Thursday, 31 December 2009


I'm putting my drawing aside for now. I think it's finished, though this decision is often the most difficult one to make. Starting a new piece is often fretful, I'm addled by choice and fearful that I've made the wrong decision, from then on, if the decision was right, there are ups and downs, sometimes a horrible feeling of panic grips my throat and either makes it difficult for me to keep still (I'm up and down like a Yoyo, fetching a can of pop from the fridge, feasting on my fingernails), or else I freeze and can only sit looking at what I've done. A radio feature becomes so fascinating that I have to turn it up and give it my whole attention, though of course, my eyes are drawn back to the sticky surface of my drawing.

All that's over for this piece, I think. I've decided to leave the white areas of the foreground tree and the two trees at the extreme left and right of the composition white, for a breathing space, compositional silence.

Someone once told me when I was a student that it can be wise to juxtapose a detailed or highly defined area of work with an area that is more loosely worked. In those days my work tended to be abstract or abstracted, but I'm begining to realise how valuable this piece of advice was and how I should bear it in mind when bringing a piece of figurative work to a conclusion.

I'm going to indulge myself now in a Quorn sandwich (garnished with pickled cabbage with a side order of mixed pickles - a feast as welded to Christmas for me as Santa Claus and Handel).


...and a blot on the landscape...

Finally, I wish whoever reads my final blog posting for 2009 a very HAPPY NEW YEAR.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009


I'm working hard trying to finish a drawing I began about 4 weeks ago, pretty much straight after finishing 'Running Away', which I posted in an earlier blog. I've got an aim in mind, but I don't know whether anything will come of it yet. 2009 has been a mixed bag for me, of changes of direction, surprise successes and disappointments. The disappointments, of course, leave the longest taste. At least for someone with my 'glass half empty' frame of mind.

I'm really pleased with my daylight lamp though, it's allowed me to work pretty intensely through this dark and dreary December day, the sunlight has hardly managed to pierce the raindrops and the grey clouds at all. My eyes have been surprisingly resilient these past couple of days, I've found my nose almost resting on the page again as I get drawn into my drawing, something that doesn't happen so often these days. Not through lack of concentration (though concentration is sometimes a problem) but because of my changing eyesight. It's odd though, it doesn't seem to just get worse, but some days it's better again. I don't know why that should be. But on the good days, I'm not going to complain.

Anyway, here's a picture of the chaotic little corner of what used to be my brother's bedroom, it's where I've been working this morning and even with the heating on it's so cold that I’ve had to pad myself up with sweater, chunky cardigan and body warmer. Our house is such a cold place in the winter.

I think this drawing is the most intensely worked piece I've ever done, I find myself falling into a fugue state while working on it, one day I think I might just disappear into one of my drawings. That should be a very interesting journey.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Running Out of Time

This is probably going to be as far as I'm going to get with this drawing for 2009. I worked myself up into a total Tizz these past few days struggling to get this piece finished for a deadline, get this - for TOMMOROW!! I even contemplated staying up all night to finish it, until I realised that time is one important ingredient in my drawings - as essential as dip pen nibs and ink. My drawings are as much about my own relationship with time, and my often painful scrutinising of the insubstantiality of the passing moment, and it's taken a day of shredded nerves and almost total ruination of a drawing in progress to realise this.

I've always been one of those people who habitually contemplates the impossible - how to grasp the concept of time, to grasp the moment. Which of course is fatal. The moment is not there to be grasped, only to be passed through like the dappled shadow and sunlight of a forest path. Sensational yet insubstantial.

I've always been one of those people who can guess the time without having to look at their watch. Something in me is aware of time passing, and yet at the same time, is totally bewildered by it. The human condition, I suppose.

Anyway, letting go of this particular deadline (for this drawing at least) is necessary for my sanity. I will deliver something tomorrow, but it won't be this drawing. It's hard to accept that I haven't made my own self-imposed deadline, I hate letting myself down this way, but it's necessary.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Lighten up

I've had a new daylight table lamp for my artwork, it was a bit pricey even at half price & amazingly heavy, luckily G helped out with carrying it to the car, I also have him to thank for driving me out to Hobbycraft to make my purchase, ordering on-line was just not immediate enough for me.

I worked with it virtually all yesterday as there was so little natural light, as I get older I find my eyes become tired in dim light, I'm not actually at the point where I need glasses to see close to yet (I'm short sighted so I'm dreading that extra complication), but my eyes are greedier for light than ever these days.

Another purchase I made this month that I'm very pleased with is an iPAQ Pocket PC. I bought my first handheld pc (A Palm) back in about 2000, and I loved it. Being able to scribble my notes anywhere and download them to my PC was great for someone with an overactive brain like myself, I also loved the idea that I could read the freebie out of copyright novels published by sites such as Project Guttenberg on such a tiny device. In 2004 I bought myself an iPAQ Pocket PC which was even better as the transfer of documents from handheld to PC was even simpler with the pocket version of Microsoft Word. Also, I could read fiction, poetry and even illustrated books on my device (and PC) using the free Microsoft e-Reader. A couple of years later I sold my beloved Pocket PC and the infra-red keyboard I'd bought for it for a few quid as I was in desperate financial straits. I regretted it over the years and so a few weeks ago, unable to afford one of the all singing dancing new models, I bought a model similar to my old one on Ebay.

Wonderful value, wonderful service (I had my new-old Pocket PC within days). Me and it haven't been separated since!

A lot of things have changed since I sold my old one, Avantgo, where I used to download freebie reads, has gone, and Microsoft seem to have frozen development of their e-reader, though it's still available to download and you can still get great freebie out of copyright reads from the likes of the University of Virginia's Digital library.

Also, with a little net mooching you can still find loads of games to download, some freebies, and many for just a few pounds. Not having the cash to treat myself to a Pocket DS (or a child to borrow one off!) these freebie games are a great cheap alternative. They're simple, pretty and quite addictive.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Something new, some things old

'Running Away', my current work in progress.

I didn't start work on my drawing today until the best part of this precious November daylight was already burned out. Yesterday I found it began to get difficult to see what I was doing as early as 2 o clock, today was a little better but not much. There was plenty strong sunlight this morning as I painted the inside of our front porch doors, so much so I actually had to work wearing sun glasses to stop my eyes from watering!

But I guess I'm getting to that age now when I need more light to see the fine detailed pen and ink work I like to do and also to make sense of the messy photographs I tend to work from, they're printed out on my desktop printer and my current piece is proving a real pain to make sense of, I can tell you!

I had an idea that I'd like to post an old watercolour here to complement my new drawing, I couldn't find it amongst the inch of protective dust on top of my mother's wardrobe, but I did find these oldies instead. I'm sorry to say they're not in a portfolio but an old carrier bag, still, they don't seem much the worse for it.

Morcambe Seafront, 2004. Mixed Media on Watercolour Board.

It was on holiday in the Lake District in 2004 that I began to find my old enthusiasm for visual art again, it was October and the colours of the changing trees, the evocative mist and the sunsets were just glorious. One evening we drove down to Morcambe, it was out of season and the sprawling sea front was down at heel in the way I always find gloomily attractive. The sunset was a glorious thing. A few days later I bought my first serious coloured pencils, the ever so expensive (and now discontinued) Signature range from Heaton Cooper, a truly wonderful artshop in Grasmere. When I got back home I began these pieces, though I put them away in disgust some time later, totally disatisfied. Now I come across them by accident, they're not so bad I suppose.

Morcambe Sunset, 2004. Mixed Media on Watercolour Paper.

I think these two charcoal drawings date from around 2001/2? I'm really not sure. I know that I hadn't drawn much for a while and they're quite clumbsy.

Graham Snoozing, Charcoal and Conte Crayon on Cartridge Paper

When I was at Poly' I began a practice of doing a Christmas self-portrait. The best one is hidden away somewhere, I'll have to try and find it out. I used to draw myself quite a lot in those days, usually in charcoal and Conte crayon. I exhibited one of them many years ago (not a Christmas one this, but a summer self-portrait) at the Mid Art Show, which was then held at the Dudley Museum and Art Gallery. When I made the drawing below I hadn't drawn for a while and I had problems maintaining my confidence as well as my motivation. It's a pretty lame drawing really. But I have been thinking that I'd like to make a December self-portrait again this year, time allowing. Maybe I'll blog about it here. Maybe.

Self portrait, Charcoal and Conte Crayon on Cartridge Paper

Thursday, 26 November 2009


Colour is good for the soul. So is recognition, on whatever scale. Having a drawing accepted for the Open All Media Exhibition at the RBSA last week picked up my flagging confidence a little. Handing in day was very busy, and I was not surprised to be told when I went to collect my unselected drawing on Saturday that the gallery had received a bumper amount of submissions.

The exhibition, which fills two floors of the gallery as well as the stairwell, contains a nice balance of approaches. There is abstract and figurative work of both 2 and 3 dimensions and variety is very much the spirit of this exhibition. The figurative work ranges from Ryan Everson's large scale photorealist work 'Groucho' and its neighboour Louis Vella's endearing and technically impressive charcoal drawing 'Puppy Love'. Many styles are represented from large allegorical work such as Mark Sheeky's impressively titled 'Two Roman Legionaries Discovering the God-King Albion Turned To Stone' to Paul Hipkiss's moody vinylcut print 'St Mary, Hopesay, Shropshire' and two large and breezy pastel still lives by Ann Wilkinson. I really liked Val Hunt's quirky spider and fly beautifully presented and made from recycled drinks cans, bottle tops and wire. I also loved Deb Walker's 'graceful and evocative watercolour 'Towards Levant from Pendeen Watch', partly for its atmospheric energy and also because this part of the Cornish coast has lovely memories for me.

There were too many pieces on show to take in on one visit so hopefully I'll have another chance to visit again before the exhibition closes on Christmas Eve.

Work in progress - 'Running Away' - Pen and ink.

Thursday, 19 November 2009


I've done no work this week as I've been grounded by a heavy cold. Now, listless and with a head that feels as if it's been stuffed with newspaper, I'm feeling depressed and dull.

This morning I wandered into the spare room where I keep most of my art materials, and the sight of them cheered me up instantly.

I love art materials. I had a poem published earlier this year that was inspired by them, among other things.

In Love With Materials

I am in love with materials
that never produce a thing; kiss the pencil,
bless the paper, the scented pigment
the icon of the paintbrush.

Some strange appeal, to interact
with these things without an idea
of what I am doing, this desire
undoes the artist, the actor with the paintbrush.

On a raft of coloured pencils
the sensual river, flesh
and wood enact their own masterpiece;
to safely love. To be fooled without consequence.

I've had good and bad news this week. I entered 2 pictures in the RBSA Open Exhibition. One pen and ink drawing (which was accepted) and one of my new coloured pencil pieces (which was not). I know I should look on the positive side and be glad that the pen and ink drawing was accepted, but I have invested so much time, energy (and money) into developing my colour work that I can't help feeling a bit crestfallen.

Still, I do look forward to seeing the Open All Media Exhibition at the RBSA which runs from 18 November (the private view's this evening) until Christmas Eve.

Judging by the buzz at the gallery on handing in day (Sunday) I expect there were quite a few entries. I saw several extremely high quality pieces. So I was very lucky to have one piece chosen, all said.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009


I don't know why, but I've always found it difficult to say 'I'm an artist' or 'I'm a poet' or 'I'm a writer', though I've been all of these things at some time during the past 20 years (or more). I'm self-conscious and not very confident when it comes to owning up to what I've always truly believed I am, especially when I have so little in the way of material gain to show for it. And its bad not having the courage to say what you truly believe you are because when other people exclaim what they are, your own lack of courage makes you bitter and resentful of those people. When of course you should just be glad that they have the courage of their convictions, just as you yourself should have.

I'm making a concerted effort at the moment in one particular area of my creative life. I've been researching (well trying to, there isn't exactly a glut of information out there) the route to becoming a professional artist. Twenty or so years ago, when I was a student at Birmingham Polytechnic, and earlier still when I was a 6th former, I had a pretty clear cut idea of what becoming professional entailed. Years of disappointment, unhappy accident, personal misjudgement and lack of self-confidence have fogged my old clear thinking. So much so that I'm having to re-learn what I once took for granted.

I'm starting small. With a business card. Whether I'll actually ever get round to using the business card, that's a different matter. But at least it’s a start.

As usual I've probably tried to pack too much into this small representative of my 'business' presence (visual artistic presence that is). Nothing is ever simple for me, and I fall again and again into the same habit - give me 2 alternatives and I'm spoiled for choice. Crippled by it, in fact. My visual artistic practice falls naturally into black and white and colour, so I got it into my head that a business card would have to display both, because stylistically there are few connections between these 2 artistic opposites. At least none that I can see at the moment. To represent both black and white and colour work I decided to use both sides of the card, with image and details on the front and an additional image on the back.

I found out the standard size of a business card by Googling 'business card' AND 'standard size' AND 'UK' - this turned out to be 8.5 x 5.5cm (in either orientation).

I browsed my folder of digital photographs of my artwork and decided to use 'rootfast', a pen and ink drawing I made 4 years ago on canvas, to represent my black and white work and my current 'in progress' mixed media work of an autumn tree to represent colour. In addition to Rootfast I chose 'Knotty' a pen and ink drawing from 2005, as this shrinks down quite nicely to the business card format and would fit on the back of one of my cards.

I opened the images in Photoshop and made sure that each image was CMYK (because I'm going to print the image out), 300dpi (for best print quality) and I saved copies of each image to work on so that I wouldn't accidentally overwrite the originals.

I set up a Photoshop document with lots of 8.5 x 5.5cm white rectangles so that I can play around with design elements, hiding, showing, moving or duplicating them at will. I typed in the very basic of information required for a business card: Name, artist/materials, web address, telephone number, e-mail and some kind of logo/signature. I've used a basic Arial font for the text and Bradley Hand ITC for the signature, I can always change these later if I want to.

I then began playing around with cropping and erasing parts of my images in Photoshop. For the erasing part I used my old Wacom tablet, which I bought about 10 years ago now.

When I got a design that I liked I cropped it (entering the business card dimensions so that the image would be cropped to the right size) and saved each card in a separate file. I then clicked 'step backward' in my multi-card file so that my card still appears in this file too.

I printed my cards off, decided on an image for the reverse and printed this off too, then glued the 2 sides together to make a very rough mock-up. Which is the stage I'm at now.

More chaotic than business like at the moment.

When I was researching artistic business cards on-line last week I found this great article which has helped me a lot -

By the way, the image on my desktop is by an artist who was featured in November's Artists and Illustrators Magazine, her name is Flora McLachlan and her work has a lovely magical quality about it that reminds me of Arthur Rackham.

Saturday, 7 November 2009


As the last few leaves are shaken from the trees I've been attempting to hold onto the beauty of autumn in all its golden prime with my current work in progress.

I'm currently working simultaneously on a few pieces, the first is a second version of a small pencil drawing I made a few weeks ago. I began with a wash of watercolour to block in the basic shapes of the composition then worked a little with Inktense pencils, then the lovely Colourfast pencils (my favourites at the moment).

I wanted to add a little texture to the smooth paper, so I spashed some paint and then some opaque white gesso onto the paper, then added another wash of watercolour over the top of this then worked further over this now bumpy texture.

I like the way the colour snags on those little gesso pimples.

For my second piece I overpainted a picture I'd started a few weeks ago on hardboard. I didn't like it at all so I simply painted over it with gesso and white acrylic thinking I'd begin an entirely new piece, but then I liked the way the previous picture (which I'd begun in watercolour, acrylic and Inktense pencils) bled through the thin gesso layer, so I began drawing the foreground tree with dip pen in Indian Ink.

To enliven the surface, I spottled some watercolour onto the board using a stiff brush.

I'm now working on this nice scratchy spotty surface with my dip pen and indian ink some more.

I quite like this piece, it's got a suitably Gothic feel. I've been listening to lots of Handel lately, as I often do this time of the year. Autumn always makes me feel particuarly Baroque.

Friday, 23 October 2009

My approach to colour work is different on many levels to my black and white work. I had tried including some pen marks in my colour work but didn't really like the results (that's not to say I won't try again at some point). I've gravitated towards coloured pencil as a mid way point between the graphical approach of pen and ink and a completely painterly approach. This said I find it quite difficult to rein myself in to just one medium, maybe because of underlying insecurity when it comes to using colour. If so, then perhaps a little insecurity is useful when it comes to the visual arts, as maybe this drives an artist to become more adventurous and to stretch their imagination in an attempt to overcome their own shortcomings. This is certainly the case for me.

One way in which I’m working differently at the moment with my colour work is the way I spread my creative energies. I tend to work intensely at one pen and ink drawing pouring all of my energy into one piece, whereas if I work too intensely at one coloured pencil drawing I find that I over work it and end up spoiling it, losing something of the spontaneity and luminosity of colour necessary for a piece to be successful. This is one of the reasons why photographing my work at various stages has become important (almost an obsession) with me.

Also, working on several pieces at once acts as a catalyst for the more analytical side of my imagination. I feel that I have so much ground to cover in my colour work (composition, chiaroscuro and treatment of detail are all areas that I need to work on) that I need to have more than one piece on the go at once, so I can look back from a distance and see where I have come to, and work out the direction in which I will next go.

My most successful pieces so far, I feel, have been the smaller, more intense pieces which explore the shadows and the intensity of colour that exists in the contrast between the light and dark. For me this has an emotional resonance as well as an artistic one.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Art and Worship

On Saturday and Sunday G took me to Dunham Massey and to Westonbirt in search of some Autumn colour. Comparing the photographs I took this year with last its pretty obvious that this October is much less colourful than 2008. That didn't stop me from filling my SD card with lots of autumnal images however, especially at Westonbirt, where the trees seemed in danger of being outnumbered by dogs and people.

Some people seemed much less respectful of the trees than the dogs though, I saw at least 3 grown men plucking leaves from the beautiful Japanese Maples. Their beauty is fragile enough without us helping them along (helping nature to its grave seems to be a particular human pastime).

Then again, it's the fragility of this autumnal beauty that gives it a deeper resonance, and makes it, like all rare things, all the more precious and poingnant. The last few leaves clinging to the branches are the saddest and the sweetest.

I took a few treasures home with me from Westonbirt and Dunham Massey (all windfalls, of course), including these chestnuts and their pods, which I've been drawing. I love Dunham Massey, I've been there 3 times and always at this time of the year. There's a magical atmosphere particularly in the deer park where the deer seem to have remarkable patience with us interlopers. One fine stag was being very patient on Saturday, lying in the frail late afternoon sunshine surrounding by photographers. They crept towards him, crouched down in the bracken as if they were making an act of supplication. Maybe we haven't progressed so far since the days when cave men recreated the images of deer and bison on the walls of their caves.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Life Becoming Art Becoming Life

They say that life sometimes imitates art. Well that's not surprising, as art and life depend on the same material (physical and imaginative) - physically all materials are atoms compacted, randomly coalescing to create the tangible magical substances we call reality. Only in dreams is that which seems tangible not formed of atoms, and is all that we see or experience not formed of some combination of the chemical, the physical and the downright co-incidental (and lucky for us that co-incidences do happen, otherwise most of this world and everything on it would not be here – so my understanding leads me to believe).

This morning I spent trimming back the shrubs that my mother planted about 9 years ago now in our back garden. She got a little bit carried away back then and now we have a small linear forest of various shrubs lined up against the fence, which they have succeeded in punching holes through over the years with their knotty branches, greedy for space and light.

Once I'd recovered from the exertion of 2 hours pruning, I exchanged secateurs, shears and a fretsaw for paint brushes and pencils. I eased myself in by preparing another couple of sheets of paper for future work, basically stretching then staining previously stretched paper with watercolour. My current infatuation is with Ingres paper, that lovely thick textured paper usually used for pastel painting. A few weeks ago I stretched a few old scraps of Ingres paper I found in my paper hoard behind the bed in the spare room where I do most of my artwork. When I finally got round to working on it I was quite pleased with the results, and the base it gave me to work with a new medium, Derwent's lovely Coloursoft range of coloured pencils. I treated myself to a tin of their full range of 72 pencils as part of the Derwent Prize I was very, very lucky to be awarded back in June. I visited their website, where Derwent very helpfully provide a chart of all of their products lightfast ratings. I printed these off, and am carefully checking the lightfast rating before I use any of the pencils in the set (as I am doing with all the coloured pencils I use). I use only those with a rating of 7 and over, though the note on Derwent's on-line lightfast chart reads; 'values of BW6 and higher are considered to be lightfast'. I am somewhat hung up on the lightfast issue, and need really to investigate this further.

Anyway, last night I began working on another old piece of Ingres paper I had stretched a few weeks ago. It's an offcut and a bit of an awkward shape being very long and thin. I found a photograph of a lovely tree I had printed out, loving the graceful shape of the tree and the contrast of still green foliage and crisp freshly fallen golden leaves on the ground. I mentally cropped this image and sketched out my idea on the long skinny Ingres paper, then began lightly staining the paper with Derwent's Inktense colours (using their lightfast charts again to select only those with the highest ratings). I then laid down a wash of clear water to melt the pencil and waited for this to dry before working a little more with Coloursoft pencils, which have quite a different texture (more waxy and subtle) to the Inktense pencils. This morning I worked with more Inktense pencil, staining the paper again, then I sprinkled some opaque watercolour (Windsor & Newton's Artists range) over the leaves, both golden and green to animate the surface a little more. Then worked further in Coloursoft pencils.

I finished off my work for today by splattering some more opaque watercolour and now, I am waiting for it to dry. The splattering, by the way, is great fun. It's just a matter of mixing up some thick watercolour (or acrylic, though watercolour washes off the fingers more easily) then using a stiff brush (I used a square one) to flick the paint in the areas you want to sparkle.