I asked whether I might repost this. I found the painting captures the distancing of ourselves from the unfolding tragedy of the search for democracy in Syria.

My earlier thoughts on this were posted here, in response to the graphic descriptions of a journalist who had been smuggled into that city


Graphic Anthropology, the source of this post, is a great art blog.  He creates powerful paintings that cross into comment on the world.  http://graphicanthropology.wordpress.com/

Graphic Anthropology

Click images for full screen views.

‘Homs’, 18″ X 24″, acrylic on canvas, 2012.

It was a beautiful sunny day.

And from a great distance.

The sky was blue.

View original post

Uncertain outcomes

A word in my personal lexicon that is used often but never over-used is “uncertainty”.

For years, I have been following the writings of Ben Goldacre writing in the Guardian newspaper and elsewhere.  This weekend I found his blog http://www.badscience.net/.   I cannot recommend this highly enough.  I am also reading his book “Bad Science” which is an easy and informative canter through his accumulated investigations of vested interests, hoaxers and buffoons http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bad-Science-Ben-Goldacre/dp/0007240198.  You can appreciate what good science is about by understanding the mistakes and misdeeds that constitute bad science.  Good science is about uncertainty and transparency built into a systematic method of working.  This description of good science is the foundation of good medicine.

This is of practical importance to me.  Daily I am in conversation and partnership with people making their decisions at the cutting edge of their cancer treatment.  I am challenged to combine what we know with uncertainty so that, jointly, we make informed and pragmatic decisions.

I have come to understand that uncertainty is a central component of my personal spirituality.

Thursday evenings, I go to the Experimental Drawing class in the Midlands Arts centre http://www.macarts.co.uk/.  Constrained to use just charcoal and with the starting idea of cloudscapes, this is what resulted last week.

These are odd sessions.  There is a big well lit room and sporadic but pleasant conversation.  There seems little teaching and advice has been caricatured as “tear it”, “turn it upside down”, paint over it”.  However, by attending, my drawing has definitely become more experimental and, well, exciting.  Some of this is about letting go of certainty, of the image I have created, and working over and into it, destroying it but then rebuilding.  These sessions work.  Kevin leads them.  Thanks Kevin.


I sat on the rim of an ancient volcanic crater and stared down into the depths.  Where once magma had bubbled to the surface, now a pen was built to hold stock.  But what animals had been farmed on this barren surface strewn with loose shards of volcanic rock I could not tell.  I guess though that the bowl-shaped hill acts as a natural sink to collect what little water exists here.  The seaward side of the volcano had eroded, giving views onto the flat plain and on to the coastal town.

On an earlier cycling trip, I had forgotten to take brushes.  Painting with paper towel in a small notebook is not delicate.

This coastal mound had the feeling of a vast slumbering dog, head on outstretched paws.  In my first attempt I lost the proportions of the rear, fore-shortening what should be an elongated hill.

I redrew it in pencil, but painted it later when I had brushes once more.


Treasure Island: violent death and birds in motion

Far away out in the marsh there arose, all of a sudden, a sound like a cry of anger, then another on the back of it; and then one horrid, long-drawn scream.  The rocks of the Spy-glass re-echoed it a score of times; the whole troop of marsh-birds rose again, darkening heaven, with a simultaneous whirr; and long after that death yell was still ringing in my brain, silence had re-established its empire, and only the rustle of the re-descending birds and the boom of the distant surges disturbed the languor of the afternoon.

“In heaven’s name, tell me, what was that?”

“That?” returned Silver, smiling away, but warier than ever.  “That?  Oh, I reckon that’ll be Alan.”

And at this point Tom flashed out like a hero.  “Alan!  Then rest his soul for a true seaman!  And as for you, John Silver, you’re a mate of mine no more.  You’ve killed Alan, have you?  Kill me too, if you can.  But I defies you.”  And with that, this brave fellow turned his back directly on the cook and set off walking for the beach.

With a cry John whipped the crutch out of his armpit and sent that uncouth missile hurtling through the air.  It struck poor Tom, point foremost, and with stunning violence, right between the shoulders in the middle of his back.  His hands flew up, he gave a sort of gasp, and fell.  He had no time given him to recover.  Silver, agile as a monkey even without leg or crutch, was on top of him next moment and had twice buried his knife up to the hilt in that defenceless body.

From my place of ambush, I could hear him pant aloud as he struck the blows.

You will of course recognise this passage from Robert Louis Stevenson’s book.  I have just finished reading it to my young children.  It has a remarkably high body count for a book for children but for all that remains a classic adventure story.

This painting was first posted a few weeks ago showing how the idea developed.  I had first wanted to show the Spy-glass, a volcanic plug of a mountain sitting proud above a marshy landscape, with trees in the foreground in which our protagonist is concealed.


I then played with this picture, turning it upside down and imposing reflected birds on the iPad.


From this I took the idea of developing the same underlying painting on the iPad into two versions rotated by 180 degrees, each one representing one of the two foul murders in the marsh of Treasure Island.

This is the actual painting after it dried and the various pigments settled.  Having explored it digitally in two directions, perhaps I will leave this as it is.  It makes sense to me visually now, but this has taken time.

Our previous bedtime book also painted a word picture of a marsh.  These settings speak powerfully to me of solitude and wilderness.  However, that fen was an altogether friendlier place.


a rip in the ground

This is the first in a sequence of paintings in which I  explore how the flat basalt plain was rent by powerful forces.

The sky and foreground were rendered in charcoal then gouache and ink whereas I painted the distant volcanic craters in transparent glazes.

The composition leaves a bit to be desired, not yet giving the sense of raw power that must have shapes this scene.

Amended 24/04/2012 – I photographed this again in natural rather than electric light and with a fixed rather than a handheld camera. It comes out rather better I think.

holiday sketches

what to do while waiting for dinner

mmm … not good likenesses but I just need to keep practising.

On reflection – why do they look so solemn?  They are sitting still for me.  Better skills are needed to catch the smiles and fast changing expressions that really show their  character.


Some years ago, I walked along the bank of a tidal river and was struck by the light playing on the water and on the bleached skeletons of small boats revealed by receding water on the shore line.  Some had a payload of rocks in the hulls, clearly the boats had been deliberately abandoned yet sunk into shallow water.  

Anyway, this small watercolour served as a warm up exercise as I started to paint on holiday last week.  


Bare time for creativity this last week.  Sitting on my table is the skeleton of the painting from my most recent post.  It will not now be finished and posted before I go on holiday tomorrow.

So here is instead a memory of a previous visit to tomorrow’s destination.

This fumarole is one of many scars upon this land.  Here molten rock sits perhaps just hundreds of feet beneath our feet, a stable point of heat across which the Earth’s crust migrates.  This whole land has formed from eruptions through the ocean depths starting 15 million years ago.  The last was just yesterday, geologically speaking, finishing in 1736.  An eyewitness recorded “In the first night a huge mountain grew out of the ground and, from its peak, enormous flames that kept burning for 19 days could be seen”  Central volcanoes were surrounded by a vast acreage of slow moving lave that cooled and hardened into contorted forms.  Today these hills seem at first bare of life although they are already colonised by lichens and even some flowering plants.  None the less, the colours in the landscape seem unnatural, arising from the disgorged minerals not from the stems and leaves of plants as we are used.

I painted this perhaps 2 years ago.  I will do more this next week.  I think this landscape lends itself to experimenting with charcoal and gouache.

I have previously posted paintings from this place.



upside down

I have looked and looked at this painting, searching for the direction that will take this to completion.  There is a dark narrative here to be revealed when the painting is done.


On a whim I flipped the painting.  Here is the iPad version, done quickly to explore ideas.



Across the marsh

For a week or two I have had a composition in mind.

These are the elements.  The morning sun comes from the right and illuminates the face of a distant eroded volcanic plug projecting up from the landscape.  Forward is a marsh.  Our own vantage point is concealed within trees..

I set out these ideas on the iPad.

There is more. An event has disturbed the marsh birds which rise in alarm.

And there is a sense of menace

Now the paint and ink and suspended charcoal must dry and settle.  This painting is changing by the hour without work from me as the components of the ink dissociate and recombine.  This bright red wound is already fading into myriad dark fractals like a scab across the landscape.  It will be some days before I can work into this.

As yet I don’t know how.