Monday, 24 December 2007

Back from the Brink

Well, that was an experience. I think I'll try a new template some other time, thank you very much. Now I just have to find out what's gone wrong with MyBlogLog which no longer shows me as .. well. me.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Seemed like a good idea at the time ...

With some trepidation, I've switched to the new template. I wonder if I did the right thing? I can now alter the appearance of the heading and such like, but I have so far failed miserably to import my site meter, Technorati tag and other bits and pieces.

And I cannot make the paragraph breaks appear in the posts further down.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

On the Canals of Venice

Vaporetto 2 (in progress)

Vaporetto 3 (1st stage)
Vaporetto 4 (in progress)
I've taken the first vaporetto picture to the Club to continue with it there; these are the others in the series so far.

In the third (second down), I've yet to decide on the background. I didn't like the buildings the vaporetto was passing, so I intend to find a more interesting palazzo to include. No.4 has been painted over an unsuccessful view of The Sage, Gateshead, so there are interesting colour influences creeping into the area of water in the lower half.

Friday, 14 December 2007

King Street, South Shields

King Street, South Shields (Oil on canvas, 19.5 x 24 ins)
Probably the last word on the subject ...

Back from Panama

Back again. A new computer and a different operating system to contend with, but I'm back. Many Thanks to Buddy K and Dr Bob.

And for now, that's all I have to say, except that being out of touch with the ether has led to some of that serious thinking stuff going on. The results of that may unfold in due course. Or not, as the case may be.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Short Intermission

My computer has for some time now been Old & Cantankerous. It has now Passed Away. Bear with me. I'm hoping to receive an almost new one from Buddy K in a couple of weeks. Until then, there will be a short intermission.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Meanwhile, back at the Club ...

King Street (22 Nov update)

I continue to refine this picture. People told me weeks ago that they liked it the way it was, but it's my picture and I know it's not quite there yet.

Friday, 26 October 2007

"Fools and bairns ..."

"... should never see things half done."

Or so my Gran always used to tell me. Which is not to imply that any of my faithful and appreciative readers are in any way fools or bairns. (Well, some of you might be bairns, and that in and of itself is not something to be ashamed of, we all gotta go through it.) But it's by way of getting to the fact that I worry sometimes about posting work in an unfinished state. It sometimes leads to kindly readers telling me how much they like the picture as it is.

If I say the sky is full of mud, it's because it's full of mud (although I admit photography may enhance the quality of the mud) and I intend to alter it. If I give a picture a title which includes words like "(1st pass)" or "(second day)" it's because I fully intend to work on it again and in all probability it will look quite a bit different. It would be as well to take this into consideration when handing out the bouquets.

Oh dear. Sorry to grump. Just ignore me. Continue to make appreciative noises all you want.

I guess I'm suffering from today's recognition that my high-minded determination to get rid of all the second-rate pictures in the studio has foundered so soon. I find myself with a charity auction, a Friends Xmas show and an ad hoc Figure 8 show making demands on me all at once. And I can't put work in those that might be wanted for the more important shows lined up for next year.

Which is why I've spent an hour or two today looking at old pictures, wondering whether they might pass muster if I maybe cut off six inches here or make a minor alteration there ...

Dammit, I'm just going to have to up my output.

Oh, and by the way, I reworked the sky of mud yesterday and will post the result here as soon as I can.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Alfred C. Chadbourn

Most of the good artists I know review their work in their studios at least once a year, to assess the direction of their work and, more important, to find out something about themselves. In my own case, because I tend to be a bit hard on myself, I call this "reviewing the failures." It's at this time that I decide which paintings will go to the dump, which will stay with me for further work, and which will go to the gallery.

With the work strung out along the walls of my studio, I ask myself some tough questions: Is there a thread running through the work that suggests a new or different direction? What seem to be my strengths and weaknesses? Am I relying too much on one set of color possibilities? How could I stretch the color further? Have just about run out of steam on one particular subject? Or could I find something new and challenging by approaching it from another point of view Are there any really blatant influences that have crept into the work without my acknowledging it? These are some of the questions you, too, should start asking yourself to develop your own critical eye.

PAINTING WITH A FRESH EYE - Alfred C. Chadbourn N.A.

Most of the painters I know collect "How to" books, despite their almost certain expectation that the one thing the books will not tell them is "How to." I have a good collection of them, and they stay on the shelves, not because their advice is much use, but because I Like Looking at the Pictures, and sometimes the choice of palette is interesting or maybe there's a bon mot or two.
Despite this cynical view of instructional books, a select few remain as longtime favourites. And one especially has been such a favourite that when I came across another very cheap remaindered copy, I bought it to keep in the studio while I was at University.
The book is "Painting With a Fresh Eye" by Alfred "Chip" Chadbourn (Watson-Guptill, 1987). Sadly, I see it's now out of print and a bit of Googling shows that Chadbourn himself died in 1998. Pity, I think I'd like to have met him.
He seems to have been an interesting character. Born in Izmir in Turkey in 1921, he went to art school in Southern California, where he found the local art collections parochial and dull. Taking a freighter to Europe in 1947, he settled in Paris and opened himself up to the lessons of painters like Braque, Picasso, Matisse and particularly Bonnard, who had died that year.
When he returned to live in New York in 1952, he found that his new way of painting suddenly seemed stale because the Abstract Expressionists were in the ascendancy. He hung out with some of them and began to paint in a similar manner. After a year, he threw most of it away and realised the importance of being true to oneself.
I don't think Chadbourn was a great painter, but his work is fresh and direct, with an exciting use of colour and I certainly wouldn't turn my nose up at hanging one of his pictures on my wall.
Most of all, though, he seems to have been a remarkably adept tutor, judging by his books (there's one other - A Direct Approach to Painting, North Light 1980). His advice is sensible, straightforward and mercifully free from waffle. He's not averse to dropping the occasional name, but when they're of the calibre of Braque, Matisse, Hopper, Diebenkorn and Thiebaud, who's going to mind?
All of which is by way of getting to the quote at the beginning of this post. Although I've often decided that a painting simply wasn't going to work and have painted something new on top of it, I've never thought of taking stock the way Chadbourn proposes. After almost 20 years of painting, I'm beginning to accumulate an awful lot of pictures. And these take up a lot of room. It comes hard to say, "This painting is well painted, but it's simply not good enough to hang with some of the others." There's always the feeling that someone with blunted sensibilities will come along and like it more than they really should. But if I don't think it's good enough, it's not very moral of me to sell it to them, is it?
Very soon now, I'm going to take some time out to sift through my back catalogue and either destroy the poor ones or, at least, set them aside to be painted over. And I imagine I'm going to find that quite a cathartic experience.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Mud in the Sky

Skyscape (2nd pass)

Brought on by collecting my prize for last month's painting competition at the Art Club, a mood of optimism (or was it greed?) made me pull out and start again a sky painting.

Unfortunately, The Grumbler was in garrulous mood and I found I was painting with only half my mind. The other was on the grumbles and thinking of retorts. As a consequence, I'm afraid I've overworked the paint, particularly at the left. Some of the colours have definitely become muddy, although here are quite pleasing specks of colour peeking through elsewhere in the composition.

It's by no means a lost cause, so I've put it on the drying rack and will return to it next week.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

2nd Venice Picture

Spotlight (1st pass)
I was looking for something new to start painting at the Art Club today, so I began to draw this subject out on an old canvas at home. ( This is the third picture I've begun on this canvas and it's developing a nice texture.)

"It would be nice to just get some paint on to obscure some of the more intrusive elements of the previous picture, " I thought to myself. And before I knew it, I was fully into it and the Club was out of the question. Sometimes you have to just go with the flow.

This handsome couple were caught in the spotlight of a vaporetto station as their own vaporetto sailed by. I wasn't sure I could make this one work, so it's not very big (20 x 20 ins), but things seem to be working out. There were several other people on the deck to the right of the couple, but I'm playing them down considerably, leaving them out of the spotlight.

I'm particularly happy that I'm having to think less about the colours I'm using - they're becoming much more intuitive and as a consequence, a lot freer, I think.

I'm more excited about this series than anything else I've done for quite some time.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

New Venice Series

Vaporetto (1st pass)
Although I have a number of pictures in need of resolving and finishing, I realised recently that there's a big Figure 8 exhibition next year for which no work has been started.

What I'm hoping to do is make a series about Venice's fabulous water buses, the vaporetti. I've yet to capitalise on the hundreds of photographs I took there last year and this was one of the subjects I was particularly keen on developing.

It's something of a departure for me, in that it places figures squarely in the picture as the most important element. Even if bits of architecture put in an appearance, the figures are what it's about. This being largely untried territory, therefore, it's important that I make a start.
With that in mind, I began this new canvas yesterday. In a further departure from my usual practice, instead of a coloured acrylic ground, I laid down an imprimatura of terra rosa oil paint and before it was entirely dry, began to paint into it. This has produced some nice brushy paintwork which I'd like to retain as the picture develops.

Sunday, 30 September 2007

Under the Metro

Under the Metro (Oil on canvas, 20 x 20 ins.)
I've spent some time making small alterations to this picture (last seen here) and just generally living with it. I'm content with it now, I think.
Although it was intended for a Figure 8 show in South Shields, concentrating on aspects of South Tyneside, we've yet to be given a date for that show. In which case, I think I might justifiably include it in the show at Gateshead Library next year.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Newcastle Central Station

Newcastle Central Station (Oil on canvas, 20 x 20 ins) SOLD

I worked into the early hours to get this finished for photographing today. You'll see that, after some consideration, I decided the long line of cars at the left were integral to the composition and worked instead on the group at the right.

I have to say that I hate painting cars, but this has worked out satisfactorily for me.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Language Mangle

The Nice Doctor and the Practice Nurse work in a Health Centre. The Health Centre has introduced a touch screen to enable patients to announce their arrival without having to bother the Receptionist.

I touch the screen and it asks me for my birth date. I touch the appropriate month, then the day of the month. The touch screen asks me for my gender.and I touch "Male."

"Welcome Mr Zip, " says the touch screen. "You have an appointment with the Practice Nurse at 11.50. There is currently a delay of 5 minutes."

There is another button to touch to notify the Practice Nurse that I have arrived for the appointment.

"Arrive me, " says the button.


Friday, 21 September 2007

Fascinating Elbow Stories

I went to the surgery on Tuesday to have my stitches taken out by the Practice Nurse. She was quick and efficient, but couldn't tell yet whether there might be a final stitch hidden under a scab.
"Just give it time," she said, "and if, after the scab has come off there's another blue stitch, come back and I'll take it out. Meanwhile, there's no need for a dressing. Let the air get at it."
By Wednesday the scab seemed to have disappeared and the elbow looked OK, if a little red. Of course, the thing about elbows is that, however hard you try, you can never get to look closer than an upper arm's length away.
Anyway, Wednesday night I went out for a pint or two with Mrs Sums & The Architect to tell them of my adventures. On the way home, I thought my elbow felt a little sticky. Sure enough, when I got my jacket off, there were several lines of clear gummy stuff running down from one point of the wound and - worse yet - there appeared to be something ... dangling. Was it me? Was it a stitch? It wasn't blue like the other stitches, so maybe it was me ...
I managed to get it to stop oozing and slapped an elastoplast on it. Then passed an uncomfortable night trying not to sleep on that side.
As it happened I had an appointment with The Nice Doctor today. I wanted him to make sure that at this important stage of my life, everything is working as well as can be expected, but I figured I might as well take the opportunity to let him have a look at my elbow.
First of all, though, he wanted to look at my picture which I'd gone to the Club to collect. He ventured the opinion that it was like a Jack Vettriano, but because he is Nice, I accepted that he meant it as a compliment.
The Nice Doctor eventually decided to look at my elbow. He looked at it and said that he thought, apart from a little swelling, it seemed to be doing well.
"But what about the dangly bit?" I asked, because I could tell he hadn't noticed it and really, it was the dangly bit that was exercising my mind somewhat.
"Aaaah, yes, I see," he said and then told me that my internal stitching was hanging out. Within minutes he'd gone out of the room and come back with something sharp and severed the dangle.
I'm still mentally reeling. My internal stitching was hanging out, for god's sake. I'm coming undone!! I feel like a teddy bear with his kapok coming adrift.

Back at the Club

Central Station (3rd day)
I went back to the Art Club yesterday and tried to pick up where I'd left off. It was a pleasant surprise to find that, while I was away, I won last month's prize for a "holiday painting." Two bottles of wine never go amiss.
As expected, it wasn't easy getting back into the painting of the Central Station and a great deal of time was taken up talking to Plastic Man and others, and drinking coffee.
But eventually I began to recapture the mindset and was able to make some progress. Looking at it at the end of the day, I can see that, with a little more work, the cars will sit OK in the picture. However, I think I may be minded to strip out the long line of them on the left and simply keep the small group at the right. We shall see.
I've been asked to provide an image for possible inclusion in the publicity for one of Figure 8's shows next year. In fact I've been asked for the titles, sizes and prices of all of the work to be included in that show. This will probably be very difficult to do, given that I haven't painted any of them yet!
However, I think this Central Station painting may be one of them. To get it finished in time to provide a photograph, I guess I'm going to have to collect it from the Club and bring it home. Bugger.

Friday, 14 September 2007

Crete gives me the elbow

Banana Palm (A5 sketchbook, Pilot pigment ink drawing pen)

There was a cold wind blowing in from the sea. It flapped and cracked the folded umbrellas as I sat and sipped my ouzo in an otherwise deserted taverna on the harbour front at Chania. Suddenly, a Native American squaw walked by clutching a stuffed fox with a bird in its mouth. A group of inflatable Spongebob Squarepants drifted eerily after her.

Had I read the signs, I should have been prepared for Fate leading me inexorably to an examination table in a hospital in Heraklion, with doctors cutting and tugging at little bits of my elbow, shaking their heads and exchanging knowing glances.

"You shouldn't laugh," Patsy123 had said. I'd made some kind of facetious remark about "Einstein a Go Go" when I first saw the Red Indian Chief with the big feather head-dress, who was playing an electronic flute.

But I wouldn't listen to her. No, I just wouldn't listen.


Despite the six or seven stitches in my left elbow, I enjoyed the last few days in Crete. It was a time of political rallies. Pictures of New Democracy leader Costas Karamanlis were everywhere evident and the New Democracy rally was an exciting and turbulent affair, with car horns , music and Greek flag waving supporters thronging the streets.

By direct contrast, the KKE put up a poor show. Patsy123 and I watched the rally from the comfort of a cafe table near the Morosini Fountain, eating bougatsa. The speeches seemed dull and perfunctory and the rock band lacklustre. We'd hummed a few choruses of the Red Flag and hoped we might get the chance to join in the Internationale - the Left really does have all the best tunes, you know - but it was not to be. After a while they rolled up their flags and shuffled off out of the square looking dejected.

On our last night in Heraklion (and Crete, for that matter), we'd planned to sip an ouzo at a taverna we'd found the night before, then go off for what we hoped would prove a memorable meal. Instead, we found the ouzos was being sipped in a square destined that night to be the site of a rock concert in support of PASOK. So we stayed.

After all the usual sound checks, lighting checks, roadie walk-ons, eviction of small children from the stage, some guy from PASOK -presumably the candidate - made a satisfyingly short speech and the band came on. They were terrific and I'm still desperately trying to find out who they were. It might be that they go by the name of the lead singer - whoever she might be - or they may have a band name; I simply don't know. But they put on a storming concert, still going strong at 11.45, when we decided we really must go to find something to eat.

Less of a tourist place, more of a working city, bars and restaurants don't stay open very late in Heraklion, so we had to settle on a souvlaki joint, complete with formica-topped tables and dogged-eared menus.. Four skewers of pork souvlaki between us, with some chips , tzatziki, and pita bread, washed down with cold draught beer. Great.

A free rock concert and a souvlaki meal. Never mind the fancy food in an expensive restaurant. That was a night to remember.


The banana palm? That was drawn from our balcony in Chania.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Involved and Detached

The comment by Judith Baker on the last post raises some issues about detail in painting. My general approach over the years has been to suggest rather than define, but now and again I find myself drawn to detail to such an extent that I find I'm in danger of getting fiddly.

This is not new and isn't confined to painting. Even when I was cartooning, I'd find myself being sucked into what I think of as "nuts and bolts" drawing, where I'd quite literally end up drawing every rivet in a machine, every stitch on a leather belt. Sometimes this can work, but I have to say that I prefer a more broad approach. It's the way I'm made.

In her excellent book, The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp explores the difference in viewing things in detail and from afar.

The photographer Ansel Adams, whose black-and-white panoramas of the unspoiled American West became the established notion of how to "see" nature ... is an example of an artist who was compelled to view the world from a great distance. He found solace in lugging his heavy camera on long treks into the wilderness or to a mountaintop so he could have the widest view of land and sky.

She contrasts this with the work of Raymond Chandler:

The plots of his stories are often incomprehensible ... but his eye for descriptive detail was razor-sharp.

Chandler kept lists of observed details from his life and from the people he knew: a necktie file, a shirt file, a list of one-liners he intended to use sometime in the future.

Up close was Chandler's focal length. If some people like to wander through an art museum standing back from the paintings, taking in the effect the artist was trying to achieve, while others need to a closer look because they're interested in the details, then Chandler was the kind of museum-goer who pressed his nose up to the canvas to see how the artist applied his strokes.
Tharp suggests that these two ways of looking at things indicate the difference between involvement and detachment, and she finds that her own choreography is constantly being pulled by these opposing forces. She explores the tiny detail of a dance piece; then, when she understands how it's made, she pulls back and views it as if she were the audience. But she finds that, while she is interested in producing dance pieces which tell a story and invoke the detail of people's lives, she finds that harder than a work about broader more abstract subjects, like life force.

I'm in danger of losing myself in this, but what I think I'm trying to say is that although I am interested in the detail of life, I tend to make my images from a distant, slightly detached point of view. And they're meant to be seen from a distance, but if, like Chandler, you'd care to get your nose up close to the canvas, I hope you'd find the abstract quality of the marks interesting, because there likely won't be any bricks to count, grass stems to admire, or stitches on a leather belt to savour.

Pillbox (2nd stage)

The painting of the coastal pillbox is following this approach. There is some apparent detailing of the concrete walls, but get up close and there's not really much to make out. And as for the grass, it's just areas of paint, dragged and scumbled over the initial pumice layer.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Given the elbow, a new series

Shelter (Oil on canvas, 24 x 24 ins)
This painting is from 2001, but it represents a theme I want to see if I can return to.

Despite the injury to my arm - it turns out I have tennis elbow - I've been putting in some vigorous palette knife work on a couple of paintings which I think may go well with Shelter.

Blawearie Steps (work in progress)

I don't think this needs a great deal more work, but I may surprise myself when I return to it. The other I'm less sure of, but I like the subject matter. It's based on a Second World War pillbox lying at the edge of the golf course just beyond Dunstanburgh Castle.:

Pillbox (first stage)

I bought these canvases - they're Loxley Ashgate canvases - in a carton of ten from Ken Bromley at a decent price. They work out at about a fiver a piece. I couldn't make them for that price, even if I could make them of better materials. Still, tennis elbow and all that ... The canvas is only 10 oz., which is a bit light, and they're only double primed. but I've put on another three coats of acrylic primer and they look much better now. In addition, on the Pillbox canvas, I put on a layer of Winsor & Newton Pumice Texture Gel to give the area of the foreground grass a bit of "tooth."

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Isle of Arran

I liked Arran a lot. It reminded me of the Lake District and I suppose, geologically speaking, it might be part of the same mass.

Patsy123 and I had gone there to celebrate some friends' Ruby Wedding anniversary. For the first couple of nights we were in the house the friends had rented in Blackwaterfoot. Then, as more celebrants arrived, we moved into the Kinloch Hotel for a further few nights. Not a bad hotel, although every now and then we could hear a strange rumble like someone rolling a barrel down the corridor. Something to do with the heating system of the swimming pool, I believe.

They certainly served a fine full Scottish breakfast, with a choice of bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, fried eggs, lorne sausage, black pudding, fried tomato, hash browns, tattie scones, baked beans and mushrooms. Far too much unhealthy food, really, but when you're paying for it as a B&B guest ... what the hell, I indulged.

I liked the barman in the lounge, too. He offered what Patsy123 called three measures - single, double and whoops, my hand slipped. My glass of whoops, my hand slipped Laphroaig went down well.

Iron age forts and standing stones litter the island, and in the evening of our first day there, we walked to the standing stones on Machrie moor. Even in the company of other people, there's something a little unsettling about these stones, still standing after 3700 years, witnesses to who knows what on this desolate open ground.

The weather was, as is usual on my trips to SW Scotland, not all it might be, but we got off to a good start. Our first full day there saw me sitting for a while, looking out at a sky and sea of the kind of blues I've only ever seen in the Mediterranean. Wagtails played on the washing line and sparrows seesawed up and down on the pampas grass. A little idyll.

We'd spent that day driving round the island. At Whiting Bay we stopped and walked up to Glenashdale Falls. Pretty good waterfall. While the others went back the way they'd come (why do some people think that flip-flops are the ideal form of walking gear?), Patsy123 and I walked on a little higher, then dropped down on a much better track. The way was lined with the kind of hedgerow I'd thought had disappeared forever - wild fuchsia, roses, crocosmia, rowan, old man's beard, honeysuckle, vetch and yellow ragwort, were only some of the plants I could dredge up from the memory of my long-ago A-level Botany course.
By Sunday, the sun being enjoyed by the rest of Britain was lost to Arran. We sat under a long skein of raincloud and it just poured all day. My sunburn of a only a couple of days previously was becoming a fast-fading memory. There's really only one thing to do on Arran in the pouring rain - go to Brodick Castle.

The Castle is owned by the National Trust for Scotland, and as it's apparently much cheaper to take out membership of that august body and use it to enter National Trust properties in England, we joined.

It was Victorian Day at the Castle. Every room was staffed by someone dressed in Victorian garb, ready to fill you in on the merits and peculiarities of that room. Very interesting, if soon forgotten. There were a lot of rather indifferent paintings on the walls, and some decidedly peculiar ones of fighting cocks which looked like people standing upright in cock costumes. I did find a couple of pictures by Watteau - not great, but interesting - and was very disappointed to find the only Turner in the collection was being restored.

The display of children's paintings in the cafe , some of them reworking Picasso's Weeping Woman , others on a theme of portraits with one eye covered (who knows?) was, however, a good accompaniment to the delicious vegetable soup.

All in all, a good trip, and I still had the midge bites on my scalp to remind me of it several days after I got back.

Friday, 27 July 2007

The painting now standing ...

I'm on the point of starting a new series of work for some of the shows we (Figure 8) have lined up for next year, but I'm short of the canvases I want. I can't make them myself, as I pulled a muscle in my right arm last week, stretching one up. And it's too late to order them this week, as they'd probably arrive when I'm away on Arran next week

So in the meantime, I started a new one at the Art Club yesterday. The view is actually from one of the offices on the same floor as the Club, but it surprised me how many of the Club members didn't recognise it. Even artists go round with their eyes closed, sometimes.

Central Station block-in

Central Station (first day)

Friday, 20 July 2007

Back to Crete!

Aegean Hideaway (Oil on canvas, 20 x 20 ins.)

I've done all I can to this picture, I think. Any more becomes pointless tinkering. I'm pleased with its overall look: it's a step towards an old goal, that of marrying my painting with something of the quality of my cartoons. Not quite real, more decorative, but still rooted in the world.
It's perhaps significant that I should have finished this one today. Yesterday, Patsy123 put together the last pieces of the jigsaw of our Summer holiday. Summer? You remember Summer, surely?

Originally, our plan was to go back to Venice, but the money wasn't really there to do it justice, so we began to look at the possibility of Majorca. I've been once before, and liked Palma and some of the quieter places in the North of the island. But I think we'd left it a bit late to try to fix things up on the Interweb, our preferred method of holiday booking.

So, in fear of not having a sunshiny break at all this year, we settled on possibly my favourite place of all - Crete. At the beginning of September we fly to Iraklion and transfer to Rethymnon for three days. Then eight days in Chania, before heading back to Iraklion for three days there.
And I find I'm so excited about it! It might appear that this was a last option, a consolation prize, but it just ain't so ... I'm delighted to be going back to one of the loveliest places on earth.

Friday, 6 July 2007

Another Beginning

King Street (start)
I promise to start posting some finished pieces of work Real Soon Now, but for now I'm in a getting-them-started kind of mood.
At the Art Club yesterday, I worked on a painting begun at home earlier in the week. It's one to go with the picture of South Shields Metro station, which I've now brought home so I can look long and hard at that tree. The image above is where I started at the Club.
What I like about this image, in particular, is the way the green Metro bridge cuts across the street and forms a counterpoint to the main thrust of the buildings. I may seem to be dotting about in terms of subject matter, but it's my colour experiments which are of most interest to me at the moment, and I'm quite pleased with the way the use of colour is coming along.
This is how I left it when I came home:

King Street (second day)

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Last Week

I got no work done last week . On Monday Buddy K and his wife, Susy Sue, drove Patsy123 and me down to Wokingham in their car and we spent most of the week with them.

Wokingham's relatively handy for London, but the rail fare's a bit of a bugger, so my new Senior Rail Card came in handy. It made it less painful to travel into town to take a look round Tate Britain and later, to see the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.

The show being hyped at Tate Britain is Hockney on Turner Watercolours. It's a bit of a come-on, actually, in that only one room of the show has been curated by David Hockney and there's nothing much to say why he chose the watercolours he did. But as I'd read that in a review previously, and because it's always a delight to look at Turner's watercolours (especially the recently purchased "Blue Rigi"), I didn't mind.

Hockney has some giant watercolours of his own associated in an obscure sort of way with the Turners (the "association" being that they both used watercolours), but not signposted in any way that I could see. It was only as we were leaving, having discovered a lovely Prunella Clough retrospective, that we noticed the Hockneys hanging on the walls of a stairwell off to one side.

There are five of them, each composed of several panels, depicting the same wood at different times of the year. I still have difficulty with Hockney's very strong, almost strident colours (especially his reds and greens of course), but after a short while I warmed to these pictures.

There's an even bigger Hockney painting in the Summer Exhibition. It takes up one end wall of Room III and is painted in oil on 50 canvases. Up close, it looks a bit iffy. It's of a wood again, the trees without leaf, and there are obvious discontinuities between one canvas and the next, both in terms of branches and their colour.

Once you get to the other end of the gallery, however, those imperfections become irrelevant, and the work takes on a genuine grandeur. I realise that scale plays a large part in this kind of effect, but I think Hockney has made a remarkable piece here.

As for the rest of the show, it was mostly very enjoyable. There are always things that I don't like - I failed to be moved by newly-elected Academician Tracey Emin's neon squiggle, for example. In fact I thought it quite pathetic, but really it's not fair to single her out on the basis of her unwarranted celebrity status.

And as for Gavin Turk's "Dumb Candle" ... A candle carved from a sawn-off piece of broom shank. This was given the Charles Wollaston Award of £25,000 for "the most distinguished work in the exhibition." Distinguished? It is to laugh.

Bill Woodrow, who chaired the judging panel, apparently said: "Dumb Candle is an imaginative work with subtle undertones that pick up on several significant art historical moments. The simple candle form is one of the oldest symbols of life.''


But these are minor grumps. There are more than enough good, interesting paintings, prints and sculptures to make up for the Usual Establishment Suspects.

Friday, 22 June 2007

This Week

It's been a busy week. A meeting of the Figure 8 painters' group on Tuesday was helpful. We have a lot of planning to do for our 4 (possibly 5) exhibitions next year and I think we're all conscious of how time can be frittered away until - suddenly - the show is on top of you.

When Newcastle University's Fine Art Degree Show opened at the beginning of the month, I had time only to look at the work in The Hatton Gallery and a few of the First Year Studios. Meeting up with The Frootbat on Wednesday, I got the opportunity to see most of the rest of the Show, although some of it had been taken down. I'm pleased to be able to say that, overall, the work was immeasurably better presented than in the last few years and, from a personal point of view, I was delighted to see the re-emergence of painting as a favoured discipline. Clearly the departure of the egregious Uriah Heep from her post of Head of the Painting School has been like a breath of fresh air.

Back at the Art Club on Thursday, I made some headway with the painting of the Metro Station in South Shields.

Metro (work in progress)

I'm still trying to convince myself about the tree. It started life as leafless and looked terrible. When it came into leaf, the awful greeny-ness of it fought like hell with the red, blue and yellow. Now that it's been re-clothed in rather browny-green leaves, including quite a bit of cadmium red in the mixture, I think it works better. But I want to look again at some real trees, instead of the ones growing in my head.

Having a little time to spare before I left the Club, I thought I'd have a go at one of the views I brought back from the Lakes. I'm experimenting with a palette knife at the moment, so most of this was done with one, the paint thickened up somewhat with Matt Spectragel.

It's OK; better perhaps than I expected it to be, but more work will be needed and I suspect I'll do that with a brush.

Lakeland Farm (first impression)

Monday, 18 June 2007

Rugs & Icons

Rugs & Icons (oil on canvas, 16 x 16 ins.)

Monday, 11 June 2007

New Rugs

I was a little unsure how to continue with Cretan New Town, in that the colours I was using were being developed fairly intuitively. To move it along, however, I felt I needed to understand my colour palette properly, so that I could make the appropriate choices when it came to finishing off. That took me a while, but I finally realised the scheme is organised very loosely around a triad of cobalt blue, permanent rose and a non-specific yellow (combining with the rose to make an orange)

I haven't worked up the nerve to test this out yet.

Instead, over the weekend I started another based on a rug and icon shop I found in Crete a couple of years ago:

Rugs & Icons (beginnings)

I worked on it again today and this is how I left it:

Rugs & Icons (2nd day)

Friday, 1 June 2007

A Picture with All the Trimmings

Cretan New Town (second pass)

This painting is turning into something of an adventure for me. The colour is much hotter at the moment than I would normally use, and there are odd things going on in the buildings themselves.

The people of the town have taken down their simple old church and erected something much grander, high on the hill above the harbour. A cypress has shot up alongside it. The blue and green yacht that was moored in front of the big pink wall has sailed off and the harbour is quiet.

I'll be interested to see what happens when next I go there.

Meanwhile, it's not only the New Town which was hot today. Gateshead basked in delightful June sunshine and I took the opportunity to tidy up the garden a bit.

Last year I borrowed the hedge trimmer belonging to John TwoDoorsDown. It was kind of him, I thought, and even kinder of him to remind me to beware of cutting through the cable. Suffice it to say, however, his caveat fell on ears of purest cloth.

I cut through the cable.

After that, things in the hedge department of Stately Zip Mansion have got out of hand. First of all, the hedge between here and Bob Eh's place has just about died. I suspect it suffered from tarry fumes when I had the garage roof re-felted and since then it's struggled to produce a handful of leaves at one end. The rest is brown and withered. Mind you, it doesn't seem to have affected the local blackbird who sits in it singing and pretends that he can't be seen.

Worse than that hedge is the way ivy and berberis are slowly consuming the garden wall and until today were creeping out across the pavement. I noticed the Council Man who drove round the other day on his little electric scooter, spraying perfunctorily at the weeds in the pavement, had to give my ivy a wide berth. I think I saw it twitch towards him as he sailed by.

Finally, the hedge between Stately Zip Mansion and that of Lucy Smooth has become a definite embarrassment. It's another berberis, I think, of an attractive pale gold and Lucy Smooth often says how much she likes it, especially when she flexes her elderly arms with her little clippers and tries to get it under control.

I'd have done something with that one, if no other, but for the first time blackbirds decided to build their marital nest in it. There was much toing and froing for quite some time, but whether there were any progeny I'm not sure. I suspect if there were, they emerged while I was in the Lakes.

Anyway, the blackbird presence meant that the trimming of the hedge had to be delayed.

Last week I invested in a hedge trimmer of my own. A cordless. No fool me. And today it worked like a dream. Every hedge in sight, including the Lucy Smooth side of the pale gold berberis, got the hedge trimming treatment. I even used it to cut down the thistles I found lurking under the banks of ivy.

I think I feel how the Pilgrim Fathers must have felt, after they'd cleared the forest and planted beans and corn and whatever and piled all the leafy cuttings into their big green wheelie bin. Ready for a big juicy steak, sliced from the rear of a bear or something.

I'm not actually looking forward to my lemon sole and broccoli.

Thursday, 31 May 2007


Erotokritos (Oil on board; 12 x 12 ins.) SOLD
At last! These pictures done at the Art Club do seem to take a long time to complete. But in this case, I feel it was worth the wait; I'm well pleased with this one.

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Cretan New Town

Big Pink Wall (lay-in)
This place doesn't really exist.
I tried to make a painting of the bottom part - the pink wall - some time ago, but gave it up as a bad job. Leafing through some print-outs today, I accidentally laid a couple of different places on top of each other and something clicked in my head.
So here we are with a new imaginary little town, somewhere in Crete. As it moves along, I think I may change it some more. Could prove interesting, to me at least.

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

A Useful Day

At the River's Edge (Oil on board; 24 x 12 ins.)

I guess that's about enough on that one (although I may check the lower part when the paint is dry and add a a bit of a darker glaze to bring it down a little). Then it's up on the wall at the Club to see if I might win something.

I figured it was about time I started on some work for next year's show in South Shields, even though we don't have a definite date for it yet. This is the subject I liked best from my first foray into Sandancer country. Now that it's under way, I think it looks very promising.

Metro (start)

To round off the session, I played about with the sky on one of my small landscapes that have been troubling me for some time. They just seemed a little dull, so I've been adding dramatic skies. I put a new one on this last week, and again a couple of days ago, but I still wasn't satisfied. Today's looks more likely to stay, although in different light I find the green I introduced as a reflection of the landscape itself has turned out to be somewhat strident. So I'll probably be having another go at it some time soon.

Catterline Sky (ongoing)

Thursday, 24 May 2007

Near & Far

Erotokritos - third stage

It's been a long week of paperwork, research trips and the like, without much in the way of painting being done at home, so it was something of a relief to pick up the brush again at the Club.

This painting is just about finished. I've lightened the orange banner. which meant the paint was too wet for me to paint in the lettering. I'm not always in favour of lettering on pictures, but in this case, the word EROTOKRITOS was what attracted me to the scene in the first place, so I want it to go in.

I started in on another old one, but my confidence in getting it to work was not as great as it was with the others. I started it about five or six years ago, after my first visit to Venice, and left it more or less like this (although I've now trimmed it to a square):

Canal: first state.

After an hour it looked like this:

Canal: second state

No great advance on the original state. It's proving difficult for the same reasons I gave up on it the first time - the buildings in the distance are awkward in their lack of definition, while the foreground elements are heavy and clearly structured. This ought to make for an interesting contrast, but I think it has eluded me.

I'm also uncomfortable with the overall composition, with it's insistent perspective which doesn't sit well with my current thinking, so I've decided not to continue with this one.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Seven Secrets

Bee Skelton has tagged me. Each person tagged must give seven random facts about themselves; things that are a habit, unusual or that no-one else knows, as well as the rules of the game.

Since all the other bloggers I know are impervious to meme-tagging, I won't be passing this one on. My apologies to those who've gone before.

  1. I always like to have at least one pair of red shoes in the house.
  2. I am an acknowledged expert in a little-used musical instrument.
  3. I believe in the use of the correct spoon for every meal.
  4. I was once the guest of honour at a world event
  5. One of my eyes is both the same.
  6. I used to smoke but never inhaled.
  7. I have been known to make up things about myself.

Friday, 18 May 2007

Another Rescue Mission

Erotokritos - 1st stage

This is another picture I've had in the studio for some time. In fact, I probably started it over two years ago. I can't say why I didn't finish it. I liked the subject, but other things intervened, and there's no doubting that I prefer starting pictures to finishing them.

Yesterday dawned without my having anything new to take along to the Art Club. Again. There's one I want to get finished - I owe it to the Man With the Talent as payment for this computer - but for now the original Photoshop manipulation is hiding from me somewhere in the studio. Or elsewhere in the house.

There was nothing for it, then, but to take along the unfinished Erotokritos. It was difficult getting back into the picture, not least because boats can be problematic forms and these needed to be embedded properly into the composition. It was a real mistake not to have pushed on into that area in the first place.

Nevertheless, I was able to make headway and this is where I was when I packed up to go home yesterday.

Erotokritos - interim

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Trees & Water

Trees & Water - 1st stage

As part of an attempt to revitalise the Art Club and generate greater membership involvement in the wake of The Secretary Fiasco, there's now an on-going themed competition at the Club.

Last month we were invited to put up a still-life painting and members were encouraged to vote on the "best". I think there was a bottle of wine involved, not least in several of the entries. I didn't bother putting anything on the wall, but this month the subject chosen is "Trees and Water."

I wanted to see if I could get anything out of the many photographs I took on the recent trip to The Lakes and an off-cut piece of MDF winked at me and flaunted its interesting shape (it's actually a double square). So here's today's beginning. Inevitably, I find the greens worrying, but overall I'm quite pleased with the way it's going.

More work, especially on the trees, tomorrow.

Roy Harper

Looking a bit like a thinning Catweazle, Roy Harper strode onto the stage in Hall Two of The Sage, Gateshead, last night and within minutes had the audience - including Patsy123 and me - in the palm of his hand.

I'd wondered whether, at 66, his voice might sound a little frail, but I soon found that wasn't the case. If anything it's stronger than before, and even the high notes and falsetto were delivered faultlessly. He used a reverb on a lot of the songs, but that was always his special sound. I seem to recall that in the early days he was criticised for (somewhat self-indulgently) singing into the sound hole of his guitar.

He was accompanied on a good part of the set by a guitarist from Liverpool, Matt Churchill, who also did a warm-up before Harper came on. His entirely instrumental set showed what an excellent rhythmic musician he is, but with one exception, I thought maybe he could do with a course in melody lines.

Chatting between songs, Harper proved himself to be, not the cantankerous old git his pre-publicity had suggested, but a charismatic and funny speaker. Many of his anecdotes , cut loose from any pertinence to the song he was about to sing, free-wheeled into often bizarre territory, but there was almost an element of the rant when he spoke of his loathing for world leaders and for organised religion.

His song list contained a number of songs new to me, but he delighted the audience, many of whom were obviously long-time followers, by singing some of his best-loved, including the John Peel favourite, When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease. Even the song which got him into so much trouble with the owners of the Blue Boar Service Station was paraded and I gladly joined in the chorus (Watford Gap, Watford Gap/Plate of grease and a load of crap), if only in a mouthing stylee.

He reckons he has to give up touring to get some writing done, but promised that, after one, maybe two albums of new songs, he'll be back.

I'll be there to see him.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007


Lemba (Oil on board) - work in progress

There's a companion piece to this Lemba painting, called Beyond Lemba; both from 2000, neither of them finished.

The reason I find myself harking back to them is that, in a kind of synchronicity, two references to Cyprus have climbed over the garden wall and stared me in the face. The most recent is a comment from Bee Skelton on my last post. The other is a pair of videos of the Cyprus College of Art in Lemba on Robbie Bushe's blog.

I've been to Cyprus twice. Once in 1999, when I stayed in Polis-

Polis Plaza (Oil on board - sold)

- and again in 2000, this time in Paphos..

This wasn't the best of times for me, so I didn't get all I might have out of the visits and my memories are filtered through a disagreeable haze. But I do still think of the long-eared hedgehogs I watched each night on the outskirts of Polis and the time spent in Limassol:

Limassol Cathedral (Oil on board, 10 x 10 ins.)

Most memorable of all was the day I had in Lemba, at the Cyprus College of Art. I was a year off graduation and still in the frame of mind where further education seemed the right course of action. Looking round the College in the hot sun, it felt like a place I could settle into and get some interesting work done. Like one of Proust's madeleines, Robbie Bushe's videos have brought back that time in all its many colours, both light and dark.

Events conspired against me and I never did get to enroll at the Cyprus College of Art. Maybe it would have done me good to go. Maybe not. That's all very much chaff in the wind now. I'm still here. Let's see what Gateshead has to offer today.

Monday, 14 May 2007

The Prestige

On the plane back from San Francisco I whiled away the hours by trying to watch The Prestige. I had to contend with a tiny screen in the back of the seat in front and some earphones that interrupted the sound when wobbled in their socket - something they did with ease.

Despite all of the discomfort, I enjoyed the film. I'd been hoping to see it for some time. It's based on, and follows quite closely, the novel by an old friend of mine, Christopher Priest.

Yesterday, I got the opportunity to see The Prestige properly, or at least as properly as a DVD on Patsy123's little TV could provide. It really is a terrific film, cleverly plotted and beautifully dark and moody. The structure of the novel has been altered slightly to keep secrets hidden until the very end, and this really does work to its benefit.

As an aside, I've read a number of comments about the "ludicrous" nature of David Bowie's accent (he plays the real-life scientist, Nikola Tesla), but this just seems like knee-jerk bitchiness. It's not a big part, but I thought Bowie handled it with sympathetic underplaying.

Finally, for those who've never come across Chris's fiction, I heartily commend it to you.

In the Meme Time

I've been tagged with a meme!!!!! (I exclaim in my best JonnyB voice)

Lesly Finn has tagged me with a meme from Christy's Coffee Break called In the Spotlight. Here are my answers to the interview questions I've chosen from the list of possibles.

Is this your first meme?
Yes it is.

When did you start blogging?
Three years ago.

What do you hope to accomplish with with your blog?
When I started, I intended it to be something like a fanzine, a field I've had some experience in, with contributions from friends, emails as content and like so. But when I found there was a lack of support for the idea, I gradually morphed it into something more like an artist's journal.

The acquisition of a digital camera has speeded up this process, by allowing me to post much more of my work and show some of the processes in its making. Ultimately, I intend to tie it into a website of my own, so that there can be greater two-way traffic.

However, I still harbour an interest in writing as a skill in itself, so the occasional piece of writing, almost for its own sake, is always likely to appear.

What is your worst quality?

What is your best quality?

What is your favourite childhood memory?
Hard to choose. It's either :

  • Riding on the footplate of an 0-6-0 shunter in the marshalling yards in Edinburgh

  • Stealing a pencil stub from the Co-op.

Are you a spiritual person?
I'm spiritual in the sense that I feel a metaphysical connection to the world and I suspect there may be an underlying force in nature, which can be sometimes alluded to in art. I'm not a spiritual person in the sense proclaimed by the organised religions, whom I generally condemn for encouraging ignorance and superstition and on whom I blame many of the endless miseries of the world.

What is the weirdest thing that ever happened to you?
Being born.


In my turn, I hand on the Black Spot to:

Ian Gordon Craig - an artist whose on-line journal always fascinates.

Marja-Leena Rathje - another artist; her prints are quite lovely.

Anna - with funny taste in music but always a good view out of the window.

Winchester Whisperer - interesting political commentary.

Secret Simon - who may get something out of the moral and spiritual questions.

I crave their forgiveness.

Thursday, 10 May 2007


Naxos (Oil on canvas; 20 x 20 ins.)

I was a bit pushed for time today and couldn't find my source material for a new painting to start at the Art Club. This is becoming something of a regular occurrence and must be Attended To.

Anyway, I decided to finish off another picture which has been lying around for almost a year. This is how it looked when I started today.

Naxos (interim stage)
You can see it didn't need much more to get it to stand up and talk for itself and I think I'm just about done with it.
I like the island of Naxos a lot. I must have been there something like half a dozen times and always find the gloomy passageways of the old town, the Kastro, fascinating. The buildings are mostly Venetian, of course, and probably sowed the seeds of my passion for Venice itself.

Monday, 7 May 2007

Back from Little Langdale

Slaters Bridge (4B pencil, sketchbook)

This is the first drawing I made, in the first flush of enthusiasm for Little Langdale. My enthusiasm for the place never waned (indeed we've already made a provisional booking for next year), but as is often the case, I found it increasingly difficult to find things in the countryside I wanted to deal with.

Nevertheless, Slaters Bridge did get me back to draw one end of it.

Slaters Bridge (end) (Pentel Brushpen & watercolour, sketchbook)

And as always, there were collapsed and rotting trees everywhere.

Tree Form (Pilot disposable fountain pen, sketchbook)

Given that the weather was outstandingly good, with temperatures up to 21C each day and clear blue skies, I found myself wanting to walk more than in previous years. My planta fasciitis seems to have improved, leaving only a little numbness in my big toes, and it was a joy to get out on the fells; unencumbered by heavy weather-proof clothing, the walks reminded me of past holidays walking in Crete and France.

The food was especially good this year. The Three Shires Inn was only 100 yards away and served us well with steak & ale pie, game pie, Cumberland sausage studded with black pudding, and pints of Hawkshead Red and Coniston Old Man. In between, the Mad Doctor made his chilli and his flapjacks, Tall Tony his five spice chicken and I my chicken curry. Plastic Man just ate it all and entertained us with his illiberal remarks. And Raymondo? Well, he's from Sunderland.
Every year these trips seem to involve one or more detours to art suppliers to see what might tempt us to part with money. This year I bought a bottle of Indian ink, because I remembered I had a dip pen with me, but never got round to using it. Last year, I bought a tin of Derwent Inktense Pencils and didn't use them, but as I'd brought them along this time, I thought I'd give them a go.

Finding myself on one of many wrong paths, I stopped for a while to draw these rocks and decided to add some colour with the Inktense Pencils. I think the drawing was probably better before I added the colour, but you have to make mistakes to learn.

Rocks by The Dubs (6B pencil, Inktense Pencils, sketchbook)
The pencils are interesting, despite their limited success this time, because once you've added water to them they become insoluble. You could then work over them with other media, like pastel or oil pastel, which could be worth investigating in the future.
I put this on the Things To Do mental pile.

Saturday, 28 April 2007

Shutters down on Boogie Street

I'm closing up Stately Zip Mansion for the next week and heading off to The Lakes. It's time for another Compo & Clegg Painting Week, this time somewhere in Langdale.

Seven days of drawing, painting, arsing about and exploring the insides of country taverns. I'll try not to be bored.

I suggest you do the same.

Friday, 27 April 2007

Some days you eat the bear ...

... and some days the bear eats you.

Arrived at the Art Club yesterday to be greeted by a doleful Prospective Buyer. The Prospective Buyer's Wife had failed to come up with the necessary enthusiasm for buying my Wobbly Bridge picture. I put it in a bag and brought it home.

After a few hours of energetic painting, I realised that all was not well with my Old Gadgie and Buildings picture. In fact, I had to acknowledge that it was never going to work. I painted over it with the remaining paint from the palette.

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Explain yourself!

Writing an Artist's Statement is one of those tasks I hate. Like many painters, I'm of the view that the work speaks for itself, but in these days of work having to be explained, Statements are obligatory.

I usually approach this onerous task by looking at what I've written before and seeing if it can be tweaked, enlarged or fused with another piece of fluff I've written to come up with a text that reads like it might possibly mean something.
I've just done it again for a proposed Figure 8 show in Darlington. We've been given the show, in fact, but the dates are yet to be arranged. Looks like four shows in the bag for 2008.

Anyway, this is what I ended up adding to our proposal:

The majority of my work is derived from the urban environment. I have long been fascinated by the play of light on buildings and my paintings have been constructed on strong compositional underpinnings based on the effects of sunlight and shadow. However, I am also increasingly concerned with the role of figures in urban spaces, where the mood may be mysterious and unsettling, or riotous and turbulent. The tonal approach I originally employed has given way to a brighter palette where colour can be seen to carry the main thrust of the painting. In addition, a greater emphasis on frontality and gesture signify a renewed concern for the integrity of the picture plane.

I'm not sure that this necessarily applies to the work I've been doing recently, some of which I've posted here. But one of the uses I find for such a Statement is to tell myself what it is I want to do, what direction I want the work to take. Whether it works that way remains to be seen.

Monday, 23 April 2007

Happy St George's Day

Rose detail
The flags and bunting are out on Boogie Street and the fiddler is tuning up for the Rapper Sword Dancers. I smile benignly out at them from my window in the tower of Stately Zip Mansion and wish them all - and you - the very best for England's national day.
And while we're at it, let's also remember England's great playwright, William Shakespeare, who contrived to be born (1564) and die (1616) on St George's Day.