Tuesday, 30 June 2009


I went to see the Patchings Exhibition on Sunday. The art centre is in a lovely spot in a rural situation just outside the sprawl of Nottingham. According to the history that is printed on the back of the menu in the homely cafe the arts centre is a family venture and it's been in existance for about 20 years. As well as exhibition and studio facilities, it offers workshops and courses and you can hire the cafe for functions. We had Sunday dinner in the cafe, which has more of a cosy restuarant feel with a good selection of home made food. Vegetarians have three main options, and I chose the vegetarian wholemeal pie. It's table service, and a hefty quarter slice was promptly delivered, followed by, to my surprise, a dish of swede and mashed potato, a dish of carrots and cabbage and a pot of peas. All this for £6.75. Excellent value.

The Artists and Leisure Painter exhibitions are exhibited in two separated spaces, the Leisure Painter exhibition is in a small gallery adjoining a nice craft shop (The Crew Yard Gallery), the walls are a little bit crammed in here, but there are some nice things on show. I particularly liked the two Meditteranean landscapes, High Rise by Peter Dudley and Summer in the Andalucia by Maureen Haslam both of which I think could have easily been in the Artists Exhibition. This was held in the more spacious Barn Gallery just above the restaurant. There were some lovely pieces here, everything to a very high standard (I think I was extremely lucky to have my pieces exhibited here, I couldn't help feeling that I just scraped in by the skin of my teeth), the standard of framing and presentation was outstanding, my poor little shop bought frames looked very undistinguished by comparison. There were two lovely (and immacuatly presented) flower paintings by Mary Rogers, a beautiful, ssubtly rendered oil painting by Chris Daynes, a stunning and immaculate flower drawing in coloured pencil by Claire Milligan and a nice composite piece called Six in One Frame, Nudes, Collias by Richard Parkinson. There were a couple of extremely vivid paintings by Jan Gardner that really caught my eye, the reproduction on the Patchings website doesn't really do her work justice, I was particularly mesmerised by On the trail with its wash of sensuous colour, the contrasting pastel lines and the squiggle of pen and ink detail that drew me closer to the surface of this fascinating and hypnotic work. You can see more of Jan Gardner's work on her website a very colourful and energising place to visit.

One of Mary Rogers' paintings was of the Kiftsgate Rose, and co-incidentally on Saturday my friend and I visited Kiftsgate Court Gardens, a lovely private garden next door to Hidcote Manor Gardens. Kiftsgate is a lovely garden, with a small formal garden built around the house and a path decending through Scotch Pines to a crescent shaped swimming pool and a view across neighbouring fields. We sat for a while watching a poor lost sheep bleeting its heart out as it tried to find the rest of its flock.

My favourite thing of all at Kiftsgate though is the lovely water garden, stepping across onto the island and waiting for the water to start trickling from the gold leaves, losing yourself for a moment watching the pond scaters and newts in the pond, it's one of those places where adults become children again for a short time. Such a peaceful, magical spot.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Angels and Demons

There's a lot of drawing in this month's The Artist and Artist & Illustrators magazines. In fact A&I is dedicated to drawing, and there's quite a lot of black and white work in it too. I particularly love the slick and gorgeous drawings by Marie Harnett, they're based on film stills and remind me of a graphite version of Gerhard Richter or Cindy Sherman. I'm not sure how the artist gets around the copyright issues in using someone else's work as a basis for her own, but I love film and the frames she's chosen plus the skill with which she achieves her work is a pretty mesmerizing concoction.

I've had the enjoyable task of choosing £250 of Derwent art materials for the Derwent prize I was awarded at the Patchings Art Festival. To say I was like a kid in a sweetwshop was an understatement.

I'm also thrilled that someone has purchased one of the pieces I have had exhibited at the RBSA's Prize Exhibition. Mum received a phone call today to break the news, though I already had an inkling as Mum and me had seen the red sticker when we went to see the exhibition last Thursday. And I'm dead chuffed about it!

Finally, shocking and sad to hear of Michael Jackson's early death. Michael Jackson's Thriller and Off The Wall albums will always remind me of making preparatory drawings and paintings for my A level art exam. I was obsessed with Caravaggio then, and painted a self portrait by lamplight. The memory of the heat of the lamp and the warm early summer night will forever be conjured up for me by that exciting, energetic, melodic and funky music.

It's very sad that someone who brought such happiness to the lives of so many people apparently had such a troubled existence. It's also so typical that in the space of a few hours Michael Jackson has gone from 'Wacko' to angel. Death, it seems, has made Michael Jackson a hit again.

Doodles I made the other night while 'resting' in the sunshine!

Friday, 26 June 2009


I've finished my tree drawing, or got as far as I could as tommorow I have to deliver it to Cheltenham to enter it in the Jerwood Drawing Prize. I entered a few years ago and got nowhere, but at least it's motivated me to complete this rather ambitious drawing. I might have given up otherwise.

The finished drawing. Or as near finished as it'll ever be!

Tuesday, 23 June 2009


The progress continues...

...VERY slowly...

I'm not sure whether I'll make the deadline I've set myself for this picture, there's a competition I wanted to enter, I entered a few years ago but didn't get selected. I don't think I stand much chance this year either, the preference seems to be for modernist conceptual drawing. But having this deadline in view at least motivates me. This drawing has been such a slog, if I didn't have a reason to do it I'd have given up ages ago.

Sunday, 21 June 2009


Dark Water, Cumbria, one of three works exhibited at the RBSA Prize Exhibition

Last Thursday I went with Mum to see the Prize Show at the RBSA, where I have been lucky enough to have 3 pictures accepted for this exhibition. This is the first time Mum has come with me to see my pictures exhibited at the RBSA and I think she enjoyed the show. It’s a nice selection this year, mostly figurative work, all of good quality or better than good, plenty landscape and a little abstract work too. There is also a small selection of sculpture, and a few interesting constructions, the one I really liked was a mixed media piece called ‘Necklace I “Treasured”’ by Kathryn Pettitt (ARBSA), a long chain of mermaids purse shaped purses made in some kind of embroidery, each containing some token, it hung from the ceiling like a fishing net full of interesting mementoes dredged up from the sea bed. What appeared to be 3 small landscapes on the upper floor were actually embroidered pieces, immaculate things which I enjoyed looking at (by Jacque Wakely). There were many pieces that caught my eye, and I wish the RBSA could produce an illustrated catalogue, as it’s difficult to remember what was by whom. Two immense pieces that immediately got my attention were pastel drawings of disembodied heads rendered very slickly indeed on what looked like some kind of coarse pastel paper mounted on stretchers. These were ‘Nathalie’ and ‘Big Issue – Colmore Row’ by Oliver Jones. Each piece was framed in a Perspex box. They had an eerie impact, as well as being obviously virtuouso performances. Another piece I was attracted to, though it was on a much smaller scale, was an intricate and moody pen and ink drawing of what seemed to be a nocturnal scene, ‘Woodland & Water’ by Richard Dunne. I remember seeing work by this artist before, I particularly like finding pen and ink work as I specialise in that area myself, and you don’t very often come across pen and ink on a gallery wall. This piece held its own very well amongst the paintings, prints and drawings, it had a pretty hefty presence, and made my own pen and ink drawings seem much less substantial than I had believed them to be.

One other piece that sticks in my memory is a tiny work, maybe one of the smallest exhibited, it’s in the upstairs gallery in the far corner next to a window. ‘Silver Spoon’ by Deborah Pennack is a simple little still life of a spoon, and in the bowl is a tiny face. The self-portrait of the artist perhaps? The spoon and the gigantic faces were my favourite pieces in retrospect, though also memorable, and extremely impressive, were 3 paintings by John Shakespeare (RBSA). Two of these paintings are actually of the handing in day of works, presumably for one of the RBSAs several annual open exhibitions. It’s a familiar scene and a little startling to see such a familiar scene frozen into art on the gallery walls.

The RBSA gallery, which is in Brook Street on the fringes of the jewellery quarter at the top of Newhall Street, is about 15 minutes steady walk from New Street Station. It’s a shame I don’t get to go there more often because it’s a nice space, with the main galleries on two upper floors, while on the ground floor are smaller exhibitions of crafts and arts and a little cafĂ©. Many years ago, when I was a student, the RBSA had its exhibiting space in New Street, a long corridor shaped gallery, narrow, dingy and smelling permanently of fry ups and cigar smoke. I used to go there when I was a student and often felt a little superior to the badly displayed work on the tatty yellowing walls. Today’s RBSA is light years away from that old space. And the selection for this open exhibition is of a very high standard. I’m proud to have my work exhibited here.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009


See that grey splodge at the top left corner? I had an accident...ink water spillage!
Taking advantage of the nice weather last week I took my drawing outside and crouched over (and sat upon) it on the grass in our back garden. I ended up pretty stiff and achy but at least I managed a little progress. At the same time I've been working on a smaller drawing (I'll post progress on this later), combining 2 drawing interests of mine, trees and running water. Dark running water to be exact. One of the pictures I am exhibting at the RBSA at the moment is called 'Dark water, Cumbria'. Something about dark water is intoxicating to me. Maybe I have a Narcissus complex? Maybe it just reminds me of the way my imagination works.

I have fresh dreams at the moment too, returning to my old obsession (nothing has come of it yet) of combining my visual and literary work. I have an idea of drawing a tree and hanging Haiku from its branches. I may even get round to doing it some day. But despite the pain my big drawing of a Scottish graffiti tree is causing me, I still haven't let go of my desire to make a REALLY BIG drawing. The other day as I was walking back into the house, the white painted wall (it's actually the external wall of our house, but internal to our verandah) cried out to me to have a long, lithe sheet of paper hung on it, tall as myself, taller even. A tree perhaps? Or maybe a waterfall? Dark water again, with trees dipping their moss covered toes into it? Whatever (if ever) I decide to draw, I'll have to get my hands on some new drawing tools, maybe I could make my own? I used to really admire Van Gogh's ink drawings, Van Gogh used a reed pen, and then there are a whole list of things you could improvise with, so I've read. Van Gogh's drawings, which I saw many years ago in the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, were not small either!

I've been exploring Flickr lately, there is just so much wonderful art on there, though like much that is on-line, just surfing is time consuming. I particularly like the work of Paul Heaston, his street scenes are just crammed with detail, wonderful pen and ink work. Paul's work also appears on Urban Sketchers a fantastic site, where artists submit their drawings of urban scenes. I wish I had the courage to stand out in the street and draw (though I must admit, I don't find my actual surroundnigs very inspiring), I did it years ago, when I was a student, and always found it nerve wracking. Now my nerves are even less robust, I don't know if I could actually get out there and do it. I prefer the sanctity and safety of my own 4 walls. Maybe I could try drawing from a window? But I don't know if my heart would be in it. My heart is deep in the woods, with the light bleeding down through the leaves, the earth smells pungent and damp, cool in the shade despite the sun's heat, and even the lightest, least significant movement of a bird or a squirrel makes a resounding crack or rustle as the little thing scampers through the undergrowth.

It's may not be my immediate reality, but it's still out there, and it's in here too. Stored, cherished, a part of me.

Sunday, 7 June 2009


I began my graffiti tree picture full of enthusiasm, undaunted by the immense white page stretching out before me, or by the fact that a tiny pen nib (like the kind I use) has got an awful lot of ground to cover here. The base of the tree went fine, I got lost in mapping out the bumps of the trunk, the lumpy texture of the very base of the tree where trunk begins to turn into root, taking it's nourishment from the hidden place beneath our feet (the way art and literature are made, the brain taking its invisible nourishment from all manner of ordinary things, turning them into something magical, if you're lucky). I dwelt so long at the base of that tree, enjoying the chance to recreate the plush moss that clung to the bark, that I was in danger of forgetting about the top of the tree, the leaves and branches, where the light is captured and turned into energy.

So I made a start with the branches, and this is where I came unstuck. Sitting on the bed where I had been working I found that I could hardly reach the top of the drawing board, let alone see to draw those leaves in! It tried crouching over it, propping it up against a wall, turning the drawing upside down and on its side, finally I made a little progress by plonking a cushion on the drawing and actually sitting on it, crouched over, so I could draw the top of the picture. Much back ache, wrist ache, numb ankles (and unhappy accidental spillages or dirty ink water) later, I have a fragment of my picture underway. But I've a feeling this is going to be a much more painful process than I had envisaged. So much for ambition. It certainly does lead you down some tricky avenues.

Friday, 5 June 2009


The last time I put some concerted time into drawing was 2005, the year England won the Ashes. Since then, my life's gone through a lot of changes. Anyway, this year England are attempting to regain the Ashes from Australia, and I'm putting more time and effort into my drawing again. Back then I had this crazy ambition to do a really BIG drawing, it's one of those ambitions I like to comfort myself with just before I fall asleep at night, it helps me drift off, though not always for long.

A little more done...

A few weeks ago I began an attempt at my 'really BIG' drawing at last, on A1 watercolour paper, it's one of my graffiti trees, based on a photograph I took when I visited Scotland, back in 2005. Scotland has the most immense trees, dripping moss and history, craggy veterans, ‘champion' trees like the ones at Ardkinglass Woodland Garden, they seem to personify something of the spirit of Scotland itself. Trees are one of my obsessive subjects (I've done so few drawings really, each one takes such a long time to complete, so I've not given myself enough time to truly obsess over too many things, maybe that's just as well). Graffiti is a subject I obssess over in my photography, whenever I visit a castle or a National Trust property I always end up finding some piece of graffiti, I've got dozens of photographs of graffiti stored digitally on my computer, and doing something with these (a hybrid poetry/art project) is another of my favourite 'sheep' that has guided me into slumberland on more than one occasion. A veteran tree with a name chiselled into its bark, still clear after 40 or more years, seems to me the most poignant image, a memento mori of human fragility, as compared with one of these leafy veterans of several hundred years. Even in its eventual decay a tree provides the most reassuring and tangible image of rebirth - in the thousands of smaller life forms that survive in the decaying wood long after the tree itself has died.

Detail of the base of the tree