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.

Monday, January 16, 2017

By suggestive hints or by laboured finish

I am in a quandary. Should my sculpture of Annabelle be completed by suggestive hints or by laboured finish? Taking breasts as an example - the most sculpturally pleasing aspect of the female form - here are the options.

The finish of my standing figure titled You Must Believe in Spring represents one extreme.

And by comparison, the breasts from my recent torso represents the other.

The first appeals to the touch and the second to the senses.

Only nature can unite the two, as is evident from this life-cast.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The limited repertoire of the female nude

In terms of the female nude, there’s nothing new under the sun. Kenneth Clark’s definitive book on the subject* reveals that the same postures have been used time and time again.

…it is remarkable that in the female nude there is hardly a single formal idea of lasting value that was not originally discovered in the fourth century.

There are however many variations on the theme. Today’s painting is one of those variations from my own repertoire. Once again my model is reclining and, yet again, her arm reaches over her shoulder. Nevertheless, it is subtly different to the scores of my paintings that have gone before.

The one similarity is the speed of execution. Today’s modelling session was meant to be devoted to making a start on my sculpture of Annabelle’s reclining torso. And so it was. But as I washed the clay off my hands at the end of the session, my model rolled over in sweet relief. From previous diary pages, you can guess the rest. I grabbed my paints and in fifteen minutes this 20" x 16" painting materialized.

 The picture below shows the progress I made in building up the clay. Just to the right of my turntable, is the turntable for the model. They are continually turned in unison from one angle to the next.

*Kenneth Clark, The Nude, A Study in Ideal Form

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Butterflies and the other story

Today’s picture shows the formwork for the reclining sculpture of Annabelle’s head and torso. It comprises of wooden blocks wrapped in cling-film. The blocks are kept well below the outline of the final form. They are made from white-pine and save on the mass and weight of clay.

The Maltese Crosses that can be seen hanging at each side are a century’s old sculptural device. They are known as butterflies and serve to take the weight of clay in suspension.

Now for “the other story” that I promised in my last post.

When painting, I work from the live model and never from photographs. I make an exception to this rule when it comes to sculpture in that I make a photographic record of the pose that my model has to repeat countless times over the weeks and months that the work is in progress. These photographic references, along with chalk marks on the modelling stand, serve as a reminder to my model and as an aid to me when jotting down measurements and setting up the armature.

The photographs are intended as a working document; no more, no less. But once in a while, by accident rather than intent, there is one that takes my breath away. One of the pictures taken for my present sculpture is a case in point. As a photograph it portrays all that I wanted to portray and almost makes the upcoming sculpture superfluous. This says a lot because there is only one photograph of the nude in ten thousand that I can get passionate about.

Sorry for you but the photograph is absolutely personal to my model!

By way of consolation, I’ll return to butterflies and the remarkably talented Cecile McLorin Salvant singing "Poor Butterfly".

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Begotten by despair, upon impossibility

The New Year heralds the start of a new piece of sculpture. Its origin dates back to a painting that I made at the speed of light as Annabelle rolled from one pose to another. At the time she was modelling for a half life-size reclining figure. This time around she’ll be modelling for a life-size figure.

To refresh your memory, here is the painting again. It is a tangle of lips, breasts, arms and hands that beg to be interpreted three dimensionally.

If art can be likened to love, the opening verses of Andrew Marvell’s poem The Definition of Love sum up the difficulties I face in turning my vision into reality.

            My love is of a birth as rare
            As ‘tis for object strange and high;
            It was begotten in despair
            Upon impossibility.

            Magnanimous despair alone
            Could show me so divine a thing
            Where feeble hope could ne’er have flown,
            But vainly flapp’d its tinsel wing.

In the weeks to come you can follow the work in progress. In the meantime, the picture below, along with faded photographic references of past work, are the measurements I need to set up my clay for the first modelling session.

The photographic references that I use to remind my model of the exact arrangement of a pose are another story. And that I will tell you about some other time.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Draperie mouillée

Clinging drapery on the nude figure is the classical sculptor’s equivalent to the photographer’s wet tee shirt. It is a sensuous device that reveals rather than conceals.

The scantily clad figure is more sexually provocative than the nude. By partially concealing the model’s attributes by what the French call Draperie mouillée the nude form becomes all the more alluring.

The sculptor’s most difficult task is to create in clay or carve in stone the delicate trace of drapery. Edouard Lanteri, in his book Modelling and Sculpting the Human Figure, devotes a lengthy chapter to the subject. It is a skill that takes a lifetime to learn, whereas the camera can capture the same in the split-second click of the shutter. However, as the second pictures proves, through the eye of a good photographer and with the aid of a good model, the end result can can be equally as beautiful. 

Venus Genetrix (2nd Century BC)

Anonymous (21st Century AD)

Sunday, December 25, 2016

A Merry Christmas from FedEx

For Christmas I ordered for my son a well-deserved computer. Both Amazon and the supplier came up trumps and had it moving in the time it takes to click a mouse. FedEx Express then had the best part of two weeks to get it from New York to my daughter’s forwarding agents in Miami for it to arrive in Dominica in time for Christmas.  

For days on end we were glued to the FedEx tracking page. Yes, it finally did arrive at Miami with two days to spare. Then FedEx, after only one attempt to deliver outside office hours, sent it straight back to the supplier!

We’ve made up this board game to keep us amused (sic). Please feel free to copy on send it on to all of your friends.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

180,000 words, 1,080 images and still counting

In other words, my sculpture studio diary pages, past and present, can claim to be one of the world’s largest resources of the working methods of a figurative painter and sculptor.

Decades before my diary went on-line it was jotted down, long-hand.  Here is an image and fragment of a page from twenty-five years ago.

The message still holds good:

…Always looking dead: a lack of colour, a lack of boldness, a timidity that wasn’t there at the mental onset, but crept through against all my efforts to control it. Must: paint freer, paint faster, paint more experimentally with colour. Must leave out…must see the fundamental mass and no more than suggest detail…

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Dreaming while digging ditches

In the diary page I posted on December 3rd (Continuing the Tango) I stated that digging ditches would be less exhausting than working from the live model. To prove that I know what I’m talking about here is me, at first light this morning, digging ditches.

In my seventy-four years I’ve dug more ditches than most. On the left is me at the age of twelve, digging ditches. And on the right at the age of twenty-five digging ditches.Digging leaves my mind free to dream. In this instance, free to dream of my next piece of sculpture. Paintings posted on November 24th and December 3rd together with the thumbnail sketch below gives you an idea of what I have in mind.

Monday, December 12, 2016

From the actual to the virtual

Today’s photograph dates back to the time when my studio was based in the North of England and my work as a sculptor attracted major commissions. On Saturday afternoons I opened the studio doors and invited the public to view work in progress. Even in the depth of winter I had scores of visitors.

Those were the days before blogs and my daily diary pages were posted on the internet, the hard way, by my brother with pictures taken with an early Kodak digital camera. However, as computers had not yet reached every-man my visitors were real people with snow on their boots that came to me the hard way.

Now, from my studio in the Caribbean, I have hundreds of visitors. But alas, no one shakes my hand or pats me on the back as they are all virtual “stats”.

This painting dates from that period. It is of my native Yorkshire in the depths of winter.

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.