Friday 25 April 2008


I tried out some nesting boxes for the first time last year but I didn't have much success with them. It seems the birds prefer to build their own accommodation. Although I get a lot of robins in the garden, none of them appear to have seen the attraction of the delightful residence I offered them. Maybe I'll do a conversion job this year and reduce the opening to a smaller one and see if some tits or sparrows like the look of it.

I knew there'd been some interest in the other box, because I could see some bits of grass sticking up above the opening. However, it's taken me a while to get to it to look inside. Bad weather and the fact that it's hidden in the middle of a fiercely spiny pyracantha, meant that I didn't get it opened until today.

Sure enough, inside was a lovely little nest, all dried grasses and soft moss. Nothing inside the nest, however, so I guess it was ultimately abandoned. I'll put it back and try again.

Meanwhile, before throwing the nest away, I had a go at sketching it. The experience reminded me of an old student exercise where we were asked to paint a pile of straw on a table - exasperating.

Anyway, even though the straw here looks more like the branches of a tree, this is what I ended up with.

Tuesday 22 April 2008

Cataloguing with Flick!

I've been planning on cataloguing my work for some time now. I really need a centralised database of all the work I've produced in the last 20 years, with details of sizes, prices, exhibitions they've been in, galleries who've shown them and who bought them.

This looked like one of those tasks that might never get off the ground, but reading about a piece of software in The Cycling Artist, has shown it is achievable after all. Several times on that blog, Tina Mammoser has extolled the virtues of Flick! software for just this purpose, so I downloaded it, tried it out and bought it.

It really is a great bit of kit. It has so many useful functions that I've been playing with for days, while beginning the task of entering details of my work. Admittedly, this is still a mammoth task, but I doubt that any other system could make it easier.

Someone Blows My Trumpet

It's not something we've been used to, my Figure 8 pals and I, but it's always good to get a decent write-up in the press. When we gave a talk in the Gallery in Darlington last week about our Colour Room exhibition , in addition to a good sized interested audience, there was a reporter from the Middlesbrough Evening Gazette.

It's not easy to get hold of the Evening Gazette in Gateshead, but luckily there's an online version. And, although it's a little disappointing to find there are no photographs to illustrate the piece, the write-up is extensive and very positive.

"I am very interested in townscapes and I did a lot of paintings with no people in," explains Harry, "but recently I have found people creeping in."

They certainly do in his elegant and eye-catching views of Venice where the diverse crowds packing the ever present water buses dramatically take centre stage over the city's gorgeous buildings.

There's more here.

Tuesday 15 April 2008

Blog Brush (sorry)

Using Google Alerts, I've been searching the Interweb for blogs which contain the word "painting." As a result, I've found an awful lot of people are currently painting their walls and seemingly not enjoying the experience.

But interior decoration wasn't what I was looking for, of course. What I really wanted was to find some new and interesting artist bloggers and one or two of them are now listed in the sidebar.

One that I'm very pleased to have found is that of Vivien Blackburn, -
paintings prints and stuff. In her current post, she's suggested a project which, in an idle moment between frantic preparations for exhibitions, I thought I'd have a go at.

"Your task grasshopper, should you wish to take it, is to sketch your paintbrushes," is what she said. So here's a sketch, in watercolour and Pentel brush-pen, of one of my much-abused acrylic gesso priming brushes.

As always with watercolour, I ended up cursing the wateriness of it and, indeed, the Pentel was used to pull it back into shape (although nothing at all could be done for the curiously shaped handle). And I know it's only one brush, but it's a start. My sketchbook has been neglected for too long.

Oil Strike in Lake District

I was just gearing up for our annual painting week in the Lake District, when news reached me of a disaster in our rented holiday house.

Last week a tanker brought the regular delivery of oil for heating. No problem there, you might think. All the tanker driver has to do is pump the consignment of oil into the house's tank. Fine. Except that what he did was pump two tanks-worth of oil into the one tank. The garden is full of oil. The basement is full of oil. The house is effectively out of commission for months to come.

So it's goodbye to Little Langdale for this year, at least.

Some desperate re-booking has found us another property, but in the Hawkshead area. Not as quiet and secluded as Little Langdale, perhaps, but the website makes the house and surroundings look good.

I feel the first stirrings of excitement, coupled with the usual sense of anxiety over what materials to take. I expect it'll be mostly drawing materials, but I gather I may have more room in the car this year, so a range of gear might be accommodated (to cope with the expected range of weather).

Saturday 12 April 2008

Artist's Statement

I've written here before about the difficulties involved in writing the Artist's Statement, but this time - for the show at Darlington - I was determined to make it specifically relevant to the work in the show. This is what I wrote about The Vaporetto Series:

On my second visit to Venice, I was acutely aware of the long history of artists who have painted the city, especially the great Turner, Monet and Sickert. The list of painters is so long that many are of the opinion that any original approach is by now impossible. My view, however, is that whether or not the subject has been painted a thousand times is irrelevant. It has never been painted through my eyes and one of the joys of art is that it enables us to see through another person’s eyes.

So I determined to relinquish any preconceptions and open myself up to the city. I let it present itself to me as I absorbed its atmosphere and waited to see how my own interests might be revealed, rather than those who have painted before me.

My main painting concerns over the years have been to do with the built environment and Venice amply provided subjects of architectural appeal, but what stirred my imagination was first of all the wonderful absence of cars and then the people, especially those travelling on vaporetti, the efficient and reliable water-buses of Venice.

I have previously painted pictures of staff in ticket offices at fun-fairs and there is something about the containment of people in boxes which interests me. It was something of that nature – metal boxes of people - that at first attracted me to the idea of passengers on the vaporetti. But as I examined the possibilities of the subject in my studio, I found a great deal more to explore.

First of all it allowed me to play with some interesting compositions. The picture plane could be flattened out and broken up into a series of horizontal bands of
buildings, water, roof, people, boat and more water. I also found it interesting to contrast the organic forms of the passengers with the more rectilinear forms of architecture and engineering. The people themselves began to fascinate me, as they accommodated themselves aboard the water-bus, sitting on rails, holding onto the ceiling to keep from falling over, kissing in the dark. And if it isn’t too fanciful, the way they were spread across the picture brought echoes of Italian frescoes to mind.

The Vaporetto Series

These are my paintings now showing in the Figure 8 exhibition at the Myles Meehan Gallery in Darlington.

Night Travel (Oil on canvas, 30 x 24 ins.)

Photographers (Oil on canvas, 36 x 36 ins.)

Sitting on the Rail (oil on canvas, 24 x 30 ins.)

Santa Maria della Salute (OIl on canvas, 24 x 24 ins.)

Caught in the Spotlight (Oil on canvas, 20 x 20 ins.)

Dorsoduro (Oil on canvas, 30 x 30 ins.)

On the Giudecca Canal (Oil on canvas, 24 x 24 ins.)

Passing a Palazzo (Oil on canvas, 36 x 36 ins.)

Thursday 10 April 2008

Yellow Page Despair

I really must get my name taken out of Yellow Pages. In the seven years I've been listed there, the only enquiries I've received - with one exception - have been on the lines of, "Do you paint pet portraits?" I got another today. There's obviously a crying need for pet portrait painters in the North East, but I'm not ready to serve that need.

The one exception? Someone wanted to know if I painted weddings. I assume they meant from photographs, but the image of my setting up an easel in front of the church, while the bride and groom's families pose in their best hats, is an intriguing one.

Wednesday 9 April 2008

Colour Room

I finished all the work for Darlington at the weekend, but decided that one of them wasn't up to scratch. Nevertheless, when we took all the paintings to the gallery on Monday morning, I found I had just the right number for the space allocated to me.

We might have spent some time arguing between ourselves over the hanging, but Julie the Curator offered to let us go for coffee while she sorted out a suggested arrangement. When we got back, she'd come up with a hanging which gives each of us a wall to ourselves, and mixes in the other pictures in blocks which work well together. I'm delighted with the look of the show and am full of admiration for Julie's abilities. She's a very confident and competent Curator.

The Private View is on Thursday evening, and as always, I'm full of excitement and trepidation, in equal parts.

The show, entitled Colour Room, opens to the public at the Myles Meehan Gallery on Friday and runs for a month.

Garden Twitter

I'm pleased to say the recent snow hasn't had any obvious affect on the presence of birds in my garden. I've kept them fed and watered and, observing their terrific response to a block of suet embedded with mealworms, I've put up two more.

In the last couple of weeks I've noticed:

  • A good dozen sparrows.
  • Three or four goldfinches.
  • Several pairs of starlings.
  • A pair of black caps (who eat only the suet)
  • A bigger gang of jackdaws than I'd really like.
  • A flock (at times) of wood pigeons.
  • An old wood pigeon who spends most of his time dozing on the fence.
  • Several collared doves (two of whom I think are nesting in the big conifer).
  • A song thrush.
  • Lots of blue tits.
  • A scuttle of coal tits.
  • A constant skirmish of blackbirds.
  • An annoyance of magpies.

Wednesday 2 April 2008

Since Prague

Please excuse the silence. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Prague. I thought it a most magical city with wonderful architecture and delightful people. But I also picked up a streaming cold on my last day there and since then have been hard at work a) fighting it off, and b) desperately trying to finish my Vaporetto series.

Due to some kind of mental aberration, I discovered I had only a week and a half to get nine paintings finished for the upcoming Figure 8 show in Darlington. Luckily I work well under pressure, but it has meant painting through the day and well into the night. At the moment there's only one of them finished, but the others are getting there. I am quietly confident (and secretly panicking) that they will all be finished by the coming weekend.

Here's one of the new ones, still showing part of the crimson underpainting (an experiment):

Vaporetto 5:Photographers (work in progress)