Saturday, 21 December 2013

for every day there is something...

I've tidied my room. It's had the most thorough clean and sort out since we moved here (seven years) Marmite is very impressed with the big empty drawing board. I am in the middle of doing the same to the garage too. I am never sure if my work space is an indication of the state of my mind or if my mind becomes chaotic and grinds to a halt because of the state of my work space. Anyway tidying always helps. Everything.

another one for swimming in my sketchbook

solstice swim
fire heated skin
before plunging
into wild swell
cold spray
hits my face

Saturday, 23 November 2013

the importance of life drawing...

I've been doing a bit of life drawing. Been wanting and needing to for a long time and have at last found a session I can go to. But I am worried that there aren't enough people interested to make it worth the model, who is running the sessions, continuing. I live in Falmouth, supposedly stuffed with artists. Where are they all?

I am not a figurative artist and it may seem that life drawing is unconnected with my work. But I believe it doesn't matter what sort of artist you are drawing is important and drawing the human form is the most difficult and valuable sort of drawing there is. It is not about learning how to draw the human form, it is about learning how to draw. It is about the experience of looking and drawing. With that seeing comes freedom and expression. The drawing, the piece of paper with marks on it that I end up with, isn't really that important. It is the shadow or echo left behind and the intense moment when I am seeing is what matters.

Life drawing isn't easy, in fact I find it incredibly hard. I have been drawing fast and only for ten minutes at the last two sessions. I will try to do some longer poses and paint in the future. I want to place the model in a space and I struggle with scale and getting the whole figure on the page. The paper is too close, the model is too close and I draw too big always ending up off the page. If I could have a huge sheet of paper on the wall and paint life size that would be my natural way I think.

I feel exhausted after a session but I am also left buzzing with creative energy. Life drawing, for me, is emotional and not at all academic. It gives me enormous freedom. I can make marks, follow lines, hack out dense blacks, create spaces, experiment without having to wonder where and why. There is no right or wrong with drawing. I haven't been 'taught' anatomy and I don't follow any rules. My way is to start where I want to start and finish when it is finished.

A selection of my drawings are on my Face Book Page in a album called Life Drawing.

'I have learned that what I have not drawn 
I have never really seen,
and that when I start drawing an ordinary thing, 
I realize how extraordinary it is, sheer miracle.'

Frederick Franck The Zen of Seeing

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

The Dead Good Show, Fannie & Fox 31st October until 30th November

I was invited to show work at Fannie & Fox's, The Dead Good Show. An 'Exhibition where various artists explore the theme of death, with the aim of encouraging the beginning of a dialogue'

I don't work to themes but this particular theme already runs through out my work on many levels so preparing for it has been a wonderful opportunity or maybe just the kick I needed to get me thinking about what I do.

Over the last month or so I have painted dead birds, sorted out my bird skull collection, started reading and hunting for poetry hoping to find my words in the mouth of someone with more skill than I have. I've been painting, drawing and writing in my sketchbooks. I tried to make something fit but it wouldn't.
I really didn't know what I was going to put in this show.

Then I realised the work I had in my Open Studio and The Poly Summer Show this year has hardly been seen and is made for this show. And eventually I stopped worrying too much and let stuff happen and curiously I ended up in my garage last week making something new. I was throwing away all the words I'd gathered over the years, thinking its time to move on and find new words, but I couldn't quite throw them away, yet. Instead I started collaging them and layering them with wax and resin.

All those words are gone now but I have one last poem.

“Poetry is what happens when nothing else can.” - Charles Bukowski

Monday, 7 October 2013

with wax and resin

Getting back out in the garage and slowly getting a few things happening. Two weeks ago I spent a day ripping some of my oak on the table saw making it into nice thin strips for frames.

I wanted frames for the wax pictures I started earlier in the Summer. I like to use old wood or wood with life in it still. The oak I am using is off-cuts from posts made on Cornwall Wildlife Trust's nature reserves years ago. They are long posts, roughly cut on three sides, the fourth being untouched and still with bark on. Now I have a table saw I can at last do something with this wood.

I had a day working with wax yesterday slowly building up layers and embedding things within these frames. And today I got the resin out. More layers and things. New work on the way.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

sea swimming and a new sketch book...

The sea is getting colder and wilder.

So we go to the misty green river. To the quiet places with egrets and herons. Maybe, if we are lucky, catch a glimpse of iridescent blue as a kingfisher flies low across the water.

I came to the end of my main sketch book soon after I got home from Scilly. I work in sketchbooks a lot and usually have two or three open at once as often one is drying or being primed and I enjoy working across them all.

My sketch books are my playground and my sanctuary.

I collect colours, times, draw things I have found, play with words, thrash ideas about and write lists. And when everything else is too hectic and I am a bit lost I can always find a way with my books.

My favourite is the 16 x 21 cm Fabriano Classic Artist's journal but I bought a Fabriano quadrato 16 x 16 cm as well this time. Square...

... and since I've had this new square book all I have drawn, painted and written about is swimming. The quadrato has become my swimming sketchbook and I have been putting them on my Facebook page in an album called 'swimming in my sketchbook' 

I am a sculptor so it may seem strange that my passion at the moment is trying to paint water. I am getting out in my garage, I am cutting up wood for frames, gathering and preparing to make new moulds and planning to pour some resins soon. The wheels are beginning to turn again out there.

But here in my sketchbook I will continue to wander freely and go where my heart takes me.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

bird skulls ... a misidentification, a few new ones and lessons learnt

My blog post the other day 'bird skulls from Samson' led me to look closer at some of the skulls I've have for ages. I was given a few years ago and have always believed the little labels that went with them not thinking that they might be wrong.

How I never noticed this buzzard had been labelled jay I don't know. I'm guessing over the years the labels got muddled. Anyway this is huge compared to the jay I've just unearthed and look at the hook on it. I apologise for mislabelled drawings and photos previous to this ...

... and I now know that it is a jay skull in this piece from 2011.

Finding out more about bird skulls also made me panic about the ones I had buried in my garden. I realise now this is not the best method to get them clean. Though it seams like the easiest way you can easily loose bits especially with small ones. I got them all out the other day and was a bit disappointed to find I'd left some of them for far too long.

My beautiful jay broke in half, the razorbill lost the chunky black and white sheath that I really wanted to preserve and the tiny blue tit had disappeared mostly and I had to throw it away.

But they are still beautiful and I love them all. Especially the magnificent gannet.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

sea holly

Sea Holly. Probably my favourite coastal plant. I look forward to finding it at Kitchen Porth Beach every year we visit Bryher. It grows at the top of the beach just where we and all the other visitors who bring kayaks to that part of the island, leave them to be safe from the high tides.

Every day the boats are dragged over them, people chuck weight belts, fins, buoyancy aids, paddles and all sorts over them and even stand on them - at their peril in bare feet! Yet despite the daily battering these tough little plants seems to thrive.

Thursday, 5 September 2013


I have been fascinated by sea urchins for ages. As a kid coming down for holidays in Polzeath I remember seeing baskets of the shells outside tourist shops and have been hunting for them in rock pools ever since but I have learnt more about them lately, especially as I have been finding quite a few of their shells or tests around Scilly.

The first urchin test I found was about twenty years ago. I have a book that calls it green sea urchin Psammechinus miliaris.

No more than 3cm wide I've never found another one since. It was so lovely I framed it with drift wood and still have it on my wall.

A few years later I found a few potato urchins Echinocardium cordatum. I just called them heart urchins not realising that there are a few species of heart urchin found in Cornwall.

So last year on Scilly when I found the live one on the right I assumed it was the same as the others. But now, having looked really closely at the tests we found this year, I know it is a purple heart urchin Spatangus purpureus. Beautifully coloured when alive with a perfectly heart shaped test. I found the one in the middle. It is not complete and quite small but it still has colour and spines and I love it. The one on the right was found by my beach combing kindred spirit A fabulous thing about 8cm in diameter.
Two other heart urchins are found in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Echinocardium flavescens and Echinocardium pennatifidum but I never found these. Next year maybe.

I did find the tiny pea urchin Echinocyamus pusillus. These are from the beaches of St Martins. No more than 8mm long. Exquisite.

And the last urchin I came across on Scilly was the common or edible sea urchin Echinus esculentus (the large one they sell in baskets outside tourist shops) Coming in to Kitchen Porth at low tide from a kayaking trip I was lucky enough to find one stranded on a pile of kelp. I held it in my hands, turning it upside down to see its mouth - the Aristotle's lantern - and watched it moving in the water when I put it back under the kelp fronds. An amazing thing. Unfortunately I had no camera. We saw them later in the week as we snorkelled but still no photos. Beginning to think an underwater camera would be a fine thing to own.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

bird skulls from Samson

I was trying to sort out the things I found on Scilly but ended up spending the whole evening  measuring skulls and bills and working my way through my Tracks and Signs book. I found this amazing website for identifying bird skulls, also this site about seabird osteology.

Me and my friend paddled to Samson, an uninhabited island off Bryher, early one morning. We had it to ourselves and as we wandered on one of the little beaches we found these three skulls.

The one on the left is an oystercatcher and I was pretty sure about that before we came home. The long straight bill and black and white feathers amongst the rest of it gave it away. It cleaned up beautifully though I lost a couple of bones and can't quite figure out where they go. But many of the skulls I find are incomplete as they come off the beach and are bleached and worn by the sea.

The middle one is beautifully bleached and turns out to be a herring gull.
And the one on the right is a corvid of some kind. A crow probably but I'll sort that one out when nature has done a bit more work on it - its out in the garden with the others now. The others? A gannet, a razorbill, a jay, a sparrow, a herring gull, an unknown small gull and now a crow - I think.

Then I got to looking at some of my other bird skulls. Some of them I know but this one has confused me for a while. Somehow I overlooked it in the book. Found it in the end. It's a fulmar. A fabulous fulmar, one of my favourite sea birds.
I found out I have a wood pigeon and a blackbird too.

Now I am in chaos. Books and boxes of shells and bones and things everywhere and not very sorted as planned. 

But a fascinating evening. 

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

back from Bryher ...

I'm back from two beautiful weeks on Bryher ...

there I beach combed and found many wonderful things  ...

... filled my sketchbook with words and paintings

and took loads of photos...

but the treasures I wrapped carefully and held tight in my hands to bring home will take a while to uncoil.

I was only there for two weeks. Much of that time I spent with my family and friends, swimming, kayaking, snorkelling and wandering about doing nothing - not drawing and painting or thinking. Then I have spent the weekend sorting out all the camping gear and washing and packing everything away. Oh and swimming and kayaking and enjoying the last of the summer... and now I have to go back to work.
So things will emerge here slowly.

I'm thinking about why I love going back to Bryher and the Scillies? I go every year, never wishing to be anywhere else, always wanting to stay longer, always finding inspiration and things I've never seen before and loving it more and more each year. What is so special? I will probably never travel to exotic far away locations but I'm beginning to think I don't need to. There is a great richness to going to a small place and returning again and again to that place. Bryher is exotic to me. I don't live there and it is beautiful and full of strange things, but it is also close and familiar. The land, the sea and the wildlife make sense to me. Full of adventure and beauty, exotic and familiar at once.
Just like Cornwall, my home.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

lego and plastacine chaos ... then two weeks on Bryher

There's a bit of chaos in the garage tonight. Over the last week when I have found a bit of time I have been casting a few pebbles, a shell and a heart urchin using a bit of silicone I had left from the big cube.


I filled the heart urchin with plaster as it was so delicate, then coated it in shellac. Wasn't  really sure whether the silicone would stick to it.

Only after I'd poured the moulds did I realise I'd forgotten to spray the release agent on the silicone ice cube trays I'd used for the pebbles and shell. The lego is fine but silicone sticks to silicone. So tonight I had to cut them out, green ice cube tray firmly attached.

Then out in the dark I've been pouring plaster. I'm waiting for them to set now.

meanwhile ...I'm gathering a big box of art stuff together and preparing boards to take on our annual family holiday to Bryher, Isles of Scilly. We sail on the Scillonian on Saturday and I hope the sea is kind to me as I am a poor sailor. Maybe we will see a few dolphins or some basking sharks. The way I survive the trip is to stay on deck, keep watching the sea whatever the weather and get lost looking for dolphins, shearwaters and storm petrols. Oh and I take drugs.

Its a holiday but I am really looking forward to doing lots of painting and drawing. Last year I had a small sketchbook and did a painting/drawing a day.

This year I will do a similar thing but take a bigger sketchbook and also primed boards. The colours are stunning and as I am forced to paint outside because we camp, its quite a wild experience. No cosy watching the weather through my window as I paint. I'll be out there in it, wrapped up and clinging to my brolly.

One of the best things is not having a computer and there being very limited signal on my phone. I will turn my phone off, bury it in the bottom of my rucksack and  by the end of the holiday hopefully I will have forgotten why I need it.
Nothing to do but spend time with my family, swim in the sea and wander the beaches looking for shells and curious things.

This is a live heart urchin. I found it in the shallows between Bryher and Tresco last year on a very low tide. I have found many of the delicate shells and tonight I have cast one in plaster. They have been the inspiration for a drawinga print and a sculpture. But this was the first time I'd ever seen a live one.

... so here it is - my first plaster heart urchin fresh out of the mould and still warm in my hand!