The small river Blythe has burst its banks and flooded its flanking meadows, rushing under and around the old packhorse bridge. The water was high in the Marsh Lane reserve, swamping the small islands which usually host roosting waterfowl.

I painted this last of all, as the light faded, by the end in near darkness in the hide.  On someone’s blog recently (forgive me for not remembering whose) I liked the texture of conte crayon under watercolour and tried this here.

Railway bridge in fading light

Before that I had sketched birds for about an hour.  Most prominent were cormorants perched  on what was left of an island, surrounded by wigeon making an eery piping sound in the gathering dusk.

I tried to focus on simple gestural brush strokes, capturing the bulk of the neck and shoulders as they stretched and preened.  I mixed a neutral of ultramarine and variously burnt umber or burnt sienna (note that the scanner has rather accentuated the component pigments).  I could not resist going back and drawing into the paint but should have known better.  In the damp air, dry time was prolonged.  My careful strokes oozed into the mass of underling paint and both the detail and the spontaneity of the initial strokes were dispersed.

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I feel this year has been a journey in terms of my drawing from life.  In particular, when I was on the Seabird Painting Course in June, I felt clumsy.  I carried too much kit but had no consistency or comfort in its use.  Now I have pared down my field equipment, using a limited palette of tube watercolours and relying mainly on squirrel mops that deliver large strokes that respond to the touch and come to a fine line.  I keep to rough paper, often using better quality surfaces like Arches as here.  I carry a small tin with a few sticks of charcoal, pencils and a black conte crayon and use these especially for fast notes and for my first sketches to loosen up.

Sixth floor, Holiday Inn, Edinburgh: dawn.

I was invited to Edinburgh to give a talk about Merkel cell carcinoma

Edinburgh from Holiday Inn (5)

This skin cancer is more aggressive than melanoma but occurs more rarely.

It occurs more frequently as we age or in people with damaged immunity.  Sometimes it nestles in the same tissue with other cancer types.

Fascinatingly, in 2008, Drs Moore and Chang discovered that Merkel cell carcinoma harbours a novel virus.  Merkel cell polyomavirus turned out to be a common harmless inhabitant on our skin.  It gets into the predecessor of the cancer cell by an unhappy accident, perhaps helped by ultraviolet light.  When it does so, it is crippled, no longer able to make new viral progeny, forever integrated in stunted form in the cellular DNA. It encodes four genes and makes just six proteins.   Just one of these genes, mutated and truncated, contributes to the cancer.  The virus subverts its hosting cell but is itself subverted to drive and shape an evolving cancer.

Cancer is complex, driven by a myriad of dysfunctional and  repurposed pathways.  How do you break the Enigma, the encrypted cipher, the code of the Merkel cell carcinoma?  We need a crib or key: a simple message we already understand as a way in.  Merkel cell polyomavirus provides us with that key.

Salt cellar and sugar bowl

I sketched this in the cafe at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

salt cellar and sugar bowl (5)

I called in to see the exhibition of SJ Peploe, leading light of the Scottish Colourist movement at the beginning of the last century.  I was struck by his progressive development to abstracting into geometrical shapes while retaining the overall composition in still life or landscape.

I was also moved by the sculptures of Eduardo Paolozzi.  “Vulcan” towered above my table in the cafe.  “Tyrannical Tower Crowned with Thorns of Violence” lurked in an alcove.


Artfull Expression

I regularly buy silver jewellery for my wife at Artfull Expression (, a design centre in the famed Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham.

The shop has exhibition space at the back (    I called in on Saturday and spent some time chatting about art and the gallery with the display manager, Pat, while my little children were entertained by his older son.  I am honoured to have one of my pieces, “across the marsh to where Ettinsmoor meets the sea” on display in their mixed exhibition, on until the end of this year.

across the marsh to where Ettinsmoor meets the sea

The piece is on my page and the original post was this

As an aside, the artist whose work I buy at this shop is Anna de Ville (  I do not know her personally but from what I have read, her approach to silver work derives from her background as a print artist and this is evident in the simple shapes abstracted from nature and use of toned metal.

These were my biographical notes that I drafted in a hurry tonight.  Without formal training as an artist and with painting competing with the day job and family for my time, I felt I had to make a claim to some kind of artistic legitimacy or voice or why else am I projecting myself at all through exhibition?  Feel free to laugh.  Any comments on how to approach this kind of thing are most welcome.

Biographical notes

I am a cancer doctor, scientist, self-taught artist and father.  If these challenging roles give me artistic insight into life’s meaning, such revelations are at best chaotic.  One theme that crosses the boundaries might be truthfulness, and another, compassion.  Another yet is a sense of scale, the vastness of time and space in relation to our existence.  I make fast sketches in charcoal or watercolour of living dinosaurs, birds, and their behaviour.  More slowly, I draw the structures in weathering landscapes.  I have been developing these ideas into mixed media textured pieces.  Only recently, I have begun submitting these for public view in open exhibitions.  A piece “White Birds” is currently in the RBSA open exhibition.

Truthfully, “Ettinsmoor” is a whimsical piece.  It is reminiscent of passage in a book from my childhood describing a broad wetland.  The water was broken up by islands of coarse grass bordered with reeds and rushes, with clouds of birds constantly alighting and arising, and with wigwams belonging to a secluded people.  This image caught me long before I had ever seen a marshland for myself.  I longed to live there.

I publish my sketches and ideas and some finished pieces on

RBSA Open Exhibition

Below is my piece “White Birds” (centre) at the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists Open Exhibition until Christmas Eve (  Honestly, this exhibition is well worth seeing – There are many beautiful and skilful pieces on display and I will be going back to look round again.  I feel honoured to have had this piece accepted.

White Birds - on display

I posted this originally earlier this year:

and have also included it in my page tab “exploded and eroded”