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, January 31, 2017


There are similarities between my way of painting and my way of sculpting.

With watercolour, speed is of the essence and it is the same when modelling with clay. Both give of their best when given freedom and then left alone. Overworking only screws things up.

True enough, the time frames are different. A watercolour can be thrown down in a matter of minutes, whereas sculpting a life-size figure in clay can take weeks. With both I work from the live model. This is easy enough when a painting can be done in one sitting, but more difficult when the modelling goes on from one week to the next. 

To get around this I draw on a lifetime’s experience, rather than a reliance on photographs, and do what I can between modelling sessions. The ear and hair shown below are a case in point.

This detail of the model’s right breast shows how suggestion can be achieved by putting down and then leaving well alone.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

From the past to the present

After the brief sojourn to the canals of Ireland in my last entry, I now return to the present to bring you up to date with work in progress on my life-size sculpture of Annabelle’s reclining figure.

My double dilemma has been resolved: the finish will be by suggestive hints and the torso will be extended to the full figure, with the right foot tucked under the left leg. This involves some re-working from the waist down because the re-positioning of the legs gives the hips a subtle twist for the better.

As you can see in today’s pictures, the hands have begun to take shape. But I dare not go further until I have my model before me. 

Friday, January 27, 2017

Long ago and far away

In 1970 I made a four month voyage through the inland waterways of Ireland aboard a twenty-one foot sloop called Jessica. My wife Norma and our three year daughter Diana were respectively, first mate and crew. The book that I wrote about our travels was shelved and all but forgotten about when we set sail for the Caribbean.

The manuscript, along with hundreds of photographs, have spent the intervening years sealed in one of those old fashioned square biscuit tins.  As such they have twice crossed the Atlantic and weathered their fair share of hurricanes. Amazingly, they have survived intact and the contents are now a veritable historical document.

Recently I began revising the manuscript and converting the photographs to digital images. 

As a foretaste, here is a picture of me with a paint box that is still in daily use. But alas, almost fifty years on, my head of hair has somewhat diminished.

Here is my first mate Norma, affectionately known as Nobs, studying “where next” on the map.

And finally, our daughter Diana, now a Chartered Accountant and grandmother!

Friday, January 20, 2017

A double dilemma

Continuing from my last post: my quandary is now not so much how to finish but where to finish!

My original intention was to carry the torso down to the top of the thighs. This the usual practice, at least with a standing torso. But with a reclining torso, terminating at the thighs gives the impression of a rather messy amputation. I now begin to ask myself: as we already have head and arms why not make it a full length figure?

While I mull over that one, today’s pictures show work in progress on the head. I first roughly modelled Annabelle's facial features and the outline of her scull vertically, as shown in the first picture. I then then positioned the head against the torso. The arm that rests between the breasts remains to be finished.

Monday, January 16, 2017

By suggestive hints or by laboured finish

I am in a quandary. Should my sculpture of Annabelle be completed by suggestive hints or by laboured finish? Taking breasts as an example - the most sculpturally pleasing aspect of the female form - here are the options.

The finish of my standing figure titled You Must Believe in Spring represents one extreme.

And by comparison, the breasts from my recent torso represents the other.

The first appeals to the touch and the second to the senses.

Only nature can unite the two, as is evident from this life-cast.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The limited repertoire of the female nude

In terms of the female nude, there’s nothing new under the sun. Kenneth Clark’s definitive book on the subject* reveals that the same postures have been used time and time again.

…it is remarkable that in the female nude there is hardly a single formal idea of lasting value that was not originally discovered in the fourth century.

There are however many variations on the theme. Today’s painting is one of those variations from my own repertoire. Once again my model is reclining and, yet again, her arm reaches over her shoulder. Nevertheless, it is subtly different to the scores of my paintings that have gone before.

The one similarity is the speed of execution. Today’s modelling session was meant to be devoted to making a start on my sculpture of Annabelle’s reclining torso. And so it was. But as I washed the clay off my hands at the end of the session, my model rolled over in sweet relief. From previous diary pages, you can guess the rest. I grabbed my paints and in fifteen minutes this 20" x 16" painting materialized.

 The picture below shows the progress I made in building up the clay. Just to the right of my turntable, is the turntable for the model. They are continually turned in unison from one angle to the next.

*Kenneth Clark, The Nude, A Study in Ideal Form

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Butterflies and the other story

Today’s picture shows the formwork for the reclining sculpture of Annabelle’s head and torso. It comprises of wooden blocks wrapped in cling-film. The blocks are kept well below the outline of the final form. They are made from white-pine and save on the mass and weight of clay.

The Maltese Crosses that can be seen hanging at each side are a century’s old sculptural device. They are known as butterflies and serve to take the weight of clay in suspension.

Now for “the other story” that I promised in my last post.

When painting, I work from the live model and never from photographs. I make an exception to this rule when it comes to sculpture in that I make a photographic record of the pose that my model has to repeat countless times over the weeks and months that the work is in progress. These photographic references, along with chalk marks on the modelling stand, serve as a reminder to my model and as an aid to me when jotting down measurements and setting up the armature.

The photographs are intended as a working document; no more, no less. But once in a while, by accident rather than intent, there is one that takes my breath away. One of the pictures taken for my present sculpture is a case in point. As a photograph it portrays all that I wanted to portray and almost makes the upcoming sculpture superfluous. This says a lot because there is only one photograph of the nude in ten thousand that I can get passionate about.

Sorry for you but the photograph is absolutely personal to my model!

By way of consolation, I’ll return to butterflies and the remarkably talented Cecile McLorin Salvant singing "Poor Butterfly".

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Begotten by despair, upon impossibility

The New Year heralds the start of a new piece of sculpture. Its origin dates back to a painting that I made at the speed of light as Annabelle rolled from one pose to another. At the time she was modelling for a half life-size reclining figure. This time around she’ll be modelling for a life-size figure.

To refresh your memory, here is the painting again. It is a tangle of lips, breasts, arms and hands that beg to be interpreted three dimensionally.

If art can be likened to love, the opening verses of Andrew Marvell’s poem The Definition of Love sum up the difficulties I face in turning my vision into reality.

            My love is of a birth as rare
            As ‘tis for object strange and high;
            It was begotten in despair
            Upon impossibility.

            Magnanimous despair alone
            Could show me so divine a thing
            Where feeble hope could ne’er have flown,
            But vainly flapp’d its tinsel wing.

In the weeks to come you can follow the work in progress. In the meantime, the picture below, along with faded photographic references of past work, are the measurements I need to set up my clay for the first modelling session.

The photographic references that I use to remind my model of the exact arrangement of a pose are another story. And that I will tell you about some other time.