Meet Carly Simon’s Imaginary Friends

Ha Ha Ginsberg blog

Carly Simon’s Imaginary Friends (A4 ink 2016)

Recently I read Carly Simon’s memoir, Boys in the Trees. Ms Simon is, as her song lyrics would suggest, a sensitive and evocative writer, especially when remembering her childhood. In chapter two, we learn about Carly’s imaginative exploits with her cousin, Jeanie:

I sprawled alongside Jeanie on the grassy circle beneath the apple trees, engaging in make-believe conversations among the imaginary friends we had invented, including Mr Hicks, Meany and Bypress Fongton. The latter two made their home atop the pool-house weather vane, whereas Mr Hicks, lacking a permanent home, roamed between the orchard and the deep end of the pool, stirring up conflicts and making trouble for another of Jeanie’s imaginary friends, Ha Ha Ginsberg, a character who over time got to be so famous, for unknown reasons, that her name showed up in a New Yorker story. When her father gave her the news, I remember, Jeanie called upstairs, “Ha Ha, guess what, you were in The New Yorker!”

I’ve taken enormous liberties with Carly Simon’s childhood friends. I don’t know if Mr Hicks was really a duck in a bowler hat or Bypress Fongton a sharply-dressed toad in the style of the great German illustrator, Wolf Erlbruch. Careful readers among you will have noticed that I’ve changed the sex of Ha Ha Ginsberg altogether, but I couldn’t resist doing a caricature of the bearded beat poet. All I can say with absolute certainty is that Meany must have been a disgruntled cat…

Anyway, whether accurate or, as I suspect, not, drawing Carly Simon’s imaginary friends was enormous fun and my partner and I had a great time putting names to faces, so to speak. Do read Boys in the Trees – it’s well worth your time.



Birthday Bergamot Oranges

Bergamot blog

Bergamot Oranges (A4 acrylic and mixed media 2016)

When you reach a certain age birthdays become less enchanting than they were, but here’s one I’m happy to celebrate.

A year ago today I posted my first painting on A Certain Line in its current form. I did actually start a couple of years before that, when my idea was to alternate posts of my own work with pieces about illustrators and artists I admire. The thought of all the possible copyright infringements and the realisation that I had nothing original to say gave me pause for thought, and it wasn’t until March last year that I realised that a weekly blog would be the ideal motivation to produce a finished piece of drawing or painting regularly.

It seems to have worked, and not just through my own determination to keep up the pace. The number of followers who have found something here to enjoy is heart-warming, as is the encouragement of those of you who take the time to look, read and comment. The generosity of my fellow bloggers and those who follow by e-mail has been a real thrill.

Nor should one underestimate the inspiration of looking at other bloggers’ work. Seeing the high level of creativity from people who are full-time artists or fitting in half an hour of drawing after work is enormously motivating. Nor could I be without the writers and photographers and textile artists who encourage us to see the world around us from a different perspective than our own.

I should make special mention of Rebecca over at Stuff and Nonsense, who generously flagged up my blog early on with an award which gave A Certain Line a boost just when it needed one. Many of you became – and thankfully remained – followers since then. Thank you, Rebecca!

So here are a couple of birthday bergamot oranges, which have the shape of oranges but the colour and taste of lemons. Painted largely in acrylic with some bits of charcoal, pastel and coloured pencil, they come close to quinces in my pantheon of fruits that are fun to draw and paint. Sadly these started to go mouldy before I could do more than this painting.

So thank you all again for your support. Do stay tuned: next week we’ll be looking at Carly Simon’s imaginary friends. Really.

Grief is the thing with feathers

Thing with Features blog

Grief is the thing with feathers (30cms x 40cms charcoal and pastel 2016)

Recently I read Max Porter’s wonderful work of fiction, Grief is the Thing with Feathers. It concerns the efforts of a Ted Hughes scholar and his two young sons to come to terms with the death of their wife and mother. Grief is personified by a crow.

I was inspired to draw this when touched, gently,  by a grief of my own. Grief doesn’t have to be about a death: it can be about a loss of a friendship or love, even about a place or the passing of time. Just as one can be lonely in a crowd one can feel grief when surrounded by life.

I covered a piece of paper with charcoal and soft pastel dust and worked it in with my fingers (wonderful!). I then started to carve the drawing out of the darkness with an eraser, white pastel and a black charcoal pencil. Soon the image of the Hughes scholar and his grief emerged.

Interestingly the Emily Dickinson poem, from which the title of this wonderful piece of writing is taken, begins:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all …

Do read Max Porter’s book. Its 120 widely-spaced pages contain every emotion you can think of and the crow is surely one of fiction’s great comic characters.


Arnolfini and the Little Woman


Arnolfini and the Little Woman (A4 ink, coloured pencils and collage across 2 sketchbook pages 2010)

There are many things about Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait which are uncertain. Often referred to as the Arnolfini Marriage Portrait, it probably isn’t of a marriage, the woman is not pregnant, that isn’t their bedroom (despite the presence of a bed) and that probably isn’t even Giovanni Arnolfini either.

Although there as almost as many theories about the picture as there are art historians to study it, the Arnolfini Portrait remains – even in its mystery – a wonderful example of Northern Renaissance painting, painted in oils on panel in 1434. It is surprisingly small, as anyone will testify who has tried to view it in London’s National Gallery from behind a group of Italian students committing its image to their iPhones .

A comment that the picture might represent a ‘left-handed marriage’, one where the wife is of a lower social or financial class to the husband, led me to produce this deconstruction some years ago. My partner, Sarah, asked me to post it as it is one of her favourites, and she felt my blog would be lacking a certain  art historical gravitas without it.

I was drawn to Arno’s big hat, the weird little dog and those wonderful (and expensive, in their day, like Birkenstocks now) house shoes. Mrs A seemed more like an innocent bystander or a commodity than an equal partner in the proceedings, the ‘little woman’ if you like. It seems somehow fitting for International Women’s Day to highlight this six hundred year old inequality. Just as in the original there are enigmas a-plenty, so too in my deconstruction: apples. There are no apples in the original, only oranges.

This one’s for you, Sarah.



Waits blog

Cassette (A5 pencil and collage on sketchbook page 2016)

As the excellent Christophe Gowans might say, ‘today I did a drawing of a relic’.

‘Home-taping is killing music’, the record companies tried to convince us in the 1980s. Yet so long as people stand up in front of others to sing, there will always be music. What home-taping probably did was cut into the lavish profits of the handful of recording conglomerates who tried to dictate our taste. With the internet, that particular game was over.

When I lived in Germany and my good friend, Ian, lived in Hong Kong, we exchanged a number of cassettes of our latest enthusiasms. He once sent me a cassette of Arvo Pärt’s Fratres which resulted in my buying, at the latest count, about 15 CDs of the Estonian composer’s music. At some point I sent him a cassette of Tom Waits, and if there is a Waits CD that Ian hasn’t since bought I’d be surprised.

So let us celebrate the humble cassette – a thing that probably played a part in everyone’s musical education by allowing us to share our discoveries with our like-minded friends. Without them I doubt if I’d own half the CDs that are sitting in boxes in my garage.

This scruffy little drawing came at the end of a long day. I’d spent the evening trying to do something else that proved too complicated for my limited skills so I did this nostalgic little drawing in a few minutes, collaging Tom Waits over the top the following day.