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, October 31, 2011

Why me…

I should have posted this diary page yesterday but instead my time was spent removing hundreds of spam messages from my email In Box.   According to my brother, “It sounds as if you are suffering from what is called spoofing - spam is being sent out using your e-mail address as a return address.”  According to Cable & Wireless (my email service provider) we don’t often experience it in the Caribbean. 

To that, I'm tempted to say - as one of my West Indian friends said when, at a crowded cricket test match, a bird flow over and shit on him, WHY ME! 

By special request, here is a picture of my three-legged chair Mark II.  If you remember, Mk I was washed away in the floods.  I made it from odds and ends of various Dominican hard woods – hence its coat of many colours.  Yesterday afternoon, after taking this picture, I set out to carry down to the riverside… and there I came closer to meeting my maker than I have ever done in fifty years of sailing the high seas.  But I’ll save that thrilling instalment for another day!


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Creole Day…

Yesterday was Creole Day here in Dominica.  It is a day when, to celebrate Independence, the whole island turns out in National Dress.  Here is the parade in the capital Roseau.  Also, our oldest daughter Tania (19) and our son Tristan (9) doing their bit. 

I promise, next year I’ll put a madras band around my best hat.

 Photo Credit DNO


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Romance…

Early this month, legendary Master Mariner and owner of the Brigantine Romance, Arthur Kimberly, died at the age of 89. 

I was first met Art Kimberly while at anchor in Road Harbour, British Virgin Islands, in the 1980’s.  His ship was anchored close to my gaff cutter Born Free.  Capt. Kimberly slowly rowed around my vessel and cast a critical eye over her. 
On completing his circuit he hailed me with the words, “Who designed her?”   
Nervously I replied, “I did”. 
He made a second circuit and asked, “Who built her?” 
With trepidation I answered, “I did”. 
He scrutinised my vessel all the more critically on his third circuit and asked, “Who rigged her?”  Apologetically I answered, “I did”. 
His parting words were, “My God, she’s beautiful!”

Soon afterwards I learnt that Romance was for sale.  She was a ship I was prepared to give everything I possessed for, including my right arm and the shirt off my back.  I asked my good sailing friend Fritz Seyfarth, to come and look over her with me.  Fritz, normally more romantically inclined than even I, brought me to my senses with the words, “Roger, she’s a mistress that neither of us can afford.”

I painted a picture of her when she was hauled out for repairs.  It sold, like the ship, to her new owner.  Sadly, I don’t have a copy but here’s her photograph.


                                Wrap me up in my oilskins and jumper
                                No more on the docks I'll be seen
                               Just tell me old shipmates
                               I'm taking a trip mates
                               I'll see you someday in Fiddler's Green 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Football isn’t life and death…

Simon Barnes, chief sports writer for the Times Newspaper, began one of his commentaries with the words, “Football isn’t life and death - it’s more important than that!”

Our nineteen-year-old daughter Tania, a member of the Dominica women’s football team, would certainly agree.  If interests are inherited, she must have picked that one up from her mother or grandfather, certainly not from me.  I can proudly boast that I have never been to a football match in my life.

On the other hand, Tania and I share a love for poetry.  Maybe she picked that up from me, but where did I pick it up?  Apart from the rhyme schemes of Toby Twirl, the only poem my father taught me was Rudyard Kipling’s If.  I can still remember every line and today these particular lines came to mind:

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build'em up with worn-out tools…

The reason being, I was making a replacement chair for the one washed away by the floods a few weeks ago.  So, washed away rather than broken and tools as sharp and true as ever.  Nevertheless, it hurts to loose something that you have given loving care to. 

Here are the chair parts, in an assortment of local hardwoods, ready for the spokeshave and lathe.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A beard and bold ink lines…

Around the world there must be thousands of photographs, taken by onlookers, of me painting.  Some of them will go back to my time on the pavements of France and others to my early days in the Caribbean.  At the end of the day, I go home with the painting and someone unknown to me goes home with the photograph.  

The exceptions are photographs taken by members of my own family and in particular, those taken by my brother, an exceptionally talented photographer. You will find examples of his work at http://newsfromnowhere1948.blogspot.com/  

This particular faded photograph dates from 1972 and was taken when my studio was based in Southern Ireland.  The painting, as shown below, is still in my collection.  Since then, the beard has gone along with the bold ink lines, both distinctive features of me and my work in those far off days.




Thursday, October 20, 2011

Patina with use…

The dictionary defines patina as, a surface appearance of something grown beautiful, especially with age or use. 

Bronze casts are given an instant patina at the foundry by the application of chemicals.   This gives them a head start in terms of aging.  However, patina with use cannot be easily achieved by artificial means.  Furthermore, patina with use is not always considered advantageous. 

In the entrance to Leeds City Art Gallery there is (or was) a beautiful life-size reclining female nude figure.  She’s been around for about a century and her black patina has worn thin where thousands of hands have lovingly caressed her form.   Thus, her nipples glow with the warmth of yellowed bronze.  Some years ago, there was a move afoot to have her re-patinated in order to obliterate this assault on her person.  I strongly objected, as I considered that the figure had grown more beautiful with use.

Given my frequent clashes with the Leeds Henry Moore Institute, I am honoured that they keep me on their mailing list.  Their most recent on-line newsletter is a picture showing the surface texture of Henry Moore’s Knife Edge: Two Piece.  A sculpture that is sited outside the Houses of Parliament.  On closer inspection I realised that the “patina of age” was, in this case, the work of many pen-knife incisions over the years. 
Dare I say that I think it adds the work? 

Drat, I’m sure that my name has just been deleted from their mailing list!


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Conformity vs. Individualism…


            They’re all made out of tick tacky
            And they all look the same…

So sang Pete Seeger at about the time when I decided to try my look as an artist on the pavements of France.  Looking back over the years since then, the memories I cherish are the individuals I met along the way.  Indeed, it seems I have made a point of meeting up with nothing but individuals.  The doctors and lawyers, and business executives didn’t move in my circles.

One such loveable individual came to mind today when it was suggested that we might get copies of National Trail Guide Book shipped  to Dominica at a cheaper rate if we consolidate the packages with other cargoes.

This is exactly what my dear departed friend Fritz Seyforth had in mind when, in order to ship down copies of his book Tales of the Caribbean, he arranged to share a container with a local supermarket.  I remember driving Fritz down to the dock where we waited for the container to be off-loaded.   Unfortunately, his good deal had a slight flaw: the books had been loaded into a refrigerated container.  Fritz rightly claimed to be the only author in the world selling frozen books!

On another occasion, Fritz helped me out of a difficult situation.  I always tell those who buy my paintings that, if they change their mind, send it back and I’ll give a full refund.  It’s only happened once, and that was in the Bahamas way back in the 1970’s.  I carried the offending letter to Fritz.  He put it back in its envelop and rooted in a draw for what he called his “termination stamp”.  After inking and applying, the envelop then read, “Deceased Return to Sender”.

Here’s a sketch I made of Fritz, long ago and far away.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Alas, no decorative cartouche…

Since this morning, I’ve been working on the maps for the National Trail Guide.  The job was made all the more difficult because the map I was using for reference was to a different scale.  As I could not get it scanned and enlarged electronically until Tuesday, I set about doing it by hand the hard way – grid square by grid square. 

Maybe the French mapmaker, who made this map of the neighbouring island of Martinique in 1732, looked down on my labours with a wry smile.  After all, he had no electronic aids either.  The hand coloured copper plate engraving puts today’s computer generated maps to shame.  Alas, there will be no decorative cartouche or compass rose embellishments on my trail maps.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Love…

Forget the prestigious awards, the accolade I cherish above all others is when someone says they “love” my work.  I find the simpler the words, the more sincere the meaning.  I am all the more touched when the message comes from someone not necessarily schooled in the arts.

Like the old lady who sent me a letter on flowery notepaper soon after the unveiling of my figures for Sowerby Bridge saying…Your sculpture will always be loved by the people of this town.

A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from one of my life class students saying…Don’t give up, your classes make life so much more bearable.

And, just yesterday a text message to say…Thank you so much. I love the painting, I love it!

I suppose, like the poet Robert Service, I’m just a lowbrow and hence attracted to his poem:

To show you how lowbrow I am,
I’ll readily admit,
When reading Mary and her Lamb,
I wish I’d written it.

Likewise, the simpler the sketch the more profound the meaning…like this one.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Ten years ago in the pouring rain…

Ten years ago in the pouring rain my bronze figures for the city of Leeds arrived from the foundry.  By the time they were off loaded and hoisted in position, I was wet through to the skin.  Moreover, Leeds rain is cold rain, not like the warm showers that fall on Dominica. 

The look of anxiety on my face reflects the tension that accompanies this final moment of truth.  Up to then, the figures had only been seen by a select few, either in the confines of my studio or amongst the clutter of the foundry floor.  Now they are out in the open and exposed to the gaze to their rightful owners – the man, woman and child in the street.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Against all odds…

A week ago, I mentioned the impossibility of keeping a two-year-old still.  Well, against all odds, here she is sat (for two seconds) on her mother’s knee. 

In my mind's eye, this is the first step towards a sculpture on the same theme: the heads of mother and child nestled together.  For that step, if it ever materialises, there will be no need for my sitter to stay still…well, at least not for more than two seconds.  As a sculptor, I can work from a glance and a measurement at a time.  The only thing is - it takes time.

Thank you Jillian and Jaylah, hope you enjoy your portrait.



Sunday, October 9, 2011

The saws in my life…

Here’s the collection of panel saws, hand saws, rip saws and tenon saws that have served me well for over half a century.  They have built boats, made furniture and restored buildings.

Two of them (5 & 6 counting from left to right) date back to the 1930’s and were handed down to me a few years ago. 

The second saw from the left was one that I bought out my pocket money while still at school.  It is still in daily use.  

Number 4 and the tenon saw on the far right been around almost as long.  They have weathered two Atlantic crossings, made repairs after numerous storms at sea and three hurricanes on land. 

Saws 3 and 7 date from the 1970’s and were bought to ease the work load of some of the older members of my crew - although the old timers are still going strong.

Most recent, is the tenon saw on the left that I ordered from Spear & Jackson just before leaving England.  It was reputed to be the finest in their range.  But when it arrived, my heart sank.  Its clumsy handle was that of a log saw rather than that of a saw intended for the most delicate and precise work.  When I questioned this, the makers told me that EU regulations stipulate that the users of all saws must wear work gloves!  The handle you see in the picture is one that I made – to fit the bare palm of my hand.

Most saws made today are throwaway things.  So as you might guess, I’m keeping a tight hold my mine…we still have a lot to work to do.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Tearing my hair out…

Today’s picture is of me tearing my hair out at a recent National Trail team meeting.  As these days I can only tear my hair out figuratively, my facial expression suggests that, in order to get my point across, I’ve taken up weeping and wailing instead.

Regardless of an artist’s failing to capture a likeness, the painted or sculpted portrait is kinder to the subject than the flick of the camera shutter.  Take for example my wife and model Denise.  She hates being photographed, but has no qualms about modelling.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Yell at me with colour…

That’s the advice Charles Hawthorne* gave to his students when they worked in water colour. 

It seems that I was intent on heeding the master’s advice when I made this sketch of seagrapes on a beach in the Virgin Islands.  Washes that seem almost too bold when first thrown onto the page appear insipid when dry.  It is necessary to apply more colour than you dare…then, add some more.  


*Charles Hawthorn Hawthorne On Painting

Monday, October 3, 2011

Impossibilities…

In his poem Freedom and Love Thomas Campbell lists the following impossibilities:

            Bind the sea to slumber stilly,
            Bind its odour to the lily,
            Bind the aspen ne’er to quiver,
            Then, bind love to last forever.

Between aspen and love, I might add:

Bind a two-year-old to sit still for two seconds.

This is what Jillian, the mother of Jaylah, my two-year-old sitter, Denise and I collectively failed to do this afternoon.  I can hear my life drawing students saying, “that’ll teach him”….he’s always telling us that you can’t expect the model to sit still!

I once demonstrated how draw from life in ten seconds.  Here’s how to do it in less than two!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Dipping my pen in a bottle of Scotch…

Eight years ago, for the closing chapter of a book about the regeneration of five towns in the North of England, the lead consultant asked me to dip my pen in a bottle of Scotch and come up with something lyrical. 

That I did, and I now need to come up with something equally lyrical to entice walkers from around the world to visit Dominica and sample what is surely one of the world’s premier trails.  This time around, I’ll dip my pen in a bottle of pure cane juice rum: the kind of intoxicating spirit that would have been brewed at the trail-side sugar works shown in today’s picture one hundred and fifty years ago.