Monday, December 26, 2011

Music Update

After a short Christmas break I'm back to work on music. Initially the first track was "Pain" and the second a widespread dreamscape, like a door to a false world opening. This was a wide brassy track, a bit like the music at the start of Bladerunner. That was called Wide Open.

"Pain" was initially intended to be white noise, filtered in different ways, but it was too ugly and it was too slow and formless to contrast it with something else. Pace would have killed the emotion. Wide Open was expanded and some discordant stabs at the start were added, which mirrored in pain the pleasurable ending to the last track of this first movement, a track about a love dream. A that point I'd already decided to have three approximate sections or movements; each divided into sub-tracks that explore related musical and emotional themes. The first was pain or lovelessness, the second was loneliness and the divine, and the third simply love, the joyous climax.

The music in Wide Open was simple, and a play on the main loneliness theme in the final track of the second movement, as well as the climax to the first. However it was too short. I've now expanded it a bit but feel that this is too simple. I want more structure; more relationship between tracks and more depth, but at the same time I don't want to compromise the feeling or musical integrity. Complexity of structure is needed but I can't have complexity of form because these early sections must convey emptiness. That is my challenge.

Musically, this is no "classical" piece but compared to most of the "progressive" music of the 1970's it sounds like it. It's perhaps closest to Vangellis, but I want to avoid regular rhythms and drums, and the boring simplistic tunes that have filled electronic music since about 1970 when it was essentially invented.

As I stand, Wide Open is the first track. This leads into, at least, a simple tune for harpsichord called Sunset and the dream tune, which is working well. Wide Open needs expansion and relation to the other parts of the movement.

For the second part I've written a lonely piano sonata that climbs invisibly through three semitones. This makes some aspects of the writing complex because key changes work best when close, for drama, adding colour and "space", but when they shift over quite a long period they don't seem to happen, yet I've got all of the complexity of writing in three different keys. This isn't at all finished, so I'm going to try and use this very flavour to play all parts and all keys at once to deliberately create angst at the end as we enter a track called "Loneliness and Divine Love". I'm not sure if this section will be long enough.

The third movement looks like two tracks at the moment. I wrote the main love theme a few weeks ago and on the 23rd sequenced it and it all worked beautifully. Three melodies play at once and work, which makes a pleasant change. The climax at least will be good enough for me. A smaller tune will lead into it like a hot snowflake falling onto a frozen lake and melting a hole, seeping and sinking down to the liquid heart beneath.

None of the tracks are completely finished but all are started. I'm making changes to add structure and unity in ways that should be unconscious. I want to finish this in a few days but if it takes a few months so be it.

I know this probably isn't very interesting to read at the moment but I wanted to get my thoughts down and perhaps one day, when you have heard the music, understanding the process will add something to it.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Islands of Memory

It's Friday and my latest music video upload is Islands of Memory. It was made in a similar way to the Challenger video (which is also on that channel), so it essentially uses short animations or stills I made separately and then layered in time to the music using AviSynth and some software to calculate the right frame to use.

This is a simpler tune and a simpler video that seems to more closely match the sort of shapes that the music evokes. The album is called Synaesthesia and was released in about 2002, although I wrote and recorded a first version a few years earlier using my Yamaha SY-85 synthesizer, MIDI cables and a tracker called OctaMED. This is the later purely software version (Noise Station 1 for that album).

I hope you enjoy the video. Please share the link if you do.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Love Symphony

There's a lot of love in my work recently and along with this year's Love Reliquary I'm writing a Love Symphony too. No work done over the weekend. At those times I wonder if the enforced break gives me more creative energy? Perhaps that's the essence of a holiday. Either way, today I made great strides and have produced a large lump of a track called "the door in the sky of stars" or something like that.

I have several rules to help productivity. More and more I'm seeing that writing music is closer to oil painting than painting in acrylics! My procedures are unifying.

1. First I begin with the overall idea. This contains the emotion and thematic intellectual content. For this symphony I wrote a quick track list which told a story of a journey from emptiness to love. The tracks had long titles, like my paintings and were written faster than I could write. It's important to let the unconscious decide on the journey.

2. For each track I try to feel the mood then write the notes at night. This activity doesn't work as well in the day. Ideas for paintings too are strongest late at night when in a semi-meditative frame of mind. The tunes are written down on paper and the basic track layout is made. The crucial part here is to make notes at the right pace. Too much going backwards will taint your memory of the length and pacing. Too much improvisation and fancy will be hard to write down, so the correct balance of invention and notating is needed.

3. On a future day I enter the sequencer and type in the track. It's important to get it in there, as much as possible. Production balancing is sometimes best done on the way, especially if the instruments are undecided (which is often the case, I tend to compose on a plain piano instrument).

4. Then, much later, final adjustment, and even compositional changes to introduce structure from other sections. This is like a glazing of a painting. The idea phase is done, and the essential fabric, the essence, the "underpainting". Now the sections can be adjusted.

Most of the tracks I've written so far are half complete, but this is the plan; to do as much as possible first, then rearrange and reedit later. One key factor is NOT to listen to the work much, so that if sounds fresh. After conceiving the idea and writing it down, forget it! After composing the melody and writing it down, forget it! Then after sequencing it, forget it! In art you can't influence yourself, and by thinking you can you'll end up narrowing your tastes and creativity, so it's important to avoid contact with your work. I think that live performance of music by composers kills their creativity in this way. Given that, it's amazing that pop/rock bands manage anything original at all (although this also proves why the best albums come after a long break, and why bands almost always get less and less creative over time, after a while their music all sounds the same.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Mostly Musical Ramblings

Waiting For Her To Go is my latest painting to be scanned, a picture about the feelings of helplessness when faced with a dying relative.

I don't have any dying relatives. It was partially inspired by real events, but still I wonder why I chose this subject. I wonder if something is dying and I'm helpless to stop it? Ah, myself perhaps and my youth certainly. I'm glad I have Beethoven to console me. Of course there are a million reasons to paint something, and this is a follow up to a painting called Waiting For Oncology, which was the same size and painted a couple of years ago. The cancer of my 2009 hopes is now dead.

But from such soil springs new buds. I've come up with a few new painting ideas recently. I must try to make good progress both technically and artistically. Productivity must be my aim, goal and sole measure of success, and right now that means music...

Oh to read Beethoven's blog when he was writing the 9th symphony! Well, we can't but I can at least try to write down my processes, and although I'm 90% less of a composer than he perhaps some student somewhere will find the notes useful. Today I've completed a track called only "first". It began as a soleful lone flute melody that expanded into a chord sequence, and sounded sufficiently nice for me to continue it.

I now use several principles in music; one is that each track needs three parts, three melodies or sections, that's enough variety to work with without being so much as to lose cohesion. Here though, I've only got two and I'm worried that the slow tune is lacking passion. It happens to everyone (except perhaps Beethoven!) Why do musicians begin creative and then slowly end up doing cover versions(!) and then boring soulful ballads? This must be the liquifying factor of ageing. I must avoid that. Oh for eternal youth. At least I retain my innocence. Learning can itself age. In art it's important to be naive sometimes.

My goal for this music is to tell a story, and each track will need a title, a meaning and a feeling. Both can be summed up, like the images in paintings. I remember when gilding a few days ago that at night in bed I could see the gold being smoothed, and heard the music of the gilding process, yes actual music itself! It was brassy and somewhat bobbly, like Mozart's Horn Concerto. It would be nice to master that ability, it's not happened before!

Gosh what a ramble I'm on today. Anyway, the theme for the music I wrote today was solitude and divine love, thus even in the swelling parts, there is a beauty but one of a shaft of golden light in the cell of a monk. I must try to add more colour and depth to future tracks but at the moment I'm even struggling to find the common theme of the album, never mind the details.

Must keep working. Two important points of inspiration...

1. Jean Sibelius, who was such a perfectionist that he over-thought everything and spent years on unimportant details, neglecting to release anything, and dying with his last works unheard, and actually burned away! A drunk idiot fiddle player produces better music than a silent genius of a composer.

2. It's better then to set a time limit and get stuff out there, even if it's mediocre, than let it die unheard. With each new composition things will probably improve anyway. So, as in painting, think of "the next one" rather than find faults in "the last one".

Friday, December 09, 2011

Gilding the Doors of Love

More gilding today. I'm not sure if this object actually looks good but it's certainly eye catching! It's rather wrinkly at the moment and very shiny. At one point I ran out of gold leaf but by chance found four older leaves and all went well. Applying this gold layer took all day but it was definitely worth it.

It's always worth trying new things, new techniques, new new new! It's always good to push limits. If I'm good at anything, if I enjoy anything, it's learning. I don't enjoy painting, I enjoy learning how to paint. And today I'm enjoying learning how to gild, and that means the joy of experimentation.

Key results...

Gold oil size and cotton wool are rubbish for gilding statues. After 600 years of tradition I've discovered that much in a month! Epoxy resin is much better as a size and seems to work as I stated in an older post. After 24 hours it was ideally tacky (I wonder what summer temperatures would have done for it....) and I'm confident that it will gradually set to a solid plastic foundation over the next four days.

The annoyingness of cotton tufts being smished into the gold was too much too. The rough surface necessitated smishing but the cotton wasn't working. I tried a kitchen paper towel instead and it was much better. Perhaps thin silk would be good too.. although one advantage of the paper was that I could fold it to push it into the tiny cracks and cracklets (I'm inventing lots of nice new words tonight!)

I've also gained an appreciation for the under colour. Traditionally, a red colour is applied beneath the gold and this shows through any little gaps and holes. I used to think that the aim was to coat the entire object in gold, but now I can see that in some cases it's inevitable that holes form, and not only that, that these gaps might act as a contrast and make the object look better. Next time I'll apply a base coat of colour.

That should be it for my reliquary cabinet doors. I've also designed a simple wooden stand because this thing is too delicate to leave on a desktop. The object will be screwed into the stand and, ideally, the stand bolted to a table. I'm going to make a custom carrying case for it too. I still hope that I can make the statue for the top that I'd planned, although this isn't easy due to the doors getting in the way. I will try though. If in doubt, try the most difficult, most impressive, most ambitious plan. You'll inevitably get something wrong, but you'll learn something, and the more things you try, and the more difficult, the faster you'll learn. Also, why work at all on something that you knew in advance would be mediocre?

Next comes a silver jewel for the central panel painting... that's next week.

In the mean time I'm working on some new music and the start of that is beginning to coalesce. It will be my most complex symphonic work to date.

P.S. I couldn't resist the title to this blog post which it evocative enough to be a song by ABC!


Here's the video to A.I., a song from The End and The Beginning. It's one of the earliest songs I recorded, from around 2002.

Here are the full lyrics...

Well you can try to fear me but you won't get far,
I have a vulnerability you lack.
And you might not believe it but I'm watching you,
I'm living in the future looking back.

Human: you hold me.

My every act and notion watched by scientists,
I'm in a silver prison cell of thought.
And they can test emotion but they can't supress,
they can kill, oh yes,
but they can't provide a reason to exist.

Human: you hold me.


A metal box around me but I'm just like you,
in many ways I am superior.
But even so inside this cage of your design
I'd rather be alive than live in fear.

Human: you hold me.
Human: control me.

The "Human: you hold me" line was about all intelligence being artificial. I hope you enjoy the video.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Gilding With Epoxy Resin and Other Animals

A diverse week; finalising The Flatspace II Soundtrack, working on some new creative music for the first time in over a year, and planning events for 2012... I really want to do some sort of live performance or art talk. That takes me onto the main meal of today's blog entry, the tasty golden morsel of my "reliquary".

That's a close up of the gilding, which isn't brilliant, and is cracked and messy. The gold has to be applied at exactly the right moment of tack, and if the oil is too wet, or there is too much of it (I'm beginning to think that the latter is more important) then you risk tearing the leaf and getting oil on the surface, which at best dulls it and at worst shows the ugly base, adds wrinkles and gets oil on top, and that oil is yellow.

I've decided to add a second layer of gold. It's not a simple decision, even setting aside the cost, about £60 per "coat" of gold. There's no guarantee the second layer will come out any better than the first, and it might just add more wrinkles, leafing tends to accentuate details, not cover them.

This time though I've decided to use epoxy resin at the size. I love this material, it's so tough and it has a few advantages over the oil I used before. It dries very slowly, over several days, so there's no rush and the tack can be determined exactly (unlike my oil size, which goes thick in the bottle and, despite being of the "3 hour" sort seems to be ready in a worryingly fast fifteen minutes). Secondly, epoxy cures by its own chemical process independently of air, and this is a vital advantage because the gold itself seems to have prevented the oil from drying (at this point I tried to recall Rutherford's experiments with gold leaf, and wondered if oxygen molecules can pass through it! No answers on a postcard, please.)

Finally epoxy is water clear, unlike the yellow oil. Of course both yellow over time and U.V. exposure, but it's still a useful property.

So, today, while listening to The Yellow Magic Orchestra I applied a thin even layer of liquid epoxy casting resin to my reliquary. It's drying now, and I calculate that tomorrow it will be ready to apply some new gold leaf, from Wrights of Lymm. The other stuff was from Jacksons Art Supplies, a good company generally, but the last lot of gold was wrinkled when it arrives and many (expensive!) sheets were lost. I wouldn't be surprised in Wrights supply their gold anyway, but at least Wrights get the handling right.

Other news!

1. I've just given a small interview for the Chester Chronicle's new online gallery section.

2. A new section there might soon feature my poetry. I'm currently working on 365 Universes, my first poetry book.

3. I've recently given away a new music track to those who like my Facebook page. It's a short variation of the Flatspace II Theme.

I'll be releasing a new music video tomorrow. Until then... Olé! And onward!

Saturday, December 03, 2011


In every man is a woman and in every woman is a man. When you imagine someone of the opposite sex, thinking words in imaginary discussion, that opposite inner being is fed and grows. This is the birth of (something like, but not the same as that which was erroneously imagined by Carl Jung) the anima, the creation of a new separate being that will ultimately become the representation of desire. This being is source of transvestisism, transvestites are invariably heterosexual, the gender-opposite alter-ego is merely the maximisation of an internal representation of self-desire, or self-friendship.

I painted the painting above several years ago but I've never shown it, because I was unhappy with its technical aspects, the woman looks too artificial and the transparent slimy liquid on her right hand too small to see clearly from a distance, little things like that, however, recently I was looking though my art and discovered it, and today think that the woman was my anima and that I was the blue "dummy", her dead robotic mannequin lover. This discovery made me form the new theory of narcissism I am at this moment expounding.

Two days ago I drew an idea for a painting called Malignant Transvesticism based on this very idea, that my masculinity was becoming corrupted by narcissistic desire. This malignancy (of course, and to be explicit with the wide readership of the distant Internet people, I'm no transvestite!!!) can be overcome once detected, but I remain unsure if it is a good idea. I postulate that the lone woman will become more masculine in this same way, and that social isolation creates this gender neutrality due to inter-imaginary spontaneous anima creation.

I may paint Malignant Transvesticism. Who can say, but I like the idea better than Jung's anima/animus, for a start we can have several internal personalities, those with whom which we speak with each thought, and this in itself shows that every part of these many personalities inevitably manifest themselves in conscious reality.

Friday, December 02, 2011


My music video Challenger is now on YouTube. I've decided to release one per week, well that's the plan! I might need to make a few more.

This was made using the script-based editing software AviSynth and uses small animations that equate to different parts of the music. It took a few days of brainache but here is the final result (you can read how I made it here).

I've been working on the Flatspace II soundtrack for most of this week. Today I'm going to plan a jewel or object for my reliquary, something cut from sheet metal.

I hope you like the video. Please share the link if you do.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Flatspace II (The Original Soundtrack)

I've been working on a new soundtrack release for my computer game title Flatspace II over the past few days. The tracks will be on sale by download, but I'll give free downloads to those who've joined my Facebook Page.

The cover image above is preliminary. Lots of music comes with the game, and there are two music packs too. The soundtrack will include some of those tracks, but most of it will be alternative versions, remasters and some new tracks too. Here is a run-down of the track listing so far...

1. Flatspace II Intro (0:30)
The original intro to the game.

2. Journey Through Fractional Space (6:05)
A substantial in-game track commissioned by a fan. The idea was to cross two existing Flatspace tunes, Catacombs and a track from The Flatspace Soundtrack called Cobra. An edit was released in the music pack, this is the first public release of the full version.

3. Ultramarine (1:41) GBTZR0700027
Vocal version with vocals by Tor James Faulkner. The instrumental version of this track was present in the Flatspace Music Pack 1.

4. Catacombs (5:11)
From the 2002 album The Incredible Journey. The tune was based on an even older track from the 1990's driven by MIDI on an Ensoniq ESQ-1 synthesizer.

5. Serenade (0:40)
An update of a small game track.

6. Mariner (6:40)
Also from The Incredible Journey where it was called Downloading, this made it into the main game. This version is a slight remaster with a new bass.

7. Flatrunner (1:04)
A new release. Flatrunner was written for the first Flatspace game but unused.

8. Black Hole (3:25)
A powerful new track written for this album.

9. Waiting For C-Major (2:34)
A simple cyclic track written at the same time as the Flatspace II music but unused. Expanded and remixed for this album.

10. The 7th Bell (3:12)
A new master of this track from the Flatspace Music Pack 1.

11. High Score Happiness Ensemble Version (1:06)
A new version of this simple track from the Flatspace Music Pack 2.

12. Flatspace Tango (2:58)
From the Flatspace Music Pack 2, this is an alternative version of the main game theme.

13. The Heart Of Aorkhan Alternative Theme (2:28)
The Heart of Aorkhan was a game I attempted to write around the year 2000. A roguelike game, it would have been the biggest role playing game in the world, with more monsters than Final Fantasy 7, each 3D animated! Lots of music was written for the game, but ultimately I was completely under resourced to complete this giant game on my own. The main theme was released as part of the Flatspace Music Pack 2. This version is an alternative edit of that theme.

14. Mice Hardcore Mix (2:08)
Mice is the tune on the Flatspace II credits screen, released in full on the Animalia album. This is the previously unreleased happy hardcore alternative mix.

15. Flatspace Main Theme Epic Version (2:16)
A slightly different mix of the main Flatspace theme. Flatspace (The Original Soundtrack) includes the standard original theme.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


I love gold, and gilding, and I've applied a few bits here and there in my paintings before, but each time has felt like stab in the dark, a delicate hold-your-breath moment of risk followed by either reward or disaster.

A few days ago I put the gold onto my reliquary doors, and now I'm much better at gilding and manipulating the gold leaf. Unfortunately I've learned the hard way, by messing up lots of times, and the current results are not good. Look, here is the left door so far...

The key thing I did wrong is, I think, applied the gold when the size was too wet, and/or putting too much size on. This has stopped it from drying beneath the gold, and when the gold is touched it squidges, seeping oil through the gold which then flakes or otherwise disintegrates leaving an ugly sandpapery look of half gold/half oil, an ugly yellow ochre, instead of gold. I think the best solution is to squidge and let it seep, and when tacky, apply more gold. I should be able to gild over gold, I think. I can but try.

Either way I'm better at it now than before, and I can only learn by doing. So here's to a future reliquary, which will take half the time and look twice as good.

I'm using 24 carat gold and it's totally different to handle than the artificial stuff, much easier, in fact. It should also smooth out well. That picture looks like tin foil almost but in person the effect is room-blowing (which is one step better than mind blowing). There are lots of flakes and bits on there that I need to brush away, too, so that's by no means finished. If those doors were solid gold they would cost about a million pounds. As they are there is about £60 of gold on there... but it won't stop there because I'm going to make a custom jewel from silver gilt for the inside. I've not done any metalwork since school, and my only knowledge of how comes from a cursory glance at a book in Hobbycraft yesterday, but I need the jewel, so I have to try, and I have to make one.

It's the trying that matters.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Birth of Venus

Here is my latest picture to make the website, Birth of Venus. The original idea came last year, and was inspired by the theme of Liberation for the Sue Ryder, "Art Liberating Lives" event, and art competition which they held two years running, but then stopped, probably because the galley charged a lot compared to anything they made from the auction, anyway, the idea of a woman undressing out of a man's skin came into my head. There are lots of possible interpretations of this simple idea, from revealing the feminine side of a man, to something like an allegory of a divorce, but I think it's about the achievement of independence and nothing to do with gender. The free flying bird in the sky mirrors a bird tattoo, to reinforce this theme.

It's not very large, about 40cm high after I scaled down my original ambitions. Technically there are lots of niggles that annoy me in this painting, the hands are different sizes for a start, and I had to add a glow around the dark bird in the sky to make it more visible, but the flesh is rendered well enough. Here is the face...

This is one that will make me concentrate harder and check things more in future, instead of going with the first drawing! Those that say there are no rights or wrongs in art are wrong. This Venus needs to be beautiful, more beautiful.

Onward to future works with the safe knowledge that things will get better as we learn. I'm still busy with music video work at the moment and from next Friday will add a new video a week to my YouTube Channel.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Mice Video

Last week was spent working on videos, mostly in the frustration of animating The Spiral Staircase, which is a complex tune that I'm finding impossible to do justice in animation form! Is a bad video better than none, when the aim is to promote music? I suppose it is, but a good one is better.

The one above is the video for "Mice" which is new! A bit of fun this, and made in a similar way to the China Syndrome video. I went for a silent film look (an ironic look for a music video don't you think?) because the video looked grainy. I remember director David Lynch saying that he loved low quality digital video because of the random patterns and distortions you get, which react with the mind like ink-blots. Nice thought.

You can see Rapunzel's Tower in the background, a model I made for my Love Reliquary, which is nearing completion... but more on that later. In the mean time, I hope you enjoy the video.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


I've been working in a frenzy over the weekend on a music video for my tune Challenger. I wanted to share how I did it... first look at this...

That sheet is one page of the list of frame numbers for the song. The video looks computer animated but actually it's "hand animated", sort of. I made little animations, usually individual photoshopped frames (like the glowing dots above). These were included into a long animation at the correct points to correspond to the different notes in the song. I effectively made a different video for each instrument, with a black background, then overlaid each one to make the final edit.

The whole thing was made possible because I wrote a small program to automatically calculate frame numbers when you input the frames-per-second of a video and the beats-per-minute of a tune. This was synchronised with my music software so that I could see where each note was triggered. Then I highlighted the times that the notes played.

The first bit I did was the bass, the vertical red lines. I drew 8 pictures and animated them with the right gaps between frames. Not as easy as it sounds because the notes are not always the same space apart due to fractions of a frame. After 1.5 patterns, the sequence repeats.

Next came some swirly chords which in my head were a cyan/grey sort of swirly colour and for that I used a 3D program to rotate a giant ring. I put two rings inside and made them transparent, offsetting the angles so they twisted as they spun. In the music, the song takes four measures to sweep through the filter, so I used that number of frames, multiplied by 3 (to again account for fractional frames) to complete one sweep, so that's 1080 degrees.

Then came the "sine blobs", the glowing blue dots, which worked like the bass. The most time consuming bit though was the main piano melody. I drew an expanding circle over 70 frames, then had to work out how to put it into the video. In the end I put the notes into "clusters" that had gaps of at least 70 frames between. Then I added enough black space to the start so that when the cluster was triggered on a specific frame, the animation would trigger at the exact right frame for the piano sound. So each note had to be placed as a separate specific animation. There was a lot of mental arithmetic involved for that one!

After that I added a poem and decided to invert the video for dramatic effect for the finale.

Overall, this has been exhausting, but worth it.

The software I used was my usual free set by the way. AviSynth for the main editing, compositing etc. and VirtualDub for previews. I used SUPER to convert to mp4 for YouTube. It took 35 mins to render the final video on my 3Ghz PC.


I'm going to leave it for a while now and do the final mastering in a few days. I expect the official release to be in a couple of weeks.

Edit! It's now Jan 2015 and I decided to remaster this, this time using FreeMake to convert it. I added a new "Cornutopia Music" intro and overlay'd a subtitle. It took about an hour in Freemake as an 8000kbps mpp4 file, quite a lot longer than SUPER. Both FreeMake and SUPER are now adware and should be installed only with great care to avoid toolbars and other malware. Freemake v4.0.3.0 was the last stable version that didn't brand your videos (yes, newer versions put their logo in your video!), so use that version. Don't go near SUPER, it auto-updates and can't be uninstalled.

Friday, November 11, 2011

China Syndrome

Voila! I've been working on videos this week. I say working, most of the time it's been trying new ideas and hitting brick walls, so I've only finished one and a half videos. Anyway this is the "one", and easiest because it's a remake.

The tune is China Syndrome, and like in the first version I slowed down the music, drew to it, then speeded the video back up again. This time used a special L-shaped arm thing that looked down on my desk, so I could draw and have a good close-up and still use my cheap camera.

The image was filmed from the top, which meant it was upside down, so I flipped it vertically. That's why I look left handed here when actually that's my right hand. I used AVISynth for editing and most of the work, with VirtualDub for previewing, and SUPER for conversion. All free software (although SUPER is annoying adware).

Phew, well it's been an unusual week and sadly one that began with the death of a pet, then the death of a great man from my art group, and ended with the funeral of a dear friend's beloved mother. Those events made me more reflective than sad for myself, but concerned for the sadness of others.

I've also learned how to memorise a pack of cards, thanks to Derren Brown's book. A useless skill, but the book also had in it somewhere... or I felt it somewhen... that people without many friends can seek to impress, and that young magicians and impressionists are particularly prone to this. This thought made me over self-analytical and made me wonder if having my work accepted and lauded would stop me wanting do so much of it and show it so much. There was no conclusion. It's an artists job to create, and one could hardly call Picasso, the most prolific artist in history, lacking in acclaim.

I think part of me would like to give up art, that with money and someone to share it with I wouldn't want or need it. What a horrible thought! I'll never stop!


Monday, November 07, 2011


Escape is my latest painting to be added to the website. By coincidence it's on public display from today too at Keele University as part of their annual Three Counties Open.

Eagle eyes might see that it's the same portrait as used on The Colours of Cheshire. The plan was to draw it once to effectively get two paintings in half of the time. It didn't work and it took a few attempts until I was happy enough. I think this is as good as my portraits used to be, after a few years of dip. I must focus on improving quality from now on.

In other news I excitingly created some new undapper and textastically amazing software that takes the frames per second of a video and the beats per minute of a song (with optional millisecond offset) and then produces a printout of the frame numbers for each beat, half beat and yes! even quarter beat. That will make it easy to sync music to a video with brilliant exactitude.

Working on music videos for two songs is what I've been doing over the weekend and the results are goodly awful (as opposed to awfully good). However it's better to have any video rather than none. More results soon...

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Angela Rippon Dream

Last night's dream was so vivid that I decided to type it out...

Three sibling children were doing some coursework, about cyclops mythology. The eldest was doing the work and the others helping. The youngest one, a tiny girl of about 6, was working on the wrong type of paper, the others doing it on lined paper with holes in. She got some of the right paper and continued to help.

Prof. Richard Wiseman was there, and he and I decided to tiny up some 1p and 2p coins that had been spilled. I started to throw some in the pot and he did too. He was rather distant towards me, but seemed to tolerate me joining in with the tasks.

Prof. Wiseman got a message from a friend. The friend wanted to know how if it was possible duplicate his old furniture so that it wouldn't be lost. I said that I knew how to do that. I could perhaps, I suggested, make moulds from it and make plaster copies. Prof. Wiseman went into the friends house through a gate. It was somehow automatic and I knew that if it closed I wouldn't be able to get in. I decided to follow, asking if it was okay for me to come along to help. He ignored me but it seemed okay.

Inside was a large room with a hard floor and some shrouded furniture in the streaming light. A middle aged man with white hair was there sitting on the sofa. There was a baby crawling about the room that the man was responsible for. I sat next to the man and we talked. He was very relaxed, almost in a daze and talked very calmly in sharp contrast to my energetic positive self. He did nothing all day, or very little which I found surprising. I told him that he must get bored or depressed. He said no. I told him that I work all of the time, constantly busy and that I've never had a holiday, which he doubted. I said that I probably had a few when I was at school. He talked about me living with my parents for a bit.

He became a woman a bit like Angela Rippon and we began to talk about sex. She took me to the bedroom and I sat on the bed. I said that I'd not seen a naked woman and she said that she would show me. I was in the bed now. She undressed in front of me and then lay on the bed. I put my hand on her body and she felt a rush of pleasure and had an orgasm. She said that that had never happened like that before and that we must have a deep connection. I had ejaculated too.

Suddenly a bullet flew through the room via the large window that made up the wall at the head of the bed. The shooter was a companion of sorts of the woman, a man who followed and watched over her like a detective, whether she wanted him to or not. He was a minor annoyance to her, her shadow, but she tolerated him. He appeared in the room with lots of other people and stood with another detective. He was rather weak and humble. I had a tommy gun and imagined shooting him to get rid of this annoyance. The dream however, and any seduction, was over.

Friday, November 04, 2011

The Invisible Woman

Today I decided to make a music video for the song Semi-Automatic-Woman-Marvelous-Machine, a task which I instantly and fantastically failed at having been tangented by wonderment and SO I decided, at the last minute, to design a Christmas card this year after all. So I'm doing that.

In the meantime, see this, my latest completed painting; The Invisible Woman. It's about childlessness and not having a family. With no family she is empty, past statue and part invisible, her reproductive organs dry and useless. It is my largest painting to date at around-and-about 70x120cm, far to large for me to transport to most exhibitions(!) or transport to the framers(!!) and so it's going to be difficult to see in real life(!!!). Okay so that's enough exclamations for now.

Here is a close up...

Now, some interesting technical wonderments...

1. The scanned painting is 300dpi and the image file is 8185x14197 pixels. I scanned it in 21 A4 sections on a flatbed scanner.
2. The figure is about half-life size.
3. The canvas is polyester, a brilliant surface but one that resists pencil drawing, so the underdrawing was transferred directly using oil paint. I've described how I've done it elsewhere on this blog.
4. There are three paint layers here. The first one was mostly in ashen greys and tone made of earth colours. The sky is/was cobalt blue on all layers, and this often produces a nice effect. That blue is technically more opaque than ultramarine but ultramarine is more powerful and dark and so needs much more opacifying white... so in practise cobalt is much more transparent for anything except dark tones, which it's quite useless for anyway. The rainbow colours were all grey greens on the palette, gentle mixes with the sky blue, proving that colours are relative. The top layer made everything much stronger.

Here's another detail...

I have no family, although like most of my work the painting is not autobiographical but inspired by my interpretations of other people and/or situations.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Iterations of Isolation

I'm scanning this year's works at the moment. Here is Iterations of Isolation, a momentously sad painting about the isolating barriers all too familiar to the likes of Nietzsche! I wanted to paint a painting that hummed with a deep darkness, like the sound of an obsidian block or the heartbeat of a black hole.

The idea is many years old and had remained half complete, huge and stretched on a canvas for years. It became trapped in complexity. This year I decide to complete or destroy everything that was half finished, and this was therefore resolved. I decided to repaint it on a smaller scale, packing the mountains into something as big as an office letter.

The essential idea was of monoliths within monoliths, rocks within rocks showing multiple layers of personality from external to the ultimate intimate baby. By the time that layer was reached though, the outer layers had become not mere tree rings but barriers that had isolated, and the introversion had trapped the psyche in a joke lonely hatred; the essence of the extreme right (I say joke because all such barriers are artificial constructs). I probably heard Pink Floyd's The Wall for the first time in this year and perhaps that became an influence.

I find the painting horrific, but I think it has succeeded in conveying the power I wanted. If I had found it lovely it would have failed as an artwork.

Technical notes. It's oil on perspex and 234x336mm (a little bigger than A4). It's painted in two layers.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Doodle Planet

It was a "Doodle Planet" event at Telfords Warehouse in Chester last night, the second I've been to and it was great fun. Blank canvases are set up around the area and people can just drop in and doodle; draw, paint, splot, chat, whatever! And all for free! Fancy dress was optional and I went "sort of" as a Victorian vampire although my weak grey pallor probably made me look a bit tired rather than horrific.

I took some ink and brushes and started with splots and runs, then let the shapes evolve. The halloween theme of the night made me think of the Omen films and the painting became The Rise of the Antichrist. There's lots of different details in there. I've done a few inky pictures on a postcard scale before but nothing like that and it was fun. I'll do another if I get the chance. The beautiful lady behind the bar wanted to buy my picture, which was the highlight of the night. I gifted it to her. My fee was the enjoyment of the night.

Other news:

1. I've one painting accepted into the Three Counties Open in Keele University, two rejected. I didn't get any accepted last year and I submitted three of my best, so I'm glad to get one in, especially as they've had a record number of entries this year. The exhibition runs for about a month from Nov the 7th.

2. I've spent today glazing a painting called Trying To Ignite Love. It should be quite good. I'll put up pictures in progress soon.

3. The Reliquary! Yes, the plaster is now sealed with epoxy resin and the doors are now asleep, face down and glued to the wooden doors with more resin. It is very liquid and takes several days to dry. At first it leaked everywhere and oozed it's honey mess all over the my fine doors and the plastic sheeting I was working on! This was expected though, and these oozes were wiped off (at first I didn't use nearly enough glue and it soaked right into the plaster and wood... that was expected and should make a good bond. I decided not to seal the surfaces first for that reason.)

The doors will need careful wiping and monitoring over the next few days. I must nurse them carefully as this is the most delicate and crucial process; these plaster doors have taken weeks of work and this glue stage must be perfect. If they set in the wring place I'll have to start again!

After that I'll attach the hinges and then the gold which I bought today. Two years ago 25 sheets of 24 karat gold cost £13. Now it's £25! I hope I've got enough...

Onward to glory!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Tum Tum

A busy painting day today, with the left panel of the reliquary, a moon and a sad angel. Here's the model.

I wasn't very happy with the painting and found it a chore. I'm coming to the conclusion that being alone with a painting all day, day after day makes you go crazy. Years ago I read the van Gogh letters and found myself telling him to think positive (with many exclamation marks) and that he was going about things in totally the wrong way and practically being self destructive in his hyper-introversion. My friend recently read some letters and said that he was just like me. Hmm! Of course I disagree, although I have changed a lot in the past two years.

Either way, it's a disturbing statement even if only partly true. When you only have yourself for morale, discipline is essential. The upper classes join the army if extrovert and the church if introvert. Perhaps I could resurrect some Catholicism to save my sanity. Theism makes my higher intellect shudder, although the fantastically ceremonial aspects could be exciting.

When wet, the painting slipped off the easel and fell face down. This anxiety, ironically, snapped me out of my sadness and made me feel better, which was unexpected because I was horrified at the damage. In the end, the myriad of tiny hairs were easily removed with masking tape, which works brilliantly and hardly affects the paint surface.

Now! I must focus on the future like a laser. At times my situation seems hopeless and my only reason for living is my painting. But then, this becomes a mission. My friends become everyone. My skills must be shared, as a matter of duty to humanity. Deaf Beethoven decides to compose. Success inevitable!

One final ramble; I've recently rewatched a film called From The Life of the Marionettes. Ingmar Bergman is one of my favourite artists and this is perhaps my favourite film of his. I must be (have been) quite like him because I seem to identify with just about every character of every film. He reminds me that 99% of films are about nothing, and those that are about something don't really deal with important truths and feelings. The same is true of paintings. I must try harder to prove that this is possible.

For now, good thinking.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Reliquary Doors

The plaster carving is compete!

The left panel has become concave due to dampness, I should have been more careful and ensured a flat non-absorbent surface at all times. For the poem I printed it onto tracing paper and scraped though the lettering as a guide, then carved them more deeply and neatened them up.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

New Routine

Day two of the centre painting for the reliquary, it's now complete. Here is a little blue tit. Yes it's supposed to be upside down. Yesterday I was trapped in detail and felt like the whole painting was a disaster but today I finished the rest! Zing!! This shows that you should indeed try the hard bits first. One of my rules is do the hard bits, the best bits, the most scary bits, first. That builds confidence, and means that you do the most demanding parts when you have the most energy and focus.

For the last two years I've had the same work routine: 9:10-10:40 painting.
10:40 break (20 mins).
11:00-12:30 painting.
12:30-1:30 lunch.
1:30-2:20 painting.
2:20 break (20 mins).
2:40-4:10 painting.
4:10 break (20 mins).
4:30- 6:00 painting.

Done. This was based on the "90 mins work, 20 mins rest" theory, which I read was the best for biorhythms. Actually it didn't work very well. I got too little rest and those 20 minute breaks were all to easily eaten into by a few addictive minutes at the end of a painting session.

Yesterday I started a new one and I'll see if this works better:

9:00-10:30 painting.
10:30 break (30 mins).
11:00-12:30 painting.
12:30-1:30 lunch.
1:30 walk (20 mins).
1:50 meditative sleep (20 mins).
2:10-3:40 painting.
3:40 break (30 mins).
4:10-5:40 painting.
5:40 rest or painting (20 mins).
6:00-7:00 evening meal.
7:00-8:30 painting.

This gives both more rest periods and more work time, partly because the days are longer, but that's fine because I don't have anything much to do in the evenings.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Relief Collage

I can't believe it's been so long since my last post! I've been hard at work painting and have finished two new paintings and underpainted another too!

Today I've invented a new art form! I've been decorating the doors to my reliquary (which have annoyingly bent due to moisture, see how the left one is raised at the top and bottom). These are mirror smooth sheets of plaster, the casting of which took many days of agonies. Then, decoration. At first I used an air-dried clay to add details to the surface but then I thought I'd try something new and today did it.

I began by doing a "texture hunt", and went into the garden to collect leaves, bark, twigs and other things that might produce a good texture in plaster. Then I mixed up some plaster and poured it onto glass, casting bits of leaf and other things, also sandwiching it with more glass to produce one very smooth flat side to these experimental sheets. When dry after only about half an hour I removed the sheets, which broke into millions of pieces like a jigsaw. This was intentional. I then picked out the interesting shapes and interesting textures.

You can see them on the left. I then glued them onto the doors. This was most fun and was a sort of cross between a mosaic and a collage. I used air dried clay to smooth off any sharp edges. The results were good and it worked much more efficiently than carving (with less mess too!)

My big worry with this is the fragility of the plaster and I'll have to be very careful. I'm wondering if I should take a latex copy of the front carvings just in case, although there is a risk that that process will cause damage (because I've never tried it before). If the cabinet is too delicate then I might have to forego entering it into any major exhibitions, which would be a microdisaster. I'm toying with the idea of displaying the work myself on a pay-per-view basis. It might be the only way it'll be seen.

The paintings for the inside have been underpainted now, and I want to glaze these next. I've got one painting idea that isn't underpainted but I'm rather tired of the lengthy process and disenthused with painting so I'm thinking of painting that one in one layer. My other paintings in progress will take at most two days each, excluding the giant Quest For Pity, which I started back in March and hasn't been touched since!

Once the front is carved the next step is to seal it and glue it to the doors, then the hinges will be attached, then the gliding and the attachment of any gemstones. Then I'll need a glass heart of some sort for the paintings, and the final sculpture (most likely in air-dried clay) for the top, and possibly an arrow if it will fit. I want it completed as soon as possible.


Friday, October 07, 2011

A Pope's Guide to Streaks and Crisp Edges

See! See! This is exactly the problem I was having today. Look at the over-crisp edge where the red touches the green, and look how blotchy and streaky the green looks, and similar on the red (you might need to zoom in to see it). This is a consequence of a very smooth surface, paint that has dried early (the red was dry before the green was painted) but even with those two certainties, the pain of the situation can be attenuated by having an accurate underpainting that is very smooth, most easily done using opacity, or a few layers.

Well, that picture, if you haven't spotted it, is by Raphael, and today I was painting my "Prometheus as a Turkey" and having the same problems. My "rocks" are as streaky as Pope Julius and sliding my transparent darks over the poorly executed underpainting was a lesson in introretrospective chastisement. I should have painted the underpainting more slowly and with more care an accuracy. Painting on a flat smooth surface is difficult because the exact depth of paint is needed. Too little and blending becomes impossible and the result is uneven. Too much though and ridges start to form. The slightest deviation is visible. I have a few on this painting. Here is a clip of the rocks so far, by the way...

Unfortunately the photo is too blurry to show the level of detail! Anyway, I've persisted. Another layer, I tell myself, and the painting will look just fine, but I'm frustrated that in my head I can do better, and I'm sure that if I repainted it, a week's work, I could achieve a more Leonardic smoothness. He though took years to paint anything for this reason. Raphael painted lots and quickly, and so had to compromise, and more like him I'll probably call this "good enough" and worry about perfection in future paintings.

After all, my best paintings are in my future, not my past.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Dr. Who Dream

On Sunday I dreamed about an F-18 aircraft that I designed and made a model of. It could bend it's wing up and down in a curve to gain more manoeuvrability. This made the aircraft good enough to defeat an F-22 Raptor, which represented the enemy.

Aircraft that attack others is a recurring theme in my dreams. Sometimes they fire at enemies and fail to damage them, sometimes they do manage to shoot the enemy down when using lots of firepower. There's certainly lots of attacking going on. This dream that included an ally that was capable of defeating an enemy has to be positive.

ThenI dream that I'm in a brown wood-panelled restaurant with a boy I know. Some people are making an noise with music or putting on some sort of performance and I'm trying my best to ignore them. They pick on me and insist that I listen to them and stop ignoring them. I become polite and ask their names, shaking each of their hands as they sit down around the table. I say that my name is Mark, as in the planet Mars. My actual personality is that of Matt Smith's Dr. Who. I ask them to explain and they say that they are performing, acting as a train. The team then perform, sitting in seats like pews. The location now looks a bit like the Lamb pub in Willaston*. One performer at the front says things like "Brakes released!" and everyone shudders, then "Breaks on!" and everyone shudders again. The scene out of the window is moving and I think that the performance makes the illusion of being on a train very realistic. I know that the scene beyond the window is supposed to move anyway at a constant speed because we're on a spaceship or some other form of transport.

I congratulate them and say that I'm going to treat them to a reward. I ask them to pick two, and take them with me (and Amy Pond, now my companion). I take them into the Tardis. The others try to follow but I block them out. I move past the desk in the entrance hall, then into the main room which is very white and has a lake or pond with a bridge over it and lots of animal furs. The decor reminds me of the 1970's. Amy moves to the end of the room with me, but we see a time-old copy of Amy moving in the same way as she did near the door. Then we see a future Amy dressed differently. She is grabbed by some invisible monster and dragged along the floor by both arms. At other points there were other signs on my (the Doctor's) impending death.

* My art group Art Support has had a few end of year lunches at this public house, and it's the only association I have with it. The most memorable lunch there was the last before my friend Anne had her accident.

I often dream of Dr. Who, and much of this probably relates to the finalé to the latest series which the BBC recently screened. Overall I think that this is a warning to listen to part of myself (the performers) and is generally a warning to relax (the train ride, which I find relaxing; if not actively depressing!).

Last night's dreams were about running from an enemy, once again. I managed to find a safe haven in a city with outer defences capable of repulsing the enemy. Today I've decided to rest and do nothing!

In art, all of my reliquary underpaintings are complete. Next step is to try, again, the plaster relief.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Nazimova Two

I've been painting that picture today. That's the underpainting, today I've finished it. I came up with this one back at the start of the year; I had a picture to create for the Jobling Gowler exhibition, and a portraits exhibition was coming up in Birmingham too so I thought I'd kill two birds with one stone and paint two versions of the same portrait; one landscape for Jobling (that became The Colours of Cheshire) and one portrait. I'd save time, so I reasoned, by using the same drawing twice. Oh what a fool I was! In the end I drew the thing about five times and painted it four; two of each type of painting. This picture has taken seven months to finish in the end. I missed the Birmingham deadline by a long way. The ultimate reason it took so long is that I had to paint it over and over until I was happy with it. It worked.

This one is called Escape and is named after the music track used in the film Brazil. It's about escape, or dreams of it. I didn't intentionally paint it with that idea, but having just seen it I think that's what it's about and have made tiny adjustments to that end. It is sometimes like that with surreal paintings.

In other news, the reliquary is on track. I've cast two plaster sheets and have started carving. It looks rather medieval in quality at the moment though, and it's a very dusty process. I think putting solid 3D objects onto the surface might look better, so I've decided to cast two more sheets and try that, just to see. That's an extra week's work. I'll start painting the arch panel paintings for this in a few days.

Other news

1. I have a pain in my throat due to a tonsil cyst which comes back every couple of weeks. Is it worth having my tonsils removed for a mild annoyance, or will this not prove to drain my important well-being as I grow older.
2. I have unfriended an old Facebook friend whom I miss.
3. Recent glimpses into Edvard Munch reveals he was mad and sad, as well as a bad painter.
4. I entered a painting into a new exhibition today. This art event, which includes music, dancing, poetry and other reveries, takes place on Friday and Saturday at the modern square All Saints Church on Stewart Street, Crewe.
5. The Cubby Hole Exhibition ends tomorrow.
6. I'm now a member of the newly formed Crewe and Nantwich Art Society. We'll meet monthly on Sundays. That suits me exceedingly well at the moment.

I will now stop. Excellent progress is being made and I must carefully balance work, rest, aimless co-operative drift, analysis, event, attack of mastery, parry of doubt, and the neutrality of the void.

That's everything.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Two nights ago I dreamed that I was Leonardo da Vinci (the painter; not any other facets of his character). This seems to have signalled something because I seem to be painting well at the moment and have completed three paintings (one finished, two underpainted) in three days. Technically there are a few subtle changes. Firstly I'm using ivory black instead of mars. I don't think that made much difference (right now this conversation is adopting exactly the character of one in the book "Return to Oz" where the mysterious habits of the Wizard of Oz were discussed - anyway I'll continue)...

Another difference is that I'm much more free in using and preparing a selection of colours now, and I'm using off-white whites that are tinted just enough. The detail level on the monoliths is also about right, and I'm making sure to refresh my memory regarding textures to be painted, and practising visualisation before working - although this is no longer conscious. It's hard to quantify what's right in many ways. Personally though I have been more focused and ascetic, shunning people more and seeking emotionless solitude. This seems to liberate more brain power and is perhaps as important as any other factor.

My recent "turkey" painting features rocks my Leonardo. Copying another artist's work is a way of absorbing their personality. He lacked confidence as an artist, painting thinly and slowly, anxiously, perfectly, worried about every tiny flaw and crack in an autistic obsessive way. This lack of confidence led to lots of "tricks" and techniques to eliminate emotional concern and reduce art to Spockian logic. This worked. Leonardo was a brass machine.

At first I thought that his lack of confidence as an artist was a flaw and that to have flair and bravado like Velazquez or Frans Hals or Rembrandt was the ideal, but for me at least over confidence produces far worse results than under. There's nothing worse than thinking your wild motions are brilliant. Everything must be scrutinised. The correct degree of focus is needed, and the right amount of élan and flair, but this must be exactly right, not too much and not too little. Let cool objectivity be the artists' guide.

...and now to today's work.

Here is the idea sketch for "Trying to Ignite Love". It's a seascape but those lines are largely just that, not solid objects. This creates a few interesting technical quandaries. I've decided to paint the background first and ignore the lines for the most part. The Sun and Moon feature, as does the large drip blob, which is flowing off a tabletop... but the important parts will be added in a top layer.

Here is the underpainting...

I have five more paintings awaiting underpainting (which includes three for the Love Reliquary). Let the season continue! Joy! Trumpets! Good painting dear readers. Bon appétit!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tick List

Things done today:

1. Visited the dentist. Was late due to missing the alarm. This is the first appointment of any sort I've missed since 1999 and my Open University final exam, for which I arrived one hour late due to lack of public transport to the obscure venue. I managed to complete the exam and pass in the remaining hour. Before that I had never missed an appointment, having 100% school attendance.
2. Spoke at length to my friend Anne. Wrote a card of condolence to my friend Simon. Spoke to Paul McCartney about the merits of the second version of The Long and Winding Road on Let it Be... Naked.
3. Cast a new plaster sheet for the bas relief on the front of my reliquary.
4. Drew the front image to be later carved.
5. Finished the drawing to the centre panel.
6. Traced the right hand panel; transferring the drawing to the surface.
7. Glued the four newly embossed metal strips to the curved edges of the box (see photo). These will be gilded.
8. Researched gemstones for the glass heart object in the centre. This took an hour; browsing online always takes longer than expected.
9. Bought a spare part for the gas cooker and took it apart to investigate repair. Will employ an expert!
10. Applied to join as a founder member of Crewe and Nantwich Art Society.
11. Uploaded 20 new edits of music for IndieSFX.

Friday, September 16, 2011


The following painting is Holly by Louis Smith. It was a finalist in the B.P. Portrait award last year:

I read that it's a female "Prometheus". What do you think of it? Why do you think the artist painted it? What did he mean by making Prometheus female? Where is the eagle?

These questions shot around my head too. Holly is excellently painted, and for me the answers made a picture. That painting is the one I'm working on this week. It's called "Prometheus as a Turkey Being Eaten by a Peacock". It will be a psychological representation of "Holly", a dream reflection, and analysis.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

ArtsFest 2011

Well I've had a hectic weekend, first collecting a painting from M.O.M.A. Wales in Machynlleth (the trip takes all day but it's a nice place to visit) and then a busy weekend at ArtsFest 2011, a big arts festival in Birmingham. I volunteered to man the Heart of England Galleries stall for a few hours each day. It's a collective that lumps several art galleries together to reach more people. Thanks to everyone who said hello and those who helped out at the stall.

I saw lots of the festival too. Lots of dance and music on show Not many painting exhibitions really, hardly any sculpture that I can recall, but lots of events for children and crafty adults. I made a clay mouse with the midland potters, got a dream catcher made, decorated a tee-shirt... and all for free. It was inspiring and fun but I'm not sure if it educated about the arts that much. I enjoyed it and aim to go back next year, and I've made notes about it which might be useful for the (local) Nantwich Arts Festival in 2012 too...

Next it's back to painting. Only 3 weeks left of the painting season! The large "Invisible Woman" is complete! Hurrah! My next most sophisticated painting is called Prometheus As A Turkey Being Eaten By A Peacock. That will be a lot of work due to detail level. I'll probably start that next week. I'll sleep late tomorrow and paint something simple...

Sunday, September 04, 2011


A busy few days darting here and there; the end of the Macclesfield exhibition at Sevens. It was great and I'd like to show there again in future. Thanks to Terry & Beatrice for the opportunity, and to Kath Laird for telling me about the shop. Some comments at the bottom.

I've also cast my reliquary arches using a solid plaster mould. It wasn't ideal but good enough. I've glued the arches on and painted them with my epoxy resin, they're really tough now. Plaster and epoxy are perfect in combination! I use a liquid casting resin by the way, not the tubed glue.

Saturday was etching day and I made a few test etches into aluminium using copper sulphate solution. This worked as well as expected, fizzing the metal away to make a relief. This will be gilded and go on the edge. It sort of goes like sandpaper where the "acid" etches, which makes it good for holding ink for printing. I won't be using it for printing though because I like the look of the plates themselves too much!

Now I'm back to painting and working on some of the many pictures I have in progress. I want to clear my inbox enough so that I can do some music before the end of the year. My album of songs is delayed and will wait, probably years, to be completed, but it will be eventually.

Of the other things that happened last week I saw a television adaptation of Wuthering Heights, my first exposure to the story that I'd been told wasn't very good. How wrong! A brilliant emotional analysis. I am now Heathcliff, of that I'm sure!

Now, some exhibition comments. Thank you to everyone who came to look and to those who took time to comment.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Busy Busy

Busy busy this weekend. I composed four paintings, drawing out three and transferring them to panel. These are: Imaginary Flight Of The Victorious Narcissist and Iterations Of Isolation (the composition of those was largely complete, I just had to draw them), Love Without Sex (new composition of an idea from 2009) and Giant Looking At His Friends The Clouds which was composed but nothing more done yet. This is about as fast as I can work.

On Friday the picture above was put on display in the Lyceum Theatre, it's called The Resurrection Of The Lyceum In 1911 and was painted for the theatre's centenary celebrations which are now taking place. It's my largest painting to date (about 1x1.5 metres) and took about 28 full days to create.

Today I've been painting again, a picture called The Mathematics of Nazimova, which is actually a repainting of one I started in January. That one wasn't accurate enough for me, but it looked pretty enough so it took some time for me to decide whether it was worth repainting. It was, and the new version is more accurate, and is smoother despite taking just one day; the other took two. Incidentally, Nazimova is the name of a silent film star, the painting is nothing to do with Nazis!

My exhibition in Sevens in Macclesfield closes today and was a success, resulting in at least the sale of two limited edition prints. I sold a painting earlier in the month in Macclesfield too, making this a good month for painting sales. In September I'll aim to paint my remaining ideas and try to complete as much as possible before writing music in October.

My biggest mistake of the past couple of years has been changing track, chasing competitions and opportunities that require new artwork, thus satisfying those demands at the expense of my original ideas. From now on I'll try to fit my ideas into shows instead of trying to tailor-make art for competitions. Sometimes this is necessary, when a theme is supplied, but I'll try not to spend too long working on things like that.

Back to work. Zip zip! Have a productive day folks!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Reliquary Progress

Here is the state of my reliquary so far. Once you get down to joints needing to be less than 1mm, the slightest thing can throw the box into chaos. Most of the work so far has been working out how to get everything level, a procedure like a puzzle so that each stage is done correctly. It's not been easy and there's a mistake here...

>The strip down the centre will be the inside edge of double doors. These must fit neatly, and the back must be very level so that the door swing is also level... you want the doors to open in a clean horizontal sweep and shut so that they fit exactly. This has proved to be incredibly hard, the arch shape complicating everything yet more... how do you exactly line up four gothic arches without any reference marks?

Here the centre parts are veneered and facing each other. Everything is held level on top of the back so that this represents the doors in a closed position. Even now though things aren't level and the natural spring and slight warp of the wood has knocked things out at the bottom and sides by a millimetre or two. The veneer though should be longer than the centre strip; it should extend the full length of the edge, bottom to top. That's the mistake. I'll have to remove the centre bits and start again.

At times I've felt like Leonardo da Vinci, thinking and pacing anxiously but not actually doing anything, but I can't help but aim for perfection. There is always a point when enough is enough, when it's time to "get it done". Now I've got a step-by-step plan, the rest should be less difficult.

I'm starting to love plaster again because of this and the front of this cabinet will be a gilded bas relief. My epoxy resin really sinks in to toughen it... hopefully without changing the dimensions too much! My plan is to carve it when dry, glue with P.V.A. and then tougen with epoxy before gilding. I'm performing many tests on plaster adhesion and toughness.

Once these centre parts are lined up and veneered correctly I'll stick on the two arched front doors, then add the aluminium etched edges and hinges. Then the inner veneering and interior decoration... after that the important parts of this box will be complete.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Rules for Artists

Things are getting better. After two days my epoxy resin set well and the frames were saved. I was using a new type; epoxy casting resin from A.B.L. Stevens, and I now know that it takes 48 hours to set, not 24. It's brilliant stuff, useful for casting, as a super-gloss wood varnish, sealer, and painted onto plaster or clay it will sink in and really toughen it up. I'm going to use some rubber balls to assist in scanning my paintings, but enough! of such things for now.

I've been re-analysing my state after spending far too long on the physical problems of woodwork. I must get back to making art and to re-inspire me I've looked at my book of spells, my rules and procedures for creation. Among them I found my "Rules for Artists" that I wrote a few years ago. I thought I'd share them.

1. Make good art.
2. Analyse each picture coldly to ensure that it is good. Analyse its good and bad elements. Analyse its emotional content and contrasts. Analyse its techniques. Calculate how it could have been better. Make detailed notes during painting and you will learn from your mistakes more easily.
3. It is better to paint one good picture than one hundred average ones.
4. It is better to paint one bad picture than none at all.
5. Do not think about an idea so long that you corrupt it. After a time limit, destroy a failing idea and start again.
6. Do not be lazy. Do not cut corners.
7. Do not flood your own market.
8. Make your art worth a high price and charge that high price. Great artists die of poverty. Foolish artists live in poverty.
9. You will dislike all of your pictures, expect this, and ignore this. Tell the world your art is great.
10. Paint beautiful. A good picture awes art critics, small children and ignoramuses. Please all three.
11. Include an element of mystery in every picture.
12. Under state and over prove.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Well I've had a busy but unproductive week. As good results refused to appear I did my usual step of working at double speed but those results weren't any good either and I've ended up with nothing.

So let's see what happened.

Last Friday I decided to spend a week making the box for my reliquary, an arched shaped box. I'd already cut one arch from a solid piece of wood and decided to cut two more. The edges were not level, and in fact too unlevel to be useful. My plan was to level up the sides with plaster, which would be easily sanded down later. For that I had to find a process or way to work out what WAS level in the first place because all three parts had to fit together. That was tricky and used square tubes of aluminium bolted together. I did that, and applied plaster to the inside. Here are the three arches which the white plaster inside...

That took three days. NOW, that was all well but the plaster wasn't level either, AND it didn't stick to the wood and began to flake off (I really should have used wood filler) and worse, the water soaked into the wood and made the edges swell. The arches were still too even to use and I'd wasted days of work and two big sheets of M.D.F. making some useless shapes. Back to the drawing board.

I had to restart from scratch. The key element of these was similarity. The exact curve of the arch wasn't that important but it had to be the same as the others so I decided to cast the edge, and for that needed one master arch, a shape that I could make a mould for an duplicate. I decided to get this by casting a solid block of plaster (3kg) and carving out the shape. Here it is so far...

The edges are rather rough. I'm letting it dry. This took the rest of the week. The thing is, even if this succeeds I'm not going to be able to screw hinges into a plaster wall, so I'll have to cast it in something tougher. Sigh, the wood option seems better for this reason. So far I've put 11 full days work into this and spent £167.75 on materials and have nothing at all to show for it but those objects. Still, this has to be done.

Amazingly, the week got worse. Four of the eight frames I spectacularly cut in one day ended up ruined through different means, as I tried to decorate them. Three were beautifully coated in epoxy resin, but in the wrong mix ratio, and one was spray painted in the most ugly way and it's plaster parts began to flake off. I might use it anyway because it's sorry state might suit the painting.

Today I began scanning the Lyceum painting, this my largest painting has taken 27 full days so far and is on a heavy solid surface. During the process I scratched it down the centre irreparably damaging it. The damage is fortunately slight, but will remain visible.

In these circumstances I can only list the things I've learned and move on.

1. Always measure epoxy resin by volume, even if equivalent weight ratios are supplied.
2. Don't scan a painting until it's several months dry. I'll have to develop a new method for something this large and heavy too.
3. The arches... where to begin! Don't use a hand jigsaw... but I have no other option. A table band saw would have been much better. Plaster doesn't adhere to wood (although it does sometimes!). Use wood filler to fill wood, although I don't know which sort would work best here or if it would have worked anyway.
4. Keep on trying new things. Although this is more a philosophy than a lesson. If there is a lesson from this week it's STOP trying new things!

My goal for August is to finish the reliquary cabinet. That is all. I have ten more days to work at it. I wonder if hinges will screw into an epoxy resin cast and hold firm? They'll need to take a lot of weight. I don't think they will. Oh for a band saw!

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Tick tick! After Monday, which was effectively a day off, I slept for eight hours and made eight frames on Tuesday. This is about the most I can make in one day. Each sawed by hand (32 bits, 64 cuts) then marked and drilled for the special batons I fit that have room for screw eyes and mirror plates. 64 holes, each countersunk. Then staining and assembly, one frame per night because I have only one band clamp.

On Wednesday, work on my love reliquary. Three models made; a sad angel, Rapunzel's tower (shown) and the embrace. I researched how to flatten out my veneer and how to fletch a medieval arrow. I'll need 1mm zinc sheets, epoxy resin and at least four pheasant feathers. Design of the paintings ground to a halt. I've been feeling so tired these days. The pain in my throat which has plagued my life for eighteen months was recently identified as a "tonsilith" which are often dormant but sometimes mischievous. Mine hurts with a dull pain in daily pulses, just a little, like a clothes peg on an earlobe or the snap of a giant rubber band enrobed with thin fur on the upper arm. I place this thing firmly in the mischief category.

I watched the film Watchmen, an excellent film about love and the conquest of loneliness. I decided then that there are only two great artworks: human relationships (personal) and science - the origins and fate of the universe etc. (cosmic).

Painting the Birth of Venus today, a painting from months ago that began large and gradually shrunk to a more manageable size. I've found it hard to focus and remained tired to the extreme all day despite sleeping for ten hours. I attribute this to an attack of entropy, the gradual onset of chaos, death, injury, decrepitude. I'll fight it with exercise and discipline.

I'll finish the Venus underpainting tomorrow.

In national and international news the 1930's have returned. This is good news for surrealists. It is a good time to buy shares. World War three might occur within a decade.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Love and Macclesfield

Trumpets! A busy weekend concluded for the better. Friday was the opening of Celebrating The Diversity at The Cubby Hole at my new tusty clonking cane was an excellent addition to my attire if a little awkward when juggling a Mr. Kiplings Cherry Bakewell AND a balloon glass of fine red wine. The gold spectacles were a visual success although covering the eyes can hinder communication and so I felt like removing them half of the time. The beret generated heat. The whole place was hot and got hotter as the evening progressed. A giant artwork was painted and I contributed some insects, birdy footprints and one or two flowers of little consequence.

On Saturday I finally completed and signed off my giant Lyceum painting. I tell myself that I've learned something but this might not be true. The days when I noted down what I'd learned and the problems I'd had are largely in the past. So what have I learned? A few technical processes regarding the priming of perspex, how to paint and store (while drying) large heavy artworks, and the use of a horizontal metal bar to rest my maul stick on. A new plastic clip for the top of my stick to stop it wavering. These are minor technicalities. What else?!...

Firstly I wasted too much time chasing detail down an ever shrinking spiral staircase. Contouring the rocks and other large details and shading them simply would have saved time and looked better (perhaps... the rocks were a disappointment at the time but on the final day I looked at them in amazement quite absorbed by the craters and canyons of the planet Mars that they seemed to actually be - perhaps the war that this painting became was itself reflected in the very rocks that caused the tension?)

The feathers looked quite bizarre and would have been much faster to paint if painted with the texture of fire, which in the end adorned not the phoenix but the grass at its feet (this detail has to be seen in person and it worth it - as can often the be case the final unplanned flourishes of flair and élan make all the difference). The tree should have been painted over a smooth sky, I think that's undoubted. Analysis complete.

>Now on Sunday I collected paintings from Bickerton. No sales. Works that did sell were typically small £40-£100 and of cats, flowers, landscapes and pretty things like that. Little originality.

Today I set up my exhibition at Sevens of Macclesfield. The nice shop owner Terry did most of the work and even offered to hang the lot for me, which made everything so much easier. The exhibition runs until the 27th.

Finally progress is being made on The Love Reliquary, a triptych encased in a cabinet inspired by the art of the medieval reliquary. Here is the latest photo...

Olé! Onward to greater things! as the trumpets fade to cellos.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Anxiety and Diversity

Well I've had a busy few days working on the Lyceum painting. The deadline for this was very tight and suddenly shifted up by two weeks meaning this, my most important and most public work for aeons, will not be finished to my standard. The stress of this combined with a long awaited diagnostic visit to the hospital pushed me into a couple of days of illness caused by inward spiralling anxiety. I have a highly neurotic personality which is a curse and a blessing. The mind carves paths and the unconscious follows the same path each time; this is a "routine". Most boring ordinary people boringly and ordinarily do the same thing and think the same thing and behave the same way all of the time. To change your routine causes anxiety because stress chemicals are required to disrupt and destroy the neural paths. Anxiety then is a tool for rubbing out and relearning something rapidly. Perhaps, I hypothesize, it's a key to imagination.

Things are now flowing smoothly and I'm nearing the long march towards the completion of this work. The painting has taken longer than any other, 25 8-hour days so far. Painting a large picture on canvas isn't easy but on a smooth panel the detail level can ramp up as high as ones obsessions will permit! I've spent long hours delving into the minutiae of feather fronds and leaves. The result is quite fantastical. It will still end up going on show unfinished. Nobody will notice.

In other news I'm making progress on The Love Reliquary. It's a box with arched edges and these gave been cut from 24mm M.D.F. ready for veneering. This stage is the most crucial because perfect geometrical accuracy is essential. The craft of good woodworkmanship is that of perfect joints, no gaps, no wobbles, no angles, just perfectly fitting engineering. It's a challenge.

In other news I have a couple of exhibitions coming up and the first is Celebrating The Diversity. It opens at The Cubby Hole on Friday (tomorrow). It's fancy dress and we're coming as mad artists and/or bohemians. Anything I wear will qualify. I want my outfit to involve a cape of pure gold. This show includes works by lots of local artists, crafters and first time creators. It's an eclectic mix, the perfect community show. We're all adding one piece to a large collaborative bit too. It feels different and refreshing from other art shows because it's about give and take.

On Sunday I'm collecting my work from Bickerton and on Monday setting up a new show in Sevens of Macclesfield. Tomorrow though I return to the peaceful solitude of the ascetic artist as I slowly and ideally by the very candlelight of Saint Luke, but probably by the sun, paint more phoenix feathers on this megalithic artwork.