Monday 26 December 2011

Refreshments Van, Cambridge

Refreshments Van, Cambridge (Oil on board, 5 x 7 ins)

This year, as we did two years ago, Pat and I are spending Xmas with Pat's son Andy and his partner Helen in Cambridge. Last time I made a small Holy Island painting as a thank you Xmas present and I thought (without wishing to set a precedent!) that I might do the same this year. Looking through some photographs I'd taken in the Xmas market in Cambridge, I picked out this refreshments van as something I thought would make a nice little painting.

I've had to keep it quiet, of course, but it's Boxing Day now and Andy and Helen should have seen it, so I can safely post it here.

Monday 19 December 2011

River Factory

River Factory (Oil on board, 12 x 12 ins)

The show at Whitley Bay ended on Sunday and I went to collect my pictures today. And there were only three to bring away! This one, River Factory, was sold on Saturday, possibly to an old friend of mine whom I haven't seen for twenty years or more. It shows a factory on one of the bends in the River Tyne, now quite possibly demolished.

Although the show seemed to be doing less well than the similarly situated show in July, by the end it had done about the same level of business. People may have been hesitant about spending in the current climate, but it's clear they recognised a good buy when it came down to it. I think we might try the same format next year if the shop space is still available (and who would expect a sudden demand for large shop spaces in the next 12 months?)

Saturday 17 December 2011

Xavier Pick: Commission

Xavier Pick is an artist whose work I really like. Here's a video of his preparatory work for a commissioned painting of London which I hope you find as interesting as I did.

Pick is a particularly good draughtsman who trained at the Royal College. Imagine how much better he'd have been, however, had the timelines shifted and he'd gone to the RA Schools where he could now benefit from instruction from the Grande Dame of English Art, Tracey Emin, who has now been appointed Professor of Drawing there.

Ahahahahahahaha. Sorry.

Sunday 4 December 2011

Fallen Log

Fallen Log (Oil on canvas, 40 x 40 cms)

Have I mentioned the Painters' Group before? No, perhaps not. I began my painting studies in 1989 with the OCA and continued with them for quite a few years before taking a leap of faith and going to Newcastle University to study for a BA in Fine Art. In the last few years of being with the OCA, the tutor was William Varley. At the time Bill was also in charge of First Year Studies at the University and wrote exhibition reviews for national newspapers such as The Guardian and The New Statesman. He still writes some critical pieces, I see.

Anyway, Bill proved very influential in my development and, indeed, was instrumental in encouraging me to think it might actually be possible for me to undertake the degree course. Unfortunately, he retired from the University in 1998, a year after I started there, and frankly the quality and direction of the teaching moved away from what I had gone there to find.

Bill also gave up his role with the OCA but continued an informal critique session every month with former students. For some time it didn't seem to be something that would meet my needs, but recently one or two friends of mine, including Maureen Stephenson and Elizabeth Talbot, joined what had come to be called The Painters' Group. That made the difference for me and I joined Bill's group again in October (in time to be included in the XIV Show, in fact).

The most recent meeting was on Saturday and I made a special effort to get this Fallen Log painting completed on Friday night. Inevitably this posed problems in carrying the wet painting on the bus to the session, but it was worth it. It's always good to get other people's input and on this occasion not only Bill but some of the other painters had interesting comments and questions. The questions, I find, are particularly helpful because they make me think about the painting and articulate my thoughts more clearly than might otherwise be the case.

The painting was well received and as has been my experience of the group in the past, I came home wanting to get straight back in the studio.

Friday 2 December 2011

"Art in the Park"

Traders' Rooftop (Oil on board, 12 x 12 ins)

Earlier in the year - June, I think it was - the Art Club held a selling exhibition in an empty shop in the Park View Shopping Centre in Whitley Bay. For whatever reason, I took no part in it, but I understand it was popular with the public and sales were good.

Which is why I have four small paintings in the new show in the same premises, which opens tomorrow. I think the standard is pretty high, given that it's a club show and no judging was done on the entries. If you're in the area, why not drop in and take a look?

If you can't get there, or if you'd like a flavour of the show, try the slideshow on the Club's website. The pictures will be changed next week, I think, but for now it shows the painting above.

Friday 25 November 2011

Cakes at the Club

Glasgow Cakes (work in progress)

I went back to the Club yesterday and made a start on this one. Like the fallen tree painting, it's (perhaps obviously) a combination of two images: cakes I saw in a shop window in Glasgow and a view of the city itself from the top of the Lighthouse. Increasingly, I'm looking for ways of bringing elements together like this.

Thursday 24 November 2011

Getting Back to It

Fallen Tree (work in progress)

Actual work has suffered recently as repairs are being done to the house and I've continued to mull over ideas for painting. A few attempts at different ways of working, mainly on paper, have been inconclusive but some of what I achieved has, I think filtered through to my current oil paintings.

This one is an combination of a landscape and a fallen tree seen in Bishopdale last year, which I started late last night, working through until the small hours.. I'm pleased with how it's progressing, although I think I'll have to address the fact that right in the centre of the composition are two trees. Not a good idea to put things there.

Saturday 12 November 2011

Piazza after Rain

Piazza after Rain (Oil on canvas, 12 x 12 ins)

Trying to get into the routine of going to the Club again, I went along on Thursday and finished this small painting of a piazza in Venice. I wish I could remember the name of the piazza - if you know it, please let me know.

It was relatively quiet but evidence of work was everywhere, especially in the drying racks, which were full. I had to find a space in the print-making room to put my painting out of harm's way. Apparently there's talk of changing the arrangements for storage of paintings, perhaps eliminating the wooden drying racks which, though elegantly made by a time-served joiner, don't really meet the needs of the Club. Putting a shelf round the room, rather like a plate shelf, would probably suit us better.

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Self-Portrait 1993

Self-Portrait 1993 (Oil on board, 12.5 x 9 ins)

I found this hidden away in the studio a few days ago. If my intention was to produce some kind of Dorian Gray hold on time, it's not been significantly effective, I'm afraid. When I made this painting I had plans to do a series of self-portraits, but apart from a drawing (which I've published here previously), nothing came of it. I think perhaps everyone, including myself, found the apparently angry stare so frightening that it was put in a dark corner and forgotten about.

My good friend Maureen Stephenson, who is one quarter of our painting group Figure8, recently entered the Ruth Borchard Self-Portrait Competition and her painting, Wysiwyg, was selected for the exhibition. Congratulations are definitely due. She suggested some time ago that I should also enter, but I couldn't fit a self-portrait into my schedule. Had I remembered this self-portrait existed I might well have entered it. Oh well, these things are sent to try us.

Friday 4 November 2011

Boat at Trogir

Boat at Trogir (Oil on board, 6 x 16 ins.)

Calling in at the Club yesterday, I barely had time for a quick chat and to pick up this small painting I completed some time ago.

I really must address the problem of spending time at the Club. Since we moved into the new premises I've hardly been there and I think in part this is due to my not having adapted to the admittedly smaller space and the sense that there is no natural light (in fact the light is all natural but comes through diffusion panels).

Thursday 3 November 2011

XIV Opening Reception

The Opening Reception for the XIV show went off really well yesterday. I was particularly pleased with the way the hang had been arranged, even if it meant that only half of my submitted paintings made it to the wall.Link

My paintings

Tuesday 1 November 2011


I spent much of the day parcelling up a painting to send off to a client in the USA. Making sure a parcel is secure and likely to arrive intact is one of those tasks fraught with worry, but I think the box I constructed from Foamcore should hold up OK.

With luck, the couriers may realise this parcel is fragile.

Friday 28 October 2011

Small Piazza Painting

Piazza (work in progress)

I never tire of painting bits of Venice and my impression is that people never tire of seeing paintings of Venice. This first stage went quite quickly but proved difficult to photograph. In part, this is because, on a whim, I decided to use gold oil paint in the mix for the main building. It reflects very well, of course, but rather too well for the camera. Once it's covered (no Gustav Klimt here!), it should be easier to photograph.


Driftwood (Charcoal and pastel on cartridge paper)

In an idle moment in the studio yesterday I came across a bit of scrap paper and decided to see what I might make of this image of driftwood I'd seen on Holy Island. The paper was a bit lacking in tooth, so the pastel didn't take well, but I think I see something here that may work its way into a painting.

Wednesday 26 October 2011

Sad News

I learned recently form Jamie Sutherland, the owner of the Di Rollo Gallery in Edinburgh, that his father died suddenly in September. It was his dad whom Pat and I first talked to when we were checking out galleries last March and he was such a friendly man that we instantly felt comfortable being there, not always the case in galleries.

On the few occasions when we met him subsequently, he confirmed our first impressions. Our condolences are offered to Jamie and his mother.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Tram with Prickly Pear (Soller)

Tram with Prickly Pear (Soller) (Oil on canvas, 24 x 24 ins.)

And there it is. When I stopped working last night I thought I would have to do just a little more today, but I find I'm satisfied with it the way it is.

Tuesday 18 October 2011

Prickly Too

Tram and Cactus (work in progress)

More work done on the cactus, a really enjoyable task. There's such a great opportunity to find colour within the overall greenness of the plant.

Next: development of the tram passengers and adjustment of the windows which seem to have become differently sized.

Sunday 16 October 2011


Tram and Cactus (work in progress)

Although I'm making some tentative, slow progress towards a new, or at least different direction, nothing seems good enough to post right now.

What is occupying me at the moment is this new painting. Although I intend to show older work - the Vaporetto and Tram series - in the upcoming XIV show, I thought I should make the effort to submit at least one new painting. This is an image I made from a photograph of one of the trams of Soller together with one of the local prickly pear cactus.

I started it on Friday night and painted more on Saturday afternoon. Too wet to work on it today, but I think it's going to be finished in time for handing in next Friday. And I think it has the potential to be a good one, but then I'm biased.

Thursday 6 October 2011


Lest you you should think I've fallen into the Slough of Despond or simply fled the field, I'm taking advantage of a day when my computer is working, to post some details of this upcoming show I'm taking part in. With luck, the computer problems I'm having will be resolved today, or at least by next week.

Meanwhile, here's Bill Varley on the exhibition:

'The fourteen artists featured in this exhibition were mostly participants in a university sponsored course I ran and when its four years were over, they chose to continue - for twenty years or so. Over time, some have left the group whilst others have joined: the injection of new blood has invariably been rejuvenating. They are diverse in their backgrounds: some are fine art graduates, others are post graduates; some are teachers, and there is even a sprinkling of civil servants. What unites them is the belief that art is indivisible: there is not one kind of art practised by the masters and a lesser art practised by everyone else. As a result they work with the utmost seriousness, informing themselves by visiting exhibitions, acquiring a knowledge of relevant examples and patiently and undogmatically developing their own form and content.

As a result the work that they have produced is also diverse. There is everything from precise evocations of Tyneside landscape to clotted painterly hints of domestic interiors, studies of swirling dynamics of water to post modern abstractions which are hybrids of wallpaper patterns and sprayed and splashed paint. (Their great grandfather was surely Kandinsky.) Add to this biblical narratives and painting which share the metaphysical speculations of Caspar David Friedrich and you have a very rich mix.

The painters are not, you will have guessed, novices. Indeed they share with the former distinguished Director of BBC's Radio 3, John Drummond, something invaluable. When a young suit at the Corporation explained to him that his services were no longer required, Drummond asked to know why. "Because you are tainted with experience." replied his assassin. Drummond was so tickled by this that he made it the title of his autobiography. I am pleased to report that the fourteen are similarly tainted.'

--William Varley

The show runs from 1st to 30th of November (open Tuesday to Thursday, 12 -5pm). Opening Reception is on Wednesday 2 November 12 - 2pm.

Monday 26 September 2011

Editor's Choice

I mentioned recently that my painting, Wee Scotland Shop, had been chosen as Editor's Choice for the October issue of Leisure Painter. Here's a scan of the magazine entry.

Friday 23 September 2011

Empty Headed

Sitting on the little balcony above our apartment in Soller, I looked out over the sun-splashed Mallorcan landscape and sipped a small glass of local brandy.

"Pat," I said, "my head is completely empty."

Far from being a worrisome condition, I realised that this was a very desirable state. In the weeks before flying out to Mallorca, my head was full of stuff: worries about money, things that needed doing in the house, the way my work was heading, ... just stuff. And now here I was recognising the absence of all that stuff. Where it all went, who can say, but it had gone and for the two weeks we spent ambling around in fantastic sunshine, my head remained happily empty.

What this inevitably meant was that I did no work in my sketchbooks, so for now I have nothing to show you; but I've mentioned recently that I felt my ways of working were becoming stale and now I can sense the seeds of new ideas settling into the welcoming emptiness of my brain.

In a little while I suspect my long-awaited shake-up may make itself felt. Could be fun.

Tuesday 6 September 2011


The Baker's Wife (work in progress)

I've been working on this, off and on, for quite some time now. It was once a good bit larger and then was cut down, and colours have changed here and there. The final major alteration was in flattening the foreground with the diamond pattern. And still it isn't finished, although it's almost there.

I had hoped to be able to post the finished painting today because I'm leaving you to your own devices for a couple of weeks. Tomorrow Pat and I are off to Mallorca to recharge our batteries and possibly indulge in a bit of a siesta. Be good.

Tuesday 30 August 2011

Clive Hicks-Jenkins

Saint Kevin and the Blackbird - Clive Hicks-Jenkins
Nothing has to be a particular colour any more than it has to observe external laws of perspective. Rather, a painting is a world apart with an internal logic created by the painter. It is one thing to know this, and to accept it in the work of earlier artists, but quite another to do it yourself. Such is the nature of education now that children routinely copy pictures by Van Gogh or Picasso, often painting a bit each then putting the pieces together in a wall-sized collage. The belief seems to be that they will thus acquire a shortcut to the methods and insights of those ground-breaking artists. On the contrary it's like putting down the answer to a mathematical problem with no idea why, except that someone more mathematical than you has told you the answer. Until you understand through repeated practice and experimentation how and why to break rules, even the unwritten ones, all you will be as an artist is a facile imitator.

Rex Hartley (from What is a Still Life in Clive Hicks-Jenkins)

Clive Hicks-Jenkins is one of my recent discoveries. I first came across his very interesting blog, then followed on to his website and finally bought the book about his life and work. The book contains 11 essays about various aspects of his work, including paintings, drawings, and book illustrations and is well worth reading.

I was particularly taken with what Rex Hartley had to say about the use of colour, which I've quoted above. As he says, "It is one thing to know [that colour in painting can have it's own internal logic] but quite another to do it yourself." I have to constantly remind myself of this.

Friday 26 August 2011

Shop News

Wee Scotland Shop (Oil on canvas, 12 x 12 ins)

Things are very quiet here, as you must have noticed. I'm doing a lot of reading and thinking as what passes for the summer goes by, but not much in the way of painting. I suppose a rest is a good thing and will no doubt prepare me for some kind of Great Leap Forward.

Meanwhile, I've learned that this painting has been chosen as the "Editor's Choice" in a national magazine (more on that in due course). As I thought this might be of interest to the Di Rollo Gallery where the painting is on display, I sent them an email. By return I learned that, coincidentally, the painting has sold.

Suddenly, the rain outside seemed to take on a rosy glow.

Monday 15 August 2011

New Citibase Show

This new show at Citibase by the Newcastle Artists Society opened on Friday. I have four works on display and it was quite rewarding to watch people at the private view spend some time looking closely at them:

Rooms & Mannequins (Oil on canvas, 40 x 40 x 4 cm)

Paintings & Prints (Oil on canvas, 40 x 40 x 4 cm)

Breakfast & T-Shirts (Oil on canvas, 40 x 40 x 4 cm)

Rugs & Icons (Oil on canvas, 40 x 40 4 cm)

Look for me on the fourth floor staircase.

Wednesday 10 August 2011

Starting up again

Edinburgh Churchyard (work in progress)

After a week of sitting on my laurels, last Friday I began another Edinburgh painting, only to have to leave it to go to a private view at the wonderful Art Noveau offices of Opus Art in Newcastle. And what an interesting evening that turned out to be! I'd been invited to the opening because April Jarocka had some of her lovely paintings of chocolate bars included in the show, but she hadn't told me she'd be there herself. What a delight, and a somewhat surreal one at that, to finally meet someone I've only known through emails and websites.

On Saturday, Pat and I went to Edinburgh again, this time for the private view of the Festival Exhibition at the Di Rollo Gallery. It was a good opening, with a decent flow of people in and out (including a science fiction fan I've somehow never managed meet in my 45 years of involvement in the field), but the weather turned inclement and I think that made the supply of people eventually dry up.

No sales on the day.

Pat and I decided to go for lunch in Stockbridge and then wander along Princes Street, but as the rain became heavier we were starting to feel not a little damp and uncomfortable. Back on the late afternoon train, we found the rain had been even heavier in Newcastle. I do so love a British summer.

Tuesday 2 August 2011

Lights! Camera! Action!!

Today marks my first entry into the world of movie-making.

My partner Pat has been involved in the filming of a new movie, Song for Marion. Starring Vanessa Redgrave, Terence Stamp and Christopher Eccleston, the plot revolves around a community choir. As she's in a community choir herself, Pat was auditioned for a part in the film's choir and was accepted.

Since then it's been work, work, work and I've hardly seen her, but when you're a movie star, that's just the way it is.

And today I get to play the part of a member of the audience at the choir's performance. I'm getting into my character now .... but I won't let it change my life.

Sunday 31 July 2011

Saturday in Edinburgh

For various reasons I ended up going to Edinburgh on Saturday, despite the Private View being next Saturday. It gave me the opportunity to see my work framed and on the wall, without the crowds I'm hoping for next week getting in the way.

I think they make a good display and should attract buyers, but what do I know?

The best part of the trip, however, was catching up with my old mate Jim Barker, whom I haven't seen for 30 years. We had a great day out in an unusually hot and sunny Edinburgh and it seemed like not a day had gone by since we saw each other last, although the amount of catching up proved how wrong that was.

Thursday 21 July 2011

Silver Hills

Silver Hills (Fountain pen, coloured pencils, A5 sketchbook)

At a bit of a loose end following the intense period of making the Edinburgh paintings, I found myself looking out of the study window today. For the first time in the twenty years I've lived in this house, I decided to draw the view across the Team Valley to the Silver Hills.

Thursday 14 July 2011

Chambers Street, Edinburgh

Chambers Street, Edinburgh (Oil on canvas, 12 x 12 ins)

I am not interested in 'copying' what is in front of me. I find copying pictures very useful and enjoyable up to a point, but copying nature is a different affair. It is, at best, a dull occupation, though I much enjoy using a camera, and find photographs of people and places a good jog to the memory and they can see and record things in a fresh light, or an aspect that had not struck you before.

John Piper (The Artist and the Public, published in Current Affairs No. 96, 2 June 1945)

I quote this for a number of reasons, the first being simply that I admire John Piper's work a great deal and am always interested to read something he said. I suppose another reason is that - justified or not - this painting reminds me a little of Piper. More than anything else, however, is that although I use photographs as source material, this is not what Chambers Street looked like on the day I took this photograph. The details of the structure are more or less accurate, but the whole thing has been filtered through my imagination (and the filters of Photoshop) to bring me closer to what I felt said something to me about the place (and in passing, about colour).

The same process was applied to all of the Edinburgh paintings.

Deacon Brodies Tavern

Deacon Brodies Tavern (Oil on canvas, 12 x 12 ins)

Deacon Brodies Tavern is also on the Royal Mile and it's another I haven't been in. I must make more of an effort in future.

Wee Scotland Shop

Wee Scotland Shop (Oil on canvas, 12 x 12 ins)

This fine emporium of .... Scottish memorabilia and ... um..... tartan stuff is on the Royal Mile leading up to the Castle. I think peculiar little shops like this help to make a city human.

Jekyll & Hyde

Jekyll & Hyde (Oil on canvas, 12 x 12 ins)

This pub is on Hanover Street, not too far from the Di Rollo Gallery. Amazingly, I've never been inside.

Wednesday 13 July 2011

Evening, Hanover Street

Evening, Hanover Street (Oil on canvas, 30 x 30 cm)

Paint what you see, not what you know, is a useful maxim and one I usually subscribe to. So why did I question the way this painting was going? Because I didn't believe the evidence of my eyes, or at least what I could see in my own photograph. I knew the spire in this view was a long way behind everything else, so I wanted aerial perspective to make it fall back.

When I went to Edinburgh again recently, I made a point of looking at this view again and again and sure enough the visual weight of the spire (which appears to belong to The Hub) is such that it really does force itself forward. So finishing the painting turned out to be far easier than I'd persuaded myself it would be.

In my report of the research trip to Edinburgh I neglected to mention the very warm welcome Pat and I received when we called in at the Di Rollo Gallery. A special expedition was launched to bring in a supply of very good biscuits and wine and coffee flowed. We really enjoyed what was intended to be simply a brief "hello".

Tuesday 12 July 2011

Pub No.2

Second Pub (work in progress)

Late last night I decided I needed another Edinburgh pub painting. This is the result. It's moved along quite nicely, so I'm confident it can be finished in time to take them all to the gallery on Saturday where they'll be framed.

Monday 11 July 2011

Shop Work

Shop (work in progress)

Some corrections and redefining on this painting today. One of the dangers of buying relatively cheap Chinese canvases is that they're not always perfectly made. In this case, I realised yesterday that the canvas is not a true square. It's slightly off-square, enough to throw some of my earlier work out of square too.. I reckon I've put that right today and when the canvas is framed, there won't be anything amiss.

Saturday 9 July 2011

More Pub Work

Pub (work in progress)

An hour or two today moving this pub painting along. Forget what I said about one painting being more difficult than the other. In fact, this is likely to prove the more difficult, whereas I thought the shop painting would pose problems.

It was unfair of me to ask you to say which would be the difficult one and even more unfair to ask you to say why. The actual reason is because the photograph I have of the shop is full of people milling about in front of the door and downstairs window. Luckily, the Interweb managed to fill in the missing information for me.But you weren't to know that. I think I was just talking to myself out loud.