Ceaseless back and forth

There is a broken train up the line, so I am sitting in a pub, eating quinoa wraps with avacado and rice and spicy beef and a second pint of beer and the sea washes back and forth, endlessly back and forth, in the centre of London, people come in and blather, drink up and say goodbyes, back and forth, back and forth.

Imaginary dragons: thoughts while walking round an extinct volcano

A few weeks before the General Election, parties that expect to form governments stand on a platform of “financial rectitude”.

This is strange because it does not seem that peoples’ livelihoods have been threatened by lack of financial rectitude so much as by a cult-like adherence to an economic orthodoxy that sanctifies national debts to financiers over what is owed to the populace. Financial institutions created debts from nothing and sold them as assets. In this cult, money debts carry a moral imperative: sooner that someone is impoverished than the bank is not paid.

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Rock shelter, built to capture moisture and encourage vegetation on the arid slope of dead volcano. Pen and ink, watercolour, conte crayon.


I have found illuminating David Graeber’s broadcast series Promises Promises: a History of Debt, available on BBC IPlayer and based on his book, Debt: the first 5000 years. Part of his thesis is that debt and credit are ancient concepts, reflecting the webs of reciprocity throughout society. Credit and debt are an essential lubricant in human relationships and enterprise, but are inherently unstable: debt tends to accumulate causing poverty and societal unrest. Periodically, ancient monarchs felt obliged to declare jubilees in which debts were annulled. What we call the economy is a much narrower concept, typically focusing on money which for us is the sharing out of national debt as currency that can be taxed.

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Seaward rim of dead volcano – compressed volcanic ash eroded by the winds. Watercolour sticks, wash, pen and ink.


My other source of economic wisdom is the late Sir Terry Pratchett’s first book The Colour of Magic. The world is flat, carried on the shoulders of four elephants riding on the cratered carapace of the gigantic space-faring turtle A’Tuin. On this disc is the Wyrmburg, a massive mountain balanced upside down on its pinnacle by magic, on which beautiful near-naked warriors do ariel battle on the backs of imaginary dragons. Whatever you do, don’t stop believing: it’s a long way down to crash.

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Looking across the caldera. Love tokens writ large in stones in the crater. Conte crayon


I belong to a political party which states the following on my membership card.

The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few, where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe, and where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.

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Lichens colonise the seaward slopes of the volcano and vegetation concentrated where the scant waters collect in the crater. Pen and ink, conte crayon, clean water.


In this election, the Labour Party is standing on a platform of financial rectitude. Despite this, I choose to believe that, if Labour forms a government, its leader, Ed Miliband, has the toughness, intelligence and decency to respond flexibly and humanely to the challenges of the next five years.

Why is Labour’s manifesto so conservative? I guess that the leadership does see through the global economy as an illusory belief system which, while powerfully mobilising human resource, is also inherently unstable as well as being unfair, cruel and discriminatory. But I can see that it is frightening to challenge the faith. Even when escaping from the mountain balanced on its tip, one rides an imaginary dragon. Don’t stop believing: it’s a long way down to crash.

Painting with volcanic rock

PLaya Blanca

A little way from a beach resort and harbour, a short spit of rock projected into the sea from the cliffs.   The volcanic rocks had eroded to greys tinged with bands of mauve, pink and orange.  I drew using black pen and wash on resistant Moleskine paper.  Lacking paints, I  ground a fragment of stone against the rock beneath me and stained the paper with the dust suspended in water.

Here is the original field sketch.  To create the final image above, I accentuated have the contrasts with white and sepia ink.

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The sketch below at the same spot had been done a few days before just with ink and water – I had not thought to use the rock itself as a medium.

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I spotted some plovers bathing in the rock pools below.  These sketches of a species unfamiliar to me were made alternating between drawing and looking through binoculars. Again I used the volcanic rock to get a sense of the rich chocolate brown plumage.  They were scared off by boys going fishing before I could have a proper go at drawing them.  These turn out to be waders called Ruddy Turnstone.

Ruddy Turnstone

Lanzarote is built from the outpourings of lava from a magma bubble not far beneath the surface of the Earth’s crust.  Some of my sketches of the now cold craters, twisted basalt and fields of ash are shown in the page on this blog called Exploded and Eroded, mixed with other drawings, mainly of the limestone karst scenery in Yorkshire and Majorca.



beach drawing

It came as a sudden insight that drawing people is skill to be learned and developed.  It is not magic … miracle or mystery.  Until now my sketches of our own species have been haphazard at best.  On holiday I have been studying a more structured approach. I have thought more about the anatomical structures under the skin and looked harder for how these affect the shadows and reflected light.

By and large, my models were my children.  They are fairly tolerant but they do wriggle a lot.  These first two of my daughter have all the right elements, eyes, nose, hair etc, but … they do not exactly look like the real person.

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The lines on the top of the second sketch are of my son.  Here are more.  I have been accused of making him look like an ogre in the first sketch as he contorted his features squinting in the sun.  He was folding himself up in a chair here.

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Here are more beach pictures, including my daughter on the right.

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Lastly, I started drawing a mundane view of the boulevard and sea behind but became captivated by the lady patiently awaiting custom, usually pre-teen girls who can persuade their parents to pay for them to have their hair painfully braided and beaded.

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I wonder where these women have come from and how they are living while we are on holiday.  I have seen similar enterprises around the Mediterranean and Canary Islands suggesting that this must surely be something like a direct selling franchise.  How much of the money are they are able to keep?  Is this a sustainable business model for them or, instead, is it they who are they the customers for a central trader  selling beads, boards and passage to tourist destinations?

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.






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.


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.


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.



Volcanic landscapes

This basaltic landscape in Lanzarote resulted from very recent volcanic activity, geologically speaking.  The rock is twisted into harsh, sharp features and is barely colonised by lichen.  I drew in ink using one such piece of rock on one of these sketches.  Yet the fields of ash bear crops in circular depressions dug to trap condensing moisture.  In the background sit the calderas and the rocks are stained in unexpected colours.