I arrived in the class last week with the sounds and images from the London Underground imprinted on my brain.  Straight away, I tried to depict these is charcoal and paint, as shown in my previous post.

However, this meant that I neglected the works begun the previous week (  In the last half hour, I was encouraged to go back to these and work in a new layer.  Painting upside down (the picture, not me) I picked out and strengthened pre existing textures and tones.  I tried to maintain a balance between abstract and illustration.  Here is that next version, still drying.

The reference point for all these recent works has been a book of the work of John Virtue.  This British artist works only in black and white, eschewing even greys, building land and cityscapes in which recognisable features emerge from smoky abstraction.  Google images have a great selection to peruse.  I found a page in an academic blog which sets a landscape by Virtue in the context of his contemporaries:

There is much more to develop on this theme.

Who is Inspector Sands?

Will Inspector Sands please report immediately to the control area!


Will Inspector Sands please report immediately to the control area!

Will Inspector Sands please report immediately to the control area!

Will Inspector Sands please report immediately to the control area!


Will Inspector Sands please report immediately to the control area!

Who is Inspector Sands? And what took so long to answer the call?

Kings Cross Underground Station 16/05/2012

Experimental Drawing class 17/05/2012

Edited on Ipad 18/05/2012


These sketches were done in the two hour class last night.  They are still drying – I took these shots on my phone.

The constraints put on us were to use just black and white, avoiding half tones.  I built in heavy charcoal and then put in white gouache and cheap acrylic ink that had settled like swamp mud at the bottom of the jug.

At this stage, I am just exploring shapes and tones, contrasting painted white, white pixellated with carbon, the virgin white of the untouched paper and the bone white scars left by shredding the surface.

I used a photograph as a reference.  I think I was looking west up East Wacker Street.

I’m back in Chicago in a few weeks.  I’ll bring charcoal and brush.


Today it was my privilege to be the invited speaker at a local event raising funds for Cancer Research UK, our leading cancer research charity in the UK.  I picked on work that is currently in the news (not work I am involved in personally).  Try this excellent lay person’s summary from the CR-UK website  This illustrates so many points.

At its heart was an international collaboration dissecting the molecular events underpinning breast cancer.  This depended on the painstaking building of tissue collections.  It linked these to patients’ data.  Analysis coupled these to high-throughput assays and statistical methods capable of handling so many data.  The result was reclassification of this disease into 10 subtypes with different outcomes.  So the molecular signature impacted on prognosis.  Understanding this may lead to new treatments.  This is the foundation of what is now called stratified or personalised medicine: the recognition at a fundamental level of the individuality of a patient, a cancer and a treatment plan.

Cancer Research UK is building the infrastructure for more work like this through its Experimental Cancer Medicine Centres and the Stratified Medicine Programme across the UK.

I also talked about the politics of cancer science, partly in response to an earnest question about the iniquities of the pharmaceutical industry.

I believe that scientific research and understanding are at the heart of what it is to live in a free, accountable and democratic country. Charitable and public funding  create the framework for transparency and peer review and spread of excellent information to non-specialists.  Science thrives on challenge.  Publicly funded cancer research identify and address patients’ needs, balancing the drive for profits in industry.   These values are the core of what makes good science, the very opposite of arbitrary authority, domination by the wealthy, dogma and the rote learning of an accepted canon.

Without public and charitable money, research would all be owned by the pharmaceutical industry.  In partnership, industry is harnessed to need.  What is being done here is a quiet revolution: in the terms of the day, a Cancer Spring.

While the curry is cooking …

… I thought I’d post some observations from a morning spent watching birds in the rain.  

I’ll start with the piece I did last, once back home.  I was carrying on from my recent experimental drawing, building the surroundings in charcoal, wetting the paper and then erasing firmly to tear the paper into highlights playing on the water.  I wanted a different texture for the mating gulls and used ink washes direct on virgin paper.


These were the rapid sketches in the field, trying to capture the movements and posture of the mating birds.

whoo … just caught the rice before it burned.

Cultivation on ash

In arid sub tropical terrain, moisture collects in pits dug and walled in the volcanic ash.  In each hollow, a vine is planted.

For this I threw watercolour at the page, creating the sky, crude green pyramids and a pink and brown ground.  When dry, I drew in with charcoal and chalk to define the landscape.  A bit of white and black gouache was used to create the stronger contrasts.

I have taken much inspiration from this recently formed and dynamic terrain.