Why tidy up?

This painting has been a struggle, it still isn’t right but  there are fewer bits that bother me now and more that I like.  When doing interpretive work from photographs, it’s interesting to consider why I sometimes worry that something ‘isn’t right’. For example, the arm and hand on the right of this image are ‘wrong’, but I liked the way they turned out just with the simple watercolour washes, they are expressive of the gesture in the photo. The arm and hand on the left were ‘wrong’ – meaning located and shaped differently from in the photo – and for some reason I felt the urge to correct that and eventually resorted to drawing in charcoal pencil, then adding more paint. I’m not quite comfortable with the solution, but in a way I like the wrongness of my attempt to change it. There are various deliberate technical inconsistencies in this piece.img061

Of course, when you are using collage, there is always the option to stick something over the bit you don’t like and carry on from there. I didn’t want to overload this painting, as a lot of it consists of very simple early wash layers. It’s from a peculiar and complex original photo so most likely I’ll do another version rather than go on tinkering with this.

Keeping it going

Recently visited an exhibition in which there were masses of drawings, small paintings and doodles displayed on all the walls, as if everything that came into the artist’s head had made its way on to a piece of paper. I am trying to work this way, as many ideas are tumbling around in my mind but may not feel ‘cooked’ enough for a major piece. The mixed media pieces I’m posting here are almost random, and still evolutionary. I’m not judging or commenting as I have nothing yet to say about them. Any feedback will be gratefully received.



Style and technique

I’ve become rather hooked on the line drawing lately, there’s such a liveliness to the rough line of the twig drawings, as there was in the very quick ballpoint drawings that I did on the spot. The first here was made with a twig dipped in very fluid watercolour and done quite quickly, so there are errors and overlaps.


.I made another slightly larger drawing with fewer figures in the same way and decided to use colour within the shapes, but preserving some of the line work. As it went along, I felt it was bordering on being a cartoon, which is undesirable with this subject, though the figures do have some humour to them, and I gradually varied the colour work more, while still remaining quite graphic. Part of the fascination with these mummies is their different costumes, as the full collection covers five centuries and various different professions and trades.img048I like the way this works, but also felt I needed to loosen up the technique, so I made a very quick, small (postcard size) painting which seems to refer back to previous works, as none of the clothing is defined. To go on with this sequence, I will be aiming somewhere in between the two images and techniques. img049


More on the mummies

Looking back on the sketches I made in Catacombe dei Capuccini, they seem to contain a lot of character and detail. It’s a different thing when you start to use the sketches as a basis for further work. Then it becomes apparent how relatively little information they contain. I’ve been making ink line and watercolour wash drawings, as a way of getting to know the shapes and  forms. These naturally create variations on the form, which sometimes disappointed me at first, but then I realised it’s a way of claiming the images for myself, so I eventually get free of the actuality and take off in another direction. Another possibility will be to make 3D figures and use them as models for drawing. A couple of examples here can be compared with the previous post of the original sketches. I used a twig to draw the ink line, which produces some clumsiness in places, but has a different vitality from a pen line. So far, I am going with subdued colour that echoes the aged appearance of the mummies’ clothing.

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The mummies of Palermo

Last week a long weekend in Palermo to visit something I have wanted to see ever since I first heard about it – Catacombe dei Cappucini. This extraordinary underground burial chamber contains thousands of mummified bodies, the first mummified in the 16th century, the last in the early twentieth. It is well catalogued in websites, so worth looking on a search engine to see the variety and arrangement of the remains. There are several broad corridors, categorized for the monks, priests, men, women and children. Out of respect and to help preserve the bodies, no photography is allowed, so I spent my time drawing. (Incidentally, I don’t understand why some visitors seem proud of themselves when they manage to flout the no photos request.)  Each mummy has an individual character, and the clothing enhances the differences. It is a truly astonishing and humbling experience to be allowed to see this.





I have about 25 drawings and some diagrams, so I’m not going to post them all, but these are probably my favourites, the last (below) a marvellously simple form – not quite fully skeletonised and bound in a plain robe.


The drawings were done in black ballpoint in a small Moleskine sketchbook. (There is  a ghost image in these scans which is the drawing on the next page showing through.)

Cemetery art trail

A while ago, I visited West Norwood cemetery in south London where, through July, they had an art trail of 21 pieces responding to the architecture, layout and purpose of the cemetery. It’s well worth a visit without any added art, being one of a number of large Victorian built cemeteries on the outskirts of London that are monumental in scale and intention..

For me, several of the artworks were a bit disappointing, lacking ambition considering the landscaping and visual richness of the site. The themes of remembering, celebrating and mourning lend themselves so broadly to visual interpretation, as can be seen from the many ways in which ordinary people memorialise their losses. One part of the cemetery is a special section for the Greek population of London in the nineteenth century, where I was particularly impressed by this mourning figure. You can only view it from below due to the height of the stone catafalque.PENTAX Image

Graves for children and young people are particularly touching, but also tend to be more imaginatively decorated than those for adults.PENTAX Image

But I love this idea of passing into eternity, however one imagines it, accompanied by beloved companions.PENTAX Image

And this colourful grave is a fabulous variation on the traditional funeral flowers.PENTAX Image

This portrait is one the art pieces I found particularly successful, combining a classic pose from christian painting and sculpture with an iconography of daily life. (I will credit the artists  whose work is shown below when I find my art trail map.)PENTAX Image

Within the structure of a standard Victorian monument, the subtlety of this next piece was almost easy to miss.The small ceramic plaques.celebrate the memory of two otherwise unremarkable people whose names the artist chose from the old registers, together with small votive objects, bottles and bowls containing symbolic materials. I wasn’t able to get the full detail of the plaques; the old fashioned handwriting from the register is reproduced in ceramic glaze.PENTAX Image

All this material links for me to the themes of memory and forgetting that I have been working with in my own projects. I have so far done a brush drawing and a watercolour painting bringing some of the imagery together, which I will record in the blog later when the series is further on.

Although my photo fails to do it justice, I can’t resist adding this hanging ‘wreath’, using the now ubiquitous fashion of spelling out words in flowers. Its simple slogan perfectly expresses my own feelings about how bereavement echoes down the years.PENTAX Image

Artists Open Houses, Brighton Festival;

There have been no posts during May as I’ve been totally preoccupied with my open house. I forgot how much work is involved in transforming the home acceptably into a gallery setting and trying to keep it in order throughout the month, although I was only open to the public on Sundays. This was a good experience for me: as a solo painter, I get fewer visitors than houses that open with a wide range of artists and makers, but the people who come are very interested in painting and do look carefully at the work, which has resulted in a pleasing number of sales.PENTAX ImageThis picture shows the front of the living room with the Fighting Cats paintings on the wall. The ducks and the sculpture are things I own. Although I have to clear the rooms where I’m showing, it’s nice to retain some personal items that give a broader sense of who I am and what I like, which in my case includes a lot of plants and books as well as favourite objects. The Significance of Bears paintings were hung together on the opposite wall. PENTAX ImagePENTAX Image

The ground floor is one big through room: at the back there are pictures from the Family Photos, Brown Paper Drawings and Bears series. I couldn’t bring myself to dismantle the electronic drum kit, thinking I would probably find it difficult to put it back together. Sadly, few visitors seized the chance to release their inner rock god, although I was happy for anyone to play.

The studio was arranged more informally. There were very few framed or mounted pictures up there. Works on show were both finished and unfinished, I also included a few that I consider unsuccessful but that help to explain thought processes and links between the works. PENTAX ImagePENTAX Image

My photo wall was left in place – this consists of found photos I have clipped and saved over a period of many years, and the images contribute ideas to a variety of works. The Brown Paper Drawings, for example, are entirely composed of images from the photo wall.

The main problem I’ve always had with doing open house is that it diverts my attention and energy from doing new work.  This year I have made an effort to get going on a new project and now look forward to reclaiming the studio space, making a mess, pursuing new strands of work. My thanks to all the visitors who came, it is not only sales that make this kind of exhibition worthwhile, but general interest and feedback, and the occasional person who says it has inspired them to try something painterly. The recent a-n artists’ survey reveals that the most highly valued reason for exhibiting is to share the work with the public.