The Ghost of an Owl

Ghost Owl Tree blog

Ghost Owl Tree (40 cms x 20 cms, ink and coloured pencil on watercolour paper, 2016)

In 2010, an eagle owl flew from the North of England down the eastern coastline to Suffolk. It made its home in a large tree on the edge of farmland, feasting on the rich supply of rabbits and pheasants that lived nearby.

Fearless and with few natural predators, these owls have been known to swoop down into suburban gardens and take out domestic cats. They will see off other hunting birds, such as harriers, and even attack smaller farm animals.

One day the Suffolk eagle owl grew tired of rabbits and decided it would switch to a diet of piglets, but a local farmer took umbrage and shot the magnificent bird when it returned to the tree. Sometimes, on moonlit winter nights, an eerie glow can be seen among its bare branches, said by locals to be the spirit of the owl haunting its former hunting ground.

I’m afraid I’ve made up this story (although the second paragraph is true) to explain this drawing. For some time I’d wanted to do a version of Ernst Haeckel’s Pedigree of Man (1879) tree. I thought I’d draw an owl to collage onto the tree but then felt it looked more mysterious with just the glowing space.

So here it is, with a short story free of charge.



Loosening up

Take a look at this:

Stanley Bielin redranunculus625 blog

Stanley Bielen, Yellow Red Ranunculus (Oil on prepared panel, 2014) 9 5/8 x 6 5/8″

It takes a great deal of confidence, I imagine, to paint as loosely as this, giving just as much detail as is needed without overworking it. Everything is there: the texture of the flowers, the light from the left, the sense of water in the glass – yet nothing is overstated.

Likewise this little beauty from my good friend, John Button:

John Button Never a Dull Moment blog

John Button, Never a Dull Moment (acrylic on board) 40cms x 40cms

Again, John can lay down a background, play with perspective, and draw a coffee cup just as he wants it to look, not as it would be in a photograph. The results are lively, vibrant and profoundly lovely.

I’ve decided that 2016 will be my year of loosening up, when things will look as I want them to look and not simply as they are. Last week I found myself in an Oxfam bookshop in London, leafing through a book on an artist who has painted several hundred almost identical, hyper-realist pictures of a glass of water, over and over and over again*. It’s not for me to tell someone else what to paint, but after looking at about ten images of a similar glass looking rather similar with many more similar paintings to go, it felt as if the air was being sucked from the room. How different, how alive are these paintings by Stanley Bielen and John Button.

My own first tentative steps, with a long way to go:

Loose Quinces blog

Yes, more quinces (A5, ink and acrylic on Indian paper, 2016)

Here the background was painted in, keeping the final composition in mind, and the quinces drawn over the top.

Loose Pomegranate blog

Pomegranate (A5, acrylic on Indian paper, 2016)

With the pomegranate there was no pre-drawing, just acrylic onto a small sheet of Tate Gallery Indian paper.

*After seeing those, I don’t feel quite so guilty about quinces now…


Cast away with Colm Tóibín

CT Greyscale blog

Colm Tóibín (A5 pencil on sketchbook page 2015)

For many years on BBC Radio Four, Sunday mornings have been rounded off by a programme called Desert Island Discs. A celebrity is asked to imagine themselves as a castaway on an uninhabited island and to choose eight records, a book and a luxury item.

Recently this rather tired format was enlivened by Irish writer, Colm Tóibín. The author of The Master and Brooklyn demonstrated what a supreme story-teller he is with wonderful evocations of his sisters and aunts talking about buying clothes, his late Mother’s way of laying a table, and repeatedly not winning the Booker Prize. He also provided insights into the life of a creative writer (“Swimming is fun; sitting on a chair in the corner writing is not”) and why a novelist cannot spare the feelings of his grandmother.

Most of all, Tóibín’s good-natured, kind personality came across in his moving account of the Irish vote on gay marriage and his feelings on the loss of his Father. His chosen book was Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady (“I discover something new every time I read it.”) – a choice I agree with wholeheartedly.

If rights issues prevent you from hearing it on the BBC iPlayer at the link above, do head over to Apple iTunes and download the free podcast. I’m sure you’ll be as charmed as I was.

This drawing is from last year. Tóibín has a charming, not conventionally handsome but very attractive face, and this pencil sketch was drawn from a photograph in the Guardian. He is also, I’m pleased to say, a fan of New York’s Pearl Oyster Bar.

Library Dogs

1402 Dogs blog

Dogs (30cms x 30cms ink and coloured pencil 2015)

A friend has suggested that I contribute a drawing to an exhibition at our local library in aid of UNICEF. Given that the idea is to sell the picture, what better – I thought – than this gaggle of dogs.

My feeling is that more people in our ancient market town would go for a drawing of dogs rather than one of quinces, Martha Stewart cookies or eggs on toast. Well maybe not those misguided ones who prefer cats, of course.

Anyway, let’s hope this one finds a home next month. If you like dogs as much as I do, take a look here, here or here.