Sunday 31 May 2009

Of rooks, deer and shenanigans


I'm up at Prior Park painting the college. It's half term and there's no one else around. Landscaped gardens sweep down the valley and open out to a fantastic view of the city*. It's not quite the middle of town, but it's definitely not the country and a deer wanders out of the trees to my left. It bounds (as deers do) across the lawn and steps in front of the mansion house before disappearing into the trees on the far side. I guess it was twenty yards away from me at its closest. It's quite unexpected and quite wonderful.

Later and one of the masters comes out of his rooms to water some pot plants. He doesn't say anything to me and I don't say anything back. He and his wife have dinner outside and the chimes of the cutlery and the clinking of the china become my background music. It's a beautiful day.

* I can't post an image of the painting yet as it's a commission and I need to show it to the commissioner first. Sort of a surprise, but not quite. Semi mysterious I know, but you're stuck with the line drawing of old fat head.


I can't do any drawings on the way to the studios cos I'm picking up the wine for more OPEN STUDIO SHENANIGANS which also means that I don't get much painting done. To make up for it I do some sketching later, on the way to Sainsbury's to pick up some nibbles.

The entrance to the Studios and a lone flip flop reminds me how easy it is to leave a sandal behind in Homebase carpark (a long time ago now, but some things you never forget - probably due to wife and family ridicule on a periodic basis).

More flowers by the river; more tragedy; mirrored by the man drinking alone on the other side. 

I walk on to find myself walking almost in synch with two muscle and tattoo clad topless youths. Their trousers miraculously stay up despite starting underneath their buttocks. I feel slightly intimidated, but keep pace with them for a while before stopping to draw a big old rook I saw this morning. I know it's a rook because it had a big grey beak and feathery trousers and Claire told me. The drawing doesn't work because although I remember the trousers and the beak it turns out I can't remember anything else. That is apart from the fact that the beak could peck your eyes out.

I get to Sainsbury's and there's a car alarm blaring away with a small child peering out from the rear window. I meet someone I know and I don't do any more drawings.

Sunday 24 May 2009

Before and After

Thursday 21/05/09

A freebie invite to the south west region chartered accountants annual dinner (exciting stuff - I must contain myself) finds me digging deep into the wardrobe to find my old tuxedo (good word - better than dinner jacket). There's a little bit of debris in the pocket that tells me I haven't worn it since 1994, but praise be, it still fits (breath in ...). I manage to scrape off the bit of dirt on the jacket that I obviously never got around to dry cleaning and I'm good to go. To cummerbund or not to cummerbund, that is the question.

There's a fairly low key feel to the do (or so I'm told by those that regularly attend these things - "you should have seen it last year, now that was a ball; the glitz, the glamour, the showgirls ...") due to the economic climate, but regardless and surprisingly, considering I'm in a room full of accountants, (or maybe unsurprisingly, given the free wine) a great time was had by me. I manage to foist a couple of my arty business cards on to a couple of people that might make a difference and leave before getting too drunk.

Tux off (... and breath out) and back into the wardrobe - no need to dry clean, I'm sure it will be fine.

Friday 22/05/09

Feeling slightly hungover (see above). I did mean to go out and paint, I really did, but after a portrait sitting in the morning and getting the studio sorted for the OPEN STUDIOS WEEKEND I can't summon up the energy. By the afternoon I'm running on empty. Still, the portrait seems to be coming on okay, so here it is instead. Obviously not finished, but it's got the makings of something.

Sunday 17 May 2009

Rambling Again

14/05/09 Thursday

15/05/09 Friday

You take your inspiration where you can find it (said he sagely) and this morning I stumbled across (when I say 'stumbled across', it's the website of the new administrator at the studios and I keyed the web address in because she gave it to me, so 'stumble' is a rubbishy description). Check it out - it's treading a fine line between genius and insanity, but, synchronicitously, finding it coincides with my own attempts to diarise and document with scrawly line and I realise the enormity of what has gone before. I don't want to draw the same thing everyday for ever, but an element of prescription and habit helps to drive me forward. So ...

I document the walk to the studios again.

It's wet. The hole in my squelchy boots is at the expense of any grip and I slip on the steps at the bottom of the footpath. So I draw them. (..?!)

I passed this van at the top of the hill, probably a plumber's because there were two long copper pipes on the pavement. I don't draw them, but the image sticks in my memory and I try to recall it half way into town.

I stop on the steep bit of Holloway to draw the pavement. A bicyclist skids dangerously as he tries his brakes while racing down the road.

The new bus station. Nothing to say.

I buy some stationery and now I've got too many bags and they're heavy and I don't want to draw any more, I just want to get to the studio.

It's a dismal day and I lose myself to the madness that is the background of my current studio painting. [It fits the theme of repetition and lunacy so I include the work in progress here even though it's not the usual out and about on the streets of Bath thing.]

Lunch time and I get given a piece of coffee and walnut cake. It was a general offer for the last piece, but something in the look on my face must have given away the strength of my desire and no one else lays claim to it. Mmm coffee and walnut cake - it makes the day. 

Later, and driven by the need to put something on the blog, I head out to paint. It's still grey, but that's okay as it gives me an excuse to paint the Upper Bristol Road again. Look there's the Bath Tour bus stopping and letting some passengers off - proof indeed (as if proof were needed) that the UBR is an appealing thoroughfare - a tourist attraction in its own right. I wonder what the on board commentary says about it.

There's rain in the air as I set off, but of course I haven't got any wet weather gear (because I walked to work and I'm an idiot). A boarded up cornershop grabs my attention and I set up by the still decaying site of the old JCR. The greens along the street on the left are quite bright and vivid, but I play it down because it's very distracting and green is a dangerous colour. That Bucks Fizz song is going through my head because the radio was going on about the Eurovision Song Contest tomorrow night - how annoying. Don't sing out loud, don't sing out loud, don't sing out loud.

The rain that has been threatening since I started, materialises in the form of drizzle, the kind of drizzle that drenches. I keep going until the paint stops sticking to the board. It's a start and I like it, so I'm not disappointed with the shortness of the session and I head back to the studio.

It's raining on the way home and I'm late so I don't do any drawing.

Sunday 10 May 2009

Hello Gran

I had a really vivid dream about my Gran the other day. She's been dead for eighteen years, but she inspired me to start painting so I guess its sort of relevant.

We're driving from Weston-Super-Mare to Bristol going home after work. (Note of explanation - I did work with/for my Gran for a short period of time although the journey home was from W-S-M to Bristol, not the other way round.) It's a big 4x4 BMW (reality updated) and she's driving - one hand on the wheel and foot down. There is no road and it's as though we're driving through a construction site. I ask her if anything happened at work that day and she says my Uncle found his watch. (Is this relevant? No idea - I include it for completeness and all psychoanalysts.) Gran has to stop at a petrol station to 'freshen up' (there is a bathroom in the back of the beamer, but it's a bit cramped). We screech across the tarmac miraculously missing the pumps and coming to a perfect stop. While Gran goes for a shower (?!) I go into the shop and down to the basement gift section. The walls are covered with posters of a naked James McAvoy (although he's got a long white beard covering his tackle)...

And that's pretty well where it fades out. I wake up feeling really good (no - nothing to do with James McAvoy ...), the dream was so real that it was like I can still see and talk to her - 18 years (more like 25 since I worked for her) and it's like yesterday, so I guess we all live on in those that remember us. She didn't say anything about my paintings, but that's okay - she died before I really started painting, but I reckon she'd approve.

Scarey - getting a bit deep and profound. Back to some art.


Trying to finish the painting of Great Pulteney Street I spend 30 minutes getting across town just to arrive as it starts to rain. Idiot that I am I have not brought any wet weather gear and the whole event is a write off.


I try again, but this time I'm ready for anything. There's only a little drizzle, but as soon as it starts I'm there with the Ben's Brilliant Perspex Rain Screen (patent pending, BBPRS for short) and there's no problem. I get no interruptions, no car horns, no van man shouts; it's all quiet. All quiet, that is, except for the mosquito that crash lands on the painting. He hits the terrace rooftops on the left where the paint is wet. The odds are stacked against him as he drags one leg after another, climbing up the chimneys. Slowly he labours on and then he's onto the sky and lucky for him he hits a dry patch. Faster now and by the time I turn back to look again, he's gone. 

I think I overwork the sky, but sometime's you can't go backwards and the more you try the worse it gets.


I've got the possibility of a commission and I'm walking around town doing some preliminary sketches. I'm totally unobtrusive with just the small sketch book, but I'm concious of choosing a site that I can cope with if I come back for a proper big painting.

During the 1st one a Big Issue seller looks over my shoulder and compliments my perspective. He slaps me on the arm before walking away and my pen skids across the paper. He apologises profusely, but I laugh, I'm not sure it makes any difference to the drawing.

I like the 3rd one, but we'll see.

Sunday 3 May 2009



Bwa Ha Ha! I laugh in the face of the storm! (inwardly)

Bwa Ha Ha! I mock the tempest (oo 'Mock the Tempest', good name for a band .... the band ... maybe ... maybe not)

Bwa Ha Ha! although it's really only drizzling and I'm standing under a bridge.

I get there early to beat the smokers to the good pitch. Things to note as I walk in:
  1. I have a hole in the bottom of my right shoe so that it squelches as I walk.
  2. Tanning! only 69p per minute! (is that cheap - sounds a lot to me. If they're trying to fool people they should try 'less than 2p per second!' that would have them queuing in the streets.)
  3. 'retchmarks' advertised in another beauty shop - it's closed and not sure if it will ever open again, but if I had visible retchmarks, I'd probably pay to have them removed.
Painting goes okay - I think - I get radical at the end and put a large (ish) figure in, but keep it real sketchy. I'm standing on a slope and my crooked posture soon causes problems with cramp and back ache so I call it finished and slink off.


On the way to the studio:

I'm walking so it's an opportunity to get all Kurt Jackson and do some quick sketching on the way in:

Now this is what I'm talking about - WW (reminder WW = William Wray) or what?

Under railway line through the dodgy underpass that you wouldn't use at night. Even more WW - got to come back with my easel.

Along the run down street on the other side. 'Sold'?! Can't believe it.

Same street and look - someone has spent some time and effort just bashing tacks into the tarmac pavement. Little piles of them scattered around. Ha - what an idiot - what's the point of that? Ha - almost as dumb as someone standing here looking at the pavement and doing a drawing of it ... yeah ... ha ...

Over the bridge to the studio and there's some memorial flowers tied to the railings. I wonder who and I wonder why. 


Shoulder's still achey, but the sun comes out and I feel the need to get out and paint. I can't carry the easel far, but then, realisation dawns and I know that I can be all WW ish if I just paint the Upper Bristol Road. I set up painting a couple of front doors and my bizarre location inspires many drivers shooting past to hoot their horns and see whether they can make me jump. Annoyingly, I oblige them. Ha ha yeah yeah, very funny.

Similarly the seagulls seem to mock me, but much to my relief they miss with their pooh, splatting the pavement just next to me.

The painting seems to be showing promise, but the large phallus in the foreground is bugging me and I know I'm going to have to do something about it next time.

On the way home from the studio:

I'm still feeling all inspired, but after a few pints, the sketches are going a bit skewy. I realise that I can actually sketch people on the move by walking behind them while I draw. This works surprisingly well apart from:
  1. When they walk really quickly, it's difficult to keep up and draw at the same time
  2. I'm only getting rear views
  3. I will inevitably get arrested or punched or both