Annotation techniques

“Making an annotation is about ‘purposeful looking’, which involves recording and expanding on key details” (tutor report)

I clearly need to work on my annotations and get more depth to them (re tutor feedback for A1 & A2). So here I wanted to note down what I found out about the Open University study diamond model (as recommended in the last feedback) and combine for my own reference the feedback on annotations in general.

“Try to illustrate your interpretative skills more using a range of sources (extrapolate further on your research – systematically appraise key creative ideas, theories and debates). Continue to show further evidence of a developing critically evaluative and self-reflexive learning narrative.” (tutor report)

So what is the OU study diamond model?

The Study Diamond

The Study Diamond represents an approach to analysing and interpreting texts such as poems, works of art, pieces of music and works of literature. When used methodically, the Study Diamond provides a reliable and reusable formula for arriving at well-argued conclusions when interpreting a particular work. (Open University, 2016)

It’s predicated on the theory that art is supposed to have an effect on you. The top point of the diamond is Effects. Artistic techniques, such as the use of colour, composition and medium are employed in the marking of a piece of art, these techniques have a relationship with way art the effects us. Art work often has a Meaning behind it and that can change depending on its Context.

so more details on those points:

Effects & Techniques:

  1. the way you feel when you look at an art work for the first time or the mood that it seems to convey
  2. the way you read the art work in a particular way, focusing on one aspect of it before others.

Perhaps the most important evidence is that which records your own reaction to these art works. When analysing any art work you should try to trust your own feelings and thoughts about what you see, and record these, rather than referring to other people’s reactions to find out what you should be feeling and thinking. (Open University, 2016)

The model encourages us to record our thoughts and feelings the very first time we see an artwork because the more we study and find out about it these initial thoughts will be changed. Unfortunately I’ve been looking at the Arnolfini portrait for a while now and cannot recall what my initial reactions were.

Next we ‘read’ the art work but recording the way our eyes travel across, into and around it.

  1. What initially catches your eye? Where do you go next? And after that?
  2. Where do you end up? Do your eyes stray away from the work altogether?
  3. Is there anything that you didn’t notice at first but saw later in your reading?
  4. Did your eyes keep coming back to a particular part of the art work?
  5. Is there anything that you didn’t look at or thought wasn’t important?

(Open University, 2016)

Form is the overall shape of the art work and various techniques such as use of colour, medium and arrangement of composition are used to create this.


A useful grid of questions for comparing colour in two paintings:

Technique: painting one Effect: painting one Technique: painting two Effect: painting two
1. Has a wide or narrow palette of colours been used?
2. Have contrasting colours been placed next to each other?
3. Are there more warm colours than cool colours or vice versa?
4. Would you describe the colours as being bright or dull? Are there more bright colours than dull colours (or vice versa)?
5. In what way is dark and light colour used?
      I.        How wide is the range of colour values featuring in the art work?
     II.        Are contrasting colour values present in the art work?
    III.        Are contrasting colour values used to model three-dimensional forms?
   IV.        In what way are the colour values distributed throughout the art work?


For each of these questions we can identify what technique and effect they have. Basic colour theory comes into play when assessing the mood a combination of colours have in an artwork. Contrasting colours may suggest drama or tension in a particular part of  the work because they draw your eye. Tonal values (eg light and dark areas of colours, tints and shades) can be used in paintings to create visual contrast and to model three-dimensional forms.

The breadth of the value range in a painting can be effective in helping to convey mood. For example, a painting comprising mostly dark colour values can make a work appear gloomy and sombre; whereas one with middle range colours can convey softness and harmony; and a painting comprising mostly light colour values can suggest optimism and cheerfulness. Concentrating most of the light values in one area of the composition and most of the dark values in another can be effective in emphasising one area of an art work over the rest. When light and dark values are placed adjacent and are distributed evenly throughout the art work it can give the composition a sense of ‘movement’, causing the eye to move from place to place rather than focusing on one particular area. (Open University, 2016)


1. Does the medium impose any limitations on the way the artist works, or allow any particular effects?
2. Is the medium used unconventionally or is the medium itself unconventional and, if so, does this contribute to the expressive effect of the art work?
3. Does the medium used suggest a particular mood?
4. Does the medium used prompt the spectator to read the work in a particular way?

(Open University, 2016)


comprises of two important factors, the representation of depth and the use of line.

Representation of depth Technique: painting one Effect: painting one Technique: painting two Effect: painting two
(a) overlapping
(b) diminishing scale
(c) atmospheric perspective
(d) vertical placement
(e) linear perspective
(f) modelling


Diagonal lines produce the most energy or movement in terms of the way that they draw the spectator into the pictorial space and control their reading of a composition. Vertical lines can also add movement and energy to an image and can be particularly effective in stopping the spectator’s eye from leaving the pictorial space. (Open University, 2016)

Lines can be directional or contour: consider the impact of vanishing points and directional lines (horizontal, vertical, and diagonal). Contour lines can be used to outline forms; such contour lines can be described in terms of their thickness and sharpness.

Don’t forget to consider the relationships between techniques and effects in the art work in terms of the significance of line in conveying an emotional effect and the use of line to control the way that you read the work. (Open University, 2016)

The other two points on the diamond are pretty self-explanatory, Meaning & Context. For meaning we can take all our ‘evidence’ from our observations above and make an initial interpretation which can be revised in context once we’ve done some research investigation. Its important to keep an open mind about revising our meaning and not hang on to our first instincts when reviewing because in the context of the people of the time the art works were made might be very different from our own views.

Here is some more of the feedback from my tutor reports:

“As your annotation template shows, a good plan to follow when constructing your annotations is to record the materials used, the dimensions and date, and then describe elements in the order in which they draw your eye around the image (including background, light source, tonal values, rhythm etc). Always bear in mind questions of patronage and any interesting or unusual facts.”

“To help you develop your observations take a look at:

  • The rhythm and balance of masses
  • The proportions
  • The weight shift (enhancing the realism of the pieces and implying the concept of movement)

Your chosen images should be surrounded by detailed descriptions, explanatory notes, interpretations and comments about the features of the work, which refer to and evaluate the artist’s manipulation of shape, line etc.

What are the most significant lines in these works? What are the major geometric and human shapes, and how are they used? Look at the modelling of the flesh – is it vigorous? How is it deepened and varied? Are any other devices used to convey a sense of the shifts within the human body?

Try to add to your notes and observations to produce more substantive sections of visual analysis.

Eg: Make sure that your contextual material incorporates a few comments exploring what the pediment would have meant to the Athenian audience. (I.e. aim to enter into a conversation with the ‘moral aesthetic’ and ‘values’ of the city at the time.)” (tutor report)


This model seems quite an effective way to compare works consistently and fairly. It might be a bit late in the day for some initial thoughts on some of the works for Assignment 3 because I’ve already started doing the research and my thoughts and first reactions will have been tainted by ‘expert’ readings of the works.


Tutor reports from Assignment 1 & 2, see my private pdf logs parts 2 & 3.

Open University. (2016) Making sense of art history At:
(Accessed on 15 Aug 16)


6 thoughts on “Annotation techniques”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s