Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Recent correspondence with my New Zealand friend (see 25 Aug. 2003) has renewed my interest in Frances Hodgkins. Frances who? you may be forgiven for asking unless you were at Art School in the 1950’s, then she was better known and her work was featured in ‘The Studio’ and other art magazines of the time. She was born in Dunedin but spent most of her artistic life and did most of her painting in Europe. From the age of thirty when she came to England and for the rest of her life she was totally dependent on what she could earn from painting, so life was a struggle. She never had a permanent home of her own and stayed with friends or rented rooms and for a time led a gypsy lifestyle roaming around France, Morocco, Italy, Holland and Belgium.

She taught in order to keep painting and her letters home to New Zealand which are now preserved in the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington tell of her struggle. ‘Painting reduces me to tears and misery, peaks of ecstasy, disillusion I feel as if I am possessed by a painting devil which is devouring me body and soul, and claims my brains and energy and leaves me with no wish nor inclination for anything else. Is it worth the sacrifice?’ She found it difficult to get recognition from the conservative British art establishment but finally she was awarded a pension negotiated on her behalf by Sir Kenneth Clarke during his time as Director of the National Gallery. She died in 1947aged seventy-eight in poverty and suffering from depression.

She is honoured today in New Zealand as one of the country’s finest artists. Her work is represented in Tate Britain but there is more to discover on the web site of the Dunedin Art Gallery and that of the City of Dunedin.

Tate Online
Dunedin Public Art Gallery
City of Dunedin

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

This photograph shows the old school building where the Thames Society of Arts hold their exhibitions and workshops. (see yesterday's Blog)

Monday, August 25, 2003

I have a friend who is a member of the Thames Society of Arts – I should explain that this Society is based in a little town on the Coromandel Peninsular, North Island, New Zealand. They have converted an old school building which they use as a gallery and for running courses – but that is another story. Dennis went out to New Zealand in the 1950’s and the native born Kiwi’s jokingly refer to him and an ‘improved Englishman.’ In a recent letter I asked him what the winter colours were like in the North Island landscapes commenting that Rowland Hilder was the first English watercolour painter to really make extensive use of winter landscapes. The New Zealand seasons do not have the dramatic changes of those in England, plants seem to grow all year and winter simply is the season when there is more snow on the mountains. Rowland Hilder turned out to be a painter that Dennis admired and reference to him had the effect of arousing nostalgia for the Kent landscapes that he knew as a boy.

This exchange renewed my own interest in Hilder and so I turned to a copy of ‘Sketching Country’
That I bought in a second hand bookshop some years ago. Hilder’s description of his working methods makes fascinating reading. He was an artist who loved making sketches out of doors, sometimes these were simply scribbled notes and ideas for paintings following in the footsteps of Turner who left a thousand or more such drawings in sketchbooks. Ruskin – who went through Turner’s effects and arbitrarily destroyed many that he considered might undermine Turner’s artistic reputation – wrote comments on the back of some of his Petworth sketches. Ruskin clearly did not think much of them – he wrote ‘rubbish,’ ‘inferior,’ ‘worse,’ on many of them.

It is curious how taste changes, now these little Petworth colour notes are highly regarded. In Hilder’s day Turner’s sketches and Constable’s oil sketches aroused great interest and the sketch became elevated to being a work of art in it’s own right. So there developed a taste for the direct sketchy style of painting practised by Seago, Wesson, Hilder himself and currently John Yardley. It is a style of painting which has attracted many amateur watercolourists. But beware it is difficult to carry off.

However on balance I think Hilder is right when he observes that; ‘…I am a believer in banishing from a watercolour the kind of detail which I have heard visitors to mixed exhibitions applaud as being ‘true to life’. Truth, in all art, is not the same as literal description.’

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

I believe a painting benefits from having a part which is understated yet this is rarely appreciated. This year the Ludlow Art Society Summer Exhibition had a lovely watercolour in pen and wash by Maggie Humphry. She is one of the Society’s new professional members and this was the first time she had submitted work. She must have been thrilled to bits to have her watercolour awarded the Selector’s Choice.

I was admiring it when a friend who was with me said it had been frequently criticised because of an understated indefinable area which could be visually read as an area of grass or perhaps part of a farmyard or driveway. The point of the understatement was that it provided a quiet area which focussed attention on some beautifully drawn foreground plants yet afterwards led the eye past some buildings into the distance. The current preoccupation with finicky detail, a result I suspect of unimaginative use of photographs, means that artistic subtlety of this kind often goes unnoticed. A great pity because Maggie in this painting was teaching a lesson which we all ought to take to heart.

You can see more of Maggie's work on her web site at: Maggie Humphry at Pink House

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

‘The Art of Chess’ exhibition currently showing at Somerset House has attracted media attention even though chess does not have a great deal of popular interest. The exhibition displayed 19 chess sets dating from the 19th Century to the present day including some newly commissioned work by some members of the Britart school. With the exception of a set designed by Marcel Duchamp, who was himself a very good player, it would be very difficult to actually play a game with some of the sets. In one case this was the deliberate intention. Yoko Ono designed a set entirely made up of white pieces so that the combatants would become so confused that an effective battle could not be fought. So chess has been used to promote the cause of ‘Give Peace a Chance.’ A laudable objective perhaps but missing the key idea that chess is a cerebral battle not a physical one.

The Britart gang clearly had little interest in or knowledge of the game. There was a time when if an artist was given a design brief he undertook some background research to ensure that his design was appropriate for its use. Good design becomes a fusion of imagination with knowledge of materials and understanding of the artefacts function. The Britart school blindly ignores this tradition and is in danger of becoming totally irrelevant to real concerns. Not surprisingly a chess journalist commented that ‘one of the exhibits looked like the contents of a kitchen cupboard which had fallen onto the floor.’

Away from the exhibits the real Art of Chess was being demonstrated by two chess prodigies David Howell aged 12 and Sergei Karyakin aged 13 who played a demonstration game on a giant-sized chess board in the courtyard. The genuine beauty of the mind game being enacted through the moves each player made is something which none of the artists, except perhaps Duchamp, seem to have understood.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

It is sad to discover an interesting artist by reading his obituary. This was how I learned of Cliff Wilkinson, a painter who shared my love for the Lake District. He developed a style of painting quickly in order to capture the quickly changing effects of light which can be so lovely in mountain landscapes. Judging by the illustration that accompanied his obituary he developed a spontaneous free style approaching abstract expressionism. In this picture ‘Lakeland Walk’ the colours are right and the marks are textural and evocative.

Wilkinson taught at the Borough Polytechnic from 1950-59 that was about the time that David Bomberg established the Borough Bottega and became influential in developing the style taken further by the likes of Frank Auerbach. Wilkinson seems to owe something to Bomberg too. After studying printmaking at the RCA he ran the School of Printmaking in the Fine Art Department at the Manchester College of Art.

Brian Morley, writing the obituary, explains Wilkinson’s attitude to printmaking - dismissed often a mere ‘craft., Wilkinson had no time for ‘..snobbish distinctions: “It’s all shapes and colours in the end,” he said.” I like that. Apparently he rarely showed his work but I hope someone will organise a major retrospective in his memory – I would love to see it.

Friday, July 25, 2003

The annual Ludlow Festival in June-July is built around Shakespeare plays performed outdoors in the castle. The event throws this family into a month of midsummer madness because my wife manages the wardrobe backstage. Actors work peculiar hours after the evening performance they end on a high and like to socialize in the nearest pub until they are turned out in the early hours. Then its off to bed until around mid-day. After a few weeks of this normal mortals find it impossible to come to terms with the real world – hence the long gap in my blog entries.

What makes our involvement worth while though are the friends we have made through meeting the cast every year. Most actors when not performing generally have mild and sensitive personalities which is contrary to what their public expects. I was struck this year by how much thought professional actors give to how they are going to perform the role they are playing. For most it involves a deep study of the text of the play and I have learned far more about Shakespeare by listening to them than I ever did at school.

This kind of commitment has a general application to all creative activities. One of the traps which painters fall into is that in the desire to loosen up and paint freely their work becomes badly constructed and superficial. Ruskin knew this ‘the hand of a great master at real work is never free:’ he wrote, ‘its swiftest dash is under perfect government.’ Good painters give as much thought to where they place their marks as the best actors do to how they recite their words.

The photographs were taken backstage at this year’s festival.

Thursday, July 24, 2003

I visited a favorite restaurant for a meal last week and found the décor changed. New softer colours and the walls displayed about 30 watercolour paintings by Roland Spencer Ford. Roland was a prolific watercolourist with a traditional but quite distinctive style. I knew him towards the end of his life – he died in 1990 – when I joined the Ludlow Art Society. Roland was a founder member and former Chairman who worked hard to establish the Society in its earlier years. He supported the Society by always showing his work in Members’ Exhibitions to the end of his life.

He moved to Ludlow and opened his own studio/gallery on College Street - now just a private house – and made a living from his paintings and prints. He left his unsold work to The Shropshire Hospice when he died and I was surprised to see so much of his work still being offered for sale an indication perhaps that even successful artists sell only a part of what they actually produce. An Exhibition of Roland’s watercolours is being held in Ludlow College, Castle Square, from 28th July to 2nd August. Proceeds from the sale of his work will go to the Shropshire Hospice.
I visited a favorite restaurant for a meal last week and found the décor changed. New softer colours and the walls displayed about 30 watercolour paintings by Roland Spencer Ford. Roland was a prolific watercolourist with a traditional but quite distinctive style. I knew him towards the end of his life – he died in 1990 – when I joined the Ludlow Art Society. Roland was a founder member and former Chairman who worked hard to establish the Society in its earlier years. He supported the Society by always showing his work in Members’ Exhibitions to the end of his life.

He moved to Ludlow and opened his own studio/gallery on College Street - now just a private house – and made a living from his paintings and prints. He left his unsold work to The Shropshire Hospice when he died and I was surprised to see so much of his work still being offered for sale an indication perhaps that even successful artists sell only a part of what they actually produce. An Exhibition of Roland’s watercolours is being held in Ludlow College, Castle Square, from 28th July to 2nd August. Proceeds from the sale of his work will go to the Shropshire Hospice.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Art should never aspire to be cerebral it is a creative activity where expression of feeling and emotion are its major concerns. So watching a recent broadcast treating Channel 4 viewers to an explanation of Tate Modern’s themed display on Still Life made me immediately suspicious. Great art needs no explanation it just ravishes you.

We are far enough removed from Picasso and Braque’s Cubism not to be shocked by it. Their reconstruction of observed objects for artistic effect was driven by painterly concerns which now need no explanation. Their insistence that painters had total freedom to organise and present the world in any way they choose was characteristic of the revolutionary times in which they lived and explains the diverse and fragmentary nature of Modernism.

One of Modernism’s unfortunate consequences is that it seems to have led artists to become more arrogant and extreme. Duchamp’s urinal presented as a fountain and signed ‘R. Mutt’ was perhaps a joke but it led to the doctrine that anything can be art if the artist says it is. Magritte’s little painting ‘The Treason of Images’ with the inscription ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’ is a light hearted reminder that you are not observing the real thing but he keeps a visual reference the real world. In contrast Michael Craig Martin offering a tumbler of water displayed in a glass shelf as ‘An Oak Tree’ does not. As an idea it’s pathetically weak and lacks a logical general reference as a well devised concept should.

It is questionable whether art should be driven by logical constructs anyway. Artists unlike say mathematicians are not trained for this kind of creativity. When they try they generally display the kind of arrogance which only comes when you are ignorant of the real world. A concept is not true just because the artist says it is. ‘Believe me my unmade bed really is as good as any Vermeer.’ Tracy Emin was just kidding wasn’t she?

Friday, June 13, 2003

The bird drawings I did at the natural history drawing workshop renewed an interest in wild life art. A few years ago I became interested in the paintings which Charles Tunicliffe did at ‘Shorelands,’ his home on Anglesey. He devoted his artistic life to recording birds and country life and the wood engravings done for book illustrations and his large watercolours which earned him election to the Royal Academy are true works of art and deservedly popular.

Tunnicliffes’ sketch books are fascinating documents, examples used to be displayed in the museum at Llangefni on Anglesey which has a large collection of his work. Drawings of birds hold more artistic interest than than paintings – the paintings of the likes of Basil Ede for example do not quite capture the excitement that catching the sight of a bird in the wild. I think it is partly due to the carefully contrived backgrounds which most paintings in the genre have. I suspect this kind of art is mostly admired for the technical skill displayed by the artist in rendering detail.

In pursuit of inspiration I turned to Victor Ambrus, another artist I admire and well known now for his illustrations of the archeological sites investigated on Channel 4’s ‘Time Team’ programme. He once published a book of animal drawings, now long out of print, that I use for study. The drawings reproduced in the book are all done with graphite pencils. I make studies of them using Woolf Carbon Pencils which are similar. The following sketchbook studies are based on some of Victor Ambrus, drawings but there is one which is entirely mine. Can you spot which it is?

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

I enrolled for a day course on Natural History Drawing and Painting run by the University of Birmingham Extra Mural Department. The venue was our local museum which has a good natural history collection. The tutor presented us with cases of butterflies, shells, stuffed birds and a hare. Recalling Durer’s famous drawing of a hare I was put off attempting it. All that fur and the fine tips of the ears was too exacting. I settled on a wigeon which provided more than enough interest for the day. I stayed with simple drawing tools 2b pencil and a Pentel colour brush. I find the Pentel brush produces a variety of marks that add interest to the drawing and the marks can be diluted into washes with water. Here are two pages of sketchbook studies:

Sunday, June 08, 2003

Sunday mornings provide a nice quiet opportunity to study chess. I find it an absorbing and relaxing pastime and have no aspirations to play in tournaments or gain a club norm. A schoolboy interest in the game waned until a couple of years ago when I was alerted by the fact that there was a theory going around that keen chess players rarely developed Altzheimers Disease. They may suffer mental exhaustion and need psychiatric nursing but rarely suffer the brain degeneration that goes with Altzheimers. Having reached the age when I can go upstairs and be unable to remember why I did so I decided that the memory training that chess requires would be beneficial!

Playing chess also has a lot to do with pattern recognition when deciding what moves to play. This is not so far removed from painterly activity where the emerging pattern of marks and shapes influences where the brush is to be placed next. I read a lovely concise definition of art by Alfred North Whitehead which was; “Art is the imposition of pattern on experience, and our aesthetic enjoyment is recognition of this pattern.”

I discovered recently that Marcel Duchamp was a keen chess player and somebody has published a book of his games. He is quoted as saying; “From my close contact with artists and chess players I have come to the personal conclusion that while all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists.” I like that and even today, when we all use Fritz on our laptops and GM’s are challenged to play tournaments against computers, intuition can often influence the moves top players make.

Saturday, May 31, 2003

The National Geographic web site carries a discussion of digital imaging on its Message Boards.
Apparently some readers were upset by some of the surreal photo images which appeared in the magazine. Images were distorted and superimposed – one showed a goat suspended by spider silk growing out of its back. The point being that a silky fibre has been extracted from the milk of a genetically modified goat, the ethic of this procedure merits a debate of its own but it seems odd that people might be taken in by an obviously contrived photograph.

Now that photographs can be digitally manipulated so cleverly it could be difficult to detect whether the image is an accurate representation or not. The National Geographic has built up a reputation for objective photo journalism and it was the fact that some images shown in the magazine may not be what they seem that upset some readers.

On the other hand digital photography offers a creative tool for artists that needs to be explored. It rarely gets used in an imaginative way outside the world of advertising. By using Corel Draw or Adobe Photoshop to merely make copies of their paintings artists are missing the creative potential of these programs. There are artists with the necessary skill and training who use graphics software to create original digital images. Their new art form has been described as ‘Digitalism’. Examples of Digitalism can be found on the internet at

Monday, May 19, 2003

giclee prints can't equal a hand crafted artefact

The proliferation of prints made with an inkjet printer, usually from digital scans or photographs of watercolours, is a depressing phenomenon. Craft and garden centres are the main offending outlets. Those prints that are signed and numbered to simulate the limited editions of hand-crafted prints are a crass attempt to give the print an artistic value which it can never have. There are good technical reasons why a wood engraving or etching is produced in a limited edition the plate or block has a limited life before the quality of the print degrades. There is no reason why an inkjet print from a digital source should not be produced by the thousand and of course the cheap prints sold in department stores are. L.S.Lowry – an artist with some business acumen allowed his work to be marketed in this way. A print of one of his paintings would sell for around £35 unsigned but for over twice that if signed. It amused him to think that people would pay £35-£40 for his autograph. A story goes that a sharp dealer once brought a batch of prints to his house to be signed. He started to sign them L.S.Low. when the dealer asked him what he thought he was doing, he replied, “Well you’ve only paid me half a fee so you’re only getting half a signature.”

Sunday, May 18, 2003

The visit to Yns Hir reminded me that some years ago I became interested in painting birds – this is a watercolour I did at that time. It is based on sketches and notes made on a trip to Skomer off the Pembrokeshire Coast. I used to go to the local museum where there was quite a varied collection of stuffed birds that the curator kindly let me draw in the storeroom where they were kept. It was a useful discipline but cannot compare with the experience of observing and drawing in the wild.

C.F Tunnicliffe was a wildlife artist that I greatly admired and I visited Anglesey where at Llangefni there is a permanent collection of his work to study. Tunnicliffe was lucky to live at ‘Shorelands’ a bungalow on the estuary at Maltraeth and the waders, swans and ducks which were his main subjects were birds of a reasonable size. The garden birds that were my subjects were all too small to record with anything other than a miniaturist’s technique. So the interest waned and I’m left with my puffins, which my wife won’t let me sell, and sketchbooks.

Friday, May 16, 2003

William Condry wrote a ‘Country Diary’ for The Guardian for a number of years. His piece always appeared on Saturdays and it was generally the first thing I turned up when the paper dropped through the letterbox. He was Warden of the RSPB reserve at Yns Hir on the Dovey Estuary in Wales. I was fortunate to visit the reserve many times and benefit from his knowledge of birds on his tours of the reserve with parties of visitors.

In addition to his column he wrote several books ‘The Snowdonia National Park’ published in Collins New Naturalist Library is one of my favorites. When he died five years ago his moving obituary in The Guardian, pointed me to his autobiography ‘Wildlife, My Life’ which I still find moving every time I take it from my bookshelf. On the way home from a visit to Yns Hir I made a new discovery, a second hand bookshop with a shelf full of Bill Condry’s books. I picked up a title I didn’t have ‘Pathway to the Wild’. For Condry enthusiasts a visit to Coch-y-Bontddu Books in Machynlleth will be worthwhile.

Saturday, May 10, 2003

As often as I can I grab a sketchbook and draw the first thing that catches my eye. It is a good way of ‘keeping your eye in’ to borrow a phrase from cricket. So this is a page of sketchbook studies of plants. It might be of interest to know that they were done with a cut turkey quill. Having seen some Rembrandt drawings I was moved by a fit of nostalgic idealism to get back to traditional artists tools and carried around a little bottle of Acrylic Artists Ink to use with the quill. (I baulked at Rembrandt’s method of making drawing ink by using soot mixed with water!)

I also had a spell of making copies from Leonardo’s landscape drawings and plant studies. The BBC website currently carries some fascinating material about Leonardo da Vinci to supplement Alan Yentob’s television programmes. Leonado was first and foremost trained as a painter but his restless enquiring mind took his interests beyond purely painterly concerns. For Leonardo painting was a science, a branch of optics by which it was possible to describe the world through careful observation and applying the principles of perspective.

What interests me most about Leonardo is his astounding ability to communicate his ideas and explore the world through drawing. Draughtsmanship was the primary tool he used to explain his ideas. His notebooks are full of beautiful drawings the written notes seem to be dashed down and frequently written backwards due perhaps to his left-handedness and have to be deciphered in a mirror.

In addition to the BBC web site it is also worth visiting these:-

Saturday, May 03, 2003

In a rare act of kindness my geography teacher on learning of my love of hill walking loaned me a copy of ‘Snowdonia Through the Lens’ a book of mountain photographs by W. A. Poucher. I was captivated and grabbed every opportunity to avail myself of any of Poucher’s books in the local library. His books of mountain photographs were published by Chapman and Hall during the latter years of WW2 and continued through the 1950’s when he became a regular contributor to ‘Country Life’ magazine.The photographs in the early books were all in monochrome taken on Kodak Panatomic X film with a Leica III camera. Later on Constable produced a series of books of his colour photographs but these were terrible – ruined by bad colour reproduction.

The early books quickly went out of print and became keenly sought by collectors, I managed to pick up two of the Chapman and Hall books some years ago and have been browsing second hand bookshops over the years to find others in acceptable condition. Copies worth buying eluded me until last week when I found a copy of ‘Snowdon Holiday’ in a bookshop in Malvern. It was published in 1943 and had been well cared for, the only damage being slight iron staining on the endpapers and dust jacket.

The reproduction in these early books is superb even though this one was produced under war-time restrictions. The paper has a warm neutral tone and the ink a warm black tone with a hint of sepia about it. This represents for me the best in artistic photography for anyone who has walked the welsh hills the photographs gently evoke memories of the experience – colour reproductions are too intrusive and rarely interpret colour accurately anyway. I can use the Poucher monochrome photographs aided by my own memory as the starting point for paintings but anything which has colour is best avoided.

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

My visit to Worcester Art Gallery on Monday was a depressing experience. Why is it that art educators these days seem to be lost in their own peculiar world which has little reference to the world of exciting and interesting development which the rest of us experience. More creative ingenuity is displayed in contemporary technology than you will find in the Art Colleges.

The contemporary artists which really interest me are those who are largely self taught and have become painters out of love for the craft after experience in a different kind of work. John Yardley and John Blockley are examples from an older generation, another is Mark Leach who works mostly in pastels and whose work tends towards abstract landscape. Generally when these painters talk or write about painting they express themselves in plain words – a refreshing change from the unintelligible prattle of the academics.

Here is a brief quotation from an article which Mark Leach wrote in ‘The Artist’ in April 2003. It interests me because it challenges traditional practice.

‘Each painting is a recollection. To that end, I rarely do preliminary studies, and hardly ever work on site. This I now realise just confuses my feelings. I literally cannot see the wood for the trees. What I try to do is make use of my memory. I want the finished paintings to be like a memory where the mind over time has sieved out all extraneous detail and left only the relevant.’

Mark is developing a web site at

Monday, April 28, 2003

I paid a visit to Worcester today where there is a nice Municipal Art Gallery sad bout the work they show though. The current show in the main gallery had the intriguing title of ‘Ellipsis’ – so I entered in a state of curious anticipation. The first exhibit in the gallery was a poster with the heading ‘Artists’ statement.’ It is always a bad sign when an artist feels the need to explain his work before you get a chance to look at it – it is an indication that it will be obscure and bad.

The gallery was lined with abstract daubs and scrapes applied to small panels of MDF about 30cm square. All showing dribbles of paint on the edges of the sub frames – lazy this even Howard Hodgkin who paints similar but more sensitive abstracts puts his work in a frame and then incorporates the painted frame as part of his picture. None of the works bore titles or prices.

The whole show was rather sad and meaningless. It seemed like the work of a recently graduated fine art student who had been badly let down by his course. I made this point to the lady at the information desk at the end of the gallery and received the surprising news that the artist was a college lecturer in his fifties. God help his students after all he is old enough to know better.

Sunday, April 27, 2003

The May issue of 'The Artist' magazine carried an article with the intriguing title'‘A Journey with Pastels.' The author’s idea was to explain the process of developing his Cumbrian landscapes into abstract paintings by emphasizing the observed patterns and textures. Every artist feels the need to move on and develop and I suppose it is useful to use the analogy of embarking on a journey – an artistic, if not an actual one. A local artist friend Joan Baker, who studied with John Blockley used the same analogy and produced an interesting little book with the title 'My Artistic Journey' Her work like that of John Blockley developed towards abstraction though in John’s case his concern was to exploit the properties of paint itself rather than looking for formal patterns and textures. John liked to simply play with paint and there is nothing wrong with that if the result pleases the eye. The concept of embarking on an artistic journey as a way of developing one’s work in new ways is a helpful one. It is more constructive than being self critical about trying to produce ‘better’ work. We never live long enough to become ‘better’ we only change with experience

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Applying a coat of wood preserver to my garden shed is a task that is not likely to generate aesthetic excitement. Yet today as I removed green encrusted lichen I became aware of the subtle colour contrasts in the weathered wood. There were subtle contrasts of grey and green which made quiet harmonies that could be used as the basis of colour composition in a painting. It was important to make a note of them to aid memory. When the work was done I used pastel as a quick medium too record the effects I had observed.

Monday, April 14, 2003

I have decided you can’t be an artist and a gardener. I try to paint or draw every day but at this time of year plant growth takes over and unless the garden is tamed there will be little chance of any artistic activity through the summer. I normally try to do at least one drawing each day even if the opportunity to pick up a paint brush doesn’t present itself. The best way to grab a drawing opportunity is to pick up the most readily available tool usually a fountain pen, grab a sketchbook and draw the first object that comes into your line of sight. There may only be ten minutes or so available but the practice keeps your eye in. Here is one such drawing grabbed in a brief interval before having to face some tiresome routine chore.

Monday, April 07, 2003

Campo dei Frari
There are many quiet corners in Venice which are a delight to sketch. This quick pen drawing was done with a Rotring Art Pen and the tonal washes created with an index finger moistened with saliva. A technique I first saw demonstrated by Sir Hugh Casson in a BBC programme. I’ve since refined the technique by using a Pentel brush pen which has a reservoir in the handle that can be filled with water. This drawing supplemented by photographs of the foreground gondolas has been the starting point for paintings in various media.

Thursday, April 03, 2003

I had another look at Grahame Sydney’s web site tonight and I never cease to be amazed by the way he creates a painting from the most unpromising material, a limp windsock on an airstrip in a bare landscape dominated by the sky. Or an old shed which may be used for shearing or as the bar of the Dog Trials Club. Central Otago is a strange lonely place and he captures the spirit of the place perfectly. I only have a brief experience of it and I couldn’t make any painterly sense of it. Grahame Sydney Gallery/shop Page 6

I spent a month sketching my way around New Zealand and had more luck on North Island where the character of the landscape is quite different. There is open space but there are the trees and lush vegetation of the bush. You are also acutely aware of volcanic activity on North Island – there are still active volcanoes and the hot sulphur springs are indicators of the fact that molten magma is not far below the surface. North Island’s thermal reserves are fascinating places full of colour from the brightly coloured algae which thrive in the hot springs. One of my favourites is Orakei Korako near Taupo. To reach it you are taken by boat across the Waikato River to a laid out trail in the bush which climbs up silica terraces passing several hot springs and steam vents. I made a pastel painting based on watercolour sketches made on the reserve.

Orakei Korako, Silica Rapids. Pastel

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

We completed our day in the Cotswolds with a visit to Burford ­ another nice Cotswold village with interesting galleries. I noticed a nice watercolour by Alan Simpson and in another gallery there was a show of contemporary Scottish painters. This was unusual, except for the likes of Joan Eardley, Alan Davie or Elizabeth Blackadder who are featured in municipal galleries Scottish work rarely gets shown in England.

Then an oil painting with a four figure price tag and a red spot on the label caught my eye in the window of the Brian Sinfield Gallery. It was a painting of a Swiss ski resort and it turned out to be by Bob Brown who was being given a one man show. I was miffed because the gallery was closed and I could see very little except for the window display. I would have liked to see his work again. The last occasion I saw his work was at an exhibition by members of the New English Art Club in Cardiff. The NEAC ran two one-day drawing workshops in St. David’s Hall in association with the exhibition.

I enrolled for one and Bob was the tutor. It was an enjoyable day and having exhausted the possibilities of sketching rather restricted street views from the windows of St. David’s Hall Bob suggested I work from the street and he set me the task of drawing ‘The Hayles’ from the main entrance of the Hall. He dropped by to see how I was getting on, then I became totally engrossed in the drawing and when I came back to reality found it was time the course was due to end. Returning to the exhibition I found other students packing their gear and Bob had gone home! He owes me a crit.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Sheila and I had a day in the Cotswolds yesterday. It was a glorious sunny spring day trees bursting into leaf and celandines and primroses in the roadside verges. There was a time when we would have taken to field paths to observe the reawakening natural world more closely. We had other more material concerns on this day out. For me it was a spell of gallery going, for Sheila household shopping.

First stop was Stow on the Wold where I always look in on one or two galleries. Thompsons who took over John Blockley’s gallery a few years ago is my first choice because they usually have an oil painting by Fred Cuming on show. Sure enough there was a lovely atmospheric oil of his trademark subject just sand, sea and sky with perhaps an occasional figure. I’m bowled over by everyone I see. Always the paintings have a aubtle, limited range of colours which harmonise perfectly. Yet the paint surface is not descriptive, a dash of paint reads as a cloud but doesn’t describe or classify any particular type co cloud formation. The pictures are just beautiful paint surface and I love them. They motivate me to get a primed board on the easel and paint which is why I look at a Fred Cuming painting whenever I can.

Saturday, March 29, 2003

A book I received last week from a relative has prompted memories of New Zealand. Its title is ‘Timeless Land’ and it contains reproductions of paintings by Grahame Sydney of the landscapes of Central Otago on South Island where he lives. On my first visit in 1999 I was privileged to meet him briefly at a major retrospective of his work in Dunedin. Although he is New Zealand’s most successful contemporary painter his work is not generally known.

The landscape of Central Otago on superficial acquaintance does not seem to offer the painter many subjects. It is a wild landscape of eroded gullies; there are dilapidated farmsteads, empty shearing sheds and disused railway buildings, roads that appear to go nowhere. To capture the spirit of this landscape requires contemplation in Grahame Sydney’s words, "I’m the long stare rather than the quick glimpse." So his beautifully crafted paintings deal with acutely observed incidents, the shadow patterns created by the play of light across weatherboarded buildings or eroded hillsides. That’s about all there is in Central Otago but it is a landscape which is home to him.

You can get to know these paintings by visiting Grahame Sydney's web site.

Friday, March 28, 2003

Waikato River.

This is a pastel painting of some high pumice cliffs on the Waikato River close to where it flows out of Lake Taupo. Its a beautiful peaceful spot. The peace is occasionally disturbed by the shrieks of Bungee Jumpers leaping off one of the high points. They are picked up by boat and returned to the bank feeling elated no doubt.

I have a kind of affection for the painting and will be sorry to see it go when it sells. At least I will have the satisfaction of knowing it is giving pleasure to someone else. Alfred Cox the English 19th century watercolour painter had a similar affection for his paintings. As he was dying he is reported to have said, "Goodbye paintings, I will not see you again." - as though he was parting from old friends. I know what he meant.

Thursday, March 27, 2003

Still on the subject of Rembrandt's teaching methods it is interesting to note that there was an air of theatricality which pervaded Rembrandt's studio practice. He would often explore the nature of biblical incidents by enacting them with his studio assistants. A good example is where he depicts himself carousing and with Saskia posed as a tart on his knee – the epitome of ‘The Prodigal Son.’ Rembrandt encouraged his students to enact similar scenes themselves and very often the notes he wrote on students drawings resembled stage directions – ‘move the ass backward’, ‘Mary must hold the child more loosely’, and so on.

There is an amusing story about the studio play acting which is almost too good to be true. Students had their own.enclosed studio space where they could work from the nude model. One student acting the role of Adam rather too literally was overheard to remark, “Here we are naked like Adam and Eve in the Garden.” When they were discovered by Rembrandt he banged on the door and shouted, “But because you are aware you are naked you are banished out of the Garden of Eden.” The master then drove them out into the street as they tried to get dressed. The account, which reads like a scene from a comedy, was recorded by Arnold Houbraken a student of Samuel van Hoogstraten, a painter who once studied in Rembrandt's studio.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

The recent discovery of a Rembrandt self portrait which had been overpainted by one of his students was a reminder that Rembrandt, established a flourishing studio enterprise in Amsterdam. Quite why Rembrandt allowed one of his students to paint over the head of the self portrait is unclear. He had several assistants his studio and he would often rework part a student’s drawing and then insist they make a copy of the reworked original – a procedure which often left his students in despair. Allowing a student to rework one of his own paintings seems to be a departure from normal studio practice.

It was once common studio practice to allow students or apprentices to complete parts of a painting. There is a famous example of the striking figure of the angel in Verrochio’s ‘Annuniation’ which was painted by the young Leonado da Vinci when he was an apprentice in Verrochio’s studio. This was unusual because students usually undertook minor features like drapery or ornament. In the Rembrandt portrait the student has reworked the head, the primary focus of the picture. Whether the reworking was done in Rembrandt’s studio or later when the painting came into the possession of another painter is a mystery.

Sunday, March 16, 2003

I try to spend an hour each day studying Chess. I rarely play an actual game against an opponent except Fritz on my laptop. Its engine is much too strong to play at full strength and if I feel the need to boost my confidence I reduce its strength to ‘moron’ standard when I can usually manage to win. Chess is a beautiful but complex game and to make any sense of it requires study and analysis. Since I am no ambition to compete at any high level study of strategy and games played by GM’s in major tournaments is for me a form of relaxation.

The thought has occurred to me that a painting is constructed rather like a game of chess. An opening phase where the ground is prepared and the preliminary moves made with the brush. Next you have to devise a plan or strategy to develop the painting. Finally an endgame where the final marks are made and the painting brought to a conclusion. Just as the chess player has a number of variations to learn so the painter may have a bewildering number of options to consider in developing his painting.

Friday, March 14, 2003

Renewed interest in 'line and wash' brought to mind a TV programme made some years ago. It was called 'Making their Mark' and was broadcast on the the BBC's 'Learning Zone.' It recorded four artists demonstrating and talking about drawing. One was Sir Hugh Casson who was videoed sitting on a folding chair drawing a little Baroque church in the parkland of a country house – he described it as a delightful 'rich man's God box.' His kit merely consisted of a shetchbook and a Rotring Art Pen. He incorporated a wash into his line drawing simply by spitting on his finger and smudging. Later on in the programme he refined his technique by wetting his finger with water from a plastic cup. I adopted the method the following day!

I've never enjoyed humping cumersome painting gear around and for years I used a cartridge sketchbook and charcoal. With charcoal you have to work at A3 or larger which makes you rather conspicuous, and it is messy. I changed to a portrait format A4 sketchbook which gives an A3 double spread if you need it. Looking back through my sketchbooks around 75% of my drawings use pen linework and monochrome or sometimes coloured wash.

The only drawback with Rotring Art Pens is that the ink is watersoluble which makes a fully developed wash technique difficult. It is possible to use waterproof drafting pens of course but the Pentel Brush Pen makes varied marks resultinh in more lively drawings.

Thursday, March 13, 2003

Jack Merriot was an inspiration when I began to paint in watercolour and I still get ideas from the techniques which he advocated. He was asked to devise a correspondence course in Watercolour and this gave him the chance to describe his methods.The material was subsequently revised by his associate Ernest Savage and published as a book 'Discovering Watercolour' which sadly has been out of print for years. After having it recommended I was lucky to find a good copy in a second hand bookshop and snapped it up. Over the years it has become my watercolour 'Bible'.

Feeling the need to get back to basics I turned to it today to refresh my knowledge of Line and Wash This was the first technique Merriot recommended for the beginner. The painting is developed in three stages, first a pencil lay in, followed by a fully developed ink drawing. The job was virtually complete after the ink stage all that remains is to add simple washes of colour. I never cease to get enjoyment from using the method although I have varied my use of it over the years, sometimes beginning with loose washes and then firming up the drawing with the ink linework. Further variety can be introduced if both pencil and ink linework are allowed to play their part in the final image.

The ink linework is usually done with a pen although the likes of Edward Wesson would happily draw with sharpened matchsticks or twigs. Merriot on the other hand was a firm advocate of the use of a fine brush for the ink linework and with good reason – it develops facility and control of the brush.. Watercolourists of the Seago, Wesson school used a french polisher's mop to produce loose understated albeit very attractive paintings and Wesson's style has been widely, imitated often with poor results. Wesson had a trained eye and could draw many beginners who try to emulate him lack these necessary pre-requisite for success.

I went back to Merriot's line and wash technique to experiment with a Pentel Brush Pen. This is a terrific tool.It has a finely pointed brush inserted into a pen loaded with a cartridge of black waterproof ink. The brush is capable of producing an amazing variety of marks – It will hold me engrossed for some time.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

DAYS LIKE THESE When I read about Cornelia Parker's little wheeze to wrap Rodin's 'The Kiss' in a mile of string I envisaged the effect might be like an old cricket ball which had lost its leather cover. As kids we used to play with these worn out cork cricket balls. I used to be fascinated by the patterns created by the hemp string used to bind the cork pieces together. Unravelling the outer layer revealed more of the same in the layer underneath. There was a logic to the way the construction process determined the string pattern.

There was a time when art students taught by Maurice de Sausmarez and others were encouraged to observe the ways in which processes created patterns whether they were derived from man made processes or natural growth. This study had two objectives; first to develop a sensitive understanding of the nature of materials and secondly, to see these patterns as basic elements of design. There is little evidence that these ideas are taught any more. It is hard to see any point to Ms Parker's creation or why the Mail on Sunday described her 'idea' as "a big, memorable statement of desire and pain." The London Evening Standard, Brian Sewell perhaps, fuming with outrage, writes; "shall have we have Canover's naked Graces waving dildos." A remark in bad taste which is hardly constructive.

Ms Parker's creation continues a fashion started some years ago by a German artist who wrapped buildings in plastic sheets. If you are going to engage in this kind of exercise the point of it is best conveyed with humour. Rather than a mile of string draped on 'The Kiss' why not fit a bra on the 'Venus de Milo' – less effort and it makes just as valid a statement. Duchamp of course painted a copy of the 'Mona Lisa' with a moustache and the trick was taken further when the photographer Philippe Halsman created a photo montage of the Mona Lisa with Salvador Dali's eyes and moustache. Amusing and trivial perhaps but at least Duchamp and Halsmann were exercising acquired craft skills to produce their pictures which adds merit to the final work. Does Ms Parker's creation display a comparable level of craftsmanship?
'Days Like These' at Tate Britain

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

It could be me being dense but I do not find graphics software easy to use. Yesterday I ranted on about tatty clip art and thought I might design a few simple amusing images to enliven emails sent to friends. I failed dismally to produce anything satisfactory. Far easier to pick up a pen and draw – the process is immediate.. Moving hands have been making marks on surfaces with a variety of implements for a thousand years or more. A process by which there was communication between what the brain perceived and the marks made by the hand. Sophisticated technology intervening between mind and hand is a recipe for disaster in most artistic circumstances.

I feel sorry for calligraphers and signwriters these days because letter forms and layouts are far easier to create with a computer than drawing by hand. That is one the one branch of computer graphics I enjoy, the ability to change layouts and font sizes makes designing much easier. So easy in fact that we can become insensitive to the beauty in traditional letter forms. There is a lot of ghastly illegible lettering used in commercial printing nowadays created by gross distortions of basic letter forms designed with the pen or brush. Adapting these forms to a different process – cutting in stone or wood produced changes but the esential character and legibility was preserved. The design freedom provided by digital imaging has been a mixed blessing. We have a local group of calligraphers and it is always a pleasure to see exhitions of their work to be reminded that our letter forms originated from written marks made by hand. Ugliness arises when we lose sight of our cultural roots.

Monday, March 10, 2003

All graphics software these days comes with a CDR filled with clip art and photographs. All of the decent photographs are licensed and can have restricted use. The clip art comes free but all of it is tasteless tat and mostly unusable if you want to produce elegant artwork of good quality.

Awhile back Corel adorned the packaging of CorelDraw with a vector graphic of Hedi Lamarr. An impressive digital tour de forgce I guess and God knows how long it took the designer to construct it. Somehow though it was a cold unemotional image which didn't allow you to acquire a perception of her character. Professional photographers produce better images of celebrities but then perhaps digital images were never meant for serious recording and will be confined to packaging and advertising.

Commercial art studios once employed talented artists and designers to produce hand-drawn artwork but all this seems to have gone to be replaced by digital imaging. I am saddened by the demise of hand crafted processes in commercial publishing and remember with some nostalgia a time when major publishing houses like Penguin used talented artists to produce engravings and woodcuts to illustrate their book jackets.

Saturday, March 08, 2003

We no longer need have qualms about painting from photographs – most professional artists do. Most of the current crop of 'how to do it' books have sections on using photographs – why not? Incidentally one of the best is Richard Betts 'Masterclass in Water Media. I guess Turner when recording his impressions with quick scribbles from a gondola would have given his right leg for a camera; yet the old prejudices linger on. I was amused when a friend was handing in his pictures to an exhibition and he was welcomed with the comment, "You've painted those from photographs." I haven't," he protested. He was silenced by a withering look of disbelief.

True professionals are unpretentious which is why I love John Palmer's philosophy. "I'll do a quick sketch of Venice," he announced at his demonstration, "Never been there of course." He then did a watercolour looking across the lagoon towards San Giorgio or perhaps the Salute – presumably from someone else's photograph. Nice one John.

Friday, March 07, 2003

Reflecting on John Palmer's performance at the LAS meeting last Thursday, what impressed was the simplicity of his working method. Just a simple pencil outline as a beginning and superimposed washes. Very direct and I suppose very traditional but not to be decried because of that. Essentially in a medium like watercolour it is the quality of the hand made mark whether made with pencil, brush or even finger print which counts. The watercolour painters marks are individual and distinct as with everyone's handwriting and – as with calligraphy – it is really the character and beauty of the drawn forms which gives quality to the work.

At Ludlow Art Society's March meeting we were entertained by John Palmer RWA who gave a watercolour demonstration. I had some knowledge of his work from a book he wrote on Drawing and Sketching in which he displayed an impressive variety of techniques in various grapic media and was looking forward to meeting him. I was not disappointed he is a most engaging and entertaining character and dashed off three watercolours during the course of the evening. John's artistic skills were sharpened during his 32 years as a designer producing commercial artwork to tight deadlines. To survive in that environment you have to develop the facility to handle a range of media and work quickly and to see someone display such skill is awesome.

But does the skill demonstrated in such bravura displays rub off onto us the observers? I don't think it does, in fact after watching John for 10 minutes I became filled with enthusiasm and would have loved to have grabbed the brush from his and to have a go myself. The next day with the performance just a memory, the enthusiasm and excitement has gone. It doesn't come back unless you get a brush in your hand and start to work for yourself.

Thursday, March 06, 2003

The tracker on my web site shows that around 25% of visits are from US Commercial sites — which makes me wonder sometimes what is going on. The only indication of American commercial interest has been the occasional e-mail offering me web services of various kinds. Fellow artists sometimes ask, 'Am I not worried that images of my paintings can be copied?' Well that is a risk you have to take if you publish on the web and there is really no way of checking if anybody is making commercial use of any of my images.

On balance I guess that the benefits of reaching out to a world-wide community to promote my work and share ideas outweighs the worry that somebody somewhere might be making money from copying my images. Unlike conventional publishing my experience of the web has so far been constructive and not soured by feelings of exploitation. I have been surprised by how willing people are to share their experience and expertise through support and discussion forums. Everybody who builds web sites will check out other people's source code from time to time. I was amused to read a comment in the HTML of one site I looked at. The author placed a comment between the tags, 'Now you're here you can help yourself to my source code but remember the words and images are mine!' A nice touch that and I hope it will be generally observed.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Struggling to recreate the subtle tonal effects of Seurat’s drawings set me thinking about the nature of drawing itself. For Ruskin it is merely ‘dirtying the paper delicately’ and certainly Seurat’s subtle and delicate tonal effects require great delicacy in the use of Conté crayon. For Dawn Arkell, a mature art student quoted in The Guardian drawing is like ‘Dancing on paper – that’s what it is just dancing on paper.’ I rather like that — the movement of the hand when hand/eye coordination is working well is like dancing. You can sense the thrill of the hand movement in Rembrandt’s quick sketches done with a reed pen or Raphael’s quick exploroatory drawings for his Madonnas.

I broke off from the Seurat studies to do some computer graphics. The contrast between the two processes is stark. Good computer graphics software allows you to draw after a fashion on a touch pad but the resulting marks bear no comparison to the hand made marks creatred by traditional drawing tools. Indeed computer graphics are created by a process in which the hand made mark has no place.

Saturday, February 15, 2003

Whenever domestic chores or other distractions leave you with a creative blackout there is a sure way to get started again – copy somebody else! Claire Spencer’s charcoal drawings of the Wyre Forest set me thinking about using a broad tonal medium, then I remembered Georges Seurat used the then newly invented Conté crayon to make preliminary studies for ‘La Grande Jatte.’ There’s an idea – copy those!

In fact Seurat used Conté in a very interesting way on a grainy paper rather like the modern ‘Ingres’ paper available in art shops. The Grande Jatte studies are delicately laid in tonal impressions of figures in silhouette, no detail but wonderfully atmospheric. In other drawings he uses hatching to build up delicate tone but rarely for outline. Yes there is much to study in these drawings which will hold my interest and keep hand and eye working until the muse returns.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Dropped in on my friend Claire Spencer to collect an oil painting I had bought at her recent exhibition in Kidderminster. The theme of the exhibition was inspired by the writings of the 19th Century American naturalist Henry David Thoreau. It was a varied exhibition of drawings in charcoal and pen and ink, pastels, watercolours, and oils. Thoreau lived for a year in a log cabin by Walden Pool in the Maine Woods keeping a diary of his observations of wild life. Claire found similar subjects in the Wyre Forest near Bewdley. Her large charcoal drawings were fascinating, the variety of marks she used to express tree forms and textures of the undergrowth were marvelous artistic expressions of the natural woodland.

Much of this variety is due in part to whe wide range of charcoal drawing materials now available. I used to be a purist who would not use anything other than natural willow charcoal. This came – I told myself – in varying degrees of hardness as a consequence of how it is manufactured. Claire's drawings convinced me that this was a blinkered outlook and that there is a place for compressed charcoal sticks and pencils to extend the range of the medium.

Monday, February 10, 2003

I prefer quiet when I'm painting, when totally absorbed in the work noise of any sort can be a distraction. The one exception is when decorating the house. Painting ceilings and walls is a chore which for me only becomes bearable if accompanied by Classic FM or Radio3.

Some artists work quite happily to musical accompaniment turning on the CD player in the studio before starting work. I remember on one visit to the Academia in Venice going into one of the galleries and noticeing a smell of linseed oil. Some heavy ornate wooden screens enclosed a space in a corner. Peeping through a gap I saw a young woman perched on a stepladder restoring the colour to the Virgin's cheeks in a huge painting of the Madonna and Child neistorarly 3m high. She had a small transistor radio tuned to a station playing pop music.

Saturday, February 08, 2003

'Wood engraving, patient, deliberate, and carefully thought out, with its routine rituals of engraving, ptoofing, more engraving, reproofing and eventually printing was a reassuring if laborious relief from the quicker and more off-the cuff newspaper work.'

The words are those of David Gentleman from his book 'Artwork' published in 2002. Hand craft processes impose their own discipline on the artist/craftsman and if the work is to have integrity and value the artist has to work sympathetically with his materials and the techniques of his craft.

For a time I became interested in Chinese painting, the initial preparation which this art form requires, the methodical laying out of paper, brushes, preparing the ink to the righr consistency and depth by rubbing the ink stick on the dampened stone relax the mind as preparation for execution of the first brush strokes. Such little rituals become a necessary part of artistic practice.

Thursday, February 06, 2003

Moving hands holding pieces of chalk have been making marks on surfaces for centuries. I frequently think of this as I make the first tentative marks when beginning a painting. Whatever artistic decisions are made as the work develops it is the nature and sureness of the hand made mark which shapes the final painting and delights the eye. Fundamentally paintings are just one part of the creative hand crafted tradition

I enjoy making things and I love hand crafted artefacts made with traditional material, clay wood and metal.In today's world it is surprising that anyone can make a living solely from making hand crafted artefacts.

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

I get enjoyment from using well-crafted artefacts - they don't have to be old or have great value. I was delighted to be given a Mk1 Parker 51 fountain pen which became a design classic of its day - the 1950's. It belonged to a family friend who was an accountant and he must have used it during the latter part of his working life. I had it refurbished and a new nib fitted and now it is a joy to use.

When clearing my father's effects I discovered his pen knife in a shoe box, he always took a pride in it and I have no idea how long it had been lying unused in the box. The primary blade bears rhe makers mark, 'Wragg, Arundel.' There was no hint of rust and a little oil to free the blades and honing the cutting edges made it serviceable again. I use it daily to open letters and sharpen pencils in the studio.

For me these everyday artefacts give as much pleasure as handed down heirlooms which often take effort and expense to maintain and have to be insured.

Tuesday, February 04, 2003

After a year I have given up on I always thought that after more than half an average lifetime since leaving school it would be unlikely that I still had much to chat about to my old school chums – but my youngest daughter goaded me into signing up.

I belong to a generation which is generally rather uncertain about using the web even so I was surprised by what little personal information my peers were prepared to divulge – particularly the women. Most usually gave just a line to say how many children they had or that they were widowed – often there was nothing. The most interesting was a chum I was very friendly with – we used to frequently go off on cycling week-ends. He is living in British Columbia and had spent most of his life in the Kenyan Police. Another friend who had shared the rigours of a backpacking tour of the Lake District with me also made contact but in an exchange of an e-mail or two he never revealed his whereabouts or how he had spent his life. I thought this very odd when as boys we had been so close for a year or two.

It was the women who really aroused my curiosity because they often disclosed nothing about themselves. I recognised several names but could not recall faces and sent off friendly e-mails – but there was not a single reply. Did they receive them? Did they have any recollection of me? Who knows.

Perhaps after so many years we really do not have much in common and I can't pretend that recalling my school years particularly appeals. I hope my former class mates were able to lead full and interesting lives as I have, but sadly it seems I will never know.

Monday, February 03, 2003

Began the day with an hour of chess study - I'm using Jonathan Tisdall's book 'Improve your Chess.' today's game analysed the 'Stonewall Dutch' a defensive strategy for Black using pawns on c5 d6 e5 f6. Jonathan is the only chess author I've read who gives a clear simple explanation of the rather obscure terms used by the Chess fraternity. I'd encountered the 'Maroczy Bind' in other books where the authors assumed thr reader knew what was meant but in my case I hadn't a clue about what this was. Thanks to Jonathan I now know its a simple defence for White with pawns on c4 and d4. Chess is difficult enough without experts adding to one's confusion.

Being anxious about the impending war with Iraq ratcheting up oil prices I ordered some today - this delivery will cost me £30 more than the last one which was no surprise and prices will probably rise further. Hoping for some warm weather and that the war when it comes will be quick and decisive.

Being a painter and art lover I'm reading 'The Journal of Eugène Delacroix' and it was this that gave me the idea of starting a Blog. He met people like George Sand, Dumas, Balzac, Berlioz, Chopin as well as fellow artists. Yet much of the Journal is about more mundane matters, his worry about picking up an infection from using cabs to get to work, or his stomach. I guess I could go on about similar personal matters - but I won't.

Sunday, February 02, 2003

Have had a frustrating evening trying to learn how to play chess properly – on my laptop. Being of an age when I can walk upstairs and forget what I am doing there I hoped that playing chess would improve my memory and perhaps ward off dementia – ever the optimist. Most of the books encourage you to list all of the candidate moves for a given position and calculate variations for each, how do you visualise variations of more than three or four moves? GM's and perhaps good club players do but I can't. Fritz my silicon opponent always wins perhaps I should try my luck against a few human opponents.
Just a first try on a showery sunday afternoon, cold outdoors and I'm just wondering if I should get on with a DIY job in the garage(cold) or laze on the sofa and watch Indoor Athletics on TV. No I won't be a couch potato sawing wood is exercise, it won't get me an Olympic Medal but it might help keep my waistline in trim. That's it I'm off.