Tag: Christmas

Big Picture, little pictures

I often write my blog when I’m feeling ill, which is partly because when I’m well enough to paint or study, I paint or study! But it’s also because I find it encouraging to look back over what I have created since my last post, while I’m potentially feeling a bit low about not being productive. Since my last post the big picture for me has shifted considerably – from looking at a future in philosophy, I’ve rediscovered my true home in art and art history, and from looking towards a year of studying a conversion course, I find myself with another year to devote to art full time with the hope of starting an MA in Art History and Theory in 2017. This new, big picture, has meant lots more little pictures, both already completed and in the offing. Here’s a whistle stop tour!

berriesMy first thought was, unsurprisingly, Christmas! However, having begun this painting of crystallised, melting snow on festive berries, I realised that November is utterly the wrong time for an artist to be thinking about Christmas – it is too late to produce any cards and way too late for card publishers. So, I’ll probably return to this in late December or January, because in the meantime I’m hoping to submit an artwork for national exhibition for the first time.

blighted-budThe deadline is mid-December and a very open brief, so I am opting for a still life that I have been wanting to paint ever since we first moved into our house: a bud vase brimming with the first roses that we picked from the garden. However, over the last couple of weeks I have been struck by the rose buds still lingering on our rose bushes – in November for goodness sake! Poignantly, these rose buds have been petrified at this nascent stage by the increasing cold, and rather than blooming the tight buds have been mottled and damaged with cold and rain and wind. So, beside the vase of radiant blooms I have interposed this symbol of lost potential, though I hope to make it beautiful in its own right. With the deadline fast approaching, I can only hope to put paint to palette asap!


However, just as my first ‘microcosm’ had been an inspired distraction, last week I had another idea for the series – and with the subject at hand, I felt compelled to begin, and with the lighting all set up and occupying our main study, I felt compelled to finish… The subject was of course, a ball of string, though from now on it will be referred to as a ball of wool, due to strict instructions from its new owner, ‘the lady in black’! After drawing the paper ball, I was interested to find another example of a man-made globe, with all the inevitable connotations of the way we manipulate our world in both constructive and detrimental ways. The ball of thread immediately attracted me – the cliché of our lives being interwoven is increasingly important in the context of globalisation and our improving awareness (in some quarters…) of the interconnected ecosystems in the natural world. And of course, it has been hard since the election of the most unsuitable president in US history, not to think that the world as we know it might be unravelling. From the start I wanted the ball to be unravelling from the centre – somehow that seemed much more significant – and so it was real moment of artistic resonance when I happened to be reading Yeat’s poem The Second Coming, which yielded the title of the piece: ‘The Centre Cannot Hold’. Lots of big ideas for a very little picture!


So much for the concept. The execution was another matter! You might suppose that this microcosm was much more repetitive than the first – and you’d be right, but not quite as right as you would think. The more I stared at each strand, and saw it made up of yet finer twists of thread, the more I could see how different patterns emerged depending on the tension in that part of the yarn. There was also huge visual variety created by the angle of the light – I set up a strong light source to the left of the ball, in part to emphasis the spherical shape and the central chasm, but also as a reference ‘the great globe itself’. Indeed, with such a strong light source, and so much eye-watering detail to contend with, the hardest aspect of the whole project was not to overwork the drawing, with the detail easily dominating the overall shape of light and shade. In fact, I’ve changed my mind, the hardest thing was actually the visual organisation required – keeping track of exactly which bit of which thread you were drawing at any particular moment was both headache-inducing and strangely mesmerising!

crumped-world-framedWith my ‘Crumpled World’ now framed (see left) and both microcosms already sold, I have many more ideas for the series, when I next have a microcosm-sized window of health and energy. But, with a diary now freed up for painting, I have these projects to look forward to as well: a watercolour of sunrise by a very significant pond, another canine project, a Lyme inspired series of still lifes and a new departure in wedding portraiture (if you recently had a wedding and would be interested in commissioning a guinea pig portrait for a huge discount (I’m talking 70% off my usual rate) then please get in touch!). I think that’s enough to be going on with… As I said: a big picture, made up of many little pictures!

It’s been a grey sort of day

In all honesty, it’s been a grey sort of month. In the north east at least the weather has certainly been in this frame of mind, and with it have come a host of viruses sweeping the country. With a weakened immune system, I predictably succumbed to one of these nasties, which has had a disproportionate impact and caused a major set-back in my recovery. So, in contrast to the warm Christmas palette of my last painting, I have been limited to the grey tones of small pencil sketches while laid low over the last few weeks. It’s not a lot, but perhaps it will be interesting to see the sort of sketches which I typically do, either to keep my eye in or in preparation for a painted portrait. They are all done quickly, and on a small scale, with the aim of forcing me to concentrate on the salient features, rather than sketching ever nook and cranny of the face.

Appropriately enough for a grey sort of day, these are all characters from the trashy yet addictive American drama, Grey’s Anatomy:


I doubt any of my erudite readers will be familiar with this series, but for anyone who was wondering, left to right above are George O’Malley, Izzy Stevens and Kristina Yang, and bellow are the stars of the tortuous central love story, Meredith Grey and Derek Sheppard.


Usually, for me, December is a time of great artistic industry as I work on presents, both commissioned and for family and friends. If I manage any this year, it will be very last minute at this stage! But, I hope to have something to share with you in the new year. In the meantime, there are ONLY 2 PACKS OF 5 CHRISTMAS CARDS LEFT from my ‘fire and spice’ print run. If you get in touch this evening I (or a handy elf) will whizz them off by first class post tomorrow. Because we are now only two weeks from Christmas, I’m discounting them:

£5 for 5 (2.50 postage)

£10 for 10 (3.50 postage)

Warm Christmas wishes to everyone who has followed my work this year. Here’s to an end to grey days and to a festive season which is (as Bing Crosby would have it) merry and bright!

Fire and Spice

After such a late Autumn, it seems rather premature to get into the Christmas spirit. But days are certainly shortening and, believe it or not, there are only 10 days till Advent! I think Christmas, more than any other Christian festival, is a time bound up with childhood memories of potent sensory experiences: smells, tastes and sounds. For me, it’s the sound of carols, the taste of mince pies, but most of all, the yuletide scents of snuffed candles, orange peel and those wintery spices. Actually, my more adult idea of Christmas can pretty much be poured into a glass and called mulled wine! But since I am currently on antibiotics and therefore miserably tee-total, I’ve painted the constituent parts in a drier context!

Fire and Spice (and all things nice)
Fire and Spice (and all things nice)

The more observant readers might be looking for the ‘fire’ in this painting. The most observant might have inferred from the glow on the left edge of the cinnamon stick that the ‘fire’ is off-stage. My aim wasn’t all-out tenebrism, but to give that festive sense of candle-light.

I started out with more varied components, but in an effort to crystallise the sensory experience of Christmas, I tried to restrict my composition to only a few objects and two key colours: the burnt sienna of mincemeat, Christmas cake and sweet sherry; the glowing tones of tangerines, candles and physalis. Since the senses were foremost in my mind, I tried to highlight the contrasting textures within this limited palette: the grained wood, the porous folds of cinnamon, the pearly sheen of the physalis fruit and the hairy fragility of their brittle husks.

The physalis were by far the most challenging components, with their crinkly, translucent paper cases. Every time I looked at them they seemed to modulate from transparent to opaque, from matt to reflective, from cream to green to gold to purple-veined. During my first attempts I was so aware of the ghostly delicacy of the husk that I let the painting become far too washed out and ended up with marshmallows rather than physalis! Sometimes knowledge is more of a hindrance than a help when painting! I certainly know that my best work comes an hour or two into a session, when my conscious brain has zoned out and my hand seems to be working independently.

I’m afraid it is the season to be commercial, and since this original is only 5 inches square, the painting is simply asking to be made into Christmas cards! A luxury, limited edition, hand-signed run of only 200 will be printed: £6 for 5 and £11.50 for 10*. To order simply send me a message via my contact page. Order by 25th November for guaranteed delivery before December 5th**.

* P&P: £2.50 for 5, £3.50 for 10 and over.

**orders of over 10 may take a little longer.