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, May 23, 2017

Accessorizing your lifestyle



What may seem to be the sales solution for a painter and sculptor working from a studio hidden within the idyllic interior of a remote Caribbean island; isn’t. I refer to selling art on-line.

There are scores of sites, tens of thousands of artists and millions - yes, millions – of images. I’ve tried them all, from the user friendly low key to the aloof curated high key. In between the two are the shopping baskets of the out and out commercial that can offer my coy nudes as shower curtains, duvet covers, and beach bags. Whichever way, I was better off on the pavements of France or beneath a palm tree in the Virgin Islands.

But then again, I do not want to “accessorize your lifestyle” as one on-line site puts it. I just want to share my passion for what I perceive to be profound and beautiful. The MA’s in History of Art curators don’t get it. But occasionally, someone like Anna, who commented on my last post, does.

Today’s picture (in the beauty going begging category) is a portrait bust that I made three years ago of my poetic model Jessica.

As the mid-day temperature here in Dominica is way into the 90’s, I’ll mull over the vicissitudes of an artists’ life while walking down to the river and taking a dip in our bathing hole. 


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The bare minimum

Photographers of the nude invariably place their models in derelict buildings or on idyllic sea shores and most painters of the nude allow their subjects the comfort of cushioned interiors.

In contrast, my paintings of the nude favour the bare minimum, both in setting and technique. I offer no distractions and I do not patronise the viewer with detailed finish. What I do offer, through my paintings and these diary pages, is an invitation to enter into the creative process.

If I’m repetitive; so be it: if I bore you; hard lines. I know of no other way of finding what I’m searching for. And if per chance – usually by accident rather than intent – I succeed, there is then the difficulty of seducing you, the recipient, by way of a language that you can learn to understand.

Today’s feverish searching in lines and paint, says it all.


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Sleeping four to a bed

…I have only one bed in which four of us sleep…I am without shoes and without clothes… I live in the midst of the greatest hardships and of countless anxieties...I have not known one hour of well being…

The above is not an account of poverty in the Third World, but extracts from Michelangelo’s diary at the time he was painting the Sistine Chapel Ceiling. He goes on to say:

…I blame it on the times which are anything but favourable to our art…It would be easier to resuscitate the dead than to make this town art conscious…

Those of us that today labour upon the forge of art realise that nothing much has changed!

Many of Michelangelo’s preliminary drawings were made in red chalk, a similar material to what I used almost thirty years ago for these drawings of my model Alice. You will note that the figure is discreetly draped for in those days I had not the courage to work from the nude.




Wednesday, May 3, 2017

I have not seen as others saw

As a painter it is necessary for me to have a different way of seeing. My task is to see beauty where it has not been seen before. But in doing so, I make life difficult for myself and difficult for others to patronise what I create.

  • I work in watercolour and watercolours are not readily marketable.
  • I paint the female nude: a subject that most buyers are shy of.
  • My models are Afro-Caribbean: black rather than white.
  • I resist the abstract: my figures are physical and passionate.
  • I work rapidly and suggest rather than define detail, and it is in laboured detail that buyers consider they get their money’s worth.

For my good friend and kindred soul, the Virgin Island poet Sheila Hyndman Wheatley (1958-1991), I choose this poem for her memorial service. It may well be equally as fitting for mine.

From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were; I have not seen
As others saw; I could not bring
My passions from a common spring.
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow; nor could I awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone;
And all I loved, I loved alone.

Edgar Allan Poe (1809 – 1849)

Today’s painting is my most recent and in the very same vein.


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A sculpted knick-knack

It was not until after I had completed my clay sketch of lovers embraced that I realised the pose had a similarities to Rodin’s sculpture, “The Kiss”. Although well loved by the public, Rodin was dismissive of the work, especially the enlarged marble version. He described it as: a large sculpted knick-knack following the usual formula. I think he would have agreed with the art critic Alastair Sooke that, unlike his more provocative work, it is a tasteful rendition of desire – a kiss, not an orgasm.

(http://www.musee-rodin.fr/en/collections/sculptures/kiss)

Likewise, I am unsure if the first intentions of my clay sketch have been fulfilled. It appears tamer than I originally intended. The rule is: make your work as challenging as you dare, and then make it more so.

Nevertheless I thought it worth taking a cast from the clay and the following pictures record the processes involved. This is about as small as you can successfully cast from a waste mold. The match box in the third image gives an indication of size. The final pictures show the completed plaster cast patinated to resemble bronze.


                                  










Sunday, April 23, 2017

A stroke of genius


For over half a century I have carried the above painting as a postcard reproduction on all my travels. The artist is Eugène Boudin (1824-1898). His Figures on a Beach is the work of seconds: the very thing I have tried to achieve with my own work.

The painting below has the same spontaneous stroke of genius. It dates from 1905 and the artist (I doubt if you’d guess) Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). The irony is, had Picasso continued to paint in that vein he would have died in obscurity!


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A clay sketch

I have spent the last few days reconstituting the clay that went into Annabelle’s life-size reclining figure. It is the same clay that I have used for all my sculptures over the last twenty years. With lots of pummeling and wetting down it can be made workable time and time again.

With the last ball of clay I made this sketch of lovers embraced. Its diminutive size (no more than 8” x 5”) and time taken in the making (no more than a couple of hours) belies the strength of the statement that I have attempted to make.


The 19th century French sculptor Auguste Rodin was the master of the clay sketch and also the master of lovers embraced. Art, he said, is nothing but a sexual pleasure…a derivative of the power of loving. By way of his team of assistants he sometimes enlarged his sketches to life-size.

But a sketch is best when left well alone; it’s very lack of finish is the finish. Let’s hope that tomorrow I’m not tempted to destroy the spontaneity of today’s work by making too many “refinements”.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Like father, but not necessarily like son



The portrait bust is one that I made of my father at age 85.

I have followed in his footsteps in terms of being an inventive engineer, but there the similarity ends. My father never took chances, whereas I have taken nothing else.

Albert lived well into his nineties and was loved by all. After being a virtual teetotaller, towards the closing years of his life he enjoyed nothing better than a glass of beer. And after hankering for retirement throughout his working life, his last words to me were: I wish I was back at work.

Given the above, I feel sure he would have agreed with the words Nadine Stair wrote at age 85.

If I had my life to live over, I'd dare to make more mistakes next time. I'd relax, I would limber up. I would be sillier than I have been this trip. I would take fewer things seriously. I would take more chances. I would climb more mountains and swim more rivers. I would eat more ice cream and less beans. I would perhaps have more actual troubles, but I'd have fewer imaginary ones. You see, I am one of those people who have lived sensibly and sanely, hour after hour, day after day. Oh, I've had my moments, and if I had to do it over again, I'd have more of them. In fact, I'd try to have nothing else; just moments, one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day. I've been one of those people who never goes anywhere without a thermometer, a hot water bottle, a raincoat and a parachute. If I had to do it again, I would travel lighter than I have. If I had my life to live over, I would start bare foot earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall. I would go to more dances. I would ride more merry-go-rounds. I would pick more daises.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Trials and tribulations



Beneath the header to these diary pages is my promise to share with you the triumphs, trials and tribulations of work-in-progress.

After each modelling session I send a little note of thanks to the model. My last session with Pearl was no exception. Pearl once again gave her body and soul while I struggled to break new ground.
Pearl’s response to my note read:

I really appreciate your compliment and I know you don't need me to tell you how great an artist you are. The session was my best.

In turn I replied:

Your message really cheered me up. At the moment I am full of self-doubt in terms of my work. My only consolation is that all the artists from the past that I really admire have gone through the same period of questioning many times over. It's a very painful process, but I suppose necessary. The very essence of creativity is conceiving something different to what has gone before. It would be easy for me to paint the pictures like the ones that I've painted in the past, but I'd be stuck in a repetitive groove. Please bear with me.

But I do need feedback, not necessarily to tell me how great I am, but to know that my work means something to someone out there. Remember: The function of art is to calm those who are disturbed and to disturb those who are calm.

For three months I have given every ounce of my creative zeal to my sculpture of Annabelle.  No: truthfully, the work in progress didn’t take three months; it took fifty years! With the exception of the three comments below, the silence has been deafening.

It’s beautiful (Annabelle, Model)
It’s beautiful (Alwin Bully, The Caribbean’s Distinguished Cultural Icon)
It’s beautiful (Ella Belle Rose, Supermarket Cashier)

I am touched by the repetitive simplicity of these comments, particularly as beauty relates to love, which is where the varied backgrounds of the observers found common ground.

Today’s 20 minute, 16" x 20" watercolour is one from my last session with Pearl and the reason for my self-doubt.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

‘Tis the best I can do

The master plaster cast of Annabelle’s life-size reclining figure is finished. Although it fulfills my expectations I again face the “Enigma of Arrival” that I wrote about in my diary page dated 13th August 2016. (http://sculpturestudiodominica.blogspot.com/2016/08/the-enigma-of-arrival.html)

Perhaps, after 74 years, I should resign myself to accepting, ‘Tis the best I can do and “go to my maker with that”.

                 I fancy my grave digger griping,
                As he gives my last lodging a pat.
                He wrote Dan McGrew,
                ‘Twas the best he could do.
                So I’ll go to my maker with that.

Robert Service. Poet 1874-1958 (Songs of a Sourdough, etc.)

But I ain't finished yet! Tomorrow I’ll take up my paints and once again struggle to capture the moods and changes of the live model.

In the meantime here is the plaster cast, finally at rest on its rectangular base.


I propose filling the vacant area to the right of the extended leg with a scattering of leaves. In the bronze cast they will be patinated in the colours of autumn. But unlike the heinous Fig Leaf they will not hide the delicate beauty of the female anatomy.



Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A comment on comments

Today’s post is by way of an apology. Up to a few months ago, on the rare occasions that someone commented on one of my posts, I’d get an alert message to say “Comment Awaiting Moderation”. But strange things happen on “blogger” and the recent no-show of that message is one of them.

A question from one of my models to the effect: why don’t people comment about your work, prompted me ask my daughter send me a test comment. This in turn led to the discovery of various praiseworthy comments that I had not been alerted to. Not least, two from my son Karl and one from my brother Alan.

Comments were more direct in the days before blogs. While sitting on the pavement sketching I would jot down wry comments from passersby at the top of my page. Today’s sketch is a case in point. The subject is the varied architectural heritage of my home town, Halifax, UK. The comment by an irate Yorkshire woman reads: Couldn't you think of something better to draw than that!


Please be assured, I do welcome comments.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Finding my way

These three paintings are from my second session with Pearl. They are shown in reverse order. The last (first below) was painted minutes before the end. I worked longer on the second painting but managed to resist the temptation of going too far: enough is enough! The confusion of first painting is a reflection of me finding my way over a new model. Remember, a watercolour cannot go right until it has gone wrong.






While I struggled against a seasonal pollen allergy, Pearl more than made up for my deficiency by giving body and soul to the session. Thank you Pearl, you did well and I survived...just!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Thy eternal summer shall not fade

The permanence of bronze bestows on the model everlasting life. Annabelle’s great, great grandchildren will see her as she is today. Shakespeare’s 18th Sonnet could appropriately bear testimony to this.

But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st; 
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee
.

And if these diary pages remain somewhere in cyberspace hundreds of years hence, they will also see the transitions from the initial clay to the final bronze cast. Today’s pictures show the master plaster cast emerging from the waste mold.





Monday, March 27, 2017

Model and Muse

At a talk I gave some years ago I was asked, at what point the model becomes the muse. For me, the two are inseparable and this makes it difficult to find the two in one. In my search for new models I am heartened by those who doubt that they’ll be suitable, for often it is the unlikely applicant that has that ability to inspire.

Last week I did a trial session with a new model. For both artist and model it takes courage to make that first step. The brief session went well and resulted in the painting shown below.



At today’s full session we both tried too hard to achieve the rare rapport that enables the muse to take flight. But in retrospect we almost succeeded, as can be seen in this 15 minute sketch of the standing figure.


Pearl (middle name) is a medical student from Nigeria. She has an attractive first name that my dyslexia will never enable me to pronounce: Ekponmwen. Thank you Pearl.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Life, Death and Resurrection

Clay is the life, plaster the death and bronze the resurrection. This saying has been handed down by sculptors for generations and refers to the principal stages involved in making a sculpture.

As a reminder, the first picture shows the completed clay sketch of Annabelle’s life-size figure.



The second picture, taken this morning, shows the waste mold being chipped away from the plaster cast. You can now better understand how the initial pink coat of plaster acts as a warning device. The circled area reveals the plaster cast within.



As the resurrection may be years away, here in bronze are two my figures for the City of Leeds. 


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Casting complete


After two days of mixing, pouring, brushing and troweling plaster, the casting is complete. The technicalities of casting a reclining figure, as against a standing figure, have given me many sleepless nights. The next step is to break away the surrounding waste mold and that will involve many more days of hard work. 

The picture shows the cast reclining on my work bench while I go to recline exhausted in bed.





Tuesday, March 21, 2017

At Ease


I cannot trace the source of the image that illustrates today’s post, but given the context in which it appears I feel certain that the model will not mind me using it to endorse her message. Whereas the beauty of the torso, unadorned with appendages, is considered the norm in sculpture, this brave model offers the same acceptance in life.

An essential attribute of my models is that they feel comfortable in their skin. For some it comes natural, whereas for others, being at ease takes time. Without exception, those that stay the course find the experience liberating and uplifting. Freedom from inhibition works both ways: if my model feels comfortable, I feel comfortable, and vice versa.

The life-classes that I occasionally teach from my studio are different to the structured life-class taught in art schools.  My students are more likely to find the model bathing in the river than posing on the modelling stand. Thus, the nude figure becomes the comfortable norm rather than the discomfiting exception.

A hundred years ago the American artist Robert Henri wrote:

There is nothing in the world more beautiful than the nude human body.  It is not only among artists but among all people that a greater appreciation and respect for the human body should develop.   When we respect the nude, we will no longer have any shame about it.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Inside out

For followers interested in the practical side of sculpture, today’s pictures show the completed waste mold. The detail is of the ear, inside out.

The mold is heavy and it takes two to lift it. It needs handling with care because its strength is compromised due to the open back. Think of an egg shell: amazing strong when whole but very weak when deprived of continuity in the round.

The next step is to finish cleaning the inner surface in readiness for the casting the figure in plaster.  




Friday, March 17, 2017

Will it pay?

The theme of today’s post was prompted, first by an article bemoaning that painters of the nude have difficulty selling their work and second, by an announcement today that the government of Dominica will be offering low interest loans to musicians.

The very last thing an artist or artiste needs is the burden of a bank loan, no matter how low the rate of interest or how long the grace period.

Capital in the arts relates to talent and innovation. Curiously, these two attributes tend to come to fruition when spurred by challenges rather than when couched in ease. If I were to draw a graph of my brief periods of financial ease against my poverty motivated creative accomplishments, the two would be at odds.

I first declared myself as an artist on the pavements of France with work sold directly from the pages of my sketch book. I earned enough to feed my wife and young daughter and at the end of the year my paintings were on show at one of the leading galleries. The next spring we sailed our canal barge back to England and survived by selling pictorial map prints door to door. A couple of years later we spent a summer pushing a pram loaded with our camping gear through the byways of Southern Ireland and sold paintings along the way.

In a similar vein, one of the most memorable musical recitals that I have heard in my 75 years was played on a penny whistle by a struggling student on the pavements of London.

The spur of impending poverty motivates my creative muse to this day and it is now helped by time’s winged chariot hurrying near. I’m not bemoaning the current scarcity of buyers for my paintings and sculptures. I’ll get by without a bank loan and I want no provision for old age. When my work is finished, I will be finished.

Here is the pictorial map print of which we sold a print run of 1,000 door to door.


Monday, March 13, 2017

Can I cry now?

If in my earlier posts I have given the impression that taking molds from a life-size figure is all plain sailing, let me tell you that it’s not. Things can go wrong and invariably do.

Many years ago, when I was taking the mold from my award winning lock-keeper, one of the caps fell apart in my hands. My brother, who had just cheerily stopped by to see how things were going, will remember his none too cheery reception.

More recently Jessica, who was the model and assistant for my bathing figure, found herself buried beneath the figure's extended arms and calabash shell as they suddenly detached themselves from the waste mold. After we had frantically worked to salvage the broken pieces Jessica slumped in a corner and timidly asked: “Can I cry now”?

This brings me to the struggles that I am having with my reclining figure. On separating two of the caps (extended left leg and thighs) the pink flick coat detached from its plaster backing. This has never happened to me before and I’m lost has to the reason why it has happened this time around. Normally the problem is the other way around in that the flick coat and backing plaster adhere together with a strength that makes them difficult to separate when chipping the mold.  

Fortunately the clay was not damaged and I have now re-cast the caps in smaller sections (three for the leg and one for each thigh). As my father was fond of saying, “These things are sent to try us”. 

The picture shows the mold in the process of being separated.


Friday, March 10, 2017

By way of a change

An actress was once asked, which do you prefer: working in film or on stage. Her answer: whichever I’m not appearing in at the time.

I feel the same about working as a painter and sculptor. When I’m painting, I long to be modelling clay; when I’m modelling clay, I long to be painting.

Weeks have passed since I last captured my model by means of a suggestive watercolour wash thrown down in seconds on a 16" x 20" sheet of paper. Today’s painting of Annabelle recalls one of those longed for moments from a couple of months ago.


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

In the pink


If Michelangelo’s or Rodin’s highly skilled teams of mouleurs had returned from their heavenly abode and visited my studio today they could have given me a break and carried on with the waste mold for my reclining figure. At the same time they might have suggested that I hang around so as to learn a few things.

Rodin’s mouleurs had devised new methods of making plaster casts. They were able to cast enormous sculptures that were amazingly light and strong. For example, one man alone could lift a life-size cast of Rodin’s Thinker. Alas, those remarkable artisans took their skills and secrets to the grave and I find myself continually having to learn afresh and re-invent the wheel.

One thing that has never changed in five-hundred years is the method of applying the first thin layer of plaster over the clay form. The plaster has to find its way into every crevice but at the same time any contact by hand would mark the surface of the clay. The only way is to dip ones fingers into a bowl of plaster the consistency of thin cream and flick it on to the sculpture. My inventive engineering background has sought alternative methods but this is the only one that works. It’s a messy job with plaster flying in all directions.


This first layer of plaster is coloured so as to serve as a warning when chipping the waste mold  from the plaster cast within. Without the pink tint, there would be no way of differentiating the white plaster of the mold from the white plaster of the cast.