My on-line diary began in the 1990's from my studio in the North of England. After a lapse of ten years, I resumed posting from my present studio on the Caribbean island of Dominica.

From the far beginning, the intention has been to give an insight into my working methods, and to share the triumphs, trials and tribulations of work-in-progress.

My diary pages are followed by thousands of artists, art students and art lovers in over 50 countries.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

The functional tradition…

Some years ago, I suggested to the UK Arts Council that attention should be given to the relevance of the functional tradition in design.  The subject was first highlighted by Eric De Maré in the 1950’s.

In the context of my proposal, the term “functional tradition” related to design that originated at the workbench rather than the drawing board.  Our early domestic and industrial buildings, machines, structures and furniture owe their fitness and form to engineers, carpenters and masons.  The accumulated abilities of generations of artisans produced work of considerable merit.  Skill was the fundamental ingredient that gave an instinctive capacity for creating an object of function and beauty.  This natural instinct for good design was widespread until the demise of craft apprenticeships during the second half of the twentieth century.

The legacy of the functional tradition is now largely in the hands of the conservationist.  Thus, the “design of instinct” has left the workbench and entered the realms of academia.  However, if we are to understand and revive this natural ability for good design it is essential that we keep at least one foot on the shop floor: the knowledge and the way forward lies with the craftsman.

My objective was to rekindle in art students and others an understanding of this functional tradition and to develop ways of re-establishing the practice.  Alas, my suggestion fell on stony ground.  In fact, amongst certain “professionals” it incited anger and ridicule.  What, they asked, do the lower orders know about design?

Today’s photographs of balcony supports in Roseau, say it all.  The blacksmith that made the wrought iron brackets in the first photograph was very likely illiterate.  The architect that designed the angle iron contraption in the second photograph very likely has a degree with honours! 


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Thanks for the encouragement…

A spate of messages over the last few days, wax lyrical about my paintings and sculpture of nude.  As I am sometimes uncertain of the value of what I have created, such positive feedback helps to spur me on.  

Depicting the nude human form, no matter how innocently, can be a contentious business.   It has always been so.  Whether the artist is Michelangelo, Manet, Rodin, Egon Schiel, D.H. Lawrence or Jacob Epstein, their depiction of the nude has excited controversy and ridicule.   Working from the nude figure demands passion tempered with integrity and daring tempered with restraint. 

My brother in England has asked for a sketch on a postcard in return for a favour.  Maybe I’d better make it a landscape, as otherwise the GPO might consider today’s picture unsuitable for general delivery.  

Denise reclining with yellow pillow.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A piece of cake…

Both as artist and engineer my work rangers from the monumental to the diminutive.  Here is a simple but effective jig, designed and manufactured in my workshop, for slicing cake and bread pudding into a set number of standard sized pieces.  The frame fits over the baking tray and the knife follows the guide plates.  Around the rim of the frame are the stainless steel location studs that Tristan turned a couple of days ago. 

This piece of technology sadly marks the end of an era.  I will no longer be able to pick out the biggest slice when next at the bread shop. 



Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A sign of the times…

If there is a word that sets my teeth on edge, the word is “beautification”.  The more historic and intrinsically fitting the place, the more do-gooders are hell-bent on beautifying it.  In this instance, the place is Roseau, capital of Dominica.   That is not to say that the city doesn’t need cleaning up and that many recent buildings are in such incredibly bad taste that they need tearing down, but cleaning up is different to tarting up.

The definitive books on the difference between the two are Gordon Cullen’s “Concise Townscape” and Ian Nairn’s “Outrage”.   I am sure that both authors would have added these signs to their collection.  I will bring you more examples from old and new Roseau in days to come.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Where did we go wrong…

One of my favourite cartoons is of a beatnik couple in torn jeans crashed out on a shabby sofa.  Standing to attention before them, in Boy Scout uniform, is their son.  The caption reads, “Where did we go wrong!”

I know the feeling.   My oldest daughter first sailed the Atlantic when she was seven and took her share of night watches.  By the time she was thirteen, she could sail racing dinghies to Olympic standard and single-handedly row out a 35lb kedge anchor in the teeth of a gale.  What a wonderful foundation for an adventurous lifestyle. 

But where did we go wrong?  She is now in her forties and a fully qualified Chartered Accountant!

In today’s picture is Tristan, our seven year old son.  He'll be eight in a couple of week’s time.  As a brilliant engineer, he is his grandfather reincarnated.  The lathe he is using is the same one that I learnt on 50 years ago.  This morning, entirely by himself, he turned a set of 16 stainless steel location studs.  One of the critical diameters had a tolerance of two thousandths of an inch.  The micrometer he used had belonged to his great-grandfather. 

Here is a boy with the potential to reclaim the status of the mechanical engineering profession…providing he doesn’t grow up to become a lawyer!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A thousand words plus…

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a map must be worth double.  I have a fascination for maps and charts and occasionally drawn them for a living.  Anyone sailing the Virgin Islands relies on charts that I made of those waters thirty years ago.  (Don’t tell a soul, but I added a few extra coral heads to deter others from anchorages that I wanted to keep to myself.)  I have also drawn pictorial maps of many of England’s rivers and canals.  When times were hard, I sold them door to door and from market stalls. 

Today’s picture is a map of the gardens that surround our house, workshops and studio.  North is from bottom to top and for scale the building measures 100 feet from one end to the other.  The drive drops down from the road to a relatively level lawn area.  There is a steep fall on all sides from our house to the river.  The remains of the old sugar works is in the top corner.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Life after death…

Working from life is isn’t easy, but resurrecting people already in the next world is on the verge of impossible.  I’ve had my share of such commissions and I don’t relish them.  Even the best of photographs are a poor substitute for the real life sitter.  When the commissioners are four lawyers and an accountant you are, as you might suspect, in for trouble. 

Such was the case many years ago with my portrait bust of Mr Bearder.  For two weeks, I struggled to get a facial likeness from an album of photographs that I’d been given to work from.  I tested out the work in progress on my family and occasional visitors to my studio.  What do you think, I would ask.  By Jove, you captured him, was a typical reply. 

It was therefore with some confidence that I unveiled my clay sketch for the approval of the commissioners.  Never have I seen faces drop as their faces dropped…It’s not him, it’s even like him!  In my defence, I pulled out the photographs.  Oh dear, we see what has happened…wrong pictures.  That’s his best friend!

Well, likeness or not, here’s a detail modelled from the right photographs.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Racking my brains…

I have made hundreds of sketches of church interiors but seldom have I noted which church is which.  The elaborate interior shown in today’s picture has had me racking my brains.  Finally, I think I have managed to place it, as one of series of sketches I made ten years ago on my first visit to Porto.   Whilst “first visit” is strictly true, I actually “saw” Porto twenty years before that.   The vision, through early morning mist, was from seaward as we sailed down the Portuguese coast on our second voyage from England to the Caribbean.



Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Monet’s garden…

Were it not for the stiff climb there and back, my river might become, in later years, the inspirational equivalent of Claude Monet’s Garden.  As it is, those 117 steps are the undoing of men half my age.  Although I occasionally take along my sketch bag, most afternoons I simply spend my time retrieving stones from the river.  At this time of year, I gather a hat full of windfall oranges on my way home.


Today’s painting is the river from the same spot as yesterday’s picture. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tranquillity…

When passions are exhausted and weariness invades my body and soul, I seek escape in the precious memories of rare moments when I have found true tranquillity.   They include:

            Night watches when running before gentle Atlantic trade winds.

            Sewing sails while lying at anchor in a secluded Caribbean Cove.

            Paving the path that leads down to our river.

The first dates back to 1974 and the last, to this afternoon.  From my studio, a winding path leads down to the River Antrim.  Over the years, Denise has made steps (117 in all) down the steepest sections and I have paved the 100 yard stretch that leads along the riverside to our bathing pool. 

For the last hour or so on most afternoons, I carry stones up from the riverbed and fit them together as a never-ending jigsaw puzzle.  My hands are occupied but my mind is free.  A combination that is common to all my moments of tranquillity.  Here’s a section of the path – the river is right behind me.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Stimulation, aggravation and motivation…

All too often exhibitions of paintings and sculpture leave me cold, nothing catches my eye.  However, just occasionally, I see a work that stops me in my tracks and I wish I could have created it.  Those rare moments act as a stimulus for my own work.

On the other hand - and again all too often - I come across work so bad, that it angers me.  Nevertheless, the greater the aggravation the more the motivation to get up off my backside, pick up my brushes and do better.  (I should add that, I spend so little time on my backside, when I do have to sit down for longer than ten minutes it becomes painful.)

I owe my last spurt of creative energy to the aggravation of a recently published book of third-rate poetry and to the stimulation of Rodin’s moving figure of a woman in old age.

Auguste Rodin: “She who once was the helmet-maker’s beautiful wife”.

PS.  I should have posted this entry yesterday, but my attempts were thwarted by a computer conspiracy.  First, Internet down, then Google Blogger down. 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Cycle-clips and churches…

If, on our travels, my wife loses sight of me, she knows that I can usually be found in the nearest church. 

Churches are another of my passions.  I have sketched them, painted them, helped to restore them, repaired their organs and designed church windows and alter pieces.  In the years that my studio was based in England, I held the keys for the local Methodist Church (and managed to loose them) and fought tooth and nail to save the Anglican.  When the puritanical NHS turned away my nude figures, the church courageously offered to take them in.

My very studio was originally a Church Assembly Hall and before we left for the Caribbean, the Bishop of Wakefield came down, unannounced, in full regalia to bless our shipping containers.  I was lashing machines down inside container number two at the time and he gave a one hell of a fright!

From this, you might suppose that I am a regular churchgoer, but I am not.  As Simon Jenkin’s said in his definitive book on English Churches:

They do not force me to my knees but they whisper to me to tread softly, as they did Philip Larkin, bidding him to “take off my cycle-clips in awkward reverence”…If this is religious awe, so be it.

For the north window of the church assembly hall that became my studio, I designed my Black Madonna.



Friday, April 15, 2011

Lost and found…

Currently my siesta reading (too tired for bedtime reading) is L. C. Rolt’s Victorian Engineering.  Before the days of specialisation, engineers, architects, artists and artisans were often one of the same.  Their designs originated at the workbench, not the drawing board and the craftsman’s eye was: A gauge to measure beauty by.  

The father of modern electrical engineering, S. Z. Ferranti, has been called the Michelangelo of his day.  He designed every component of the Deptford power station, from the machines to the architectural turrets. 

Maybe I can chalk up yet another day of working in my machine shop, as my modest contribution to the memory of the ingenious men of the renaissance.  

Do you remember the self-portrait that a week or so ago I searched for in vain?  Well, it’s turned up.  That’s me circa. 1975.



Thursday, April 14, 2011

A day in the life…

Once I get side tracked, it is difficult to get back down to my work as a painter and sculptor.  I may start the day with every good intention but other things intervene.  Today has been a case in point.

My day began at with me updating a proposal for training mechanical engineers – a proposal that I first presented to no avail two years ago.  No sooner had I finished that, than I find our water tank is almost empty.  Off I go down to the river to start the pump.  The climb there and back at least gives me my exercise for the day.  Actually, it gives me my exercise twice over because once the tank is full I have to go back down to turn the pump off.  A quick breakfast and then I can get down to…. 

A telephone call from a factory at the far end of the island to say a shaft and bearing has broken.  I drive out to look at the damage and bring the parts back to my workshop.  Somehow or other, by the weekend, I have to make a replacement.  A quick lunch and then I can get down to…

A reminder that I’ve promised to meet with the head of a government department to discuss ways of improving the of processing agricultural products – cassava, coco, etc.   I drive to town for the meeting and stop for shopping on the way home.  A quick change, from trousers and shoes, back to shorts and sandals and then I can get down to…

Too late, the day has past!  I can only look back and wonder how, a couple of months ago; I managed to squeeze in sketches such as this.



Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Jamaican Girl…

In 1971, I held my first one-man show at the Kings Lynn Arts Festival.  The sculptor Enzo Plazzotta, exhibited at the same festival and his show included a bronze figure titled Jamaican Girl.  Thus began my interest in figurative sculpture and my love affair with the Caribbean.  

Somerset Maugham best expressed my love for these islands, in his book The Moon and Sixpence.

“Sometimes a man hits upon a place to which he mysteriously feels he belongs.  Here is the home he sought, and he will settle amid scenes that he has never seen before, among men he has never known, as though they were familiar to him from his birth.” 

In the warmth of the tropics, I found colour and vibrancy that previously had eluded me.  I also found the goddesses that have inspired my work as sculptor.  Curiously, despite the lure of the Jamaican Girl, the only island I have yet to visit is Jamaica.

This portrait dates from my early days in the Caribbean. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Man bites dog…

Yesterday Dominica’s online newspaper carried a piece about my diary.  As I haven’t installed a counter I’ll never know how many readers accessed the diary as a result.  But if reader’s comments are anything to go by, a variation of the “man bites dog” story won me hands down. 

Many years ago at a cocktail party on Antigua, a lady rushed up to best selling author Edward Allcard with the words, “Mr Allcard, I bought your book”.  He responded dryly, “So it was you!”

Going back to yesterday’s entry, here is the original artwork for one of my postage stamp designs.


Monday, April 11, 2011

From postage stamps to posters…

During my forty-five years of eking out a living as an artist, I have put my hand to just about everything.  In the 1980’s the Crown Agents commissioned me to design postage stamps for the British Virgin Islands (prestigious but not very well paid) and the 1990’s found me painting posters of the nightlife in the city of Leeds (the club owner skipped the scene and I was not paid at all).  Between the two, the Methodist Church commissioned me to create a twenty-five foot high stained glass window on the theme, Christ Triumphant and the Health Department paid me handsomely to devise advertisements that implored residents to wrap-up their garbage.

To brighten what has been a dull, rainy day here on Dominica, here is the pulsating 10,000-decibell poster for The Pleasure Rooms.  It remains in my possession – no pay, no poster!  One of the preliminary sketches was featured a couple of days ago. 

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A double act…

Two of my regular life class students are Daryl and Ziggy.  They are both attending the State College and studying IT and architecture respectively.  What a pity, that the visual arts are not offered as a course of advanced study here on Dominica.  These two young men have the talent and the personality to make a name for themselves.  They are worthy of great encouragement.

In the Caribbean, we train doctors and lawyers by the score but not creative artists.  It is only recently that art has been introduced at CXC level in secondary schools.  Art is considered a spare time pursuit, a bit like playing dominoes.  Mechanical engineering, my second occupation, suffers the same fate.  It is presently unavailable as a course of study. 

There is a limit to what one man can do to make up the shortfall and I reached that limit last week.  After two art workshops followed on the tail of a workshop on production line engineering, I lost my voice.  That, my family say, is a blessing!

Here’s Daryl on the left and Ziggy on the right.   

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Affairs of the heart…

It has been said that, “love is a feeling one places, whenever one feels the need of placing it, on the first object that happens along”.*   The same can be said for the subject of a painting.  Vincent Van Gogh could get passionate over a field of stubble. 

In a similar vein, the painting that lurks in the boarder of this diary page was made on first stepping on shore after days of being weather bound at anchor in the Virgin Islands.  The shoreline was fenced off in all directions, so I had no means of searching for the grand subject on which to lavish my pent up painterly passions.  This nondescript bit of bush would have to do. 

Just as sometimes you hear the snippet of introductory music to a radio programme in its entirety, here’s the painting in its entirety (well, almost).  

*J. C. Herold “Mistress to an Age”

Friday, April 8, 2011

Warts an’ all…

I have just spent the last hour searching for a self-portrait that I painted in the days when most of my facial features (including a wart on my chin) were hidden behind a bushy beard.  I needed the painting to illustrate today’s theme: a quote from Toulouse-Lautrec, “...warts find no mercy with me; I love to decorate them with mischievous little hairs, to round them off and put a shining tip on them.” 

My search was in vain.  Surely, the painting, warts an’ all, hasn’t sold.  However, as I leafed through one portfolio after another, I came across this sketch, very much in the style of Lautrec, which I made in a Leeds nightclub aptly named The Pleasure Rooms.  It is as close as I’ll ever get to the dance halls of Montmartre.



Thursday, April 7, 2011

One, two three, four, five…

In his latter years, Rodin said that he no longer felt the need to count fingers.  Only those who have struggled with the figure know how long it takes to reach that degree of suggestion.  A gesture of the hand can speak volumes.   But the emphasis must be on the hand as a whole rather than its individual components. 

Only occasionally do I feel that I have achieved credibility with the hand’s fleeting gesture.  Yesterday’s painting represents one of those rare early moments.  Here they are in detail. 


One, two three, four, five – yes, they’re all there! 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Gimme a pigfoot and a bottle of beer...

Bessie Smith and her lyric came to mind as I read a perceptive article about Bajan megastar Rihanna.  The writer shuddered at the culture of decadence that her songs promote, just as I am sure that they shuddered at the scratchy sound of Bessie Smith in the 1920’s. 

D. H. Lawrence claimed that the sensual passions should be considered equally as sacred as the spiritual passions.  For him, “The only thing unbearable is the degradation, the prostitution of the living mysteries in us…Lewdness is hateful because it impairs our integrity…” 

In a roundabout way, this brings us back to the frequent misunderstanding of the nude in art: the confusion of purity and pornography.   Here, in all its innocence, is a painting I made of Denise almost twenty years ago.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The missing link…

In the birth, life and death sequence from a couple of days ago, the missing link between the plaster master cast and the final bronze, was the wax impression.  It is obtained by taking a mould from the plaster cast by means of a piece mould.  The name is apt, because until the advent of silicon rubber this mould had to be made in plaster and divided into scores of sections.  This was necessary so that it could be released from the plaster wherever there is an undercut.  And let me tell you, the human body is riddled with undercuts! 

Silicon rubber’s flexibility has made mould making relatively easy.  It can be peeled away from an ear or from beneath the breasts.  The picture shows the plaster master cast and wax impression of a portrait I made of my daughter Tania when she was five.  It is ready for the foundry to cast by the lost wax process – but I’ll save that story for another day.   

Monday, April 4, 2011

I’ve been through the mill…

When it comes to rum production in the Caribbean, I can honestly say that I have been through the mill, whether the mill be oil, steam, wind, water or mule powered.  I have recorded every known sugar works in the British Virgin Islands and studied hundreds more throughout the West Indies.  Here on our own property we have the ruins of what was once the sugar works for the Antrim Valley Estate. 

For the factories still in production, I have contributing my engineering expertise on machinery that is well over a century and a half old.  To that end, I have spent today inspecting machinery at the Shillingford estate on Dominica, distillers of the fine Macoucherie range of rums.  The label is poised for launching on the worldwide market and hence the need to review the manufacturing process from the cane field to the finished product.  A pleasant task you might say, but after many hours in the hot sun, it’s a cold beer, rather than a fiery straight rum, that I yearn for.

Many years ago I made a similar study of the River Antaine Estate on Grenada.  Women feed the heavy bundles of sugar cane into the mill.  They hoist the bundles shoulder high, carry them a considerable distance and then mightily toss the cane into the rollers of the mill.  What strength!  Take my advice, don’t ever pick a fight with a Grenadian woman – I know, I’m married to one!

These sketches are taken from my book Caribbean Sketches.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Birth, death and resurrection…

There is a saying amongst sculptors of the old school, that clay is the life, plaster the death and bronze the resurrection.  This refers to the stages involved between the initial clay sketch and the final bronze cast.  Actually there is third stage between the plaster and the bronze, that being the making of the wax impression from which the foundry take their cast.

Here again are my Leeds figures with the French boules player in the foreground.  Work has begun on taking the plaster “waste mould” from the clay.  The standing figures have already been “flicked” with an initial coat of plaster.  When dry, more plaster is added until the mould is many inches thick.  The Frenchman awaits his turn.  The brass shims that you can see along his arm and elsewhere enables the finished mould to be divided into sections. 

The term “waste mould” is an apt name, for the clay is destroyed when the mould is separated.  In turn the waste mould itself is destroyed when it is chipped away to reveal the plaster “master cast”. The process has not changed in five hundred years.  It behoves the sculptor to get down on his knees and pray that both mould and cast have turned out to perfection, for otherwise many month’s work is irretrievably lost.

I will stop there, for otherwise my description is likely to degenerate into gobbledygook! 

Saturday, April 2, 2011

But thy eternal summer shall not fade…

Leeds City Art Gallery’s listing for my group of life-size bronze figures poses the question to the viewer as to why they are dressed in old-fashioned clothing.  In fact, the figures are dressed in what was the fashion of the day: the day in this case being the year 2000 when I created the sculpture. 

This just goes to show how rapidly fashions change.   In my teenage years, drainpipe trousers and pointed shoes known as “winkle-pickers” were all the rage.  Seen now one would say, you must be joking! 

This is one reason why, through the ages, sculptors have reverted to the timelessness of the nude.  Maybe Shakespeare's "dark lady" can be linked to the permanence of such a bronze figure.

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st...

The Leeds sculpture in question depicts a Yorkshire couple and their child watching a Frenchman (out of camera) playing the game of Boules.  As always with the clothed figure, I begin by modelling the nude form.  I remember that the Commissioners inspected the work at this intermediate stage and expressing their satisfaction.  Maybe, it should have been signed off as completed then and there!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Low ivied walls and the lure of the sea…

The two and a half acres of gardens that surround the studio will make a dramatic stetting for my sculptures.  In my minds eye I have visualised reposing figures that one day will nestle in secluded hollows and others that will embrace the sky from the hilltops.  That is providing my eye does not wander from our hilltop to the Caribbean Sea where, to quote Humber Wolf:

            The ships of youth are running,
            Close-hauled on the edge of the wind.
            With all adventure before them,
            And only the old behind.

For another snatch of poetry warns that:

            He who has known the heights and depths,
Shall not again know peace.
Not as the calm heart knows,
Low, ivied walls, a garden close,
The sweet enchantment of a rose.

A cast of my sculpture The Dancing Girls is already firmly in situ on the broad expanse of sun dappled lawn that boarders our driveway.  The figures are life-size, but appear diminutive against the lush tropical foliage, as does the far horizon when I turn my back on the sculpture and gaze towards the Caribbean Sea.