Friday, 26 February 2010

The past repeating

Today's been one of those strange days when for all your will to get down to some work nothing seems to get done.

I messed around this morning with a couple of new composition ideas (which I'll blog about later), but have been dogged all day by this steady feeling of dissipated energies.

Then, returning from a shopping trip to my local Asda, I stuck my headphones on and spent an hour or so making these two self portraits.

I really wanted to be as honest as possible in these drawings. I've noticed lately certain changes in my appearance; age, bad diet, a combination of things has altered my jawline and I wanted to capture this, and other subtle changes.

The first drawing, though conscientiously done, is nice but nothing more. I've drawn myself so often over the years that it's difficult not to become mechanical when copying from life.

And copying is an impulse I really have to fight if I'm to make a good drawing.

In this first drawing I still look like the old me. It's a bit flattering I suppose, though I look miserable as usual, despite the fact that I was enjoying listening to XFM.

The second drawing was not as easy as the first. I was making marks with the 4b pencil but something failed to happen. I'm pretty good at getting a likeness and what was appearing on the page just didn't look like me. There was desperation, a sadness in the eyes and mouth, even the shape of the face seemed flabby and loose. Then something very strange happened. I began to see my Nan's eyes (my Mum's Mum) instead of my own on the page. My Nan died in 1986, when I was 19. I saw her dying in hospital and it affected me very deeply at the time. After she died (she lived with us during the last few months of her life, though I was only told that she had terminal cancer the night she finally left our house for the hospital) I began to see her face in mine. The same thing happened 4 years ago when my Dad died. I felt as if my Nan, then my father, had entered my body and a little bit of me had been squeazed out and that they were now inside me. I don't know why I should feel this way, maybe it's part of grief? Maybe these resemblances were there all the time, but the absence of the 'scaffold' of the other person, makes the resemblance all the more noticeable?

Eventually as I drew my Nan's melted away and there was my own face. Not exactly as I look in the mirror, but me in a deeper sense. This has never happened to me before in a drawing. It seems quite a spiritual thing, despite the matter of fact way it happened.

Thursday, 25 February 2010


As I suspected last week when I finished PW PW 2001 I've now slumped into a state of picture limbo. I've been going through my photographs and making drawings from the PC screen, and I've planned a drawing which I've stretched the paper for, prepared the paper with a wash of gesso and white gouache, but I still feel limbo-fied.

I've had my Long Mossy Tree drawing professionally framed. It's the first time I've ever had this done (apart from a competition I came second in when I was 18, then my artwork was framed as part of my award). The fee was reasonable and it was done within a week by The Framer's Gallery in Wolverhampton.

But my main artistic aim at the moment is to settle my fractious brain. I've picked up a few old pieces and am attempting to resuscitate them...

...but really I need to get stuck into something I can feel whole heartedly obsessed with. I'm no good at multi-tasking, despite all I hear about how 'women' are supposed to be. I can juggle if I need to, most people can, but I'm happiest bedding down with one task and throwing my all into it. That's when I'm most comfortable.

Enjoying listening to Radio 7's repeats of Baldi, they're intelligent and entertaining detective stories, but what I really love about them is David Threlfall's voice which has a soothing quality that makes me feel quite comforted.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Two Exhibitions, One Movie and a Hill Fort

I handed my 2 pictures in yesterday for the West Midlands Open, a quick and efficient process. The guy who took my pictures kindly positioned 2 rubber cushions to protect the bottom of my picture frames, which I thought was a very thoughtful touch. When I was there someone was delivering an enormous piece with the aid of a horse trailer! The huge Gas Hall was already teeming with pieces, I'm really looking forward to seeing this exhibition.

Afterwards G and me went to see the good looking but pretty vacant Wolfman. The whole thing dripped with Hammer Horror style, it was a veritable homage, but I've never seen anything as funny as the fight between the 2 werewolves at the end.

We also managed to fit in a trip to the Ikon where we joined a host of other art spectators shuffling around in the darkness for the film installation On the Movement of the Fried Egg and Other Astronomical Bodies. To be honest I didn't really get a lot out of this, though it was amusing to see how people cope with being plunged into darkness where we shuffled, edged, minced and drifted around like 'other astronomical bodies'.

I enjoyed Clare Rojas's exhibition We They, We They, particularly the installation upstairs in which Clare Rojas's bright folky images are collaged together on the walls to create an effect that reminded me of a chapel or church. In another room a multitude of small folky pieces were hung from cloak pegs. Some of these are illustrations to her children's book 'Pidgy' a copy of which you can see in the Resource Room. The artist’s folk-art embellished banjos which hang from the walls of the Tower Room are an amusing, quirky touch.

The photos on this page are all from today's jaunt to Old Oswestry Hill Fort in Shropshire, which looked beautiful in the snow. We had intended to visit Chirk Castle for the snowdrops but adverse weather conditions meant this had to be cancelled. We did however catch a glimpse of Wales under snow in all its dour, frowning beauty.

Thursday, 18 February 2010


I'm really trying to finish PW PW 2001, probably trying too hard to finish it if i'm honest, but I have another deadline I want to make and I'm aware that within a few weeks my time will be constrained by my having taken a second part-time job.

The more I think about developing my artwork (I haven't really attacked it with anything like this much serious intent for many, many years) I realise how many shortcomings I have - I'm embarrassed at how naive I still am about the business side of art, I'm still like a dog with a bone, running with my creativity locked between gritted teeth hoping the rest of the world doesn't catch up with me and take my precious thing away.

Last night I made a few notes on my pocket pc about where I'm going with my grafitti drawings. I've taken photographs of grafitti (on walls, statues, trees) for years now, I've kept meaning to do 'something' with them, but it wasn't until about 5 years ago that I made my first grafitti tree drawing and last year when I began to develop this further. I'm really so slow at developing anything, despite the effort and the time I put into things I just seem to function at a very slow creative metabolic rate (if that makes sense). I must always have been this way, because I remember my art teacher, Mr Trafford, saying something along the lines of me being a slow developer, and my English Lit' teacher (Miss Warren) saying this also. I guess it's part of my psychology. I'm a slow mo.

Been laughing at the Goons while I worked this morning and still haunted by images and themes from the consistently wonderful Mad Men, which is one of the few things I watch religiously on television. Mad Men is perfect on every level -visually, dramatically, and certainly the writing is pure bliss managing to incorporate drama, plot intrigue, subtlety and depth of character, psychology and social change. It's pure art.

Roots & grafitti
What/who we are, what we come from, how we attempt to make our mark/express ourselves
The tangible natural/physical world
The intangible world of aspiration

Wednesday, 17 February 2010


Today I delivered my long mossy tree drawing to a picture framer. I've never had a picture professionally framed before as I've managed to find ready made frames fairly cheaply for my drawings, but this latest drawing is such an eccentric size I just can't find one 'off the peg'. It'll be ready in about 10 days, hopefully in time for the deadline I have in mind for it.

I've got to deliver my 2 pieces for the West Midlands Open this weekend. The largest of the two is almost A1 in size, so I had to dig out my old A1 folio, which I haven't used for mmmmm years. I had a surprise when I opened it, as this drawing was taped to the inside.

I think I made this drawing in about 1995 or 6. I hadn't made any drawings for some time, and then there was a space of several years following this date before I began to make my pen and ink drawings. It's a (rather flattering) self-portrait drawn in charcoal and Conte crayon. I've made quite a few self-portraits over the years ever since my teenage years, partly because I always used to enjoy drawing people, people interested me, but I knew so few people and I was (am) shy so finding subjects has always been difficult for me. It's always been the usual suspects for me I'm afraid, my parents or myself.

These pieces are from the period 1988 - 1990. During 1988-89 I worked in our veranda whilst subsisting on an Enterprise Allowance Scheme as a Fine Artist. Thinking about it now my naiveté (stupidity I would even go as far as calling it) astounds me. I had no idea what I wanted to do with these pieces. I was like a dog running with a bone. I was an artist and that was all that mattered.

I wonder now if I'm really any more savvy or 'grown up' despite being 20 years older. Maybe I just haven't got that gene.

I don't remember when this last piece was done, but it looks so lame to me. I don't know why I kept it. It's gone now, anyway.

Sunday, 14 February 2010


It's been a snowdrop weekend for me and G, yesterday we drove to Dudmaston and today the lovely Colesbourne Park Gardens in the Cotswolds. Colesbourne Park is a private garden famous for its snowdrops, with many, many varieties both on display and for sale. Some of these are rare and costly, the most expensive snowdrops on sale there cost £40! The garden featured on Gardener's Question Time on Friday, when Pippa Greenwood visited. They also offer snowdrop study days, which are very popular. The gardens, which donate money raised from the open days to charity, are open from the last week of January to the end of February, which is the main snowdrop season.

On the way back we took a diversion to visit Notgrove Long Barrow, an English Heritage site which lies beside the busy A436. The Cotswolds is full of these ancient sites, many of which are open to view for free courtesy of English Heritage and Gloucestershire County Council. Although there's nothing spectacular about Notgrove Long Barrow you can clearly see the busy network of interconnecting chambers beneath the undulating earth and it's possible to catch a moment of stillness and awe at the age of this site, the fact that it has survived all these centuries, and that for just a few minutes it's possible to connect across the centuries with a past civilisation.

The second of my Tete-A-Tete drawings. Nothing much has happened to my bulbs yet, mysteriously dormant in their little portion of earth.

Thursday, 11 February 2010


I haven't had such a fruitful day today, so I'm consoling myself by devouring the remainder of my Christmas Maltesers. I love the box design, which is beautifully festive. I think it was the same design they used last year. I wish I could think of a reason to hold onto the box when the last Malteser has gone, but I can't think of a use for it.

The problem with today was I just couldn't empty my head of various worries, obsessions and hassles enough to concentrate on my drawing. I know I'm trying to squash too much into my days before my time becomes 'challenged' by other commitments, I'm beginning to feel desperate and this is NOT good for my creative work.

I've made an error in judgement with this drawing. I've inadvertently slotted an extra foot or so into the height of the tree and now everything at the bottom is stretched so it throws all of the perspective out. Maybe I could blame it on my astigmatism, like certain experts do for El Greco?

Because I wasn't too happy with my drawing I flailed around the rest of the afternoon feeling lost. I finally finished messing up a piece I started a few weeks ago (another failed experiment) and was so disgusted with the results that it's now nestling in a textural heap at the bottom of my waste paper bin.

Then I dug out this coloured pencil piece I began late last year. I liked it at the time actually, but then a rejection of a coloured pencil drawing winded me of my confidence and I haven't had the courage to go back to coloured pencil since. I'm experimenting now with adding pen and ink to the colour. And then a bit of colour back to the pen and ink. I don't know how it'll turn out. Might join the other thing in the bin, who knows?

Yesterday was better. In a fit of Springful thinking I bought a 99p pot of 'Tete-a-Tete' daffodils from M&S and began drawing them. This is what I produced last night.

The drawing took a couple of hours to do (why do I work so slowly?) with a 45 intermission for the latest episode of Mad Men. Which is as glorious as ever.

My last Maltseser!

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

A journey into the dark of heartness...

Yesterday I spent my lunch hour in the dark at Wolverhampton Art Gallery. I'm always a little lost in the new wing, although it's very fine architecturally the doors to the various exhibitions are not clearly indicated and you never quite know what's going to be on the other side.

Entering Shona Illingworth's film installation Balnakiel, you first peer into pitch blackness. Gradually your eyes adjust to see a series of white arrows on the floor, following these arrows you find yourself pushing through a black curtain into more darkness. At this point you might become worried, as the did people who entered the exhibition a few minutes after me with cries of 'what kind of a place is this! It's too dark!' But persevere, because the mystery is part of the pleasure.

The sound reaches you first, a vivid soundtrack weighted with drama; a military jet spreads a contrail of noise through the darkened gallery, a patchwork of voices, discordant snippets all of which build to repeated and often emotionally affecting crescendos while images pan and shift of a bleak yet beautiful landscape; seen from the air or from the multi-windowed control tower of a military base, silver clouds or the eerie, geologically ancient sea battled landscape of Balnakiel, a village on the North West tip of Scotland.

Shona Illingworth has created a film and soundscape of this remote Scottish village in the midst of a noisy, densely populated Black Country city - a wonderful disorientating and affecting piece of art that takes the viewer (or the artistic explorer) by surprise. For me the experience was so vivid that I lost literal time. Peering at my watch by the screen-light I realised that I had stayed much longer than I had thought and had to hurry out and back to the office, to a world so grey that it has to be lit by fluorescent tubes even on a sunny February afternoon.

The exhibition, which runs until 1 May 2010, is one of the most effective and affecting pieces I've seen in a long time. I'll certainly be taking this journey again.

Sudden and brief, snow this afternoon...

...while working on my current pen and ink piece, PW PW 2001...

...and listening to this excellent play on Radio 4.

Sunday, 7 February 2010


G drove me back up the M6 yesterday to see the Waterside Open. It's a varied exhibition which includes photography, surprising to me as this is often excluded from Opens. The emphasis was on kitsch pop arty type work, of which there were several very nice examples. I particularly liked an endearingly garish kitsch piece by Lisa Ashcroft. Other pieces in the pop art vein included paintings by Nichola Brockelmann andGemma Parker . There was a strong emphasis on crafts with some striking ceramic and 3d pieces and plenty of mixed media work. My favourite piece was Emma Louise Lloyd's open book with its intricately carved surface that reminded me of a relief map of a mountain range. I like work in which one thing is transformed into another, altering books is a whole genre in itself. This artist's work is an excellent example, no surprise that it won the Best In Trafford Award.

Third prize at the exhibition went to Steven Proudfoot who has 2 paintings on show, both very nicely executed slices of life that reminded me of stills from a 1960's kitchen sink drama. First prize went to Deborah Newbold's sculpture, this artist's playful/thought provoking title (from memory it's something like 'Death is not an end but the begining of a journey') made me think of Damien Hirst's shark.

I was slightly disappointed that my drawing wasn't hung in the main Lauriston Gallery but in the less obviously glamorous Gallery Bar, the gallery to the right as you enter the main doors of the Waterside Arts Centre, opposite reception. Huge windows take up the entire wall of one side of this long room facing the wall where the majority of the exhibits hang. Placing glazed work opposite a window obviously causes problems. When I visited it was sunny and many of the glazed pieces were difficult to see because of reflections. In the Gallery Bar however there are many excellent pieces, including some colourful embroidery by Doreen Caldwell with beautiful and intricate textures, and two lovely colourful floral watercolours by Gillian French which were hidden away in the corner behind another exhibit.

I was very pleasantly surprised to see that my picture had been Highly Commended, and as only a handful of other pieces at the exhibition were Highly Commended I'm extremely pleased that the judges felt that my picture should share this honour.

All in all a very enjoyable visit to a lively and accessible art centre.

The wintry photographs on this page were taken at the National Trust owned Dunham Massey, just a few miles from Sale.

Friday, 5 February 2010


For the third time since November I'm down with a cold. Not too bad this time, just doing my best (now unseasonal) Rudolph impression and making Tyrozets my very very best friend.

It's been a weird week though. Ups and downs that include an extremely sick auntie, a lost (and thankfully found) flashdrive and a new part-time job offer. I already work part-time in an office and am extremely protective of my spare 'creative' time at the end of the week (I choose to work part-time in order to devote regular time to my writing or artwork), but stubborn debts that just won't go away despite years of me attempting to be conscientious call for drastic action. I'm just worried about losing my creative time, and energy, especially as at the moment my visual artwork seems to be developing at a pace. Plus, although it's been very much on the backburner, I've actually completed my novel at last. I suppose I'll just have to be more disciplined and frankly brutal with my time while I'm working full-time in non-creative paid employment. Creativity is so important to me (in whatever form I'm compelled to peruse it), but the millstone of debt has become such a negative force in my life. It has to be dealt with somehow.

I've finished my long mossy tree drawing. I'm quite pleased with parts of it and have ideas for new pieces to springboard to from this one, though I'm stumped for a title for it yet. I do have a destination in mind however, just have to keep my fingers crossed for that one and perservere.

Here's something very very old, it's actually from my Degree show (back in 1988!!!). I studied graphic design but specialised in illustration during my final year. This was my interpretation of the horoscope type Leo (which just happens to be my own).

And here's something very new, the beginings of a new drawing. It's one of my graffiti trees and will be called PW PW 2001.