Fishers – homage to JB (I)

Fishers Homage to JB (6)

I was in Edinburgh last month to give a talk on Merkel cell cancer.  While there I wandered into the Scottish National Gallery and the exhibition of the paintings of John  Bellany.  The body of work is overwhelming.  Huge canvases, many made of several joined panels.  As a student he made ends meet gutting fish in the industrial fisheries.  The imagery of working men and dismembered fish becomes a theme throughout his work.   In Kinlochbervie, though we see only 10, there is a strong evocation of the Last Supper.  In Allegory this link of the fishery to Christian mythology is even stronger with three haddock carcases of nailed up in the foreground and the boat masts and crowds behind like soldiers with their spears. There is nothing new in the fish-messiah metaphor dating from the acronym ICTHUS as code for a persecuted religion and the frequent use of fish in gospel stories.  Here Bellany re-uses this metaphor in a gritty industrial setting.  Bethel and The Obsession follow a shared structure with strange tube-like men set upon a stage against sea and sky.  Something in these latter paintings was reminiscent of photographs I have seen of great sculpted people  set looking out to sea on Easter Island.

This is the beginning of an idea: developing the sketches of cormorants to a full painting of the birds standing tall and lined up at the water’s margin, like icons or idols, carved monuments as much as living birds.  Here then are the first sketches.

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This is a collation of the field sketches (most posted before) from which I am working.  Snow is limiting access to do more this weekend.

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Finally, all credit to the BBC for systematically making the nation’s art available on line.  That license – worth every penny.

A bittern in the dusk

After an hour or so painting, I was packing my materials away with icy hands.  There were several cars in the reserve but I had seen no one about.  A newcomer arrived.  “Is it still there? he asked.  I had no idea what he was talking about.  He led me to the one patch where the birders had gathered, concealed, and directed my scope to a shadow in the reeds.  I made out a broad based triangle in the fading light.  As it moved and then stretched I saw the brown and white  striped plumage of a bittern.  I had known they were resident, but had never seen it before.  I paint the common birds and have not skill to spare to hunt down and draw those that hide from me.  Still, now I know where to look …

Wigeon roosting

Here then are the quick sketches of the birds I commonly see.  Wigeon were in abundance and in plain sight.  The solitary heron stood opposite the hide, then stalked off round the water’s edge.

2013 01 13 Marsh Lane (7) Heron stalking the marsh edge

I am by the way most grateful for the generous and infectious excitement of the birder who dragged me to the spot and pointed me in the right direction.

Missus Moo

Drawing faces has never been a strength.  Now I am trying to develop this skill.  My six year old daughter is interested in the whole drawing process and will sit for me for 5-10 minutes.  In this image, her face became shrunken and dysmorphic within a massive head – later I smeared this and redrew into it from memory.  I fixed the charcoal.  My wife claims to be unable to draw.  Still, it took her about 10 seconds to work out I still had the proportions all wrong.  The fixed drawing took a second layer of charcoal very readily, allowing me to lose about half the head.  After all this adjustment, I still cannot capture my daughter’s general air of mischief and fun.


Here are some of their experiments with drawing in chalk pastel, told to try looking at the objects not draw from their ideas alone.  I also suggested not to try to get a likeness but instead to get the patterns and colours from what they were seeing.  In the lower one, she was trying to get the sense of a twig laden with dried oak leaves (“leath” = “leaf”).

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In case you are wondering, Missus Moo is a version of Madam Monkey, one of her many names.  It’s slightly better than “King Rat” which is how my oldest son addresses his smallest brother.


Why so long between posts?

Mainly because I’m using my work laptop which does not have the distraction of my blog or paintings on it.


I am avoiding distractions while I labour over writing a paper, among other things. I now have marvellous software that allows me to view the most minute detail of photographed sections through tissue specimens, coloured to identify cells by their function. These appear to be works of art in themselves. I cannot post photographs of the sections here but perhaps in time I will base a set of watercolours on the plains and deltas and forests of the micrographic world I have been glimpsed.

I found some sketches

This evening I am starting work on a new piece, a planned painting, probably in acrylic, larger than my usual fast drawings, pulling together recent plein air sketches and ideas borrowed from “real” artists.


As I collated my material, I found some sketches not previously posted. Here is a rock formation eroding in the tidal plain in Tyninghame on the Firth or Forth, the salt marsh at Frampton on England’s east coast, the rolling hills of the southern Pennines painted sitting on my bike on the Tissington Trail. I also include a preliminary sketch for a subsequent studio painting of the Yorkshire Dales, posted previously.





By the way – I have reposted this from earlier this evening – minor editing led to all sorts of formatting problems.