Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Carelesstaker

A second day of glazing. In between, I watched extracts of plays and poems by Harold Pinter, one of my favourite writers. I had an idea for a painting that was about errors. I remember reading that it had been proven philosophically that a certain proportion of all communication is erroneous, and while painting, and making errors, I noted that a certain proportion of every task is erroneous. The painting title, therefore is "A Certain Proportion Of Any Accomplishment Is Erroneous". The idea sketch shows some elements, a face being painted with mistakes. Collapsing letters, as well as codes and mathematics.

At the end of the Harold Pinter programme, an extract from his Nobel Prize speech was read. It essentially said, that a certain proportion of all communication is erroneous. So it looks like at least part of me got the message!

Now! To more interesting things. Today's painting will be completed tomorrow. My list of things to do is as voluptuous as the world's finest grapes. Onward then, to sup the wine of action and feel the warm numbness of destiny!

Friday, January 29, 2010


Steady progress. Colours used; French Ultramarine, W/N Burnt Sienna, Yellow Ochre, Titanium White.

Blockx Transparent Mars Brown is the same colour as Winsor and Newton Transparent Red Oxide. I'm wondering if Blockx Transparent Mars Red is the same colour as Winsor and Newton Burnt Sienna (both PR101; not natural earth).

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Civilisation Network

A glorious day! First I glued two picture frames. One is a bit larger than required and so needs special lengths of wood fitting so that the picture fits tightly inside. Then I spent a few hours backing up my computer, which I do monthly, then to a second hard drive which is stored off site every three months. This took longer than usual.

Then I put down in words some of my thoughts about hierarchical societies and the formation of spontaneous order. That, and ideas about the nature chaos are the two philosophies that will most occupy my artwork over the next few months. I'll put the words at the bottom of this blog post.

After lunch I designed some business cards, and then began glazing a small picture called "Flower of Awe". That's finished and drying now, my first picture of 2010 signed off. I won't post a photo because the frame should add to the impact. That glazing was an aperitif for the main course that starts tomorrow, the glazing of The Transmittance of Pity, which I underpainted a couple of weeks ago. I used the colour study as a test bed and rubbed some glaze colours over it to be sure I had what I wanted. Generally speaking it will be glazed in just ultramarine, burnt sienna, yellow ochre and white.

And now the aforementioned notes on social networks. All comments are most welcome.

My latest idea for creative exploration is the understanding that society and civilisation is built from the bottom up. Leaders exist because of the collective actions of the individuals at the bottom. Even in a dictatorship the leaders exist with the consent of the people. Leadership is created by the led.

This has many political implications. A leader will reflect the personality of those led. The will of the led is more significant than the will of the leadership, although most of the time both will reflect each other. Those that criticise their leaders either dislike themselves or lack understanding of their leaders. The power of an individual increases with the number of connections. Success in a society is measured by the quantity of connections and it's better to connect with people who have large numbers of connections.

The collective actions and interactions of individuals form a sort of higher intelligence, built from the bottom up. The state of a typical household or typical street will reflect the state of the nation. That happens because the nation is a network of typical households and typical streets, and those things are networks of typical people.

Like the individuals within it, this higher intelligence has thoughts, dreams, aspirations, a will, an intellect, an unconscious, and a self image. Nations can have a personality, be aggressive or passive, friendly or unfriendly, rich or poor or any other aspect that the individuals that constitute a nation can possess.

The news output of a nation reflects its views, but like a person's thoughts can guide views by an equal amount. Negative people have negative dreams and positive people have positive dreams. Dreams both reflect and contribute towards and personality. A persons thoughts and attitude can change by changing their dreams, and in the same way the attitude of a nation can change by changing its news and artistic output.

Gossip, news and art achieve the same functions in society; they are the communication media. Gossip is normally restricted to a small quantity of friends, news to a larger network, and artworks and philosophies to yet larger networks, often across centuries. An artist doesn't have to be living to have connections and affect the network.

The self image of a nation is as important as the self image of an individual. A nation that considers itself aspirational and righteous becomes so. As with individuals, nations with goals and vision will attain goals and realise that vision. Nations without goals or aspirations lack vitality and become unhappy.

>It is the responsibility of individuals to create their nation, and it is the responsibility of writers and artists to reflect but also guide society. Those who portray society as negative encourage negativity, and as such the role of censorship is important and all artists and communicators have a responsibility towards society.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


A mix of things today but generally it was a day of rest and social activities, as my Wednesdays usually are. For me the weekend is Wednesday and Friday is my Monday. I'm continuing to write a poem each night, and find that 10:30pm is the perfect time for this. I'll post last night's poem.

Voyage West

Sea breezes
flow over wet skin.
Cold and thin.
The breath of Boreas.

Above, the sail thick
booms in the gust.
West we sail.
Sail we must.

A bright orange sun stings our eyes
as we stare to where our new day lies,
to forests and plains.
Hot rains.
Gold wrought by savage tribes,
ast out from Eden
to a different paradise.

The lookout cries.
A finger to the skies.
Ropes snap taught.
Clouds part,
as the moon in silver gleam shines down.
A screech from above,
and all hear the sound.
A glint on the horizon leaps.
Land is found.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Now I've Tasted Love

Today I transferred the new parts of "Now That I've Tasted Love..." to the canvas. It's still not a perfect system. I'm not used to stretching, priming and painting on canvas and so I still have a few options concerning the best way to do it. The tracing process is having difficulty for two reasons; firstly the surface is knobbly and so the lines can remain on the tops of the knobbles, and secondly it's plastic and so the waxy pencil doesn't like sticking there. The best solution is a smoother surface but for the time being that's not easy. My acrylic canvas is thick and very tough but I'm thinking that something smoother like polyester might have been easier to prepare.

Anyway one of my main tasks was to add detail to the reptile part. See below. In the original idea the object was a crocodile, even though it looks more like a snake in shape. It was from by unconscious so I'll have to accept things; it is a crocodile. My brain knew exactly what it meant. It would be quite wrong of me to disagree!

I realised I had to add scales, so first I divided the shape into horizontal bands, bending out from the centre. Then added vertical bands. At that point it looked like a grid. At that stage I could decide on any scale pattern, so I looked up a few crocodile images and made something halfway between a snake and a crocodile.

Painting this will be arduous. I won't start until at least March.

Monday, January 25, 2010


Bits and bobs today. First I cut five frames for pictures that need them and glued one. I can only glue one per day because I only have one band clamp, it's all I'll ever need! They're much better than metal 45 degree clamps because they hold the frame in tension while it glues.

Then I quickly sketched out some music. I quickly thought up a story for a concept album, about a evil wizard who attacks the world, and a hero who must capture and/or recruit lots of mythical beasts to combat him and save the planet. This is a (very) rough melody for the phoenix, which has a lumbering time signature to convey flight:

Phoenix.mp3 (a note from the future: this link was temporary, so is now inactive)

I'll pause the music project for now and get back to painting. I've got rough notes for four or five tracks and I've written my first really new music in over a year. The past week has been a success.

After lunch I got back to art and refining the sketch to a painting that I had already transferred to the canvas! My "love" trilogy is not two paintings big (is this called a biology?! Not really a diptych when they are a series not a unified work!) anyway, I've decided to defer the third picture into a future year and instead work on other things, as well as improve the second one. That is what I've been doing until now, and have just added a profile image and lots of tiny crocodile scales. I'll have to transfer my additions to the canvas sooner or later.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Pandorean Dreams

I've had two Pandorean dreams recently which have disturbed me.

Last night's involved a moth in a car. A life-form detection system showed that a car had three life-forms inside when there were two passengers. My only conclusion was that the car itself was alive, a Transformer. I began to cut up the car to make it show itself, then in the back near the floor I saw a moth masking an alien spacecraft, a Krellian invasion ship containing millions of aliens ready to invade our space. I recognised that it was the culprit and the memory of how it got there magically appeared. I then flashed back to a quiz show years earlier in which I was Hugh Dennis. I detected the invasion plot before it was a danger and I decided to hide the aliens inside a caterpillar and erase everyone's memory of the incident. Now, a fool had accidentally moved the moth and uncovered the pupae, reawakening the aliens and making the invasion inevitable. I knew that my actions from years before were only ever going to delay the terrible invasion, and so I became resigned to my fate.

That was not so frightening as a similarly themed nightmare from a few days earlier. To cut a long story short an innocent bystander had accidentally released lots of monsters that I had under control. I had no choice but to accept their escape even though I knew that it meant the end of the world.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Music Day Two

More music today. Better progress. I had a headache at 1pm which indicates that my frontal lobes are rearranging themselves to prepare for music, a good sign! One of the key benefits of creating in multiple disciplines is that it keeps the mind flexible and open to new ideas. As such this music will help my painting, and vice versa.

As with painting, the key is to visualise before writing, and recently I've been using the same methods for writing music as for painting; to invent the concept first and determine the mood. The mood seems to appear easily but the melody is more difficult. At the moment I'm writing that late at night and using the production to determine the mood but I don't think that is ideal. My melodies also have a tendency to be short and repetitive, and not as cyclic and floating as they could be.

These methods are all relatively new to me. For Animalia I'd often write the music, then when I was happy with the production, think of what it sounded like then modify the music to suit. Only the more recent tracks, such as Seed To Field To Seed or Acorn To Oak on The Twelve Seasons, had definite ideas before the music was written.

Friday, January 22, 2010


I've been working on music today. It's been a long time since I've done that and I know it will take days of drifting and seeming listlessness, thinking, trying, thinking, trying, before anything happens. Unlike painting I tend to sketch in things and modify, like painting plein-air. That's not the way I paint, and for my last album I wrote the themes on piano first, which is easier when the instrumentation is limited to simple orchestral ones (cello, strings, woodwind) instead of the full gamut that the electronic ensemble can provide.

Today I made a few musical "sketches". I have a few rough ideas for unifying themes that would make an album, but nothing firm. Now I'm simply getting re-acquainted with the process. I need more passion and drama.

I thought I'd share today's sketch, it's like a rough underpainting of sound. This could be expanded in size, or layered to add details, enhance contrasts and finesse exactly as with a painting, but I think I'll not go much further. These first few steps are to test the water. I know it'll take a day or two of mind bending to retrain my brain musically, and then the music will write itself.

The Door.mp3 (a note from the future: this link was temporary, so is now inactive, sorry!)

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Restoration today. Last night I noticed that a few big pictures had a few scratch marks, only slight but these concerned me. Today I decided to fix them up and re-examine every picture. I also decided that and from now on I'd make sure that all works without glass (not that many, only the largest ones) had a cardboard cover to protect the front while stored here.

For Sunset With Rose Petals I know that the damage was caused while on exhibition at Keele University. One picture I showed there a couple of years ago had quite severe damage that required repainting. I've decided not to enter anything there unless it's glazed from now on. Glass really does help protect a painting.

The work was quite hard, but the restoration parts were easy! The day was mostly cutting card and reframing. The Albion picture had flaking paint on the frame, which was plain pine wood painted with acrylic to make it look like granite (pictured). I now know that acrylic paint alone is not tough enough for a frame, so I've varnished it with a tough wood varnish and it's much better.

The Albion Frame

The scuff marks on Sunset turned out to be light marks that extended only to the varnish. A cotton bud dipped in OMS quickly erased them and restored everything to former glory. I decided to reframe Penalties and add glass. This picture was painted flat on my desk, so was quite dusty. I spent time removing lots of dust bit by bit with tweezers and now the picture looks better than it ever did.


Then I came to correct two scratches in 31st Century Crucifixion. These were short streaks in an inconspicuous part of the sky, but they were deeper than the varnish. Unfortunately, the sky on this one uses transparent glazes so overpainting was not an option without using lots of layers, nigh on impossible to do that and colour match the work with the surrounding sky.

There were several options, the most complex being to erase an area down to the gesso and repaint. I have done that on a previous painting and it worked, but it's tricky and the grain of the surface was affected then making the repair visible (if you knew to look for it!) In the end I decided to paint a new feature there, some small clouds which fitted the composition well and covered the marks.

Now each painting has a solid cover. The pictures are out of sunlight which is not ideal for oil paintings, but they are safer, and easier to transport too because I use square flat frames that now form a sort of box that securely encases the picture.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


I've been offered a solo exhibition at a local arts and crafts shop called The Cubby Hole. The exhibition will run throughout March, with the opening on the 5th. Last time I organised my own exhibition I had many months to prepare the invitations, layout, labels etc. I think it'll be easier second time round but I have less time, so let's see. It's all so exciting. Thanks to the lovely Carol for the opportunity.

After my Art Support class I went to the opening night of a new exhibition at Jobling Gowler in Macclesfield. The small show is displaying work from eleven artists who won prizes and commendations in last year's competition with the theme of Silk. It runs until Feb the 27th.

Sorry for this rather boring pseudo-advertising post today but I'm rather tired after attending the preview and can't think of anything fantastic or engaging to write. I'm now resting and listening to borrowed Jon and Vangelis, this is unprecedented, and the very newness of this act might prove inspirational for the coming week, which, on paper is to be filled with music. Music however, is rarely easily fitted to paper. It seeks to fight then whimpers itself at me when I'm all ready, on paper, to paint!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Gothic Monument

A moderately busy day today. First I draw some more on a picture called "Now I've Tasted Love..." (Oh! I just have to abbreviate my titles when writing about them, they're just too long!) It was rather plain and definitely needed something. I had already transferred the drawing to the canvas, but it looks like I'll have to either correct that (probable) or start again on a new surface once I'm happy with the drawing. Unless you're 100% sure about a picture, it's best not to do it. Coming back later is easy and you'll have so many brilliant ideas to choose from that setting one aside for the moment, even months, won't be any loss. I'm sure I read that Dali's "Invisible Man" took many years to paint for similar reasons.

Onward then! On my first break at 10:40 I decided to go out for a walk. The past few days have been stressful and I needed to relax. The reminds me of last night's dream in which I was Jane Asher's boyfriend. I had a future vision about "four drums" and four levels of a house, it was Paul McCartney's house. I went to Paul and the prediction came true, but Paul, who had a wife and two young children, wasn't impressed and they all continued to play and have fun around the house. I told Jane about it when I got home and she also seemed unimpressed by my visions, and asked me to make her a coffee instead, which I duly did.

I mention that dream because I awoke from it and instantly remembered a discussion about art on here. I said that I thought that birdsong was art as far as birds were concerned. Kathy said hat bird calls are warning, for mating, or for other natural reasons; true enough. I noted though that even lone birds in cages sing, just as lone artists make art. To me this justified the analogy, and I wrote down that art (to humans) was evidence of a human's existence, created by another human for another. It underlines a key definition of art that it must be made by humans (although art made by dogs could be for dogs). I intend to write something on this.

During my walk I bought a 180cm long aluminium straight edge. It's amazing how many rules stop at one metre! This is a "plasterer's float" but will be good for working on my larger drawings. After that I started the modelling for another new picture, which I'll hereby not give the title to because it's rather long!

Instead I'll post a photo of the model, which this time is made in air-dried clay. It's a Gothic monument of self destruction, a ragged being wrecked by purely self imposed damage, done to elicit sympathy. This is the very start of a whole new painting.

This air-dried clay is called Claydium. It's nearly as easy to use as plasticine, and will soften again if wetted. That has up and downsides. I have used epoxy resin in the past to "varnish" these sculptures. Perhaps acrylic medium would work, but I'm wondering if the water would damage the surface.

Monday, January 18, 2010

R.B.S.A. Friends

Today I had planned to book the train tickets and pack the work for the R.B.S.A. Friends' Exhibition, one of two events for "Friends" of the gallery they hold each year. In the end I decided against it because the event lasts only 9 days and the costs involved would have been quite large, about £45 for the transport and up to £50 for hanging fees. I suspect that many less people enter the Friends exhibitions than the month long Opens (which cost the same, but a month is longer than a week). There is an Open Exhibition in March so I'll hold off until then I think.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


Not much art work done today. I've spent time cutting bits of wood for my picture frames, batons that I screw in the recess behind my frames that are chunky enough to hold mirror plates. My frames have a deep recess, about 25mm but the edge is very thin so I need to screw thick bits of wood into them for hanging. I've also cut some small panels for another idea for a future time.

The Rationalisation idea is coming on slowly but I've hardly done anything on it today. I have re-read the notes I made that inspired the idea and made some minor changes to the composition. The fundamental theme of the picture is a revelation that satisfying mutual needs is the most important part of a relationship. I aim to start drawing tomorrow.

I've had two good painting ideas recently and now I've decided that it's a good idea to get composing quite soon after having an idea, while the feeling and meaning is still fresh.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


For the next few days I'll be planning a new picture, currently entitled The Rationalisation and Mastery of Love. It contains a large mix of elements, some clay models, some computer models, human figures, elements abstracted from source images and improvisations. I think it helps to retain some free elements that can be added to a painting later, but sticking to the original feeling and concept, as noted in the initial idea sketch, is crucial if homogeneity of message is to be preserved.

The first stage was to construct a model like that in the mental image I had. The colours were fleshy on a sky blue background. The column is a rock, a lighthouse but also a unicorn's horn, and is the primary focus of the picture. The scene itself to me is a figure. In many ways these sculptures are 3D versions of my paintings and doodles.

Model in plasticine. This shows a detail section. The lighting came from two sources, both bright white L.E.D. lights, which can create lots of focused brightness.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


The "Transmittance..." underpainting is now complete. The "nebula" bit is shown with the (white!) gold leaf visible too.

Tomorrow I'll begin some more planning work and perhaps even try some music next week. When April hits I suspect I'll be in the mood to paint instead of sing! or rather sequence. Have a nice day everybody.

Waterside Exhibition

My Untouchable Strawberry has made it through at the Waterside Trafford. This is the third time I've entered a painting called (concisely!) "The Quest For Physical Intimacy..." (pictured) and it's been turned down each time. I'm glad it was turned down here because I underpriced it. It is a good painting, with lots of detail, meaning and feeling. I think that its greyness is making judges dismiss it as they pass by the myriad of others they must look at. I might save this one for myself. Public competitions are a balance. Is it worth setting aside the best work for later when they are more likely to sell for a higher price, or showing and selling the very best ones now?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

He's a Fairy Feller

Art Support today. I'll be attending the Book Shop in Nantwich tomorrow morning at 10:00 for some photographs of the exhibition there for the Crewe and Nantwich Chronicle. After that I'll do more work on "Transmittance".

Today I did a quick colour test for the second of the "love trilogy" of paintings I want to paint later in the year. One monthly goal is to have all three planned out by February. The third one isn't drawn or planned at all beyond the tiny idea sketch so it will be a challenge. I'm managing to write one poem per day though, so that goal remains on track.

I spoke at length to a new member of my art group who understands my pictures exactly! That's a rare thing, in fact I've not found anyone like that so far. I remembered that she talked about a painting The Fairy Feller's Master Stroke by Richard Dadd, a painting that I became fascinated by last year and aim to repaint.

Dadd was, by this stage, officially insane although his work seems to indicate complete sanity. I'm not sure it's possible for an artist of such calibre to be insane, and this theory is proved right because the picture is unfinished, thus the insane parts of the picture are the unfinished parts, indicating that Dadd possessed about 92% sanity, at that point. I think he killed his father with the other 8%. My picture aims to be a psychoanalysis of Richard Dadd. I've just had a the thought that I'll probably have to get this planned fully in February!

No time to waste then.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

More Transmittance

Day two of underpainting. Most of the picture is complete now. I'll take a day off for Art Support then finish this on Thursday.

Most of the work was down with a size zero Pro Arte Sterling Acrylic brush which worked well and has lasted longer than my same sized Escoda Mongoose, cheaper too. For details I use a tiny Prolene 000, even on underpainting. The pic is about 60x40cm so I'm pleased to get this far so quickly.


Monday, January 11, 2010


Today I began the underpainting to "The Transmittance Of Pity Perceived As Love Through A One-Way Mirror". I completed the sky, mountains, sea, and two gold moons on this which is good progress. I should finish in three days. I'm only using four colours, black, white, yellow ochre and cobalt turquoise.

A picture of the mountains is shown. I'm learning lots about how to paint rocks.

I used Blockx Mars Black for the first time and liked it. The 35ml tube weighed 10g (over 10%) heavier than the 40ml Old Holland tube, indicating that Blockx put more pigment in their tubes than Old Holland. The wonderful ultramarine by Blockx already put that company to the top of my paint list, joint top with Micheal Harding. Old Holland regularly disappoint me and at the moment I can't think of any one colour of theirs I prefer over Harding, Blockx or Winsor and Newton.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Essence of Art

Katherine's recent discussion about what art is, inspired me to think of art as fulfilling a social emotional need. I don't think that art is anything some person chooses to call art, so I set about making a definition.

Trying to define art is a convoluted process and it seems that some sort of consensus was reached in the 20th century, that art could be anything. To me this is nonsensical, yet trying to pin down mechanical criteria to define art is impossible, or at best challenging and certainly inefficient because art operates on an emotional level and should behave like a person. Art should be anthropomorphic in essence. If art doesn't speak to you like a person then it is not art.

Humans are designed to communicate primarily with other humans, and each method of communication attempts to transmit the essence of one person to another. Words can move us like people move us, but they exist separate from the person. In that case the words are part of the person, born and preserved for all time (or for as long as the language exists). Different communication methods are differently efficient at expressing the humanity of the creator, but art is ultimately that essence that is born and transmitted from one person to another. The medium of that essence defines the art form.

People form social attachments to objects in the same way that they form social attachments to other people. Perhaps everyone has some objects they love to some extent, be it a car, phone, computer, television or a favourite cup, or pair of slippers. These things are surrogate humans in some way, and art enters this category.

If that is the case, can anything be art? Any label that can be applied to anything is meaningless, so on a logical level, the term art cannot be applied to all objects. But even on a social level, a relationship is not always possible and not the same as communication, and it is that special relationship that defines art. Without that relationship, communication is non-art.

If art is not everything then non-art must be real and tangible, and like art, non-art is different for each person. Generally art is accepted and vetted like our friends. For most people it should be "nice", and relate to us, be similar in outlook and level of understanding. Non-art is what we cannot relate to.

The art we like will reflect the people we like. People who like a wide range of people will like a wide range of art, and vice versa. We will like the artists who make the art we like, providing that that the artist is honestly translating a part of themselves in the art. If we dislike an artist but like his or her work, then the artist is a bad artist, because the art is a sub-standard imitation of humanity. An artist who makes non-art is also a bad artist.

The subject of critique is vital because if as some say anything can be art, then any artist can be as good as any other, no matter what they create. Not only that but any artwork is as good as any other, dependent only on perspective. If the belief in art as label is prevalent then the role of the critic as judge and guide is eliminated and changed into that of commentator or promoter, the crucial difference being that they would possess no greater knowledge or qualification about the or any artwork than anyone else.

So in summary, I'm postulating that art's primary function is to satisfy a human social need, whether that of the artist or the viewer/consumer/collector. Comments anyone?

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Heaven Dream

I had a very visual dream last night. I was walking in snow as a Victorian with a lady by my side. A criminal was nearby who I hated and I became obsessed with capturing him and torturing him, inventing new and more extreme tortures each time my plans failed. The floor and sky was white with subtle greys and pastel shades, not unlike the painting I was working on yesterday. I left my body and observed the scene as a dream. I decided to run away from the whole dream and began to push, the floor, people and objects slid away from me and at some point I reached out in front of me and grabbed the sky, tearing it apart to reveal a new scene behind. I felt that I'd seen what I saw before, it was a giant coil made of yellow rock with a red sky, clad in lava and fire. It was a bit like a giant cochlea. I flew down its inside corridors then realised that I might imminently flip backwards and spiral down the pit at the centre, this was a vision of hell. Before the vortex grabbed me I realised what I had to do. I leaped away back to the white snow scene and hugged the criminal in forgiveness.

When I awoke I had the idea to paint this and saw quite clearly a picture and had the title "When You're in Heaven You'll Wonder Where I Am". The top right was the white scene, with tiny black figures looking for me. Giant angels were peering over the rim of the scene like hawks peering into a frozen lake. One had "LUCIFER" written along the wing, this was a spy not the devil. A line led from that angel to a smaller red hole where the tiny "me" figure was trapped. The whole image was fantastical. I'm not sure if I should paint this, but that image was already a painting so all I need to do is copy that.

Now to waking news! I've delivered five paintings to Jobling Gowler this morning and look forward to attending the opening evening on the 20th. Katharine Cartwright's discussion about the definition of art has made me write too. I'll publish that when it's finished. My immediate task is to varnish a few of last year's paintings this afternoon.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Christmas Cards

I've been painting the first layer to my "flower of awe" today. It's rather eye catching! I'll post an image later. Today I thought I'd share two of the Christmas cards I received this year, special because they were designed by members of my art group. The first is by Dot Burgess and is a pen and ink drawing of the windows in St. Oswald's Church and the second a poinsettia in watercolour by Sylvia Masters.

Tomorrow I'm scheduled to visit Macclesfield on the bus to deliver some paintings for an exhibition there. The offices of Jobling Gowler Solicitors are holding a show of paintings by the prize winners of their previous exhibition, which was themed around silk. The exhibition runs until the start of March and is open to the public every weekday during office hours.

At the same time Katherine Laird will be delivering her paintings (and three of mine!) to a juried exhibition in Trafford. Fingers crossed for that one. I've never submitted for this event before, so it will be interesting to see what happens.

Both of those trips are weather permitting. The temperature is very low at the moment and the hot water is off for a second day. I now know why Dutch masters favoured oil media with lots of solvent, while their Italian counterparts favoured no solvent. Oil paint in the cold behaves like putty when it should behave like silk!

Thursday, January 07, 2010


In the morning I made a large aluminium carrier for my paintings for the submission to Trafford. It's a simple array of square tubes with bolts and wingnuts, to make it easy to sandwich one or more paintings together and provide a handle.

It's been ice cold and miserable here so purged this with today's simple poem. I've managed to write one each day this year so far (an easy statement to make on the 7th of January!) but have chosen not to publish many of them. The last three have all been about winter or snow in some way! I've spent some time in bed fully clothed to stay warm this afternoon, but now it's time to act once more. Such rest periods are good for creativity. Here's to winter siestas!


There once was a blackbird on a distant hill
and all around him air was still.
On a pinnacle of rock, black on blue,
his song was as clear as a winter's view.

From dawn he sang in the frozen air,
waiting for his brown mate fair.
His voice created paradise
in bleak grey razor rocks of ice.

The snowbound leaves he turned with feet
searching for some food to eat.
he piercing core of ice inside
became a diamond when he died.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Art Support

Three drawings transferred today at Art Support; A second version of a surreal portrait of my friend Andrew, a flower of awe! and the giant snail-mountain that is about tiredness. The flower is a new idea that just popped right into my head one night. It's very simple but I decided it was perfect for an oval frame that a dear friend gave to me.

My friend Kath Laird there agreed to drop off three pictures for an exhibition in Trafford on Friday, and she and her husband Peter have collected lots of paintings for an exhibition in Nantwich tomorrow which they did despite the rules calling for members to deliver them personally. Another friend there, Jean Briers had a picture of mine waiting too, after collecting it for me from the RBSA Gallery in Birmingham, and another friend there, Susan Mascarenhas helped me take the whole lot home in the very icy driving conditions. Without the kindness of these people I'd really struggle to exhibit, in some cases I simply couldn't. I owe them so much and can offer so little.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010


My white gold arrived today from a company called Wrights of Lymm. I was a bit worried that the jiffy bag scrunched by the post man had damaged the gold, but it was intact and I have applied it to the "transmittance" picture that I will paint this month. I've gilded three or four pictures so far and it's a skilled operation. Here are some tips for those who want to mordant gild, that is to paint and apply gold in a pattern on their work.

First apply the gold as soon as possible in the process. It's a tricky operation and you'll probably have to overpaint any ragged edges. In 31t Century Crucifixion I applied it after the underpainting, which was okay generally although in parts the gold stuck to the underpainting. I still had to correct the edges with an opaque paint layer so not much was gained by applying it later.

Secondly, get a slow size. Perhaps it's my luck but my 30 minute gold size was dry as hard varnish in about 20 minutes. That's too fast to paint anything in detail. I use a four hour size, although still tacky enough for the gold in well under an hour.

Mix some oil colour into the size so that you can see where it's been applied (that's going to speed up drying by the way). It might be useful to underpaint the area in gold paint, or some other colour so that tiny holes in the leaf will remain invisible. Armenian bole is a colour like venetian red and is a classic choice.

Get loose leaf gold instead of transfer leaf. This is a matter of choice but I find the loose leaf more entertaining and delightful to apply. To cut I use scissors to cut the whole book in half. All gold tools must be used only for gold and kept rigorously clean using alcohol. The slightest touch of moisture or grease will hook onto and spoil the gold.

When applying I mainly use the tissue paper that comes with the gold, and a cotton wool ball. I use a palette knife too which is very smooth and clean, and a gilders knife which is useful for cutting but doesn't seem as clean and smooth as my palette knife. I have a brush called a gilder's tip but don't find it very useful.

I'll brush away the excess tomorrow and start the underpainting later in the week!

Monday, January 04, 2010

The Ideal in the Derivative

One of my rules of creativity is that an artwork should be "unique", that is not based on previous artworks but a new and fundamental truth instead.

The first reason for this is out of courtesy and self-respect. If an artist is anything he or she should be imaginative, and it's a personal admittance of failure to be so lacking imagination that an artwork should based on someone else's idea.

A second reason for this rule is a belief in a higher idealism, that some pure thing, idea or "shape" is being translated by the artist to the viewer and that this translation is always imperfect. To translate from an already imperfect translation, could never come closer to the ideal than the original artwork.

However, all good rules can be broken at certain times. So here is why those two reasons are bogus, and why an artwork can justifiably be based on another artwork.

To address the first point; all imagination is based on experience. The brain accepts inputs, processes, then outputs. The outputs can be actions or internalisations. Internalisations are very like actions. It has been shown that athletes that imagine training train at least fifty percent as well as athletes who perform actual training. If this model is correct then the quantity of ideas is based on the variety of input and the processing power. Thus an artist who has seen ten images will have fewer ideas than an artist who has seen one thousand images, assuming identical processing power. In the modern world most creative images are not paintings; whether advertisements, films, television programmes, computer games, etcetera. All images ever seen together constitute inputs and every output will be a processed mix of that which is input. The output itself can be an input. Such use of the brain is called "musing"!

There is undoubtedly some part of the brain that can create images, a blind man gaining sight for the first time might be able to paint, but perhaps that person would only recognise and like the result if it tallies in some way with images experienced since seeing. With no experience of images, the result of a totally blind painter would be equally meaningful and meaningless; no more useful or interesting than a brain scan.

Imagination is often processing based, which at least involves sufficient visual memory to process and hold images and ideas on a large scale. When this is taken into account, all images are copies or derivations. This negates the first point about derivative art and imagination.

The second point is that art represents a truth that is never represented perfectly. There are two arguments to counter this.

First that this is a trick. Just because one truth is represented imperfectly it doesn't mean all other truths are. A painting doesn't have to convey what the artist wanted. A painting can mean something different, but still true, raw and touching to a viewer. In this case an artwork can convey ideal knowledge.

Secondly it is possible to calculate or see the ideal that the artist was aiming to represent, and then re-represent that in a better way.

Thus, an artwork can be based on a previous artwork and still represent a new and fundamental truth. My false dichotomy is hereby evaporated!

Comments anyone?


One of my new casual resolutions is to write a poem a day, so here is the one for the painting I posted a picture of yesterday. I've made a few small changes to the picture. Primarily I was unhappy with the shadow on the large arrow or the materials on some of the others. Kathy's feedback made me think twice about one arrow too, so I moved it slightly, enough to keep the arc but avoiding rigid regularity. I never overpaint. Any historian x-raying my paintings will find only what they see. If it can't be erased and repainted I'll repaint the picture from the start. One blessing of the below zero temperatures is that the paint is staying wet for longer, so making these refinements was simple.

Moving down,
the archers fall.
Arrows raining pulled by fate.
Cascading parts of people call,
attempt escape.
None have escaped.

Gravity, the killer force,
Even words are pulled to hell.
Like heavy bags,
we are pulled as well.

To water, to steel,
to wood, and rock.
To air.
To no avail.
Sliding inevitably,
To tick.
To tock.
To our horrific fate,
which we can see coming.
Trapped in terror's check-mate.
Our only option is to wait.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Hell Is Having Nothing To Do But Wait For The Conclusion Of An Inevitable Journey

The underpainting to "Hell Is.." etc. is complete! I've added lots of detail here and it's so smooth and detailed, as well as chromatically accurate that little glazing if any is needed. Lots of textures are involved as the archers polymorph to escape their fate; there is metal, water, wood, rock, flesh, shadow, and some verdiforms and oviforms too! The amount of detail here is very high so I've included a few close ups. I'm pleased with this one, partly because the textures were improvised, including the mountains which are showing improvement with each painting. It shows that a model isn't always needed for a degree of realism.

The colours used were cobalt turquoise light, naples yellow deep, a tiny bit of light red, black and white.

I've also dug out the portrait of Andrew Williams but I still dislike it. I have half a mind to destroy it and start again.

What I did right with this painting is visualisation before painting. Carefully imagining the picture allowed me to see problem areas and calculate the textures I'd like to use before starting. One result of that was adding drop shadows to some of the arrows, something I did the night before starting work, and on the whole it improved the picture.

Saturday, January 02, 2010


I did little work yesterday but rest, which is the perfect way to start a perfect year. Today I've been underpainting "Hell Is Having Nothing To Do But Wait For The Conclusion Of An Inevitable Journey". I posted a couple of quick colour studies for this a few days ago. I've put the picture away to dry so can't post a photo yet. It certainly doesn't look like I've spent 11 hours on it, but I have. It's been good to get back to painting but I could do with coming back up to speed. I find that when I begin I concentrate on tiny details using my tiniest brush, painting tiny bits perfectly. This is not very efficient. I'll get faster then more I paint.

But ho! It's a new year! I file things by year so I've now got empty space for new poems, songs, writings! That's a good incentive to create new things so I aim to do just that.