Friday, July 25, 2014

The Goldfinch

I have just finished reading "The Goldfinch" by Donna Tartt.   An amazing book. Here is an extract from near the end...

.."Great paintings - people flock to see them, they draw crowds, they're reproduced endlessly on coffee mugs and mouse pads and anything-you-like.  And, I count myself in the following, you can have a lifetime of perfectly sincere museum-going where you traipse around enjoying everything and then go out and have some lunch.  But... if a painting really works down in your heart and changes the way you see, and think, and feel, you don't think 'I love this painting because it is universal.. I love this painting because it speaks to all mankind'.  That's not the reason anyone loves a piece of art. It's a secret whisper from an alleyway.  Psst, you. Hey kid. Yes, you.  .... You see one painting, I see another, the art book puts it at another remove still, the lady buying the greeting card at the museum gift shop sees something else entire, and that's not even to mention the people separated from us by time..  it'll never strike anybody the same way and the great majority of people it'll never strike in any deep way at all but a really great painting is fluid enough to work its way into the mind and heart through all kinds of different angles in ways that are unique and very particular. Yours, yours, I was painted for you..

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Oil and acrylic on linen canvas 16" x 16"

Started with broad, fairly thin washes of prussian blue, titanium white, sap green and raw sienna on a natural, biscuit coloured linen canvas ground. I used acrylic for this so it would dry quickly. Then I started working in with oils, mapping in the figures with the existing palette. As often happens this may not be the finished piece but as this is a blog and not a website I feel ok about that.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


Oil and acrylic on linen canvas 16" X 16"

I worked some more on the painting I posted yesterday (now deleted) introducing some dark, linear marks and some thinned down blue grey mix allowing the paint to drip and run a bit. It now seems to be hanging together as a painting better. In the process I got rid of a lot of the orangey red, concentrating what was left around the figure.  

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Timekeepers

Oil on cotton canvas board 16" x 12"

I love the motif of doors. So many artists in the past and present return to this - what is beyond the door - another door, and another door.  These girls' faces fascinate me. They are reaching out and at the same time holding back, reminding us that the only reality is time passing. 

Friday, July 04, 2014

Last night's life drawing

This is charcoal on paper. She had a bright lamp shining on her right but she's got that "dazed" look that bored life models often get. She is probably miles away in a world of her own but on the other hand she could just be thinking, is it nine o'clock yet.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Life drawings

I am sadly too busy to paint at the moment but am still managing to keep up with the life drawing. Here are a few very recent ones in conte and charcoal...


Monday, June 30, 2014

The answers are out there

Just a recap on the tech problem I described below. First I contacted Microsoft help through their chat facility. They are always friendly and polite but sadly not always so helpful. The person I spoke to simply suggested that if the problem didn't exist when using Internet Explorer 8 that I should switch back to it. He didn't understand that the purpose of a blog is that anyone out there in cyber space sees your work and they may use later versions of IE to do that. I can't control what systems people use. So just switching to IE8 was not the answer. I then sent an email to Canon, the manufacturer of my new camera and explained the problem. I know I need to be taking better photographs so that the quality of the image has a head start before it meets stubborn customers like Blogger and Internet Explorer. Canon will get back to me in a couple of days and whatever they say is going to be useful anyway. Through trawling the net I began to understand that the problem was rooted in the way the image was "scaled" (or "not scaled") by Blogger. I then discovered an amazing website which told you how to edit your Blogger post in the HTML post editor mode and delete a small piece of code for that image. Doing this forces the browser to display a scaled image with high definition. Thanks Ankit! Here is the reference in case anyone wants to check this out -

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Entertainer

Oil on cotton canvas panel 12" x 9"

This is a rework of the last posting (called The Trainer). I wanted her face to be more delicately rendered and in the process her hair changed from red to blue. Do you remember ever wanting to join the circus? It reminds me of that. Or maybe her entertainment is of the more subtle variety.

I am struggling a bit technically at the moment. I have a new laptop, a new camera and a new (or different) version of Photoshop. The pics were fine after photo editing when I looked  at them in Windows and even when I uploaded them to the Blogger editor but as soon as I looked at them on the proper blog screen the background weave of the canvas was emphasised and there was a kind of shimmer over the image.

A bit more investigation showed me that the canvas weave problem only showed up when viewing the blog through Internet Explorer which at that point was my default Browser and did not show up when I switched to Google Chrome. I looked on Google stats for my blog and I saw that most people use Firefox or Chrome for browsing anyway, but I don't ever remember seeing this problem before with Internet Explorer (I am using IE 11). I checked IE version 10 as well as 11 and the problem was still there but I found that when I reverted back to IE version 8 it had gone and the picture was fine.  So something in later versions of IE is causing the display to be distorted somehow. It tells me on the net to look for the compatibility button but I can't find it.

The problem is not so much for me, because I just switch to Chrome to look at my blogs but for other people around the world who are viewing my stuff through IE10 or 11 they are going to see a less than perfect image.  If you are using IE10 or 11 with no problem it would be great if you could let me know so that I can assume there is some incompatibility of display with this machine.

Sorry folks, this ended up so long winded a story. If you see the image without the canvas weave then you're good and don't worry about the rest of the posting!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Figures in an imagined landscape

Oil on linen canvas 16" x 16"

This is a rework of the one a couple of posts ago which was feeling far too tight for me. I decided to go for a much more "broken" and "blue" Cezanne/Derain type approach.  This means I have spent hours and hours on this painting so far, scrubbing it, sanding it, smudging it, dulling it and brightening it.

David Leffel says the intelligent artist "...sees the canvas as the reality, not the model. He does not paint what he sees, he paints the way he wants the canvas to look".  This is an extremely profound and thought provoking notion for any painter. It means the artist has to have some idea about how he wants the thing to look both before and during the process of painting. I know that when I don't do that, I spend ages wallowing in what feels like mud and despair. Leffel's "concept" approach (see the book "Oil painting secrets from a master" put together by Linda Cateura) does not make the job easy but it provides us with a kind of "style" map although I am not suggesting we should stick to the same style for every piece we create, neither does it negate Chuck Close's statement that "All the best ideas come out of the work itself". You can have a map but what you get out of the journey is what you put into it.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

I was lost in France

Oil on fine cotton canvas board 12" x 9"

After the previous "hard edged" painting I wanted to try something in Sandra Flood style. I have recently received a copy of her new book and the paintings are delicious. It meant no hard edges (or hardly any) and the model's face to be predominant in the painting.  This approach also reminds me of Jonathan Yeo, a British portrait painter who often does the face in some detail but keeps clothes and background sketchy. I must say this was a totally enjoyable way to work.

ps. I am not sure whether it is ok to use a song title (one of my favourites from long ago) for a painting. Anybody know?

Friday, June 20, 2014

Figures in an improvised landscape

Acrylic and Oil on linen canvas 16" x 16"
(this has been reworked - see post for Sunday 22nd June above)

The painting began to feel almost like a stage set. In France they have a celebration called "Tableau Vivant" where real people pose on a makeshift stage with makeshift props and yet the effect, although making no claims to be anything but "made up" has a magical air about it of probability. As Van Gogh said "What I do may be a lie but it conveys reality more accurately". 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Women by the sea

Acrylic on hardboard 16" x 16"

I wanted to use my life drawings in some kind of way in terms of composing figurative paintings. What I like about the life models is the way that as they pose they appear to zone in on an inner conversation and enter a world of their own making. It reinforces the notion of the essential "separateness" of human beings.  I knew I wanted to abstract the figures somewhat but also I wanted to keep them "weighted" so they retained a feeling of solidity, rooted in and integrated with their surroundings.

I did do process photographs for this one as I wanted to mark the process for myself so I am sharing these below.  Scroll down to the bottom of the post and work your way up.

Modifying the colours. Have lost quite a lot of the yellow now. The general tone is becoming gentler.

First introduction of the blues. I kind of like the darker tones of these two passes (this one and the one above). The predominant lavender shade of the blue got lost in later stages but here it goes so well with that yellow.

Thinking of abstracting that little kite flyer into a simple set of curves. This had to happen as it looked bizarre to have it representationally drawn.

Transferring the figures with charcoal to a prepared board which has been painted randomly in oranges, yellows and pinks 

I don't always sketch out on paper my basic idea for a painting but this time I did. I decided to put a tiny third figure in the background flying a kite.

These are the two life drawings I chose to work from. I wanted a seated and a standing figure.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Self portrait in grey

Acrylic on hardboard 12" x 9"

There is quite a difference in the way the paint goes on with different surfaces. The previous painting, Self portrait in orange, was on a Belle Arti cotton canvas panel (the "canvas" is stuck onto mdf board) which has a very close, tight knit weave and is a dream to paint on.  Hardboard has its good points but the paint sits on it at a more surface kind of level. I have reposted this image (above) as the contrasts were not quite right before.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Self portrait in orange

Acrylic on canvas panel 9" x 7"

This one took me probably a couple of hours and I'm happy with it so far. End of the painting day but life drawing tonight.  Now to go down and be a housewife and start cooking.


Acrylic on hardboard 16" x 16"

Many, many glazes with transparent colours - burnt umber, perylene maroon, burnt sienna, perylene green, indanthrene blue.  Hopelessly difficult to photograph.  Wish you could see the original.  I started this yesterday and because I was working with acrylic, the glazes could go on quite quickly. The half moon shape to the left was painted on top of the basic underground layers with a dulled down titanium white, then allowed to be washed over with subsequent glazes.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Dancer in a green landscape

Acrylic on canvas panel 12" x 12"
When I was young I was always fascinated by Irish and Scottish dancing, the former largely influenced by my Irish Catholic teachers who had crossed the sea and settled in the north of England.  When everyone in the house was out I used to practise my own version of it.  Tartan kilts were fashionable at that time so I had part of the kit!   

Dan McCaw

Dan McCaw is a continuing inspiration for me. Have a look at his recent posting on "abstraction" and his fascinating new paintings.. Dan McCaw's blog link

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

What's the purpose of a blog these days?

There are so many ways now that artists can show case their work - Facebook, Etsy, Pinterest - as well as blogs and websites.  The reason I stick to blogging is that it provides me with a really good focus on the process of painting.  For me it isn't first and foremost a "show case". I have the  website for that purpose (although like most artists I don't get to update it as frequently as I should). I like the blog to be organic, fluid, constantly changing and it's so easy to manage.  I suspect many of the people who frequently check out my blog are painters too, so they understand that the process of painting is never straightforward. It comes and goes, ebbs and flows.  The blog lets me have an ongoing conversation about that fascinating process.  It also means stuff gets taken off if I want it to.  Occasionally someone will say - I like that painting you did called xyz but I have looked and it doesn't seem to be on the blog anymore.  They sometimes look a bit shocked when I tell them that usually means I have painted over it and removed the original post.  But it's my prerogative.  It's my blog. I love people to see my work and my working process, but I paint primarily for me.  If I can exhibit and even sell, then that's great but it's not my top priority.  And that's my speech for a chilly June evening in the north of England.

Woman in a blue sweater

Acrylic on canvas panel 9" x 7"

In a thumb nail this just looks like an abstract painting devoid of any recognisable forms but close up you can see the face. The idea of us being part of the landscape we inhabit is an intriguing one.