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.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A market pie in the sky…

The recent Burnett brother’s theme on markets set me thinking about plan that I devised for the West Yorkshire town of Sowerby Bridge some years ago.  The linier town centre is blighted by a road, along which passes every truck in the North of England.  Over the years various by-pass schemes fell through, the most recent of which was being discussed one day as I queued at the Post Office.   The lady ahead of me chipped in with her six pennyworth, “Nay love, if they can’t move the road, why the heck don’t we move the town?”

Accustomed as I am to moving mountains, her remark fell on fertile ground.  It tied in beautifully with a government regeneration plan which, according to a brief from the Deputy Prime Minister, had to be “initiative led, not funding fed”. 

As I developed the idea of moving the town 300 years to the south (incidentally, it was wonderful press for slow news days) one thing led to another.  I gained the potential of a quarter mile river frontage and it was along that strip of derelict land that I proposed an indoor market to end all markets.  It took the form of a five-storey glass fronted promenade - think on the lines of a linier Crystal Palace - with shops and stall vendors at ground level and balconied restaurants, offices and residential accommodation on the floors above.   My imagination ran riot: trees and exotic plants, a small theatre, a bandstand, some pubs and a church.  Here, within easy reach of the cities of Leeds and Manchester, would be a vibrant living, working and recreational space, summer and winter alike. 

Here are the preliminary drawings for my market “pie in the sky”.

Now dear brother, if you can come up with a compilation photograph to illustrate my scheme, you’ve won!  

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Been there, done that…

A couple of days ago my brother featured a photograph of Halifax indoor market (See a glorious listed building that is equal to a couple of cathedrals. 

Not to be out done, here are a couple of sketches I made of the market.  The first is from the very same vantage point as my brother’s photograph and the second, shows the market’s grandiose entrance arcade.  As my regular followers know, I have a great love for markets - and all the more so when they housed within fine buildings. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Fire engines and an Institute for the Arts…

Yesterday I attended a meeting to discuss the formation of an Institute for the Arts and I spent today machining parts for one of the island’s fire engines.  In this day and age, I doubt if work can be more varied than that. 

A few generations ago, a craftsman turned his hand to all manner of things.  My grandfather was just as much at home repairing clocks and fairground traction engines as he was cleaning windows.  I could sense his ghost – and that of my father - looking over my shoulder as I successfully completed a very tricky piece of machining to an accuracy of 1/10th the diameter of a human hair.  In turn, I told my son Tristan, you’d better watch carefully, you might never see the likes of this again.  Maybe one day, all three of us will be looking over his shoulder.

Incidentally, in today’s picture is one of my grandfather’s micrometers.  It’s a hundred years old and still in daily use.  Also, my father’s depth gauge - now going on eighty.  Both instruments bear their initials.   

Monday, November 21, 2011

These things are sent to try us…

When struggling with some intractable mechanical problem my father used to say, “These things are sent to try us.”  His words came to mind today after assembling a complicated gearbox many times over because nothing went together as it should. 

At sea, it can be equally frustrating when squalls demand one sail change after another.  After three days and three nights of sail changing, single-handed sailor Dan Bowen's nicely summed it up with the words, “Rog, that sail’s been up and down like a pair of whore’s drawers!”

And why did the gearbox give me problems…at the end of the day I found that the manufacturer had sent the wrong instruction manual!

With a dead camera battery there’s no picture of the gear box.  This sketch of a tramcar is about as close as I can get to something mechanical. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Models and life-long friends…

Without exception, all of my models have become life-long friends.  Just as they came to my aid when I desperately needed them, I try to repay their help when ever I can.  When we left England for Dominica I hung onto my Volvo Estate car until the very last day.  Then, just before leaving for the airport, I telephoned Dave (who didn't have a car, but for months had faithfully modelled for my sculpture of the lockkeeper) to tell him I’d made him a present of the car.  

When my models need a reference for a job, they usually call on me.  I’m not sure how being an artist’s model equips you for the army, but with somewhere within the womens’ fighting forces, thanks to a glowing reference, there’s one of my models!

I still owe Ganeen (the model for one of my controversial NHS figures – see diary entry for August 22nd) the promised favour that one day, when her figure is cast in bronze, she’ll have a copy.  Sorry Ganeen but I’m still waiting for a rich buyer.  In the meantime, here is your plaster master cast, safe in my studio.  What’s more, it’s warmer here so you don’t need that circle of blow heaters!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Have you a big one mister…

At a meeting tomorrow, I will be presenting some of my ideas on market places in general and street markets in particular.  Since my childhood days, markets have always fascinated me and over the years, I have done my fair share selling from the pavement.  I enjoy the challenge of making a sale against all odds.  Non-stop patter and a ready quip are a stallholder’s best bait. 

To that end, no quip could beat the wry look a stallholder gave my mother when, looking over small to medium size tins of brown boot polish, she asked: “Have you a big one mister!”

Today’s sketch is of a street vendor in Santa Domingo selling freshly squeezed orange juice from his tricycle. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A near perfect cast…

The polymer plaster cast of the bas-relief that I began months ago finally emerged from its wax mould today.  Breaking a mould to reveal the cast is always a nerve-racking process.  If there is a significant flaw, all is lost.  Thankfully, the cast was near perfect. 

Photographing the cast with a dud camera battery demanded the speed of a ten-second sketch.  From charger, to camera, to pressing the shutter – just a matter of seconds before the battery dies on me.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Sketch away…

In recent weeks, these diary pages have neglected my first love – the figure – and more especially, the figurative sketch.  I believe it was Degas, who named one of his models “Sketch Away” in recognition of the inspirational input she gave to his work.  Such is the gift of an inspired model.  This sketch goes back to the early heady days sketching a young lady from Grenada who became both my wife and model. 

Note:  For the time being, I will have to resort to digging in my photographic archives while my digital camera awaits a replacement battery pack, courtesy of my brother in England. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Faded photographs…

Those of you who are regular follower of my brother’s “belles-blogs”
will know that his thread of old photographs titled, Sepia Saturday is coming up to its 100th entry. 

Many of the posts originate from the Burnett family albums and here and there, you will find images of a much younger me.  However, there is one photograph that brother does not have.  It is hand-tinted rather than sepia, but I believe it qualifies none the less.  Here is me again, at about the age of two. 

I can remember catching the tram to have the photograph taken in the studio of Brown Muff’s department store, Bradford - once known as the “Harrods of the North”.  I can also remember nervously chewing the collar of the coat I was wearing.  It tasted good!

Incidentally, from what I can make out, the pencil inscription on the mount is an abbreviation of “Brown Muff’s Studio”. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

My first one man show…

There’s a score of tales to tell about my first one man show.  How do I select and where do I begin? 

The year was 1971 and the place, Kings Lynn, Norfolk.  I had intended the show to be a low-key fringe event at the Kings Lynn Arts Festival.  However, a week before the show opened the key signature changed from minor to major. 

Being arrested for a good cause helped.  My crime…I pasted a protest sticker over the council’s notice of closure for one of the town’s historic alleyways.  This brought public attention the series of thirty paintings I had made of the town’s rich historical heritage – including a painting of the threatened alleyway.  The show opened at 10.00 on the Saturday morning and by mid-day ninety per cent of the paintings had sold!    

Over the remaining ten days of the exhibition, there was a constant stream of visitors.  By midweek, I was getting suspicious of two smartly dressed fellows that repeatedly made the rounds.  Just before the weekend, they revealed their crested identity cards.  They were checking out the festival in readiness for a visit of the Queen Mother.  Out of all that was on offer, they thought my exhibition would be right up her street. 

Alas, there was no way that the festival organisers were going to let an upshot artist on the fringe steal the limelight and I had to wait another thirty years for my Royal Patronage.  But that’s another story.  For now, here’s the exhibition poster and a photo of a photo of one of the paintings.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The glitter of romance as seen from afar…

It was through the early morning mist, and from a couple of miles offshore, that I first set eyes on the Portuguese city of Porto.  The scene more than compensated for a worrisome night spent dodging fishing boats and I vowed that one day I would visit the city by land rather than see it in passing from the deck of a sailing boat. 

It was a vow that I kept twenty-years later.  This sketch is one of many that I made of the city.  But you know what…all the city squares, all the fine buildings and all the back alleys put together could not compete with the glitter of romance that I saw from afar.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Bricks and mortar…

When painting scenes from my native West Riding of Yorkshire, I have learnt that possession is nine-tenths the likelihood of finding a buyer.   In other words, my fellow countrymen like to buy what’s theirs.  If it’s a house it has to be their house; a field, their field.  One of my best paintings of Shibden Valley - the vale of my youth – would have been bought by the owner of the farmhouse in the middle distance, were it not for the fact that the field in the foreground was his neighbours, not his!

Likewise, when I offered a distinguished patron of the arts the first choice from a collection of paintings of his home town, he selected a mediocre sketch of his own property.   The painting shown below, one of the best in the collection, also shows his property.  However, in this painting, his building is an indiscernible one-tenth wash in the background and hence, it didn’t make a sale. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Falling off the top of Blackpool Tower…

To continue from where I left off yesterday:

My brother has always claimed, that if I fell off the top of Blackpool Tower I’d land on my feet.  Yesterday, my walk down to the river certainly substantiated his theory. At the same time cancelled out what must surely be the last of my nine lives. 

Just before setting off I decided to check if any messages had come through for me.  There was just one and it only took a few seconds to read.   It wished me a pleasant day and ended with the words “take care”.  With those good wishes i went on my way.  Just as I reached my favourite stretch of riverbank, a huge tree fell without warning and its trunk crashed on very spot where I was about to sit down. 

If I have not taken those few seconds to read my “take care” message; I would now be sculpting a couple of angels for either side of the heavenly gates! 

Even for me, that was enough excitement for one day.  I climb back up the hill and with shaking hands set to work on completing the mould for my bas relief.  Yes, finally I’m back to my art work. 

I took today’s picture just after I had removed the clay from the wax mould that I had earlier made from the relief.