Brené Brown and a memory of summer

Iris blog

Iris (A4, watercolour and ink, 2010 perhaps?) Click to enlarge

‘Always keep your work,’ artists who run courses and workshops will tell you, ‘so you can look back over it and see how you’ve progressed.’

I don’t always follow that advice otherwise our spare bedroom would be piled high with dodgy drawings and experiments that should have been drowned at birth. Occasionally, though, I’m pleased that certain things get under the wire. The other night, while searching for something else, I came across this abstracted picture of an iris. On a cold November evening I was transported back to a summer workshop with Annie Rice, a luxurious six hours spent drawing and painting loosely in ink and watercolour.

It’s pleasing to find something that you did some time ago and to see it again with a certain detachment, especially if – on reflection – you find you rather like it after all. Last weekend, a newspaper in the UK published an interview with Brené Brown (much admired by my partner and her colleagues in the coaching world). Talking about her own work around shame and vulnerability she said something which any of us who create pictures and send them off to another life on the web might find useful:

Do the best work you can and find the courage to put your work out there and know that, no matter what you do, some people are going to like it and some people aren’t. All you can really control is how you feel about what you’ve contributed. The thing was to say out loud how hard that really is: ‘I want to be brave with my work and I want to be brave with my life.’ People will find a million reasons to tear it down, so you have to be sure about what you’re doing, because in the end, if you believe in it that’s enough.’

That’s enough.

Sketches towards an ecological nightmare

Gyre 2 blog Gyre 1 blog

Gyre 1 and 2 (both 22.5cms x 30.5cms, mixed media, 2015)

I’m all for saving the whale, rainforests, and anything else that contributes to our environmental diversity. The thing that really bothers me, though, on a daily basis, is plastic.

Strangely enough, twenty years ago we all managed to walk around without bottles of water and very few people in the West suddenly keeled over suffering from dehydration. Similarly, no-one felt it was necessary to offer you a plastic bag if you bought a magazine or two chocolate bars, as happened to me recently. I was even offered a plastic bag when I’d already put my existing bag on the counter in order to pay. Much of this ends up in the oceans and in the bellies of seabirds, mammals and fish.

Some time ago I copied the following onto a blank page in my sketchbook without, unfortunately, noting where it came from:

It will be difficult to explain to future generations how and why we decided to use the planet’s oceans as a dustbin for plastic, a material known for its durability. Perhaps we thought that it magically evaporated. Trillions of pieces swirling around the planet’s great oceanic gyres. Scientists are drawn to the gyres, especially the so-called Eastern Garbage Patch in the North Pacific, the largest of the five major examples. Indeed the trend threatens to displace the destruction of the Amazon as the ecological cause célèbre. Isn’t that great? Just so we can forget to pack shopping bags and jog with bottles of Evian water. Thanks, Humanity.

I have an idea for a large painting representing a section of one of the Pacific gyres. Just a tear of blue and green water in a swirling riot of white foam and small squares of plastic. Probably in acrylic with smudges of charcoal and pastel, perhaps with collaged elements. At the moment I have problems transferring this image onto paper from the picture I see in my head, but in the meantime here are some sketches towards an ecological nightmare.

I’m going to try, just for one week, not to acquire any plastic. It’ll certainly be difficult – let’s hope not impossible.

Vampire Cumberbatch

Vampire Cumberpatch blog

Vampire Cumberbatch (A5 sketchbook page 2015)

Everyone I know loves Benedict Cumberbatch.

I was fairly lukewarm about him until he photobombed U2 at the Oscar ceremony, after which he became something of a hero. I still prefer Jonny Lee Miller’s interpretation of Sherlock Holmes but you’ve got to respect a man who pricks the bubble of pomposity that always seems to surround U2, uninvited or not.

The above is an interpretation of a straightforward newspaper photograph of the actor which to me suggested something more other-worldly. I exaggerated his features and gave him worrying eyes and turned him into a vampire. No fangs though – that seemed rather hackneyed.

Bono and his pals would have been even more uncomfortable had he really looked like this.

‘Above the sounds he made’


The Folk Singer (for DC) (A4 ink 2012)

Recently, reading Don Paterson’s endlessly inventive 40 Sonnets, I came across his poem, ‘The Six (for John Abercrombie at 70)’, which starts like this:

You still sound like that man in early middle age

whose demolition firm went west and marriage south,

who was looking at his birthday through a fifth of Jack

when all his friends pitched in to buy him a guitar.

Two months it sat in silence. Then one day he found

that he could play whatever came into his head.

And such was his surprise each time he picked it up,

he couldn’t hear himself above the sounds he made…

It reminded me of this drawing, completed three years ago as a birthday gift for one of my dearest friends, someone who can also ‘play whatever came into his head’. The folk singer in the drawing refers to my friend’s early career in the smoke-filled folk clubs of the 1970s, and owes something to the famous photograph of John Sebastian at Woodstock (now used on his Life and Times compilation). As we’re both of that generation, and life has led us both down different paths from our hoped-for careers as Famous Artists, it seemed appropriate.

PS I cannot recommend 40 Sonnets highly enough. ‘Mercies’ is the most moving poem about a dog that you’ll ever read.