Wednesday 29 August 2012


Whenever I feel a little too tired for any serious drawing or painting, I turn to doodling, and the images just seem to appear on the paper without any conscious thought, which is very relaxing.

This time my mind ran along the topic of cats, for no apparent reason, especially as we don't have a cat.

This is Zeke.  He's had a lot of work done by the cat tattoo artist, but the result is rather a catastrophe, and Zeke causes a good deal of suspicion in the minds of nervous cats in the neighbourhood.

Tom, the marmalade cat, can be an absolute pain at night, caterwauling for hours on end - thinks he's the King of the Cat Walk.

Enough said - police warn that he may be dangerous, and should not be approached.

Osborne was hired specifically to keep the mouse population down, but he thinks it will make him more popular with his owners if he takes his live catch along and lays it on their pillow, to show how well he is doing his job.

As the movie cartoons say - "That's all folks!"

Saturday 25 August 2012


Last week the tide was right, the weather was (just barely) right, and I felt right enough for the trip, so we made a return visit to Crosby Beach on the Sefton Coast to see how the 'men' in Antony Gormley's unusual outdoor installation ANOTHER PLACE had changed since we last saw it about four years ago, about a two years after they were put in place.

As soon as we arrived on our first visit I knew I wanted to make a painting, not of the whole scene but of just one 'man' in particular that interested me, and I did so in the next few weeks. 

If you aren't familiar with Gormley's work, most of it consists of large outdoor sculptures, and I can only urge you to Google him and the many terrific photos of Another Place.  It needs about a hundred photos to give you some idea of how fantastic it is at different times of the day and in different weathers.

The work consists of 100 life-size naked iron figures, cast from Gormley's own body, spread over 2 miles of beach, from the sea wall and out to sea for a considerable distance.  They all gaze out to sea, and the incoming tide washes over them, covering some of them completely, and then receding to reveal them again.

This is just part of the painting and no, Gormley didn't put the pink vest on him.  From the beginning the public have loved these sculptures.  They have their photos taken with them, and a tradition has grown up from the beginning of people dressing them in various ways - one year some of them were dressed in Santa Claus clothes at Christmas.  

This kind of public interaction really interests me, because my main subject on my art degree (done after retirement) was sculpture, and my final thesis was about public sculpture and the relationship people develop with outside sculptures.  So that's why he's wearing the pink vest in the painting, though it is not long enough to 'cover possible' as my mother used to put it.

And he really does have a cute little rear end.

This is the full painting, which measures 40" x 32".   Although there are another 99 men, I chose an angle from which he stood alone, where he gave me a feeling of loneliness and a kind of longing for something out beyond the sea.  And he hangs in our living room, where he is much loved.

Our first visit to the site was when the men had occupied this section of the coast for just about two years, and the sea and sand had already started having an effect on the iron, as you can see from the painting.  

So here are a few photos that show some of the changes the sea has wrought on the statues in the last four years or so. 

Seaweed has now started to grow on the bodies, and tiny barnacles are also taking over.  The iron is rusting and you can see in the centre image on the right of the collage that the sea has at the moment washed away the sand and the post that is buried deeply in the sand is showing.  It was interesting to see that since our last visit the men have had numbers attached to their wrists.  

This installation is all about the changes that the sea, the sand and the wind make to the sculptures and that's what makes one want to return to see it.  I'm not sure the men look too happy with standing out in the wind, rain and waves for so long.  

I can't show you a full frontal photograph because all the men are in the buff, and this is a family blog!

In this photo you can just make out some of the sculpture men standing further out to sea, and beyond them the white wind turbines, also planted in the sea.  The turbines arrived after the men.  Are they sculpture too?

When we had wandered along the beach a short way - but not out towards the more distant men because it is unsafe to do so - we decided to go in search of coffee.

What a surprise - a real-life Gormley man at the car park (dressed, thank heavens).  We had seen him earlier, digging for bait further out towards the sea.  He kindly stood momentarily so I could take a photograph of him, and luckily it was just in a suitable position.  Just finished the trip off nicely.  

Wednesday 22 August 2012


Let me introduce you to my painting of Rodney, who was lucky enough to meet Andy Warhol and get the Marilyn Monroe picture treatment (with the help of Photoshop).  

Rodney, or rather a photograph of him, was the model for an assignment on Lisa Wright's e-course.

Just after I had started the course I was suddenly diagnosed with cancer of the colon, followed rapidly by an op, and this did tend to interrupt my flow of work, just when I was enjoying myself and being 'stretched'.

(Lisa is just about to run her e-course again - details on her blog at

When I used to do a lot of quilt-making and textile work we always called something that never seemed to get around to being completed a UFO - an unfinished object.  So this was the problem with Rodders, he was a UFO.

The actual assignment was about looking and looking and looking, ever more closely, and observing just a small area of the photograph of Rodney.  I chose a section of his beak, which had a network of cream-coloured lines forming an abstract design.

This is what emerged.  The more I looked, the more I saw, and I drew something I would never have drawn from any other inspiration.  Picking it up again the other day I added a few more lines and started to thicken some outlines.

It made me think of an outline map, with continents and islands.

At this point I had a bit of sense and photocopied it onto good quality cartridge paper, so that I could keep the original and then work on it further.

Doing this was very therapeutic and meditative.  I simply coloured in with black and red pens fairly randomly, but somehow the randomness made sense to me.  I'm pleased with it.  It's not a map now, it's an abstract that I'm happy with.

By this time I had got rather fond of Rodney, and although his full beauty was not part of the assignment I decided to paint him, or at least his head.  One of the things I have been trying to do for years is loosen myself up - I'm definitely a colour within the lines person.  So I forced myself to paint him very roughly and freely, using my Inktense pencils heavily and getting away from the smooth finish I usually like.

In other words, I was doing what Lisa always urged - take things further, be a bit braver. 

So here he is.  I underpainted the beak with creamy-grey Inktense and drew fine lines with masking fluid to indicate some of the lines on the beak.  Learning outcome:  I found that scrubbing heavily with Inktense pencil on top of dried masking fluid is not a good idea, the masking rubs off.  Never mind, this was an experiment.

I'm pleased that I went the extra hundred yards and learnt from the experience.  Rodney's propped up on my easel and I'm getting to like him.  Who's a pretty boy, then?

So this post was for you, Lisa, to show that I am determined to catch up on the work I missed.  The course did me so much good, and I miss it - Jez.

Monday 20 August 2012


A few weeks ago I was tidying in the studio and changing things around.  Which means that now I can't find anything, of course.

I came across a battered old sketchbook from about 40 years ago that I bought to take with me on the first of my business trips to Nigeria.  

I had bought a small, cheap A5 sketchbook (with cheap nasty paper as it turned out) to help keep the weight of luggage down for the plane trip.  It provided a good excuse to stop moving things around and look through it for the memories.

This was a very quick sketch of a beautiful girl I met on the trip, and her name was Itohan.  I remember she was very pleased with the likeness and wanted to have the picture, but I was rather mean because I wanted to keep it myself.  

Over the decades the paper has faded and deteriorated, and  all the pages are loose, which serves me right for skimping on the sketchbook.

Every page brought back memories, and this particular sketch inspired me to do a painting in my journal.

I wanted to keep the image very simple, which was not too easily accomplished with the hair.  The lovely shapes of the hair-do are lost on the scanned image, though they stand out better on the original, but I just couldn't manage to make them any clearer here.

I tried to do a background that reminded me of the feel of the colours and buildings I had seen, without overwhelming the face and was quite pleased with the result.

Brought back many happy memories.

Friday 17 August 2012


The luscious colours of this blue-purple image were the result of playing about with my latest i-pad painting, the original version being shown below.

I really enjoy painting and drawing in red and black, but for a change I decided to limited myself to red on this 'Brushes' image.

Never able to leave anything alone, I then enjoyed myself playing with digital variations.

For this darker version I took the image into my 'Snapseed' App for a dramatic change, and somehow now the flower looks quite threatening.

I love the faded sepia-toned effect, and the ragged border of this quite different image using another Snapseed variation.

Really different this one.  I would never in a month of Sundays think of painting this, even if I could be patient and careful enough to cope with all those ovals.  This was the result of taking the original into the 'ArtCircleHD' app, and choosing one of the options for circles.  I like it, and can't look at it without feeling that everything is moving.

As a change, I took the original into Photoshop, and varied the hue and saturation of the image until I found this green/turquoise to please me.

Playing around like this is fun, but it also has value in making me think about colour, and about how I can approach an image with more conventional art materials in a different way.

Finally, another one that really pleases me, created by adding the Trace Edges filter on Photoshop to the original image.  All very enjoyable.

Monday 13 August 2012



Do you remember the very first painting you saw that made you realise what 'ART' was?

When I was seven years old (in 1942) I transferred from the Infants School to the Junior School.  This was a lovely 1930s building with a central grassed area and a covered way like an abbey cloister all around, with pictures hung all along  the inner wall of this outside corridor.

I remember the first time I walked down the corridor and saw a print of this painting on the wall.  I had never seen anything like it, and I was just filled with the wonderfulness of it.  Every time I went down that covered way until I left to go to grammar school I would stop and look at it.

Because we had visited the Tate Liverpool Gallery, at the Albert Dock, on 2nd August to see the Turner, Monet, Twombly Exhibition, I thought about this painting and why it had impressed me so strongly.

It occurred to me that we never had any pictures in our home, and that there was a good reason for that lack of art.  My father was in the navy, and my mother used to tell me that every time she had to follow him as his ship moved from one place to another with two children in tow, she would scrape together the money to buy some furniture.  Then when it was time to move on she would have to sell everything because she couldn't take it with her.

So I can see that pictures would be a luxury.   Even in later years, with 4 children and a more stable home, we had no paintings, though my sister has just reminded me that above mum's bed was a print of 'The Light of the World' by William Holman Hunt.  There was still no money for luxuries like pictures.

Back to the Turner, Monet exhibition.  Clearly it's no surprise that I have always loved paintings by Monet, though these have been as prints, or in books.

This is my take on Monet with a quick caricature sketch.  Monet seems to be one of those historical figures that one never thinks of as a young man - like George Bernard Shaw and Albert Einstein.

In the past Dev and I have been lucky enough to see paintings and watercolour sketches by Turner and those in the exhibition were wonderful, but only once have we seen an actual painting by Monet.

As we walked around the large number of Monets, some small, some huge, it was an absolute revelation.  What struck me most was the way each painting changed, depending on whether it was viewed from a point to one side or the other, or directly in front, close to or at a distance.  

Parts of the paintings, would just suddenly jump out into sharper focus than everything else.  We were both blown away by the beauty of them and couldn't stop going round and round the various rooms.  I feel it was such a privilege to be able to see these works - and I appreciate how lucky we are to be able to visit exhibitions like this fairly locally.

The Tate Liverpool is one of my favourite places, and this is one of my favourite sculptures in the Gallery, just inside the entrance - 'Jacob Wrestling With The Angel' by Jacob Epstein.   I love the power and strength and size of it.  

The side view shows the struggle a little more clearly, but for some reason I like the back view best of all, with the wings framing the angel's head.

And as a last photo, when I saw this young man it was a real 'back to the future' moment, and I had to ask him if I could take a photo.

When I commented on his success in being a Hockney lookalike, he said with a smile, 'Well, I do try!'

Thursday 9 August 2012


Last week we went to see the wonderful Rolf Harris exhibition "Can You Tell What It Is Yet" at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool - and no, I didn't actually see Rolf, though I would have loved to.

This is my very quick caricature sketch of Rolf drawn with a ball-point pen.  I wasn't too happy with it, but other people thought it was good so I decided to be content with it.

I like the view of the external exhibition poster from inside the Gallery on the first floor - the white lines are scratches and drips on the window.  I always prefer this view to the intended view, shown below.

I've been wanting to see this exhibition since 19th May when it opened, but recovering from the operation left me too tired until last week, when Dev took me to the Liverpool One Hilton Hotel for a couple of nights so that we could see it before the closing date of 12th August.

It exceeded all my expectations, the sheer quantity and variety of work and items from Rolf's studio, and videos on different aspects of his work.  And of course videos of him painting his enormous "Can You Tell What It Is Yet" paintings.  It really was the best exhibition we have ever seen at the Walker.

Here's Dev with the cardboard version of Rolf - the nearest we got to him.  And no, Dev is not a midget, it's just a large cardboard cut-out.

Even in the last few days of the exhibition the Gallery was crowded, with so much noise and discussion, and strangers chatting to each other about the paintings.  One of the best things was seeing even the tiny children so entranced in watching videos of Rolf painting, looking at the pictures and talking about them.

For those who don't live in Britain or Australia, Rolf came to this country about 60 years ago, and has been a joyful part of British life ever since, through his television programmes, song-writing and records, including Gold Discs for "Two Little Boys" and "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport", and Silver Disc for "Sun Arise".  And he plays the Didgeridoo and the Wobble Board.

In 2006 Rolf had the honour of painting the Queen to mark her 80th birthday, the whole process being filmed for a marvellous BBC programme.  Everybody loves Rolf (well - everybody I know!).

In another part of the Gallery Nick Burman was playing his didgeridoos - one at a time.  These are native aboriginal musical instruments, long hollow tubes, with no actual mouthpiece just a smaller hole at the blowing end.  These are tree branches - the tube has been hollowed out by termites.

Nick is a Didgeridoo Professional Performer and an expert in aboriginal art and culture, and he posed specially for me so that I could take a photograph.  His website is, a really interesting man to listen to and talk to.

Apparently the way to play the didgeridoo is to blow-suck-blow-suck continuously to produce a deep resonant and rhythmic sound. As I listened I could feel the throbbing of the rhythm rising through my body from the wooden floor.

As we waited for a taxi on the steps of the Walker, I noticed the young boy next to me had bought a didgeridoo from the Gallery Shop.  Well, his mother had bought it, but she said he would definitely learn to play it because he loved music and already played the guitar.  

He told me his name was Kaylen, and he kindly agreed to let me take his photograph - and in fact he managed to play several blow-suck-blow-suck notes very professionally.

 And here's a final picture of Rolf at the entrance to the Gallery, with his own musical invention - the Wobble Board.

The whole experience was wonderful.  Our visits to the Walker are always made special by the Gallery staff who are so pleasant and helpful, with real Liverpool friendliness.

I just wish I could see the whole exhibition again.