I am going to put a suggestion to you.

Are there a handful of us who blog our art who might join together for a couple of days and jointly pay for some tuition?

I have not organised such a thing before but it wouldn’t be that hard.  I have discussed this with a talented and versatile professional artist who might lead it.  I was thinking that we might focus on some more technical aspects of drawing to give it a theme, but it might be that mentorship and discussion result in the more illuminating outcomes.  What I imagine is that this might appeal to people who are not dedicated professional artists, who have other jobs perhaps and maybe are not formally trained as artists, but who have been making art for some time and regard themselves as being on some kind of artistic journey.  Of course, if anything comes of this, it may turn out differently.

I should mention, this would be somewhere in the UK (unless, of course, someone offers us use of a more exotic venue.  Do feel free to do so …).

If anyone thinks this is a good idea, please leave a comment and we can see where it goes.  If it doesn’t appeal, that’s ok too.

2015-07-27 Barston Fields

My own artistic journey goes in short infrequent steps at the moment.  I have been playing around with simple landscapes, blocks of colour for sky and fields, painting a first layer in watercolour and drawing into it with conte crayon.  I am trying to build texture and depth of colour more than detail, because I am working with a small field kit.  My Stillman and Birn beta sketchpad is small enough for me to hold it by hand as I work, with my materials littered on the ground.

None of this was possible yesterday because it rained steadily.  In the early evening, the rain stopped long enough to lure me out of the house then pounced once I was walking up the path to the fields.  Even when I drew sheltered by foliage, my paper was quickly soaked.  Watercolours were out of the question and I began to worry my crayons would dissolve in my fingers.  I walked back, each separate stooping grass head placing its payload of water on my trousers.  I finished the sketch directly I returned, and you can see I scoured up the damp surface as I worked into it.

Here is the sketch for what it is worth.  Rain.

Low bridge and canal path

20150131 Low footbridge and canal path, evening light  (1)

Footbridge and towpath, Grand Union Canal. Saturday evening. Conte crayon, chalk pastel, charcoal, ink, clean water, watercolour, knife.


Oh you crawled out of the sea,

Straight into my arms

Straight into my arms …

(Laura Marling “Alas I cannot swim” Interlude).


Words selected in honour of my daughter’s eighth birthday today.


Here, one evening, I looked down from the high bluff made of volcanic rocks that had been forced through the more ancient softer petrified sediments.  I had previously drawn these contorted rocks in watercolour and sketched the shapes made by the two rock types in ink and wash.

I approached this using a board covered first in thick, unfixed charcoal, drawing in shapes with fingers and an eraser, reserving the brightness of the light reflecting from the sea. I then worked into this with very wet white acrylic, suspending the charcoal dust and building the contrasting tones.    Finally I worked into the wet layers with coloured acrylics, a couple of sticks of chalk pastel and a sharp knife hacking my way back to the paper beneath.  I photographed the piece on site.


I set off with the piece on a board in the back of the car.  After a while I pulled into a lay-by and looked at it again.  In the deepening gloom, I ground more charcoal into the surface and slopped on more white paint, lifting the charcoal but obscuring the colour.  I tipped my remaining sepia ink in a streak along the line of the rocks.

I imposed rotational acceleration on wet, slowly drying paint as I drove round twisting lanes up and down hills, catching in the headlights owls, startled into flight by my progress.

I photographed it late that evening, still drying, paint still moving slowly to invade the bastions of ink.

2014-07-20 Pettico Wick (3)

This is the dried form, as it now is, waiting further action.

2014-07-20 Pettico Wick (2)




The Ribs

The idea for this image clearly has its origins in China Mielville’s steampunk masterpiece, Perdido Street Station.

Ribs 11

In my imagining, an urban density of neon-lit blocks and dwellings, surmounted by a tall temple’s spire, has risen beneath the gigantic fossilised skeleton of an ancient beast.

So this image does not truly depict Mielville’s vast diverse metropolis, New Crobuzon. where the Ribs jut over Bonetown, a makeshift market of temporary stalls, with scanty brick buildings and abandoned lots edging dirty scrubland. Tools break and cement remains fluid.  A baleful influence from the gigantic half-exhumed bones limits development on the gravesite.

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This piece started as an A1 size memory of the fallen tree in backlit woodland, drawn in chalk pastel, washed and blotted.  Seeking to further disintegrate it, it was wetted and covered in inks and white gouache.  Weeks later, I drew the Ribs into the dried-dark image in oil pastel and painted onto this resist with diluted white acrylic.  This still exists in that form, awaiting further work. I took a digital image and explored future directions of travel on the iPad in ArtRage.


There is a place where, no matter how thirsty, it is better not to eat of the puthyrme fruit.  In that place, the deceased are cremated, no matter what the mode of death.

This picture began as a random doodle using acrylic ink into pools of water on the paper, forced to dry fast under a closely directed lamp and then worked into with chalks and ink.  As it evolved, it took shapes drawn from Christopher Priest’s imagined archipelago in which space-time is drawn into an vortex overlying equatorial islands such that flight is possible but traveling unpredictable.  In The Islanders (2011), he writes a travelogue, a kind of guidebook, and only as you read about first one then the next of these various islands does it become apparent that this is in fact a narrative of tragedy and love.  However, I think I first read the chilling story of the puthryme in an anthology, long before I had heard of the author or knew his books.  That story is called The Cremation and I found it again recently in The Dream Archipelago.  As I came close to finishing this drawing, its links to that story became clear in my mind.

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.



At the end of each school year, home comes a big folder of of all the lovely paintings my kids have done, week by week. We do a bit of slapping paint around at home too.   Some go on the wall.  Quietly, quite a lot go in the paper recycling.  When in the experimental drawing workshops, I often wonder what distinguishes us from small children playing with paint.  I sort of think, not a lot.

We seem to have been playing with monoprints: layering pigment on metal plates and pressing paper on this by hand.  The output from the group is very varied.  My own approach was at first to use quite dilute gouache, and some ground charcoal and chalk pastels.

I wondered what then to do.  I had made nine monoprints in rapid succession.  I could look at the pretty patterns and say – “finished”.  But a few purposeless patterns are not art any more than just looking at mountains or rivers or the appearence of stained tissue on a microscope slide are art.   Eventually, this is the stuff of the recycling bin.  Unless I use it.  Somehow.


I started to go over these first patterns first in charcoal (not sure about that) and then I explored printing again, using thickly brushed acrylic.  This is still experimentation.  but I begin to have an idea.  I am thinking of printing more sparingly over these patterns, building layers with rose and viridan to re–create an image of a heron on look out that I have previously attempted in watercolour (with very limited success).  A version I’ve not posted before is below and I’ve linked to the previous attempts also.



Aberlady: storm clouds

Distant lightning flicked under low clouds and the delayed thunder rolled inland across the estuary.


The eiders had been roosting on the far sand bank.  As the tide seeped in, they shuffled into action, one by one launching themselves to swim up river.


When I was writing this post, I wondered why I had drawn with the charcoal tip and not with the side.  I then remembered that these drawings were done early on that last day of the course.  I was warming up.  Later, I also migrated along the coast.  The drawings of gull chicks posted previously had actually been done later that day.  They were bigger, freeer, more expressive.  Drawing is a process and it was taking time to get my eye, hand and brain into gear.