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.

My diary pages are followed by thousands of artists, art students and art lovers in over 50 countries.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Sculptural key-hole surgery


Many of the art students throughout the world that follow my blog, do so in a thirst for hard to find information on traditional working methods and materials.

To fulfill that need today's post covers taking the waste mould from the clay sketch that I featured a couple of weeks ago under the title, “Sculptural Spontaneity”. As the figure is quarter life size, I have risked making the mould in one piece. Inevitably this involved some key-hole surgery when it came to removing the clay from the center section. The pictures tell the story.

Verlena, who modeled for the piece, moved heaven and earth to get here to watch the process and to model for my next sculpture. She then moved heaven and earth twice over to get home again…walking all the way. Now that's dedication!






Sunday, May 13, 2018

Intermission

My memories of the early days of BBC television, relate not so much the programs but the "short intermissions" due to technical failure. These took the form of pictures and music; my favourite being a pot being thrown on a potter's wheel. http://youtu.be/jUzGF401vLc

My intermission is more down to earth and likely to be long, rather than short. The main road that passes my studio and links the island east to west, is closed for major repairs. Unless I buy my model a donkey, there is no way she can reach me. Hence, painting and sculpture is on hold.

My intermission painting dates from the 1980's and is one of hundreds of sketches that I made on the beach in the Virgin Islands. My subject: a girl picking up sea shells.



Monday, May 7, 2018

Sculptural spontaneity

As a sculptor, I work as a modeller rather than a carver. I need to capture the mood of the moment, rather than calculated exactness. The clay sketch is the sculptural equivalent of a watercolour thrown down at the speed of light.

Today's pictures follow on from my last post and translate three dimensionally what I have in mind. 




Saturday, May 5, 2018

An off guarded moment

I consider my recent standing figure as one of my most successful sculptures. It will be a hard act to follow. Having succeeded in depicting the figure in its most natural pose, I am now about to take on the challenge of the off guarded moment. 

Last week's session ended with Verlena stretching in sweet relief. Could this be the off guarded moment that I'd been waiting for? Would it work as a piece of sculpture... hair cascading in all directions, the curve of the spine, the glimpse of the face and breasts, the sole of her foot, the arms outstretched. But for each positive I can foresee a negative and my initial enthusiasm may be misplaced. 


Saturday, April 28, 2018

Will-o'-the-wisp

Two days ago we past a major milestone in the recovery from Hurricane Maria. After seven months of candles, flashlights and warm beer, we now have electricity. Let's hope that it's not a will-o'-the-wisp.

But the elusiveness of today's paintings, done rapidly one after the other, can fit that definition. In the same way a child will boast, "look no hands" when showing off riding a bicycle; my boast is, "look no lines". My washes have been given the freedom to find their own way and to run as they choose.

I only dare work with this degree of freedom when I have a model that understands what I am reaching for and accepts that it's a hit and miss affair. Verlena is one such dedicated model. Incidentally, she was brave enough to attempt that upside down pose that I mentioned a few posts ago, but after twice toppling over we both came down to earth!



Saturday, April 21, 2018

The most expensive mode of making a living


"Sculpture, I should say, is about the most expensive mode of making a living. I cannot think of any other occupation into which you have to put in so much. When you come to reckon your out-of-pocket expenses against your remuneration, the balance is invariably on the wrong side...It takes some courage to remain a sculptor." (Jacob Epstein 1880-1959)

I can vouch for that. When, after 18 months of hard labour, I had completed my group of four life-size figures in bronze for the City of Leeds, the Income Tax Inspector was on my tail. After a year of producing every receipt and all my bank balances, it was found that I was at fault: I had paid too much tax, not too little!

For the last 15 years I have worked in obscurity on a small island in the Caribbean. In that period I have produced, both as a painter and a sculptor, what I believe to be by far my best work, hundreds of paintings and scores of sculptures. As the artist James Abbott Whistler said of his own best paintings: they have successfully resisted the danger of being sold! No doubt their time will come but it may well be after my time.

Today's picture is of a half life-size reclining figure I made over a year ago. It was followed by a life-size reclining figure. Annabelle modelled for both, in between working double shifts at a call center. Hence, sleeping poses!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

I'm lost for words

Today's post follows on from my diary entries dated February 13th/21st and March 2nd. The first picture shows the figure emerging from the waste mold followed by pictures of the finished sculpture.

I have held back on revealing the figure in its final form because my model has been away and I wanted her to be the first to see it. 

Her reaction: Wow...it looks incredible...I'm lost for words! Thank you Verlena for your part in the creative process.





Saturday, April 7, 2018

Upside down


For the sculptor the standing nude figure poses a problem. In modelling and casting the spindly legs have to support the rest of the body. You can get around it by swathing the legs with drapery, as in the Venus de Milo, or by adding the stump of a tree, as in Michelangelo's David.

Today's picture is from a press cutting that I saved many years ago with this problem in mind. Turn the figure upside down and therein lies the solution. 

Perhaps it is time for me to try it out in practice.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Preferring the rough to the smooth


Fifteen years ago, when my studio was in the North of England and I had the luxury of the Times newspaper, mention was made of a sculpture to commemorate the painter James Whistler.

The sculptor Nicholas Dimbleby had been chosen to produce the memorial and I clipped out the picture of his maquette thinking, I wish I'd have made that! The sculptor's intention was to make the whole piece very impressionistic and loosely modelled, as if Whistler himself had made his own self-portrait in clay. 

In the maquette this he certainly achieved. But a few days ago I searched the Internet for a picture of the finished sculpture. Alas, as Rodin himself found - and I can equally vouch for - the spontaneity of the maquette can seldom be carried through to the finished piece.


While we are on the subject of taking the rough with the smooth, it is now six months since Hurricane Maria devastated Dominica. We are still without electricity and 50% of Dominicans are still living under tarpaulins.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Fragments

My way of working with watercolour can be a wasteful way of going about things. I paint at the speed of light and for every success there are scores of paintings that fail, albeit by a hair's breadth. I am reluctant to throw away these perceived failures as they each bear witness to the struggle of getting it right. But eventually, the scores mount up to the hundreds and sooner or later some must go.

My experiments in paper making enable me to recycle. All of my natural ingredients (banana, sugar cane, etc,) benefit from the addition of fine watercolour paper reduced to pulp.

Today, as I was tearing up a stack of discarded paintings in readiness for recycling, I found myself subconsciously tearing away the worst bits first. What I was left with were successful fragments shown here against a background of handmade paper that earlier failures had helped to create.








Friday, March 16, 2018

Nothing has changed


Sometimes I feel that I have been born in the wrong century. Whether it be painting, sculpting, or engineering, my interests, materials and techniques are rooted in the past. Even when it comes to computers, I'm reluctant to update. Is anyone else in the world still using Photoshop 2?

This time lag was brought home to me today as I returned to paper making. As I researched the finer points of applying size to the finished sheet I came across this old print. Even though it depicts paper making from centuries ago, I could see myself in the picture. Nothing has changed!



Sunday, March 11, 2018

When stone masons were architects, artists engineers and poets politicians.


This week has been one of engineering emergencies and excavating and re-laying 100 yards of my three-phase electricity cable. I've had no time to labour on the forge of art. Here instead is one of my recent newspaper commentaries.

A recent comment on Dominica News on Line posed the question: are we becoming an Academic Elitist Society. I share the writer's concern for in my experience we loose rather than gain from an overload of academic qualifications and specialization.

As we haven't yet quite reached the dubious distinction of a “graduate in every home” and as 15% of West Indians are - like me - dyslexic, my own slant on the academic vs the practical may be relevant. Academic qualifications have a place in the overall scheme of things. We do need highly qualified doctors, lawyers and accountants. But at the same time we need skilled artisans and the current imbalance may be one reason why we are not moving forward as we should.

Whereas it is the norm for academic subjects to be encouraged from a very early age, skills, with the exception of sports, receive virtually no attention at all. The artisan relies on the coordination between hand and eye and for this to develop it must be practiced from an early age.

Five hundred years ago, at the age of twelve, Michelangelo was considered too old to begin learning the trade of a sculptor. Leonardo da Vinci served his apprenticeship as a painter and had no formal schooling in architecture, science and engineering. Thomas Telford, the godfather of civil engineering, was raised in poverty and at the age of thirteen began his apprenticeship as a stone mason. Andrew Marvell, the most lyrical of all 17th century poets, was a politician.

Our means of recognizing and measuring intelligence is flawed. Examinations cannot measure creativity and innovative thinking. Such attributes are not on the set answer sheet. Neither can they measure manual dexterity. The skilled carpenter's eye is his gauge to measure beauty by.

One Dominican that I would rank in the realms of genius did poorly at school and you won't find him behind an office desk or sat on a committee. Yet companies and government departments with a score of graduates on their pay roll depend on his knowledge and skills when their equipment breaks down. 

Sixty-five years ago I failed miserably the Eleven Plus – the UK forerunner of our Common Entrance Examination. Yet in the same year I designed and built a model aircraft that could fly the length of a football field. Needless to say, that achievement counted for naught.

The school that I was sent to was labeled, “sink secondary modern”, meaning failing. Many years later, when my engineering studies put me alongside ex-grammar school students, I realized that my “sink” school had better prepared me for my life's work than theirs had. At my school the boys had a fully equipped wood and metal workshop and the girls, a sewing room and kitchen. We had an art room and music room and inspirational, non graduate teachers. All of the subjects were compulsory. Many of my classmates became high achievers in diverse fields. And that was from what were perceived to be failing pupils and a failing school.

Incidentally, I honed my skills as an artist, not at college, but on the pavements of France with a wife and nine month old baby in tow.

Granted, here in Dominica, we have made some attempt to include non-academic subjects in school syllabuses but at all levels we fall far short of a balance between the practical and theoretical. As one headmistress told me when I was offering free Saturday morning classes for students with an interest in art: my girls do not have time for that sort of thing. And most parents have a similar mind set. Thus, Dominica falls short of its human resource potential.

The illustration is taken from my book “Caribbean Sketches” 

Friday, March 2, 2018

Inside out

Opening the mold and removing the armature and clay is an anxious time. I hold my breath and hope that the plaster impression is as near perfect as can be. Slowly and carefully, piece by piece, the clay is scooped from the mold to reveal the figure inside out. I use a garden hand pumped spray bottle to wash out all the crevices. At last I can breathe a sigh of relief, the mold is 99% perfect!



Saturday, February 24, 2018

Glaring inaccuracies



Rodin, in his latter years, made thousands of instantaneous drawings of his models. He was proud of his new genre and wondered if he did not prefer it to sculpture. The reason being that it captured movement more quickly. One observer described it as: an extraordinary method with glaring inaccuracies.

I can well relate to Rodin's preference for I have found the same to hold true.

The painting above is one that I made in almost a split second as my model Verlena stretched between one pose and the next. The drawing below is one of Rodin's.



Wednesday, February 21, 2018

So far, so good

Taking the mold from a clay sculpture that has involved weeks of work is a nerve wracking process. If anything goes seriously wrong all is lost. Just in case that happens the first picture takes one last glance at a detail of the torso.


The second picture shows the figure divided into four sections (front and back and left and right between waist and shoulder) by inserting brass shims into the clay. The divisions have to be carefully thought out - by way of sleepless nights - to ensure that the mold will separate.


In the third picture a first coat of plaster has been flicked over the figure by fingers dipped in plaster the consistency of thin cream. If the clay is touched it will be marked.



Finally a thick coat of plaster is trowelled over the first flicked coat.



Now everything is left for a few days for the plaster to thoroughly set.