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.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Daring and restraint…


Two opposing forces that, in art and life, need not equate to dull compromise.


The errant watercolour wash that runs down the page to be caught at the last moment.

The clay that is applied at fever pitch and then defined just enough to reflect the soul of the sitter.

Revealing the passion of the figure yet retaining the purity of the nude.

Sailing small boats across oceans but remembering that the sea does not suffer fools for long.

A whole lot of daring and the restraint went into today’s painting.  The scene is a wind blown beach on the island of St John, USVI.  One brush stroke more, or one brush stroke less, would have spelt ruin.



Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Work in progress…

On the sculptural front, my work in progress is the bas-relief shown yesterday and in earlier diary pages (July 20th and July 28th).   Had someone commissioned the work, I might have been bound, by way of a drawing or maquette, to a foregone conclusion.  But as things stand, I’ve no one to please but myself.  I can make changes as the mood takes me.

Thus, true to form, I am improvising on my theme as I go along.  Just supposing, for instance, I fill the blank areas of the relief with rough line sketches of the figure in different poses, similar to the drawing below.  Or, how about scratching in a couple of lines of verse? 


The photograph focuses on a detail of the figure in its present rough form.  As always, the challenge will be to avoid refining.  The suggestion of the breast is worth more than the breast in detail.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The heart has its reasons…

Selling my soul or my skill and other recent entries on the vicissitudes that beset those that precariously live by their art, have resulted in some sound advice.  Alas, I only take sound advice in order to do the contrary.  As my brother said on visiting us for the first time here on Dominica, “Why can’t you for once in your life do something sensible and normal?”

All I know is this.  Whenever I take a chance, Fate somehow or other sees me through. Whenever I play safe, the Gods take delight in upsetting my apple cart. 

During my time in the UK, when one sculptural commission followed another, the Inland Revenue made a full-scale investigation into my earnings.  They suspected that I was cheating the system and there followed a full-scale investigation.  After a year of delving into invoices, receipts and bank balances, they found that they owed me, rather than me owing them. 

The inspector in charge asked, why I struggled with this kind of work when there is so little financial reward.  In reply, I could do no better than quote the 17th Century French Philosopher, Blaise Pascal:

The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.

So Fate, take note!  Here’s my bas-relief beginning to take shape...perhaps you can conjure up a buyer.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The colour white…

A few weeks ago, I featured my poem The Colour Black.  I do not have a poem for the colour white, because in watercolour there’s no such thing.  The only white, is the white of the paper.  This taxes the painter’s ability to handle the medium.  Before the first wash hits the paper, you have to know where to leave space for the whites and highlights. 

Okay, I admit, you can use a masking fluid, but I’ve no time to mess about with such devices.  I cannot put passion on hold while I dabble with chemicals.  Moreover, I can always tell when a painter has resorted to such tricks: the end result is all too slick for my liking.  Better by far to catch a wash at the critical moment and guide it away from a no-go area. 

Today’s painting is unfinished, but it illustrates how I anticipate my whites.   To the right you see three figures and towards the centre, you see a space left for a possible forth.  If I decide keep to three figures, I can paint over the vacant space left for the forth, but once the white of the paper is lost, I can never get it back again.



Friday, August 26, 2011

Selling my soul or my skill…

For over forty years, when push came to shove, I shouldered my sketch bag and headed to the streets to sketch away my very soul in order to make ends meet.

However, this time around, on returning to the Caribbean six years ago, I decided that it would be my skill as an engineer, rather than my soul as an artist, that would save the day.  And so it has.  My machine shop has kept the wolf from the door and I have welcomed the challenges that have tested my engineering skills and ingenuity.    

But the downside is this.  The street scene from the North of England that I featured a couple of days ago and today’s street scene from the Caribbean, were painted at times when my sketch bag was the only means of survival.  In other words, I had no alternative but to get out there and paint. 

Yes, it’s hard to sell your soul, especially for a pittance, but the best in art is born from the soul.  Maybe the time has come to oil down my lathes and milling machines and return to the pavement.



Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A happy accident…

Watercolours, by their very nature, defy control.  At best, a watercolour painting is a happy accident.  You might qualify that statement by saying, the better the artist the more often the accident happened in his favour.

Today’s painting is another from my series of my old home town of Halifax, Yorkshire.  The green double-decker bus might be the very same one that I mentioned a few days ago.  This time around there was rain – my God you can feel it – but no wind to carry my painting under the wheels of the bus. 

The painting soon sold and this small photographic print is all I have to remind me of the happy accident of washes merging and dividing in the rain right there on the pavement.  The subject is in total contrast to the palm fringed beaches of the Caribbean, but what a subject!  

My careful choice of subject was confirmed when one wet, carrier-bag laden shopper asked, “Can’t you find anything better to paint than that?”

Monday, August 22, 2011

To utter the unutterable…

My diary pages from England dwelt mainly on my working methods as a sculptor.  The pages followed work in progress, in logical sequence, one day to the next.   This time around, it’s a different kettle of fish.

When working on my figures and portraits, I try to get down to the naked soul.  In a similar way, I want these diary pages to say something about the whole business of creating a work of art. 

Today, while glancing through my copy of  Byron’s love poems, I found that years ago I had marked a page with a copy of a poem by James Kirkup.   It is titled The Poet but the sentiments could equally apply to all who toil upon the forge of art.

Each instant of his life, a task, he never rests,
And works most when he appears to be doing nothing.
The least of it is putting down the words,
What usually remains unwritten and unspoken,
And would so often be better left
Unsaid, for it is really the unspeakable
That he must try to give an ordinary tongue to.

And if, by art and accident,
He utters the unutterable, then
It must appear as natural as breath,
Yet be an inspiration.  And he must go,
The lonelier for his unwanted miracle,
His singular way, a gentle lunatic at large
In the societies of cross and reasonable men.

How do I find a picture to illustrate today’s entry?  Equally by chance, I stumbled across a faded black and white photograph taken in the UK studio when working on one of my controversial NHS figures.  With the dedicated help of Ganeen, my model, I tried to utter the unutterable.



Friday, August 19, 2011

A ray of hope…

Dominica, along with many other countries in the world, is going through some difficult times and one can easily to become despondent.  However, today, at the closing performances of the Old Mill Summer Arts Programme, I witnessed a ray of hope. 

Over the last couple of weeks, children between the ages of seven and seventeen have had a wonderful opportunity to experience all aspects of the creative arts.  If, starting from scratch, so much can be achieved in that short space of time, just think of the potential talent that could be nurtured over a period of years.  Their performances were inspirational.  

I witnessed a similar achievement on the island of Tortola in the 1980’s.  Two visiting music teachers from Canada took children who previously had played nothing more than a recorder and, in the space of a couple of years, formed one of the finest fully fledged school orchestras this side of the Atlantic.  Their repertoire ranged from the classics to jazz, from calypso to pop.  They toured the United States to rave reviews.

Here is the next generation of creative artists ready to move the world.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Dodging prosperity…

Alas, old pal, we’re wealthy now, it’s sad beyond a doubt;
We cannot dodge prosperity, success has found us out.

Again, I’ve taken the above lines from Robert Services’s poem The Joy of Being Poor.  I experience relative prosperity for a brief period in the mid 1980’s.  However, in terms of creativity, it was my least productive period.

Today’s painting dates from 1996 – twenty-four years on from yesterday’s picture, but I'm back to a precarious financial state of affairs.  With my wife Denise and our two young daughters, I had left the warmth of the Caribbean and set up shop in a Church Assembly Hall in the North of England.   To keep the wolf from the door, I worked on a series of forty paintings and drawings of Halifax, my old hometown.   

One wealthy businessman who had watch me paint his premises expressed an interest in purchasing the finished picture.  In high hopes, I framed the painting (one of my best) and on a cold and windy winter’s day carried it for him to see.  His response was lukewarm – he’d have to think about it.  As I penniless left his office to go home, a gust a wind tore the framed picture from my hands and sent it shattering under the wheels of a double-decker bus.  Ah, the joy of being poor! 

                           

The Barclay’s Bank Building from the series Views of Halifax.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

And I had but a single shirt and not a single care*…

* From the poem “The Joy of Being Poor” by Robert Service.

Poverty is all too often is the lot of the artist.  Curiously, and for no accountable reason, it is during financial hardship that an artist’s creative zeal is often at its best.  Favour us with comfort and we procrastinate. 

The year is 1972 and the place Southern Ireland.  Our home and my studio was a converted village school.  We survived on next to nothing.  Our only means of transport was a bicycle.  With a desire to see more of the country we set off on a two hundred mile walking tour, pushing our camping gear and my sketching bag before us on an old pram.  (The “we” at that time being my first wife Norma and our six-year-old daughter Diana.)  We lived on wild strawberries picked from the hedgerows...and I had but a single shirt and not a single care.

This is one of the paintings I made en route. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Three remarkable women…

This is my tribute to three remarkable women who have entered my life.

The first is Sheila Hyndman, a Virgin Island poet with the potential to move the world.  I first met Sheila when we took part in a radio panel discussion on the arts.  At that time, Sheila was still at High School.  In later years, I illustrated her volume of poems.  Sheila had a huge creative impact on my work.  As her mentor and fellow writer Jennie Wheatley said, “…you soared to heights unknown (and) what you garnered at those heights you brought to lesser mortals…”

The second is Jane Toye.  Jane was a thalidomide baby - the drug responsible for one of the biggest medical tragedies of modern times.  However, neither deformity nor disability could quell Jane’s humour, drive and jest for life.  We served on committees together.  Jane's diminutive size never stopped her from getting a word in edgeways and together we fought many a battle for the West Yorkshire town of Sowerby Bridge.

The third is Clara Baron.  When we first came to Dominica we purchased our fruit and vegetables from Clara’s market stall.  I have never known Clara not to have a wonderful smile on her face or laughter in her voice.  The smile was there even on the day when Denise and I visited her in hospital after she had her leg amputated due to diabetes.  Over the years, she became a firm friend and every week we’d talk over the phone.  My calls were meant to keep Clara’s spirits up, whereas in fact, she always turned the tables and kept my spirits up instead.  Clara was the most courageous and caring person I have ever known.

Sadly, all three of my good friends left this earth suddenly and all too soon:  Sheila in 1991, Jane in 2006 and Clara just yesterday.  I miss them all.

I never had chance to paint Jane or Clara, but here is a sketch I made of Sheila.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Nurturing new talent…

On Wednesday, I painted a portrait for children attending this year’s summer creative arts programme at Dominica’s Old Mill Cultural Centre.  Claudia, a student who had just celebrated her ninth birthday, was my model for the session.  Thank you for modelling Claudia – the painting is yours as a birthday present.

There can be few creative art venues on earth as invigorating as The Old Mill.   I first visited the centre in 1990 and it was one of the main reasons for relocating my studio to Dominica six years ago.  Over the years, Raymond Lawrence and Pearl Christian, together with the rest of the staff, have become good friends.  Their talents cover all facets of the arts: music, dance, theatre, writing, painting and woodcarving.  I look forward to working with them again in the near future.



Our son Tristan is on the front row and he's enjoying the sessions immensely.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Colour Black…

Forty-five years ago I declared myself as an artist on the pavements of France.  Last Friday I declared myself as a poet at the opening night of the Dominica Literature Festival.  My daughter Tania – the real poet in the family - was also selected to read.  Unfortunately, she came down with a virus and had to stand down.  The Dominica Writers’ Guild had asked for submission on the theme of colour.   Tania’s unread poem was titled, The Colour Of Her Soul and mine, The Colour Black.  

Black,
At a cursory glance
All shades are reduced to just that.

But to the painter, poet and lover
A hundred hues compete,
With the jet of her cane-row hair
And the pale saffron soles of her feet.
 
Put aside your tubes of Scarlet Lake,
And erase cloy similes of peach. 
Look instead at freshly tilled earth
Or a wave-washed volcanic sand beach.

Cinnamon bark and breadfruit leaf,
Coffee beans in the warmth of the sun.
These tints her whole being encapsulates,
With nature’s own colours, she’s one.

From the dark areola of her breast
Brown madder and yellow ochre merge. 
While sienna reds and blues subdued
In deep purple shadows converge.

Bold washes from her shoulders run
To trace the curve of her spine,
Elsewhere they accumulate
To hide a forested secret - that’s mine!

False mascara need not disguise
The warm sepia bloom of her cheek.
And applied loud rouge cannot improve
On rust-red coral - to her lips unique.

Just as her spirit cannot be bound,
To the pallid accepted norm.
Nor can the colours with which she abounds
Deny the race to which she was born.

Thus, to mellow tones my muse awakes
With shades of the islands beneath her feet.
With fervent passion I respond,
My sketch from life is complete.  

I dedicated the poem to Denise, my wife and model. Denise courageously read the work on stage.  A daunting task when your audience includes some of the Caribbean’s finest poets and writers.  Today’s picture shows Denise in her more familiar role, encompassing all shades of The Colour Black.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Just for drinks…

While I am waiting for pictures of this year’s Literary Festival, let me take you back to my very early days in the islands.  In 1974, a small fleet of boats sailed from England to the Caribbean.   These were not luxury yachts but small craft that we had all scraped and saved to clobber together.  From anchorage to anchorage, we struggled against the elements. 

We learnt, in the words of Ann Davidson* that, “the glitter of romance as seen from afar often turns out to be pretty shoddy at close quarters, and what appears to be a romantic life is invariably an uncomfortable one; but I know too, that the values of such living are usually sound.  They have to be, or you don’t survive”.

After a five week Atlantic crossing we made our Caribbean landfall, impoverished but elated.  Today’s painting dates from those days.  It shows two fellow sailors making ends meet by playing in a bar Just For Drinks.



* From “My Ship Is So Small” by Ann Davidson

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Eating my hat…

One lesson I have learnt in life, is to admit when I have made mistake.  I have lost count of times when I’ve said, if I’m wrong I’ll eat my hat.  My best hat is made out of cowhide and as you might guess; its brim is well chewed.  I have eaten it publicly to astonishment of a town forum in England and this afternoon I committed myself to eating it again here on Dominica if my theory on leakage from the island’s main water supply pipeline is wrong.

Sometimes I misjudge my paintings.  On the completion of a work, I often feel that I have failed.  And more often that not, I am right.  However, there are times when, on reflection, I discover that I was closer to the truth than I thought. 

Today’s pastel painting is a case in point.  It dates back to 1989 and depicts my then Vincentian model Alice, just a few days before she gave birth to her daughter (my God daughter) Oceana.  At the time, I felt that I had failed to capture the mood of the moment.  But now, at a distance of almost half a century, I find it steeped in emotion.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Following in my daughter’s footsteps…

Rushing in all directions, as this is the weekend of Dominica’s Literary Festival. 

My daughter Tania has been winning awards for her poetry ever since her days in primary school.  At last year’s festival, she was first runner up in the poetry competition and she has been short-listed again this year.  However, this time around she is up against some stiff competition – my poem has also been short-listed!

More later, but in the meantime here’s a picture of Tania on stage reading one of her poems.



Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Pastels…

Mention pastels and Edgar Degas immediately comes to mind, with the work of Renoir, Whistler and Manet following suit.  Leonardo da Vinci also used pastels, mainly in brown and white, to create many of  his drawings.

Pastels combine permance with vulnerability.  The sticks often consist of pure pigment but their powdery nature leads to smudging and dusting.  Fixative, if applied, adds a questionable, unknown element in the long-term. 

For me, the attraction of pastels is the freedom and intensity they give to the sketch.  Here is a pastel portrait that I made many years ago of Tania and Trina’s half sister Trudy.