Two pieces of news

One is that I’ve been working on paintings to accompany poems due to be published in a Christmas collection, the other is that I was commissioned to make a painting for the cover of a short story collection by a rather good author. The downside, for now, is that I can’t reveal any of them until the publications are out and the very exciting moment of the cover reveal is announced by the book author. So for now, a place-holder:

The next piece of significant news is that I’ve somehow completed the first of my OCA level 2 painting modules which, while I’m waiting for forma assessment and having a bit of a break, has given me time to move back a little to a more classical style. I’m not good at this and, as much of the course work leans towards the expressionistic and semi abstract, has me concerned I’ll land a BA without being able to paint a nose.

So I had a go at a jug, obviously.

The objective was to find volume in objects rather than expressively indicate them. This is not likely ever to be my style but I’d really like to be able to make a passable effort.

I chose a photo in Aristides’s book on painting and manufactured a similar composition on the table next to my easel. Instead of a white ceramic jug, I had a blue one; the loaf was substituted by a pile of stand-in flannels, and the egg was represented by a small jar which wouldn’t stay still or try to be egg shaped.

In the end, I had a jar, a ‘beaten copper’ jug, a red onion, and some nasturtiums of which only the nasturtiums actually exist and were never in the room.

Here’s the process.

Charcoal drawing on varnished card, isolating tonal areas.

This is the final iteration – probably! – with paint scrubbed off with a flannel, blended and moved around for shade and highlights, and details added to the leaves, flowers and the onion with acrylic pen.
This detail is unavoidably shiny and so there is a cast of reflected light on the surface that is difficult to avoid. Nevertheless, I’m relatively happy with the outcome, especially considering there was not one element of it in the room!

Aristides, J. 2016. Lessons in Classical Painting. Watson Guptill Publications. Reference photograph P 44.

Haiku to Klimt

A small piece arising from an exercise in the Studio Practice module of my OCA painting degree. This is gold and silver acrylic on black cartridge primed with gloss varnish. The thin dark marks are scratched texture made with a pen.

Gold; leafed and shaped to
the wish of a painter's hand
in the longest kiss.

Haiku to Klimt - SCH 2021

Its journey, along with some other pieces, is here.

Blue Bus to Keswick

Painting on mirror foil as part of the OCA painting degree course requirements. Based on a lockdown bus ride via webcam from Lancaster to Keswick on damp, dark day. The painting analysis, if you’d like one, is: tiny green/blue strip at the top – roadside trees and foliage; dark strips beneath – the road; wild blue/grey swirls beneath – the leaden sky; and the wide, geological strip at the bottom – the brown and green rolling hills of the countryside.

Blue Bus to Keswick

Blue bus to Keswick; Sodden greens under a biscuit tin sky.

Ambleside is tourist rammed, and Keswick is a black-stoned webcam terminus, dotted with bright visiting anoraks looking for lunch.

The masked passengers stretch their legs and join the rain-bowed pedestrians hopping puddles through the streets, while the driver breaths out a safe arrival and turns the rest of us off.

SCH 2021.

Steyning Arts Trail 2021

COVID permitting, this will be happening over the August Bank Holiday weekend and the weekend following; that is the 28th-30th August and the 4th-5th September. So the paperwork is in and I’m waiting to hear where I might be exhibiting. It’s a bit like Clearing.

In the meantime, I’m putting together a selection of easy-to-carry-home paintings that either hang from their box frames or will come with a little self-adhesive loop to stick on the back. Nothing bigger than 14″ x 18″ or 12″ x 16″.

I said nothing bigger but this girl might be there and she’s a big lass …

From an original photo by Gerard Ufera. Scan with Artivive for an AR experience.

Louis of Loch Arkaig

Yesterday we heard about the premeditated destruction of a nest elsewhere in the UK, and this, along with the empty nest at Loch Arkaig as Aila fails to reappear and Louis sets up home nearby, has left the Woodland Trust nest-chat bereft. I’m one of the chatters; people are angry about the destruction, worried about Aila, and feeling adrift without the prospect of an osprey family on the camera nest this year.

A while ago, I said I might try to paint that scene; the nest, the colours, the magnificence of it; and probably no one noticed. But I did paint it, using artistic licence (like Bond’s without the Martini) and a clip from the live stream to imagine an osprey there. It isn’t quite Louis, the sharp-eyed osprey watchers will notice that immediately, but I’d say it stands in for him. My best hope though is that it looks enough like an osprey not to offend anyone.

While the majority of the canvas is painted using acrylics, the nest is made from a collage cut from screen-clip photos of the branches and twigs, the hills and the trees. Sharp, angular, and bright.


Last year, along with thousands of locked down webcam surfers, I came upon the Loch Arkaig Osprey nest camera and subsequently watched as eggs appeared, chicks hatched, and fledglings eventually left around the same time as their parents.

The camera is running again [or it was, more of that in a minute], and we saw the male (Louis) return and begin his elaborate nest building. But there’s been no sign of his mate Aila and now he seems to have gone off after new talent at a different nest while intermittently returning to ‘ours’ with another chunk of moss, a fish, or a massive stick that he juggles into place. Maybe he’s keeping his options open. We’ve all been watching, commenting, counting twigs and fish and clumps of moss but mostly looking at an empty nest.

And now the live stream has collapsed. The camera is in a remote setting and can’t be physically managed without great difficulty. It wouldn’t be anyway while there’s a risk of disturbing breeding birds. So now we’re looking at a black screen with numbers of viewers underneath ticking up as the day goes on, which is slightly surreal.

But just before this happened there was a beautiful moment of colour on the nest which I said, rashly as it turns out, might make a good painting. People said yes, yes it would, and ooh yes. So here I am with a screen shot, a canvas board, and a sense of imminent underperformance in the face of over-expectation.

Anyone familiar with nests will know that even a pigeon, whose idea of a good structure is three twigs balanced on a branching cleft, wouldn’t build one upside down. This is a complicated piece of engineering with lots of lines that can quickly lead to detailed focus at the expense of overall image. At least with me it does, and I found from one of the OCA exercises that, daft as it sounds, painting something upside down forces me to paint/draw what I see rather than what I ‘know’ to be there. That’s the theory anyway; we’ll see.

I’ve made some lines in charcoal and used a wet brush to soften them. I’ll be looking at tones next and hopefully getting some colour into the shapes as I go. Treating it as an abstract at this stage, I’m hoping to avoid the trap of failed realism and to make something that brings out the life of the place. The caveat is that this may be a total disaster but I promise to keep the duffers up here along with anything that turns out to be half way decent!

Right way up now. Might or might not stay that way depending on how useful it is.

Lots of dilute Payne’s grey washed over the burnt sienna and skimmed off with a cloth. There are some big marks here in white, grey, brown, and green ready to form the ground for the mass of sticks Louis has woven into the cup shaped nest. The symmetry at the back disturbs me – that stick and the two trees are unfortunate contributors to an unintended and not very attractive balance. Trouble is, that’s Louis’ perching stick and those two trees are landmarks for the whole Loch Arkaig osprey-watching community so if they ever see this, they’d better be there or I’ll not be allowed back!

I’ve decided to post just because the links to live webcams have an expiry date and the eaglets are well on the way to theirs. Seems a shame to miss them if you’re interested. Updates don’t register as new posts so if want to see how this painting progresses, please check back here.

Make or break time.

Tomorrow is another day; I’ll either have an idea to bring it back from the brink or I’ll have slapped a coat of primer on it and begun again!

23rd April, and with the ‘nother day comes a ‘nother image. The camera was evidently nudged last night (by what, no one’s saying) and suddenly there’s a much better angle which not only transforms the composition but gives me the best excuse ever for ditching a duff painting and starting again. Same board but with a layer of white primer on top and all the textures underneath.

The nest now is at the bottom left end of a diagonal that goes compositionally up to the right but geologically down into a valley. Let’s see if this brings the painter out in me.

First though the aspect ratio – the image is verging on widescreen but the canvas board isn’t so it’s either a letterbox approach or chopping a vertical edge off the original.

Even better, running the live feed back, I found Lonesome Louie had returned to the nest early in the morning. Still on the lookout for Aila.

I may skip the action shot; the front-on isn’t very impactful, and the profile facing left feels a little unbalanced. That first one though, facing right and looking off down the valley – that one has potential.

There’s some compositional jiggery pokery going on here to get the right image in the right place, stripping the bird out of the original photo and moving it to the right so that the proportions of the photo fit those of the canvas a bit better. I’ve also used gridding which generally sends my eyes off in different directions. This is the base painting made in very dilute acrylics, the idea being to keep pop the bird out of a low key background. Serious restraint required.

And in actual osprey news – a female has arrived at Louis’ nest and no one knows if it’s Aila or not. They chirped and then he flew off with his fish. The chat stream is in meltdown.

24th April. I did a lot of serious leaving-it-alone today. A few dabs then away for a walk or to empty the washer. Even try to finish the audio track for the assessment video I have to make for the course [still 10 seconds too long]. Anyway, the result is a halfway decent bird, I think, and a more impressionistic nest.

These are the colours, those are the hills, and unless you’re an expert with a magnifying glass, that’s the bird. I want him to stand out but I also want the nest to be prominent and with some highlights of its own. It deserves its place; evidently the diameter is the equivalent of the width of a double bed and Louis is an expert builder. Some of the sticks will be recognisable to the Loch Arkaig osprey watchers and that’s important. The rest can be suggested with enough texture to hint at the reality. That vertical one on the left doesn’t come out of nowhere so it needs its origins made a bit clearer and I think that will also anchor that bottom corner.

25th April. I’m on the verge of ‘reimagining’ the nest area on the grounds that the angle is not one you’d normally see (the camera is looking down into it) so it’s hard to make it appear realistic; that it’s a complex piece of organic architecture the risks detracting from the bird; and because stunning photos don’t necessarily make good paintings. What do you think?

There’s some colour and lighting distortion here due to the way digital cameras select a kind of average and lift the illumination of dark areas.
This is from a greater distance so there’s no lifting of the darker areas. That nest has to go!

April 26th. I’ve been in a real quandary over that nest and actually painted over it to make a fresh and more imagined start. Then I thought about a technique I began using recently which is to re-purpose the photo of the subject as collage material. This is not a straight cut-out-tree-stick-tree-on process, it’s about reflecting the shapes and colours by applying snips from anywhere in the photo. Here, some of the hill area is part of the nest because of the colour, while other parts become sticks and moss by their shape. I’ll be adding some other elements in due course but first maybe it needs dampening a little.

I like where it is. It’s not pretending now to be a classic painting, which is a relief (although there’s a tiny bit of attention needed to Louis’ beak), instead there are background hills in subdued colours, a brighter bird in the foreground, and a chaos of ‘sticks’ representing the nest around him. These birds collect nest material from a wide catchment area, sometimes breaking off large pieces of dead branch while in flight. They are collectors of useful debris and you could say the nest here is also useful debris – or you could say it’s cheating, that rather depends on your idea of what a painting should be! Not done yet though.

Payne’s grey wash with highlights lifted using a wet flannel. The beak is, well, more beaky thanks to an acrylic pen.

Top right you’ll see the corner of a piece of film (OHP A3). That’s what I use to cover my palette to minimise drying and obviously paint sticks to it. I found recently that collages can benefit from the addition of some pieces of this film and so that’s the next step.

Palette: freezer paper on A3 board covered with A3 film.

Painting shown with photos and film (top left)

I was very tempted by some of the brighter colours on the palette but managed to restrain myself. There are several pieces of film glued into place but only a couple are more vibrant than their surroundings. The rest are slivers of brown, blue-grey, or white positioned to enhance the colour washed photo paper beneath. The sky, though, is nowhere near as bright as it seems – that’s the late afternoon light on the gloss and film! I’m happy with this now so, when the glue is dry I’ll sign it, give it a coat of gloss varnish, and take its final photo.

Here we are, the impossibility of getting a decent photo of a dark, and also shiny surface notwithstanding, Louis on his apparently abandoned nest. He does keep nipping back but seems to have three females on the go elsewhere and whether any of them will turn up here to raise chicks is anybody’s guess.

Finally, the right colours! There seems to be only one place in the house where the light is right for dark images with reflective surfaces – balanced on the handles of my wardrobe!

The Loch Arkaig live stream via the Woodland Trust.

There’s also the Rutland nest (three eggs) and the Loch of the Lowes which also has two, maybe three eggs. And if osprey are a bit tiddly for you, there are eagle chicks in Redding, California that are currently lumbering around like oven ready turkeys and falling on their faces after they’ve been fed. Be warned though, meals are sometimes still kicking when ‘on the table’.


Still technically on hiatus but distracted by an over-stuffed SSD which means finding a new computer with a larger one. Much hunting and talk of terabytes as the current puny one sits there bright red with excess content.

So back to the paints while other things sort themselves out, such as my bank recognising Dell as a legitimate enterprise and paying them.

I’d intended to make a very delicate pencil watercolour of a tight horizontal line but found I wanted to add some paint. The horizontal is still there, and it’s still in isolation towards the top of the 16″ x 11″ canvas board.

Charcoal lines with water so that the pigment bleeds outwards.
Watercolour pencil and some acrylic pen which turned out to be a bit harsh. I’ve deliberately allowed the fluid to collect in a line and then to flow downwards beneath the land. These are the roots – soil, land, vegetation, homes, community. Quite a burden for a little painting.
A few dabs now of acrylic paint to give shape to the trees and add light to the field behind the house.

This may be it but I’ll look at it again tomorrow. After I’ve had whatever words need to be had to get the new PC packed and on its way here.

19th April. Bank now happy about Dell, painting varnished, and NASA has flown a helicopter on Mars.

A dribble is fine, a smudge isn’t.
Tiny dabs of dilute T white, smoothed with a cotton bud then varnished. Amazing what you can pick up from BBC’s The Repair Shop! I can still see the remnants of the smudge, but then I’m looking for it. Someone coming to it new may not.

That’s probably quite enough prevarication, I need to get on with the assessment admin which somehow doesn’t lessen by neglect.

Short hiatus

When you’re doing a course, every so often there’s the inconvenience of preparing an assessment portfolio. These days, it’s digital so there’s no more wrestling of large pieces into massive cases for posting. Or, increasingly because now there’s something a bit more worthwhile in there, worrying till it gets to its destination and back. One time, I found someone else’s sketch book in amongst my stuff.

Still, there’s the selection, the photographing – clean crop, dirty crop (bit of contextual background), and some detail, the essay (500 words at this stage and to be submitted for plagiarism checks), a raft of blog posts referring back to learning outcomes (what??!), and a 750 word doc or six minute video artist statement.

Basically it’s admin [yawn].

I’m getting it done in short bursts in between long bursts of prevarication because the deadline is some way off, but now I’ve run out of legitimate prevaricants [<– new made-up word and I like it] so Strayfish Arts will have to take a back seat for a while.

If you’re so inclined, the blog for the current course is here. See you on the other side!

Totally Fungible #6 – baskets

By now we’ve all forgotten what the fungible thing is about, right? Well, to recap it’s the opposite of non fungible which has suddenly hit the headlines as NFTs or Non Fungible Tokens – ways of proving that you’ve bought a piece of digital art. The Totally Fungible series, as it’s become, is a response to that.

As I’m reasonably sure another 8″ x 10″ canvas board isn’t going to suddenly materialise, this is the last hurrah and it features a hanging basket tumbling with colour from a few years ago. There’s an orange wash on top of the gloss and at this stage, I’m just piling clips from the A4 photo and a small set of crops onto the board to describe the chaos of the tumble. I have a mind to make more blue and the orange is there to pop that out. Of course, that might change because, well, pink. There’s a lot of frill and fringe going on here because so many of the leaves are tiny and not at all ordered.

Touch of the pointilisms going on here now – little dots of colour to extend the tumble chaos of the flowers. Quite big points though. I have a sheet of film with paint transfer on it ready to deploy and in my experience with the previous paintings, this can change the overall impact of the piece completely.

This, in fact, is how my garden looks all summer – no semblance of order and a post right where you think you can stick your head to find the other side.

So, mission accomplished; all tiddly canvas boards fully occupied by media that are very much mixed, and a great deal learned in the process. Key amongst these gems is the dual finding that I have a better sense of what can be done as I go on and simultaneously entirely less sense on the matter of keeping it simple.

Animation ir-re-sistable 🙂