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.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Any questions…

For groups visiting my studio, this is how I round off my introductory talk about my work as a painter and sculptor.  Although I have given the talk on hundreds of occasions, I have never given the same talk twice.  My audience sets the pace and I play it by ear as we go along.  Just as I swear that I have not repeated myself, neither has my audience when it comes to asking questions. 

Once, when I introduced my work to a class of primary school children, a little girl’s hand shot up and she asked, “Mr Burnett, why are your statues so rude!”.  She was of course referring to my nude figures.  There followed an intellectual debate that could have put many university graduates to shame.   

There is however one question that follows a general pattern.  That being, “Which artists have inspired you the most?”  Although I can rhyme off most of the Impressionists, and certainly Rodin, my inspiration very often comes from other forms of creative expression: literature, poetry, music, theatre and dance. 

I shall always remember an inspirational talk by the late Christopher Gable, former lead dancer with the Royal Ballet.  The same goes for the presentation given by Muhammad Muwakil at last year’s Dominica Literary Festival.  Numerous jazz musicians have also spurred my creative zeal. 

Above all, I shall never forget the inspirational debt that I owe to the late Sheila Hyndman, a young Virgin Island poet who was my good friend and muse.  Shortly before Sheila’s death, I illustrated a book of her poems.  Today’s picture is the woodcut I made for the cover. 
  

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Gobbledygook and bluebells…

Some of you may remember Professor Stanley Unwin, the comedian who originated the word gobbledygook.  Gobbledygook, for the uninitiated, is any text containing jargon or especially convoluted English that results in it being excessively hard to understand or even incomprehensible. 

In a similar vein, Dylan Thomas was all for taking the highfalutin nonsense out of poetry.  He claimed that all one should say of a good poem is, as they said of the first motion picture, by God it moves, and so by God it does! 

But when it comes to talking gibberish, many of those who write about art can leave the rest standing.  A recently launched magazine focused towards “a converging nexus of artists” offers “the articulation of a contemporary space, and of a place that lies within coordinates that have become scattered and nebulous, without bounderies”.

Eh?  As passionate as I am for the subject you’ve lost me just as surely as Stanley Unwin did all those years ago.

I will illustrate this topic, in a non-convoluted way, with a painting of the English countryside that I made twenty years ago.  On my wife’s first day of her first visit to England she went walking in the woods shown in the painting and was enraptured by a carpet of bluebells.  Why?   Because bluebells don’t grow on Grenada and seen for the first time the flower is as beautiful as anything that grows on the exotic Spice Island of her birth.  Like my painting, it’s as simple as that!  



Tuesday, March 29, 2011

High-Tech v Low-Tech…

Most of the machines in my machine shop are over fifty years old, yet they are as reliable and accurate today as the day they were built.  Many of my hand tools belonged to my father and my grandfather before him, yet they still serve me well.  Not too long ago my main camera had bellows and dated from 1934.  Sadly, it died prematurely when it fell forty feet from a church balcony.  That is the low-tech end of the scale.

Alas, I cannot claim the same longevity for the high-tech.  I am surrounded by broken down fax machines, computers, printers and digital cameras, many of which have not seen in their first decade.  The most recent and frustrating victim of this early death syndrome is my Olympus Camedia C-5060 Wide Zoom Digital Camera.  Just to assure you that it is not me that has put the jinks on it, that camera has the distinction of its own dissatisfied customer website.   

Before the camera completely gives up the ghost (Currently I’m reviving it with squirts of WD40 and a liberal doses of sunlight – all against manufacturers recommendations but it works whereas their repairs don’t!) let’s continue from yesterday and take look at more variations on the theme of scribbling with the nude.

First, scribbling in clay and a detail from my recent torso. 


Now let’s see what watercolour can do with that same piece of human anatomy.

Monday, March 28, 2011

My dad can draw better than that…

Thus, said a young lad to his mate many years ago as he watched me sketching on the streets of Halifax, my hometown in England.  My eight-year-old son would sadly have to admit that, his dad cannot do better.  In his eyes, all I do is scribble.  Maybe scribble is the best I can do and to make matters worse I encourage my class to let themselves go and scribble for all they are worth.  

Here, to make matters doubly worse is scribble in detail.  It is from a sketch that I made of Denise as she modelled for last Saturday’s life class.  I see similarities between the lines of a scribbled sketch and a jazz musician’s improvisations around a well know standard.  I leave you to get into the swing of my scribbles.



Sunday, March 27, 2011

A hard act to follow…

After twenty years of modelling for my sculptures and paintings, Denise is well qualified to teach those who have expressed an interest in modelling for the arts.  Currently she has four potential models in tow. 

She begins by stressing the importance of being totally at ease.  This she is able to demonstrate with aplomb as she runs through a series of thirty-second poses with which we begin each life-class.  Immediately there is an inspirational synergy between model and students that transcends all else.  After a longer twenty-minute pose, Denise challenges the class to capture the figure in motion with a series of stretches.  The potential models are enthralled and impressed.  Wow, she's going to be a hard act to follow!

While the class are intent on their own sketches, I have thirty-seconds for one of my own.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Falling from the top of Blackpool Tower…

Today we held two art workshops. The first was for passengers from “The World” cruise ship and the second, for my regular Saturday afternoon group. 

On both occasions, rain interrupted play.  This morning it meant curtailing Denise’s garden tour. Luckily, our visitors were more than satisfied with the studio session and slices of Denise’s upside down banana cake.   


This afternoon, again as luck would have it, a new model was able to relieve Denise for one of the sittings and give the class the challenge of a new face.  Thank you, Stevia for stepping in at short notice. 


So despite the rain, luck saved the day.  My brother always said, that if I fell from the top of Blackpool Tower I’d land on my feet!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Two cows and a mysterious woman...

Today, while rummaging through a portfolio of work done almost twenty years I ago, I came across this painting of a Yorkshire village.  I distinctly remember debating whether to add the two cows that wandered into view.   As you see, I decided in favour of the cows and the fact that the painting is signed indicates that, at the time, I must have been pleased with the result.


Just as I was about to delve further into the portfolio, a breeze picked up the painting and it fell to the floor.  Like a slice of buttered toast, it fell image side down and, low and behold, on the reverse side was a painting, the subject of which eludes me.


Who is that woman?  Denise says emphatically, “It's not me!  It doesn’t look like me and I never owned a blue dress that buttoned down the front.  What’s more, at the time it was painted I was eight months pregnant.  She doesn't look pregnant”.  I have a vague recollection of wanting to capture sunlight on facial features.  But whose features?  O dear, this is getting awkward!

Luckily, we both agree that - in retrospect - the painting on the back is possibly more worthy of a signature than the painting on the front.  We've decided to let it rest at that!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Workshop for Manufacturers…

The only common thread between today’s workshop for manufacturers, “How to Improve Product & Productivity without Going into Debt” and my Saturday life classes is my passion for the subject.  Those hoping to have a snooze on the back row were in for a disappointment as there was no power point presentation or recited notes to send them to sleep.  I even threw in a calypso!   If we hope to compete regionally and internationally, we have to get our act together and if a calypso helps to get the message across I’ll get up and sing for all I’m worth. 

Here are my participants in theory and practice sessions.  Their products range from rum to toloma  (even a Google search can’t come up with that one!) and their production line, from the factory floor to the kitchen table.




Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Dancing Girls…

To continue yesterday’s theme of dance, in the year 2,000 the Allen Gallery in Hampshire commissioned two life size figures in bronze titled, “The Dancing Girls”.  My daughters Trina and Tania, then aged six and seven, modelled for the sculpture.  It is the centrepiece of the gallery’s courtyard garden and school children created the ceramic flowers that circle the figures.  A year’s work was involved between the preliminary sketch shown below and the final bronze cast.  



In future posts I will dig into the archives and show you pictures of the work in progress.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Let yourself go…

Dance, in all its varied forms, offers a rich source of figurative material for the artist.  To borrow from the lyrics of Irvin Berlin, it invites you to let yourself go.  Gone are the restraints and inhibitions of the dull work-a-day world.   This is the human body all loosened up and throwing discretion to the wind.

Like Toulouse-Lautrec, I have sketched contorted bodies in some of the seediest dance halls and, like Degas; I have worked with the ballet.   At three in the morning, I have painted by flashing nightclub strobe lights and squinted in the noonday sun at Carnival.  

The first sketch is of a “Rave” and the second, of the Northern Ballet Company in rehearsal.  I found the two extremes within a few hundred yards of each other in the city of Leeds.





Monday, March 21, 2011

From one skill to another…

On Saturday, I was extolling the virtues of working from the live model for art students, on Thursday I will be extolling the virtues of production line design and development for manufacturers.   In switching from one skill to another, I remain true to the spirit of the Renaissance artists, engineers and architects that went before me.  

To test my metal, so to speak, a sheared shaft at the island's bakery has once again kept me in my machine shop (first door on the right; studio, first door on left) since this morning.  It is therefore fitting that today’s pictures are of my machines rather than my model.
 

 Here I am cutting a keyway on a machine that is as old as I am.  Luckily, we both still going strong.
  

In this picture, from left to right, can be seen my vertical milling machine, centre lathe and horizontal mill.  Many more machines are out of the picture.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

There’s no rubbing out…

I only enforce one rule for those attending my life class: no erasers!

In sketching, as in life, every moment counts, mistakes and all.  There’s no turning the clock back.  One of my mature students put it nicely when she told the class, “I’ve earned every line on my face”.  Hidden in a confusion of wrong lines is the right line.  When I find it, I firm it up and the wrong lines remain to emphasis that I have figured it out.  Sometimes I leave the viewer to determine which line is the right line.  Thus, I invite the viewer have a say in the creative process.

A multitude of lines gives testimony to the struggle one faces when working from the live model.  The model is alive and the artist has to somehow or other put the very breath of life down on paper.  As you can see from today’s picture, right lines and wrong lines all count, there’s no rubbing out.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Get a life…

These were the words of advice screamed at me by one of our teenage daughters some years ago. 

As I haven’t seen a television in fifty years and hence don’t know who’s getting off with who in any of the soaps, I dare say she has a point.  On the other hand, if getting a life has anything to do with passionately living life, I beg to suggest that I qualify more than most.

In the words of Robert Service, I have whistled bits of ragtime and the end of all creation and I heeded all too well the advice given in his poem “The Call Of The Wild” when I turned my back on a safe career in engineering design.

They have cradled you in custom, they have primed you with their preaching,
They have soaked you in convention through and through;
They have put you in a showcase; you’re a credit to their teaching –
But can’t you hear the wild? – it’s calling you.


This afternoon my class has been getting a life by working from life.  The painting is of Denise.  Thank you Denise, and thank you Heather for also modelling.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Mending the gates…

Earlier in the week, to illustrate my point about today’s equivalent of Constable’s haywain, I was at a loss to find a painting of a JCB or a ten-ton truck. 

Although not immediately obvious, there is a ten-ton truck in today’s painting and the steel band is perched on top of it.  It is from the series I made of Dominica’s Carnival Parade a week or so ago. 
 

Since  this morning, I have been at work in my machine shop rather than in my studio.  When replacements parts are urgently needed to keep the island’s businesses running, I put down my clay and paint brushes and start up my lathes and milling machines.  I suspect that on the day I arrive in the next world, rather than sculpting angels, I’ll be mending the gates!

PS.   This Sunday afternoon between 2.00 and 5.30 we're doing a special studio visit, garden tour and afternoon tea.  We extend a special invitation to diary followers here on Dominica.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

It ain’t easy…

“Let me tell you: if it was any easier everyone would be doing it, if it was any more difficult, nobody would.”

These were the words of advice giving to me by Dan Bowen, sailor, raconteur and friend, when I first set sail from England to the Caribbean.  That was in the days when wooden boats and their intrepid owners crossed oceans on a shoestring.

If you now fast-forward half a century, you will find that although my lifestyle has changed, the shoestring and the challenges remain.  Life certainly doesn’t get any easier.  This reality was brought home to me today when everything that could break down did.  Hence, boats are filling in for paintings!


The boat in the picture is the 16 ton gaff cutter “Born Free” that I built from the keel upwards.  She was one of a veritable fleet of boats that I have owned and sailed over the years.  Pinned to the bulkhead of each one of them was this quote by Arthur Ransome:

Houses, are but badly built boats so firmly aground that you cannot think of moving them. They are definitely inferior things, belonging to the vegetable not the animal world, rooted and stationary, incapable of gay transition. I admit, doubtfully, as exceptions, snail-shells and caravans. The desire to build a house is the tired wish of a man content thenceforward with a single anchorage. The desire to build a boat is the desire of youth, unwilling yet to accept the idea of a final resting-place.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Many an oily rag…

Don’t strip down any further…just give me five minutes more… 

These were the instructions that I gave Denise this afternoon, not as my model but as my apprentice motor mechanic.  One of our works in progress is the restoration of a forty-year-old Land Rover.  William Turner or Claude Monet would have revelled in the scene under the bonnet. 

Like them, I have an affection for all things mechanical.  Many years ago, I attended the first (and possibly only) meeting of a group of painters that set out to establish a Society of Industrial Artists.  I must check to see if the society was infact established.  If it was, I might be able to add the letters MSIA to my name!


As you can see, the five minutes more, gave me time to grab a sketchbook and paint a “before” picture.  Many an oily rag will pass over the vehicle before I can add the “after” painting to my collection.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Everything, from artists’ materials to automobile parts…

In Caribbean towns, you can shop for almost anything if you know where to look.  To the uninitiated this can be frustrating but to those practiced in tracking things down, it offers some rare finds. 

Years ago on Tortola a drug store by the name of “The Lagoon Plaza” stocked everything from anti-fouling paint to bottles of the finest Madeira wine.  Down the street, stashed away on the shelves of Mr H R Penn’s shop were bolts of sailcloth alongside silks and laces.  It was there that I found a good-looking pair of size nine leather sandals, or rather I found the right foot of a good-looking pair of size nine leather sandals.  When I left the island fifteen years later, Mr Penn was still searching for its mate.

This brings me to Roseau Dominica and a shop along Old Street by the name of “Garraway Enterprises”.  The entire floor space is no larger than the average living room but within its four walls you can find everything from artists’ materials to automobile parts.  As yet, I haven’t got around to sketching the shop’s cluttered interior, where tubes of watercolour sit alongside cans of engine oil.  However, if I do try, I doubt that there will be room for me to squeeze in with anything larger than a 4” x 6” sketchbook.  

Today’s sketch goes back thirty
years, to Road Town, Tortola
and the Georges Store.
In those days, it was another
of those wonderful shops
that sold just about everything,
from oil lamps to navy blue
knickers.

By the way, I did find what I
was looking for today at
Garraway Enterprises...
a tube of ivory black and
a pop rivit gun!

Monday, March 14, 2011

To see beauty where I never saw beauty before…

I can’t find the picture that I wanted to use to illustrate today’s diary.  It is of a bright yellow JCB clearing a demolition site in the North of England.   A painting of a ten-ton truck would have served just as well.  What I want to get across is that the JCB digger and the ten-ton truck are today’s equivalent of Constable’s haywain.   

Frederick van Eeden, Dutch poet and writer, said that his fellow compatriot, Vincent van Gogh, enabled him to see beauty where he never saw beauty before.  And that surely is the fundamental task of the artist. 

I can only assume that my missing painting of the yellow JCB fulfilled its purpose and sold.  In its absence, I have selected this painting, again from the industrial north, of a canal, bare popular trees, smoke blacked terrace houses and mill chimneys.  A winter scene that most would consider drab, if I had not seen and accentuated the viridian cast iron bridge and the yellow cabin of a canal boat.  

Sunday, March 13, 2011

One Thousand and One Carpet Cleaner and a five-dollar bill…

To conclude the weekly postings on the tools of my trade, let us take a look at my sketch bag.  I sewed the first one together forty-five years ago and I am now on Mark III.  They have all followed a similar pattern.  The main pocket is large enough to hold a 16” x 20” sketchbook, my stool and drawing board.  The smaller pockets hold my brush case, pallet, paints, tissues, water containers and water bottle.  We’ve walked hundreds of miles together and the carrying strap has worn out the shoulders of many of my shirts and jackets.

For many years the plastic bottle that held my water had originally contained One Thousand and One Carpet Cleaner.  The trade name was conspicuously printed on the side and many an onlooker must have thought the product to be the secret of my thunderous washes!

The sketching stool is also a Mark III, whereas my drawing board has been with me from very early days.   I hold the bottom of the board between my knees and the hinged leg supports the top.  You will notice that the leg has a little hinged extension.  This, along with different knee grips, enables me to hold the board at various angles so as to control washes.


Least I forget - one more essential item is contained in the second pocket from the left.  It’s a five-dollar bill (Eastern Caribbean Currency) to buy a cold beer!    

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Art Spirit…

“The Art Spirit”* is a remarkable book that sets down the essential beliefs and theories of Robert Henri (1865-1929), an inspired teacher and painter.  There is no other book quite like it.  It comprises of random notes that he made for his students, and you can be dip into the contents at random.  

Following today’s life-class, this quote on working from the nude is relevant.

There is nothing in all the world more beautiful or significant of the laws of the universe than the nude human body.  In fact it is not only among the artists but among all people that a greater appreciation and respect for the human body should develop.  When we respect the nude we will no longer have any shame about it.

For the nude the artist is dependent on the model.  All credit to Denise for modelling today’s session despite excruciating hip pain.  I have dipped into a past portfolio for the ink drawing below  

*The Art Spirit is published in paperback by Harper Row, New York.

Friday, March 11, 2011

My family as models…

Our daughters Tania and Trina modelled for my sculpture “The Dancing Girls” when they were five and six years old.  They are now seventeen and eighteen.  Our son Tristan, now eight, has the distinction of modelling for his first piece when he was only eight months old.   Even earlier in the family’s lifespan, a series of watercolours follows Denise through pregnancy. 

One thing’s for sure, it was easier to get Tristan to model at eight months than it was to get him to sit for his portrait today eight years later.  He made a deal: I help him to fix his model cars and he’ll sit for his portrait. 

I suppose, when you look at the picture below, that shrewd business acumen was set on his face at an early age.  If he could have talked, I am sure he would have twisted my arm for something or other.



Here’s today’s portrait of an entrepreneur in the making!  

Thursday, March 10, 2011

To practice what I preach…

I tell my students that it is better to suggest detail rather than show detail.  For the painter and sculptor, the devil is in too much detail.  The problem is to know when to stop.  You cannot turn the clock back when taken too far.  How I wish that I could always remember to practice what I preach.

With sculpture especially, it is tempting to keep refining until in the end the work is just that: refined!   Rodin overcame this problem by having his moulders take frequent casts of the clay while the work was in progress.  Thus, he had a record of every stage.  Then, if need be, he'd go back to an earlier impression. 

Had I have been able to take a series of casts from my torso as the work progressed I would very likely turn back to the stage that it was at a month ago.


Now it is more correct but the process of correction has quelled its earlier vigour.



Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Giving Eleanor Coade a run for her money…

Rupert Gunnis’s “Dictionary of British Sculptors 1660 -1851” contains more than seventeen hundred entries.  If any of those luminaries were to come back to life, they would find that, in terms sculptural of materials and techniques, nothing much has changed. 

However, on poking around my studio, one or two items would catch their eye.  Not least amongst these recent innovations would be my garden spray and polythene sheets.  To keep their clay figures moist they had to splash water from a bucket and cover with damp cloths.

In terms of materials, silicon rubber has simplified mould making.  Whereas previously it took dozens of segments of a plaster piece mould to replicate the form, flexible silicon can do in one. 

Polymers, as an admixture, have revolutionised the plaster cast by enabling it to survive the outdoor environment.   One hundred and fifty years ago a secretly formulated material known as “Coade Stone” made a similar innovation.  Decorative features made of this material adorn Buckingham Palace and many other London buildings.


My life-size seated figure, the initial clay version of which I featured in my diary a few days ago, has been made permanent in polymer plaster.  It has already survived one hurricane, and who knows, it may well give Eleanor Coade, the inventor of “Coade Stone” a run for her money!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Wat dat white man doing...

Today I shouldered my sketch bag and set out to capture the Dominica’s Carnival Parade.  Thousands of onlookers were doing the same but their means was by way of the split second click of a digital camera, mine was paper and paints. 

My early days of sketching “songs for my supper” on the pavements of France put me forever in good stead for setting up my stall on any street corner.  The jostle and the comments from passers-by are all part of the action.   To the voice in the crowd that asked, “Wat dat white man doing?” here’s the answer.

Stilt men or bwa-bwa

As you can see, instead of jumping-up, I was painting up a storm.  At the end of my stint I earned a compliment from my crowd of onlookers: "He good, we!".

Monday, March 7, 2011

Dear Theo…

I have just finished reading for the umpteenth time Vincent Van Gogh’s letters to his brother Theo*.  Van Gogh’s indebtedness to his brother for financial support and encouragement is similar to my indebtedness to my brother for technical help and encouragement in posting these diary pages. 

Indeed, my original website diary would not have been possible without his help.  Every night, for the best part of three years, Alan (know to close family members as Ali) took my rough notes and posted them on my Sculpture Studio website.  Even in this simpler “blog” format, I depend on him - as he put it in an email this morning – to tidy things up a bit.   

We are like Mr & Mrs Jack Sprat, what he can do I can’t do and visa versa.  I have no idea what HTML is and Ali wouldn’t know a vertical milling machine if one fell on his head.  

Ali’s creative skills are that of a photographer and writer of belles-blogs.  You will find samples of his work at: http://dailyphotoblog.blogspot.com/


This is a portrait of Ali that I painted in 1972. 

 * “Dear Theo” The artist’s letters to his brother edited by Irving Stone.  Published by Doubleday & Co (Hardback) and Signet Books (Paperback).

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Paper, paints and Winston Churchill...

As I promised last week, here are my personal preferences for watercolour papers and paints.  Having said that, don’t expect me to labour too much over materials and technique.  It is best that you experiment and find what suits you.

As you know by now, a sheet of expensive watercolour paper scares me.  Often I work on paper that would cause respectable artists to turn up their nose.  The real stuff comes in various weights (thicknesses) and surface finishes that range from rough to smooth.  I never have the time or patience to stretch paper; I take it as I find it.  I have a liking for watercolour board (this is watercolour paper glued to a card backing) and I tend to prefer my paper to be on the smooth side.

As for paints, I use small tubes (5ml) of artists’ quality.  The colours I use are peculiar to me.  They go against all textbook recommendations and I would not wish the same selection on anyone else!   I am still using some tubes that I purchased a bargain price on the island of Madeira almost forty years ago.  It seems that the shop had stocked them especially for Winston Churchill when he used to paint there.  


My actual pallet is of a design that I have been using since my days on the pavements of France.  Over the last fifty years, I have worn out three of the same.  I am always sorry to see one go.  The older they get, all the better the enamel trays are for mixing.

Next week I'll let you take a look at my sketching bag.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Portrait tit for tat…

At my last portrait class, one of my students stealthily made a lightening sketch of me.  At today’s class, I turned the tables and made a lightening sketch of him.  Ziggy, one of my star students, is presently studying architecture.   But let me tell you, if he continues to develop his talents as an artist, the rest of the world had better look out!

Being Carnival weekend I was in two minds whether to cancel today’s class.  However, when I suggested this option to my students, their response was not so much “Don’t Stop The Carnival” but “Don’t Stop The Art Class”.  Never before have I had the pleasure to teach such a dedicated and enthusiastic group. 

I wish thank Heather, who came along to find out more about modelling and ended up modelling for our final session.  



Here's my portrait of Ziggy and Ziggy's portrait of me - with Ziggy in the background.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Through the eyes of a child…

Researchers claim that we are born with 98% of the creative potential of genius, but by the time we reach adulthood, the potential has diminished to a fraction of 1%.   Picasso said, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”

I remember as a young child filling countless exercise books with hundreds of imaginative drawings.  Some, I still hold in my memory.  Our eight-year-old son Tristan has being doing the same since he was old enough to hold a pencil. 

The drawing reproduced below is one he made when he was five.  It is his vision of the stately domain that he’ll build when he grows up.  If you look closely, you will see the house, the cars, the yacht, the driveway, the garden and the river leading to the sea.  You will also see that he has signed his work!


He has also inherited from his great grandfather, grandfather, and me, the mind of an inventive engineer.  He spent today helping me to reassemble the chiming clock mechanism that I featured a week or so ago.  It was his keen eyesight and steady hand that finally slipped the delicate grass-hopper escapement in place.  Then, with a gentle nudge of the pendulum, the clock made its first tick-tock.  His great grandfather Enoch Burnett, a clock maker by trade, would have been proud of him!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

What our visitors say…

Occasionally we have visitors from the cruise ships that call at the island.  Unlike the venues that cater for coach loads, we welcome no more than a few guests at a time.  I give them an overview of my work in the studio and then Denise takes them on a tour of her garden.  In between, they sit down to fresh fruit juices and home baked cakes and pastries.   It is all very personal and, from comments in our visitor’s book, much appreciated.

This was an amazing tour, much more than we anticipated…We often recall our world travels.  Our visit to your studio and gardens will always remain a great memory for us…Delightful and inspiring…Absolutely marvellous, we enjoyed every minute of our visit…Truly inspiring, you'r e both overwhelmingly beautiful and generous…The work is enchanting, the cuisine mouth watering and the company, out of this world…


With me in the picture are Betsy and Ray and their friends Ron and Donni.  Come back again soon!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Moving on…

Between 1995 and 2005, the years that I based my studio in England, one commission followed another.  It seemed that success as a sculptor had found me out, as it had done years earlier as a painter in the Virgin Islands. 

However, I know all too well that the creative spirit has a curious quirk in its nature: struggle and poverty spur it on, whereas ease and affluence cause it to procrastinate.  Maybe that is why, whenever things appear to be going along nicely in my life, I decided to up stakes and move on.

So, here I am on Dominica reinventing myself all over again.  For five years I put painting and sculpture on hold while we converted an abandoned slab of concrete into our home, studio and workshop.  Last year I returned to my work with new vigour and a new vision.


The picture shows the clay stage of my first sculpture from this new period.  With Denise as the model, it represents the “where do I go from here” mid-life transition: the reflection, the awakening and the moving on.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Proud Sculpture = A Proud Town…

That was the newspaper headline on the 9th of October 1999.  It announced the unveiling of my two bronze figures - a lock keeper and small boy - for the town of Sowerby Bridge in the North of England.  The article continued as follows:

The sceptics said that this small Yorkshire mill town would never be able to raise the money to pay for this sculpture, but it did.  The donations came in from all over the place, the dentist, the sweet shop, the bobby on the beat and the old ladies on a pension who dipped into their savings.  The local newsagent has a vested interest in the lock keeper’s boot laces: after all, he paid for them!
When Prince Charles got wind of the project, he also chipped in handsomely.  He didn’t sell off his football boots, but someone in the town sold off theirs, and the proceeds went towards the Sculpture Fund.

One of my fondest mementoes is a letter I received soon after the unveiling from one of those old ladies on a pension.  It reads in part:

I don’t know much about art, but I do know that your sculpture will always be loved by the people of this town.

In turn, I will always be grateful to the people of Sowerby Bridge for having confidence in my work.  Our joint effort went on to win a UK National Award for Public Sculpture.  Incidentally, this was the sculpture that gave birth to my website diary. 

 
That’s me in the hat – I wore the same hat to town today!