Monday, 6 May 2013
South Seas Case (work in progress)
After posting the Ethnographic Case drawing from the Museum Sketchbook, I recently recalled that after I started a painting based on it, I took a photograph; and here it is. Although the painting is tucked away at the back of the studio right now, I think I moved it along a little after taking the photograph and it's possible that I changed the format, taking off the right hand section to leave a square.
I wish I could remember the size of the canvas, because I have some plans to start thinning out large, unfinished work from the studio and I'd be sorry to see this one go.
Tuesday, 23 April 2013
Hancock: Ethnographic Case
(Charcoal, compressed charcoal across two pages of A4 sketchbook)
On one of the galleries of the Hancock Museum was a set of Ethnographic Cases devoted to artifacts from around the world. This one displayed items from the South Seas: shields, unidentified wooden objects and brightly coloured stuffed birds.
Somewhere in the studio, there's an unfinished painting based on this drawing, but I can't locate it right now.
Tuesday, 2 April 2013
Hancock: Hall of the Fossil Tree
(Charcoal, compressed charcoal and coloured Conte across two pages of A4 sketchbook)
Although it probably wasn't intentional, the design of the new curved display panels under the somewhat elderly museum lighting system gave a strange otherworldly aspect to the hall where the fossilised tree stood.
Sunday, 24 March 2013
It was really cold on Friday and the windy was blustery, shaking the tops of the cypress tree outside, but here in Gateshead we were lucky to escape the snow that afflicted most of the country.
As I sat in my third floor study working on the computer, I glanced through the window and spotted this dove settling down on the windowsill. It seemed unconcerned by the light I had to put on as the day darkened and when I went closer to look it simply looked back at me. I left the blinds open so as not to chance scaring it, but it seemed unperturbed by anything I did.
It stayed there for the rest of the night (I checked on it around 1.30 am), but by the morning it had gone, leaving me a little present on the windowsill.
Friday, 22 March 2013
Bamboo (detail) (Chinese ink on Xuan paper)
Today I finally overcame the obstacles preventing me from attending a meeting of Gateshead Art Society. As I've explained previously, I won't be able to work in oils there so water media of some sort will be what I have to get to grips with. Finding subject matter to work that way and a general mental resistance have held me back, so when I realised that today's session would consist of a workshop in basic Chinese painting techniques I figured that that at least would relieve me of the need for subject matter.
The tutor was enthusiastic and demonstrated the basic strokes for painting bamboo stems and leaves very clearly. I have to say, however, that by the time I'd covered the (quite large) piece of paper with bamboo and leaves, I'd probably had enough of bamboo. What I did enjoy was using the brush and learning how to get the best out of it.
When we finished the session by learning how to do the "8 stroke panda" I began to lose patience a little. While I understand the tremendously long tradition behind this kind of painting, it goes against all my instincts to learn a "how to" technique to paint anything. It's like students I've heard asking "How do I paint a tree?" or worse, tutors who tell you "This is how to paint a tree." You learn how to paint a tree by looking at it. I guess you learn how to paint a panda by looking at it too.
As painting an 8 stroke panda was on the cards, I did one. But it looked lonely, so I painted two more. If only there was an instruction on how to paint a bowl of porridge.
Pandas (Chinese ink on Xuan paper)
Monday, 18 March 2013
Hancock: Relic Case (Charcoal and compressed charcoal across two pages of A4 sketchbook)
More a cabinet of curiosities than a modern presentation of scientifically catalogued archaeology, this glass case is just the sort of collected wonder I loved as a child, so it was a delight to find it still there when I was drawing in my fifties.
Sadly, I'm sure the new version of the museum will have declared this sort of exhibit passé .
Thursday, 14 March 2013
Hancock: Moa Legbone
(Compressed charcoal and coloured Conte in A4 sketchbook)
The moa were giant flightless birds in New Zealand and are generally believed to have died out due to over-hunting by Maoris. All that remain are bones like this which hint at what impressively massive birds they must have been.
I really liked the way the bones stood (literally!) in silhouette against the light from the cases in the background.
Tuesday, 12 March 2013
Monday, 11 March 2013
Hancock Main Hall and Gallery (Mixed media)
Not exactly a sketch, but it is in the sketchbook. I started this with a monochrome photograph which I'd photocopied on the library copier. Then I worked over it with coloured Conte sticks and finally ran the result through the library colour Xerox machine, tweaking the effects.
Friday, 8 March 2013
Thursday, 7 March 2013
Shipley Art Gallery (Oil on canvas, 9 x 12 ins)
At the beginning of the 1970s I joined Gateshead Art Society and for a while went along to their Tuesday night meetings in Gateshead's Shipley Art Gallery. It was there that I met Dave Richardson who persuaded me to take an 'A' Level course in Art at night classes and so launched me into a career in the world of art. In the process, I left Gateshead Art Society and although I've thought about rejoining in the intervening years, the Tuesday night meetings were never convenient.
Now, however, the Society has changed its meetings to Friday afternoons and as I'm unsure about continuing membership of the North of England Art Club, I'm going along to my first meeting tomorrow. The facilities at the Gallery are limited and there's nowhere to store wet oil paintings so I'll be forced to return to water-based media, something I have very little experience with but which I've lately been thinking would be useful in my search for a new direction.
If I produce anything worth looking at, I'll be posting it here, but don't hold your breath. I will report back, however.
[Later] I didn't go. There are weighty factors working against me in this regard, but be assured, I will get there eventually.
Wednesday, 6 March 2013
Houses above Staithes Beck (Oil on canvas, 12 x 12 ins)
While I'm still trying out things to find a new way forward, I felt the need to get some finished work done. So here's a new painting, based on the drawing I did last year:
Houses above Staithes Beck ( (4B pencil in 21 x 26 cm sketchbook)
Monday, 4 March 2013
Hancock Museum, Bird Gallery
(Charcoal and compressed charcoal in A4 sketchbook)
I loved this eerie part of the Hancock. It always seemed to be deserted, except, of course, for the stuffed birds in their glass cases who sat on their branches and stared down at me.
Wednesday, 13 February 2013
Hancock Museum, Main Hall 31.10.97
(Charcoal on two pages of A4 sketchbook)
Looking down from one of the galleries, I could work away without being noticed by the punters downstairs. The only problem was that the lighting was so poor up there that it was difficult to see what I was doing.
Tuesday, 12 February 2013
The Side, with Snow (Oil on canvas, 36 x 36 ins)
I recently heard from The Artist magazine that they'd like to feature this painting as their Editor's Choice in the April edition. Of course I agreed, so more when the time comes.
Saturday, 9 February 2013
Fossil Tree (2B pencil over two pages of A4 sketchbook)
In these times of slow progress to who knows where, I think I might return to pages from my sketchbooks. When last I thought about doing so, I couldn't quite decide which of the various sketchbooks I should tackle first, but in view of the recent attention I've given to the Great North Museum:Hancock the obvious is the Museum Sketchbook.
These first two pages from 1997 (my first year at Newcastle University) show one of the newly installed display areas built from MDF, the architect's material of choice. As you can see it had a lot of nicely curved coloured surfaces and umpteen lighting tracks illuminating ..... not a great deal. A lonely fossilised tree takes pride of place.
Thursday, 31 January 2013
Two Emus (Oil on board, 24 x 24 ins)
Thinking about the time I spent in the Hancock Museum reminded me that I did a few paintings based on the sketches and photographs I brought back from there. This rather inadequate photograph is of a painting I did on a piece of blockboard rescued from the skip outside the School of Architecture. Framed up in a nice dark wood frame it still looks pretty good to me.
Tuesday, 29 January 2013
Mind Map (Oil on canvas, 12 x 12 in)
One of the things about having problems with my sight and distrusting my ability to see what I want to see in the world outside, is that I think it encourages me to turn inward, to look at the world of the imagination, of memory and fantasy. So you'd be forgiven for thinking that this painting is a fanciful invention, but that isn't quite the case.
In my first year at university we were given free access to the Hancock Museum which was then part of the university. That was before the Labour Government's enlightened Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Chris Smith, enabled many museums to give free admission and well before it was absorbed into Tyne & Wear's Great North Museum.
The Hancock in those days was still pretty much the way I remembered it as a child - full of dimly lit wooden galleries with rows and rows of cases full of beetles and butterflies and big glass cases with stuffed birds and ethnographic items from far off exotic places. I loved it and did a lot of drawing there as well as taking several rolls of film (I had to source very fast film to get what I wanted).
It was undergoing a makeover, however, with roaring life size dinosaurs being put in and new interactive displays to attract children who think they need modern devices to get their imaginations working.
Looking down from one of the galleries I saw two people pondering a new display which linked various collections in the museum. That's what this painting shows, the original rather poor photograph filtered through time and memory and the interested couple replaced by a man who owes his existence more to the workings of paint than to actuality.
Saturday, 26 January 2013
Puzzle (work in progress)
Once I'd worked out what I wanted this picture to look like, which took me most of the week, the initial stage of painting has gone remarkably well, I think. Because of over- and re-working, the figure has taken on a degree of awkwardness, so that's what I'll have to try to address later, as well as working on the background.
Saturday, 19 January 2013
Dreamer (Oil on canvas, 30 x 30 cm)
I finished this yesterday but as luck and the weather would have it, I couldn't take it to the Painters' Group meeting. It snowed most of the night and although snow fall has eased off today, there's no sign of a thaw.
I got up early to see if I might be able to get to the meeting, but the main road looked bad and the front street was covered in a thick blanket of snow. In addition, the painting was still tacky, which made carrying it in bad conditions not an attractive proposition. I put the central heating on and went back to bed. The painting will keep for another month.
Tuesday, 15 January 2013
Sleeper (work in progress)
It may not be obvious that much has changed. What I've done is refine the image a little, close up the gaps between planes of colour, modify the hair and add toes and fingers. The problem with working on a painting like this is that the paint has to be dry before small additions can be made and inevitably this takes time. My object is to get it done before Saturday, when the Painters' Group reconvenes.
Friday, 11 January 2013
Sleeper (work in progress)
I'm not sure this is necessarily where I expect to end up in my quest for something new, but it feels like a helpful place to pause on the way.
There's a good deal more to do to get it finished, of course, and even then it may simply be what was described to me today as "just a painting of a woman sleeping in a chair." But it feels different and if not on the direct route to the New, at least a useful Sidestep.
Tuesday, 8 January 2013
Canongate Kirk, Edinburgh (Oil on canvas, 30 x 30 cm)
Unravelling a bit of string, I left the darkened corridor last night to see if I might get at least one new painting finished this year. I knew this Edinburgh churchyard painting could be brought to a conclusion very easily; all it needed was the addition of some grave markers and crosses and a bit work on the tops of walls.
I didn't much enjoy the experience of painting while wearing my near distance specs, but later it occurred to me that, given the small size of the painting, I might have been better off using my reading glasses.
Following the string back along the dark corridor, I'm standing here, finger tips on the wall, musing on the quaint Chinese method of making the stretcher on which this picture is completed. It has three sides 30cm long and one, 12 inches long. An interesting problem for my framer.
Monday, 7 January 2013
The Blindfold (Oil on canvas, 16 x 16 ins)
Sometimes I feel I'm in a darkened corridor, inching my way along the wall, my hands outstretched, looking for an exit. It's an exit that may not be there, but there's a reassurance in the knowledge that I can easily find my way back to the entrance.
I'm still having trouble with my eyesight and am waiting for a hospital appointment to see what might be done about it. Meanwhile, I'm learning to cope with a couple of pairs of glasses for the first time in my life. One pair is for reading and they've already proven their worth, in that my rate of getting through books has increased dramatically. I've also been able to make use of them for cartooning because that kind of work I do quite close to the paper. You'll find some of my newly invigorated cartooning skills over on my other blog, The Cartoonist's Hat.
The other pair is for near distance and they're the ones I'm finding difficult to get used to. They're fine for reading the computer monitor screen and even for messing around in the kitchen, but I've yet to summon up the courage to use them for what the optician prescribed them for - painting.
In part, this is because I'm in the middle of a period of Not Knowing What to Paint. I have it in my mind to tackle some subject matter quite different to what I've dealt with over the last few years. These paintings wouldn't necessarily be to the exclusion of all else but they're things I've wanted to get at for a long time, so I set my sights on getting one or two moving - to no avail so far.
Which is where the darkened corridor metaphor comes in. I think I know where I want to go, but finding the way into it is proving difficult. I could just retreat to the known exit and resume what I was doing before, but that's happened before and this time I really, really want to see if there's a different room beyond the one I know.
Wednesday, 19 December 2012
Foliate Head (Fired clay)
I've always been fascinated by the Green Man. Carvings depicting the Green Man are usually referred to as foliate heads and are common in medieval architecture, especially churches, despite the image's pagan origins.
This interest was rekindled recently when I found that foliate heads are something of an obsession with Clive Hicks-Jenkins on his Artlog and that there are one or two more on Phil Cooper's hedgecrows.
A little over twenty years ago I spent the day at Newcastle University doing a clay sculpture workshop with their sculpture technician. At the end of the day I had some clay left over and decided to make something quickly. Working quite intuitively, I found this foliate head growing under my fingers.
Unfortunately, one of the head's leafy "ears" broke off in the firing and is now, if not lost, mislaid. What you can see below is a repair using Photoshop, to give you an idea of what it ought to look like.
One day, I'll colour it. Green, of course.
Tuesday, 18 December 2012
Funchal, from Hotel Sirius. 13 August 1992
(Rotring Art Pen in A5 sketchbook)
I knew when I posted the painting of Madeira that I'd missed out a sketchbook study that was an integral part of the painting. And here it is, found in the sketchbook which I've been using as my holiday travel sketchbook since September 1990.
This is where posting from the sketchbooks starts to get complicated. In the time I've been blogging here, I've posted a great deal from this Holidays Sketchbook, so I think it may not be desirable to post the same things again. But maybe I'm wrong. What do you think?
Wednesday, 12 December 2012
Tree Form, Devon, August 1996
(Rotring Art Pen and watercolour in A4 sketchbook)
One of my first drawings showing an interest in plant and tree forms, inspired by the work of Graham Sutherland, which continues to the present.
This is last drawing in Sketchbook No.2 and a big jump in time from the previous sketch - 1992 to 1996. I wonder if that means there's a gap to be filled by looking at other sketchbooks. As I've mentioned before, I began to buy sketchbooks faster than I could fill them and to use them for specific subjects.
Watch this space if you're interested. There'll be more to come. There's the Museum Sketchbook, the Saltwell Park Sketchbook, the Malta Sketchbook ......
Sunday, 9 December 2012
Still Life, Hotel Sirius balcony, Madeira - 14 August 1992
(2B mechanical pencil in A4 sketchbook)
The day after drawing this table of stuff on our hotel balcony, I decided I'd have a go at the hills to the north of the hotel:
Hill above Funchal, 15 August 1992
(Watercolour and oil pastel on 7 x 9 in.watercolour paper)
Some time later I put the two together and made this painting:
Madeira (Oil on board, 28 x 14 ins)
Not entirely successful as a painting, but it was important at the time. It's still on my living room wall.
Thursday, 22 November 2012
In the Boatyard, Funchal. 10 August 1992 (Mixed media in A5 sketchbook)
Drawn the same day as the previous post, this is a pair of a huge tanks normally floated in the harbour to keep ships from bumping into the harbour walls.
It was probably a mistake to favour the dark local colour of the tanks when drawing this. I should have simply concentrated on the linear and tonal qualities.
Wednesday, 21 November 2012
On the Mole, Funchal, 10 August 1992 (Rotring Art Pen in A4 sketchbook)
It was quite intimidating drawing this huge grab. It towered over me and getting the perspective right was a challenge. Putting the two pages together in Photoshop proved almost beyond me, however, so apologies for the slight disconnect at the top of the drawing.