Friday 28 November 2008

A Day of Glazing

Tynemouth (work in Progress)

I've been staring at this painting for a week or two, worrying over the jarring effects of red, green and blue in one picture. Today, I took it back to the Club and repainted the sea, using Payne's grey and white with a little cadmium violet. Not only did that provide a more harmonious triad of red, green and blue violet, but it made the sea look a bit more like the North Sea.

I also glazed over the bushes in the foreground with a little sap green, to give them a bit more substance and tone down the brighter greens . In the meantime, a man in a blue shirt wandered down Front Street and got himself in the picture. I might leave him there; I might give him a friend or two; or I might paint him back into the brick wall.

Although I've been somewhat committed to direct painting of late, I felt that glazing might be beneficial here so, in addition to the green glazes on the bushes, I wiped a glaze of titanium white and cadmium violet mixed with Liquin onto the far shore. (I'd have preferred to use the more transparent zinc white for such a glaze, but I don't keep it at the Club.) This effectively pushed the shore back into aerial perspective and I'm happier with it now, although there's a bit more work left to do there. There are, for example, a few streets of houses to be sat along that dark line I've provided for them.

St James's Park (work in progress)

As I had some of that milky violet glaze still on the palette, I used it on the cloudy sky in this picture, too. The sky now sits further back and the skyline is better defined. I spent a few hours tickling away at the town, putting in lines, altering others, changing little patches of colour, picking out spots of light-struck building.

Next week: the superstructure of the football ground and some windows in the prominent orangey-yellow building. And then maybe it'll be finished.

Thursday 27 November 2008

The Barley Mow, Newcastle

The Barley Mow, Newcastle (Oil on canvas, 16 x 16 ins) £300

Conscious of my increasing tendency to stop short of completion, I decided to push on today and get this painting finished. It's now on the wall of the Club's studio, hoping to win the prize in this month's themed competition, "Townscapes".

I realised that had this been a much bigger picture, there'd have been a good deal less detail in it. Not that I think that it would therefore have been a better picture, just a different one. It's an effect of working close to a small painting, I think, that leads to putting in a wealth of incidentals.

Tuesday 25 November 2008

Wayne Thiebaud: Interview

I sometimes wonder if my early interest in becoming an illustrator and cartoonist might account for my preferences in painters. Both Edward Hopper and Wayne Thiebaud, the subject of this video, began their careers as illustrator/cartoonist. Maybe it's something to do with the clarity of image and use of strong composition that shows in their paintings.

I love Thiebaud's self-deprecating humour in this interview and am only disappointed that it doesn't feature any of his San Francisco street paintings. Still, although I forget where I found this video, I for one found it a delight. Let me know what you think.

Monday 24 November 2008

Hailstones and Blossom

Outside the sky has turned darkest grey and for the first time that I can recall, we're having thunder and hailstones. Inside, I'm warm and surrounded by the scent of grapefruit blossom.

Thirty years ago I picked up a pip from the office floor and pushed it into one of my plant pots. The resident plant - a miniature rose, I believe - died from an infestation of red spider mite, but the pip, to my surprise, started to grow. I wasn't certain what it was, but as one of my staff used to eat a grapefruit every day, the odds were that it was a grapefruit tree I was nurturing.

A year later it seemed like I'd lost it when something attacked the stem and the main growth tip died, but it rallied and sent out a side shoot. Eventually, even that gave way to a reinvigorated main stem that shot away from the top.

Re-potting the tree several times, I found a way of moving it whenever I changed offices, and when I left the Civil Service in 1997, I brought it home with me, giving it pride of place in the bay window.

I learned that it didn't like tap water and that the best way of keeping it healthy was to let it dry out to the point of seeing the leaves droop and some even fall, then give it a good soaking with rainwater. A few days ago, it repaid me for the first time in thirty years by putting on a small display of three clusters of white blossom. The scent is startling and even those few clusters, now that they're open, are filling the room with it.

Xmas is rolling round again, as I expect you've possibly noticed. I stopped putting up an "official" Xmas tree about six years ago, but a few days before Xmas Day, I usually dress the grapefruit tree in tinsel and fairy lights. This year, I think it deserves an extra star.

Friday 21 November 2008

Continuing the Small One

St James's Park (work in progress)

I wonder how interesting it is for you to see me post these images which change almost imperceptibly? I worked on this for three hours, breaking off for unlimited cups of coffee (the Club's system has changed - 50p for any number of cups, instead of 30p a cup) and yet it doesn't seem to have changed a great deal. I know it has, in that the paint has become more complex, with little patches of colour showing through new layers, but the scale is so small (9 x 12 inches approx) that it's difficult to appreciate it sometimes.

Oh well, whether you're interested or not (and obviously I'd like to think that some of you are), I find it useful to record the changes here, however small.

Thursday 20 November 2008

A Small One to Get Me Going

St James's Park (work in progress)

Work on the Barley Mow painting is getting so fiddly that I needed something to get me into a rhythm at the Club today. This little painting - which isn't finished yet - was sufficient to free me up and let me move on to the Barley Mow, which I left like this today:

Barley Mow (work in progress)

I worked on the edge of the quay today and used masking tape to get the edges sharp. Although I'm not desperately keen on very tight edges elsewhere in the composition, I often find that where I have a line running right across the picture the way the quayside does here, I enjoy playing off a very straight edge against the less rigid edges elsewhere.

I've also made a start on that problematic building at the top right, but I'm not happy with it yet.

Self Portraits

Wednesday 19 November 2008

From Dillons First Floor Window

From Dillons First Floor Window (Oil on board) (Private Collection)

In her comment on the previous post, Serena asked if I had a photograph of the painting derived from the drawing. Well, I do, and here it is. I see that the numbers in the crowd increased as the painting took shape! Maybe it was match day.

Tuesday 18 November 2008

Old Drawings #22

From Dillon's First Floor Window (charcoal on cartridge paper)

I've been distracted somewhat over the past week, and haven't been able to put the time in on my painting or my blogging. I hope this distraction has passed.

I reckon this drawing was done in 1994 when I was really starting to get into my urban landscapes. It's difficult taking photographs inside a shop. The staff look at you when you seem to be hovering round, not looking at the books. You come across as quite a shifty individual, so I had to make sure I knew what i wanted from the view, then lean over the tables of books and take two photographs in quick succession.

The drawing takes out one of the window mullions and in the course of its making, another sheet of paper was added to the right hand side (you can still see the join in the photograh, I think). Quite a successful painting came out of this drawing.

Sunday 9 November 2008

Gallery Grump

Theatre Royal, Grey Street (Private Collection)

Grey Street is one of the finest in Newcastle, designed by John Dobson in the Georgian style and apparently voted 'Best street in the UK' in 2002 by BBC Radio 4 listeners. I've always thought that it would be a suitable site for a good commercial gallery, so I was pleased to see earlier this year that a new gallery was opening there.

Alas, it's not what I was hoping for. Obviously, from a personal point of view, I would have liked them to be interested in local artists, but this has proven not to be the case. They're a branch of a national chain with Rolf Harris as their Big Name.

What depresses me most, however, is the fact that most of their stock is what they like to call limited edition prints, but which we know to be reproductions. I know this is something of a lost battle, but it's worth making the point now and again. The spin they put on these reproductions is one I've not previously come across. They're what they term hand-embellished. Looking at them, it's obvious that they're simply reproductions on which a few flicks of paint have been added. In a number of cases, they've had a transparent resin brushed onto them so that the effect of impasto is achieved without adding any extra colour whatsoever.

Although I thought this was pretty feeble, I did get the impression that the artists had done the additions themselves. However, I've come across this in some of their literature:

An increasing number of our Limited Edition Fine Art Prints are now hand-embellished.

This means that the print is placed alongside the original and under the direction of the artist certain elements of the image are highlighted with paint, inks, varnish or other medium by a master craftsman. This is done to bring each piece closer to the essence of the original and adds a new layer of authenticity to the finished composition. It also transforms each print into a unique handmade piece in its own right.

A "master craftsman", eh? Not even the artist. What a farce.

Friday 7 November 2008

More Barley Mow Progress

Barley Mow (work in progress)

Another two or three hours at the Club and the Barley Mow (incidentally, it's pronounced Mao) is moving along quite well. I sat and pondered the profusion of chimney stacks, but came to the conclusion that I like the way they flicker across the surface. The many windows may not be treated so favourably. There's also the problem of that big grey building at the top right. It's actually a clumsy 1970s office block made with rectangular modules which will take some thinking about.

I've lightened and greyed down the road to give a little contrast with the brighter buildings and the cars which had been about to park in the forecourt of the building front right have been cleared away. Eventually I found I couldn't go further without either a mahl stick or leaving it to dry. As I don't have a mahl stick at the Club, I decided to leave it to dry for a week.

Women in Art

Women In Art - The most amazing home videos are here

Thursday 6 November 2008

More Work on the Barley Mow

Barley Mow (work in progress)

Slow progress today at the Club, but this is moving along OK, I think. I've put in the shadows and shadow sides of many of the chimneys - and there are many - but there are lots of windows, too. They need to be indicated, without getting too fiddly. As this only 16 x 16 inches, there's a lot going on for a small space.

Bonfire Night

As is our custom, Pat and I surrendered to our inner children and went to see the fireworks in Saltwell Park last night. There was a classically opaque sky with a light drizzle and the grass in the park had turned to a sea of mud, but we had a great time.

It was good to note this year that the novelty of camera phones seems to have passed and very few people there were intent on watching the fireworks through their phones so they'd have the pleasure of watching them again later through their phones.

Whenever I go to see fireworks, I try to give myself entirely to the experience, cutting out the sounds of those around me and losing myself in the audio-visual feast of light and explosions. This would be helped hugely if they'd get rid of the pounding music and inane deejay at the back of the park. Fireworks need no musical accompaniment. They have their own: crackles, pops, bangs, whistles and banshee wails are the perfect musique concrète.

There was a time when I thought that Bonfire Night should be allowed to wither away and be replaced by Halloween which has, of course, a much older pedigree. Last night, however, I came to the realisation that Bonfire Night has managed to remain mercifully resistant to commercialisation, while Halloween is now a travesty of rampant money-making, owing little to the American version and even less to the ancient festival of Samhain.

Back home, we settled down to plates of sausage and mash and endless reruns and examinations of the US Presidential election. Go Obama!

Tuesday 4 November 2008

Exploring Mallorca: Swiss Cheese Plant

Swiss Cheese Plant (pigment liner, A5 sketchbook)
[mis-dated: should read 4 Nov. 2008]

Escaping from a thunderstorm, we found shelter in the Banys Arabs (the Arab Baths) in Palma. When it had passed, and before it returned, we had a chance to wander round the lovely garden outside the bath house. This was one of several flowering monsteras there - another wonderfully architectural plant!. It would have been really great to have been able to sit and draw in the garden but the weather, and time, was against me.

RSS Feeds

Some time ago I started to use RSS feeds as a way of keeping up with a lot of the blogs I was interested in. Those I couldn't get in Google Reader, I subscribed to as RSS feeds. Everything worked fine and I found I could maintain an interest that way in many more blogs than I could by endlessly visiting them (only to find nothing new had been posted).

Something went wrong round about 18th October. Now when I access any of the blogs in Feeds, I get the message "Internet Explorer was unable to update this feed and will try again later."

Nothing I've found on the interweb helps me to put this right. I know, for instance, that it's not a fault in my firewall settings. Does anyone more knowledgeable have a clue? More importantly, are you able to tell me how to put it right in words that will actually make some sense to me?

Monday 3 November 2008

Old Drawings #21

Wall (Charcoal, compressed charcoal on A2 cartridge paper)

I've always been fascinated by walls, by their textures, by the way they show a history of changes, decay, repair. If I wanted to be pretentious, I might suggest they stand as a metaphor for the human condition, but I don't, so I won't.

This drawing probably dates from 1995 or thereabouts. I made one or two paintings at that time that were based on images of walls and relied heavily on applied texture. Come to think of it, "heavily" is quite apposite, given that they were made on board and had surfaces built up of cardboard, Polyfilla, wax, wallpaper, sand and pieces of brick.