Thursday 31 July 2008

Old Drawings #11

Pilgrim Street, Newcastle (Oil pastel on carpet lining paper, 13 x 15.5 ins)

Is it a drawing or a painting? Pastels, including oil pastels, fall into that indeterminate area, but for me, this is a drawing.

I guess I must have done this in 1994, because it was a preparatory sketch for a painting (you can still see some of the squaring-up) which I exhibited in the John Laing Art Competition that year. I won the Regional Prize with it, but I'm afraid I don't have a photo of the painting.

Wednesday 30 July 2008


(Fibretip, digital colour)

I dunno. This is what I think of when I think of the Illustration Friday brief, "Canned."

Tuesday 29 July 2008

Altered Images

Sometime in the early Nineties I had a short flirtation with Mail Art. In fact, that's where I first used the pseudonym, Mr Zip. I sent ludicrous stuff through the post, altered envelopes with collage and stamping, and made spurious postage stamps. Other mail artists sent me very peculiar things with no explanation. One day an envelope arrived containing a dessert spoon. Some time later, I received a packet of custard powder. Not from the same person, however.

In the current welcome lull between bouts of painting, I've been poking about in rarely visited corners of the studio, and today I came across one of the last projects I began in my mail art moments. It's a hand-made book, glued together from magazine pages, advertising flyers and other stuff. The idea was that I would send it off into the mail art world, others would alter and add to the images I'd begun and pass it on to other mail artists. Eventually, I'd hope that it would find it's way back to me in all it's multi-imaged glory.

I'd tried the idea before, but I have to say that it didn't work. None of the originals came home to roost. Eventually, I got bored with it all and began painting in earnest. And so the one remaining book stayed home.

Looking at it now, I remember that I made the images without any real conscious effort, so there's an instinctive connection between the various page elements. Some of them still hold up in an interesting way, I think, so I've posted them here:


They remind me a bit of the altered books and imagery I now find on the Interweb (and in their origins, just a little of the sketchbook exchanges). I've recently been reading Seth Apter's blog, The Altered Page, and become very interested in that corner of the art world. I have, in fact, contributed some thoughts to his forthcoming art world survey.

Friday 25 July 2008

Day of the Ants

Walking down the hill after my day at the Art Club yesterday, I was looking at the ants beneath my feet. There are obviously a lot of ant colonies under the pavement, because every now and again there are little holes between the paving stones, surrounded by sandy deposits, and the ants scurry about their business in and out of the holes.

There is a more scary possibility, of course - there's only ONE ant colony and it reaches the full height of the hill. But let's not go there.

Yesterday, I noticed an unusual amount of ant activity. The paving stones were covered in frantically scurrying ants, so many it was impossible not to stand on them. When I got home, I checked the garden. Sure enough, the ants were in a turmoil, covering the patio in an excited carpet.

Now, at about this time a year or so ago, Pat and I were sitting in the garden eating caperberries and drinking a nice bottle of rose (that's "rosay", there being no accent available), when I noticed out of the corner of my eye a twinkle, a glittering. Looking across the patio I spotted a cluster of winged ants. Within a matter of five or six minutes, a horde of the winged things had boiled up out of cracks in the concrete and climbed to the tops of the sandstone blocks at the edge of the paving.There must have been hundreds, maybe even thousands. Smaller, wingless ants scurried round, getting them ready it seemed.

Then, in ones and twos, they took off, flying out over the Valley, each pursuing a course of its own. Some had deformed wings and, try as they might, couldn't lift off. These the workers attacked and dragged away. As the last of the flights were about to leave, I couldn't resist it any more and hitched a lift with one of the stragglers. The things I saw have stayed with me ever since, and I'm now scanning the patio regularly for signs of another journey of discovery.

(OK, I made the last bit up.)

Thursday 24 July 2008

Old Drawings #10

Ivy and Rock (2B pencil, A2 cartridge paper)

This was the last drawing I did on the Certificate of Visual Studies course. When the new term started in January 1987, I simply didn't turn up. I really wanted to move my work along, but the laissez-faire attitude of the instructors left me floundering. Maybe it was the fault of the organisation itself, because one of the tutors ended up as a visiting lecturer at the University when I was doing my BA course, and in that role he was one of the few who had anything to offer.

The People Show

Photographers (Oil on canvas, 36 x 36 ins)

The postcard came today and it was good news. I submitted two pictures and they're only allowed to accept one. So I'm delighted to say they made the right choice and this picture will be in the People Show.

You can see it, if you have a mind to do so, at the University Gallery, Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, from 1 August - 12 September 2008.

Tuesday 22 July 2008

Edge of Town

Edge of Town (Oil on canvas, 100 x 80 cms )

I got to the tinkering stage yesterday, so I've stopped. It was either Degas or Leonardo who said,

Art is never finished, only abandoned.

Whoever it was, he knew whereof he spoke. I could go on adjusting this picture for ages and would almost certainly ruin it, so I was glad to load it into Mo's motor today and wave goodbye to it. She'll be taking it and the rest of the pictures to Bishop Auckland tomorrow and I'll follow along in the Canon's car. Then the fun will begin again, as we try to arrange umpteen disparate pictures in the McGuinness Gallery.

Richard Kidd 1952 - 2008

I heard today of the sad death of Richard Kidd, who has drowned while on holiday in the Philippines. I don't think I ever met Richard, despite his having been born in Gateshead, trained in Fine Art at Newcastle University and worked regularly in the area. However, I was very familiar with his work. His big, gestural abstract landscapes were exciting to see and it was evident he put a great deal of himself into the work. What I wasn't aware of, is that, in addition to being a very successful painter and printmaker, showing at the Serpentine and the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco., he was also the author of several children's books. People who knew him have told me what a nice guy he was. Sad loss.

Monday 21 July 2008

Competition Entry

The People Show rolled around this week. I've always had something accepted for the People Show, until last year when I submitted this painting:

Sometimes Falling, Sometimes Flying (Oil on canvas, 36 x 36 ins)

I thought it had enough about it to be accepted, but evidently the judges didn't agree. It always feels like a bit of a smack in the kisser when you get rejected after a long run of acceptances in a particular show, but you get over it. I did think, however, when viewing the Show afterwards that it seemed to have moved away from the kind of work I produce and had taken on a more Conceptualist feel. When that happens, you can either chase the trend or stay true to yourself. I chose the latter.

So it was with some trepidation that Pat and I carried two of my Vaporetto pictures into town today and left them to the tender mercies of The People Show Judges. I should hear the result by Thursday.

Friday 18 July 2008


Belgian Bun (mixed media)

This is for this week's Illustration Friday brief, Enough. Since I rarely eat anything like this, I'm sure it would be quite enough.

I went through a short period of painting still lifes when I first started painting seriously. There used to be an annual show in town called Small Works, and I often submitted still life paintings to that. They did rather well, but the size requirement for the show changed every year and when it got down to 5cm square, I gave up on the basis that what I could ask for them was considerably less than the cost of framing.

Good fun while it lasted, however, and I often feel a desire to get back to still life painting again. After all, a still life is just a townscape on a table, isn't it?

Edging Closer

Edge of Town (work in progress)

Almost there. Isn't it funny how the painting mood can take you? I couldn't get motivated yesterday. I looked and looked at this painting yet, despite my knowing that I couldn't make the work move on without actually starting to put paint onto the canvas again, I couldn't make myself do it. Instead, I worked on some correspondence and arrangements for the upcoming NewcastleGateshead Art Fair.

And then, after watching the latest episode of Dexter, I found the will and began painting at 12.30 this morning. Maybe I just needed an input of serial killing.

Wednesday 16 July 2008

Closer to the Edge of Town

Edge of Town (work in progress)

I worked for a few hours on Edge of Town yesterday, adjusting colour, sharpening up edges, glazing here and there, and I think the upper part of the painting is beginning to work. Time to move on down.

My final adjustment of the day was to repaint the sky. This has brought out the colours in the top floor of the building and produced a kind of unreal naturalism, an effect I didn't plan but rather like.

I begin with an idea and then it becomes something else.
-- Pablo Picasso

Tuesday 15 July 2008

Maggie Walker

On Friday, Pat and I went to a private view at Gateshead Library Gallery. The show was by Maggie Walker, whom I once knew as the owner of a really good little commercial gallery in Newcastle, called the Clayton Gallery. The sort of gallery we could do with more of in this region.

I really liked her paintings which are made by a form of printing. She told me she knits up the fabric herself - quite a feat, it seems to me, given that some of the pictures are pretty large - and then soaks them in acrylic paint. Then, with the help of her partner, she lays them onto the (damp?) canvas. One or two were also run through a press to make the marks more positive.

Interesting idea. And certainly interesting paintings.

Friday 11 July 2008

Old Drawings #9

Skull (2B pencil, A2 cartridge paper)

From my Journal:

17th October 1986

On Monday night I went to my CVS class and felt rather out of it. I'd intended to maintain the impetus of the previous Monday by doing some drawing in the intervening period, but of course, I didn't. When I got to the Mandela Building, I couldn't decide what to do. I finally settled on a sheep (goat?) skull but couldn't really get into it. Part of the problem lies in the uniform lighting of the room - not conducive to dynamic light and shade drawing. Part of my enthusiasm melted away that night .....

Old Drawings #6, #7, #8

Fungus (2B pencil, A2 cartridge paper)

Leaf and Apple (2B pencil, A2 cartridge paper)

Pineapple (2B pencil, A2 cartridge paper)

The Certificate of Visual Studies course was not going well and my heart wasn't really in it, partly for domestic reasons but also because I felt there was insufficient tutorial support.

Thursday 10 July 2008

A brush with Barbara

Edge of Town (second stage)

No Club for me today. Dr Pam stayed here on Monday night and through Tuesday afternoon, on her way back from Edinburgh. We had a good time catching up and talking into the small hours, while I introduced her to the wonders of The Imagined Village and Lhasa's The Living Road.

Enjoyable though it was, Dr Pam's visit meant that I felt I'd fallen behind in work on Edge of Town, so I decided to stay at home and work today. But first, I had to go to the Post Office and collect my lovely new book on Barbara Rae. In addition to a wealth of plates, the book has an illuminating interview with her, and I was reminded of how her career has been more or less based on work made with collage and paint

In the past, I've dabbled a little with collage in my pictures, using it to give some texture. Here are a couple:

The Presence (Oil on board)

Old lady (Oil on board)

I've always liked the result, so I thought I might employ the technique again in the construction of Edge of Town. I dug out some tissue paper and pasted it onto parts of the canvas, using Liquin and Spectragel. There's always a danger that oil can make the tissue rot, but I figure these two mediums should be safe and so far I've noticed no untoward effects on other pictures.

After that, it was only a matter of waiting a short time for the collage to set and I was able to paint over the tissue. I think I've reached the stage where I feel the picture will never work, but experience tells me that once I'm able to start scumbling and glazing over the existing colour, things should work out fine. The sky is reflecting unduly in the photograph, by the way, but I think I'll try darkening it more, anyway.

Incidentally, if you're interested in Barbara Rae's work, I think it's still possible to hear a radio interview with her here. And, of course, there's a link to her website in the sidebar.

Monday 7 July 2008

Another New Start

Edge of Town (work in progress)

I wanted to get something moving today with the picture I'm committed to do for the upcoming Figure 8 show. I decided a few days ago to abandon the idea of making a painting which would be a good fit with the others I've selected for the show. Actually, after checking the size of the gallery, I realise I need only four to fill my allotted space in the main gallery, in addition to the new one, so the concept of a theme is a bit redundant now.

I also realised that I could probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of paintings I've made using this upright format. It just doesn't readily lend itself to the way I see the world, it seems. However, I found this image amongst some photographs of Rethymnon and liked the possibilities.

At the moment, I'm a little underwhelmed with progress and I can see there'll be a lot of colour decisions and adjustments to be made. We'll see how it goes.

Old Drawings #5

Cheese plant (2B pencil, A2 cartridge paper)

Years pass. Pages fly from the front of the calendar. Tumbleweed blows across Boogie Street, and I do no drawing apart from cartoons (some of which are finding new life in Illustration Friday).

But now it's 1986. In a Journal I kept at the time, I wrote:
9th October 1986

The only other development has been my first session at the Cert. of Visual Studies course last Monday. I got there and hung around until the tutor, Mr T, put in an appearance. He kind of glanced at my drawings and recent Rhodes sketches and then suggested I sit down and draw something from life. There was already a big cheese plant set up so I had a go at that. After three hours I felt really into it. Wonderful feeling, and he thought it was a good drawing, too.

The problem now is that I'm not sure where I go from here. The course seems totally unstructured. I am supposed to provide my own structure, but surely that's always been my problem. Still, it's maybe a bit early to make judgements.

Saturday 5 July 2008


(Fibretip, digital colour)

This week's Illustration Friday entry.

Thursday 3 July 2008

Wansbeck Houses with Boat

Wansbeck Houses with Boat (Oil on board, 20 x 40 cms)
Private Collection.

I think I'm done with this (The photograph, by the way, is making the boat cabin look pink when it's actually more grey). Not a great picture, but a reasonable one considering it was cobbled together from a couple of sketches, on a piece of cut-off board.

I got to the Club late today, so I had no time to do anything with the painting of the Swing Bridge I've been trying to rescue for some time now. However, after a make-over job on the sky last week, it's beginning to look like it might work after all.

Swing Bridge (work in progress)

Wednesday 2 July 2008

Old Drawings #4

Hammer and Torch (2B pencil, A2 cartridge paper)

I finished photographing all the drawings I could find today, and it was quite a thrilling experience. I renewed acquaintance with one or two sets of drawings that represent avenues of enquiry that were cut short at University. Cut short largely due to tutors' indifference. I should have stood up for what I was interested in, I suppose, but because it's difficult to oppose indifference, I didn't, so I guess I must reluctantly share the blame.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. We'll come to those drawings in due course. Meanwhile, this is another of those careful still life drawings from around 1973, set up on card table in the living room..

Tuesday 1 July 2008

Abandon hope ...

Not much time for work today. I had to go and have my blood pressure taken as part of an ongoing monitoring exercise. I never enjoy going to the doctor's surgery (who does?), so I was in a sombre mood, sitting in the waiting room trying desperately to will my blood pressure down.

Casting around for something to read other than the notices about breastfeeding and pictures of bums with the caption "Your doctor has seen it all before," I noticed for the first time, a sign on the wall which read simply:


Somehow, that didn't make me feel any more cheerful.