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, December 26, 2015

From the Canals to the Caribbean

The sketch of the canal barge dates from 1968, the year that I declared myself as an artist on the pavements of France and Belgium.  The water colour dates from 1975, my first year of painting in the Caribbean.



In those early days I was out to prove that I could draw.  By the time the Caribbean came into my life and I was painting with a passion.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Shopping list

When painting I pick up the nearest sheet of paper to hand and the same goes for my shopping lists. 

Today’s list of things to do before Christmas is scribbled on a scrap of all-rag water colour paper.  It’s not much to write home about, except that between engineering at the top and groceries at the bottom, there’s a reminder to e-mail models.


The e-mails are to thank them for their dedicated support over the last twelve months.  Without them I would have had to put up the studio shutters and call it a day.  Over the last few months calls for my work as an engineer has meant cancelling one session after another.   But regardless, my muses are always there in readiness to share the triumphs and tribulations of capturing the beauty of the human form. 

As my regular readers are aware, it often takes me months to evaluate a painting.  This is why I resist discarding what I at first consider to be a failure.  This painting of Tashani is a case in point.  Three months ago I cast it aside but now I can see where it came close to succeeding: in particular, with the hands and the curve at the base of the spine. 




Monday, December 14, 2015

Capturing what the camera can’t

My brother is the keeper of the Burnett family photographic achieves and he occasionally features excerpts on his blog http://newsfromnowhere1948.blogspot.com.  It is there that I catch glimpses of myself from earlier years.  This photograph dates from the 1970’s and for once I’m behind a camera rather than behind an easel.  The occasion that dragged me back to England was my brother’s wedding.  Incidentally, my brother is a fine photographer in his own right, as you'll see from his blog.


Soon afterwards I was back to painting the Caribbean.  In those days I could find my subject matter in town and village street scenes.  Today’s painting was made towards the end of that period and depicts the flamboyant “Purple Palace” a mock-Moorish building that dominates Road Town, the capital of the British Virgin Islands. 


The painting (actually a detail from the original) illustrates how the brush can capture what the camera can’t.  I regard photography as a distinctive art form.  What leaves me cold are paintings copied from photographs. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Art and science

Once again painting and sculpture has to go on the back burner while engineering demands my time and attention.  But there are similarities.  Today’s sketch was made on a site visit in the heat of the mid-day sun to illustrate improvements that need to be made to the island’s main water supply line.  You will notice that my lines tell of my love for the mechanical as much as they reveal my love for the human figure. 



Likewise, Leonardo da Vinci’s engineering drawings show his affinity to art and science.


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Elaborating on yesterday’s footnote

A small computer screen cannot do justice to large water colours.   The washes acquire a texture and colour graduation that is not evident in a small reproduction.   Today’s detail is taken from yesterday’s painting.  


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Against all the odds

Today’s diary page comes to you against all the odds.  First my beloved Photoshop2 is no longer recognized by the latest Windows update.  My daughter tells me it’s out of date and the world has moved on to Photoshop whatever it is.  The cheek of it: I only purchased the program 14 years ago!  By that argument I’m out of date and everything I possess is out of date.  Hence, today’s picture comes to you by a roundabout route: from my camera to my son’s computer then back to my computer.

Likewise, the painting pictured was created against all the odds.  For the last couple of months my work as an engineer has taken every moment of my time.  Leonardo da Vinci had the same problem.  In his later years he lamented that his work as an engineer left no time for painting and sculpting.

It was one of my models that gave me the push I needed.  When we began this afternoon’s session my mind was focused on the design of a complicated piece of machinery rather than the beauty of the human form.  I struggled with my first two attempts and then, miraculously, the third painting happened.  Thank you Ryta for your encouragement.


The original measures 24" x 16" and the small image has not the necessary impact. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Home, boys home…

In my sailing days a song made famous by the Dubliners was one of my favourites when uncomfortably holed up in a foreign port.  

And it’s home, boys home
Home I’d like to be, home for a while in my own country

On my occasional visits “home” I was able to see my native Yorkshire with a renewed vision.  Whereas the tropics gave my paintings vibrancy; the mists on the moors gave them subtlety.  Today’s painting dates from 1993.


Saturday, November 14, 2015

What next

By its very nature creativity is different to what has gone before. Repeating the same picture over and over again is anything but creative. Variations on a theme are all well and good but eventually the theme itself becomes exhausted. Hence, after a successful run of one thing, I eventually have to ask myself: what next. 

A pictorial image is the world’s most universal language. Currently these diary pages are accessed in over 40 countries, the most recent follower being from Myanmar (formally Burma). But language is most effective when you have something to say. And this brings me back to: what next do I say and what next can I get passionate about. If I cannot get passionate about my work I cannot expect to seduce you, the viewer. 

It is the same with these diary pages. If I have nothing new to say I get bored and the reader gets bored.

While seeking an answer to this enigma, I will use the forthcoming diary pages to review the subjects that have excited me in the past. But before turning the clock back fifty years, let’s take a look at the painting that began my present series of the nude almost two years ago.  The model is Jessica and the painting was made on her first modelling session.


Friday, November 6, 2015

In the beginning

My on-line diary pages began seventeen years ago from my studio in England.  In those days digital cameras were in their infancy and blogs a thing of the future.  Every night my brother burned the midnight oil and set up the pages as a website.  On re-locating my studio to Dominica the website became redundant and many of the early diary pages have been lost forever. 

However, a few survive on CD and what follows is my diary page with picture for the 19th of November 1999.

Up until today anyone visiting the studio had to rattle the letterbox to gain admission.  It was the only sound that penetrated the building.  Regular letterbox rattlers will be relieved to learn that scores of visits from potential models over the last few days has finally driven me to fitting a proper door bell. 

Between those visits (and fitting the doorbell) I have been building up the wax mould of the maquette for the dancing girls.  On a cold day just the smell of molten wax helps to warm me up.  Sitting as close as I dare to a portable gas fire does the rest. 




At about the time I began my diary I exhibited a collection of 25 paintings and drawings that followed my wife through the pregnancies of our daughters.  My series of the pregnant nude may have been the first of its kind.


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Me of all people!

In a recent Dominica on-line press debate  in which I tried to differentiate between pornography and the beauty and profundity of the nude, I have been chastised for denouncing the nude, period.  (http://dominicanewsonline.com/news/homepage/news/culture/winners-of-the-independence-celebrations-art-competition-announced/)

For once I’ll resort to the expression LOL.  Me of all people!

Have we really reached the level where people can no longer differentiate between the two?  Regardless, I will go my own sweet way and continue to passionately extol the beauty and innocence of the nude and denounce any attempt to demote it to mere pornographic lust. 

Somerset Maugham in his book The Razor’s Edge had this to say about passion.

…passion is so overwhelming that beside it even lust and hunger are trifling…no wine is so intoxicating, no love so shattering, no vice so compelling…

This afternoon, for Suzanne, a visiting artist from Brazil, I have passionate pursued the beauty and profundity of the nude by way of demonstrating my method of painting the nude.  The session would have been impossible without the support of my inspirational model Annabelle.  I also thank Suzanne for enabling the session.  Below is the last painting in a series of three.



Saturday, October 24, 2015

The drama of darks


In my first notes for art students post I waxed lyrical on the virtues of my first love: charcoal and newsprint. 

Traditional charcoal has given birth to numerous similar materials that give the same effect.  One of which was made by Faber Castell.  I purchased my supply years ago and like many materials that I’ve become accustomed to it is no longer available; at least not in its original stick form.  In those days it came in various shades, from black to light sepia.

Today’s picture dates back to 1994.  It is the drama of the dark passages that enliven the sketch.  They fall from the model’s shoulders and reach down her spine, capturing her ribbon and embracing her right hand along the way.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Notes for Art Students


Notes for Art Students began life three years ago as a supplement for CXC students attending art classes at my studio. Recently, all Dominican secondary and college students have been given tablets for access to the internet. Following this initiative I have re-launched the site in the hope that it will encourage a wider interest in the Visual Arts. It can be found at: notesforartstudents.blogspot.com
      
At the moment art is an unknown quantity for many students. This year, out of 1,800 Dominica State College Students, only 6 expressed an interest in studying art. Anywhere else in the world they would have been queuing up around the block! 

Over the years a number of my followers have become artists in their own right and I look forward to enabling Dominican students to achieve similar success.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Writings on the wall

Community murals seldom turn me on, whereas graffiti often does.  It comes back to my love of passion and spontaneity: my fondness for the sketch as against the finished painting. 

Recently a friend in Jamaica sent me some images of a mural by Taj Francis from a project titled Paint Jamaica https://www.facebook.com/paintjamaica.  The image below shows his mural as a work in progress, set against existing graffiti writings on the wall.


The finished mural is a remarkable piece of work.  But you know what…it is the image of the work in progress that really turns me on!  


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Contrasts


Above is the painting that I promised on my last diary page.  It is my impression of the storm that devastated Dominica six weeks ago.  The painting measures 30” x 20”.   It will be sold in aid of the Relief Fund.

It was difficult to keep the memory of the storm alive while painting, for right outside my studio door was the contrasting view shown below.


Friday, October 9, 2015

Notes to myself

I paint from life, whether it be the model or the sea crashing against a cliff face.  However, there are times when fighting for life, there is no time to pull out a sketch book.  A case in point is the day when Tropical Storm Erika devastated Dominica.  I then have to resort to memory and to get that memory indelibly down on paper I make notes to myself.


The above sketch measures only a few inches, but that scrap of paper records the moment when all hell broke loose.  With the help of survivors, I have since re-lived that day and developed the sketch into a painting.  I will post the full painting on next week’s diary page. In the meantime, the detail below corresponds to the scribbled lines in the bottom left hand corner of the sketch


Saturday, October 3, 2015

From all angles

First and foremost a maquette allows the sculptor to judge his vision, three dimensionally and from all angles.  Secondly, it serves to give those who may one day commission the work and the public at large, an idea of what the sculptor has in mind. 

Today’s pictures show the completed maquette that was the subject of my last post.  And now, rather than glaring white plaster, the maquette has been patinated to give the appearance of bronze. 

The final life size figures are intended to be seen from all angles.  Thus, I have tried to created interest from all angles.  It should be remembered that the maquette is not meant to show detail but rather an impression of how the grouping will work out in reality.  My first reaction is that the girl clutching her father’s leg needs to be a little larger and perhaps the boy also.  I was undecided whether to show the mother breast feeding or holding her baby on her hips, as shown.  I am still undecided!   

For the maquette I make do with which ever models are at hand - in this case my own family.  For the final sculpture my models will be chosen from families who suffered from the storm.  At that stage the models add their own interpretation to the theme.

A reminder that the sculpture is intended to commemorate the devastation wrought on Dominica by Tropical Storm Erika.  The figures depict a family walking away from the past and into the future, the grandmother reluctant to leave but the son urging the family forward.

I welcome your feedback.





Thursday, October 1, 2015

In the beginning

If you look back to my entry for the 4th of September, you will see a preliminary sketch that I made twenty years ago.  My drawing represented the first attempt to put down on paper an idea that was running around in my mind.  Now, after all those years, I need to transform the two dimensional sketch into a three dimensional piece of sculpture.  Therein lays the challenge! 

The first step is to make a 1/10th scale model (in sculptural terms known as the maquette) of what will eventually be a group of life-size figures. 

I build up my maquettes I directly in plaster.  And if there’s one material more difficult to handle than water colour, it surely has to be wet plaster.  I can only apply small amounts at a time as the mix is only workable for a few minutes.  Fortunately, I am not after detail (you know me!) but just an impression of how the grouping will work out in reality. 

Today’s pictures show the work in progress.  



Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Competition vs Competitions

Nothing spurs me on better than competition.  When I sense that others are catching up on me I pull out all the stops and get down to work.  For those who are way ahead of me, in this world and in the next, I get down on my knees in praise of their incredible ability.

On the other hand, I am wary of competitions.  Creativity doesn’t fare well with rules.  Moreover, throughout the history of art, those who judge competitions have seldom got it right.

By way of a change, my pictures today are from two artists - one from the past and one from the present - that I deeply admire.

First, Egon Schiel (1890 -1918)  Austria.



The second, Phillip Dvorak, USA.  www.phillipdvorak.com


Saturday, September 26, 2015

Now or never

For over a month I have been promising Ryta and Mindy a trial modelling session.  But what with the devastation caused by Tropical Storm Erika and one thing after another,we never got around to it.  I know that next week I am going to side tracked again, so this morning it was now or never.

Some years ago Ryta came to one my workshops for those interested in modelling for the arts.  However, since then her modelling has been recorded by the click of a camera shutter, rather than paint on paper.  There is a world of difference between the two.  With today’s cameras the photographer can take sixty images per minute and in terms of definition, every hair and goose bump is recorded. 

When it comes to speed, I can work faster than most but I leave the individual hairs and goose bumps to your imagination.  These paintings are the result of today’s trial session.  The first is Ryta, clocking in at 20mins from start to finish, and the second is Mindy, with a time of 15 minutes.  Or more precisely, each painting took 73 years!



The paintings may look small on your screen but they are quite large in terms of water colours (approximately 18" x 18") and painted with a No.14 brush.  Below are details from each painting.












Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Lyrical


Today’s picture is of Caneel Bay in the US Virgin Islands.  It dates from 1989 and marks a transition in my work.  Previously I was a painter of scenes whereas this water colour begins to express my feeling for the lyrical.  

From that date onwards my paintings became passionate love affairs.  As with such things of the heart, some stand the test of time better than others.  But this is one that I will never forget!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Master Class

In the olden days (a term sufficiently vague for my purpose) painters, along with all other artisans, learnt their trade by serving an apprenticeship under an established master.  Sadly this system of teaching has been largely consigned to the history books.

On leaving school at the age of fifteen, I wanted to serve an apprenticeship with a master woodcarver in the next village.   However, in those days a career in woodcarving was not to be encouraged.  I had no option but to follow in my father’s footsteps and served a seven year apprenticeship in engineering.  Be that as it may, the values of an apprenticeship are the same whatever the trade.  I learnt my skill at the workbench and the men in overalls that taught me how to cut a screw thread, also instilled in me a love for poetry and music. 

This leads me to how we go about teaching a new generation of painters and master craftsmen in general.  We no longer have the wealth of masters that we had generations ago.  Degree courses are not the answer: skill comes from practice, not from theory.  I have never attended an art school, but fifty years ago I spent a year painting on the pavements of France and selling work to on-lookers direct from my sketch book.  That practice enabled me to begin earning a living from my art.

At the moment I am being begged to tutor a degree course in the visual arts.  More in my line are the life classes that I occasionally teach from my studio.  Or better still, send aspiring  painters out on the streets with a sketch book as their means of survival.


Friday, September 18, 2015

A hundred years from now

If a hundred years from now curators attempt to catalogue my work, I doubt that they will be able to accurately determine the background to many of my paintings and sketches. 

Today’s picture is a case in point.   It has been hidden away in a sketch book since the day it was created and it took me a while to recollect the following.

Date: February 1991. Place: Aboard my boat, rolling at anchor in the Virgin Islands. Weather Conditions: Blowing a gale. Subject: Gretel sleeping.  


I might add that when Gretel was not sleeping she was winning me hands down at dominoes. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Body and Soul



For the first time my diary page contains not just one painting, but a video that contains an entire collection of paintings from my series “Daughters of the Caribbean Sun”. 

The contents of “Body and Soul” is both retrospective (as far back as 1992) and up to the minute (as recent as last week) in terms of present work.

With thanks to my daughter Tania for making this technically possible.


Saturday, September 12, 2015

My audience

Twenty years ago you would have been hard pressed to familiarize yourself with my work.  You might have caught me out sketching or by visiting my studio.  Every now and then I would put on a one man show.  For the most part my activities were limited to the Caribbean.  I estimate that on average no more than a couple of people a day found me out.

All that changed in 1997 when I began posting diary pages on the internet.  The daily entries followed my work in progress.  My brother, who sat up each night updating the website, tells me that it can lay claim to being the world’s first blog!  Schools, colleges and individuals throughout the world began accessing the site – at one stage it could even claim royal patronage – and soon my daily audience increased immeasurably.

Now, with sophisticated blogger statistics, I can tell who, when and where is keeping an eye on my work.  The record number of visitors in one day is 320, and that’s 318 more than the couple of people who found me out in the old days.  To date “sculpturestudiodominica” has been regularly accessed in the following countries:

USA, UK, Ukraine, Philippines, Spain, Ghana, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Columbia, Czech Republic, Ireland, Portugal, Algeria, India, Chile, Russia, China, Thailand, South Africa, Ghana, Sweden, Poland, Serbia, Romania, Slovenia, Ecuador, Uruguay, Nepal, New Caledonia, Guernsey, Bangladesh, Australia, France, Belarus, Latvia, United Arab Emirates, Peru, Brazil, Norway, Vietnam,Turkey,
Belgian, Italy,Turkmenisyan, Japan, French Polynesia, Canada, Switzerland, South Korea, Honduras, Kenya, Germany, Malaysia, Panama, Bosnia & Herzegovina, ShiLanka, Hungary, Myanmar (Burma), Kazakhstan, Dominica and all of the Caribbean Islands.

By way of a painting I made in Ireland forty-three years ago, I thank each and every one of you for taking an interest in my work. 


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Not my cup of tea

The Sunday Times Water Colour Competition is in its 28th year.  Somewhere in the middle of its lifespan I viewed the exhibits first-hand.  Before and since I’ve had to make do with Google images.  Whichever way, the selected entries are not my cup of tea.

If ever there’s a painting medium that begs to be given freedom, it must surely be water colour. Instead the Sunday Times Water Colour Competition bores me to death with paintings that have been too carefully contrived.  Presumable runs and splashes are frowned upon and paintings of the nude appear to be a definite no-no. 

Having said that, my way of working with water colour is not every ones cup of tea.  As a young lad said when watching me paint, “My dad can do better than that!” 

Today’s picture is one that I painted of Jessica last year.  I apologise for it not being a photographic likeness and for not controlling the washes.  To quote another onlooker: “He’s made a mess of that!”


Friday, September 4, 2015

The relevance of a sketch from twenty years ago

The devastation caused to Dominica by tropical storm Erika, brings to mind the disaster suffered by the people of Montserrat when twenty years ago the Soufriere volcano erupted and destroyed the island’s capital city and left half the island uninhabitable.

Today’s picture is of a sketch I made for a sculpture to commemorate the event.  I cannot find the original but this low resolution copy gives an idea of what I had in mind.  The descriptive notes read as follows:

Father with arm around his wife leading the family to the future.
Mother with babe in arms and head resting on her husband’s shoulder.
Grandmother sat with possessions looking back to what they are leaving behind.
Child (son) tugging father forward.
Child (daughter) clinging to father’s legs.

It is a scene that has been repeated many times over in Dominica since the events of last Thursday.  


Monday, August 31, 2015

Tropical Storm Erika


From hundreds of images that record the devastation caused by tropical storm Erika I’ve chosen just one.  It shows yesterday’s evacuation of what was once the village of Petite Savane.  More than fallen bridges, wrecked cars and demolished houses, it sums up the sheer human tragedy of it all. 

On second thoughts

Before my attention is diverted from painting to storm recovery, let me update my entry, All in a day’s work, dated August 25th. 

From the very beginning of these diary pages, my intention has been to give an insight into the creative process, not so much in terms of how to mix one colour with another or how to fathom out perspective, but rather the successes and failures that are essentially part of creativity.  By its very nature, creativity is different to what has gone before.  Repetitive painting to a formula gets you nowhere.  Every painting must involve risk.  It has been said that a water colour cannot be right until it has gone wrong.  Creativity follows the same pattern.

In the heat of the moment I cannot judge whether I have succeeded or failed.  My last painting of Annabelle, thrown down minutes before the end of the session, satisfied me at the time.  But on second thoughts, I now realise that the painting that came before it ranks as the best of that day’s work.  Thank you Annabelle for bearing with me. 



I find that large paintings reduced to the size of a computer screen lose much of their impact, hence the detail.



Saturday, August 29, 2015

Throwing down a thunderous wash

As a water colourist I pride myself on being able to thrown down a thunderous wash.  There’s nothing delicate and finicky about my way of painting.  Onlookers have learnt to stand back, as otherwise they get drenched in the process.

But two nights ago Mother Nature won me hands down.  Up to then, Dominica had experienced the longest drought in living memory.  But tropical storm Erika put an end that with a vengeance.  In six hours we experienced the rainfall that should have been spread over six months.  Every one of the island’s famed 365 rivers burst their banks.  Houses and bridges were swept away and hundreds of vehicles now lie buried beneath landslides.  Many roads remain impassable. To date, is the death toll is twenty. 

On a personal note, our biggest lose is the stretch of river that winds its way around our property.  With its gentle waterfalls, crystal clear bathing pools and lush tropical flora, it came as close to the Garden of Eden as you are likely to get this side of paradise.  Now, all has been swept away and we are left with a featureless boulder strewn watercourse.  I doubt if the river has seen such a change in the last two hundred years, let alone the last two thousand!

Today’s painting - made between rain squalls - shows the aftermath; a roaring torrent of mud.  The second painting shows the river as it was this time last year.




Tuesday, August 25, 2015

All in a day’s work

Somewhere in the letters to his brother Theo, Vincent Van Gogh writes about an exhaustive day’s labour of balancing one colour against another.  I know the feeling all too well. 

This morning I worked with Marcella.  It was her first modelling session and she did extremely well.  In the afternoon I worked with Annabelle.  I’ve lost count of Annabelle’s sessions.  I first painted her three years ago but each time she visits the studio she brings a fresh approach to my work and dares me to reach new heights. 

Below is my first painting of Marcella and my most recent of Annabelle.  



Once again, these are large water colours, measuring 24" x 15". 
Below is a detail at the approximately actual size.