Sunday, 26 July 2009


Well not strictly haiga inspired, but something I've been mulling over for a few years now, how to bring together the twin worlds of my visual and literary practice. Back in 1989 I self-published a small book of poetry called Blackberry Jam, accompanying my poems with my own illustrations, but since then my attempts have been sporadic. Back (why do I keep going back?) in about 2002 I posted work in progress of a drawing but wasn't really sure how to present the progress in a way that added anything to either the words or the image. I've been, for a long time, sporadic in my efforts, not that I'm not continually doing something but that the somethings are often disjointed, disconnected, I start things that fizzle out and I never finish them.

So maybe I'll not finish this new idea either (maybe not finishing is a good thing, as it means there might still be something left to achieve), this week has been one of those weeks where my head fizzes with ideas. This has it's good and its bad points, the bad being the resulting sense of confusion, and the exhaustion that follows. I have to pluck something out of the fizzle, and here goes.

My idea (actually not a new one for me, though I've never attempted to perfect it in any way) is to simply make an artwork out of the recorded stages of my progress. In this case, I'm starting on a drawing that's already underway, but while the iron's hot...

Below are both my work in progress and the image and words combined, I have yet to think of a word to describe this. I do have ideas about what I'm going to do with them however, more later.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

In the pink

As well as continuing work with my pure coloured pencil drawing (see the two pictures below), I've begun another piece, which I intend to be in coloured pencil again. This time, I began by sanding down the smooth side of a piece of hardboard, then adding several layers of thin gesso mixed with white acrylic paint, sanding down once again between applications. Then, I gave the board another coat of gesso, this time with a pink tint. On this I began my drawing, in graphite pencil, the gesso has a nice tooth to work on with pencil, though it's difficult not to smudge work in progress by leaning on it. Rather than fixing the pencil drawing with fixative, I gave it another coat of this time clear gesso. This smudged the pencil a little, but I didn't mind that at all as my scene is a watery one, another beach scene. Now the pencil is fixed, I'm going to work on it again, maybe with coloured pencil, or perhaps some more graphite again. This is similar to the way I began my Silver Sands of Morar picture, though I hope this time to produce something a little more refined.

The pink gesso beach, by the way, is again taken from a photograph of the silver sands area of the western Scottish coast. The composition this time is quite abstract, with lots of space. An empty beach, my idea of heaven.

I've also been progressing with a pen and ink drawing I began a few weeks ago, it's another slightly abstract composition, smaller than my gigantic tree drawing of last month. Pen and ink, the way I work with it, is extremely time consuming, an aspect I both love and lose patience with. I love it though, because stippling, hatching and cross hatching, can be extremely relaxing procedures. Before the wrist and back ache sets in, that is!

I've done very little with the revision of my novel since last week, and despite my promise not to chase any more literary projects until I have completed this one, I've found myself tinkering with poem ideas, mainly haiku length, or one draft poems. I can't seem to write much these days however, thinking in words has got a bit frustrating and a bit painful for me. It's at times like these I'm glad that I'm 'Jack of all trades' after all.

But there are so many distractions lately, I’ve launched a Facebook page, something which I wasn’t really that keen on doing because I don’t really like the ‘closed’ network thing, it reminds me too much of playground cliques, but after finding a couple of messages waiting for me on my un-developed Facebook account, I decided to give it a go. I must say it’s a very slick and complex set-up, with so many ways of interacting with groups and other Facebook people (even if you aren’t their friends), there are so many poets on there too! I was very impressed, if not a little anxious and daunted once again by the ‘closed network’ aspect of things. Yet the widgets and the ways of bringing into Facebook other elements of your on-line existence are amazing, my main problem turned out to be how not to let myself get carried away with this highly addictive on-line environment. Hours of fun (and anxiety, if you’re like me).

Sunday, 19 July 2009


'Cathedral' by Kevin Atherton

My friend took me to pick my picture up from Cheltenham yesterday, it had failed to be selected for the prize I entered it for. I'm a bit miffed because the frame got bashed, and there were a few scrapes on it and even a bit of what looked like whitewash or emulsion on the glass. I'd delivered the picture wrapped as requested, but got it back unwrapped, which seemed a bit disrespectful and shoddy. Can't say anything though, it just sounds like sour grapes.

Afterwards we drove to the Forest of Dean, parking at the visitors' centre, where there's a cafe, shop and facilities. I was quite impressed by the visitor's centre actually, which wasn't too commercial, blended in quite nicely with the surroundings, and lacked the tacky aspect of the visitor centre at, say Sherwood Forest. (Though Sherwood Forest has some truly awesome veteran trees, and of course, a tremendous appeal being connected with the Robin Hood legend).

We did the Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail, for which you can buy a small fold out map and guide at the shop (£1.00). I'd seen the sculpture trail listed in the July edition of the Artist magazine. The trail is a pretty easy going walk, though at 4.5 miles long (2-3 hours according to the trail map) it might be a bit lengthy for some (though various shortcut options are offered). As most of the sculptures were placed in situ in the mid to late 1980's, they're understandably looking a bit tatty now, David Nash's 'Black dome' (1986) is gradually eroding completely, when we were there it was scrambled over by a groups of kids. Presumably this was taken into account by the artist when he designed the piece. The way the wood had eroded reminded me now of a kind of wooden henge, but the kids jumping all over it certainly robbed it of any 'sacred' feel.

It's a shame that so many of the pieces had aged so badly, or have been damaged by environmental forces, I could see very little appeal in 'In Situ' by Erika Tan, though it was one of the newest pieces, created in 2004. 'Cathedral' by Kevin Atherton (1986) must have once been a dazzling site, a stained glass panel hanging high up amongst the trees towards the end of the sculpture trail, but now the Perspex protecting the glass has yellowed with age and some of the tiny panels have shattered. It's still effective from a distance, but not as sparkling as it must have once been. The most effective pieces for me were Keir Smith's 'Iron Road' (1986) which has aged well, a simple length of railway track each sleeper carved with an image relating to the Forest of Dean, and 'Echo' by Annie Cattrell, the newest piece (2008), commissioned to commemorate the death of Jeremy Rees, who was one of the trail's founders. It is literally a chunk of the surrounding quarry face cast in a silvery resin (it looked and sounded like fibreglass when I tapped it, though I'm not sure if this is the case). There's an element of illusion in this work, and the sculpture is pretty startling when you realise what it is and are draw into the artist's intricate replication of the surrounding landscape. It gives an idea of what the other pieces of this sculpture trail must have looked like when they were new.

'Echo' by Annie Cattrell

Top marks for fun has to go to 'Melissa's Swing', it was raining by the time we reached this point on the trail (the last piece) and I got a chance to sit on this sturdy metal swing and enjoy myself for a few minutes. It brought back some memories for me, I had a swing in the back garden as a child and loved sitting on it. I got pretty muddy feet on this one. Other swings grown ups can have a go on include the ones at Buscott Park, though on a popular day you're lucky if you get a chance to have a go!

It's a shame that outdoor sculpture has to age, but I guess that's part of the relationship of sculpture and elements (and audience) that has to be taken into account when a piece is made. Maybe in this way outdoor or public sculpture has more of a direct link with the natural world, its 'mortality' more obviously writ into its surface than a well preserved piece in a humidity controlled museum environment. That said, it would be nice to see a few more contemporary pieces added to this trail. I enjoyed following the map, without which you wouldn't any an idea of the titles or artists of the pieces (there are no indicators apart from direction posts, the trail being indicated in blue). I enjoyed the trail though, and finding sculptures amongst the dense trees is a pretty good way of getting fresh air and exercise.

The Forest of Dean is a Forestry Commission site, parking at the Visitors' Centre costs £3 per car all day, though you can park for free at one of the smaller car parks, and walk from there to the visitor centre to start the trail if you want.

Muddy feet!

Friday, 17 July 2009


I'm keen to find a personal style, perhaps a more distinctive style, for my artwork. Because the only medium I've really worked at with any steadiness over the years is pen and ink, my colour work is lacking in direction and impact.

I'm also aware that I'm lacking any real philosophy in my artwork, and that I don't really have an intellectual approach. I have ideas but they're not really heartfelt enough for me to get obsessive over them, or to really believe in them enough to carry them through.

One idea I'm toying with came about through my photographing work in progress, especially the mixed media pieces I've been doing. At the moment I'm working on 2 very different approaches to a landscape based on a photograph I took of a seaweed strewn beach. Posted here is the mixed media approach, two stages of it plus various detail shots. Today I've been working on another image based on the same photograph but worked in coloured pencil. I've posted work in progress on my Flickr Page.

Whilst I worked today and yesterday I've been listening to Radio 4 Sports Xtra's coverage of the Ashes. I got into cricket in 2005, when the BBC still had TV coverage rights. I watched it with my Dad, who explained the basics to me of this complex game. This year is the first time I've been able to listen to it since Dad died in 2006, I'm enjoying it, but the enjoyment is bitter sweet as it brings back so many memories. I guess this will always be the case.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009


Although I've worked in Wolverhampton City Centre for 3 years now, I've never set foot inside the Light House Media Centre. Based in the striking Chubb buildings, about 5 minutes walk from the train station, the Lighthouse Centre houses two galleries specialising in photography exhibitions and a cinema showing both art house and mainstream films. There's also a cafe, which had a good write-up in the Express & Star last weekend as a quiet place to go for a lunchtime snack.

I got a bit lost finding my way in, there's no big flashy sign, no bright lights, just the immense bulk of the Chubb building which felt pretty eternal as I followed the huge red brick wall around in search of a main entrance. Eventually I tried a door and found myself in an airy, light courtyard. The information on offer was still pretty low key, and I felt quite adventurous and brave (by my own standards) definitely on unchartered ground. A few steps lead to an atrium area with the faint sounds of a cafĂ© and a quiet bustle of activity. The receptionist was busy chatting so I snuck into the main gallery on the right to see a very moving exhibition of photographs of sufferers of Alzheimer’s and dementia, Accompanying Alzheimer’s: Loss, Love & Laughter by Cathy Greenblat. The exhibition area is spacious and well lit, a very nice space for any exhibition with plenty of room to walk about in. The photographs, which portray dementia suffers from India, Japan, the US and the UK, are tender and yet unflinching images of this aspect of life which often, we prefer to ignore. I did not find it easy looking at these photographs, but I respect and admire the photographer for bringing this aspect of millions of people's lives not only into an art gallery but literally the living daylight. It's easy to ignore that which frightens us, and to see these photographs does not make the fear go away, but perhaps it says that, for a lucky few, there are at least brave, kind and patient people, the carers who are portrayed in these photographs, who attempt to make the end of life that little bit more comfortable and dignified.

I saw in the leaflet that there was a second exhibition space, the Balcony Gallery, and when I asked at reception I was told that there had been a buffet on, and if I didn't mind the food lying around I was welcome to go upstairs to see the exhibition. The young guy behind the reception desk then very helpfully took me across the courtyard and unlocked the door so that I could go upstairs to see the exhibition! I felt like a VIP enjoying a private view. I was a little worried that I might not be able to get out again (I was on my lunch break from this might not have been such a tragedy), but I needn't have worried. Like the Alzheimer’s exhibition, Timeslides, by Simon Cotterill, uses photography to explore the effect of the passing years, only this time, what could have been depressing images of memento mori turned out to be fascinating and for me at least, quite uplifting. The photographer had advertised for people to recreate photographs from their past, the only requisite being that there had to be at least 10 years between the 'then' and the 'now' photograph. Seeing the differences passing time makes on anyone is always fascinating (if sometimes sobering) but this exhibition is far from sombre. If anything, I found it quite inspiring, especially as you have to chance to read the biographical notes in a folder kept in the gallery. From reading these notes, the resilience of human nature was what struck me the most.

I'd love to go back to the Light House Media Centre again, maybe to see a film or have a snack in the cafe. Wednesdays feature a cut-price matinee, £3.00 plus a complementary drink. It seems like a really nice place to escape to from the noise, the construction work and the crowds of Wolverhampton City centre. I just wish my lunch breaks were a bit longer.

More work in progress.

Monday, 13 July 2009


At Wolverhampton Art Gallery at the moment is an exhibition by an artist called Anthony Boswell. Tony and I were students together at Birmingham Poly, so it was really nice to see his work. The exhibition is in a small, well lit area to the left of the main entrance, and the pencil drawings are displayed in an informal way which suits the intimate, domestic subject matter well. None are glazed, but instead they are hung on the wall from bulldog clips, the air of physical fragility this method of presentation suggests mirrors the sombre and fragile subject matter. There is something quite melancholy and slightly claustrophobic about the mostly domestic interiors, my favourites are the drawing of the wedding dressing, and the portrait which is basically the back of someone's head reflected in a mirror. Very subtle. They made me think of the Sickert, Gilman school of English artists from the begining of the last century with a similar quiet intensity. Very nice pencil drawings, nice to see an exhibition of monochrome work for a change too.

Upstairs at the gallery is an excellent exhibition of works on paper, and Tony's one man show complements this nicely.

Detail of work in progress - Coloured pencil drawing of a beach

Friday, 10 July 2009


I had a nice day in London yesterday, visiting the Royal Academy for the Summer Show first. It's always a monster of a show, I've visited it a few times in the past, though it's been a few years since I last saw it. I always liked the little room crammed with small pieces, though there weren't so many really tiny miniatures this year which I've always had a soft spot for. I like the black and white wall in the small Weston room hung by Mick Rooney. Amongst that constellation of black and white pieces is a small drawing by Maria Hartnett, who's work was featured in Artists and Illustrators magazine in their drawing issue last month. It was hung far too high up to scrutinise, which was a shame. The whole exhibition was quite overwhelming, with such a diverse amount of art displayed, famous and not so famous names clamouring on the walls for attention, it made me feel quite insignificant in fact. It was busy too, it's been 3 years since I visited London for an exhibition and I'd forgotten how busy they get, I think I did as much dodging and ducking as I did actual looking at art. Despite that a number of pieces caught my eye, including the still breathtaking John Hoyland (I liked Winter Tiger, I love the texture of paint and the contrasting expressive colours) and the sumptuous Andalusia by Barbara Rae among many others. I also liked Tracy Emin's 'I want it back, that feeling again', I think because I related to the title. But the most beautiful piece of the show for me was Mick Moon's Tree Line. I could have looked at it for hours.

Afterwards, I walked to the National Portrait Gallery (via The Plinth, there was someone reading from Wind in the Willows I think when I walked past later). I went to see the absolutely stunning BP Portrait Award exhibition. I've seen this exhibition in previous years, last year it came to Wolverhampton's Art Gallery. Once again this exhibition was absolutely heaving, most people were scrutinising the surface of the the most photo reaslist pieces to see 'how they did it'. I just marvel at these wonderful works. One of the most moving pieces to me was Virginia, a portrait of the artist's grandmother. The most stylish was Hats and Scarves. The most breathtakingly super-real was Imagine. I also loved Angela from Sri Lanka, which really seems to capture the essence of the sitter.

I paid a quick visit to Corot to Monet in the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery. I was pretty exhausted by this time and was feeling a bit careworn and tired of peeping over people's shoulders at paintings, but I still managed to be touched by the wonderful vivid paintings by Corot, which, for me, stole the show.

The most amusing moment of the day was seeing a group of Japanese girls walking down Tottenham Court Road wearing face masks.

The most annoying was cancellation of Birmingham trains because of vandelism on the Lichfield Valley stretch of line. So it took me FOREVER to get home. But at least it added to the excitment of the day.

Work in progress - 'Scar' Coloured Pencil

Wednesday, 8 July 2009


On Sunday I went to collect my 2 unsold pictures from the RBSA Prize Exhibition. I was so pleased that I'd sold one picture, but I was a touch puzzled as last week Mum took a call from the RBSA to say that I'd sold a different picture to the one we'd seen the red sticker on when we went to see the show a few weeks ago. Anyway, the lady at the RBSA took me downstairs to collect my unsold picture. We found the one unsold picture okay, but the other was not to be found. Upstairs, the young girl on reception checked the records, 'you've sold two pictures'.

I couldn't believe it! I garbled my thanks, my pleasure and my sheer amazement and left swinging my lone unsold picture in my portfolio like a child coming home from a happy daytrip!
To celebrate I treated myself to an Iced Mint Latte at Costa. The attendant was new I think, and messed up my order, but I was so happy I sat on the train for 20 minutes in New Street Station gurgling with pleasure and chilled minty coffee disbelieving how lucky I've been these past few weeks, selling two pictures and winning the Derwent prize. I'd have to go back more than 20 years to the summer of 1984 to think of another such lucky time. Maybe I'll blog about that time later. That was the summer I left school, won a couple of prizes, travelled to London with my father, shook hands with Paul McCartney and started Birmingham Poly' on an Art and Design Foundation Course. It was a bit of a roller coaster.

I've begun a few new pictures experimenting with different approaches. Here are the first stages.

I begun this pen and ink drawing of Mullion Cove about 10 years ago, from a photo' I took on a very happy holiday in August 1998. I abandoned it then and found it again while clearing out some old papers the other day. I stretched it (Rowney Kandahar Ink is extremely waterproof!) and have begun working on it again.