Thursday 30 November 2006

A Department Store Calls

Blackett Street (Oil on canvas, 36 x 36 ins)

The Nice Department Store Man phoned yesterday to make an appointment and, as arranged, called round this morning.

He's looking for a picture to finish off a room he's designing for a client of the Department Store and had seen one or two of mine in a gallery his wife works for.

We had a good chat about the Valley and my view of it from the window of Stately Zip Mansion and then had a cup of tea.

Over the cuppa he told me about the voile he'd chosen and the colour of the desk top and how he was hoping to get his clients away from the idea of art prints to Go With The Curtains. I agreed this would be a good thing and that real paintings were much to be preferred.

Then we had a little parade of paintings. It became obvious that what he was looking for was something less strongly coloured.

This amuses me periodically. I used to be criticised for making work that was a bit sombre and gradually I moved into the field of colour. Not simply out of a need to make a buck, but because it was something I felt I wanted to do. Now I get people asking if I have anything a bit more sombre. I suppose it takes all sorts.

Luckily, I think I have the very thing - this painting seemed to hit the spot. Now we await the reaction of his client.

Thursday 23 November 2006

" the time I'd climbed four flights of stairs..."

Another commission finished. This time for some friends, to illustrate an article in their fanzine. This is just a detail.

I agonised over this one. It's a long time since I did any illustrating and I found I wavered from illustration to fine art techniques. The end result is in pencil with some monoprinting in black oil paint.

My friends are happy with it, which is the main thing.

Monday 20 November 2006


I've spent a lot of time just looking at a small picture today. It started life as a picture of Scottish moorland, a field stretching away to hills disappearing in mist, but it never completely convinced me.

A few days ago, I happened to be standing near it and in my hands was an inkjet print of a sky photographed from the window of Stately Zip Mansion. The two came together in my mind and within a minute or so, I was blocking in this new sky on top of the hills of the painting.

It's curious now. I'm not sure what it might be a picture of. Patsy123, looking at it this weekend, thought it was a picture of a lake. It's beginning to look like a lake to me too. Oddly, the field has indeed taken on the aspect and colour of a lake. The clouds at the far side now begin to be hills and perhaps trees.

I might let the picture take me there. It needs more work and it's always possible that the accidents of paint will change its direction. We'll see.

(House on a Hill, 12x12 ins, oil on canvas)

I rather like it when a painting starts to take on a life of its own. This one began life as a daytime picture of a castle somewhere in Dorset. It never quite worked and as I played with it, the river came into existence, followed by the trees, then the castle became a house and the moon came out to light it up.

A complete surprise to me.

Sunday 19 November 2006

Pictures at an Exhibition

Fettercairn Distillery (Oil on canvas, 12 x 12 ins)

Evening Sky (oil on canvas, 12 x 12 ins.)

Big Dave and I went to the opening of the Friends' Exhibition yesterday. I have three pictures in it. These are two of them.

Saturday 18 November 2006

Big Dave

Big Dave arrived. He brought with him a bottle of M&S Islay single malt whisky. He was not unwelcome.

I summoned up my most creative kitchen mode and made a pasta dish of wholemeal penne with smoked bacon, onions, garlic, celery, plum tomatoes, a few sliced black olives, chilli, a pinch of thyme, a bit of chicken stock and a couple of teaspoons of anchovy sauce. It was grand, even if I say so myself, and Big Dave, who puts himself forward as something of a Big Man in the Kitchen, was interested in the two teaspoons of anchovy essence which had lent the dish a piquancy he had not been able to identify.

"Oh, just a passing reference to puttanesca," I posed.

Smoky bacon and anchovy essence being the salty elements they are, we resorted to making sure there were two empty spaces in the red wine racks in the kitchen. And then we had to find out if the M&S whisky was any good (it most definitely was), but not before we'd done a mutual sampling of an interesting sloe whisky I picked up last month.

And so to bed, grateful that we'd not wasted our time buying drink in the pub.

Friday 17 November 2006

A Blustery Day

I heard by email today that the painting arrived safely and is "looking good!" Which sets my mind at rest.

Time now to prepare for the arrival of Big Dave. Before going home, Patsy123 helped me clear out the stuff which had accumulated in the small front bedroom - the room Big Dave refers to as The Cupboard.

We removed
  • a 3ft square heavily textured and so very heavy oil painting
  • a vacuum cleaner
  • a large roll of canvas
  • some canvas shears
  • a cheap champagne flute wrapped in newspaper
  • a wine decanter without the stopper (which I think I threw away because I couldn't find the decanter)
  • a square of paper with the number 138 on it - my entry number for the Great North Walk which I didn't do because of the onset of plantar fasciitis two years ago
  • a big blue towel
  • a pair of shorts in need of ironing
  • some curious pieces of exercise, or possibly bondage equipment, belonging to my late father
  • 8 Summer shirts on hangers waiting to be ironed
  • 3 pairs of sandals
  • 1 pair of walking boots
  • 1 pair of tan suede loafers

and then we were able to make the bed ready for Big Dave's arrival.

Patsy123 went off home, her head down as she walked into the blustery Sou'westerly blowing leaves at her from the Dene at the end of the street.

Thursday 16 November 2006

The Driver's Knock

Taking the Glum Man at DHL at his word, I decided I'd go with the mighty Parcelf Force and duly made arrangements - online no less - to have the parcel picked up between 10.00 and 15.00 today, for delivery tomorrow before noon.

Cost me £38, including full insurance cover, which I guess is OK enough.

The online facility even allowed me to print off my own despatch label, to be put in an envelope by the driver and clagged on the front of the parcel.

I worry about these things. I was up early so as not to miss the driver's knock. They always knock, as if to demonstrate some secret loathing of doorbells. I paced the floor, picking up odds and ends, putting them back down. I find that when I'm waiting for someone to call, I can't settle on anything that might distract me from the Driver's Knock.

Lunch time rolled around and still no Driver's Knock. I checked the phone to see if somehow, perhaps because I'd been playing Michael McDonald's Motown too loudly, Parcel Force had phoned to tell me some bad news about my collection arrangements. No message. I turned Mr McDonald up again and could now actually hear him.

The weary hours dragged by. I looked out at the collared doves sitting wistfully among the tattered leaves of the cherry tree and sympathised. But I didn't dare feed the birds because experience has taught me that the moment I go out into the garden, there will come a Knock at the door which I will not hear.

I shuffled papers on the table, but couldn't find it in me to concentrate on filing them away. Patsy123 will tut when she calls round later today.

She phoned me just after 3 o'clock. That's 15.00. The time when my window of opportunity for parcel collection closed. I was doing the dishes, on the principle that by not showing my agitation, the forces that move in mysterious ways would remind the Parcel Force Driver of their commitment to me and cause him suddenly to Knock like thunder at the door, the words of apology tumbling from his lips.

"I would just phone them up and complain," said the ever-practical and phone confident Patsy123.

I looked up the number in the Phone Book and gave them a call. "We have changed our number," said a Recording.

I rang the new number. "Choose one of the following five options......, " said another Recording. I chose No.1, Tracking Your Order.

"Hello, said a voice, "I am a Recording but you can talk to me as if I were a real person and I will understand."

I hung up and dialled again, this time going for No.5, All Other Enquiries.

A real human female person answered and we chatted amicably about my problem. She promised to ring the Driver and find out what had gone wrong. True to her word, she rang back about five minutes later to say the Driver could be with me in 15 minutes or at 5 o'clock, whichever I preferred. I said, "Fifteen minutes would be good."

"OK," she said cheerfully, "I'll get him to do that. He must not have noticed the collection times on the documentation."

Well that's OK, isn't it? I mean, the collection times are only for my convenience, after all. I fumed a little. Steamed a little. Paced a little more, watching the clock tick away the 15 minutes.

And then there he was. The Driver had Knocked! And he was so nice and friendly, giving me a little bundle of envelopes in case I might need to send more parcels in the future, that I completely forgot to be surly and stern.

The painting has gone, and I can relax, conscious only dimly of the other commitments I've made to get more artwork done. In the horribly near future.

Tuesday 14 November 2006

Watching Paint Dry

I finished the commissioned painting tonight; two days in hand. Provided the paint is dry, I may be able to get it in the post tomorrow, although how it'll be travelling remains to be seen.

The man at DHL was decidedly sniffy. "I wouldn't send a painting by us," he said glumly. "Not enough insurance."

The start of the painting process was, as always, rather slow. I squared up an inkjet print and drew it out on the 24 x 20 ins. canvas. I fixed the drawing and covered it with a magenta acrylic wash. After that it was a matter of laying in the basic colours, and then comparing and adjusting colour, tone, perspective as I went along.

When I was at university, I was encouraged to use soft brushes and to thin my paint, usually with Liquin. I've been working more or less like that ever since, and most of this painting was done that way. But I do find this method lends itself to fiddly detail.

When I began painting, I was a much broader painter and I was beginning to think I'd lost that for good. I'd look at my older pictures and wonder how on earth I actually made them.

Part of the way through this painting, however, I dug out an old tube of Oleopasto and mixed that in the paint. Wonder of wonders! That was what I'd been missing all this time. It makes the paint thicker and stickier and has such a drying effect that I find I have to work faster. Working faster means less fiddly. This is a Good Thing and something to be taken on board for the future.

Saturday 11 November 2006

Frans Widerberg

Before going on to a birthday dinner engagement last night, I went with Patsy123 to the opening of the new Frans Widerberg show of prints at the University Gallery. There are over 100 prints, mostly etchings and woodcuts, and it's a splendid show. Widerberg's imagery consists of horses and riders, naked figures, singly or in groups, and birds. They exist in a strange metaphysical world, often coloured in vibrant red, yellow and blue.

I love them, but as with all private views, much of the time was taken up with schmoozing, so I'll be going back for a more considered viewing later in the week.

Later in the week, that is, after I've finished the commission I'm working on. A red brick building in another city, I'm working from client's photographs with the brief to "get away from the brick red colour " (!)

It's proving to be an interesting venture, but blogging may have to take a back seat until it's done.

Friday 10 November 2006

Comment Boxing

Patsy123 tells me that, having accepted the offer of a patch from Microsoft, she can now access my Comments Box. Haloscan suggest, for their part, that problems associated with Symantec's working away in the background, may cause problems in raising the Comments Box.

I don't run Symantec, partly because Norton Security caused me no end of problems as it battled with other software. So maybe the problem some people are having leaving comments isn't down to my set-up at all.

Thursday 9 November 2006

Rhythm Kings

What could be more fun than a load of old farts playing old fart music to an audience full of old farts?

A couple of nights ago, Patsy123 and I went to see Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings. It was exactly as I've just described it and it was magic

Bill Wyman sat contentedly on his stool most of the time, surrounded by ace musicians like Albert Lee and Georgie Fame, who all had a go at lead vocals. Now and again even Bill took his "turn in the barrel," as he put it.. Beverly Skeet was getting over a bout of the 'flu and so couldn't perform I Put a Spell on You, apparently her usual standout number, but still lent excitement to the vocals.

The songs had been chosen to reflect the influence they'd had on all of the band members - songs by Mose Allison, Bob Dylan, Clifton Chenier, Ray Charles and like so.

To cap it all, Soul Man Eddie Floyd put in a guest appearance and was a show-stopper.

And then, when they would normally have done a number in tribute to Lonnie Donegan, who'd inspired them all, they were unexpectedly able to bring on Lonnie's son, Peter, who did an amazing rendition of his father's version of Frankie & Johnny, complete with Jerry Lee Lewis-style piano. His curse and his gift is that he's inherited his dad's nose, through which he sings in the family manner. From the live dates on his website it looks like the boy lives in the north-east.

A great night. A great band.

Monday 6 November 2006

Sacred & Profane

My Bonfire Night was a curious mixture, but not easily forgotten.

My Mum died a few months ago, just after her 90th birthday. The vicar who performed the funeral ceremony, suggested that I might like to attend the All Souls-Tide service she carries out each year at her church, St Chad's.

Patsy123 and I decided it seemed the right thing to do. and so found ourselves sitting at the back of a surprisingly full church, joining in the hymns, when we knew them from years of school assemblies, (Amazing Grace; Morning has broken; The Lord's my shepherd; Guide me O thou great redeemer) and the call-and-response elements of the service.

The climax of the service was the Reading of the Names. The Rector and the Vicar took turns in reading out the names of those whose funerals they'd officiated at in the parish. We were invited, on hearing the name we knew, to go forward and light a candle and place it on a tray before the altar. When Mum's name was read out, I found it really quite moving to light my candle, with Patsy123 close behind me.

I'm not religious. Indeed, I'm mostly anti-religious, but I found the service quite affecting. Not, I have to say, convincing in the religious sense, but the taking part in a ritual, a ceremony, fulfilled a need for something to mark Mum's passing; something in addition to her funeral.

I came away with that sense I always have after church services. That feeling that I envy the congregation their certainty of faith. I sit in churches and wait for my Damascene conversion, but of course it doesn't happen, and I don't honestly expect it to. It's just that, in my rationalist heart, there's a romantic longing for a bit of superstitious inexplicableness.

My romantic leanings were amply satisfied after the service at St Chad's, when we walked back along to Saltwell Park and it's bonfire and firework display. The bonfire was a decent size and Patsy123's frantic search for a flashing blue glow-in-the-dark light-sabre was thankfully cut short by the start of the fireworks.

We Ooohed and we Aaaahed, following the unwritten form of this ceremony, and then wandered happily home to big bowls of spicy lentil soup, reflecting as we went that we must be the only country in the world that has a night of fireworks that doesn't really celebrate anything. Guy Fawkes? Who cares? Gunpowder Plot? Wot Gunpowder Plot? Why, it's just Bonna Neet, man!

Saturday 4 November 2006


The phone rang.

A voice at the other end said, "Are you registered with the Telephone Preference Service?"

"Yes," I said. "I am."

"Well, sir, you may have noticed an increase in the number of house and car alarms going off and being ignored by the people round about. We market a product which alerts a central control office who can deal with this problem Our demonstrators will be in your area tomorrow and will be able to demonstrate to a small number of clients -------"

"Excuse me," I said. "You asked me if I was registered with the Telephone Preference Service, yes?"

"Yes, sir, that's right."

"And I said 'yes, I am.' "

"Yes, you did, sir."

"Well, what that means is that I don't want you to make these BLOODY STUPID UNSOLICITED CALLS!"