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.

Friday, September 14, 2018

I spoke too soon


Just as I started picking up the pieces from last year's hurricane, Tropical Storm Isaac headed directly towards Dominica. This time around it was torrential rain rather than hurricane force winds. Nevertheless, outdoor work is on hold.

As sitting around doing nothing would drive me insane, I've spent my time making a shirt. Over the years I have frequently been reduced to making my own shirts and shorts. The reason being that here in the tropics it's impossible to find clothing suited to a hot climate. Shirts are in polyester and shorts come way down below the knees. My shirts are in light weight cotton and my shorts are even lighter and shorter.

Today's picture picture shows Marcella's torso doubling as a tailor's dummy. I'm sure that when she finds out she'll claim the shirt as her own!

Incidentally, some years ago I launched my own fashion label for the tropics and named it, "Bare Minimum".

Monday, September 10, 2018

My cure for vacant and pensive moods


It is almost a year ago since Hurricane Maria wracked havoc to my island of Dominica. Luckily, my main studio and workshops survived but our gardens and the gazebo that I used for life classes did not fare as well. 

After the hurricane I was on a creative high and up until now my time has been spent painting and sculpting rather than repairing the damage. But for the time being I have exhausted my creative muse and vacant and pensive moods have taken hold. Fortunately, for this malaise I have a cure: that is to throw myself into hard physical work. Hence, I am now picking up and putting back together the pieces that Maria blew down.

The curious thing is, when my muscles ache my hands are blistered, my muse shyly begins to favour me again.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Recognizing my own limitations


V. S. Naipaul, to my mind the greatest and most perceptive Caribbean writer of the 20th century, died last month. In memory, I am re-reading (I've lost count of the number of times) his masterpiece, "The Enigma of Arrival".

In that book he refers to a writer friend's "admiration of certain writers and artists (and) his wish to do again, but for himself, what they had done.."

How true of myself! In a hundred year's time I doubt that anyone will bother about my work as a sculptor, regardless of my admiration of Rodin, although it is as a sculptor that, during my lifetime, I have received some degree of recognition. However, there is a chance that someone will re-discover my watercolours, especially those in my series "Daughters of the Caribbean Sun".

Today's painting was hurriedly chosen at random from hundreds of paintings in that series.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Different perspectives


Actual studio visits, as against virtual visits to these pages, are few and far between. But last week I had two.

The first was a government sponsored group of "tourism stake holders". My studio is seen as a "niche market tourism product". The stake holders left me feeling unsure that my work had been understood. Anyone seeking sexual content in my work, as against the beauty of the nude, would be be better off tuning into the Disney Channel.

I was initially wary of my second visitor because knew his interest, for very legitimate reasons, was the sexual. But it was my method of depicting the nude that drew his attention, not breasts or pudenda. I felt rewarded and comfortable.

Today's sketch dates from almost twenty years ago. If I had wanted my model to appear sexy I would have penciled in a bikini. 

Monday, August 20, 2018

My twice daily ritual

Each morning, and again before evening, I go down to the river to bathe. 

In the thirteen years that we've lived here the river and the path that meanders down to it, has changed beyond recognition. Before Tropical Storm Erica there was a bathing pool large enough and deep enough to swim in. Three subsequent smaller pools were swept away by Hurricane Maria. But climate change has been around since before the dinosaurs and geologists tell me that the entire valley was once a large lake.

The path is now an obstacle course with a climb over huge fallen trees and a ladder to negotiate a section that has eroded away. But the challenge of getting there is rewarded by ladling cool river water over my naked body.

The first picture shows the river in earlier times with a life-class in progress. If you look closely you can just make out the model perched like a mermaid on one of the boulders. The second picture was taken today and shows the river cascading down to my present pool.



Friday, August 10, 2018

Off days


At last, here is the plaster cast of my latest sculpture. The molding was one problem after another and after week's of effort I almost gave up on the job. 

Working on a remote Caribbean island means that I have no means  of obtaining fresh plaster. I have to recycle outdated stock by regrinding and reheating to a high temperature. But beyond that, my biggest mistake was using questionable washing up liquid as a mold release agent. It appears to have prevented the cast from fully hardening. The surface is powdery and I have lost a lot of detail.

But it is from mistakes that I occasionally make a break through. To bind the powdery surface of the cast I brushed on a liberal coating of shellac. As I could not obtain clear shellac I used a version that carpenters use for sealing knots. And low and behold, the effect was a patina that I've spent thirty years searching for!

The loss of detail may also be seen as a positive. Many of Rodin's plaster casts have a similar suggestive appearance. Maybe his mold makers also had an occasional off day. But they had good old-fashioned soft soap rather than today's washing up liquid.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Capturing beauty


It has happened to me so many times. I see a beautiful face and I ask the recipient to model. But alas, by the time she reaches my studio her natural charms have been modified to a foreign concept of beauty: straightened hair, lightened skin and heavy makeup. Even worse, one young lady who was high on my list of possibilities has recently taken to wearing a wig! 

Afro-Caribbeans appear to have developed a hatred for their own natural hair. The machismo male shaves it all off and the daughters of the Caribbean sun disguise it in anyway they can.

In contrast, the nude figure, for the most part, remains true to itself. Hence my preference.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Depicting love


The poet Jon Stallworthy in his introduction to an anthology of love poems, writes as follows:

“…Given the high premium that artists set upon intensity, and given the relationship between creativity and sexual energy, the artist is likely to have more intense moments and more emotion to recollect than most of his fellow men. An artist, moreover, is a maker; one who assembles existing materials to give substance and a name to something that did not exist before, or something that existed unperceived…at moments in the act of making…he experiences an intensity of awareness and exaltation comparable to those experienced in making love…”

He goes on to say that an aging artist will recall the beloved of his youth and bring her to life again.

Jon Stallwothy's perception of rekindling love in old age comes close to a similar quote that I once read, but cannot remember where. In essence it was saying that the artist in old age has an insight, and hence, a valuable contribution, that younger fellows lack. Maybe love, like youth, is wasted on the young.

Today's picture comes close to the above theme. It is a detail of a “two in one” torso that I am currently working on. Making my own paper opens up a new world of creative possibilities. In this case my hand made cotton paper has been formed into the contours of my models torso. The form creates the sculpture and to that I add my watercolour washes.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

In pursuit of beauty


Seventy six years ago today I was born amidst the destruction of an air raid. Perhaps, subconsciously, that is why I have spent my life in pursuit of creativity and beauty.

My vision of beauty has taken many forms and my search has taken me from my native West Riding of Yorkshire to the palm-fringed beaches of my adopted Caribbean. For the last thirty years my figurative  paintings and sculptures have collectively fallen under the title "Daughters of the Caribbean Sun".

My life continues to be a work in progress. Today's picture shows the colour and texture of my most recent batch of handmade paper. It could be said that the pattern has something of the cosmos about it. A secondary meaning of the word cosmos is, "the sum total of experience". It is the sum total of seventy six years of experience that I invest in my work, no matter what form it may take - and continue to take.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Think fast!


The picture shows my hand testing the consistency of a bowl of plaster in readiness for pouring into the mold of my most recent sculpture. Because plaster sets within minutes I sometimes add a few grains (and I mean a few) of sodium citrate. This delays the setting time and allows the plaster to find its way into all the nooks and crannies. But if you over do the amount the plaster will take for ever to set. This once happened when I was making a life cast of a model's torso.

It takes a committed model to submit herself to a life cast. Plaster heats up when it sets rapidly. For the model's comfort, I add a tiny amount of sodium citrate to the mix so that it becomes no more than pleasantly warm. But on that one occasion I added too much and after ten minutes the plaster was showing no sign of setting.

Think fast! Here I am with a naked model covered in wet plaster from her neck to her thighs. I can't leave her like that. If she stands up the plaster will run down the rest of her and we'll be in a worse state than ever. I had no option but to scoop it off by the handful and then sponge her down.

And you know what...the brave girl volunteered to try again the next day!



Sunday, July 8, 2018

Try as I may


Through my paintings I try to get to somewhere where no one has ever been before. For the last twenty-five years my spontanious water colours have focused on the female nude and, thanks to my adopted home land, my models are Afro-Caribbean. But try as I may to explore new ground and avoid being repetitive I sometimes despair. This is all the more frustrating when my models have given their body and soul to progress my work.

Over the last few weeks I have taken a break from my regular subject matter and made an attempt to revert back to landscapes, townscapes and still-life from fifty years ago. It has been a dismal failure. Deep down inside I know that I cannot desert the ultimate challenge of the live model.

Thirty years ago my dear friend, the Virgin Island poet Sheila Hyndman (1958 – 1991), inspired me to explore the sensuous. In recent days I have discovered a writer in a far off land who is beautifully saying in words what I am trying to portray in paint.

But more about this later. In the meantime today's picture is a detail from a painting from two years ago.




Friday, June 29, 2018

A Flair for Art


If it wasn't for Miss Atack, my primary school teacher, and Miss Shepard, my secondary school headmistress, I would not be writing this blog today. Before the word was invented, they both recognized dyslexia. Up to the age of five I could not talk - my brother says I've made up for it since! 

If my music teachers had had a passion for jazz, I might have also got top marks in that subject. But alas, there's not much improvisation you can do around "Who is Sylvia". Likewise with history. I have no interest in the reign of Kings and Queens but tale of everyday things enthralls me.

I submit my report card from sixty-six years ago to offer hope to other creative minds.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

A passionate love affair

From my earliest days I have always painted with a passion. My subjects have varied but my way of working with watercolour has not. I swing a big brush and leave space for accidents to happen.

A few days ago I came across a box of colour transparencies from twenty-five years ago. In those days my passion was for life as it was then lived in the Caribbean. I do not have the originals as they all sold straight from my sketch book. I had even forgotten this photographic record of a few paintings from that period. Although the quality of the celluloid image has deteriorated, I still recall these scenes from the Virgin Islands that had set my heart on fire.





Thursday, June 7, 2018

Beneath the veil


To keep the clay moist, in recent weeks my latest sculpture has been hidden beneath a dampened veil. I must now take courage and make a plaster cast from the clay. If anything goes wrong, all is lost.

Today's pictures reveal the beauty that lies beneath the veil. In past centuries, sculptors were masters at modelling the seductive draped figure. The first picture shows how even my wet clay rag subtly highlights the breasts. It is the sculptural equivalent of today's wet tee shirt.

My model Verlena deserves credit for this is her third sculpture in a row.



Sunday, June 3, 2018

Winds of change


The 1st of June marked the start of this year's hurricane season. Last year Dominica, along with islands to the north of us, suffered the worst hurricane in the region's history. We are still reeling from the effect and the island is in no fit state to suffer another blow.

But the winds of change I refer to concern the future direction of my work. My studio, workshops and contents miraculously survived hurricane Maria. Perhaps this portends that I ain't finished yet!

Today's painting of washing hung out on a windy day in the north of England dates from twenty-five years ago.