Thursday, 25 March 2010

Thank you!

It's not often you get something for nothing, in fact I can count the instances on the knuckles of one finger, but today I was on the receiving end of an extremely generous gesture which in fact, saved the day for me.

I had bought a frame (with print in it) from a discount warehouse for a drawing I'm entering in an open exhibition very soon, but as I was disassembling it last night I found that the frame hadn't been sealed at the back using the usual little metal tags you just push over with a finger (I use a knife as the tags are a bit tough on soft finger tips), but with a staple gun instead.

So I hurried to Wolverhampton today, looking to buy some little metal tags I'd seen at Hobbycraft a few months ago. However, reluctant to add a bus journey on top of my train journey to get to Hobbycraft, I took a 5 minute walk from the train station to Chapel Ash to Creative Framing, where I thought I'd see if they sold those little tags to seal the back of my picture frame with.

The lady and gentleman in the framers were extremely friendly and more helpful than I could have hoped for. Although they didn't sell the little metal tags I wanted the man rushed upstairs and returned with a block of these other little tags, 'you can have these' he said, 'we usually use a gun to fix them into the frame, but you might be able to knock one in with a hammer.' He very helpfully showed me how I might be able to use them, and then dropped them into my bag, refusing to accept any money for them.

I was surprised and extremely touched by their generosity and helpfulness, it's something quite rare I think, and I was very grateful for their help.

Well I did manage to attach the tags to my frame,by taking out the glass and tapping them into place, and now thankfully my picture is wrapped snugly in bubble wrap and awaiting delivery next week.

But it's very much thanks to the people at Creative Framing, who were so generous asking for nothing at all except, I suppose, the hope that I might return at some time in future and use their picture framing services.

Which I fully intend to do.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Letters, lichen, moss and scars

I've finished my piece, and finally given it a name. There's something about the tonal balance I'm not too pleased with, but I think I'd best leave it alone now because messing about with it last night I realised that I was in danger of doing more harm than good.

These close ups have given me an idea of where I want to go next...

Actually deciding where I want to go next with my visual art is not so much of a problem. My current problems are:-

1. Finding the time to go anywhere
2. Finding the finances to go anywhere
3. Finding the right source material to work from

G drove me to Clent a couple of weeks ago as there are some trees there that I'm really interested in. I first photographed them 5 years ago on a gloriously hot summer's day, and curiously going back this time I recognised a couple of the trees from my photographs.

My focus at the moment is aesthetically on shape, texture, framing (composition) to kind of re-invent my quite ordinary photographs as a more dynamic, 'tall skinny intense condensed' image. Emotionally and psychologically my focus is on the intense need to make one's mark. A human mark next to an organic/evolved one (I know what I mean, honestly I do). The human animal's relationship with nature.

Can't beat a good simulacra of an alien entity!

Sunday, 21 March 2010


I had an e-mail this week to say that I've had my drawing PW PW 2001 accepted for this year's Worcester Open. I'm really pleased as this makes 4 pieces now in open exhibitions this year.

I'm making very small steps...

...even smaller at the moment...

My pen and ink drawings are so time consuming, I've been thinking about trying something else, not instead of but to complement my pen and ink work, but time... precious and inflexible at the moment...

...just as long as I keep making those small steps and don't try to run.

I'm also enjoying reading Sarah Waters' novel 'The Little Stranger', it's as full of atmosphere and period detail as the stunning Nightwatch was. And I love a good ghost story.

Finally...sorry the pictures are so yellow in this posting, I don't know why they are. Maybe yellow's the new off white?

Monday, 15 March 2010


Mum woke me in the early hours of this morning as we had briefly become the owners of a not so luxurious riverside residence! Well, not quite. A main had burst and Police were diverting traffic outside our gate (the road was blissfully quiet all morning) while a collection of worried Severn Trent workers gathered around the hubble-bubbling water that broke through the tarmac near the lovely old Victorian Post Office on the corner. There were news broadcast people outside my Uncle and Aunt's house (because the water had come up to their front door step) and Mum's friend called to say that no one was being allowed to walk into Great Bridge as she had seen cars submerged in the water.

I've begun a second job this week, hence only the smallest amount of progress on my drawing...

Creative time is like frayed rope at the moment and I'm clutching at strands finer than the lines produced by my dip pen nib.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Go under the ivy...

More progress on my new drawing, and more mistakes! Only, for some reason, I'm not that bothered about them. No one frets, dwells upon and broils over their errors like I do. Naturally anxious, I regularly take a pimple and rub and scratch at it, worrying away at the thing until I have a huge suppurating sore.

Just like I worried away at that not very good simile.

Lets just say at the moment, my artwork is causing me a whole lot less anxiety than my animate existence. I escape into mark making, scrutinising my blurry photographs, interpreting a few splats of ink, scrounging around in my memory (beyond what I would recall easily, literally going 'under the Ivy' of what I recall consciously without visual prompt) to make lines that resemble nature. And I'm loving it, at the moment. Despite the stiff back, watery eyes and achy ears (my headphones are as indispensable as my dip pen and ink).

I'm wondering if I dare, seeing as this drawing (like any other) is a journey on so many levels, and seeing as this drawing has taken me down more bogus alleys than a dodgy satnav, I dare give it this title:-

Do you know I think I might.

...a note on a trailer for a programme on R4 in which the author talks about his multi-faceted creativity. What he says about practicing two disciplines is extremely interesting. Sounds like it's going to be a fascinating interview.

And this sounds like fun too…I love Paul Nash, his brooding seascape of the Winter Sea (Dymchurch) is as much to be a portrait of a state of mind as it is of ice on water.


G drove me to Birmingham last night to see the West Midlands Open which is being held at Gas Hall. Unfortunately (incredibly) it took me an hour and 40 minutes to travel the 8 miles to Birmingham via bus then car and we arrived just as the prize giving and speeches had finished. There was a good atmosphere at the open night though and we spent an hour looking at the art and soaking up the buzz which was quite literal as Gas Hall is one of those big, hollow buildings with fuzzy acoustics. The combination of chatter, clinking glasses and shuffling feet made a drone like an engine ticking over.

I was surprised at the amount of photography on show, one of which picked up first prize, I think possibly because it lends itself to a particular wry, sardonic, post-modern approach which is popular here. Generally though the West Midlands Open has a generously broad interpretation of the word 'contemporary', hung on the walls and boards, and displayed on podiums throughout the gallery are delicate etchings, pencil drawings, vast oil paintings, humorous 3D works, stylish and intelligent photography, witty assemblages, amusing video and film pieces. The overall impression is of a vibrant, varied, occasionally quirky creative scene.

My own personal favourites included the huge and breathtaking pastel portrait by Oliver Jones, I'd seen his work last year at the RBSA. To use pastel on this scale is a tremendous achievement. I also loved the 2 oil paintings on paper by Lois Wallace, beautiful sombre compositions with gorgious textural values and extremely subtle psychological overtones suggestive of something just about to happen, or the significance of a moment when something hasn't yet happened.

I recognised a few artists from the RBSA including Brian Fletcher who exhibited a very nice pencil self-portrait and a beautiful colourful and textural oil painting of a derelict building frontage.

Gas Hall is a splendid venue for art, and I'm really proud to have a piece included in this exhibition. I'm hoping to pay it a second visit and hopefully take in Bridget Riley at the nearby Waterhall at the same time. There was so much impressive, large scale, slick artwork, really grand pieces, I couldn't help feeling self-conscious about my own pieces which seemed a bit pale by comparison. It's always the same for me, every time I have an artwork on display or a poem or story published I get that feeling, like catching sight of yourself in a shop window and cringing at your total ordinariness.

I'm very lucky to have work in this exhibition. But I need to shake off that shop window feeling now, or I might never be able to make another drawing again.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

To err is human...but it's a blumin' nuisance!

It's been a lovely spring day today, if a little rushed for me as tonight is the opening of the West Midlands Open 2010. It's hard for me to concentrate on my work for this, and other reasons, but still I make progress on my new drawing.

The sunshine just won't leave the boxroom alone though, prying into my drawing, distorting it, blurring it, making me squint so I can hardly see what I'm doing at all.

I made a pretty major error with my drawing. I don't know how detrimental this will be to the completed piece. It's more problematic with this one because I'm working on watercolour paper without any 'ground' work laid in with gouache and gesso, so it's blatently obvious that I made a mistake as the drawing will forever be scarred by a raised cicatrix of gouache. Pen and ink might have a 'safe' sound to it, but it's actually quite a dangerous medium to work in, totally unforgiving in fact to the erring draughtsman. Your attention only has to lapse a little and you have ruined your drawing irrevocably.

I've grown adept of disguising my blobs and errors over the years, thought not so imaginatively as David Cox, who transformed the blotches and marks on the wrapping paper he used for his beautiful watercolours into birds, wheeling through the blustery often rain drenched sky.

Last night's Mad Men was as superlative as ever, if a little more cluttered and snappier paced than usual. And this morning I've enjoyed travelling through time via rail at this nifty BBC web gallery. I love old railway posters, beautiful shapes, bright and breezy colours, liberating and optimistic. Was there ever a time when they didn't drip nostalgia? Even when they were brand new? I love them in the same way that I love the old Shell posters, many of which were designed by well known artists and illustrators of the day including Graham Sutherland and Edward Ardizzone. Travel is food for the mind, the body and the soul. That's what I've always found, anyway.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Reality Paper Paper Screen Paper

I'm trying out a new way of sizing up my drawings from my photographs. I usually draw freehand, I don't trace or square up or anything (actually I never could square up, one I’m hopeless at anything mathematical and two I don't like to see pictures in a cage). But I really wanted a particular slice of this image, a particular proportional composition, and I was irritated that I might not be able to get this by freehand alone.

So I traced my photograph (which I had printed on my trusty HP Deskjet printer on HP Photo Plus paper) then cut this down to the slice of the image which came closest to the composition I had in mind. I then scribbled on the back of my tracing in 2B pencil, flipped it over again and re-drew my original tracing on an A3 sketchbook.

I played around with shading and composition on this skeleton tracing then, and took this sketch to the scanner.

I had to scan the image in two parts as I only have an A4 scanner (hence the lines across the middle of the scan image).

In Photoshop I opened up the 2 scans (top and bottom of image), making sure that they are both showing at the same % size. Then I dragged the bottom part of my sketch onto the top part, altering the transparency of the active later so that I could see the bottom layer through the top. This made it easier for me to align the two scans so they fit together as smoothly as possible. I had to rotate the top layer a little as well as dragging it as each page had scanned at a slightly different angle.

I then flattened my double layer image into one layer and saved the image of my sketch.

I then increased the length of my image to the required size in Photoshop (via Image > Image Size). Changing the length automatically resizes the width in proportion and hey presto! No need for any squaring up.

I printed the image in two halves (because I've only got an A4 printer then reverted to technological ludditism once more by sellotaping the two paper printed halves of my image together. I traced the new sized image again and transferred it onto my paper.

It sounds long winded but it actually took only a few minutes, and altering proportion to play around with the size of a compostion is pretty simple once the image is scanned into Photoshop.

I came up with a couple of versions of my image, neither was exactly perfection though. The drawback with this process of sizing up from a sketch is that I lose the subtleties of human error that occur when drawing freehand. Beautiful things are often flawed in some way, it’s the flaw which sparks that little bit of magic and makes the thing unique.

Nevertheless I’ve started a new drawing. Something I can get involved with over the next few weeks I hope. And at the back of mind something is simmering away…another drawing based on this same image. But I think I’ll be making that drawing freehand.

Monday, 1 March 2010


Today is a special blog entry. Author, poet and blogger Fiona Robyn is publishing her novel Thaw on-line in its entirety as a blog. The novel takes the form of a diary narrated by its central character, Ruth.

I think this is a great idea and wish Fiona good luck with her new venture.

So here's the first page of Thaw.



These hands are ninety-three years old. They belong to Charlotte Marie Bradley Miller. She was so frail that her grand-daughter had to carry her onto the set to take this photo. It’s a close-up. Her emaciated arms emerge from the top corners of the photo and the background is black, maybe velvet, as if we’re being protected from seeing the strings. One wrist rests on the other, and her fingers hang loose, close together, a pair of folded wings. And you can see her insides.

The bones of her knuckles bulge out of the skin, which sags like plastic that has melted in the sun and is dripping off her, wrinkling and folding. Her veins look as though they’re stuck to the outside of her hands. They’re a colour that’s difficult to describe: blue, but also silver, green; her blood runs through them, close to the surface. The book says she died shortly after they took this picture. Did she even get to see it? Maybe it was the last beautiful thing she left in the world.

I’m trying to decide whether or not I want to carry on living. I’m giving myself three months of this journal to decide. You might think that sounds melodramatic, but I don’t think I’m alone in wondering whether it’s all worth it. I’ve seen the look in people’s eyes. Stiff suits travelling to work, morning after morning, on the cramped and humid tube. Tarted-up girls and gangs of boys reeking of aftershave, reeling on the pavements on a Friday night, trying to mop up the dreariness of their week with one desperate, fake-happy night. I’ve heard the weary grief in my dad’s voice.

So where do I start with all this? What do you want to know about me? I’m Ruth White, thirty-two years old, going on a hundred. I live alone with no boyfriend and no cat in a tiny flat in central London. In fact, I had a non-relationship with a man at work, Dan, for seven years. I’m sitting in my bedroom-cum-living room right now, looking up every so often at the thin rain slanting across a flat grey sky. I work in a city hospital lab as a microbiologist. My dad is an accountant and lives with his sensible second wife Julie, in a sensible second home. Mother finished dying when I was fourteen, three years after her first diagnosis. What else? What else is there?

Charlotte Marie Bradley Miller. I looked at her hands for twelve minutes. It was odd describing what I was seeing in words. Usually the picture just sits inside my head and I swish it around like tasting wine. I have huge books all over my flat — books you have to take in both hands to lift. I’ve had the photo habit for years. Mother bought me my first book, black and white landscapes by Ansel Adams. When she got really ill, I used to take it to bed with me and look at it for hours, concentrating on the huge trees, the still water, the never-ending skies. I suppose it helped me think about something other than what was happening. I learned to focus on one photo at a time rather than flicking from scene to scene in search of something to hold me. If I concentrate, then everything stands still. Although I use them to escape the world, I also think they bring me closer to it. I’ve still got that book. When I take it out, I handle the pages as though they might flake into dust.

Mother used to write a journal. When I was small, I sat by her bed in the early mornings on a hard chair and looked at her face as her pen spat out sentences in short bursts. I imagined what she might have been writing about — princesses dressed in star-patterned silk, talking horses, adventures with pirates. More likely she was writing about what she was going to cook for dinner and how irritating Dad’s snoring was.

I’ve always wanted to write my own journal, and this is my chance. Maybe my last chance. The idea is that every night for three months, I’ll take one of these heavy sheets of pure white paper, rough under my fingertips, and fill it up on both sides. If my suicide note is nearly a hundred pages long, then no-one can accuse me of not thinking it through. No-one can say, ‘It makes no sense; she was a polite, cheerful girl, had everything to live for,’ before adding that I did keep myself to myself. It’ll all be here. I’m using a silver fountain pen with purple ink. A bit flamboyant for me, I know. I need these idiosyncratic rituals; they hold things in place. Like the way I make tea, squeezing the tea-bag three times, the exact amount of milk, seven stirs. My writing is small and neat; I’m striping the paper. I’m near the bottom of the page now. Only ninety-one more days to go before I’m allowed to make my decision. That’s it for today. It’s begun.

To read the next installment (published tomorrow), simply click HERE and enjoy!

If you can't wait for tomorrow's installment, you can buy the entire novel at Amazon UK or The Book Depository if you’re in the US/elsewhere.