Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Elements

I've had a busy few days working on the underpainting to a small picture called The Elements. It's a figure for the most part and I've made the face a bit too light compared to the other parts.

I use a white wall tile as my palette. It's smooth and non absorbent, and often coloured with titanium white pigment itself so an ideal background. I tend to mix a new batch of paint each morning, to keep it fresh and liquid.

One thing I've began to do with this painting is to store any important colours from the previous day on smaller tiles. I've bought a small stock of white tiles about the size of post-it notes to keep puddles of colour.

The surface holds pencil well but cleans perfectly too. I've used paper in the past for this, but colour matching is hard when the oil is sucked out from the paints, and often these are wet enough to test dabs or actually paint with.

I've been busy with other art things too, even some music on Monday, but more on everything later. I should finish The Elements underpainting tomorrow. The last stage involves painting an arm made of water...

Monday, June 28, 2010


I've had a busy weekend, dropping off a painting for the Wrexham Open on Saturday, then collecting one in Birmingham on Sunday (plus cake making). I picked up some more white t-shirts and ink-blotted them today with mixed results. I've been anxious for no reason today and I don't like it. I think it's the result of two manic days then one slow one. I've finished reading Maus, and have a couple more poems to write to catch up on my one-a-day.

Tomorrow I begin painting for four days, a picture with the theme of "The Natural World" for my art group. A few years ago the theme was "Nature". Those are both wide open subjects (and both the same; which is not very imaginative for an art group considering we've only had four competitions!)

Back then I picked some fish flying into the sunset. This time I'm painting the Greek elements.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Wax Cataclysm

The painting was finished today. More details when dry and scanned. A drop off in Wrexham tomorrow. Must dash now..!

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Painted until eight today, the Wax Cataclysm picture. It's only small but has taken six full days so far. It's about life/death/the struggle for existence. While painting my head has been full of Maus, a graphic novel. Similar themes. I identify with both Spiegelmans.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Unhappiness Makes You Artistic?

I've been forwarded an email that relates pain to creativity via brainwaves. This sparked my interest. Quote:

"I discovered that brainwaves can be used to manage chronic pain and cope with chronic illness by accident. Due to a variety of chronic health conditions, I have lived with a great deal of pain for many years and yet I noticed that the more pain and suffering I endure the more creativity I seem to experience. I was aware that my creative outlet was a coping mechanism, but didn't understand the mechanics behind it. I thought it was a form of escapism, because I can be so absorbed in my creativity that I get lost and I'm not aware of my pain for a period of time.

Yet many other people in my life with less pain and suffering experience a lack or loss of creativity. People often comment that they don't understand how I do so much when I live with such great pain and challenges. Over the years, I occasionally run into other people with chronic health conditions and pain that also experience high levels of creativity." - Cynthia Perkins, M.Ed.

The conclusion was that alpha and theta brainwaves that result from meditative dream states can induce sufficient euphoria to combat pain, and have the side effect of enhancing imagination.

Although it makes sense that accessing meditative states helps with creativity because it allows greater access to more of the mind, the hypothesis is just that. Consider the most creative people in history; Leonardo da Vinci, Picasso, Einstein, Mozart. Many (might have) had sad periods but none had chronic physical pain to my knowledge, and there are lots of people with chronic pain who aren't creative, and lots of uncreative depressives. Then I thought that perhaps unhappy people are more creative than happy ones? So art doesn't make you happy, unhappiness makes you artistic?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Self Portraits

Self Portrait as Dreamer

Self Portrait as Dream

Two newly scanned images. A day of miscellany today. Some sound work and website maintenance, plus packing and preparation for the forthcoming Lloyd Gill exhibition in July/August.

In the afternoon Lindsey Piper, a sculptor, came by and told me of her plans for Nantwich Art Festival 2011. It's the first, and she is arranging it all, quite a big task! I've said I'll try to help with the website and with any ideas. I like this idea and would like to help more. It all depends on how much time I can find, but I've scribbled a few logo ideas already. The theme will be masquerade, and the main event will be a torchlit procession by artists and school children. Lots of venues have been booked and there are lots of artists to hand, but it's important to keep the quality high and the events as spectacular as possible. Anyone in the area with free time or organisational skills is welcome to help. Contact me and I'll put you in touch with Lindsey.

Tomorrow I'm off to my art group and will paint for a change, or try to. Time there is limited and the England football match in the afternoon may prove disruptive. On Thursday I'll begin the elements painting. Then two days of deliveries, followed by painting the larger Gethsemane painting. Midsummer is past. Time to finish some paintings!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Cat Lost in the Grass

I've been busy over the last couple of days, most recently working on a new composition for the summer competition of my art group. This year's theme is The Natural World, and after lots of brainstorming I decided to produce a picture of the elements; air, earth, fire and water; an idea that owes something to the cat one shown here in full for the first time.

The picture is a woman made of those elements, and a year or two ago I'd have been happy with that; it gets the idea across, but it doesn't have much feeling or empathy. It looks good, but lacked enough artistic depth. The final piece to the composition came today when I added an atom, a representation of an autistic child painted in a previous painting, but it is also a restatement of the "elements of nature" idea that contrasts with the Greek elements. The addition is tiny, and distant, as far from the fabulous and beautiful woman as an autistic self, but all important and changes the casual display of painting into a work of art.

The cat is now framed. I've got to find a box for it and then post it across the Atlantic to the exhibition organiser. I hope it does well for Art For Shelter Animals.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


A little disappointed today as my Nine Ladies Weeping has not been selected for the Derbyshire Open Exhibition. The picture has been in planning for about two years for this event and I've put at least as much work into it as van Gogh did for his Potato Eaters, and it's at least as good as an artwork. Who can know the minds of an art jury. I suspect my painting wasn't conventional enough for the conservative panel. I will enter again in a future year I'm sure.

Spent the rest of the day exhausting myself carrying home supplies in the hot sun of this day. I reframed a few pics and decorated some new frames too.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Frame Decoration

I finished Remembering Summer today then got to work on some frames. I've recently been trying to work out a way to remove the P.V.A. glue from the frames before staining. This can be a problem. When dry the glue is invisible and when stained will show up as light blotches. No amount of wiping when wet or sanding or use of solvents before staining seems to have any effect. My only recourse is to stain before gluing, which is not ideal; it's messy and it makes the clamping process more delicate because surface damage can't be sanded or fixed.

The blotch effect though gave me a creative idea. I wondered if I could use it as a mask. I decided to decorate the frame for the cat picture, and first applied a base coat of blue wood stain (green-shade phthalo blue, a good colour for wood staining). Then I grabbed a leaf and using it as a mask dabbed on some Golden acrylic medium (a more artistically stable chemical than wood glue). This was relatively simple but it was difficult to see... it's an invisible mask. It dried very quickly and I could just make out the patterns as glossy patches when viewed at an angle. A short time later I applied yellow wood stain (I'm not sure of the pigment for this, it looks and acts like a nickel azo condensation) and the results good. There is a beautiful depth effect that can't be seen in a photo because of the effect of the layers.

My next decoration will be for the Remembering Summer frame. So many options!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Summer Grows

Painting on Remembering Summer today. Bought the train tickets. The delivery is in two weeks. I hope the weather hots up so that it will be dry enough to scan before I go!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Cat Lost in the Grass

I've finished the grass cat today, a painting I made for Art For Shelter Animals after the cause was highlighted on Sheila Tajima's blog.

I'm not totally happy with it, but am reasonably so. While painting, I found myself uncomfortably struggling with the artistic emptiness of the idea. At times it looks like a clever and pretty picture, which on their own are terrible words to be applied to an artwork! The eyes though looked rather sad, and the fact that the animal is a rescue cat made me think that it was lost, and visually it does looks like it's hiding in the grass. The title became Cat Lost In The Grass, and I added a crucial pathway into the landscape, a path, like any other, that shows a journey from there to here.

The painting is 20x24cm (about 8x10 inches). The bee in the photo is about the size of a grain of rice. As it dries I'll make the frame which will be uniquely decorated. Once touch dry I'll scan it and submit it to the project. The picture above is a close up of the face, not the whole painting.

Incidentally, here is the source photograph. I deliberately chose a blurry one because I thought that no other artist would. Perhaps that very choice is why I thought the cat was lost.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


I'm feeling lonely and tired tonight. I like both feelings and they often lead to the start of a good artwork. I've got at least one nightly poem to write. I've managed one per day every day this year.

A mix of a day, it began by making frames, or at least cutting the wood which is the first main stage. One is assembled. Another is gluing overnight. Then I revarnished The Apocalypse of Finance using a tiny soft brush almost like glazing a painting. This is currently my best way to varnish a large panel. Then I began drawing a mountain for a painting inspired by a friend who wanted something happy; NOT SKULLS was the request! Later I met up with Sue, and bought a present for my brother who lives in London. It was a tee shirt that I ink-blotted. I need more blank tee shirts! I'm "small" (which is the size that used to be called "medium") but they only ever seem to stock "medium" (was "large") and bigger. If I was actually small (XS?) I'd be really stuck.

All throughout the day I've been mentally pronouncing synecdoche, after being introduced to the word two days ago when I watched the film Synecdoche, New York. It was a good film (with an awful title), although the end was rather bleak and could have done with some emergency humour. Syn-Eck-Doh-Key.

Enough rambling for now!

Art news; the Cubby Hole is holding their next exhibition on July the 2nd, it's by Liz McDonough. I've accepted an invitation to exhibit at the Lloyd Gill Gallery in Weston-Super-Mare. It's a small and relatively new venue but has a good reputation, and the show about dream imagery should suit my work perfectly.

My immediate goals are to finish Remembering Summer once and for all, enter The Apocalypse of Finance into the Wrexham Open, enquire about the Art Support summer competition, paint the mountain/rainbow picture, and begin a large one. Now for that poem...

Goodnight everyone.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Self Portrait as Dream

Here's a close up from Self Portrait as Dream, which I glazed today. Both of these pictures are as smooth as a Raphael or a Leonor Fini, proving that more than two layers are not necessary on a painting unless you really need a special effect of some sort. The dark blob behind the eye is an artifact created by my camera.

Alas, I didn't make it into The Threadneedle Prize final, but I'm sure I will when I am ready. My next drop off is for The Tabernacle Competition held by the Museum of Modern art in Wales, actually a converted chapel in the pretty town of Machynlleth (pron. Mc Conkleth). I'm cutting the frame for that one tomorrow.

I've got a few hours of today and want to construct a special painting that involves a rainbow, several birds, an angel, an exploding mountain and two feathers from a peacock.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


I finished my Self Portrait As Dreamer today. I forgot to take a photo sorry! I'll paint the companion work tomorrow. I'm filled with ideas and energy again. Yesterday I applied the imprimatura to the second Gethsemane painting and also did some silk-painting, really quite ruining several nice new t-shirts but you can't worry about things like that when experimenting.

Tomorrow it's the first submission day for the Derbyshire Open 2010. My friend Jean Briers has offered to deliver my painting with hers, so thanks and good luck to her. Friday is also decision day for The Threadneedle Prize. My one painting is facing 2,174 others in that one.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Terry Gilliam

Today I transferred the new Gethsemane picture to the panel. It took all day. My paintings have become long slow processes, but they are much less slow than the development of a computer game, and a lot easier, and better all round. I'm glad I'm not a film maker. I watched Brazil recently, perhaps my favourite film. Poor Terry Gilliam.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Grass Cat

A bit of a diversion today. This is a response to this blog post by Sheila Tajima asking for pictures for the ASAP charity. I like a challenge so I thought I'd pick a photo and paint a picture. I decided to paint the cat as grass, though, partly because I wanted to explore different ways of painting complex vegetation. I'll add a few more details in a week or so when it's dry.

In other news I had an email from Jamie Durling, a curator of a future exhibition at The Lloyd Gill Gallery that will explore surrealism and dream imagery. He attached an excellently written essay that managed to sum up surrealism from its origins to the present day. Many sentences attracted my attention:

"...Today artists continue to be inspired by the movement and, in a world far less shockable, contemporary surrealism is often less interested in psychoanalysis and more interested in the aesthetic qualities of bizarre juxtapositions and depictions of the absurd..."

True. Such absurdity/nonsense is considered surrealism by most people perhaps. Of course that's not actual surrealism, which might never have actually existed at all in paint. I've certainly never exactly painted a dream, or even conveyed the story or idea of a dream, or tried to. Perhaps other surrealists did, once.

Surrealism is/was not nonsense and should not be. Such nonsense is simply bad art. There's nothing worse than a painting that is merely amazing. Such feelings of amazement are the result of the unexpected, nothing more. The nonsensical antics of Dali really did incredible damage to surrealism and surrealist imagery as an artform. The joke is that squillions of contemporary artists walk blindly into the same trap.

And today I did with my grass cat, which is a wholly meaningless folly, but ha! Folly is not always meaningless or indeed pointless, for today I was learning to paint the complex texture of grass in a new way. It's curious then that the real meaning of the painting was nothing to do with it's appearance, but its execution.

That aside, the essay reinforced to me that I must avoid the amazements and traps that "neosurrealists" and other bizarre sects fall into daily. I don't paint surrealism, but merely include symbols to convey meaning and feeling. Meaning should be discernible, and ideally apparent, although a range of clarity among paintings is fine. I could paint a winged ballerina standing tiptoe on an apple in the centre of a liquid gold ocean playing a harp, but it would be silly, whereas a man walking on the calm sea lifting a handful while channelling the clouds through the top of his head would be allegorical, a metaphor for emotional control and mastery of ones mind. I aim to paint that picture later this year.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Lost in the Woods

Today and for the past three days I've been painting the trees in a picture that I've been working on for over a year about a moment of realisation, Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. The trees present a problem and I'm unhappy with the results. I think there are two problems, insufficient source images that match the lighting and atmosphere of the scene, and the complexity of woodlands, which confound my normal painting method. I tend to paint things as they are, never layering for effect. I paint transparency by mixing colours not overlaying, so lots of branches present a new problem. The most elegant solution is the paint a background first and paint the branches over the top, but at what point do solid trees become spindles of branches? Painting over the top sounds too easy for me!

Anyway, the first three days have produced some attractive results and rather ethereal. I quite like the look but I'm unhappy with the spontaneous way I achieved it and my instincts tell me to experiment and repaint the picture in several different ways to work out the best way to do it. I'll return to this picture after some thought.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The Infinite Tiredness of Ageing

The Infinite Tiredness Of Ageing, Oil on panel, 236x336mm.

I've been scanning in a few recent pictures and this is one, a picture about time passing. I hope the picture hasn't influenced me too much because today I've been very tired! Despite a long sleep I've found it very hard to think of anything but rest and have been fighting fatigue all through the day of painting. Earlier in the week I spontaneously fell asleep during my afternoon break. This concerns me because I've been eating and resting well. Perhaps this is due to relaxation itself, an unusual state for my electric self.

Anyway, in other news I've just heard that my other painting "The Transmittance Of Pity Falsely Perceived As Love Through A One Way Mirror" has been accepted into the R.B.S.A. Prize exhibition, which I'm pleased about. I've now submitted four pictures to the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists and I've been lucky enough to have at least one chosen each time. The show runs from June the 3rd to the 26th, in the R.B.S.A. Gallery, near St. Paul's Church, Birmingham.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010


Many vivid dreams last night. One involved an art project. An Indian artist was parachuting dummy parachutists across the country. By chance I saw that some were nearby and one drifted into me and I had no choice but to catch it. It was considered a valuable catch, and a crowd gathered round. The parachutist was a cardboard cutout but his clothing was new and good quality. I gave the gloves, one white and one black, to different people in the crowd. I was quite surprised to find myself with this prize and didn't feel bad about handing it out to the people in the crowd who clearly valued it more than I did. I put on the coat and walked away happy.

In another part of the dream I wanted to change a bank password I had with a new bank because the one they supplied was a list of numbers that I continued to type incorrectly. The woman at the bank seemed to find it funny that I asked for any random combination of letters, and she seemed surprised that I was given a random combination of numbers instead of something more coherent.

I left the bank with someone and we peered into a old run down chapel. The brickwork was red but it was very finely carved in the Victorian Gothic Revival style. The building was deserted it was very nice inside and I pointed out the quality of the architecture. This part of the dream relates to the Summer painting because it's arched shaped and I've been considering how to fashion arched corners in a Gothic style. The picture is for a competition held by the Tabernacle Gallery in Wales, a chapel that still has the pulpit and seating.