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.