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, December 29, 2016

Draperie mouillée

Clinging drapery on the nude figure is the classical sculptor’s equivalent to the photographer’s wet tee shirt. It is a sensuous device that reveals rather than conceals.

The scantily clad figure is more sexually provocative than the nude. By partially concealing the model’s attributes by what the French call Draperie mouillée the nude form becomes all the more alluring.

The sculptor’s most difficult task is to create in clay or carve in stone the delicate trace of drapery. Edouard Lanteri, in his book Modelling and Sculpting the Human Figure, devotes a lengthy chapter to the subject. It is a skill that takes a lifetime to learn, whereas the camera can capture the same in the split-second click of the shutter. However, as the second pictures proves, through the eye of a good photographer and with the aid of a good model, the end result can can be equally as beautiful. 

Venus Genetrix (2nd Century BC)

Anonymous (21st Century AD)

Sunday, December 25, 2016

A Merry Christmas from FedEx

For Christmas I ordered for my son a well-deserved computer. Both Amazon and the supplier came up trumps and had it moving in the time it takes to click a mouse. FedEx Express then had the best part of two weeks to get it from New York to my daughter’s forwarding agents in Miami for it to arrive in Dominica in time for Christmas.  

For days on end we were glued to the FedEx tracking page. Yes, it finally did arrive at Miami with two days to spare. Then FedEx, after only one attempt to deliver outside office hours, sent it straight back to the supplier!

We’ve made up this board game to keep us amused (sic). Please feel free to copy on send it on to all of your friends.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

180,000 words, 1,080 images and still counting

In other words, my sculpture studio diary pages, past and present, can claim to be one of the world’s largest resources of the working methods of a figurative painter and sculptor.

Decades before my diary went on-line it was jotted down, long-hand.  Here is an image and fragment of a page from twenty-five years ago.



The message still holds good:

…Always looking dead: a lack of colour, a lack of boldness, a timidity that wasn’t there at the mental onset, but crept through against all my efforts to control it. Must: paint freer, paint faster, paint more experimentally with colour. Must leave out…must see the fundamental mass and no more than suggest detail…

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Dreaming while digging ditches

In the diary page I posted on December 3rd (Continuing the Tango) I stated that digging ditches would be less exhausting than working from the live model. To prove that I know what I’m talking about here is me, at first light this morning, digging ditches.





In my seventy-four years I’ve dug more ditches than most. On the left is me at the age of twelve, digging ditches. And on the right at the age of twenty-five digging ditches.Digging leaves my mind free to dream. In this instance, free to dream of my next piece of sculpture. Paintings posted on November 24th and December 3rd together with the thumbnail sketch below gives you an idea of what I have in mind.



Monday, December 12, 2016

From the actual to the virtual


Today’s photograph dates back to the time when my studio was based in the North of England and my work as a sculptor attracted major commissions. On Saturday afternoons I opened the studio doors and invited the public to view work in progress. Even in the depth of winter I had scores of visitors.

Those were the days before blogs and my daily diary pages were posted on the internet, the hard way, by my brother with pictures taken with an early Kodak digital camera. However, as computers had not yet reached every-man my visitors were real people with snow on their boots that came to me the hard way.

Now, from my studio in the Caribbean, I have hundreds of visitors. But alas, no one shakes my hand or pats me on the back as they are all virtual “stats”.

This painting dates from that period. It is of my native Yorkshire in the depths of winter.


Saturday, December 3, 2016

Continuing the tango

Yesterday, I posted “one of today’s paintings”. But as usual, the one and a half hour afternoon session resulted in three large 16” x 20” water colours. Here are the other two.



 A session begins with five minutes of catching up on the week’s events. Then, in complete silence we get down to work.  After four years of working together, words are superfluous. There are no set poses. Annabelle is free to stretch and turn as she pleases. My task is to get the result of one stretch and turn down on paper before the next. It is not easy. Digging ditches would be less exhausting. And the same goes for the model. At the end of the session we are rarely sure of what we’ve accomplished. It is too soon to judge. In fact, followers of these diary pages are very likely able to form an opinion before we do.  

Friday, December 2, 2016

A naked girl and a loaf of bread

Working from the nude figure demands passion tempered with integrity and daring tempered with restraint.  Before beginning my day’s work, or when instructing life-class students, I repeat the biblical words of advice given by a past master of the nude figure.

Take the shoes from off thy feet, for the ground you are about to step upon is Holy Ground.

Kenneth Clark, in his definitive book on the nude, has this to say:

“…No doubt an artist can achieve a greater degree of detachment than the profane might suppose. But does this not involve a certain callosity or dimness of response? To scrutinize a naked girl as if she were a loaf of bread or a piece of rustic pottery, is surely to exclude one of the human emotions of which a work of art is composed…”

If awards were to be given for artists’ models, Annabelle, the subject of one of today’s paintings, would surely come away with gold. Just as it takes two to tango, it takes both artist and model working in absolute union to portray the sensuous beauty of the nude.



Thursday, November 24, 2016

Facial attraction

If asked, what is the first thing you look for in a model? Without hesitation I can answer that it is the face that first attracts. This holds true, even though in my paintings the face is secondary to the figure and sometimes it is not shown at all. Nevertheless, the spirit of my muse is personified in her fleeting glance. Here lie her subtle moods and changes.

In the first painting from today's session, the face is visible albeit partially cover by the model’s shoulder.



In the second foreshortened figure, the upturned face is nothing more than a suggestive brush stroke. Fleetingly though it may be, it nonetheless allows the dark red of the lips to give continuity, first to the breasts and then to the toes.


Incidentally, both were painted in little more than the time it took for my model to turn from one side to the other.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Life-classes with a difference

A woman's life class 1879

No, I’m not reverting back to life classes of the 19th century. As a matter of fact, I am not changing the format of my classes one bit. What I am trying to do is make it easier for those living overseas to attend.

Since I announced group vacation classes three years ago I’ve had hundreds of responses from all over the world. But getting one person to Dominica is difficult enough, to get a minimum of six together for the same date, is nigh impossible. The solution presented itself when one keen artist vowed to come anyhow. The session went so well that now offer tuition on a one to one basis.

Yes, my life classes are different. The warmth of the tropics means that we are free to work indoors or out. My models are not restricted to worn-out set poses and my way of working with a model is different to the usual life-class routine. Moreover, I do demonstrate rather than just critique.

You can find out more at: workingfromlife.blogspot.com 

Friday, November 11, 2016

The encroaching jungle


Maintaining a house, studio, workshops and three acres of gardens in the tropics is a never ending battle. While the woodwork of doors and shutters deteriorates, lush vegetation grows with profusion. We are on the verge of the rain forest and behind our backs is the encroaching jungle. Yesterday I spent the morning clearing the path to the river. By the end of the month it will need clearing again.

Even the paved walled garden below my studio is no defense against the profusion of tropical growth. Throw an orange seed down today and it will attempt to be a tree by tomorrow.

What with one thing and another, it’s a wonder that I ever find time for painting!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Where the pleasant fountains lie

Kenneth Clark's definitive book, The Nude, originated as a series of lectures that he gave at Washington’s National Gallery of Art in 1953. It is a classic of its kind. I have read the book from cover to cover on at least three occasions over the last forty years and most recently, over the last two weeks.

Those forty years span my development as a painter and sculptor of the nude. As with poetry, I have interpreted the book’s contents differently from one period to the next. It is only on my most recent reading that I discovered a curious omission: breasts and buttocks are analyzed at length, but nowhere is there mention of pudendum, male or female.

The Guardian columnist, Syreeta McFadden came up against a similar problem when perusing the Greek and Roman galleries of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.


 Alas, the origin of the word pudendum – a shameful thing - still holds true.

Fotunately, Gustave Courbet, Egon Schiele and Auguste Rodin had no qualms depicting it, and neither have I.


Today’s picture is a detail from my painting of the reclining torso.

Graze on my lips, and if those hills be dry,
Stray lower, where the pleasant fountains lie
.

William Shakespeare “Venus and Adonis” 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Pure and simple

What follows is my murmured soliloquy while working on the last of four paintings from yesterday’s session with Annabelle.

I’ve ten minutes left to save the day…Just relax in whichever way you choose…Where do I start…I’m seeing a line in silhouette that runs over the left breast and down to right thigh…Just one simple line with a hint of the rib cage…And now I can place the right breast and follow the curve to the hip…What a wonderful line that is…Keep it loose, don’t play about with detail…The face is largely hidden behind the left arm but that doesn’t make it easier…First I must let the chin fall into place…Now I can tie in the arms. The complication of the clasped hands I’ll leave to take care of themselves…Okay, stretch if you need to…No more line, just get the washes down, boldly, once and for all…My brush instinctively finds the earth colours I need…Leave the washes to find their own way…Keep the lights light and don’t be afraid of defining the darks around the face…The same touch of Indian Red serves for the lips and the nipples and the merest hint where the thighs meet…No time for background and it would be superfluous for what I am after…A glance at the clock tells me our time is up…To add more would be less…Annabelle, that’s it, we’re finished!

Here’s the result: pure and simple. With thanks to my inspirational model.





Saturday, October 22, 2016

Pregnant in body and soul


In 1992, with my wife five months pregnant, we sailed our 36 foot gaff cutter from the Caribbean to Bermuda. Our plan was to spend some months there and then fly to England for the birth. However, the inevitable never happens but the unexpected often does. Unexpectedly, our daughter Tania came into the world a month premature. From that date my work moved towards the figurative and my collection of Bermuda paintings have been hidden away ever since. These paintings represent the last of a tropical townscape period that I began twenty years earlier in the Caribbean.

This detail heralds the transformation.


Saturday, October 15, 2016

The sweetness of sin


The word beguine crops up in Kenneth Clark’s definitive book, The Nude, A Study in Ideal Form. The dictionary gives two meanings: first: Infatuation and the second, A popular dance of West Indian origin.

On further research I find that the dance originated in my neighbouring French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique. It is a slow close dance in which the female’s hands are clasped around the neck of the male and the male’s hands are clasped around the waist of the female. There is a back and forth hip movement.

Cole Porter encountered the dance when Martinique immigrants brought it to the dance halls of Paris. The rest is enshrined in the history of popular song. Interestingly, the accepted closing lines of the song are:

And we suddenly know what heaven we’re in,
When they begin the beguine.

But the first version read:

And we suddenly know the sweetness of sin,
When they begin the beguine.

I consider the accepted line to be adequate, but the presumably censored version, is pure poetry!

Here is Ella Fitzgerald’s classic recording of the song: 


I promise to track down the actual dance. So far I’ve drawn a blank here in Dominica, despite our strong French Creole connections. It might add some spice to our more formal crop of cultural dances, about which V. S. Naipaul had this to say in his book The Middle Passage:

To this mincing mimicry, the violence and improvisation and awesome skill of African dancing has been reduced.

These pictures illustrate one against the other.




Sunday, October 9, 2016

An ingenious work of art

Today’s picture illustrates a work of art, but not one that you will find in a gallery.

I stumbled across it a few weeks ago when visiting a village that was almost wiped out when Tropical Storm Erica devastated Dominica just over a year ago. The government is intent on re-housing the villagers in a new estate of plastic pre-fabricated houses; the equivalent of Pete Seeger’s “Little Boxes”.

However, some villagers, like the creator of this ingenious cane crashing mill, are staying put on what may now - after nature has done her worst - be considered safe ground. Some might say they are foolhardy, but for me they emphasise the unconquerable spirit of man.


Saturday, October 1, 2016

Reaching for the impossible

What I am after keeps moving just beyond my reach. It might even be impossible, given the fleeting minutes I have available to capture the subtleties of nude figure, the intractability of a rapidly drawn line and unruliness of watercolour washes thrown down with a Number 12 brush.

Into the bargain I am experimenting with a different paper, both in texture and whiteness. Hence, I am up against the equivalent of letters on a computer keyboard being suddenly shifted about. 

My models are doing better. Next year Annabelle will be studying medicine in the States and Saryta (the subject of today’s paintings) will soon be professionally modelling in France. 







Friday, September 23, 2016

From a different perspective

Before a line or a wash goes down on paper, I have a vision of what I am after. As the painting progresses I become doubtful that my first intentions are being fulfilled. Watercolour is the most demanding of all painting media: what goes down stays down, highlights have to be jealously safeguarded and washes have a mind of their own. In thirty minutes scores of things can go wrong and it is often the last brush stroke that does most of the damage. On completing a painting I am rarely satisfied.

It is not until later, after the shock of seeing from a different perspective, that I realize that what I originally perceived as a failure might have the makings of success. In the old days I would place the painting flat down on the floor and view it from all directions. Now, the image on the computer screen allows me the same detachment.

Today’s painting is a case in point. Immediately on completion I thought all was lost and that my model had needlessly endured mosquito bites. But now, viewing it hours later in a different format, I realize that our labors were not entirely in vain.


The only flaw with using the computer screen is the reduction in size. Even the detail shown below is smaller than the original 22" x 13" painting. 


Saturday, September 17, 2016

Black, Brown and Beige

The Duke Ellington composition from which I’ve taken the title for today’s post dates from 1943, the year I was born. It has been described as:

An enigmatic and complicated work, made all the more difficult to fathom by the disarmingly comfortable tonal palette and rhythmic flow…

My most recent painting of Annabelle fits the colour scheme and might be considered by some to be equally difficult to fathom.


Friday, September 9, 2016

A wake up call

Weeks have passed without me being able to rekindle my mood for painting. Today would have been no exception had it not been for a message that simply said: this afternoon, okay! It was from Annabelle. If anyone can shake me out of my mood of despondency she’s the one to do it.

She arrived an hour earlier than expected, so it was a wake-up call in more ways than one. I doubted that I could do good work but once started, the lines and washes miraculously came together in gay abandon. 


Saturday, September 3, 2016

Cars and Canova

While searching for a way forward with my own work I am immersing myself in the work of others. Thanks to the internet I can do this from my studio in the Caribbean.

A case in point is Antonio Canova (1757 -1822) an Italian neoclassical sculptor, famous for his marble sculptures. I’m not a lover of marble, nor the work of Canova, but by chance I came across this image of one of the sculptor’s clay marquettes. In these embracing figures there is warmth and life.



But while my paintings and sculptures have taken a back seat, the restoration of my 45 year old Land Rover has gathered momentum. Between other jobs it has been a four year labour of love. Here she is, in concourse condition, ready to see the light of day.


Friday, August 26, 2016

The fates conspired against me

Today I was looking forward to an afternoon painting session with my inspirational model Annabelle. An area of disturbed weather had passed Dominica by and with it, my vacant mood from weeks passed. Everything bode well but as an afterthought I messaged Annabelle to bring an umbrella, just in case. No sooner were those words sent than a tropical downpour started and the session had to be cancelled.

I have nothing of mine to show for today but I recently came across this incredibly beautiful sculpture by Gustov Vigeland (1869 – 1943) a Norwegian sculptor who also designed the medal for the Nobel Peace Prize. 


Saturday, August 13, 2016

The enigma of arrival

I have taken the title of today’s post from V. S. Naipaul’s novel The Enigma of Arrival. The book has many interwoven themes; as one reviewer said: it is unlike any other book I know. On one level it speaks of the disillusionment of achieving one’s objectives. And this I can relate to on almost a day to day basis.

A couple of months ago my objective was to develop my work as a sculptor, specifically by way of my recent reclining figure and torso. Both pieces worked out better than I dared hope. But now, after arriving where I earlier wanted to be, I find my aspirations have forged ahead to yet another level.

While I struggle with that dilemma, here’s the finished plaster master cast of the torso.


Sunday, August 7, 2016

Finding gold

I search in vain for the work of artists with a similar feeling for the figure to my own: those who attempt to de-euphemize society’s overt sexual connotations with nudity and to depict the human form in its primal state. They are few and far between, but occasionally I strike gold.

I found the work of the self-taught Spanish artist Nicoletta Tomas Caravia (1963 - ) by way of a link from one of my followers. He has this to say about his series of paintings titled “Lovers”, and from which today’s painting is taken:

To paint that love, that island of comfort, to paint the energy that moves us in that state of intoxication…I wanted a language of the body that would carry all the emotion of that dance of love, of carnality, which is that love from within, the drama of passion, that which irradiates and that which cannot be touched but only felt…I drank from many painters: Klimt, Schiele, Picasso, Gauguin and many others…I have taken something of value from each of them.


Monday, August 1, 2016

Portrait Demonstration


This year the University of the West Indies Dominica Open Campus is holding a Creative Arts Summer Program for children. My contribution was a portrait demonstration with one of the participants as my model.

I teach by demonstrating as it is the best way to learn. On one occasion I set up my stall before television cameras and an audience of two hundred. But whether I paint before a small group or a multitude, the risks are the same: can I make the magic work one more time!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Life, death and resurrection

The transition from the initial clay sketch, to plaster, then to the bronze cast, is summed up by sculptors in the saying that: clay is the life, plaster the death and bronze the resurrection.

Although the plaster cast does not have the sheen of wet clay nor the luster of bronze, it nevertheless has its charms; as can be seen in today’s picture of Annabelle’s reclining figure.


Monday, July 18, 2016

No turning back

I have spent a lifetime disappointing those who have bought my paintings and then come back for more. The disenchantment comes about because I can no longer paint what I painted in the past. Had I been able to paint Caribbean palm fringed beaches ad infinitum I would, by now, be a millionaire twice over. But creativity is not about repeating what has been done before. This year’s paintings are subtly different from last year’s paintings and far removed from the paintings of thirty years ago.

Today’s painting is of Road Town, the capital of the British Virgin Islands. It was painted exactly thirty years ago. Feast your nostalgic eyes on it, for I cannot repeat that period even if I wanted to. I intend to keep moving on and leave you to catch up with me.


Friday, July 15, 2016

There’s time for me yet

Louise Bourgeois, whose twenty-foot spider was the show piece at the opening of the Tate Modern, didn’t find fame until she was in her eighties. At 73 in a few days’ time, there’s time for me yet!

Has luck would have it; I can’t rest on my laurels. Yes, I’ve had a few successes along the way, yet nothing to get complacent about. I still haven’t achieved the vision that haunts my mind’s eye. But I’m still working on it. With my water colours of the female nude I feel that I am almost there and if I can allow my sculptural figures the same freedom...who knows?

I write this with a glass of rum in my hand at the end of a hard working day. Perhaps, as Charles Morris (1745-1838) recommended in his poem The Toper’s Apology, I’ll fill my glass again.

“Tis by the glow my bumper gives
Life’s picture’s mellow made;
The fading light then brightly lives
And softly sinks the shade;
Some happier tint still rises there,
With every drop I drain –
And that I think’s a reason fair
To fill my glass again.

My muse, too, when her wings are dry
No frolic flight will take;
But round a bowl she’ll dip and fly
Like swallows round a lake.
Then if the nymph will have her share
Before she’ll bless her swain –
Why that I think’s a reason fair
To fill my glass again.

It is not often that I’m in the picture, but here I am contemplating the molds for the torso.


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Transformation

Following on from yesterday's post, today’s picture shows the transformation from clay to plaster. What you are seeing is the waste mold being chipped away from the plaster cast. The initial “flicked” coloured layer acts as an early a warning device. It tells you that you are within a faction of an inch to cast.

So far, so good: a near perfect cast!


Monday, July 11, 2016

Take the shoes from off thy feet

When working from the nude I keep in mind the biblical quotation: Take the shoes from off thy feet for the ground you are about to step upon is Holy Ground.

Here, given life, is the final clay sketch for Annabelle’s half-life-size reclining figure.  


Friday, July 8, 2016

Working at the speed of light


While searching through old press cuttings I came across an article by the Sunday Times art critic, Waldemar Januszczak titled, “Working at the Speed of Light”. In the article he gives credit to the artists who paint fast; among them, Michelangelo.

I first realized a speedy brush stroke…to be a true guide to an artist’s talent…when I had a chance to examine Michelangelo’s handiwork on the Sistine ceiling from close up during the chapel’s restoration…It was the speed of his brush strokes that amazed me…In the scene of God creating the earth, the world and its vegetation was the work of seconds. Adam’s famous penis was traced with a single cocky outline. All over the ceiling there were astonishing displays of painting at breakneck speed. Never have I seen clearer evidence of artistic genius.

The entanglement of lips, arms, breasts and hands in today’s painting was thrown down just before Annabelle had to rush to catch a bus home. After an hour of holding the reclining pose for her sculpture, the sweet release of rolling over signaled the end of the session. But, as often happens, it’s the rolling over that reveals a transitionary position that cannot be contrived. When I catch that illusive moment out of the corner of my eye, I beg my model to hold it right there and give me time to work at the speed of light.

Now you can run for your bus!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Behind the scenes

Between clay and cast, there is lot that goes on unseen behind the scenes. Today’s pictures give you an idea in what is involved in taking a mold from the clay torso.

The mold is called a waste mold and for good reason. It is a one-off and must be finally broke into a thousand fragments to release the subsequent plaster master cast. The steps are as follows:

(1) Brass shims are inserted into the clay to give the necessary divisions. In this case, a three piece mold.

(2) Fine Casting Plaster, mixed to the consistency of cream, is them flicked over the clay. The process is achieved by dipping a hand into a bowl of plaster and flicking with the fingers. The process has not changed since the time of Michelangelo. This layer of plaster is no more than a quarter of an inch thick. It is tinted for reasons that will become clear later down the line.

(3) A thicker layer of plaster is then troweled over the figure, level with the shims. Steel reinforcing rods are added to give extra strength.

(4) When the plaster is fully cured, hard wood wedges are driving into the seams to separate the mold.

                       

                       

 The above may sound easy but three days of skilled work is involved. There are scores of intricacies at each step. If anything goes wrong, all is lost. Up to a hundred years ago sculptural mold making was a specialized trade unto itself.

The final picture shows the front section of the mold immediately on removal from the clay. The surface clay is dragged with the mold and hence lost in the process.


A blow-by-blow account of casting the master plaster cast from the waste mold will follow in later posts.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

It’s good to be back

It’s good to be back to painting, even though it was for only the last fifteen minutes of today’s sculpture session. After struggling for over an hour on the half size clay sketch of Annabelle’s reclining figure, I called a halt and said r-e-l-a-x! This Annabelle did with her usual aplomb and here is the result: a transitional moment of glorious stretching. If only I could express the same spontaneity in my sculptures!


Just before today’s session a text message from Annabelle read: is it okay if my mom sits in on the session? My reply: yes, yes, yes, that will be wonderful. And you know what?  It was! And mom is the spitting image of her daughter. I now look forward to one day painting mother and daughter.