Schrödinger’s Pomegranate

Pomegranate 1608 blog

Pomegranate (15 cms square oil on board 2016)

When I started painting this pomegranate it was a fresh young thing, its skin an appealing mixture of vibrant reds, oranges and yellows. I blocked out the fruit in oils on a small (15 cms square) piece of hardboard, prepared with gesso and a bright yellow undercoat.

And then I stopped.

I played around with background colours, plain, stippled, the colour partially lifted with newspaper, rubbed with my finger, and all the while the pomegranate sat on its white plate, growing older.

In the meantime I painted the acrylic Weathered Wall from last week, drew some pictures of dogs, and the little square oil dried in the sunlit conservatory, aka my ‘summer studio’. The model itself continued to age and shrink.

Last weekend I finally got around to finishing the background and the purple shadows under the fruit. The pomegranate itself had become a different beast to the one painted: it was now angular, leathery with a spreading yellow area from the stem. Was it still edible? Was it rotten inside? Having finally finished with it I cut it open…

Let’s just say that the tiger worms in the compost bin will enjoy it.

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Inspiration

Weathered Wall blog

Weathered Wall (30 cms x 23 cms mixed media 2016)

If you’re serious about your drawing or painting but haven’t been fortunate enough to go to art school you have to learn where and how you can. You might enrol in evening classes or study life drawing, follow online courses, blog tutorials or exercises in magazines.

Nothing, I think, can replace the feedback you receive from a good teacher: some years ago I discovered some excellent drawing classes by Helen Gilbart, who emphasised ‘looking’ above everything else, and life drawing with Ed Cooper and his proactive model, Blue King. In addition, I learn a great deal from looking at work by other artists – whether on blogs or in galleries.

Over the past year I’ve been trying, in oil and acrylic, to develop a style that avoids outright realism, yet remains recognisable for what it is, has a looseness about it but contains some graphic elements from the noble art of illustration.

This week I’d wanted to paint the ripening fruits that were growing in our own garden: at the moment, mulberries and transparent gages. Mulberries lend themselves to a very graphic style:

Mulberries blog

Mulberries (A6 acrylic with colleaged borders 2016)

but I was somewhat at a loss how to paint the gages.

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned a striking painting by Karolina Gacke that I saw in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. I like the idea of drawing and painting objects or groups of objects far apart from each other, and found this painting on Karolina Gacke’s website (you should also look at her compelling self-portraits). Borrowing from Karolina’s composition, the picture that heads this post slowly came together.

Collaged newspaper cuttings formed the basis of the weathered wall. Odd bits of collaged words or phrases suggesting food or flavours scattered here and there on the tabletop hopefully give the picture some unity. The jug is one I bought some years ago in a local gallery, rendered here in a mixture of acrylic and pastel. The gages I tried to paint loosely, smoothing their rough edges as I painted the tablecloth around them.

Without seeing Karolina Gacke’s painting I couldn’t have put this together as it is, yet I hope – in the end – I’ve created something different, something that is ultimately mine.

Birds

Birds blog

Birds (A5 mixed media on a Moleskine sketchbook 2016)

Something pretty grim must have taken place in our garden in the early hours of Saturday morning.

When we went outside to breakfast in the pale sunshine of an English summer morning, we found a perfect young female blackbird dead on the lawn. A few metres away were the scattered feathers of a male with more under the mulberry tree. Who was responsible for this carnage? A sparrowhawk? One of the evil cats that stalk our quiet road?

For me the blackbird’s song is the sound of summer. That melodic trilling they do when seeking a mate is so evocative of warm summer evenings, of peace after a long day, of lying in bed as a child while it’s still light outside. To see a dead blackbird with its song forever stilled is heart-breaking.

Here’s my contribution to Draw-a-Bird Day, which happens every month on the 8th. One month I’ll draw a ‘proper’ bird – mine always seem unconvincing, like they’re made out of painted concrete or something – but here are some that I did to test a Moleskine storyboard notebook.

‘Angry crow’ is almost tautologous: have you ever seen a crow that isn’t highly annoyed about something or other? The Scribble Bird was drawn with one of those multi-coloured pencils you see in museums (Quentin Blake actually does beautiful drawings with those things). Road Kill is self-explanatory and the Gulls owe something to my new hero, Felix Scheinberger, who wrote a whole textbook on illustration in German themed around birds.

I hope you’re as happy as a seagull with a stolen chip.

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One morning (with strawberries)

One Morning blog

One Morning (A4 mixed media 2016)

The Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition comes in for a fair bit of stick. It rarely gets reviewed in the weekend broadsheets and if anyone pays it any notice at all, it’s to give it a hard time. Seen until recently as rather conservative and dominated by older, male artists, the RA invites anyone to enter works for the Summer Exhibition: this year 12,000 submissions were received but only 700 works by non-Academicians were accepted.

The 2015 exhibition was stylishly curated by Michael Craig-Martin, whose own work I find rather sterile despite photographer Richard Guest’s shedding welcome light on it earlier this year. This year’s was left to the care of Richard Wilson and, if not as ground-breaking as it was under Craig-Martin, there’s still plenty to admire.

Among the less showy numbers was a small painting by Karolina Gacke, an artist whose name is new to me. Despite the presence of bigger names – including a particularly wobbly print by Tracey Emin of a woman doing something or other on a hotel bed and some vibrant prints by Jim Dine – I kept wandering back to this still life by Ms Gacke, looking at it hard and long for some time.

It’s been an uninspiring couple of weeks, I have to admit, but long after I left the Royal Academy Karolina Gacke’s lovely painting remained with me. Over the weekend I had a go at her spacious, loose style. Although my painting is more contrived, I present it here as a tribute to someone who, for me, stole the show at the Royal Academy this year.

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When the laughter stops

To call Richard Thompson – who died on Wednesday at the age of 58 -a cartoonist is like saying Mozart could carry a tune.

The Cat

A fairly typical Cul de Sac episode

His reputation will probably rest on his syndicated Washington Post strip, Cul de Sac, which featured in-yer-face 4 year old Alice Otterloop and her deeply introverted elder brother, Petey, along with their friends, parents, their grandmother and their grandmother’s enormous dog. Thompson’s genius, however, stretched to caricatures, the ever-inventive and often weird Richard’s Poor Almanac, editorial illustrations, oil paintings and much more.

Richar Thompson steps072

Richard Thompson on inspiration

What I found irresistable in Richard Thompson’s work -and the reason why The Art of Richard Thompson would be my desert island book – was the amount of life he could pour into his most casual line. Look at any of his drawings and see the expression in those faces, the carefully-observed humanity in those cartoon bodies, the humour in the eyes of the figures standing behind the main figures.

He could draw the best caricature of George W Bush, wonderful cows, fools with caps and bells, Santa’s little helpers, elephants like you’ve never seen them before, a brilliant Beethoven, and the story of evolution in three perfect panels (click on the Richard Thompson link in the blogroll to the right). We shall not encounter his like again any time soon, I know.

I offer my inadequate small tribute (below) to an artist I would have loved to have met and told how much his work means to me.

Thompson blog

Tribute to Richard Thompson (A5 sketchbook, ink, 2016)

 

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The man in the changing room

Selfie 1607 crop

Self Portrait July 2016 (12 cms x 12 cms ink 2016)

Sometimes, while trying on something in a clothing shop, I’ll catch sight of a middle-aged, grey-haired man in the mirror and wonder, for a split second, who he is and why he can’t find his own changing room. Then I realise that he’s me and I am, unfortunately, no longer 35. Or anywhere close to 35.

This probably explains why my attempts at self-portraits always turn out so odd. Sometimes I look like a young actor appearing as an old man in a theatre company that can’t afford a decent make-up artist. I once did one that looked like Bill Murray in a wind-tunnel, another where I looked like an unconvincing Elvis impersonator…

Last night I thought I’d have another go – today being Selfie Art Day – starting with a faint pencil outline to be sure that my head was the right shape and my ears in the right place, and then drawing in ink until it looked about right. If I did something wrong I’d simply go over it until it looked better. The end result, I thought, might suggest one of those Giacometti sketches that almost obliterate the subject.

Yesterday was a challenging day and I didn’t get very far with it. However, looking at the picture again this morning there was something about the eyes that captured yesterday’s emotional temperature. Although I’d remain a free man for years if this was ever used as a police identikit picture, I submit it for Selfie Art Day with only a slightly guilty conscience. The expression in the eyes is pretty accurate and the eyes are, we’re told, the key to any portrait.

 

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Toad

Toad blog

Toad (10cms x 10cms ink and watercolour 2016)

I know many of you have been busily producing daily watercolours for World Watercolour Month, a wonderful initiative by the tireless Charlie O’Shields.

So far – 19 days in – I’ve managed the buddleia that I posted last week and this watercolour of a toad (I have been away quite a bit). I’ve been given a book of wildlife studies by the Cornish artist, Kurt Jackson, whose work in a variety of media is never less than interesting and often inspiring. I used some of his loose linework and spattering techniques in this image of a chap I’d disturbed while pulling up weeds in our garden.

Did you know that the common toad can live for up to 40 years? A particularly large one once made his home under my Mother’s garden shed, occasionally ambling out and frightening her when she was gardening. ‘Toad’ was also the title of an endless drum solo that took up an entire side of a vinyl album by Cream, but the less said about that particular toad the better…

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