiful physical materials, though most of us now inter-react with art via print or internet, which has the effect of dematerializing the artwork, so as to become yet another chimera without a body, another figment of one’s imagination.  I frequently am shocked physically when in front of good art. When I saw Gauguin’s painting in the Musée D’Orsay, the size, the burlap, the skin of linoxidation of the rough linseed he used, the sheer scale precipitated a gut reaction in me that mere familiarity with the image’s fame via reproductions did not.

See the world through art materials…

A medium will also determine how the artwork arises, what the artwork can & can’t do & most important of all but maybe the most subtle as well, a medium will shape how the artist gives expression to his vision.

You need to be able to see in the world in terms of your art materials. The medium gives rise to the vision… Too many beginners & too many uncultured spectators (I can’t call them ‘connaisseurs’ because they don’t see the art in the medium; they don’t even see the paint in the painting! and need cajouling to appreciate the hand of the artist) naively think that the art work should look like the world … but isn’t it a bit stupid to confuse , say for example, a tree with an ink stain? No, I believe that an ink stain should first & foremost look like an ink  stain. A beautiful ink stain yes. Yes make it as beautiful as you can. and make it a ‘truimphe d’oielle ‘ yes –  ‘pourqui pas’  and put on top of this all the rest of it: expression, signification, asethetics, – but always first of all, it is an ink stain.  First & foremost this integrity, this respect, this sensitivity for the material itself. It is this deep respect for materials that the hand of a real craftsman.

 The creative process lies not in imitating, but in paralleling nature – translating the impulse received from nature into the medium of expression, thus vitalizing this medium. The picture should be alive, the statue should be alive, and every work of art should be alive. –   Hans Hofmann

I often work in both watercolour & oil painting. I enjoy the translation from one medium to another. Same view, different vision.

oil painting of vines

‘Sept Rangs de Cot.’ Oil on Canvas. 81 x 65 cm (32 x 26 inches approx) © Adam Cope

watercolour of vines

‘Sept Rangs de Cot’ watercolour approx 40 x30 cm © Adam Cope

In this case, the watercolour came after the oil, and so, I consider it to be  a lot more than a study for the oil painting. Some historians tend to classify drawings & watercolours as preliminary studies for a more substantial, more  resolved painting.  Here for example is one of my tonal studies for a painting , but it is  fresh enough, coherant enough to stand alone :

chateau sepia

‘Chateau de Longas’ (Dordogne) Sepia. 32 x 24 cm © Adam Cope



Don’t Fall Off!

falaise- cele - lot - cliff & blue sky - watercolour

‘Cliff in the Célé Valley.’ Watercolour. 28 x38 cm © Adam Cope

some watercolours from last autumn in the Célé valley. Vertigo?

Watercolour of Cliff in the Célé Valley

‘Cliff, Célé – Jean Blanc’ Watercolour 28 x 38 cm © Adam Cope


Watercolor of a cliff blue sky

‘Blue Sky, Cliff #2’ Watercolor 28 x 38 cm © Adam Cope

Impossible blue sky but true…  yes true deep blue with only free wheeling birds 🙂 The blue sky that envelops us all… that evokes a sense of freedom in me 🙂


Big but not very good painting this

‘Grand Roc – Les Eyzies, Dordogne’ – Finished state
Oil on Canvas
86,5 x 76 cm (approx 34 x 30 inches).
© Adam Cope
POST SCRIPT 2013 – i don’t think this a good painting. There’s still a challenge for me : how to paint the rocks & cliffs well? I’ve not yet finished with this yet…

a little aside about small & large paintings

This is a large oil painting & not a small oil painting. ie one dimension is larger than 81 cm or
32 inches. Have you noticed how large oil paintings look kind of far away or difficult to see in small sized jpg’s on the internet ? Wilst small paintings tend to look close up & gain in imapct on the internet @ 500 pixels largest dimension… so see above image for a detail which isn’t life-size but it gives you a better feel.


In the upcoming solo show at Galerie Ap’Art in Marcilhac sur Célé , Lot, (4 July – 31 July. Vernissage – lundi soir 4 Juillet ), I will be showing some of my cliffs & rock paintings.


Karst Landscape – finished state

oil painting of karst limestone landscape

‘Karst Landscape’ (St.Avit de Senieur, Dordogne)
Finished state
Oil on Canvas

large oil painting…



The bright spring sunlight has returned. Seeing it again gave me the prompt that I needed to finish off this large oil canvas fom last year. Sometimes a painting needs a year or two (even more sometimes) before it arrives at completion.

See the work in progress & some commentary in the post : Karst Landscape at the End of Winter (in the category rocks or WIP)

“Karst topography is a landscape shaped by the dissolution of a layer or layers of soluble bedrock, usually carbonate rock such as limestone.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karst

Read about painting & rocks:
  • How to draw rocks & cliffs part one
  • How to draw rocks & cliffs part two
  • How to draw rocks & cliffs part three
  • How to draw rocks & cliffs part four
  • Cliff in the Vezérè Valley – ‘Sous Le Ruth, No.1’
  • Rock Formations – John Ruskin – Prehistoric Shelters in the Dordogne
  • Caves in art – Ruskin
‘Study of a Tuscan Landscape – Val d’Arno’
Pen & Ink, nib on vellum
Approx 15 x 22 cm
Uffizi Museum

‘Study of a Ravine in a Rocky Landscape’
Pen & Ink, nib on vellum
Approx 22 x 15 cm
Windsor Leoni Volume

Been looking again at Leonardo’s pen & inks. I wrote about them here:

I enjoyed reading about them here: http://www.lairweb.org.nz/leonardo/landscape.html

Vasari recorded Leonardo as, “frequently occupied in the preparation of plans to remove mountains or to pierce them with tunnels from plain to plain.”


‘Croix de Renard’ – Detail
Ink & Pastel
© adam cope
I’m not currently planning on moving any mountains, other than maybe a little bit of pottering about in the spring garden;-) And maybe doing some more doodles of rocky landscapes….

‘Deux Bicorne – Bis’
Large oil on canvas

look again at this leonardo oil painting of rocks in one of his backgrounds – wow!


rocks by leonardo on itheir side

rocks by leonardo
on itheir side’
don’t bump your head as you go through!



Limestone macro photograph

Mineral images: Paesina stone

“Paesina – ‘landscape’ – stone comes from Tuscany, Italy. A silty limestone formed during the Cretaceous period, it is marked by a 3D network of fine cracks through which groundwater diffuses bringing oxides of various minerals and creating the intricate, landscape-like colours and patterns”

Photograph: Earth Images Ltd

Interesting on-line exhibition of Earth Images Ltd at Guardian.co.uk
Rocks and minerals – up close and personal

Cliffs at St.Avit Senieur, Dordogne

‘Cliffs at St.Avit de Senieur, Dordogne
Medium Size Oil on Canvas
36 x 48cm (approx 18 x 15 inches).
© adam cope

Not long now untill the cliffs become dressed with a green canopy veil.

‘Sous le Ruth 1’ (dans le Vézère)
© adam cope


Karst Landscape at the End of Winter


‘Karst Landscape’ unfinished state
Large Oil on Canvas
81 x 65 cm (approx 32 x 26 inches)
© The Artist.Detail

Karst topography is a landscape shaped by the dissolution of a layer or layers of soluble bedrock, usually carbonate rock such as limestone. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karst

[marcilhac1-500.jpg]‘Les Anglais, Brenques’ (Célé Vallée, Lot)
Ink, papier Moulin Larroque
© The Artist.

“Athos had a special affection for limestone – the crushed reef of memory, that living stone, organic history squeezed into massive mountain tombs. As a student, he wrote a paper on the karst fields of Yugoslavia. Limestone that develops slowly under pressure into marble – Athos describing the process made it sound like a spiritual journey. He was rhapsodic about the French Causses and the Pennines in Britain; about “Strata” Smith and Abraham Werner, who, he said, “folded back the skin of time” while surveying canals and mines.
When Athos was seven, his father brought him home fossils from Lyme Regis. When he was twenty-five, he was entranced by Europe’s new sweetheart, a limestone goddess that had risen from the earth fully formed, the ” Willendorf Venus.”
‘Fugitive Pieces’ – a novel by Anne Michaels



The Cliffs in the above painting are near to a spring which was a Celtic temple. Over a thousand carvings have been found to date.>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

  • Cliff in the Vezérè Valley – ‘Sous Le Ruth, No.1’
  • How to draw rocks & cliffs part one
  • How to draw rocks & cliffs part two
  • How to draw rocks & cliffs part three
  • How to draw rocks & cliffs part four
  • Rock Formations – John Ruskin – Prehistoric Shelters in the Dordogne
  • Caves in art – Ruskin