Introduction




My on-line diary began in the 1990's from my studio in the North of England. After a lapse of ten years, I resumed posting from my present studio on the Caribbean island of Dominica.

From the far beginning, the intention has been to give an insight into my working methods, and to share the triumphs, trials and tribulations of work-in-progress.






Saturday, December 3, 2016

Continuing the tango

Yesterday, I posted “one of today’s paintings”. But as usual, the one and a half hour afternoon session resulted in three large 16” x 20” water colours. Here are the other two.



 A session begins with five minutes of catching up on the week’s events. Then, in complete silence we get down to work.  After four years of working together, words are superfluous. There are no set poses. Annabelle is free to stretch and turn as she pleases. My task is to get the result of one stretch and turn down on paper before the next. It is not easy. Digging ditches would be less exhausting. And the same goes for the model. At the end of the session we are rarely sure of what we’ve accomplished. It is too soon to judge. In fact, followers of these diary pages are very likely able to form an opinion before we do.  

Friday, December 2, 2016

A naked girl and a loaf of bread

Working from the nude figure demands passion tempered with integrity and daring tempered with restraint.  Before beginning my day’s work, or when instructing life-class students, I repeat the biblical words of advice given by a past master of the nude figure.

Take the shoes from off thy feet, for the ground you are about to step upon is Holy Ground.

Kenneth Clark, in his definitive book on the nude, has this to say:

“…No doubt an artist can achieve a greater degree of detachment than the profane might suppose. But does this not involve a certain callosity or dimness of response? To scrutinize a naked girl as if she were a loaf of bread or a piece of rustic pottery, is surely to exclude one of the human emotions of which a work of art is composed…”

If awards were to be given for artists’ models, Annabelle, the subject of one of today’s paintings, would surely come away with gold. Just as it takes two to tango, it takes both artist and model working in absolute union to portray the sensuous beauty of the nude.



Thursday, November 24, 2016

Facial attraction

If asked, what is the first thing you look for in a model? Without hesitation I can answer that it is the face that first attracts. This holds true, even though in my paintings the face is secondary to the figure and sometimes it is not shown at all. Nevertheless, the spirit of my muse is personified in her fleeting glance. Here lie her subtle moods and changes.

In the first painting from today's session, the face is visible albeit partially cover by the model’s shoulder.



In the second foreshortened figure, the upturned face is nothing more than a suggestive brush stroke. Fleetingly though it may be, it nonetheless allows the dark red of the lips to give continuity, first to the breasts and then to the toes.


Incidentally, both were painted in little more than the time it took for my model to turn from one side to the other.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Life-classes with a difference

A woman's life class 1879

No, I’m not reverting back to life classes of the 19th century. As a matter of fact, I am not changing the format of my classes one bit. What I am trying to do is make it easier for those living overseas to attend.

Since I announced group vacation classes three years ago I’ve had hundreds of responses from all over the world. But getting one person to Dominica is difficult enough, to get a minimum of six together for the same date, is nigh impossible. The solution presented itself when one keen artist vowed to come anyhow. The session went so well that now offer tuition on a one to one basis.

Yes, my life classes are different. The warmth of the tropics means that we are free to work indoors or out. My models are not restricted to worn-out set poses and my way of working with a model is different to the usual life-class routine. Moreover, I do demonstrate rather than just critique.

You can find out more at: workingfromlife.blogspot.com 

Friday, November 11, 2016

The encroaching jungle


Maintaining a house, studio, workshops and three acres of gardens in the tropics is a never ending battle. While the woodwork of doors and shutters deteriorates, lush vegetation grows with profusion. We are on the verge of the rain forest and behind our backs is the encroaching jungle. Yesterday I spent the morning clearing the path to the river. By the end of the month it will need clearing again.

Even the paved walled garden below my studio is no defense against the profusion of tropical growth. Throw an orange seed down today and it will attempt to be a tree by tomorrow.

What with one thing and another, it’s a wonder that I ever find time for painting!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Where the pleasant fountains lie

Kenneth Clark's definitive book, The Nude, originated as a series of lectures that he gave at Washington’s National Gallery of Art in 1953. It is a classic of its kind. I have read the book from cover to cover on at least three occasions over the last forty years and most recently, over the last two weeks.

Those forty years span my development as a painter and sculptor of the nude. As with poetry, I have interpreted the book’s contents differently from one period to the next. It is only on my most recent reading that I discovered a curious omission: breasts and buttocks are analyzed at length, but nowhere is there mention of pudendum, male or female.

The Guardian columnist, Syreeta McFadden came up against a similar problem when perusing the Greek and Roman galleries of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.


 Alas, the origin of the word pudendum – a shameful thing - still holds true.

Fotunately, Gustave Courbet, Egon Schiele and Auguste Rodin had no qualms depicting it, and neither have I.


Today’s picture is a detail from my painting of the reclining torso.

Graze on my lips, and if those hills be dry,
Stray lower, where the pleasant fountains lie
.

William Shakespeare “Venus and Adonis” 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Pure and simple

What follows is my murmured soliloquy while working on the last of four paintings from yesterday’s session with Annabelle.

I’ve ten minutes left to save the day…Just relax in whichever way you choose…Where do I start…I’m seeing a line in silhouette that runs over the left breast and down to right thigh…Just one simple line with a hint of the rib cage…And now I can place the right breast and follow the curve to the hip…What a wonderful line that is…Keep it loose, don’t play about with detail…The face is largely hidden behind the left arm but that doesn’t make it easier…First I must let the chin fall into place…Now I can tie in the arms. The complication of the clasped hands I’ll leave to take care of themselves…Okay, stretch if you need to…No more line, just get the washes down, boldly, once and for all…My brush instinctively finds the earth colours I need…Leave the washes to find their own way…Keep the lights light and don’t be afraid of defining the darks around the face…The same touch of Indian Red serves for the lips and the nipples and the merest hint where the thighs meet…No time for background and it would be superfluous for what I am after…A glance at the clock tells me our time is up…To add more would be less…Annabelle, that’s it, we’re finished!

Here’s the result: pure and simple. With thanks to my inspirational model.





Saturday, October 22, 2016

Pregnant in body and soul


In 1992, with my wife five months pregnant, we sailed our 36 foot gaff cutter from the Caribbean to Bermuda. Our plan was to spend some months there and then fly to England for the birth. However, the inevitable never happens but the unexpected often does. Unexpectedly, our daughter Tania came into the world a month premature. From that date my work moved towards the figurative and my collection of Bermuda paintings have been hidden away ever since. These paintings represent the last of a tropical townscape period that I began twenty years earlier in the Caribbean.

This detail heralds the transformation.


Saturday, October 15, 2016

The sweetness of sin


The word beguine crops up in Kenneth Clark’s definitive book, The Nude, A Study in Ideal Form. The dictionary gives two meanings: first: Infatuation and the second, A popular dance of West Indian origin.

On further research I find that the dance originated in my neighbouring French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique. It is a slow close dance in which the female’s hands are clasped around the neck of the male and the male’s hands are clasped around the waist of the female. There is a back and forth hip movement.

Cole Porter encountered the dance when Martinique immigrants brought it to the dance halls of Paris. The rest is enshrined in the history of popular song. Interestingly, the accepted closing lines of the song are:

And we suddenly know what heaven we’re in,
When they begin the beguine.

But the first version read:

And we suddenly know the sweetness of sin,
When they begin the beguine.

I consider the accepted line to be adequate, but the presumably censored version, is pure poetry!

Here is Ella Fitzgerald’s classic recording of the song: 


I promise to track down the actual dance. So far I’ve drawn a blank here in Dominica, despite our strong French Creole connections. It might add some spice to our more formal crop of cultural dances, about which V. S. Naipaul had this to say in his book The Middle Passage:

To this mincing mimicry, the violence and improvisation and awesome skill of African dancing has been reduced.

These pictures illustrate one against the other.




Sunday, October 9, 2016

An ingenious work of art

Today’s picture illustrates a work of art, but not one that you will find in a gallery.

I stumbled across it a few weeks ago when visiting a village that was almost wiped out when Tropical Storm Erica devastated Dominica just over a year ago. The government is intent on re-housing the villagers in a new estate of plastic pre-fabricated houses; the equivalent of Pete Seeger’s “Little Boxes”.

However, some villagers, like the creator of this ingenious cane crashing mill, are staying put on what may now - after nature has done her worst - be considered safe ground. Some might say they are foolhardy, but for me they emphasise the unconquerable spirit of man.