Friday, 29 January 2010

Gosh, isn't it dingy today?

I found it hard to get going with my drawing this morning. Every week I set myself an aim, this week's was to finish my long mossy tree drawing. All was going well until this morning when I sat down and I guessed straight away that I'd struggle today. I have this creeping fear sometimes that makes it difficult to work. I've had this both with my drawing (not so often) and my writing (often), basically I get so indecisive that eventually I end up faffing about for hours and the precious day trickles away.

Luckily today music came to my aid. I've loved music all my life; classical, rock, indie, folk. When I was in my teens and twenties I was heavily into the music of my parents' generation - the 50's and 60's. Now I'm in my 40's I suppose you could say I'm into the music my kids would be into (if I had any). I've never believed in pigeon holing anyone. I hate to be categorized myself (when people try to do it, they invariably get it wrong) and I do my best not to do 'unto others' as I'd rather not be done to myself. It goes against my grain to see anything as simple. If I hear one other person say 'women can't read maps but they are naturally caring...' I'll scream...

I've continued preparing some paper for a drawing I want to make. It's another experiment, and a development of the drawings I made last week of my Poinsettia.

Here's the last drawing I made, before it began shedding leaves and curling up at the edges like a well read paperback.

And here is something very old.

In fact, I've no idea how old it is as in those days I don't seem to have either signed or dated my work. It's an old oil painting of my Mom, and judging by the settee (the one before the one we have now) it could have been done anytime pre 20 years or so ago. As you can see from the impasto I was heavily into Van Gogh at the time.

Van Gogh is still one of my creative heroes. His writing, like his art, is full of compassion, endeavour and honesty. Three things I value very highly indeed.

Seeing the Van Gogh letters exhibition at the Royal Academy is definitely on my 2010 to do wish list.

Thursday, 28 January 2010


I've had some wonderful news today. I've had two pieces accepted for the 2010 West Midlands Open Exhibition to be held at Gas Hall, which is part of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. I'm really proud to have work accepted for this exhibition. I studied art and design at Birmingham Polytechnic and the museum and art gallery was a place I've visited again and again over the years, so for me this is a very high achievement.

I've been working hard these past few weeks at my long mossy tree drawing, which I based on a section of Wood From The Trees (using the original photograph for reference). I'm pleased with some aspects of it, mainly because it has opened up ideas of how my work might progress, though I find it difficult to wean myself away from what I find easy to do. Good art takes courage, and sometimes, especially the early part of the week when I'm tired out by my day job, all I want to do is listen to the radio and console myself with some comfy cross hatching. Most of the experiments I've started over the past year have ended up in my 'not sure what to do with these' pile (the largest pile, of course), but then again, in today's positive frame of mind, I'm thinking that maybe just because the experiments don't physically go anywhere maybe they do filter in through my thought processes somewhere and colour the way my work progresses.

Here's where I am with my long mossy tree anyway. Almost finished I think.

Too much thinking about work is never good for me, I need to put my thinking into action, so instead of just doodling and writing in my sketchbook, which doesn't always amount to much, as you can see...

…I've been going through my folders of photographs on the PC and making sketches with notes from the images on screen before printing a few photographs on my inkjet printer to make drawings from later.

Monday, 18 January 2010


I've just managed to do a little more work this evening on my 'long mossy tree' study from 'Wood From The Trees'. I'm struggling a little to bring the disparate parts of the foreground together, plus I realise that I've made a mistake about the width of the composition as a whole and the scale of the foreground tree, but I'll keep plugging on, for a while at least.

And here's a quick Poinsettia study I made last night. It was an experiment really, firstly I'd pre-prepared some textured paper by crumpling it first then coating it with gesso to fix the creases, I really wanted a weathered look to work on, plus I had been playing around with pre-preparing paper by creasing it in a variety of ways. More about that later.

I made this drawing with a mixture of lightfast fine markers and coloured pencil (from the sadly defunct Signature range).

I kind of half like the effect, but really I need to try another drawing or a couple to get the kind of effect I was looking for.

Saturday, 16 January 2010


It was back up the motorway again today to collect my unselected work from the Waterside Arts Centre. While I was there I took time to visit the last day of an exhibition of paintings by Walter Kershaw, one of the selectors on the panel of the Waterside Open.

I really enjoyed this exhibition, which was my first visit to the spacious and well lit Lauriston Gallery. Walter Kershaw created the largest industrial mural in Europe for Trafford, and there are studies and photographs recording this on display here, as well as many large and small scale landscapes plus several paintings from his extensive travels. I was intrigued by one painting of a group of young women signed by a female name which appeared to be an anagram of Walter Kershaw. I could have asked the artist himself, as he stood nearby chatting with a small group of people. This added to the pleasant, laid back atmosphere in the gallery, which was very busy with interested folk of all ages.

My particular favourites were a tall painting of high rise apartments which was full of colour and skewed perspective, and a painting on hardboard of cooling towers, which had some really interesting shapes, almost abstract whilst being firmly rooted in the figurative. There were also some lovely snowscapes, which reminded me of how gorgeous everything looked this time last week when G and I drove up through the winter wonderland to deliver my drawings.
Nearly all of the snow was gone today. Just a few greying lumps lingered here and there, the remains of melted snowmen I assumed.

The canal outside the Waterside Art Centre was still frozen, but this time rather than being pristine and pure, the ice had just the opposite effect emphasising the grimmier aspects of everyday living; cigarette butts and drinks cans sat on the greyish crust, along with an array of yellow golf balls!

Last night I made another drawing of my Christmas Poinsettia. I'm quite pleased with this one, which inspired me to buy some more pens from Hobbycraft at Bridgmere, where G kindly took me on the way home. I'm suddenly filled with inspiration and new ideas for the spring. Won't jinx it though by typing it out loud as I seem to have done with so many ideas before, or like golf balls on the ice they might just sink slowly into oblivion!

Friday, 15 January 2010


I've been making an effort to draw from life lately, as a means of supporting the work I do from my own photographs. Here's one rather stern self-portrait (looking down at ones' self in the mirror is never the most flattering angle).

The other is a drawing I made last night while watching a repeat of QI (definitely a comfort blanket), it's of the little Poinsettia I bought 4 weeks ago from Tesco. It’s kind of a Bonsai Poinsettia and I expected it to last barely through Christmas, but it's still going strong, despite a few singed leaf tips. I over watered it at first, but now I just keep the soil moist and it seems quite happy. I suppose the rising heat from the radiator mitigates the effect of the icy draft from the window frame, and the plant seems to like it.

I stayed up late last night resting my arm and hand to watch Revolutionary Road. I've wanted to see this film since it came out, but oh, it’s so grim! Enjoyable though. The period detail is immaculate, in the same way that Mad Men is. DiCaprio and Winslet are both so wonderful to watch, the camera loves them. But their emotional cut and thrust doesn't quite match the mesmerising quality of Burton and Taylor in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

I'm now going to lunch on some Christmas Chocolate and to hell with the consequences!

Thursday, 14 January 2010


I was very pleased to receive an acceptance of a drawing for the 2010 Waterside Open, to be held at the Lauriston Gallery in Sale. For one thing, I'm relieved that I didn't beg G the favour of driving me up to Manchester last Saturday for nothing (we'll be paying a return visit this Saturday, as I had one drawing not accepted - think 'glass half full' Kay, I keep telling myself). I'm really pleased though, especially as this week hasn't been wonderful for me. I've been in some pain with a problem with my right hand, which yesterday erupted into a huge lumpy bruise (swollen knuckes, painful joints and skin that looks like orange peel with a rash). I'm doing my best to work through the pain though. If I can't do my artwork, or hold a pen to write, I don't know what I'll do.

I've been enjoying the snow his week, even though it makes commuting difficult. This is one of the few times I'm glad I can't drive. I don't envy all those stressed, snowbound drivers digging themselves out of parking spaces, turning over frozen engines.

The beauty of snow touches me every time. I thought today that with all those contrasts of black on white, it's the closest I get to walking into one of my drawings. Last Saturday was actually a gorgeous day, and after G and I dropped off my drawings we called at Tatton Park for lunch, and to glory in the magic.

I've made a little more progress on my re-working of 'Wood From The Trees'.

Friday, 8 January 2010

New and Old

Firstly, two posthumous 'happy bithdays' - Elvis Presley and my Nan, two formative figures of my childhood. I lost my Nan almost exactly 24 years ago next month and I still miss her. Love to you Nan, wherever you are.

I've begun another drawing based on the mossy trees photograph, the one on which I based the drawing I finished earlier this week. In that drawing I left large areas of the foreground trees as white space and now I want to make a drawing that explores the texture and patterns of the moss more thoroughly.

I also like the figurative presence the trees in my drawings are taking on, almost in lieu of people or dramatic actors. As I began working on this drawing I started thinking how my rendering of texture and pattern often becomes stylised, and how I might play around with this for decorative effect. As a student I loved using collages of sweet wrappers and crumpled or torn paper, over working the rough texture with pastels and ink. I'm wondering now if this is something I might incorporate into my drawings. So far my attempts at adding colour to my drawings haven't been very successful, or the results haven't been what I've wanted. Adding colour to my pen and ink drawings definitely takes something away. I like the drama and the crispness of black and white and colour only seems to dilute this.

I began my new drawing yesterday, though I was already pondering a drawing of this design when working on the first one. I didn't stretch the paper this time, only stuck it to the plywood support with masking tape. I treated part of the paper with a thin wash of clear gesso mixed with white gouache, which gives a nice gritty and crisp surface to work on. As I laid down my initial pencil marks it struck me that it might also provide a nice surface for a pencil drawing. I've an idea for such a drawing, but it involves sitting in an open doorway and it's too cold for that at the moment!

I've also worked a little more on this old drawing of a Cornish harbour scene. Incredible to believe I began it last decade! One of these days I might finish it.

Finally, there was a touching obituary of Craigie Aitchison on Last words this afternoon. Although I don't know much about his work, his was a very distinctive style and by the sound of it he was quite a colourful character. How I envy people who can just be themselves without any constraints of self-consciousness or worrying about pleasing others. Just being 'yourself' - it's truly a gift.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Black and White

So cold this morning that the condensation had frozen on the inside of my bedroom windows. It's been a long time since that happened!

So beautiful, and yet...brrrr....the old thermometer in our verandah has more white in it than's been hanging there as long as I've lived in this house, so it's more than 40 years old...

The photo' above isn't of a bleak and desolate moorland landscape but a piece of fossil encrusted mud I picked up at Kilve Beach about 15 years ago. It's propped up against my bedroom window.

I've been working from life today, only managed 3 drawings, including this portrait of a weary looking Mom watching Loose Women. She said it doesn't look like her.

Earlier this morning I perched on a ladder upstairs on our landing to draw Mom's cardigan draped over a heap of laundered curtains and towells. I like the shapes, but my bum got rather numb sitting there for so long. It's been a very long time indeed since I worked in charcoal properly. When I was younger I liked the painterly qualities of this medium, I especially liked to use Conte crayon, because you could go very dark and moody with it. I never did like the messiness of it though, or the fact that it was so easy to smudge and ruin your hard work. Pen and ink is such a clean medium, if you can manage to avoid too many splats and blobs. But I still like the painterly moodiness of charcoal.

I've ideas for still life subjects I'd like to pursue with a mixture of drawing mediums, I'd like to work on a large scale too. But although I can see the collection of objects I want to draw in my mind's eye, do you think I can find them for real? I'll have to keep searching I suppose.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010


Today the Christmas decorations come down (I've always found this day depressing, I get used to the glint of tinsel and fairy lights). It's very cold here in the Black Country, but beautiful for once, with everything smothered and refined by snow. The view from the train station this morning was breathtaking, the sky heavy and pink, snow feathering down like interference on an old TV. The canal that was frozen hard yesterday, encrusted with harder previously frozen and fractured ice, was today completely hidden, the towpath and canal was merely a dip running alongside the railway track.

I feel like my boat has been blown off course this week, and now I'm struggling to get it back on track. I was bought for Christmas (among other things) a book by Sara Maitland called A Book of Silence which exactly matches my mood at the moment. I've always liked being on my own, but lately I really crave my own company. Perhaps, like in Sara Maitland's book, it's my 'certain age' that's driving this need to 'vant to be alone'. I'm not 100% convinced about the age thing though, I know many women my own age who like to chat (my Mum loves Loose Women, women of a 'certain age' every one, and not a shrinking violet amongst them). I've never been chatty, I'm starting to feel quite guilty about it. I'm starting to feel I let people down by not being what they expect me to be, like when I'm called 'love' in shops by total strangers, often younger than myself. I've never been anyone's 'love' and doubt that I ever will be. Not in the cosy sense of the word in any case. I've always been solitary. I suppose (like many people) I need a Lotto win to make the solitude possible.

I watched a really moving film last week, North Face a German film about an attempt just before the war to climb the North Face of the Eiger. It was unremittingly realistic and harrowing, yet beautiful in the bleakest sense of the word. Another book that currently has one of my bookmarks travelling slowly through it (slower than the traffic crawling towards Burnt Tree Island) is Robert Macfarlane's Mountains of the Mind. I read his Wild Places the year before last and loved it. He writes beautifully and I envy his intellect and his exploratory toughness.

Solitude is so often looked upon by society as being 'wrong' but it must come naturally to so many people. Sara Maitland says in her book that people called her selfish for wanting to be alone, but with enough money in her bank account to rent a remote cottage, did it really matter what people thought? People have done a lot more harmful things than removed themselves from society. Being solitary harms no one. It may even be fruitful (in Maitland's case solitude allowed her to produce this book, many writers and artists have turned their solitude into objects of beauty and fascination). There is just so much talk in this world, so much noise. And so little meaning.

It's been a long time since I drew myself. I always look so miserable! Here's what I've done this evening, in the growing dark.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Today I collected my Shap Abbey drawing from the RBSA where a very nice man helped me find my picture from the store. His name was Gordon Shaw, a lecturer, artist & RBSA member. He told me that he works on large scale abstract work, though he used to work with a very fine Rotring pen and watercolour wash. He was very complimentary about my work and generously showed me a lovely pencil drawing and a pen and ink drawing with water colour wash he had designed for a Chrismtas card a few years ago. He showed me these on his iphone where he keeps a portfolio of pieces, a great idea I think. I get extremely nervous when taking my work to galleries (I'm generally a very nervous person, social situations are a problem for me) so I was very grateful for Mr Shaw's kindness & the generous interest he showed in my work. He told me that his son, who's a graphic designer, is designing a website for him. I'll keep an eye open for it.

I wouldn't have got anywhere today if it hadn't been for my friend G, who had earlier taken me to Ikea in Wednesbury to look for picture frames. Later, after collecting my drawing from the RBSA I treated myself to Thames and Hudson's lavishly illustrated publication of David Hockney's 'Secret Knowledge' his exploration of the relationship between art and photography, or rather how artists have made use of the camera obscura and the camera lucida - my copy sits on my desk as I type this, still pristine in its polythene wrapping. I'm saving it for later.

Hockney's book is particularly of interest to me as I work mainly from my own photographs which I take with a digital camera and print on an HP inkjet printer. I enjoy working from photographs, I see no shame in it, after all I believe the artist's interpretation is the valid thing, the artist's hand and eye are where the magic happens (and the brain, of course) and not in their geographical proximity to their subject matter when attempting to make that magic happen. In effect I begin my own drawing the moment I make the decision to take a photograph of the subject.

That said, for a multitude of reasons I know I should discipline myself to work regularly from life as well as from photographic sources, something which I do not at present do. So when G dropped me off home this evening I made a couple of quick sketches of Mom in her favourite pose - watching TV. I drew the portrait using Derwent's water soluble graphite pencils (but ended up not dissolving the graphite), for the sketch of her legs and feet I used a 5b pencil. I realise that they aren't the best drawings, and that I can be quite a lazy draftsperson if I'm not totally engaged in what I'm observing. It's something I should work on, if I'm going to progress with my artwork with any seriousness.

I've just noticed my error in dating the feet...I'm still in the old foot foward into the new now I suppose.