Wednesday 31 January 2007

Party List

Patsy123 threw a party for me on Sunday and a large part of my world turned up.

School friends Mad Mal and the Missus turned up first. Then old friends Buddy K, Big Dave and the Interrogator arrived from Down South. Private view liggers, the Gay Brothers mixed in well, as did all of Figure 8. The Glum Architect made an appearance without Mrs Sums, but was soon seen smiling. Bill the Builder dropped off CJ and came back for her later, while Doctor Pam drove up from York and stayed the night. Will Barrow, late of the blogosphere, seemed to find himself a corner or two and someone to natter with.

Only The Frootbat and The Boiler had to turn down the invitation due to Grandparently duties.

Patsy123 had prepared enough food to feed 5000, but better that than to run out. The red wine supply was gauged just about right and there aren't too many whites left. Buddy K put paid to rather a lot of the stubby lagers and Doctor Pam got through the night on a small supply of Cokes and J2Os.

It's at least ten years since there was a party at Stately Zip Mansion but I enjoyed it, despite spending most of the night making sure everyone was eating and drinking .

I was presented with three books, a bottle of Champagne Cognac, a bottle of Ardbeg single malt, several bottles of good red wine, $100 (for later use), two wallets (by the same person) and a chocolate teddy bear with my name on it.

And Big Dave rounded out the night by buying one of my pictures.

It was a great night and I have the benefit of being reminded of it every day for the rest of the week as I eat onion bhajias, sausage rolls, quiche, peanuts and tortilla chips for dinner.

Monday 29 January 2007

Improbable Event

There must be some mistake. I am innocent.

Saturday 27 January 2007

Tea with Mr Punch

Mr Zip and Mr Punch were taking tea together.

Mr Zip quite enjoyed these occasions, even if he found Mr Punch's curious blue and white striped house not entirely to his taste. He'd also been brought up to take his hat off indoors and it irked him a little that Punch seemed never to take off his sugarloaf hat. His habit of striking anyone in range with that damned stick of his, was another of Punch's foibles that jarred with Mr Zip's sense of decorum. However, he'd always found Punch to be an engaging, if eccentric conversationalist and in Zip's mind this tended to outweigh the other less attractive characteristics.

Little had been said over the plates of cucumber sandwiches (with the crusts cut off), but now as they sat in two comfortable chairs before a roaring coal fire, the glow from the flames playing across their faces, it was obvious that something was on Mr Punch's mind.

"Look here, Zip old man," he suddenly burst out, "just who is this Harry Bell whose work you keep publishing?"

Weighing his words carefully, Mr Zip said, "Why, just an old friend. We're rather close."

"How close?"

Crossing two fingers on his right hand, Mr Zip held them aloft and said, "As close as that." The cup and saucer in his left hand rattled a little as he did so, and some of the Earl Grey slopped over into the saucer.

It was evident from the way Mr Punch was now leaning forward in his chair, his little legs dangling above the floor, that the subject was exercising him somewhat. "So he's not a figment of your imagination, then?"

"What, you mean the way you are?" said Mr Zip.

"Exackley!" exclaimed Punch in a cod Scouse accent.

"No, I guarantee that he exists. Indeed he's invited me to a party at his house tomorrow night. I'm afraid he feels that your surprise antics with the slapstick wouldn't go down well with his other guests. Nor does he want any of them hanged."

"I yam what I yam," said Punch, looking pleased with himself. Mr Zip thought that the Popeye impersonation was no more convincing than the Scouse accent.

There was a slightly strained silence as each of them sat listening to the ticking of the grandfather clock in the corner, wondering quite what to say next.

Suddenly Mr Punch spoke. "I may not be invited, but it won't stop me climbing a ladder and peering into his window at night."

"That's the way to do it!" exclaimed Mr Zip, and they both laughed.

Friday 26 January 2007

Something's coming ...

I'm planning for and awaiting the arrival of a Significant Milestone. Blogging will be resumed as soon as possible.

Tuesday 23 January 2007

Rats & Ice

There was the first real freeze of the year today. I had to go down to the garden and break the ice off the birds' water dishes. By the time I'd got back to the kitchen, there was a blackbird bathing in the smaller dish.

The Rat Man called again today. I showed him the two new tunnels I'd found and he carefully removed the stones I'd placed over them. Nothing to be seen. But when he stuck his hand down the old hole by the wall (braver man than I), he said with satisfaction, "It's taken that one!" Meaning the bag of blue poison.

He's left another goody bag down that hole and will call again next Tuesday. I shall miss our little chats when he's decided his work's done.

South Shields Interlude

Further delay in the completion of the Grey's Monument painting.

I have a meeting with my Figure 8 group on Wednesday. We need to decide on a proposal for our promised show in South Shields, and to do so by the end of January. All we have at the moment is an instruction from the Curator that the show should "concern South Tyneside."

The main administrative centre and largest town in South Tyneside is South Shields. Other riverside towns are Jarrow and Hebburn, while the villages of Cleadon, Whitburn and The Boldons border Wearside to the south at Sunderland. As an area, all rather disparate, and without any clear modern identity. Mostly a history of ship-building at Jarrow and Hebburn, coal-mining in the other parts. "History" being the operative word.

Frank the Dripper has found some poetry by Jarrow's Venerable Bede which he thinks will give him something to work on. Mo hasn't decided yet and The Vicar is still in New Zealand. I thought I should make an effort to resolve my own approach.

So I went to South Shields yesterday on the Metro. Took me about half an hour, trundling through urban blight and colourful but unoriginal graffiti.

Following on from last year's Great North Run pictures, I'd been thinking about using the town's three-day's-a-week market as subject matter, but by the time I got there, much of it had been taken down. I did get a couple of photos of a man still selling from his fruit stall, even though he suggested that I'd be better occupied buying a pound of bananas at a knock-down price.

There was a bitter wind blowing through the streets of South Shields and I always feel nervous when seagulls swoop low overhead, but I wandered down to the river to take a look at the area round the gallery. Apart from a man who always seems to hang about there with several layers of ragged clothes and two shopping bags, it was pretty much deserted. I took a couple of photographs of the row of pubs and Seamen's Mission buildings, but the sun had gone and my fingers were getting too numb to operate the camera effectively.

Back into town for a look around. It's years since I've taken a close look at Shields. My family used to come here for the beach when I was a kid, but that was more years ago than I care to remember.

It's a curious place, with a really long main street crossed by the Metro line on a bridge overhead. As the sun went down, I began to take photographs as aides-memoires for future research trips. I think there could be potential in this street and some of the others round about, if I can catch them on a good, sunny day.

What I don't want to end up with is a set of paintings which are only of interest to Sandancers (the dialect and people of South Shields). They'll have to be interesting, first and foremost, as paintings, not as topographical records. I think I can do that.

Coming back on the Metro, I found myself in a Concert Party. There was an old fella with a harmonica who'd evidently spent the afternoon slaking a not-inconsiderable thirst, and a couple of his greybeard mates who insisted he strike up the band while they sang along. I was treated to Pack up your troubles (how come they don't even know the second line?), The Rose of Tralee, Lily of Laguna, and a particularly cheesy version of Blue Spanish Eyes. And Many More Old Favourites. And on quite a few of them, the man with the harp got most of the tune right.

Ee, Club Men. Salt of the Earth. So they always tell me.

Friday 19 January 2007

Progress Report

It's progressing slowly, but I'm happy with it so far. I like the way the domes are standing out against the new dark sky, even in their unfinished state. (That's not the sun appearing at the top edge. It's the studio light reflecting.)

I've filled out the pillar in the theatre portico on the right and the column of the Monument is taking form. There's a lot to do sorting out the intricacies of the architecture on the right, where the shadows are very complicated. I think I need to simplify them somewhat to get them to make sense.

I've straightened up the various verticals a bit. I have a natural tendency to make my verticals lean to the left, especially on the left of a picture, because I'm right-handed.

But I still need to address the curves running round the main building. Because they disappear into shadow, the curves tend to dip prematurely. I must remember that they continue into the the shadow, even if they can't be seen.

Two figures have wandered into the picture near the NatWest Bank on the left, and I expect I'll let them linger there. They complement, and almost set up a conversation with, the singleton taking form in the foreground.

It would be better if I could devote more uninterrupted time to this painting, but I had to leave off today to take care of business. A couple of punters are coming up from Oxford this weekend and want to see one of my pictures "in the flesh" before they make up their minds about buying it. This is all being done through a gallery in town, so I had to take the painting over to the gallery today.

Never mind. On the way home, I called into HMV and found a sale copy of Shostakovich's complete concertos. I'm particularly looking forward to hearing David Oistrakh playing the 1st Violin Concerto.

Wednesday 17 January 2007


The Rat Man came again yesterday to inspect the state of the Rat Insurgency. It's definitely fighting back. There were signs of extra digging and the bag of poison had been covered up - out of sight, out of mind.

Dropping a couple more bags of blue poison - rats must be colour blind - down the holes, the Rat Man was away again. He'll be back next Tuesday, but I note today that a new tunnel entrance has been opened up further along from the original hole.

I put a stone over the hole and went back to work.

I'm currently working on a picture of Grey's Monument (see above). I repainted the sky recently and that's thrown up several areas that need looking at again.

I'd say the painting is about half-way finished. The Monument needs completion, of course, and I think it, and the buildings behind, need cooling down and pushing back just a little with aerial perspective. The whole paint surface needs a degree of complexity not yet evident - I like a painting to show the history of its development, including the complex build up and scraping away that goes into getting it right.

There's a client who's expressed an interest in a painting of this area of town, so I guess I'd better get on with it.

Thursday 11 January 2007

Post Script

I called into the Art Club today and we talked for a while about my rejection and the People Show in general.

As I was leaving, the Mad Doctor said to me, "It's not much consolation, I know, but I wish you'd call in more often because you always have something useful to say about my work."

Sometimes other things are more important than getting into exhibitions.

However ...

Today brings the little postcard telling me my painting has not been accpted for the People Show. Not much to say about that. Disappointed, of course. But increasingly, I find I'm out of phase with what selectors want for this kind of show. Last year's prize winner - a crudely painted man smoking what appeared to be a large carrot - may be symptomatic of their direction.

Nothing to do but continue in my own furrow.

Wednesday 10 January 2007

Rat Man come, Picture go

Sometimes Falling, Sometimes Flying (oil on canvas, 30.5 x 30.5 ins)

I managed to finish the painting on Monday night, putting on the final glazes round about 1.00 in the morning. Luckily, the morning's heat from the radiator dried it sufficiently to get it wrapped up to take to town.

But first - the Rat Man cometh. A different one from last time, older and a little more careworn, but nonetheless effective for that. On his way through the house he stopped to appreciate one of my pictures leaning against the wall waiting to be stored away, and we had a little chat about the difference between a "nice hobby" and a means to earning a living.

In the garden he nodded when I pointed out the burrow and said oh yes under his breath. Then, with the eye of one who knows about rodent life, he quickly located the run the rat has been using through to Lucy Smooth's garden of plenty.

After dropping his weapon of mass destruction down the hole (the poison is called Neosorexa, in case you ever notice it on the menu somewhere) he left with an admonishment to take down the peanut feeders because peanuts act as an antidote to Neosorexa (worth knowing in case you ever don't notice it on the menu somewhere).

And still no charge, unlike in other less responsible Council areas.

The Rat Man had come unheralded and held me up a little. I now found it was too late to take the bottom bus - stop that sniggering - because it would be full of horrible kids from the school down the road, punching each other, calling each other names and possibly even filling the bus so that I and my painting wouldn't get on, even if we wanted to.

Which meant a trip up the hill in the gusty wind, desperately hanging onto a picture nearly three feet square.. No fun, I can tell you.

And the bus ride was no better. The bus was an older model, without the helpful buggy-parking spaces at the front, so I was forced to sit on the long front seat balancing the painting on my toes. And where do we stop within five minutes of my getting on? The College down the road, where horrible older kids get on. They don't punch each other or call each other names, but what they do do, is stand next to the luggage rack in front of me in such a fashion that anyone wanting to get off, or indeed into the bus interior where there are of course plenty seats, has to push their way between the College tossers and my painting.

I spent the next 20 minutes warding off backpacks, carrier bags and little old ladies who instinctively grab for the top edge of a handy painting, and still heard a terrific crack! as someone wrenched the picture sideways sufficiently to make one of the joints complain.

By the time I'd arrived in town and wrestled with the wind-whipped picture up to the gallery, I was worn out.

What joy, then, to meet up with Patsy123 there, newly returned from London. She was cold and I was fraught. A coffee (she) and a pint of Cheeky Wee Beastie (he) put everything to rights.

Sunday 7 January 2007


Since we've touched on the subject of black oil paint in the comments on the last post, I thought this was a good opportunity to side-step into these little paintings.

I make no great claims for them as works of art, but they were all produced using what I've always known as "the Matisse palette" - white (titanium in this case), ivory black, vermilion, and yellow ochre.

You'll see there's no blue on the palette. This means that to make green you have to use black and yellow, to make purple you have to use black and white with a bit of vermilion. To approximate blue, you can only really use black and white, which gives grey, of course.

The trick - and I admit that when I painted these I hadn't mastered it - is to influence the grey by simultaneous contrast. If you surround the grey with orange, you'll make the grey take on a bluish cast. Similarly, the purple can be made more purple by putting it next to yellow.

I've no idea whether Matisse ever actually used this palette. If he did, I guess he'd have used the colours in rather discrete flat areas. But I found it interesting to use them for more modelled forms, like Torquil's head in the picture above.

The peculiar orange rim round his head is due to the orange lamp he was sitting in front of. All of these were done inside an environment constructed from torn and draped newspaper, lit by coloured lamps. So they're not abstracts in the strict sense. Felt you should know that.

Friday 5 January 2007

A Certain Something

Draining the last few drops of tea from his mug, Mr Zip stood up from the Comfy Chair and stared morosely out of the window. The painting was not going well in the absence of his original source material. He knew it must be in the house somewhere, but all attempts to locate it had failed. Progress was, therefore, proving slower than he'd hoped. He would get there, he knew, but time was running out.

In the gathering gloom, something caught his eye. A dark form ran across the path at the bottom of the garden. A blackbird perhaps? No, there it was again, running quickly to the remains of the morning's pile of seed, then just as swiftly back to the shelter of the little wall. And again.

Over and over, he watched in horror as the sleek dark torpedo of the rat collected its provisions and carried them to the safety of it's damnable burrow.

Back to Work

Sometimes Falling, Sometimes Flying
(charcoal and compressed charcoal on paper)

Who's a lucky boy, then? That nice Patsy123 bought me a digital camera for Xmas, so I can now bring you the latest breaking news from the Zip Studio.

I went to the Art Club today to wish Compo & Clegg and the boys a Happy New Year. While I was there we got on the subject of the People Show and how I intended to submit something as usual.

That was when I realised that my habit of not getting a new calendar written up with January's birthdays and events before the beginning of January can be a dangerous practice. Pictures for the People Show have to be submitted next Monday.


I knew what it was I intended to submit, but it isn't finished. It's based on the drawing above, done when I was really having rather a bad time of it. A very personal picture. I'd started the painting but when things improved I didn't feel the urge to go on with it.

Now, in the depths of miserable winter, I knew it was the right painting to move along. So here it is back on the easel in the studio. I think it can be finished in time, but if things go wrong with it, it'll be a struggle. But hey, painting's all about struggle!

Tuesday 2 January 2007

Goodbye to all that

I hope New Year's Eve was a positive experience for you all and that you find yourselves in keen anticipation of the year to come.

Patsy123 and I were invited to the pied a terre of Buddy K and SuzieSue to see the New Year in, along with Mrs Sums, The Glum Architect and The Apologist.

As always, we had a good time. SuzieSue had prepared lots of antipasti, with stuffed peppers, meatballs in tomato sauce and a vegetable dish for The Apologist. Yes, you got it, traditional north-east food. We eased our way into the evening with a bottle of Prosecco and then red and white wines kept things lubricated. But I guess we're getting old. Nothing scandalous happened and we eventually settled down to watch good ol' Jools and his 14th Hootenanny on the telly.

I think most of us were surprised to find that the hairy man who conjured up a wonderful noise from a three string electric guitar was not called C16, but Seasick Steve.

Mostly we just talked over the music, however, barely even pausing to yell in unison, oh god, not Roland Rivron again! until the time came to fling open the window to hear a few ships' hooters on the Tyne sing in the New Year.

The fireworks that lit up the night last year were absent this time, probably due to the rotten weather (gusts of wind and rain) and I suppose I'm the only one who still hankers after a proper First Footing and a chorus of Auld Lang Syne. Anyway, we didn't have that.

On New Year's Day we met up again and after tea in Saltwell Towers, we wandered round the windswept lake in Saltwell Park. Then back to Stately Zip Mansion for blue stilton and biscuits with lashings of port.

2006 is in the ground, where much of it belongs. Now for 2007. It'll be so much better, don't you think?