Martha and me


Martha’s Peppermint Fudge (17 x 24 cms ink and watercolour on Hahnemuehle “Burgund” watercolour board 2015)

I used to have a soft spot for Martha Stewart. Her flagship magazine, Living, featured those clean-lined American homes which you don’t see elsewhere, recipes for food you’d actually like to eat, and beautiful photography that made works of art out of the simplest things. Martha even showed us how to cook a Thanksgiving meal for twenty and still have enough time and energy left to fashion place-names out of origami swans.

Then I made the mistake of following her on Facebook. Suddenly I was bombarded with Martha five or six times a day: urged to buy Martha’s Christmas tree decorations, Martha’s baking essentials, Martha’s home office supplies; Martha wanted us to choose which profile picture to use (good grief, Martha, it’s your page, you decide); Martha wanted us to ‘show our laundry room a little love’ (we don’t have one, Martha, could we just be mildly affectionate towards the shed?).

Suddenly it was over. My admiration was suffocated under a deluge of consumerism. I ‘un-liked’ her Facebook page and listened to the silence.

For old times’ sake I still pick up a copy of Living when I’m at an American airport. The photography is still impressive. These triple-chocolate peppermint fudge squares were painted from a photograph in the latest issue: they look almost abstract, or like pieces in some contemplative Zen board game. It’s a homage to an old flame.

Buddy Holly’s Mother

Christmas 2015 blog

Christmas 2015 (A4, acrylic, 2015) inspired by John W Shanabrook

Let me share with you a moving story about Buddy Holly’s mother, written by Spencer Leigh, which I read some time ago in the Independent:

On Valentine’s Day in 1959, just 11 days after the air crash that killed her son, Ella Holly wrote to the families of the other performers who had died, the Big Bopper and Richie Valens. They are beautifully composed letters, expressing her bewilderment and grief, and they reveal her conviction that they will be reunited in Heaven.

What makes the correspondence extraordinary is that she wrote a similar letter to the widow of the pilot, Roger Peterson. She did not cast any blame, although the accident occurred largely owing to his inexperience. She said: “We are crushed by this terrible tragedy and the loss of our son, and we know you are suffering the same…our hearts go out to you because we know what you are going through.”

More than fifty years on, this letter indicates how Buddy Holly had been raised and how his parents had shaped his personality. It is often said that rock ‘n’ roll was the music of rebellion, a response to the dull, conventional lives of the previous generation. There is none of that in the Buddy Holly story.

In these days when, after every news event, the media immediately look for someone to blame – that social worker with too many cases, a tired driver whose eyes closed for a second, the doctor faced with an emergency at the end of a long shift – how heart-warming to read about the forgiveness of Buddy Holly’s mother.

Have a very happy Christmas.

Breakfast in America

Fried Egg blog

Fried egg on sourdough toast with an espresso (A4, pastel, 2015)

There are two excellent bed and breakfasts near our office in Rochester, NY, and I’m in the Mount Vernon. Hidden behind trees, this tranquil villa feels like something from a quieter, more elegant age.

Open your blinds carefully on a winter morning and there’s every chance you’ll see a bright red northern cardinal on one of the many bird feeders in the garden. Like many American B&Bs, the breakfasts here are a delight: fresh fruit, good coffee, and perfectly-cooked eggs on home-made bread.

I drew this before I left for the US but probably with those Mount Vernon breakfasts in mind. I’d had a go at this a couple of times – in watercolour and acrylic – but only soft pastel (Sennelier Extra Soft and Unison here) seemed to capture the essential egginess of that fried egg. I love drawing food. And eating it.

Pearl and the Oyster

Oyster 151124 blog

Oyster (A4, ink and watercolour, 2015)

This weekend I’ll fly to Rochester NY with a brief stopover in New York City to visit a colleague there.

A favourite stop in the city is the Pearl Oyster Bar. After a seven hour flight and another hour or so negotiating the Saturday night subway system with my suitcase, I’ll make my way over to Cornelia Street for a lobster roll.

Pearl is owned by the sister of a dear friend whose guitar-playing skills I’ve mentioned below. Not only is the restaurant a delight and the food superb, it’s a wonderful way to acclimatise.

After a while, seated at the bar with a glass of something white and crisp, surrounded by New Yorkers sharing plates of oysters or scallops, the tensions of intercontinental travel start to fall away. Slowly you begin to feel part of it all – the hot metallic smell of the subway, the sounds of the streets, the unique quality of the city night – rather than just another  traveler superimposed on the landscape. You’re no longer a seat number or someone waiting in line at immigration or hurtling under the city in a subway train. You melt into the city and it gently enfolds you. You are there.

This ink and watercolour painting of an oyster should be seen as semi-abstract. Rebecca Charles would never serve something coloured like this at Pearl’s – it’s an excuse to use pigment and ink and masking fluid to create an oyster-like shape rather than a realistic depiction. The three little capers look rather Japanese, don’t you think? I was rather proud of those!

#twitterartexhibit (and more quinces)

Quinces Twitter 151124 blog

English Quinces (15cm x 11cm, mixed media, 2015)

I realise that creative people are always being asked to work for nothing, either for a good cause or to ‘raise your profile’, but here is something which doesn’t take long, is great fun and contributes to a good cause.

The Twitter Art Exhibit is the sixth incarnation of an open international exhibition of postcard art which benefits a different cause each year. The 2016 exhibition will be in New York City, so if you have a few moments to create a 16cm x 12cm piece do follow the link and send something in.

It won’t surprise regular visitors to this blog that I sent them a painting of some quinces (above), my obsession of the moment. I also painted a row of the little chaps to be entered into a local exhibition here in the UK but discovered that I’d missed the submission day:

Quince Row blog

Quinces in a row (30 cm x 6 cm, watercolour and ink, 2015)

And, were that not enough, I tried to celebrate in oils (still a work in progress) a single noble example from our own tree:

Quince Oil blog

Quince (15 cm square, oil on board, 2015)

That, I promise, will be my last quince posting for this season*.