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!!

Friday, 27 May 2011

Middle Aged Red the name which came for this self-portrait before I actually began it this evening.

The thing about drawing from life, for me anyway, is that although it's easy enough to begin a drawing and make rapid progress with it, it's more difficult to progress with that drawing, to refine it without killing the spontaneity, which is the breath of a drawing done from life

There's about an hour and half or so in this drawing, with lots of stops and starts. I like it, but it's raw, which my drawings often are. Should I try to refine it tomorrow evening? I think it would be a mistake to spend hours worrying away at the drawing for the sake of it, this would certainly ruin the thing. My other choice would be to make another drawing following the same routine, i.e. on heavy smooth water colour, stained with red acrylic ink which I dabbed at with tissue paper to give it some texture and movement, leave it to dry then work first in hard graphite pencil, then coloured pencil (red) then Chinese white and a Derwent Graphitone pencil to create the shadows that are necessary to give the drawing some weight, and to make it look like me! As my face has a lot of shadow in it. So I've always thought.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Inviting dark

I've been taking a break from trees and have made a couple of quick self portraits. The first in charcoal and conte crayon on hardboard which I primed last summer and had been using to stretch paper on. When I cut the stretched paper off it this evening, I decided that I liked the surface, which I'd primed and stained slightly white. I stained it some more with white gouache tinted pink with a little acrylic ink, then began working on my drawing while the board was still damp.

I drew myself sitting in the growing dark in the glowing white light from the television behind me.

When I'd done as much as I can tonight on this I began a really quick drawing on Ingres paper in fibre pens (various sized nibs), dark was falling fast by then and I found my place on the paper as much by instinct as sight. I had to give up after 15 minutes or so.

I really wasn't feeling half as severe or as fretful as I look in these drawings by the way.

I'm enjoying a book about Courbet at the moment. I really like his self-portraits, in which he looks the epitome of the 19th century Bohemian. I love Courbet's use of shadow, the dark and the black in his paintings enfolds the subject and draws in the viewer, it's an intimate and dramatic darkness that seems both provocative and inviting. I saw Buriel at Ornans in 2003 in Paris. What an astounding picture. No reproduction can convey the drama or the sheer size of the piece.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011


Once more, like a game of good news bad news, my week continues.

Yesterday I got home to find 2 envelopes waiting for me. Some bad news...

My drawing PW PW 2001 had been rejected by the RA Summer Show.

And some good news...

My 2 new pieces Listen and Take An Axe And You Might Find A Rainbow, Let It Grow And The Sun Will Shine have both been accepted.

I'm really pleased to be showing these 2 new pieces of work. My self-confidence has its ups and its downs (its downs and its plateaus) but I know the quality of the work shown at the RBSA is consistently fine, and once again I'm proud to have my work shown in such company.

Detail of work in progress (almost finished, I think) 'Secret Dancer'

Monday, 23 May 2011

Wightwick Manor

On Sunday G and I went to Wightwick Manor in Wolverhampton.

Wightwick was featured on a recent television progamme about the Pre-Raphelites, Andrew Lloyd Webber was brought close to tears by this wonderful house which displays many artworks and applied art by or inspired by the Pre-Raphelites. There are paintings and drawings by Rossetti, Millais, a beautiful Burne Jones painting (borrowed from another National Trust property Upton House), ceramics by William de Morgan and fabrics and wallpapers by William Morris. There's a room devoted to William Morris, and the shop has many William Morris inspired pieces. The reason I went to Wightwick this Sunday however, was to see an art exhibition someone mentioned to me, organised by Wolverhampton College as part of their Enter Arts course. Making Art History nicely presents contemporary art and craft pieces amongst the antique pieces of Wightwick Manor.

Not an exhibit by the way (at least I don't think it is), but it deserves to be. This is in Wightwick's fruit and vegetable garden. Lots of crawl spacdes for insects to make homes in.

The National Trust are undertaking a number of contemporary art exhibitions this year, as they have often done in recent years, for instance 'Gimme Shelter' an exhibition of sculpture in the grounds of Attingham on the theme of habitats and housing. My favourite piece was a huge African style mud hut that was constructed in the woods. The first year we visited (about 3 years ago, I think) it was freshly built and you were able to walk inside. Now, the construction is slowly decaying, crumbling, sinking in on itself. I take photographs of it every time I visit. The decay, for all that, is not sad really, but a new stage in the building's development.

And here's a photograph of me...

...actually not, it's a scarecrow standing guard in Wightwick's vegetable garden.

Another National Trust property that juxtaposeds modern art with its permanent exhibit is A La Ronde. Like Wightwick Manor, A La Ronde is a fascinating place crammed with wonderful object' d' art and curios, and both there and at Wightwick it's nice to see the contrast between craft and artwork which may be separted by centuries, but which is united by the passion and imagination and the urge to create something original and beautiful.

Searching for links about the Wightwick exhibition I found this blog by one of the contributing artists.

I've begun a small drawing, on Ingres paper again, as before I've drawn in horizonal lines and given a few white gouache splats to animate the space before I begin.

Thursday, 19 May 2011


Good things about my holiday (last week) in Dartmoor and Exmouth:-

Hounds Tor and Hounds Tor Medieval village - Astonishing place, mighty chunks of rock with unbelievable presence. No wonder Conan Doyle was so inspired by it. The village, nestling in the shadow of the Tor, is such a peaceful and evocative place. And the prize for the snack sign of the week goes to...'Hound of the Basket Meals'

Lovely Lovely Exmouth - all that wide open space to feel free in, or at least to revel in the illusion of freedom in.

Marine House and Steam Gallery, Beer - Some fantastic art here. I'd love to go back wearing an invisible cloak and peruse both galleries at unselfconscious leisure.


Slipping bum first on a rock at Hounds Tor - definitely NOT recommended. Pain is NOT a good souvenir to bring back from your hols.


Finding 2 (tatty) Ward Lock Guides and a (tattier still) paperback of Robert Aickman's stories in the fantastic Sanctuary second hand book shop in Lyme Regis. What a wonderful place.


Losing my filling (for second time in 2 years, the last time was in September 2009 at Smoo Cave!)


The Hepworth Museum in Wakefield - I really want to go there. It looked stupendous on tonight's Culture Show.

Tracey Emin - I've heard her interviewed twice today, once on Woman's Hour and then later again on the Culture Show. Whatever you think of her work you've got to admit the lady is genuinely passionate about her art. I do admire that.


Secret Dancer, work in progress...

And all kinds of new work in feotal progress...

Tuesday, 3 May 2011


Tonight, when I got home from work, 1. Mom burned my pizza (I know I sound about 15 here but honestly I wish I was. 15 is a very very long time ago), 2. Royal Mail had taken my new book on Pre-Raphaelite drawing back to its delivery depot, which means walking up there on Thursday to collect and 3. there was a letter waiting from the SWA. I could hardly bear to open it. But when I did I was over the moon - my drawing 'Long Mossy Tree' has been accepted for the 150th Celebration Open Exhibition , to be held at the Mall Galleries, London, from 1st to 9th July 2011.

I really can't express how proud I am to have a piece accepted for this exhibtion. There are some stunning and exceptional pieces on their website, and the Society goes back all the way to 1855, when it was founded. Prestigious company indeed.

Latest work in progress on Secret Dancer. I was a bit down about this yesterday, I'm making much slower progress than I'd hoped, and I'm finding it difficult to pull something coherent out of the shadows, despite my preparation. But oh well, I've gone too far with it now to give up.

A sketch I made a couple of weeks ago of a cat that visits our garden to doze in the sunshine amongst last year's leaves.

Sunday, 1 May 2011


I've had a lovely day at the Stiperstones today, a place beloved of Mary Webb. No photographs can do justice to this wild and wonderful place. Even though it's a short drive from Shrewsbury you really feel as if you're in a beautiful wilderness. The walk along the Ridgeway is really tough underfoot, and it was windy as hell today, but I really came away feeling alive. A very precious feeling indeed.

It would be a real tragedy if the National Grid goes ahead with its plan to site a series of pylons here. The energy the human race needs in order to run our resources always comes at a price, but this would just be too much.

A little more progress on Secret Dancer. I'm really hoping to knuckle down to work on this tomorrow. Hopefully there's a little wildness in this drawing as well.