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.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Practicing what I preach…

This week I have had to keep reminding myself to practice what I preach.  It is easy to say forget about defining detail but difficult to loosen up – especially when there is the temptation to flatter the face and figure of a new model. 

Fortunately, my models soon enter into the lyrical scheme of things and, more often than not, loosen up before I do. 

Here are a couple of sketches that came about towards the end of a first session, when freedom and synergy between artist and model makes refinement superfluous. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Loose ends...

I made today’s sketches at the beginning and end of this afternoon’s modelling session. 

The first, as my model stood wondering whether she should stand, sit, kneel or recline.  The second, as she rocked back and loosened up after an uncomfortable pose that might have resulted in a good painting, had not the large sheet of expensive watercolour paper made me nervous. 

As is often the case, it was the loose ends of the session, jotted down on scraps of paper, rather than the intended finished painting on 100% all-rag, that made my day. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

A final fling…

During the 1980’s my studio was located on the shore of an idyllic cove in the British Virgin Islands.  In those days my 16 ton gaff cutter shared the pristine anchorage with no more than a handful of visiting yachts and a couple of inter-island cargo boats. 

All too soon marinas, hotels and condominiums invaded my paradise and I moved on.  However, before leaving I took out one of my largest sheets of watercolour paper and had a final fling.  But alas, even my farewell image was fated not to last.  In moving back and forth between the Caribbean and England the painting was damaged beyond recall. 

For years, those vibrant brush strokes have existed only in my memory.  And mine is a selective memory.  It can remember every painting I have ever painted over the last seventy years but cannot remember my telephone number.  Neither can it remember making a high definition scan of the original painting when selecting illustrations for my book Caribbean Sketches.  

The scan came to light when my high-tech daughter resurrected the hard disc from one of my defunct computers.  So here it is, my last vision of the Virgin Islands. 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Out of the corner of my eye...


 Whether it is the fleeting movement of the model, or the transient scene that I glimpse out of the corner of my eye, it is the unexpected that makes my day. 

Twenty years ago, while painting on the Caribbean island of St Lucia, I interrupted an overly laboured seascape to scribble down this sketch.  The fishermen landed and sold their catch in a matter of minutes and I had to catch my subject in the same moment of time. 

At the end of the day, I valued my sketch infinitely more than my “finished” painting.  It is something that in a hundred years time I’d like to be remembered by. 

Fortunately, this sketch of fishermen landing their catch is permanently lodged in my brother’s collection.  If you go back in the archives to an entry posted 8th March 2011 and titled “Dear Theo” you’ll find out more about the similarities of our brotherly relationship and that of Vincent Van Gogh and his brother Theo.

The following letter brings our correspondence up to date.

Dear Ali,

I desperately need the following Winsor & Newton Artists’ Watercolours:  one 14ml tube of Raw Umber & Burnt Umber and one 5ml tube of Viridian & Prussian Green.  They may have discontinued Prussian Green, but the rest should be readily available.  Post them regular airmail. 

I am sending you one of my recent reclining nudes for your collection.  Keep faith, one day it may be worth a little something.

With a handshake in thought,


Friday, May 3, 2013

The devil is in the detail…


If push comes to shove, I can paint every leaf on a tree.  The job would be tedious for me and boring for you.  Far better, that I throw down a thunderous wash of Prussian Green and let your  mind do the rest.  In other words, it is better to suggest, rather than to define detail.

For the bold watercolourist, the best suggestive passages are often the happy accidents that are beyond the artist’s control.  Except, you might qualify that statement by saying: the better the artist, the more often the accidents happen in his or her favour.

By suggesting rather than defining detail, we allow the public to enter into the creative process and interpret a picture as they may.  As with poetry, they are free to read their own meaning between the lines.

I have illustrated this entry with a suggestive detail from one of my sketches of the female nude.  If I have been more specific, my painting might have had to be hidden from view for a hundred years - as was the fate of Gustave Courbet’s realist masterpiece* of the same subject. 

*The Origin of the World