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, September 29, 2011

The day that the rains came down…

Yesterday, parts of Dominica (in particular our part) had the highest rainfall in living memory.  Our loss was limited to the water pipe intake that leads from the river and the three-legged chair that I made some months ago (See diary entry for June 1st).  The flood swept both of them away.  As can be seen in today’s picture, a village down river from us did not fair as well.  

We’ve only just had electricity restored, so busy catching up on many things. 

Photo Credit DNO

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Call Of The Wild…

Have you gazed on naked grandeur where there’s nothing else to gaze on…?

So asked Robert Service in his poem The Call Of The Wild. 

How I wish I was gazing on the naked grandeur of Dominica’s Waitukubuli National Trail rather than spending my days cooped up in the studio writing about it.   Alas, in the time I have available for putting together the guidebook for the trail, there’s no time for walking. 

Working from notes made by others – as I’m having to do - is like trying to paint a picture from a photograph.  I need to smell, see and feel the real thing in all weathers from beginning to end.  To fuel my frustration I am constantly being seduced by the beautiful 2.5” to the mile OS maps that cover every inch of the trail. 


Today’s picture shows a small segment of the trail on one such map.  The trail is the broken green line highlighted in yellow.  As you can see, at this point the trail splits into two alternative routes.  The contours and romantic place names have me spell bound.  In my imagination at least, I’m out there, picking my way over a boulder strewn footpaths, wading rivers and walking through dense rain forests.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Scribbles from the past…

Today, while searching through packing cases, a found a small sketch book diary that recorded a visit I made to the South of France over twenty years ago.  The purpose of my visit was to sketch Frenchmen playing boules.  However, as I glance back through the entries, it appears that my love for churches claimed equal attention. 

Here are two sketches that I scribbled down during a service at Nice Cathedral.  I discreetly tucked myself away on one of the back pews, not realising that the cathedral’s mighty organ was on the balcony right above my head.  On its first thunderous cord, I jumped out of my skin!




Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Not by bread alone…

Just as the Bible proclaims that man shall not live by bread alone, so too must the spirit of the artist resist the restraints of art alone. 

Michelangelo’s diaries are not confined to painting frescos on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, nor are Leonardo’s notes limited to painting The Last Supper.   Their interests ranged from architecture to astrology and from poetry to politics.

Likewise, I see no reason why these diary pages should be limited to my work as a painter and sculptor.  If, as of now, my days are spent recording a trail that stretches from one end of Dominica to the other, then that is what I’ll write about.  If the National Trail project is followed by the invention of a machine to wash dasheen, so be it.  Perhaps this approach will help art students to develop an interest and a passion for all things.

I’ve been up since four this morning, writing about the trail and walking the trail.  I’m exhausted and ready for bed.  But before I go, here I am, with a member of the trail management team, at a rest stop along the way.  If you think that looks tame, you should see the terrain that comes before and after.


Monday, September 19, 2011

Feast or famine…

One day, there’s no prospect of work, the next day I’m inundated.  The National Trail project was confirmed at today.  Within a couple hours, I got a call to say that a major engineering project, one that has been hanging fire for weeks, was all set to begin.  Too late, I’d already dipped my mapping pen in ink. 

Here’s an overview of the trail.  As you can see, it covers the length and breadth of Dominica.  The task now is to map and describe it in detail.  The distances and walking times given to the left of the map bear no relation to reality.  You can’t measure adventure by the mile or by the minute.


I’m sure that my grandfather had similar feast or famine dilemmas in repairing church clocks and church organs.  For months they’d tick and shrill without problems and to make ends meet he’d take up his ladders and clean windows.  Then, when one broke down, so did the other.

Here’s a sketch of a church organ undergoing repairs.  Many of the church organs in the Caribbean were built in the West Riding of Yorkshire.  Alas, there’s no record my grandfather travelling this far to make repairs – or to clean windows! 


Friday, September 16, 2011

Gone fishin’…

Just in case, after a couple of day’s absence, you’re suspecting, in the words of the classic Louis and Bing recording, that I’ve gone fishin’, you’re wrong.

For the next six weeks, it looks like my attention will be diverted from painting and sculpture - and even engineering - for I am to be given the task of putting between book covers all the information that you'll need to walk the Waitukubuli National Trail.  If that’s left you scratching your head, don’t worry, you’ll soon be enlightened.  The trail is the most important discovery since Christopher Columbus first set foot on Dominica over 500 years ago and it ranks with the world’s premier long distance walks. 

To walk the trail from end to end is a major accomplishment and getting it down on paper in six weeks borders on the impossible.  But here goes…

In contrast to the tropical heat of the trail, today’s painting goes back to the depths of winter and the canals of the industrial North of England.  This is the “lost” painting of the yellow JCB that I mentioned some months ago.

 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The field vs. the corn…

John Constable was always ready and willing to sell his finished paintings but reluctant to part with his sketches.  As he said, “I don't mind parting with the corn, but not with the field in which it was raised.”
Today I came across a small sketchbook that I had almost forgot about.  Many of the sketches are of church interiors, a favourite subject of mine.  They range from the simple to the ornate.  Either way my pen takes up the challenge with alacrity and with a freedom that at times makes the resulting sketch difficult for even me to figure out. 
Here, for you to figure out, is my sketch of the ornate pulpit of Sir George Gilbert Scott’s All Souls Church, Halifax, Yorkshire.  Incidentally, the painting sold!

Monday, September 12, 2011

In my mind’s eye…

I am sometimes asked if I paint and sculpt every day.  The answer is, yes I do and no I don’t.  Days, weeks, months and sometimes years can pass, without my brush touching paper or my hands modelling clay.  On the other hand, it is rare for a day to pass without me creating scores of images in my mind’s eye.

Over the last few days, my workload has included devising ways of packaging rum cakes, turning spherical bearings, motivating a workforce, editing a guidebook, battening down for an approaching hurricane and….

In my mind’s eye: capturing the smile in eyes of someone who I see daily in passing, sculpting two figures locked in a passionate embrace, commemorating the memory of a friend in stained glass, painting the figure with such abandon that I no longer count fingers or labour over ears, allowing verse to interweave with my paintings and sculptures and…

How can I illustrate what is in my mind’s eye?  Perhaps the stained glass panels that made up my Christ Triumphant church window, propped at random before installation, one against the other, fairly represent the images that night and day race around in my brain.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Grab a chance and you won’t be sorry for a might have been…

Here are two photographs of the 80 ton Yorkshire Keel Brookfoot, one of the damsels in distress that I mentioned a few days ago. 

Yorkshire Keels were sailing barges that once plied the canals of the North of England.  Brookfoot was built during WW2 (the last of the line) and never rigged for sailing.  Instead, she was powered by a three cylinder Gardner diesel engine.  The gentle rhythmic sound of the engine – as against the thumping of the two cylinder Lister diesel engines installed in the other canal barges -  led to her being know by the old-timers as, “the sewing machine boat”.

A year’s work went into converting Brookfoot into a home and studio.  She was my means of escape and for two years she faithfully carried us through the lean formative creative period of my life.  On turning my back to an enginers' drawing office, I had taken to heart the advice: “Grab a chance and you won’t be sorry for a might have been”*.

The first photograph shows Brookfoot just after she had delivered her last cargo of coal - and just before I purchased her for the princely sum of £200 – and the second shows her two years later, moored on the canal at Brugge. 



* Arthur Ransome We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea

Thursday, September 8, 2011

In the limelight…

Publicity can be a mixed blessing, but the artist that shuns the media shuns the public at large.  I have never been one to stand aloof from the crowd.  Indeed, the nearer I can get to the crowd the better.  Hence, I welcome a recent spate of interest in my work from the Caribbean media. 

A few weeks ago, the up-market glossy MACO Magazine featured my paintings and sculptures.  Close on Maco’s heels the regional art magazine ARC carried an article about these diary pages…and today the BUZZ, a new television show that focuses on Dominica’s Entertainment Culture, filmed an interview.   If the combined coverage inspires just one young talented person - and there are hundreds of potential artists out there - to pursue the arts, the publicity will have been a real blessing.

For today’s feature, I worked on a portrait bust of my nine-year-old son Tristan. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The wow factor…

Yesterday, when listing my damsels in distress, I mentioned the Bolton Brow Methodist Assembly Hall, the building which served for eleven years as my studio in the UK.  I can’t put my finger on a “before” shot, but here’s the restored interior.  From the main entrance at street level, visitors went down a flight of steps before dramatically entering the main hall.  Invariably, when reaching the bottom step they paused and gave out a breathless “wow”!

As is the usual with properties purchased from the church, we had to sign to a formidable list of covenants:  no alcohol, no gambling, no illicit behaviour, etc, etc.  A couple of years after purchase we were visited by the church trustees, all of whom were in respectable old age.  I hurriedly draped my nude figures – surely they violated every covenant in the book - while Denise kept them talking on the stairs.  My heart sank when one of the straight-laced ladies lifted the drape from my most revealing figure.  She gasped.  Then, contrary to my fears, exclaimed, “How beautiful”!

The photograph was taken from a small observation balcony forty foot above the studio floor.  For scale, look for the full-size upright piano on the mezzanine level.   What a studio, what a daunting task, what memories. 



Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Rescuing damsels in distress…

As an incurable romantic, I have spent the best part of years rescuing damsels in distress.  They were all beautiful, at least to eye of this beholder.  Let me tell you about just a few of my amours.

Brookfoot was the last surviving Yorkshire Keel Barge, a direct descendant of the square sail Viking ships.  When I found her, she was languishing at a coal wharf in the industrial North of England.  I rescued her, restored her, and sailed her through the French Canals.

The Gardner 2 LW marine engine that served as the auxiliary power for my 16-ton gaff cutter Born Free, I bought unseen: for the very good reason that she was sunk in eight foot of muddy water on the Bridgewater Canal.  With the help of a diver and crane, I rescued her and spent two winters restoring her to her former glory.

The Bolton Brow Methodist Assembly Hall is a remarkable listed building in the North of England.  She was built in 1882.  Denise and I found her, neglected and forlorn in 1995, when we were searching for a studio.  Restoring her was a Herculean task, not least because of her huge barrel vaulted glass roof.

In comparison rescuing and restoring the Office Letter Press shown in today’s picture was child’s play.  None-the-less, when “she” arrived at my workshop - en-route to the dump - a couple of weeks ago, even this Sir Lancelot doubted the feasibility of her rescue.  But like all my damsels, she awoke from her sleep with the sparkle of a princess.  In her new life, she’ll be pressing hand-made paper made from all kinds of fruits and grasses grown on our land.   

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Painters’ Bible…

On the shelf above my engineers’ drawing board is a copy of Machinery’s Handbook.  Known for nearly a hundred years as “The Engineers’ Bible” and now in its 28th edition, the definitive tome contains 2420 pages of tables and formula.  When working in my machine shop, I refer to it on a daily basis. 

The painters’ equivalent is Robert Henri’s The Art Spirit and Charles Hawthorne’s Hawthorn on Painting.  First published in 1923 and 1938, they are now available in paperback, by Harper Row and Dover Publications respectively.  Both books consist of collected notes that delve into the why and wherefores of the creative soul.  As such, they are worth more than all the “How To” books put together.

I first came across Charles Hawthorn on the shelf of the Kings Lynn (UK) public library in 1970 and I found Robert Henri in a Boston (USA) Bookshop in 1989.  At one of my exhibitions in England, I met with a lady in her nineties who, as an aspiring art student, had been taught by Robert Henri.

A quote at random from The Art Spirit:

A work of art which inspires us comes from no quibbling or uncertain man.  It is the manifest of a very positive nature…

and from Hawthorn on Painting:

We must train ourselves to keep and preserve our fresh and youthful vision along with all the experience of maturity.  If we do, we’ll be great artists – if we don’t we’ll be academicians…

Buy, borrow or steal a copy of both books.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Erratum…

In the frenzied heat of the moment, I misquoted my extract from Sheila Hyndman’s poem Daughter of Time.  The second line should read, Hardened by hurricane winds.  The mistake dawned upon me in the middle of the night.  At first light this morning, before the wrath of Sheila rained down upon me, I made the correction.   



Incidentally, the secondary figure in “Version 1” shown yesterday, was based on the above watercolour sketch.  Perhaps the pose is too subtle to be picked up easily in clay.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Bas-relief, Version 1 and Version 2…

Here are two versions of my bas-relief. 

In “Version 1”, I feel that the secondary figure distracts from the main figure.  It needed a lighter touch.  I removed it - easily done with clay - added more text, and arrived at “Version 2”.  

When finishing a piece of work, I am rarely sure of the value of what I have created and doubtful if my first intensions have been fulfilled.  I’ll sleep on it. 

In the meantime, let me know what you think.