This first image comes from a book published in 1957, detailing the history of the school I attended from 1960 to 1967. It has significance because, back in the late 1800’s, Cleckheaton was denied a grammar school, the council awarding that to a neighbouring town. But instead of just accepting that decision, the local businesses started a fund to build one themselves, people chipped in, the site chosen was on top of a hill beneath which was a coal seam. The choice was a symbol of the value of education to the local people because that seam would never be mined.
At first it was unfunded and so took only fee-paying pupils, but even before the turn of the century, there were equal numbers of boys and girls in each class, and that is how it continued. The Foundation Building was the first to be erected and sadly it was demolished recently, applications to List it denied. I wasn’t sure where to go with this painting, made from the architect’s sketch of the proposed new science block shown in the book, but gradually, it took on a grunged appearance reflecting the decay that had been allowed to take place and also the rebellious efforts of so many of us to save it.
I find appealing the randomly placed position of the blot next to the small tower that I left out of all the washes. There’s something bleak about the whole that reflects its ending much more than its inception and I wonder about making something larger.
4th September. I’ve begun tackling these on a conveyor belt system – surface preparation, preliminary layers, drawing in, more layers, and so on. This first is based on the found image of a page in the Radio Times but the more I looked at it, the less I felt either able to or interested in making a painting of it. I went back to the RT for more inspiration and tore out another Sunday page so it had the same colours. It turned out to be the page commemorating the death of Princess Diana, an event I recall hearing in shock on the radio late at night, so shortly after it the crash that reporters were talking about hers and Dodi Fayed’s admission to hospital. The next day was the beginning of the most international mass mourning in living memory.
I don’t know if this qualifies as a painting although there is paint on the surface, but to use selected pieces of the Radio Times to tell something of the story seemed more appropriate than trying to produce a single painted image.
5th September and a more cheerful note. Like a lot of people I watched the Loch Arkaig ospreys as their eggs hatched and the nestlings grew. This is one of the chicks, now almost full grown.
The next image comes from the designer of some of the most horrific science fiction sets we had seen up until that point and I’m really not sure they have been bettered. The film was as far from 2001: a space odyssey as it was possible to get with its massive Gothic structures and an alien that took one horrendous form after another. I’ll admit though, that towards the end when I should have been sweating for Ripley, I was preoccupied with the whereabouts of the cat!
I remember being introduced to the Sutton Hoo burial site at school and, whether or not we actually visited or the treasures were toured, this buckle made an impression on me. I had never seen anything so old that looked so perfect.
This is a very intricate piece of work which I really can’t do justice to, certainly not at the moment or at this scale, but I have appreciated the way this assignment has, with its own scales, pushed me into trying new things and taking risks, and the closer I get to the twentieth, the more risky I expect my output to be. It may be tosh, but with any luck it will be interesting tosh.
I can’t can’t vouch for the timing but at the moment there are three baby hogs in one of my huts. First time ever.
6th September. This painting is based on another wildlife camera still, this time of a regular visitor, Buttons. He often chunters to the camera as he passes. Proper little character.
This is my next challenge, straight off the subs bench it’s the DVD of Avatar, one of my very most favourite films. Because I haven’t used it before, I’ve started with a sketch using watercolour pencils to find the shapes. The white is finger-smudged T. white acrylic. I may quit while I’m ahead!
7th September. Two more sketches and I’m glad I didn’t quit at the first.
This has been one of the more enjoyable of these pieces – I like the colours, the film is spectacular (try it in 3D if you haven’t already), and the shapes are decisive. I would have loved to get more luminosity into the appearance but as yet, I don’t know how I would do that.
Number 19 of 20 – an evil little critter on the front of a book, The Amulet of Samarkand, which is part of the Bartimaeus trilogy by Jonathan Stroud. I don’t clearly remember what this is about but I remember enjoying it very much; which isn’t a good guide as my re-reading of Imajica made me wonder how on earth I could have missed the salacious misogyny and rampant religiosity of it. Still, Bartimaeus.
This is another substitute image which is far more interesting to paint than the carton of eggs it replaces, and since I haven’t tackled it before, there need to be shape-finding sketches.
8th September; third sketch. This time the eyes and mouth are a little more evil and I have more of a handle on what to do for the actual painting. HP watercolour paper is much more substantial than cartridge but still, I might give it a coat of transparent primer to bump that up and give me some room for pushing and pulling the medium.
Sometimes you need significant space between a thing that doesn’t work, and the right time to try again. For now, it’s time to move on and leave this particular gremlin with its not-quite-evil eyes and its less-than-wicked mouth.
Grand Finale – number 20 of 20 and going out with a bang. This is, for me, the very best photograph of Brighton’s collapsing and now skeletal West Pier. I bought it many years ago in the North Laines; it looked to me then like a fallen space ship or a palaeolithic leviathan. Now it brings to mind those hidden object games for computers where you find yourself searching an underwater shipwreck or an abandoned derelict building – nothing is horizontal or vertical, ceilings are on the floor and the floor is draped down into the cellar. More recent photographs and paintings are of the stark black bones of the structure; evocative in their own right but nothing quite like this. Credit is to Roger Bamber, the photographer.
I’ve taken a crop of this for my piece; having finally realised that this is the way to translate rectangular images onto square cards. This shows the unbalanced folds of the building but also the huge murmuration above it, now gone as the starlings have nowhere to roost in such numbers.
These are my first sketches. Inkense pencil and block. I am looking for shapes, colours, and composition, and actually think the first with its low horizon is my preferred image.
I think sometimes it’s inadvisable to tackle a painting that already has substantial meaning. At least until your skills are better developed. I’m very fond of this photograph and quite invested in making a good job of a painting, but I also know that a good photo doesn’t necessarily translate into a good subject for a painted image. This might have been too good a photo, too strong in its own right for me to do anything very original with it, which might have been why I found it hard to swerve the idea of a gift shop card.
The next task is to arrange all twenty and consider groupings. This will be a separate post.
Giger, H.R. 1979. Giger’s Alien – film design. Big O Publishing.