Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Sacré Bleu!

Steps - 10" x 14" - Watercolour on Paper

This is one of a series of pictures of people on steps and a forerunner of the painting 'Looking Down Some Steps' (see the blog entry 'Keep it Simple' - 12 December 2011). It was painted after a trip to Paris in the early 1980s. This was based on the steps leading up to the Basilique du Sacré Coeur in Paris. I accentuated the shadows and made the grassy slopes more geometric. I also divided the page exactly in half using the straight edge of the steps' wall and tried to pull the whole thing back together with colour and the diagonally placed pigeons and shadows.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Keep It Simple

Looking Down Some Steps - 20" x 30" - Acrylic on Canvas

 These steps are in Brighton, Sussex where I lived for several years in the 1970s but I painted them much later while I was living in Dorset. I had several photos of these (and other) steps which I was working from. I like this type of view, looking down on the subject from a position where the viewer is not quite standing on the ground. I became interested in shadows on steps when I was doing a series of paintings near the Sacré Coeur in Paris. When I remarked to a fellow artist that I had tried to keep things as simple as possible he looked at me as if I was mad, but it's true, in all my paintings I am trying to keep things simple.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

I Never Painted K-Mart

Sleepy Time Inn - 28" x 20" - Watercolour 

Sometimes the title is in the painting, but hidden. The Sleepy Time Inn was a motel on the outskirts of Durham NC where you could rent a room for the afternoon. I stayed there once. By the time I painted it the new owners had changed its name to Travel Time Inn. I preferred its first name. The sign retains its original cloud shape and sleepy 'Z'. While I was photographing it from the 'Handy Andy' gas station / convenience store across the road I heard a tornado warning over the car radio hence the big black storm cloud. Ironically when a tornado finally came there was no advance warning. It destroyed K-Mart but left the Travel Time Inn untouched. Perhaps I should have painted K-Mart.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Big Star

Big Star - 28" x 21" - Watercolour
Sometimes the title for a painting is in the picture itself. At the time I painted this I was living in the USA. I was grocery shopping and had parked at the back of Big Star where there were always spaces. There was a big, old, broken down Ford and a dead tree against a concrete wall. I thought it would make a good painting. Not only a good painting but also somehow typical of my experience of living in the USA. I added the figure later. I didn't have a choice about the title, not when it was staring me in the face.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Seafront II, Two Deckchairs and a Blue Towel or I Should Keep Better Records

 Two Deckchairs and a Blue Towel - 10" x 7" - Watercolour

The trouble with bland, prosaic titles is that they are not memorable consequently there is a risk of using the same title twice. I knew an American artist, an exquisite painter, who kept a book of titles. If she thought, overheard or read a phrase that appealed to her she would write it down and use it when the right painting came along. I envied her for this. Her titles were poetic and almost as beautiful as the paintings. My titles are either simply for cataloguing purposes or perhaps to demystify the paintings or maybe to make them more mysterious, I am not sure which.

This painting was originally titled “Seafront II” until I realised that I had another painting with the same title which is coincidentally featured in an earlier post entitled "Some More Oars". I renamed it “Two Deckchairs and a Blue Towel” but I have this nagging doubt in the back of my mind that somewhere out there, there is another painting with that title too. I should keep better records.

Monday, 17 October 2011

What's In a Name or My Best Title Ever

111cm x 79cm - Acrylic on Canvas

My parents were very supportive about my decision to be an artist but my father often complained about the titles I give my paintings. “Too prosaic!” he would say. He once suggested that, had I painted it, I would have titled Edvard Munch's 'The Scream' - 'Seafront VII'. He had a point but I deliberately choose bland titles because I don't want to influence the viewer's reaction to the work. For example I rarely specify the geographical location and I resist emotionally charged words or descriptions. I prefer titles that are lists of some of the objects depicted in the painting or an unemotional description of an activity in the picture. Of course this in itself influences the viewer but a part of me hopes that the viewer will be so unimpressed by the title that they will forget it or pay it no heed while they look at the painting. If I was really confident I would just number the paintings. In fact the first big oil painting I did at art school is called 'One' which is coincidentally my second favourite title. However this is the outright winner even Dad approved of it. It is my best title ever – I called it 'Painting'.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Some More Oars

Seafront II - 7" x 12" - Acrylic on Paper
Here are the same oars as those in the previous painting. Everything else is different, even the type of chair, only the oars remain the same. There is a link here to the later Degas paintings of dancers. I always liked his use of space. I wanted to construct a couple of paintings where the design was more important than the subject. I don't think these are those but Degas is in there somewhere.

Saturday, 1 October 2011


Seafront I - 7" x 12" - Acrylic on Paper

I had just bought a pair of oars for our boat. It's an inflatable, old and patched, designed as a tender but we use it with an electric outboard to explore the local rivers and canal. The oars are for when the battery runs out. I liked them so much that I decided to paint them and this is the first of two paintings in which they are included.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

I Left My Hat In . . .

White Hats on the Sea Front - 16" x 12" - Acrylic on Canvas
I was taking photos on the seafront, not for this painting but as general source material for future paintings, when a friend sneaked up behind me and tipped the hat off my head. It was a lightweight, cotton cap which floated down onto the beach. A little later I climbed down to the sand to get it but, by the time I got there, it was gone. It was a cheap hat, it wasn't even very nice but it was useful and I missed it. I put it in this painting and here it will always be, on the beach. But the painting isn't really about my hat . . . or any hats for that matter.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Orange Anorak

Orange Anorak - 20" x 14" - Oil on Linen

I've just finished this painting.

Sunday, 4 September 2011


'Military Canal' and 'Snow III' - watercolour

These two paintings are showing as part of this year's Rye Art Trail or 'RAT' as it's more popularly known. The picturesque, ancient town of Rye in East Sussex hosts the 40th anniversary of its art festival from August 26 to September 25 2011. A regular feature of the festival is an art trail that takes the visitor to 37 windows (shops and private houses) each of which is showing works of art by one (or more) of 40 artists from the area. It's well worth a visit and most of the paintings are available for sale. Free map and details from Martello Bookshop in the High Street, Rye, East Sussex.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Snow's Not White

Snow I - 10"x14" - Watercolour

The first and last painting of this set. My favourite because it's the most minimal and has the least white in it. I entered it in the local art show and it was rejected - another reason for it to be my favourite.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Snow II

Snow II - 10"x14" - Watercolour

This is the third of my snow scenes. In all of these paintings I have added snow. The part of town where I live is at sea level and only a couple of miles from the sea and it it rare for us to have more than one light snowfall per year. On average the covering is about half an inch. Even so when it happens the local schools all close and the buses and trains stop running. Heavy snowfalls of a foot or more come once every 40 years and get headlines in the local paper.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Royal Canal

Military Canal, Winter - 10"x14" - Watercolour

This was another contender for the charity Christmas card. The canal's full name is the Royal Military Canal and it runs across Romney Marsh. It was built as a defence against the threatened invasion of Britain by Napoleon at the beginning of the 19th Century. I like man-made waterways and used to have a share in a canal boat. I now have an inflatable dinghy with an electric outboard ideal for exploring these out of the way places.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Snow on the Tracks

Snow III - 14"x10" - Watercolour

This was one of several paintings of snow, done when I was asked to make a Christmas card for a local charity. On seeing this a friend remarked, "I don't think you've quite managed that Christmassy feel." Another friend said, "I don't know, at least the rails make the shape of a Christmas tree."

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Canada and Me . . . (part 2)

White Onion - 14"x10" - Watercolour

 . . . Working in public for the first time was challenging but rewarding. I enjoyed myself and the onion paintings developed well. My display of landscapes and seascapes attracted much interest and I even made some sales.

I expected to be invited back for the next symposium two years later. It was taken for granted that invited artists would attend two events running so I was surprised when this didn't happen but accepted it as 'just one of those things'.

Recently, in conversation with one of the other artists who was there, I discovered a possible reason why I wasn't invited back. A member of the symposium committee had summed it up in these words: “We invited him here for his landscapes and he gave us onions!”

Next time I'll know better.

If you would like to see them, my two Canadian onion paintings are included in the combined royal watercolour societies' exhibition (Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours and Royal Watercolour Society) - 'High Watermark', Mall Galleries, London SW1 from 16 to 20 August 2011.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Canada and Me . . . (part 1)

Red Onion - 14" x 10" - Watercolour
A few years ago I was invited to take part in an international symposium of artists in Quebec, Canada. At the time I had no idea why I was chosen but have since discovered that it was as a result of some paintings (mostly landscapes) that I had posted on my website. All expenses including travel, hotels and food were paid for by the symposium committee. In return the artists attending were expected to present a display of their paintings and to work on a current painting so that visitors might observe methods and techniques. At the time I was working on a series of still-life studies of fruit and vegetables and I thought that a continuation of this would be ideal for the situation. Normally I work very slowly and watching me in the studio is about as interesting as watching paint dry which is, when you think about it, precisely what the observer is watching. However when I work on a still-life (or any 'live' subject) I work fairly fast. Hence my belief that watching a series of still-lifes being made would be more entertaining than witnessing the slow, drawn out process of painting a landscape from photos and drawings.

Wandering through a market across the road from the symposium in Canada I found two prize winning onions: one red and one white, coincidentally the colours of the Canadian flag - perfect, or so I thought . . .

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Mathematics and Me

Watching - 29cmx25cm - Acrylic on Canvas

At school given the choice between studying maths and daydreaming I always chose the latter not that I was ever given the choice. Even so I always found geometry interesting. Most of my paintings are carefully designed using, in part, mathematical principles. These principles are only half remembered (I was daydreaming) and somewhat embellished by the flights of my daydreams.

When a painting is going well the painting seems to paint itself with the artist acting almost as an intermediary – some people say this is the unconscious mind taking control, others say it is God and some say it's the left side of the brain. Whatever the reason may be, I think of it as a version of daydreaming. Using maths (however imprecise) in the planning stage of a painting makes me feel that at least part of the process comes from me.

Journalist: “Would you describe yourself as a protest singer?”
Bob Dylan: “No, I’m not a protest singer. In the USA I haven’t been called a protest singer since I was a little boy. I sing ordinary mathematical songs.”

(Stockholm, Sweden, 28th April 1966)

Thursday, 30 June 2011

The Angels Wanna Wear My . . . .

Red Shoes and Sleeping Dog - 24cm x 30cm - Acrylic on Canvas

I used to like an Elvis Costello song - "The Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes" - I even bought a pair of red, patent leather shoes which I am pretty sure some angels would have desired. The shoes were too small and hurt my feet but I wore them anyway. I made the painting along with a handful of others with the intention of showing it in a new gallery near Montreal in Canada. I delivered it last week. I didn't play the song once while I worked on this picture but it was in the back of my mind almost all the time.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Hastings College Stole My Deckchair

Hastings College Stole My Deckchair - 29cm x 39cm - Acrylic on Canvas

 I was always going to call this painting "Hastings College Stole My Deckchair". On finishing it I worried that the title might be libelous but good sense (?) prevailed and I kept the title. I used to have a deckchair which I used as a model in many of my paintings, often with friends or family sitting in it. Foolishly I lent it to my son who wanted it for an installation which was part of his 'A' Level Graphic Design Course final assessment. Needless to say when I went to the college to collect his art works after the exams were over, the deckchair had gone. I blamed the college hence the title.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Harbour Entrance

Harbour Entrance - 23cm x 30cm - Acrylic on Board

This is the final painting of the series based around Rye Harbour. I often find that I paint several paintings at the same time around a particular subject. This subject, these paintings were special to me in many ways. While working on them it felt like I was fully engaged in what I was doing for the first time in a long while.
"These landscapes of water and reflection have become an obsession." - Claude Monet (1840-1946

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Channel Markers

Channel Markers - 27cm x 19cm - Acrylic
John Constable recommended that artists should sketch or paint the sky everyday. Here he goes into some detail about why:
"The sky is the ‘source of light’ in nature, and governs every thing. Even our common observations on the weather of every day, are suggested by them, but it does not occur to us. Their difficulty in painting both as to composition and execution is very great, because, with all their brilliancy and consequence, they ought not to come forward, or be hardly thought about in a picture…"
(John Constable from a letter to Rev. John Fisher, 23 October, 1821)

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Port Marker - 22cm x 29cm - Acrylic on Board
The forth of the series of recent paintings of Rye Harbour. I was once told by a teacher not to place the subject of a painting in the absolute centre of the picture. Good advice of course but since then I have always liked doing just that, not so much out of contrariness as out of curiosity although the former plays a part.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Rye Harbour III - Acrylic on Board - 17cm x 22cm

The third Rye Harbour painting. I don't usually paint so many pictures on the same theme at the same time but here I was trying to find what it was that I liked about the place. The building with the red roof belongs to the farm beside the river and I have been told about riotous parties being held inside, as befits a building with a scarlet roof (it's cadmium red in the painting). The building has become a bit of a local art cliche with many artists painting it but I had to do it nevertheless. Presumably it is painted red because it's on the port side of the channel. The painting works for me mainly because it's so simple.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Rye Harbour II

Rye Harbour II   17cm x 22cm   Acrylic on Board

This is the second of six paintings of the channel markers near Rye Harbour, looking from the east, across the river, towards Winchelsea Beach and Pett Level. I have always like this area, it is empty, almost desolate, with the meandering River Rother canalised into a straight line. The colours and the slightly DIY look of the port and starboard markers appealed to me.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Rye Harbour I

Rye Harbour I   17cm x 22cm   Acrylic on Board

I had been visiting Rye Harbour for about six years before I decided to paint one of its channel markers. While I was working on it I had this quote running round my head:

"I have learned two or three things in my years of experience...One is, never paint a blue sky. Why, because it looks like the devil, that's all." - Winslow Homer.