Saturday, January 31, 2015

I remember, I remember

Oil on hardboard 16" x 14"
My mother always tied back my hair with a tartan ribbon. She had a penchant for all things Scottish. The hard lines came back but this one might get the "I'm all yours" treatment when she is dry. Not sure yet...

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

I'm all yours (re-work)

Oil on hardboard 16" x 14"
I was becoming uncomfortable with the hard edged nature of some of these paintings.  I think this was an emotional response.  I thought "yes that's me, but it's not all of me..".  I felt a need for some kind of semi-invisibility - that deliberate merging with the background.  I tried to do the same with "Party girl" but it didn't work so well.   There's always that element of risk and chance as well as judgement.  

Saturday, January 24, 2015


I mentioned Richter's statement a couple of postings ago about the "idiocy" of painting and it seems to have struck a chord with some people.  I imagined he would be fairly abrasive and unshakeable in his opinions but  I was wrong.  Since reading about the "idiocy" statement,  I recently bought  a video called "Gerard Richter Painting" by Corinna Belz. This is a simply beautifully made film and it does what it says on the tin - it shows him painting some of his large abstracts. What surprised me most though was Richter's kind, gentle and calm attitude in the face of all the questions being put to him.  If you want to see an artist speak honestly and totally without ego about his work, then get this from Amazon. It conveys to me this strange "process without end" that painting is.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Dressing up

As a child my favourite game was "dressing up".  I would make up plays and act out all the parts myself. My grandmother once worked with her father for a summer in a travelling "Wild West" show (I think in Scotland) and she played the part of a young native Indian girl. She was given two long brown braids which she clipped to the back of her hair. My mother still has a photograph somewhere. Years later as a child I spent a lot of time at my grandmother's house and she used to let me borrow the braids and clip them to my own hair. I don't know what happened to them but I wish they were still around.

The ballad of the grey beret
Oil on hardboard 16" x 12"


Hallo wean
Oil on hardboard 15" x 14"

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Bad hair day

Oil on panel 8" x 8"

Gerhard Richter said "One has to believe in what one is doing, one has to commit oneself inwardly, in order to do painting. Once obsessed, one ultimately carries it to the point of believing that one might change human beings through painting. But if one lacks passionate commitment, there is nothing left to do. Then it is best to leave it alone. For basically painting is total idiocy". 
When I first read this statement it really threw me.  Wow. But yeh, like him, I have thought painting is rather stupid on more than one occasion.  But then I have thought the same about football and dancing and all sorts of other more "creative" activities. What odd things to get up to ! He's right about the passionate commitment though. No point just going through the paces. The key is to ask yourself if you did "leave it alone" as Richter advises, how much would you be saddened?  I don't mean for the sake of others but for your own sake. And it is not to be forgotten that Richter produced many many paintings both before and after he had made this statement which is perhaps more of a question than anything else. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


Acrylic on hardboard 12" x 9"

I saw this face in a magazine and it spoke to me. I don't know who it is - that was not important (in fact he reminded me of Egon Schiele) - but I gave him some surgery and made him red-headed which seems appropriate for angels somehow.  I have started doing some painting in the evenings in electric light which is the only chance I have most days of getting any work done.  The technique I am using - many light passes with thin acrylic paint also lends itself to working in different light settings as corrections can more easily take place than say if you were working all prima. In fact I am finding this technique very relaxing and absorbing and I can pick it up and put it down as many times as I want or need until it is finally done.  

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Winter portrait

Acrylic on  mdf board 12" x 12"

I didn't have time to paint today but I painted anyway. Other things got left behind. No time to plan so I launched into a self portrait. The shot is not good but the light is going here. In mid winter we get only about 6 hours of proper daylight up here in the north.  Believe it or not the paint technique - many thin layers - is the same as I used in the previous painting but that was a face from my imagination. How strange our interpretations are. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


Acrylic on wood panel 8" x 6"

I played and played and played and played and this face emerged.  I enjoyed re-discovering that clear flow improver with acrylics plus the slow drying medium (I use W&N but maybe other makes of paint do it too). I also used some renaissance gold paint I had bought ages ago but never tried before. Happy -  for now!

After I posted the above work I went to look at  Marianne Kolb's work again. This is what she says about it:  
"I don't approach the canvas with a particular image in my mind. I go to it with pigment in my hands and do something to that piece of material in front of me, then work almost at random until the image begins to assert itself. This action depends on the imponderable and I welcome the accidental - it creates an arena in which to act. The questions that I always ask are: what do you want to be, what do you want from me and what do you want me to do. Sometimes the painting becomes the answer - in other words, I am not trying to prove anything. I am the one who is learning."

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


Oil and acrylic on board  9" x 6"

I always return to faces, half seen, half imagined.  If you're turned on by faces, a couple of other interesting "face" painters I got to know recently are   Anne Harris  and   Sarah Ball.  

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Saturday Poem

Every Saturday in the Guardian they publish a poem by a living or no longer with us, poet. Yesterday was Dylan Thomas and the poem is called "Should lanterns shine"

Should lanterns shine, the holy face,
Caught in an octagon of unaccustomed light,
Would wither up, and any boy of love
Look twice before he fell from grace.
The features in their private dark
Are Formed of flesh, but let the false day come
And from her lips the added pigments fall,
The mummy cloths expose an ancient breast.

I have been taught to reason by the heart,
But heart, like head, leads helplessly;
I have been told to reason by the pulse,
And, when it quickens, alter the actions' pace
Till field and roof be level and the same
So fast I move defying time, the quiet gentleman
Whose beard wags in Egyptian wind.

I have heard many years of telling.
And many years should see some change.

The ball I threw while playing in the park
Has not yet reached the ground.

Saturday, October 25, 2014


Mixed media on canvas 16" x 16"

It's funny how figures seem to insert themselves into paintings.  This one is a kind of image of an image of a person, inscribed into a rock surface maybe (if you click on it you can see it a bit more clearly). I scratched into the paint as the cavemen would maybe have scratched on the walls of their dwellings. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sky structure

Oil and acrylic on canvas board 16" x 16"

There is quite a lot of knife work in this painting, dragging the pigment raggedly over the surface but aiming to be constantly aware of overall shape. The strong green reminds me of my grandmother's house. It was her favourite colour and gates, doors, tables, all got the same green treatment.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The concept of (a) painting

I have begun to see that with no concept in mind at all it is impossible to start.  Defining "concept" though is loaded.  For the sake of simplicity let's call it the "basic idea" behind a painting, coupled with the emotional response to that basic idea. So it's thinking and feeling followed closely by visualising.  Because a painting is inherently visual.

 Many artists move from a more representational   (not necessarily "realist") point of view  to a deeply felt abstract one.   Pure abstraction has been equated with "Formalism" whereby - so the "experts" tell us it is the colour, line, form, texture, shape of the media on the surface which constitute a painting's value. In other words letting "visualising" lead. (You don't hear many painters say this by the way).  It's actually not easy to find on the Internet a list of so called  "Formalist" painters so I tried to work it out for myself.  Rothko, for example, or the English painter Ben Nicholson  started off somewhat representational (the latter with still life images and landscapes) but moved inevitably to what some would say was almost pure abstraction, very,  very simple lines, shapes and colour.  Picasso, Matisse, stayed more in the representational camp (a cow made out of bicycle handle bars is still quite clearly a cow). The work of Keith Vaughan (another English favourite of mine) shows a clear continuum from the representational  to the abstract arrangement of shape on surface.  But he could not rid himself like Nicholson and Rothko "appear" to have done of the demonstration of his inherent interest in the human form - and to some extent neither could Barbara Hepworth and her compatriot Henry Moore. But this is not to say Nicholson and Rothko were not demonstrating a facet of the human condition and I think it is dangerous to assume they were not. In a way I think they pushed as far as they could go,  the concept of our relationship with the world around us.  It sounds vague but I sense that those paintings could not "move" me (and they do) if there was not that underlying sensitivity to what it means to be essentially "human" on the part of their executors.  Let's not forget that all Hopper wanted to do towards the end was to paint the slant of light upon a wall, yet he had spent his whole painting life depicting people.  Maybe without the people there can have been no wall. Or not one we would have wanted to look at.

We must not forget there are two actors in all this - the painter and the viewer.  A painter's deep seated "concept"  may  lie as much in their subconscious as conscious mind. But the painter's concept is one thing.  The response of the viewer is a quite different thing.  We might appreciate a Matisse precisely because of the harmony and courage of colour, shape and line and care little for his motivation but Matisse may have seen it quite differently. We don't know and a few give away quotes from the literature do not really prove anything.

The painter's dilemma is always first "what concept do I have at this moment in time?"  If the concept  is - let me see how far I can push that line; let's see how far I can extend that shape or obliterate that detail - then fine but the line and the shape cannot simply be mechanically formed on the canvas, however "beautiful" they may be.  There has to be a history to them.  There has to be some emotion or deep knowledge in the making of that line or that shape.  For me painting has to be about an emotional response and to some extent that is what I am hoping for when I view the work of other painters. Does  that painting move me in whatever whispered, subtle or outrageous way it is possible to be moved? My concept has to serve that end whichever stage of the journey I find myself on.

For the few people who will read this do not be dismayed if you say to yourself "not sure what point she is making" because I am not sure either, just that I know these are conversations that as painters we should be having, not least with ourselves.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Objects on white

Oil and acrylic on cotton canvas board 16" x 16"

I grabbed an old board to re-use yesterday and this happened.  I honestly did not mean it to happen. It's so weird this painting lark. I mean where do I go from here.  The white stuns. It's pure titanium and on the original there is the very slightest, slightest, creamy tinge to it which I am pleased with. I also like that there are virtually no straight lines on this piece (maybe underneath the jug is the exception). The general lack of horizontality/verticality, imply for me that the objects could be on the point of moving? I did not "set up" this scene. I just looked at three objects that were lying about the room and brought them together to have a little conversation.

When I stood the board up to photograph it my eye was caught by a much bigger painting I did some months ago called "Drifter".  I did post this at the time but here it is again below..

Oil and acrylic on board 36" x 28"

It's definitely of the same family. That concentration on big shapes. Ah well, moving on, let's see where the next board takes me.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Nocturne (re-work)

Oil and acrylic on cotton canvas board 16" x 12"

Have done a bit  more work on this since yesterday, reworking the whole thing to some extent. I wanted the white carnations to stand out more and now they do. As always the original looks better than the digital image. So hard to shoot dark toned paintings.