Monday, 12 December 2011


I'm taking part in the Christmas Fair at White Tree Gallery on Saturday.

Friday, 25 November 2011


I am extremely proud to have received a 'Highly Commended' at the RBSA's Open All Media exhibition.

I had a phone call on Tuesday evening to say that I had received a Highly Commended, and could I make it to the open night. I usually shy away from these things, but I made a special effort last night, and I'm glad I did. G went along with me (he was my 'plus one', I don't think I've ever had one of those and I don't think he'd ever been one either) and we walked up through the colourful and buzzing German Market, through the still busy streets of the City to the RBSA gallery. The gallery was buzzing with activity, and there really was a very enthusiastic turn out for the opening and speeches. All exhibitors were given little name badges to wear and the speeches were made to a packed audience. Myself and 5 other artists were awarded our Highly Commendeds by the Chief Executive of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, and it really gave me a good feeling to go up and receive my certificate.

I'm hoping to go back and see the exhibition again, as the gallery was so crowded last night it was difficult to take a proper look, though first impressions were of an excellent show with many many skillful pieces, some beautiful work of which I'm really proud to be amongst.

As usual my pride and my pleasure were mingled with embarrasment, as I never feel that my work holds its own very well amongst other work of such a high standard. I never feel that my work looks as good as other people's work, but I'm still buzzing with pride at this achievement. I'm really very happy about it indeed.

New work. This is going to be another pure pen and ink piece on watercolour paper this time. Provisional title is Private.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Ink and Steel - Exhibition at Wolverhampton Central Library

My exhibition is finally up.

I put my work in the 2 display cases on the first floor of Wolverhampton Central library this morning, and it looks something like this..

The left hand case is my most current work (apart from the small drawing bottom left, which I had to put in here due to there not being enough space in case 2).

The pieces in the right hand case are older work (mainly - again I had to re-jig due to my having miscalculated how many pieces would fit into case 1!).

The very last piece - Frou Frou, is my newest. At this end of the case is also a small display about the Pen Room - the museum of the pen industry. Birmingham was once famous for producing the steel dip pen nibs that I use for my drawings.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Still Water - Near enough finished

I think I've nearly finished Still Wtaer. I was panicking last week, as I'd worked on it for a couple of evenings when I was far too tired. Consequently I doodled. Thats all. Doodled.

Hopefully I've rescued it now, though it's still far from perfect.

A few things I've learned from this I think though, subtle lessons.

I've an urge now to work on a few small intimate still lives, all moody darkness of worn out subjects. I need to motivate myself and find the time.

Despite this I've been working on a drawing I started earlier in the year (small) and embarked on a large pen and ink drawing of a subject I photographed earlier in the year (large).

Will I ever learn?

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Art Materials Live

I went to the NEC on Thursday to visit Arts Live (also Hobbycrafts and Christmas shows). It was RAMMED, and there seemed to be less room than last year, I don't know if they'd squashed more into less room, but I ended up lunching on a latte and a squishy chocolate muffin on a piece of floor about the size of a hanky, along with about three hundred other hungry and tired people. I've always liked the atmosphere of the NEC shows, but there comes a point when too many people forcing themselves down too narrow an avenue spells total deadlock. Standing still amid hundreds of strangers; on foot, in wheelchairs, elderly ladies pushing shopping trolleys full of crafting buys - jades the enthusiasm somewhat. I wish I had more stamina, but I was shattered by 1 o clock and left not long after.

I managed to buy a new portable daylight lamp though, which was one of the things I went looking for. Plus I got lots of ideas, and saw a few new products which inspired me. The wishlist grows ever longer.

Here's a little more progress on Still Water.

Friday, 4 November 2011


I have a revised date for my exhibition, which is now due to be held at Wolverhampton Central Library from Tuesday 22nd November until Saturday 10th December 2011.

The library has been undergoing extensive refurbishment over the past year, and will have to close on Monday 21 November for electrical tests. Unfortunately for me this is the first day of my exhibition. Hopefully all should be well and I should be putting my exhibition up early on Tuesday morning.

Fingers crossed!

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Rolling the ball...

Kate Bush sang about rolling the ball, and now I'm thinking that creativity is a lot like this, keeping a ball rolling. The longer you stand around pondering the ball the less likely you are to get anywhere because a ball that isn't rolling isn't fullfilling its purpose. It may as well be a cube.

I've found another old(ish) piece out tonight and between trying to calm myself down after a nasty Tax revelation (hopefully putting that right tommorow) and watching the new detective drama on BBC1 Death in Paradise (a bit like Jonathan Creek set in the Carribean) I've worked on it adding new splashes and layers of colour in watercolour, coloured pencil, gold acrylic ink and oil pastel.

I just hope all that lot stays on the Ingres paper and doesn't fall off!

Monday, 24 October 2011

A few new bright leaves

I've taken a break from preparing for my exhibition and from my current work in progress (picture soon) to experiment with colouring an old drawing in Photoshop.

Where does the time go to? And where does life? It really makes me realise what a tremendous energy and creative force anyone who achieves anything in the arts possesses.

My pen and ink drawings take so long to produce, that's the problem, and hung on a wall amongst other artworks in an open exhibition they fade away. A couple of days ago I took one of my drawings to a framers to be scanned, and although the man there had no intention of offending me, he called my piece a sketch. I know he was just searching for some shorthand, some way of cataloguing it on his database, but that word stung me to the quick. I had poured hours and hours of effort into this drawing and it's dismissed in a moment as a sketch. A transient thing. A throwaway.

Anyway, later that night I received an e-mail inviting me to submit work to a local art sale, and I'd love to do this, but most of my work is mounted for my exhibition. I've found one small piece that didn't fit into the exhibition, but I'd like to enter another. So, I thought, why not try something I have wanted to do for years now - digitise one of my artworks, add something in Photoshop perhaps?

Some thing?

Anyway, here's my first rudimentary effort. It's a bit rough and ready, but at least I managed to kick-start myself into breaking out of routine.

From 2005 'A few leaves left'.

From 2011 - experiment number one.

To take this further? I need:-

A new scanner - preferably A3
A new printer - preferably A3

Add a little extra time, light the blue touch paper and wait.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011


I've been steadily assembling the elements of my exhibition, which will be held at Wolverhampton Central Library in November.

It's amazing how time consuming all this has been so far and how frustrating it is when silly little things go wrong. I mounted the work quite quickly, then withdrew a piece because I had promised a drawing to a neighbour in payment for a favour they did myself and my mother this summer, so I had to find a replacement piece.

I have finally got to the point where I've mounted most of my work, printed out the accompanying images (I decided on tiles, rather than the cumbersome things on sticks I initially came up with). The tiles are basically split into 2 sections, to reflect the split of content over the 2 cases. The first case will contain tiles of an autumnal theme, with fragments of poetry from the notebook I have used over the past 3 years or so. The imagry will be photographs I took of the autumn windfalls I collected last year and have stored in a Roses chocolate tin, plus a few photographs of work in progress. The tiles in the second case consist of more close ups of work in progress and descriptive snippets regarding the very basics of pen and ink artwork, interspersed with these will be photographs I have taken of the tools of my trade - the actual pen nibs, aranged artfully alongside more autumnal windfalls and photographed in a hopefully dramatic way.

The nibs themselves take me onto the material which will take up the final corner of the second case. The history of the pen trade is rooted in Birmingham, I only discovered this fairly recently, and I was pleased because although my inspiration and heart lies in rural, organic settings far removed from the place I was born and have lived all my life in, the tools I use to make my art, the bridge between my reality and my dream, have their history here, in the West Midlands.

I visited the Pen Room a couple of weeks ago, to learn more about the history of the Birmingham pen trade. I'll blog more about this later.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Hopefully lost

At last Frou Frou is showing some signs of life. Just a couple of times this evening and this morning, when I worked for about 20 minutes before catching the train to work, I lost myself in the drawing. Losing myself in a drawing is a good sign.

My new drawing is a deliberately simple affair. I want there to be lots of lush dark crosshatching involved, and the faintest shimmer of stippled light on still water. I want there to be more drama than detail, and more atmosphere than description. It will, in fact, be a more romantic (with a subscript r) affair than Frou Frou, which is hyper-lucid with a kind of waking dream (Richard Dadd) kind of look to it.

Tonight, by the way, I've been listening to a wonderful new Big Country compilation, passionate, melancholy, soulful and melodic in a big way.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Drawing in - the nights

In a way I'm relieved that the nights are begining to draw in, even though they do so with remarkable speed. 7.30 sunset tonight, far too early.

And yet, this summer especially the garden has held me ransom. The hours I've spent seeing to our flowers, the tomato plants (they're heavy with tomatoes now, I don't know what to do with them. I don't even like tomatoes!), reading, sitting in the sunshine, snatching it when I can. And time, being so precious this year, as it was last year, nudges me further into obsession. This year more than any year I've felt almost driven to soak up as much of what passes for fresh air round here, earlier in the summer I sat out as long as I could until our solar lights came on, lighting up the garden path like a runway (Santa stop here!)

Tonight, a bumble bee, heavy with pollen or perhaps just tired out at the end of summer, has fallen asleep on the dropping sunflower near the veranda. I know how it feels. Sated on summer.

So now, the nights are drawing in, and I am freed to sit under the daylight lamp and work at my drawings. My neglected craft.

I think I began this drawing as much to keep chugging away at something as with any real intention at art. And it's been extremely slow progress, extremely frustrating. At least now I'm covering paper, but I don't know if I'm finding a pattern yet. I don't know if I will.

Last night I began a new drawing. A refreshingly simple subject, unemcumbered by detail. Or at least, keep the detail to a small area and surround it with painterly light and shade, pen and ink. Plus the pen glides more comfortably over the yellow Ingres paper than it does over the white watercolour paper. And at this moment I crave comfort.

I got a chance to give a first listen to one of my Christmas presents this evening. The National's Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers. Gorgeous.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Transparently obvious

I made a bit of a boob with my transparency labels. I bought laser ones instead of inkjet (if they do them, that is). Result:- Labels that never dry.

Which is annoying because they weren't exactly cheap. I don't really want to buy another box of film, so I'll probably take my file and film and see if I can get them printed out professionally.

This setback threw me a bit, and I haven't really made as much progress today as I'd liked. I got some of the photographs together that I'd used as reference material and played around with ideas for displaying them with my drawings.

Including these little easels made from sticks and string.

I liked them at first, but I'm not sure now. They're a bit Blair Witch maybe.

Saturday, 3 September 2011


I've mounted most of the pieces I hope to exhibit at the library. Although it's not until the end of November, and it's only a very small exhibition (I'd have trouble filling more wall space - makes me realise how precious these pieces are for me, as they represent such a huge portion of my life) I won't rest until I have everything ready and safely tucked away in a folder. Hopefully I can just transport it to the library and assemble it in the display cases, nerves always makes me clumsy (or more clumsy than usual, which is really saying something), and I want it to be a swift operation. Hopefully with no mishaps!

It's hard finding the space to mount work though, I've spent most of today crouched on the floor upstairs, in the tiny space where I work or out on the landing, which is so dark I had to take the daylight lamp out there so I could see where mounting card ended and fingers began!

I've just a couple more pieces to mount now, then hopefully I'll start typesetting and printing out labels. I'm hoping to print these onto acetate and attach them to the mounts. Less to fiddle with when I come to putting them up. And hopefully it will look nice too.

I've spent huge portions of today listening to radio comedy, the Count Arthur cd I had for my birthday - absolutely hilarious, and a really nice trip through time courtesy of Bill Oddie, Comedy Controller, on Radio 4 Extra. Great to hear ITMA, I haven't heard much of this series, and I feel I'm locked out of a lot of it as it's the kind of thing you had to be there first time round to get, but there are some pretty sharp bits still. And it was interesting hearing Hattie Jacques in an early role as a cake loving schoolgirl. I've an interest in ITMA as the novel I was writing last year (and a few years previous) was set partly in 1947 and the world of radio comedy, as well as the music hall. One thing about this exhibition, one part of my strategy at least, is that I'm hoping that I can use it as a kind of creative catalyst. I have to get back into my creative work in some way, and ideally on the other side of this exhibition I would like to produce new visual work and also, maybe, see my way to completing my novel.

Fingers crossed.

Friday, 26 August 2011

I've set a date for my small exhibition. It will begin on Monday 21 November and end on Saturday 10th December 2011. As the exhibition will be in 2 glass cases on the first floor of the library, I'm hoping to use the split in order to theme my exhibition around firstly current work, and secondly, as a kind of retrospective of how my pen and ink work has developed over the past 10 years. Looking back at my older pieces now I had forgotten how small I began back in 2000, when my work was then mainly done in A5 sketchbooks. They seemed to take forever to do, and the nibs I used were the finest kind, I didn't begin to use a variety of nibs until 2005 when I began to experiment with larger pieces.

Those early drawings, like this exhibition, were exercises in self-confidence building. I find that confidence is like the weather; changeable and subject to uncontrollable circumstances. The mind, like meteorological forces, is unpredictable and sensitive.

Meanwhile the rain beats desultory time on our neighbour’s conservatory. My bookmark marches in sad fascination through Douglas Botting's biography of Gavin Maxwell. It's a strange biography - both sympathetic, admiring, and at the same time it never flinches from baring the man warts and all. I'm three quarter's through it, hooked. I know it ends badly, but I can't stop reading.

Monday, 22 August 2011


I'm planning a small exhibition of my artwork at the library where I work. The library is a Carnegie library, a beautiful building with a particularly striking entrance hall where a marble staircase spirals gracefully up to the first floor and the imposing double glass cases which people can hire (for free). I've seen all kinds of things exhibited here, from displays of local artists' work and photography groups, to origami and collectable cigarette cards.

I can never resist looking up every time I climb the stairs to the first floor, because the domed ceiling with its round skylight is wonderful. Wolverhampton Central library is a gem of a building.

Anyway, I'm hopefully putting together a small exhibition of my artwork in these cases, later this year all being well, when the extensive work that's been going on at the library since last November is finally completed. I've begun by planning out the space, as I hope to present my pieces mounted but not framed. I've begun doing this by measuring out with string an equivalent space to the glass cases in the back garden, then laying out sheets of paper cut roughly to the size of my drawings within them.

I know this looks eccentric, but it helps me work out whether I've got enough pieces to fill the cases. The left hand case is going to be my most recent work, basically themed around my most recent exploration of a motif - trees. The right hand case is older work, with exception of the furthest right hand piece, which will be my as yet unfinished drawing Frou Frou. The older work pretty much represents the last 10 years of my visual artwork. I will exhibit the smallest pieces, which were the first drawings I made when I began to practice my visual art again, about 10 years ago now.

I'm hoping to approach this small thing as profesionally as possible. Hope nothing goes wrong. Fingers crossed.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Bright Water

I have developed a very strange twitch in my right eye, I've had it since last Thursday. Probably I'm just a bit tired at the moment, but it's uncomfortable.

So today, apart from continuing with the home repairs that have gobbled up the last few weeks of my life (it feels like forever) I have been dashing into the garden between showers to sit in the warm and windy outdoors reading a biography of Gavin Maxwell I borrowed from the library, which is totally fascinating.

It's a sign that I've managed to find a little bit of space this week, that ideas have started to bubble up again. But they are frenzied kind of ideas, so many of them, so various, that I become paralized by choice. So while I'm happy that my creativity hasn't died totally, I am uncomfortable as I usually am when the dearth becomes a kind of creative death as I am plunged into a frustrated impasse.

I've managed to do about half an hour's work on my drawing. This is the first time I've touched it since my last blog entry on the subject. I'm struggling with enthusiasm for it, but I must finish it over the next few weeks, I can't give in to the impulse to let another thing go.

Googling Gavin Maxwell I found this lovely blog. Wish I could take it outside with me to read, or to work, where I will be tommorow, for my brief commute. It makes me yearn to be in Scotland again. Really does.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

In the pink

The last few weeks I've been mostly in our verandah, fixing the aging masonry (with the help of the neighbours, who pointed up their side of our old verandah wall)...

...painting, filling, fixing, more painting and tending our garden (Mom tends her plants, and I mine)...

(Mom also trims the hedge, and cuts the lawn, and everything else)

...I love the view from the newly painted verandah...

...and I love the accidental harmony of pinks, it's quite by chance that every plant I've bought or grown this year (except for the sunflowers) have hovered around the pinkish purplish, reddish end of the spectrum.

I've done no artwork, and am begining to feel a little rough with uncreativity. I never feel well when I don't work, either on my artwork or my writing. Partly to compensate, I've begun building an archive of my poetry on my website, publishing one poem from every year I have written (or I have saved digital versions of my poetry).

I've not polished any poetry for a couple of years, though I've written in small bursts. Small bursts have occured recently, usually when I'm very very tired. Writing in the dark is often the only kind of writing I can do. I don't know why that should be.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Frou Frou

It's always harder for me to concentrate in summer, I love being out of doors, whether it's doing jobs in the garden or putting up the parasol and lazing about, reading and dosing. Relaxing in the back garden is one of my favourite things, despite the constant noise from the main road and neighbours.

Quiet is really an under appreciated luxury.

I haven't really made much progress on my drawing on my 2 free days (I had leave from my day job), even a chilly breezy day like today was too much temptation, and I spent a nice portion of it reading The Children's Book, which draws me deeper into its web.

A web of words, a web of lines.

My pen nibs have been getting on my nerves though. They keep clogging up, chewing up feathers of paper that block the flow of ink, or choking on ink that dries too quickly in the sticky warm air. It's one of those times I wish I could find some other way to work in ink, but nothing gives a crisp, sensitive line like a dip pen. Nothing else has that air of danger. (As the yellow streaks in this close-up illustrate - mistakes once made are there forever. I need to tone down the yellow gouache I've covered mine up with, hopefully it won't be so noticeable then)

Monday, 20 June 2011

Visiting and enjoying the garden

What a lovely day it's been today. I've spent most of it in the garden, painting the fence, reading, listening to the cricket, reading AS Byatt's scrupulouly written The Children's Book (it really paints the era so vividly it feels luxurious and intellectual at the same time) and fitting in a little work, and much needed relaxation.

I've been working on Frou Frou, but progress is so excrutiatingly slow, I'll save posting work in progress until there's something worth showing.

I made another quick sketch of my beloved poplar tree, which towers so luxuriously (favourite word of the moment, it's a good job I'm not playing Just A Minute) over the garden. It's been a constant presence throughout my life, along with its partner which Mum employed a bunch of cowboys to lop a couple of years ago. They ended up butchering it, I have to try not to think about it, because I get quite upset.

Anyway, here's my sketch.

And here's an even quicker sketch of washing on the line.

Yesterday G and I visited the lovely, tranquil Moors Meadow Garden, which has recently been voted Most Romantic Garden.

It's very much a personal garden, no shop and no tearoom (though I think a tearoom would attract more visitors), and a little Googling found this sad piece. I hope the garden doesn't close to the public, it's such a gentle, beautiful place and utterly, deliciously quiet.

Thursday, 16 June 2011


The last time I visited Walsall Art Gallery it was housed in an uninspiring building above the town's library. Today I visited the New Art Gallery (though it celebrated its tenth birthday last year) mainly to see the Samuel Palmer exhibition.

The gallery is showing its age a little, just some wear and tear here and there, but it's still a striking place, the solid building towering grandly over the slightly run down surroundings of Walsall town (though there are plenty of shops and coffee shops, Walsall isn't taking the recession lying down).

Samuel Palmer's tiny jewel like work worships and romanticises a rural world far removed from the industrial setting that surrounds it. His self-portrait is out of this world. Astonishingly lucidly real, stand in front of it and you look back across almost 200 years into the youthful, intense features of a young man with a life of inspiration and disappointment ahead of him. It's such a moving picture, technically superb. The splodges of what look like spilled water that scar the bottom right hand corner are so poignant. These marks make me think of the neglect that Samuel Palmer's work suffered in his own day, yet at the same time, these flaws in the perfection make the work fresh, utterly free from the confines of contemporaneous time. Flaws like these, like David Cox's freewheeling birds born of flaws in cheap paper, make us realise that art is made of the most fleeting impulses, and comes about through the most precarious of coincidences. True art is both enduring and fragile.

On rainy, grim Sunday just gone G and I went to see my 2 pictures in the RBSA Prize Exhibition. I enjoyed the exhibition, but was embarrassed by my pictures. I didn't think they deserved to hang there this year. Despite the fact that I'd been pleased with them both when they were in the safe cocoon of my box room studio.

Afterwards we went to the Ikon, another beautifully rendered building, modern architecture really does suit the art gallery. Cavernous, clean spaces are ideal to show all manner of artwork, and the light that modern architecture seems to love is ideal for illuminating works of art. The Birmingham artist John Salt is the opposite to Samuel Palmer in many ways - Palmer is a ruralist who's imagination flourished in the rural landscape of his youth, while Salt travelled to America to find his muse - the vanitas symbol of the abandoned car and run down trailer park. He produces immaculate paintings done in airbrush of these mostly unpeopled spaces. Ironically, the thing that I really loved in Salt's paintings however, are the things he has in common with Palmer - the treatment of light - light bleeding through the branches of an autumnal tree, or diffused in the wintry air of big open spaces. And like Palmer, Salt was a teacher. Unlike Samuel Palmer however, Salt has achieved success, he has seen his work praised and cherished, hung on the walls of galleries, his art has been deemed saleable and valuable in his lifetime. Something which Samuel Palmer did not experience.

A couple of sketches I've managed to do this week in the garden of our remaining Poplar tree (which I love) and our decrepit old shed (which I don't love).

I need to work from life more. Working from photographs constantly is making me lazy.

Thursday, 9 June 2011


...held me green and dying though I sang in my chains like the sea.

My very favourite quote from a poem (I think I might have quoted it before on this blog. It comes to me from time to time, like an old friend). I learned it when I was 17 (during A Level English Language) and gradually it's dawned on me that it really is true.

Very little progress on anything creative this week. In fact, I feel so uncreative I can barely breathe or feel worthy of breathing.

I began a new drawing last week, it's going to take time as it's pure pen and ink. Rather frustratingly my ink seems to have lost some of its potency, I don't know whether it's becoming diluted with the water I use to clean my pen as I draw. But it's very worrying as the dilution will of course affect the lightfastness of the finished drawing.

So even that which we strive to make permanent has written into it impernanancy.

Best that I just post work in progress and go.

I'm calling it Frou Frou.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Compton Verney

G drove me to Compton Verney today to see the Alfred Wallis and Ben Nicholson exhibition. Which I really enjoyed. Compton Verney is a beautiful listed building set in graceful Capability Brown landscaped grounds. It's changed quite a bit since the last time we went there. There's a lovely camera obscura a short walk from the newly re-positioned ticket booth. It's a garden shed with a huge silver globe on the top, it's a little odd and ungainly from the outside, but magical within.

You climb up stairs inside and poke your head up inside the globe, upon which is projected the surrounding landscape. The globe acts as an ampilfier both for any noise you make within and for the curious whooshing world without, so you feel kind of embryo like in a world of shadow and noise.

The most startling thing for me was a optical effect created by staring out at the lake through the shed windows, which are tinted pink. Then, if you shift your gaze directly from the pink windows to the green open doors everything jumps into startling vivid green focus. It only lasts a fraction of a second, but the visual jolt is really something, it's like your eyes are re-born - from pink to green, adding to the whole curious birth experience of this visit to the shed. Don't know if this was intentional, but it's what I took away from it anyway.

Compton Verney has got a nice collection of historical paintings and artwork, including a couple of pieces by Lucas Cranach, and a fascinating and amusing selection of folk art, but the stand out stars of their permanent collection for me are the rennaisance and Medieval carvings, in wood and alabaster the quality of which are quite astounding. I could gaze upon them forever and ever.

Another self-portrait which took about an hour to do. I'm getting ideas of how I'd like to develop these, if I can only find the time!!