Monday, November 30, 2009

Priming Part Two

A second day of priming and some good results. I decided to use gesso, first spraying with water to retard drying. I slapped on a lot and used a spreader at first, then when the layer was reasonably even used a sponge roller.

This was slow work. The paint was so thick and wet that the bubbles when rolled were quite large. This, I've discovered, can be fixed by rolling when slightly more dry. I continued to roll until smooth, then dried with a hairdryer. Then I sanded the surface. Winsor and Newton Gesso has a jelly-like consistency and it can be sanded quite well, a good balance between a plastic and hard feel I think, for an acrylic gesso.

After sanding I sprayed again and applied a second coat, this time spreading with the sponge roller. Less paint needed. Then dry, then sand. The result was even although the texture of the canvas remains very visible and there are lots of tiny holes. That can't be helped. This is as good a job as I've done, and from the back when held up to the light there are no blotches or signs of lack of homogeneity.

Good! After that I rechecked the corners with a huge steel L, then traced the underdrawing using a fine embossing scribe. The painting is now ready for paint!

Key lessons:
1. Good light! Checking every bit for evenness while applying each layer.
2. Retarding drying with water spray, then drying with a hairdryer when even.
3. Practise. The lesson that every student hates to hear and loves to ignore.

This is "Now I've Tasted Love There Is No Going Back To A Loveless Life", the second in a series of three big square paintings. It's not a triptych, just three same sized paintings on a theme. I probably won't start painting until next year and should finish by this time next year.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


Priming today. My last canvas failed, so I needed to prepare a new one. This is always tricky. I use acrylic canvas from a company called Point North. It's very tough stuff, water resistant and very lightfast, cheaper than linen and better in every way. They make a good acrylic coated polyester I aim to try too.

I've stretched and prepared four or five large ones so far, and my "procedure list" is evolving. The surface is slightly "furry" like felt and takes acrylic very well, making a soft looking downy texture that is a dream to paint on, but it can be difficult getting it flat and it does use a lot of primer.

First I stretch. My friend Sue did the stapling today, and two people are better than one. Then a layer of Golden GAC400 applied with a spreader. This is a fabric stiffener, but it doesn't stiffen that much really. Being an acrylic canvas I could paint straight on if needed but it's whiteness is not totally white and it's furry absorbency will probably be at odds with the way I paint. One reason for the GAC is that it's very liquid, and dries slowly. Those things make it easy to pour on lots and even it out, filling in the gaps on the weave and creating a smoother surface.

Up until now I've dried with a hairdryer then primed but this time I'll wait 24 hours. Last time I applied a second coat of GAC400 but that canvas was blotchy, and I suspect it was due to water spray and inadequate drying time between layers. The first square one, over a week ago, went from GAC400 to three coats of Winsor and Newton Acrylic Gesso Primer. That one was excellent, but did use lots of "gesso".

I'm undecided about the next stage. Generally speaking I like to try something that I haven't tried before, even if what I've done before seems to work adequately.

What I'll do with my 82x82 square "reject" canvas is another problem!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Apocalypse of Finance

The Apocalypse of Finance, oil on panel. This is my largest painting of 2009 and is about chaos and stability. The colour relationships and the interesting here, using my simple "chromo-surrealist" rules to create contrast in the areas that require dramatic effect.

Art Liberating Lives

I've just heard that my painting has made it into the exhibition for Art Liberating Lives, the event organised by the Sue Ryder charity. The picture is called The Death By Explosion Of Moons and Keyholes.

The event is quite short, running from December the 16th to the 20th (Wed to Sun) and is held in the Mall Galleries, close to Trafalgar Square London. I'm especially pleased with my painting and I'm sure it will sell. I already think I should have set a higher price.

Today I've been working on something similar because like 'Moons' it includes moons, and possibly plaster and gemstones too. Even as a plain painting this picture will be a great masterpiece. I can clearly visualise the frame which needs to be polished black stone of the sort that black gravestones are made. However I must be careful not to leap ahead. There are many technical challenges ahead and it's one of many paintings I'm planning at the moment.

Speaking of black gravestones however I can announce the death of Rene Descartes, or rather his painting. I had struggled with an idea about a painting that was about his philosophy, and although there were some new visual ideas, and some beauty and technical complexity worthy of showing off, it felt empty.

Let us go onward!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


After a stressful weekend of travelling it took all of yesterday to settle back down. Last night I had many fantastic dreams including one where I was tiger hunting. The monster was frightening and my rifle seemed puny. I shot it in the head but it continued to come towards me. In the end it put it's head right into the barrel before I let off the seventh and final shot to kill it.

I started to write up my surreal novel on Sunday night but will need encouragement from friends to get it written I think. I'm re-obsessed with paintings and have lots of new ideas, some of great size and ambition. The latest to be drawn out today included six moons of varying size. Drawing the same craters again and again was a good exercise in itself!

I made clay models of the principle protagonist yesterday and thought about the sculptures seen in the all media exhibition in Birmingham. I make lots of models like this. Perhaps it's time to enter some into exhibitions along with my paintings.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

On the Road to Birmingham

I was in London yesterday dropping off my painting for the Sue Ryder charity's Art Liberating Lives exhibition. Fingers are now crossed. Today it's Birmingham and a collection of work from the R.B.S.A. Gallery with Jean Briers. Here are the words to a song that was in my head this morning when I awoke. The music is, magically, rather like Bicycle Race by Queen, partly because I fell asleep thinking of the concept of a song that crossed Mama Mia with Bicycle Race. Lo and behold, the tune and words were in my head when I awoke. Mama Mia by Abba is psychologically connected to Birmingham for convoluted reasons!

On The Road To Birmingham

Look at the road and look at the street.
look at the people from the seat
of our amazing day.
See all the fountains, factories.
See all the stray cats and the bees
going about their way.

We're on the road to Birmingham
excitement on the way.
We're on the road to Birmingham today.
We're on the road to Birmingham
the cars are rushing by.
We're on the road to Birmingham the sky
is full of joy.

Going to see my auntie Jean
and uncle Tom and cousin Bean
in their amazing shed.
Going to wear their ginger wigs
and dance a few perverted jigs
or have a drink instead.

We're on the road to Birmingham
excitement on the way.
We're on the road to Birmingham today.
We're on the road to Birmingham
the cars are rushing by.
We're on the road to Birmingham the sky
is full of joy.

Going to stand in tartan shoes
see all the sights and feel the blues
painting the buildings grey.
And in the evening we'll go out
tweak any nose and run about.
What a fantastic day!

We're on the road to Birmingham
excitement on the way.
We're on the road to Birmingham today.
We're on the road to Birmingham
the cars are rushing by.
We're on the road to Birmingham the sky
is full of joy.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Drawing a Mess

Today I reaffirmed that I can draw! This afternoon I completely realised a new idea, assembled the objects to copy and drew them in a short three or four hours. The picture is called Happy Butterflies, and so includes many of the flying creatures. I seem to be rather butterflyish of late. I'm not sure why.

Drawing is easy. Very easy. But it's amazing how many artists don't think they can draw. So, if you are such an artist here is why drawing is easy.

1. Drawing accurately is simply a matter of "spot the difference" between what you've drawn and the thing you are copying.
2. It doesn't have to be perfect. Accept that and a drawing will come out better than a strained attempt to make it perfect.
3. Finally the ultimate clause; every line you make is an expression of your personality. To draw 100% accurately is to kill that self-expression and so is not desirable. This rule makes it impossible to draw "badly". This rule is not an excuse to not learn how to draw, though. This skill of all skills, is valuable for creative reasons.

Most drawing (and painting!) is having the confidence to try. It seems that many amateur painters are too afraid to even sign their name for fear of making a mess! If you are one such artist then read and accept rule three and sign. No matter what happens it will be your mess. What is a signature but that?


When an artist asks "how do you paint reflections?" or "how do you paint water?" or "how do you paint cloth?" they are thinking like proceduralists. They are asking for a trick or procedure that can be used to paint things like those objects.

Procedures like that can be useful for invented objects, and certain media too, with tricks like this being part and parcel of watercolour painting, but when oil painting something it's easiest to never be a proceduralist. Artists paint images, not things. A picture of a pipe is not a pipe!

A tree, a face, a sky, an apple, a pile of cornflakes, a pearl necklace. No matter what is to be painted everything can be done simply and carefully from top to bottom in one layer, using a tiny brush and tunnel vision.

Invented objects can be painted in this way too. For those it's best then not to move slowly but "deeply", forming an amorphous blob into the object. For this, a good visual knowledge bank is needed established by lots of observation.

Those are the only two tricks needed to paint anything.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Infinite Forest

Music! I cry. This has been a month of mixed emotions but good productivity. Over the past few days I've been finishing a new album of music, The Infinite Forest. The work stems from a music commission from last year for a suite of tunes. Those were rather short and all looping. I've expanded and edited the music into a full album. It is sequenced and produced on computer as usual but for the first time the instruments are all orchestral, and it has a feel like the sort of music that Nintendo include in their epic games. The story is of a quest for love. Here is a prospective track listing.

1. The Knight
2. Vision Of The Angel
3. Dark Forces
4. Lost Friends
5. March Of The Iron Animals
6. Orb Of Prophecy
7. Waltz Of The Forest
8. The Photograph
9. The Talking Butterflies
10. The Iron Graveyard
11. Victory
12. The Angel

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

R.B.S.A. Open All Media Exhibition

The Royal Birmingham Society Of Artists Open All Media Exhibition opens tomorrow. My painting Two Roman Legionaries Discovering The God-King Albion Turned Into Stone will be on display. This is my second appearance at the gallery.

Monday, November 16, 2009


Many fantastic dreams last night including Derren Brown telling me that I'll die of an infection next month, and the concept of a "peace shop", a dimly lit quiet room with comfortable seating in shopping centres where stressed shoppers pay to rest peacefully. I also wanted to win the national lottery jackpot but could only manage to win £19,000. I had three good painting ideas too. Today though I will continue work on the music which is still untitled.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


The Birmingham drop off went well and was quick. Many thanks to Jean for taking me.

Next I have a few days that I'd like to use for music and sound effects. I wrote a suite of music for a computer game last year that I will expand into an album. The music uses orchestral instruments throughout and has no percussion, it's melody based and all very pleasant. The original suite used short loops, one or two minutes, so I'd like to expand these for length and essentially remove the loop.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Money Just Running Out

Money Just Running Out, Oil on panel, 541x345mm.

I completed this in September but it was only dry enough to scan accurately today. The picture is based on an idea from 2007 about the panic of running out of money, here the ground literally falling away.


Well, this month and next seem like some sort of peak of the exhibition season with lots of pick-up and drop off dates to open exhibitions and competitions. It's getting a bit too much and I'm a little depressed today having not done any actual work since Tuesday, and with tomorrow one free day before another drop-off on Sunday, by and with my friend the artist Jean Briers for The Royal Birmingham Society of Artists Open.

I did learn today that rules and submission requirements should be checked very thoroughly. I failed to put mirror plates on two paintings submitted for The Three Counties Open. That fact rather astonished me because I delivered the paintings with some others by a friend and I pointed out that one of hers lacked mirror plates. I also pointed out that one of mine had the plates the wrong way round, and thirdly I attach mirror plates to every painting when I make the frame whether I use them or not, so in this case I must have at some point deliberately removed them before submitting them!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Some colour studies today. I plan three big square paintings, a "love" trilogy and today's quick work was on the colours for the first, "Abandoning Someone Who Was A Friend To Me When I Had None". The simple colour study is powerful already.

Tomorrow I'm going to the Manchester Art Gallery (and later the Lowry) as part of an organised trip by my art group. I want to see the Angels of Anarchy exhibition which shows paintings by female surrealists including Frida Kahlo, Dorothea Tanning and Leonora Carrington that I know well from books but haven't seen in real life. I'm quite excited!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Portrait of Andrew Williams

Today I added a glazing layer to Portrait Of Andrew Williams as Writer Dreamer. I didn't do much planning regarding the colours and the dark red figure looks rather stark, the blue-grey greens of the floor are a bit strange too, yet I can't picture other colours there looking better. The floor is filled with an improvised landscape, here a forest of white trees with letters hanging in them.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Keele Three Counties Open 2009

I've just returned from the opening to the Three Counties Open at Keele University, an annual open art exhibition where one of my paintings was selected. The variety of work there shows what a difficult choice the judges have. Only about 115 paintings are selected from over 450 entries.

I'm never quite sure what to make of exhibitions. I can analyse artworks. I'm good at analysis but what I "like" is very driven by my analysis. If I don't know what to feel I get stuck. It's rare for me to have instant likes or dislikes, but I can see the good points and bad points, merits and flaws in just about anything.

The judges are different each year, which is a nice feature, and prizes were awarded. The winner used pieces of glass to add a texture not evident from a distance to make a abstracted set of figures that looked a bit like Les Demoiselles d'Avignon in thick scribble.

There were many good works there. Hare at Sunset by Kate Gandolfo stood out and was commended by the judges too.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Gary Fernandez

Today I completed the large underdrawing to a future painting called Now I've Tasted Love There Is No Going Back To A Loveless Life. The floor is rather empty which is my current compositional concern.

I've also been briefly browsing around the website of an artist called Gary Fernandez, an artist with a clean and very recognisable style.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009


Sometimes you need to believe that you are the best in the world at something just to have the confidence and drive to do it and see it through. Such a belief is only truly possible when naive. Perhaps naivety is the most useful possession of youth.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Joy to the World

Yes! My big painting is finished. I'll keep its image a secret for now. More importantly are the lessons learned...

1. Transparent azo yellow is very strong and very transparent. For glazing over light colours to use as a yellow is rarely advisable. I used this on a study but it was too "electric" and the cadmium I used on the actual painting was much better. I've had good results with the yellow over darker earth reds, and too with viridian to make excellent yellow greens. It's too transparent to model with on it's own though, and with white is no better than cadmium.

2. Large plain flat areas are fine on small paintings but on big ones can appear tedious.

3. Gold paint can look as good as gold leaf, but only in tiny sections because it dries very quickly and can become blobby. Gold leaf, with all it's difficulties, looks better when gold is needed.

4. Venetian red is the ultimate earth red. It's a colour that I love each time I use, and on this picture I used only venetian red, "naples yellow" deep (that is PBr24), cobalt turquoise light and black and white for underpainting which covered enough of the spectrum for any final colour (violets are the only notable problem, and remain so given the very long drying time of my Old Holland Dioxazine... my new plan for that is to mix with an earth during underpainting and glaze with ultramarine violet which is practically the same shade but very weak in power by comparison).


Monday, November 02, 2009

Apocalypse Figure

I did some work on the figure for The Apocalypse of Finance today. The colours worked very well despite being simple, yellow ochre light (Winsor and Newton's very transparent and very nice yellow ochre) and Transparent Maroon, a colour I never tire of, like an intense transparent Venetian Red. The feet were improvised which was a challenge and I'm unhappy with the expression, but on the whole this is one of my better poses that looks better in reality than in a photograph.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Castles of the Mind

Here's a photo of my most recent painting called Castles Of The Mind. It was originally about order forming spontaneously from chaos and was an improvised swirl of paint that led to a square. The swirl was "automatically" pushed and pulled into cloudy castle shapes. The painting is in oil on a coarse canvas board. The blue ground is thinned acrylic that was sponged on.