Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Different strokes

"There is nothing to fear but fear itself."

That's one of those handy catch-all's that we tell ourselves whenever we're confronted by our instinct to run a mile from anything unfamiliar.

The thing is it's only when we leap joyfully into scary situations that we discover what comes next.
Ok so far; nice concept.

The problem is actually doing it...

I've been attending Life Drawing Classes on and off since the last Ice Age, and over the years I like to think I've developed a style that gets me past those awkward moments when you realise someone's looking over your shoulder.

It's not just the model who feels naked.

Now I know what you're supposed to say - "you're not creating a finished piece, it's a working drawing designed to educate your eye"etc. but I've never completely got over the slightly gladiatorial sensation of working in public.
Shallow? possibly.
Insecure? Definitely, and not something to be proud of, but a rather British part of me tends to cling on to a drawing technique that works and gets approving grunts from my fellow artists.
Stuff like this:

Which is all very nice and fuzzy, but inevitably leads nowhere as I'm repeating what I already know rather than attempting something exciting and new that might actually move me on a notch.

Which is why I found myself in a crowded bar full of pencil grippers the other night, waiting for a nice lady in a Beetlejuice costume to unfold herself in front of us.
If you've never been to a Dr Sketchy's anti art class, you've missed a treat.

Check them out on:

Hosted by Miss Lou-Leigh Blue (she who modelled for a couple of paintings for last year's exhibition)  it's a wonderful blend of Burlesque, beer, theatre and art and definitely no place for a formal approach to anything.

No point in playing safe then, so I loosened the corsets and went for it with a piece of broken chalk, a £1.99 notebook from Tesco's and a devil may care glint in the one eye that can focus further than two feet away.

And surprise surprise, I surprised myself.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Long labour, pain free delivery

Funny thing nerves.

It took me nearly two years to finish this one, which is pretty shameful really.

I lost track of how many times I put it back on the easel, resolved to finish it, bottled it and turned it to the wall again like a guilty secret.

Somewhere in the back of my mind was the sneaking realisation that it wasn't the painting that was inadequate, it was me.
I knew that if I painted it further down the line, it would benefit from the time I'd spent improving.

Self awareness is a wonderful thing, and it's good to be honest about your limitations as long as it spurs you on to greater things.

Two years, and a lot of trial and terror later, I had to face up to the fact that it was finished and would have to be delivered.

I'm no stranger to standing before the critical eye of the fee paying beholder, but it's different when what you're presenting is such a personal statement about both you and the sitter, and I'm not ashamed to say I was bricking it.

Hard nosed corporate heavyweight though he is, Peter came up with the sort of instant response that makes you feel the world isn't such a bad place after all.

Painting people's stories, their lives, their complexities is an extraordinary mix of objectivity and intimacy.

All I've ever really wanted to do was create pictures and make people laugh and cry.

It could be I've found a way to do all three.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

No news is good news

About a year ago I held an exhibition because I was angry.

Five years previously, a group of young men with the strength of adults and the judgement of spiteful children beat up a 'mosher' for no reason other than to exercise their aggression.
When his girlfriend intervened, they turned on her and killed her.
In their minds they were entitled to single out victims for recreational violence, and anyone who got in their way invited the same treatment.

It made me angry then, and it still makes me angry now, mainly because I'm powerless to do anything about it.

Painting a few pictures, raising a few quid for the charity, inviting people to think about it comes a poor second to the significance of what happened.

For those close to Sophie Lancaster, that moment will walk one step behind them for the rest of their lives.

Fast forward six years to the Harbourside Festival in sunny Bristol.

We all meet up and have the sort of day that you'd expect.
A mixture of young and old, youthful exuberance and grown ups being daft; music and beer and telling people whose names you can't remember that you love them  ( "but not in a funny way..." ).

We all go our separate ways, but later on two of our group walk into trouble.

It's the usual depressingly familiar scene of hate fuelled violence.
Ugly, relentless and dangerously out of control, the victim incapable of offering resistance.

By intervening, the son of our family friend broke the flow of the attack but in doing so made himself the target.

He wound up with a few bruises and a chipped tooth, but he'd defused the moment enough for others to assist, for the violence to fade, for help to arrive.

It's entirely possible he saved a young man's life.

He's off to uni now, his future bright, his smile restored thanks to the wonders of modern dentistry and his cheerful enthusiasm undiminished.

There's no headlines in the paper, no Daily Mail tub thumping about "Broken Britain Ruled By Thugs", no bedside vigil, no need for charity fundraising, no moment when the clock stopped.

There's nothing to report.

And that's as good a reason as I can think of for painting someones portrait.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Fairy Nuff

When I was knee high to next door's dog I used to pull my toy soldiers, knights, zoo animals, farm vehicles and tanks to pieces, chuck them in the toy box, pull the components out randomly and make weird, hybrid creatures out of them.

I think my favourite was a cow with a gun turret that towed a caravan.

I also wore a deerstalker hat and a tie with the Taj Mahal on it, but that's for another time.

The end result is that I get terribly, childishly, even ecstatically excited when I find myself in one of those fancy reclamation places that sell bits of old toilets and stuffed squirrels.
The last one I encountered had everything a ten year old could want, including swords, a Russian T34 tank (running order, road tax exempt) a Cruise missile (honest! no warhead though) and the clock from Crewe station.
In fairness, I was never your average ten year old.

I inevitably come home with 'stuff that will come in handy one day', which in the past has included the back of a broken chair which I was sure had potential.

So when a Designer Chum of mine offered to do a swapsy of a portrait of her daughter for a leaflet design I had the frame sorted already.

Not so bonkers after all then....

Apart from that, it's been business as usual.
I spent an amazing afternoon with two incredible belly dancers which has provided plenty of material for the next round of paintings ( sketches as shown ).
These are, hopefully, going to be a lot looser and dynamic, ( the paintings, not the dancers, wash yer minds out ), as fits both the style of dancing and my desire to get a bit more life into the paintings.

And finally, the very beginnings of a portrait of an exceptional guy whose story is worth telling, and whose portrait is most definitely worth painting.
Pretty obvious it's early days on this one, but when it's done I'll tell his story, make his mum proud and embarrass the living marsbars out of him.

Still, at least he's not wearing a deerstalker.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Bill Badger and the Badger Bill

Someone once said the most informed and objective critic of newspaper journalism is your cat, whose susceptibility to the effects of media manipulation is demonstrated by what they do to any newspaper you line their dirt tray with.

Thinking inside the box at its best, I'm thinking.

How in the name of all that's twinkly do we form intelligent, unbiased, objective but above all informed opinions of our own, when so much of what we read is influenced by the editorial leanings of the Fleet Street keyboard thumpers?

Do they tell us what we need to hear, or what they know we'll buy?

Take badgers for instance, (not literally, too hard to swallow...)

Now anything involving wildlife is going to be tricky, and if the creature in question looks like  nature's blueprint for a cuddly toy you're into seriously dodgy territory already.

So, starting with the benchmark of "cute badgers spread bovine TB to lovely tasty cows" I set off in pursuit of some grown up facts and figures;

First port of call was an article by Jacob Rees Mogg, Conservative MP for NE Somerset who set forth the findings of the Chief Scientific Advisor to the Dept. of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (no, not the sort that involves a tumble in the hay with the barmaid from the Pig and Portfolio, the other sort)

Anyhoo, our learned friend (Eton, Oxford) and his senior scientific source put forward a pretty robust case for nipping out in the night and blowing Mr Brock and his stripy chums to kingdom come.

He hoped that 'the urban population will have some sympathy and tolerance for the needs of the rural community' which does make anyone with clean shoes sound like a farmer hating hoodie, but we'll let that one go.

Game, sett and match to them then?

Well, let's try the opposite point of view.

Today of all days, let's go Royal - the RSPCA.

I wasn't sure which way they'd swing on this one, as it's not so much about cruelty per se, but about having a sensible solution to a genuine problem.

If you visit their website they'll give you ten good reasons why creating a badger homage to WW1 in the meadows of dear old Blighty will create nothing more than  futile slaughter and expensive waste.

According to them the actual solution requires a complicated coordination of immunisation, limits on livestock movement, land management and herd isolation/removal from infected areas.

Oh, and putting fences round cowsheds so they can't mingle with the rural riff raff after lights out in the dorm.

So there we have it:

A simple 'blow their heads off and it'll (probably) go away' policy versus a carrier bag full of adjusted behaviour that would take a level of cooperation not seen since we all stopped slagging off the Olympics.

Me? I'm still not sure I've got all the facts before me, so I'll just have to rely on a comfy mix of well intentioned prejudice, guesswork and a smattering of cuddly toy related sentimentality.

Just like in the General Election.

Coincidentally, there is very visible indication that I'm not the only one who thinks this way on a bridge over the M32 into Bristol, which proves my point quite nicely.

I love it when that happens.

PS. For those, like the Somerset MP, who think this is just about rosy cheeked farmers in the shires, think again. Whenever it rains, we are visited by urban badgers who go through the flowerbeds like furry JCB's.
I don't mind, although it's a real bugger having to lock Daisy and Buttercup in the shed until they're done.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

You're fired

You know how, sometimes, you get diverted away from the tractor beam of your ambitions and bimble off down every beckoning distraction, hmmm?

Those days when you rise early, a song in your heart and a spring in your thing, all ready to grab the world by the ears and give it a big slobbery smacker, only to fail at the first hint of a news story involving a dolphin caught in a fisherman's trousers.

Despite my best intentions, I am a lost soul, held fast in the grip of all of the following:

Anything that involves Youtube and uncoordinated kittens.
Fat girls falling off children's play equipment.
Tea and biscuits, thereby creating a 'tea break' which justifies more of the above.
Pigeon fights.
Top Gear on Dave (FFS I've seen them all. Twice...)
Staring at Twitter trying to think of something clever to say.
Looking at my fingers under a magnifying glass and imagining it's the surface of an alien planet.
Checking Facebook every 15 mins to see if anyone 'liked' my photo of pigeons fighting.
Looking up old film stars on Wikipedia to see if they're dead yet.
Googling myself to see if I'm dead yet.

It's so bad a friend actually took me aside and recommended I read 'The War of Art' by Steven Pressfield.

Now this is a serious piece of attitude altering instruction on why we dig heffalump traps on the road to our most desired destinations, and I can honestly say that it's changed my understanding of the power we all have to effect our own failure and success.

It's a must for anyone with a creative soul, and the focus of a hippie goldfish that's spent too much time amongst the weed.

All smirkling aside, it's been a valuable read.

It's not that I don't still get hypnotised by cats falling of skateboards; I just feel guiltier now.

Soooo, that's my excuse for the shameful lack of anything worth posting on the 'blog of failed ambitions'.

My mate, however, has been hard at work on the next rogue sculpture.

Can't reveal too much about it at the mo' as it's still in production, but I'm sure there'll be more to see/say soon.
In the meantime, a glimpse of its fiery birth:

Me? I'm off for another inspiring chapter of 'How to Make Each Day a Triumph of Creative Effectiveness'.

I'll work tomorrow...

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Brief Encounter

Just occasionally you meet someone who changes the way you think and feel.
Ruth taught me that the way to deal with old age is to laugh in its face.
I feel blessed for having known her, and glad to have laughed with her.
I shall miss her

Ruth 1921 - 2013

Monday, 4 March 2013

A Brush With The Law

We humans have, at best, a rather selective relationship to the animal kingdom.
We place everything that squeaks, grunts, flaps or scuttles into one of three categories.

The animal A-listers are those to which we choose to show affection and consequently ascribe all sorts of human attributes.
We spend a fortune on their care,  regard them as family and get in a terrible state when some of their number turn up between two slices of bread.

The B-listers are those which are a threat to carpets,  can't run competitively or,  let's face it,  just taste really nice.
To these we ascribe different values ( so much a kilo,  for instance).
The key to all of these is that they serve our purpose,  whether as menu items,  noble companions or handy things to bet a few quid on ( or in the case of Shergar, all three).

The C-listers,  then are those pesky critters that we can find no use for,  but which persist in flourishing with no help whatsoever from dewy eyed nature lovers or anyone else.
These we call vermin,  and feel entitled to be as beastly as we like to.

We can hardly be surprised, then, when one or two of them get a bit antsy and start biting back.

At this point I should say that I have no particular issue with foxes,  either way.

No fox has ever tried to sell me Payment Protection Insurance,  interrupted me in the middle of a joke or spat chewing gum onto the pavement in my company.
In return,  I have never dressed as an Edwardian,  used the word tradition four times in a sentence and chased one of the them all over the landscape whilst blowing a small trumpet. 

Live and let live,  I'm thinking.

Anyway,  84% of all arguments are won by the timely introduction of statistics,  so here goes:

Between Mar 2010 and 2011 there were 6097 domestic dog attacks which required hospital treatment, representing a 94% increase over a ten year period. 

I got that from the Daily Mail,  so it must be true...

Last year there was one fox related injury,  and now the entire British population is threatened with extinction. (Also from the Daily Mail)

Quite honestly,  if I were a fox I'd have organised a vigilanti group years ago and spent my time sneaking into Cotswold manor houses to do something insubordinate in their tumble driers or biting anyone I caught in the city centre taking a whiz in John Lewis' doorway.

It appears I am not alone in such thoughts,  as someone recently placed a small fox-related statement in Corn Street.

Sadly, like so many of it's brethren,  it did not last long before the hand of man intervened,  classified it a pest,  and removed it.

Once again,  mankind 1,  furry opportunist 0.

Honestly, people can be such animals...

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Poetic justice

Here's a thing...

For ages I've been walking past an empty, crumbling house wedged behind a false wall with blanked out windows.
It's a lonely survivor in a sea of hotels, offices, car parks and corporate construction, and on closer inspection I find out why:

Here, on 20th November, 1752, was born Thomas Chatterton, the young, tragic poet made famous in the Henry Wallis painting.

His story makes Les Miserables look like an episode of Glee.

Having failed to sell the publishing rights to a collection of 15th century poems by a Bristol monk (which Chatterton had actually penned in his mother's attic ) he attempted to pass himself off as a political satirist in London, with a similar lack of success.

Alone, penniless and starving, his dreams in tatters, he poisoned himself at the age of 17 in his lonely room surrounded by the torn up fragments of his friendless poems.

Those fragments still exist, saved from the landlady's broom by a Dr. Fry who had intended to sponsor Chatterton's genius, but who arrived just too late.

It's rather poignant then, that the birthplace of Bristol's most tragic romantic should now be empty, cold and ignored.

Someone, however, has placed a figure over the doorway.

Maybe it's a homage to the poet, or maybe it's just there to discourage felons; who knows...

Either way it's a gesture towards an old house that needs all the friends it can get.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Living in a box

Tricky things, weddings.

You have to remember the names of people who claim to be related to you,  not get too pie-faced and generally behave in a grown up,  responsible way.

Like I say, tricky...

Especially when it's your daughters,  you really,  really don't want to rack up a record hit rate on Youtube;  you have an unfortunate gift for saying spectacularly inappropriate things to the more well upholstered amongst the guest list and everyone in the room knows you are no stranger to the great taste of foot.

The present,  however,  is a piece of cake.

Not literally,  that's what you get given for not doing anything on the day that warrants a restraining order.

Nice and straightforward:  Make two small boxes that open towards each other,  paint the happy couple's portraits on the front and line the inside with felt so they can pin all the memento's of the day inside.

At the risk of getting sentimental,  I like to think it's an appropriate gift;  two separate boxes for keeping things that matter that also match and compliment each other, like bookends.

It all ends well, with much joy in a moistened eye, and no blue flashing lights.

I think I might make this a signature gift for future weddings, with modifications to suit the occasion, such as a Tupperware lining.

Then you could keep cake in them. 

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Working with bear hands; paws for thought.



Right, I've had the obligatory 'artist's block' period,  caught up on all the paid work I didn't do because I was painting saucy people,  finally fixed the house up and survived another Christmas.

Time, then, for a fresh start.

One thing I won't be doing is repeating what I've done before.

It has to progress, or I'll just get bored and start painting traffic cones and moustaches onto everything.

No, it has to take what I've learned and build on it.

And it has to have a purpose.

More anon.

In the meantime, a reminder of where I left off - the Lovely Lou-Leigh Blue whose burlesque Metropolis- inspired routine has been known to make small household appliances pull their plugs out and run away to join the circus.

Happy days