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.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Against all odds

Mosquitoes and failing light conspired against me. But even under the best of circumstances, a successful water-colour is accomplished against all odds. The unintentional contributes more than the intentional. Without a mosquito to swat, the model's hand would not have been positioned across her thigh. And it is around the hand that the composition revolves.

As always, I’m working on a large scale (20” x 16”) and my washes are thrown down in a matter of minutes.  

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The sweet enchantment of a rose

He who has known the heights and depths,
Cannot again know piece.
Not as the calm heart knows;
Low ivied walls, a garden close,
The sweet enchantment of a rose.

As I sit pondering the vicissitudes of working from the live model, I glance from my studio, a rose.

If only I could have remained content with painting landscapes and townscapes, how much easier life would be. Flowers, trees and buildings are there at my calling, whereas sessions with my muse - my model - have to be scheduled in advance.

One of my most faithful muses is presently working a seventy hour week at her day job. The only advantage of her heavy work schedule is that when she can fit in a fit a modelling session, she instantly falls asleep. For an hour I can paint without concern for her comfort, as she’s obviously very comfortable.

But for today, I have to content myself with the sweet enchantment of the rose.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A thousand words

To make up the worth of a picture here are a thousand words.

I wrote this commentary last October in response to a University of the West Indies lecture by Professor Hazel Simmons-McDonald. The speaker highlighted the importance of the Creole language in terms of preserving Dominica’s cultural identity.  Whilst supporting a case for preserving the Creole language - and by extension Creole dance, music and dress - I consider that one significant aspect of Dominica’s cultural identity is being largely ignored: that being, the built environment.

Throughout life we are confronted with man-made surroundings.  Increasingly, our houses, offices and public buildings reflect a foreign influence.  Their design and material of construction does not relate to the local environment.  Regimented housing is replacing scattered settlements.  Hence, Dominica’s visible identity is being eroded.  It follows that the individuality of places reflects the individuality of ourselves. 

Villages and townships tend to grow of their own accord over a long period of time.  There was seldom a pre-determined master plan.  The people and their dwellings fitted into the topography of the land: they had to, because in earlier times there was no heavy earth moving equipment to make significant changes.  When these settlements are viewed from the air or on a map, it seems that our forefathers had a great contempt of straight lines and regularity!   

It is the higgledy-piggledy nature of these country communities that gives them their distinctive appearance and attributes.  Not least of these attributes is yard space.  Dominica’s sparse population in relation to landmass allows yard space that is the envy of city dwellers throughout the rest of the world.  The yard is the family’s domain.  It acts as outdoor extension to the house and a breathing space between neighbours.

Dominica has all the natural resources to sustain and promote a vernacular built environment.  What is needed is the revival of necessary skills.  Take a look at the old wrought iron balcony supports in Roseau and compare them with the shoddy welded fabrications of today.  A skilled craftsman cannot be trained in six weeks, let alone six years.  It is not just a case of wielding a hammer or pushing a plane, it is the accumulation of knowledge that is handed down from father to son.  The great cathedrals from the past were not designed at the drawing board by architects but by craftsman at the workbench. Thus, the craftsman’s eye becomes a gauge to measure beauty by.

The built environment is particularly relevant at this point in time.  Tropical Storm Erika has destroyed whole villages and displaced hundreds of families.  Just as you cannot easily uproot a tree that has been growing for a lifetime and re-plant it in a new location; the same difficulty applies to re-settling a community of people.  It is one thing to re-locate one by one, in one’s own time and inclination, be it to the next village or to a foreign land.  But it is quite another for whole communities to be faced with an unforeseen immediate need to move and leave everything behind.

But a community is not made up of houses alone.  Numerous other elements are needed to sustain life. They range from church to rum shop and from school to the village store.  Not least is the means of employment and preferably employment within walking distance from home.  In the past these elements came together of their own accord over a period of time.  To instantly plan a township is an art form in itself.  Interestingly, the man who wrote the definitive book on the subject began his working life in the Caribbean.  The book, The Concise Townscape by Gordon Cullen, should be required reading by all involved in the re-settlement initiative.  Another book that has relevance, is News from Nowhere by William Morris.  His vision of utopia was set down over a hundred years ago and deemed to be “pie in the sky”.   However, at this point in time, the book could be considered as a viable blue-print for Dominica.

Incidentally, it is interesting to speculate how Dominican’s would have coped with the aftermath of the storm had it occurred eighty years ago.  I suspect that every man, woman and child would have immediately started re-building with the resources at hand, albeit initially thatch and gaultry.  In doing so they would have been putting into practice a line from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If”:

                     If you can…watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
                     And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

In all of this I am not advocating that we return to the dark ages.  As an engineer I embrace technology and as an artist, I believe that all work should be creative and pleasurable.  Equally, our man-made environment should reflect our individuality and be pleasing to the eye, whether it be the chair we sit upon or the house we live in. 

The re-building from Tropical Storm Erika could be a first step towards the restatement of Dominica’s visible cultural identity and in turn set a benchmark for the rest of the Caribbean. 

I can't leave you without a picture, so to illustrate the above here is a drawing from my book “Caribbean Sketches”

Friday, April 1, 2016

Ineligible Art

An art organization in the United States is currently calling for submissions that depict the urban landscape. I don’t normally go in for this kind of thing but I thought: what the heck, the prize is tempting.

On delving into my past portfolios I found a painting that I made twenty years ago of Barclay’s Bank, Halifax, UK. It was exhibited along with 30 other paintings and drawings on the theme of my old home town. It didn’t sell then and it has had no better luck the second time around. 

I have just been informed that my painting is ineligible; not because the subject, but because of the artist. I am not resident in the United States!