Saturday, 11 June 2016

Grinding Gears

[Later - at Circle Partner A's request I have removed her work. I'm sorry she has asked me to do this, but am happy to oblige]





These are A's April additions to my Sketchbook Circle sketchbook. It's clear that we're operating on different tracks. She's told me that she prefers not to work into my pages, which I'm OK with, and from that I assume she'd prefer me not to work into her pages. I'm afraid that probably means she's not too happy with my work on those pages, but it's too late to do anything about that now.

[I have, however, now removed all but one of those pages from the blog]

A is of the opinion that working into pages would be like "talking over" me, whereas I feel that it becomes more a work of collaboration, an image that couldn't exist without the input of two people.

She goes along with the currently prevailing idea that students should be allowed to develop their own ideas without interference from the tutor. I ran into this concept at university and found it terribly frustrating. There were times when I would have been thrilled to have a tutor suggest a way forward rather than being constantly asked "Well, what do you think?" I always think, but sometimes thinking needs a nudge. I never got one.

The argument behind this hands-off approach by teachers is that they don't want to produce students who are carbon copies of themselves. In the past this rejected method produced two types of student, at least amongst those with real talent: those who took the style of their teacher and went on to develop and reinvigorate it, and those who rejected it and in doing so, went on to produce something fresh and new. Both of these types benefited from being given a working language to start with.

What I find most difficult about A's additions (and here I must emphasise that I don't dislike them) is that if they are the result of a visual conversation between us, what is she saying to me? How do they relate to my pages? Maybe it's a little too cerebral for me. Still, I'll keep on keeping on.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Sketch Crawl #10 : Customs House, South Shields

The Steamboat, Mill Dam, South Shields
(various markers in A4 sketchbook)

Brick Pillar, Mill Dam, South Shields
(markers in A4 sketchbook)

We'd been putting off our visit to the Customs House in South Shields until we could count on better weather. How much experience of British weather does that display? To be fair, although the day started a bit grey and damp, the sun was starting to break through as we made our separate ways to the banks of the Tyne yesterday. But the wind! Oh the wind! Blasting in from the North Sea and off the river, the wind made finding shelter a real necessity if you didn't want to freeze.

Mike had made a good start when I got there, by drawing a complicated Victorian building that Richard identified as the old River Police Station. It was, as he obviously enjoyed telling us, the place where corpses were once laid out after being fished out of the Tyne. Fascinating though this might be, the building was nevertheless a busy concoction of  brick and sandstone Neo-Classicism, so I headed of for something more basic.

My first choice was the brick pillar standing opposite the Customs House. I still can't decide if it was built as a chimney or as a brick tower or pillar, perhaps supporting a navigation light. Built of rendered brick it just stands there, uncelebrated, except by pigeons courting on the top.

In the shelter of a brick wall, I was able to stand in comfort and draw the entrance to The Steamboat, "CAMRA Real Ale Pub of 2015". Interrupted only by a young woman who walked past me up and down the hill four or five times glued to her mobile phone, telling the world and her friend about how awful her boyfriend was and what he'd done on Facebook, I got the drawing done in about an hour. And my only regret is that due to seriously mismanaging the dimensions of the front wall, I had to reduce the number of windows from three to two. But as my Mum would have said, a man on a galloping horse would never notice.

3.30 and coffee in the Customs House cafe called. By the time I got there, some were already sitting and Anita was being indecisive. Cake or scone? Or maybe a panini? Or what was that other thing on the menu? 

Eventually we all sat down and after eating and drinking, we passed our work around. As usual it was all fascinating and Kim kindly allowed me to include this photo of everyone holding up sketchbooks. Well, everyone except me, which probably accounts for my glum look. If you look carefully, you can see I'm eyeing up the lonely book at the front of the table (Jenny has mine).

Anita, Mike, Me, Richard, Allan and Jenny
with Kim behind the camera.

Next Sketch Crawl : 9 July 2016, 1.00pm at the Ouseburn Farm.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Sketch Crawl # 9 : Holy Trinity Church, Jesmond, and the Dene

Churchill Gardens, Jesmond
(0.8 marker over two pages of A4 sketchbook)

I had a new pencil case (or at least an old one with some new pencils and markers in it) and the weather forecast was for sun all day, even if cold, so off I went on Saturday to Jesmond to meet up with the Sketch Crawlers at Holy Trinity Church.

Richard had the keys to the church and the interior was nice and warm. Outside as always, Mike was across the road drawing the church and new member Jenny was sitting on the church wall drawing from an unusual angle. Janet arrived as I got there and we had a bit of a shufty round the interior.

A sudden flurry of activity announced the arrival in the church of Mike and Jenny, shaking off some unexpected rain and everyone started to draw bits and pieces: windows, microphones, fonts ... But my eye had been taken with a building opposite the church and from the shelter of the doorway I was able to get this drawing of Churchill Gardens done. Actually, the rain soon passed and Anita, another new member appeared, having taken a peculiarly circuitous route from the Metro station.

By the time I'd finished my drawing of the end of Churchill Gardens, the sun was warm and bright and the others had gone round the corner to Pets Corner in Jesmond Dene. I joined them but found the animals annoyingly mobile. Mike showed how good he was at capturing the  likeness of various chickens and ducks, but I couldn't get to grips with all that movement.

Finally, I decided I'd go for the chicken coops and maybe include a hen if it would stay still long enough. As it happened, the hens all buggered off once I'd started and none appeared in the whole time I was drawing. Just as pleased, really.

Chicken Coops, Pets Corner, Jesmond Dene
(0.8 marker and Pentel Brush Pen in A4 sketchbook)

Friday, 29 April 2016


Lindisfarne Boatshed
(Oil on board, 8 x 8 in)

Coves Haven, Lindisfarne
(Oil on board, 8 x 8 in)

On Monday I went back to my old studio, unpacked the oil paints and finished off these two paintings over two days. There was always going to be the problem of drying, but a judicious mix of W&N Underpainting White and Liquin helped them dry by Thursday, when I handed them in at the North of England Art Club in Newcastle.

After handing them in, I made a final attempt to find my lost pencil case. The only place I hadn't checked was the Discovery Museum where we held our February Sketch Crawl, so I asked the nice man behind the desk if it had been handed in.

He was very helpful, even reading out some of the items that had been handed in.

"A ham sandwich and a bag of cash?"

"No", I said.

"A wallet with £100 in it?"

"Yes, that's the one!" but he was having none of it, and didn't find any mention of my pencil case either.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Sketchbook Circling

While I'm waiting for the two small oils to dry (water-mixable oils don't seem to dry much faster than ordinary oils), I have some time to get on with Becca's sketchbook for the Sketchbook Circle

As always, I can't reveal what I'm up to until Becca herself gets the book back, so this teaser will have to do for now.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Water and Oil

I recently agreed to take part in an exhibition by the North of England Art Club at the Bondgate Gallery in Alnwick, the theme of which will be the rather vague "Northumbrian Scenes". There are two restrictions: the paintings must all be 20x20 cm and must all have a fixed selling price of £50.

Having agreed to get them ready by 12 May, I was dismayed to find that the date for handing in has changed to 28 April to allow for their framing. So the last few days have seen me hunting for images to fit the brief and suitably sized boards on which to paint them.

The studio still isn't really set up for oil painting, so I'd have preferred to work in acrylics, especially as I've just invested in a new set of Atelier Interactive Acrylics and would like to see how they perform. But the boards I found already have old oil paintings on them and acrylic over oil paint isn't a very good idea.

Another problem: most of my oil paints are still in the studio at my old house, so I found myself painting with a set of 8 Van Gogh water-mixable oils. Inevitably the colours aren't really those I would have chosen but they provided me with enough colour to cover over the old paintings.

This is where I got today with my two images which are, incidentally, scenes from Holy Island.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Sketchbook Circle : My Seconds Out

Time to reveal the additions and responses I made in my sketchbook sent this month to my Sketchbook Circle Partner, A. The first set of three are pages I prepared last time; A chose not to work on these (there are no rules), so I've added something of my own to them.

The next three are pages started by and added to by me. 

[Later: At her request, I've removed them]


This third set shows a response by me (the matchbox) to a page by (the matches), followed by some additions by me to her pages.

[Later -  here I've again deleted all of A's images, with the exception of the spent matches, which I feel are important to my own contribution]


Finally, we have three new pages by me. I don't regard most of these as being complete in any way, so if A does nothing to them (she can, of course, simply respond with images of her own), I'll be working on them again when the book returns at the end of the month.

Technical note: in working on these, I used black and coloured markers, watercolour, gouache, acrylic paint and coloured pencils, as well as collage, of course.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Sketchbook Circle: Second Round.

I've received Becca's sketchbook this week, so my thoughts turn to additions and responses again. The first image below shows Becca's additions to one of my pages in her book, and the three after that are her new pages.


Sunday, 3 April 2016

Mail Art Envelopes

I'm about to send out my Sketchbook Circle sketchbook to my Circle Partner A, so that she can begin her second round of additions to it. As soon as she's received it, I'll show you what I did in it over the last month.

In the course of unearthing suitable material for the sketchbook, I came across a cache of Mail Art envelopes. I've written here about my short involvement with the world of Mail Art and while these envelopes are far from being works of art in any way, they do demonstrate the sense of fun, anarchy, serendipity and plain silliness the movement embraced. Circulating these through the post was our way of bringing art into everyday life.

Look for collage, rubber stamps, photocopies, magazine cuttings, drawings, marker pens and fake postage stamps.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Sketch Crawl # 8 : Central Station to the Laing

I didn't go to last weekend's Sketch Crawl.

One day, when I was very little, I left one of my toys on the pavement outside our terrace house; within minutes it was gone, probably into the house next door where a family of petty criminals lived. My Mum gave me a good telling off for being careless with my things and I began to learn that not everyone was worthy of trust.

That episode may be the reason I've lost almost nothing of consequence in the sixty-odd years since and why, when something goes missing, I obsess about finding it. Experience has shown that eventually that which was lost will turn out to be that which was mislaid. 

The day before last weekend's Sketch Crawl I realised I didn't know where my pencil case was. An old blue one I've had for over 25 years, it contained my favourite pens and pencils. Despite turning over the stuff on the studio floor and searching in several bags, I couldn't unearth it and still haven't.

Perhaps my little anecdote about the lost toy helps to explain the extraordinary effect the loss of my pencil case had on my mood, especially at a time of year when I never feel good. By the time I was due to get ready to go out and meet the other Sketch Crawlers, I'd sunk really low. So I spent the rest of the weekend trying to find the pencil case. A huge pile of papers was sorted and binned and the studio is now in a much better state than previously, but still no pencil case.

I've put together a replacement set of instruments, although I'm going to have to buy a new Pentel Brush Pen, but even now I still find myself looking under chairs, down the side of the sofa, in bags I know I've checked before, in the hope that the familiar blue pencil case will jump out and shout "Surprise!".

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Luxury, a Green Man and Bill Viola

Pat and I were in Surrey and Hampshire last weekend for a rather late wedding present stay at the Four Seasons Hotel. We had a terrific time and I took umpteen photographs which I've hardly had time to sort through. One I did like immediately, however, was this one I took at an antiques shop in Surrey. This has to be the friendliest Green Man I've ever come across.

After our pampering at the Four Seasons we spent a couple of days in the rather more prosaic Premier Inn next to Kings Cross Station in London. Not as luxurious perhaps, but clean and comfortable and really what more do you need? 

From there we were able to get to one or two galleries. The John Caple exhibition at John Martin of London was shown to very good effect in their new upstairs premises in Albemarle Street and the staff there were, as always, very welcoming. I've yet to determine how Caple gets such creamy whites (just like flake white oil) in his acrylic paintings, but they're lovely.

For me, one of the highlights of the V&A's Botticelli Reimagined was Bill Viola's Going Forth by Day. I'm not usually one for an art video installation, but Bill Viola really is The Man for those. Inspired by Botticelli frescoes, the video simply shows people of all ages and races walking down a path in a sun-dappled wood. Walking in ones and and twos, and in groups, they walk slowly from the left edge of the very long image and leave at the right.

They're dressed mostly quite casually, some of them in sports equipment, and many carry objects - sports trophies, musical instruments, flowers in pots and bunches, suitcases - and the speed of their walk has been slowed by a fraction.

We didn't intend to watch the whole 36 minutes of it but we were drawn in by its mesmerising quality and didn't leave until the old guy with the walker came round again.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Studio Reconfigured

A weekend of clearing shelves, moving furniture and replacing books on shelves has resulted in this new configuration of the studio. I'm much happier with this layout, especially now the desk has moved from the corner to the bigger skylight.

Some of the lighting is still only temporary; and then there's the stuff accumulated in a pile in the middle of the floor which will need sorting out. But hey! I can now walk round it!

Friday, 4 March 2016

Sketchbook Revealed

Now that Becca, my second Partner in the Sketchbook Circle, has received her sketchbook back from me, I can show you the additions I made to her book.

The first four show Becca's original pages with my additions. On her introductory page she spoke of new beginnings but chose to include a number of skull drawings which we tend to associate with death. Working with those apparently opposing ideas, I started thinking about sprouting bulbs and new growth and went on from there in the first three. For the fourth, I had a blank page opposite a skull, so introduced the uniformed figure of "Major Death", complete with military medals.

For the five pages of my own I began by looking at scraps of collage material I had on and heads. Two anatomical diagrams of parts of the head, intended for students of life drawing, came together with a fragment of red stained etching paper on a background of  a map to give me "Skinned". More simply, I found an old photocopy of a cross-section of a head with what appears to be a foetus for a brain and laid it on another fragment of blue stained etching paper.

The girl from Whistler's Symphony in White, No. 2: The Little White Girl was a torn fragment Becca had left in the back of her book for future consideration. I used it with some other ideas of "white" and made a new image.

"Onion Head" happened by accident. While looking for images of sprouting bulbs to use with the skull drawings, I had printed off from the internet an image of a sprouting onion but found it was too big for the any of the skull pages. Laying it down on a blank page, I suddenly saw it as a head; with the addition of a pair of eyes from the front page of an Observer Colour Supplement and some gouache, the mysterious character came to life.

Finally, the "Owl Queen" is a fragment of a photocopied image I put together in my days of Mail Art exchanges. Coming together with another curiously shaped fragment of old cut up brochure and a bright flame-like piece of etching paper, I think I made something mysterious.

Now comes the exciting bit: what will Becca make of all of this? Will she add to my images? Will she find something in them to strike some sparks? Time will tell.

And what do you make of all of this? I'm always interested to hear from you.

Meanwhile, I'm waiting on tenterhooks for my original sketchbook to come back from Ang with her additions.

Monday, 29 February 2016

Mr Walker's Suitcase

Some drawings readily lend themselves to a little colouring in Photoshop. Here's Mr Walker's Suitcase given that treatment.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Sketch Crawl # 7: The Discovery Museum

Mr Walker's Suitcase
Discovery Museum
(Black markers in A4 sketchbook)

Holeyn Hall Turbine
Discovery Museum
(Black and grey markers, A4 sketchbook)

The Discovery Museum in Newcastle has changed quite a bit since I was there last. In addition to a huge new atrium accommodating the famous Turbinia, the world's first steam turbine-powered steamship, there is what seems to be a maze of rooms full of all sorts of engineering and historical stuff. 

Perhaps I should have been more adventurous in my choice of subjects on this, our seventh Sketch Crawl, because others seemed to find things that had somehow missed my attention, and while I thought Turbinia couldn't be drawn, Mike and Richard proved me wrong.

Still, I was happy with my suitcase, carried by a Mr Walker on his voyage on RMS Franconia. I don't know if there's anything special about Mr Walker or indeed his choice of steamship, but the suitcase served to illuminate the possibilities of world travel brought about by the introduction of steamships, in this case by the Cunard Line.

As for the turbine, I wish now that I'd not gone along with the black painted pipes,because although they were what drew me to the subject in the first place, I had to make a decision about the panel bearing the name of the manufacturer, C A Parsons. It was also black but couldn't remain so and still be legible; I think now the drawing would have worked better without the solid black. Oh well, you learn by your mistakes (sometimes).

Finally, as I'm pleased to say is often the case with museums and Sketch Crawls, I can recommend both the Americano and the fruit scone in the cafe, although Allan would rather they didn't serve Lattes in what he regards as glass vases.

Next time: a venue in Newcastle to be decided (Don't you just love a mystery?)

Monday, 22 February 2016

Sketchbook Circle Snippets

(More snippets from Partner B's A5 Sketchbook)

Being full of cold usually means a befuddled head and sure enough, that's what I found I had over the weekend. Nevertheless, because I knew I had to get Becca's Sketchbook Circle book into the post back to her this week, I pushed on and found myself going down strange pathways.

Again, I'm unable to let you see what I've done with her pages until she receives the book and can only post the little snippets above.

What I found fascinating about the whole exercise is that I began working intuitively again, picking out things that Becca's original entries reminded me of, then trawling through bits and pieces of saved paper, magazine pictures and photocopies, and putting them together. Putting them together in a way that seemed to work and at the same time surprised me with what appeared.

I'm really quite excited about this.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Realisation of Space

Snippets from Partner B's Sketchbook

I've spent some time over the past few days working on the sketchbook sent to me by Becca, my Partner B of the Sketchbook Circle. I'm not allowed to show my interventions in her work, or any of my own additions until the book is returned to her at the end of February, but I can share these four snippets.

While working on the book at my desk in the new studio, I came to the realisation that I'm not comfortable working in that corner and that it would be more appropriate to have the desk under the bigger of the two skylights.

As you can see, that means a big job of removing all the books in the nice new Ikea storage unit, taking out the drawers from the desk, switching over the desk for the storage unit and then putting everything back in place.

I'll start ... later in the week.