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.