Doodles in the margin from an artist living and working in the Scottish Borders.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Music on Monday: White Boy Blues

If I say "what a noise", I mean it entirely positively. 'Bukka' White knocks the hell out of a National Steel guitar playing Aberdeen, Mississippi Blues, one of his signature songs.

He had hands like Rachmaninov, a punishing way with a guitar and a Mississippi accent forty yards deep, which could partially account for the fact that he's been chiselled into history as 'Bukka' White, when his real name was Booker T. Washington White. 'Bukka' was the name a (white) producer put on the label of his first set of recordings in the 1940s, and despite hating it, White was stuck with it.

Legend has it that in 1937 White shot a man in a barroom brawl (in self-defence, it was later determined), fled to Chicago, and was two songs into a recording session when the police came for him. He served time in the notorious Parchman Farm, where he composed the songs that would make his reputation.

Not the least of his legacy is that a White's young cousin (one B.B. King) developed his distinctive finger vibrato trying to mimic White's, not understanding he did it with a slide.

The guitar featured in this video (probably, anyway - I say that to give this low voltage anecdote some narrative cohesion) is the one that wound up in Eric Bibb's hands:

While Bibb has been carrying a torch for his musical ancestors for 40 years or so, it took a chance encounter with a guitar owned by one of Bibb’s heroes, Delta bluesman Booker White, to set it ablaze.
It happened after a concert in the north of England a few years ago. A fan came up and asked him if he’d be interested in playing this old guitar. “I opened the case and there was this wise old instrument - it played like a dream” explains Bibb.
I remember talking to someone from Newcastle who heard that White's guitar was on sale at a music shop in the city. When he went there he found that there was some sort of mini pilgrimage underway and the shop was full of people like him who'd just come to have a look at Booker White's National steel.

Anyway - that guitar (probably) in the substantial mitts of Booker T. Washington White, tough, loud and magnificent.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Merry Christmas, Baby

Merry Christmas Baby, to you all from Otis Redding and Baboonery.

Clip posted by BeachMusic, who are "shaggin' 'round the Christmas tree" apparently.

It beats getting socks and a scarf.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Music on Monday: Champion Jacq DuPre

It's huge, stirring, uplifted and dramatic. But get past Daniel Barenboim's hair and you'll notice that the lady scrapes a good fiddle.

Massive thanks to markvogue who posted these on YouTube.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Spotlight But No Kid.

Don van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart, whose music was Howlin' Wolf heard down a lobster telephone, has left the building.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Seasonally Adjusted

Cheviot Foothills, Autumn. Oil on board, 18" x 12".

New painting of the country around the Cheviot foothills, North Northumberland. It has a companion piece (below). I like the idea of returning to a place to observe seasonal changes, so there might be a third, snowy one sometime.*

(You'll also spot that between summer and autumn it's not just light and colour that change but hills, trees, field layouts, horizons ...)

*Might not be, though. Part of me thinks that for all the work I put in on these, especially the autumn one, they're just a bit boring.** Working on a sea/sky painting now. I like these. Sea -wallop. Horizon -wallop. Sky - wallop. Clag it on and scuffle it around.

**You see, it's comments like this that make me think I'm maybe not the best person to be in charge of my own publicity...

Music on Monday: "Those That Have Ears, Hear - Those That Don't..."

From now on, for no real reason other than it's alliterative, Mondays are Music Mondays.

Post one, and on the one, is probably my favourite James Brown song. Talking Loud and Saying Nothing was recorded October 1st 1970 in Macon, Georgia and it's funky as a week-old sock. This is the extended seven minute version: I was overjoyed to discover that there's a complete, unfaded version on the Motherlode compilation that clocks in at a magisterial fourteen minutes.

The band, and this is about nothing if it's not about the band, was the legendary J.B.s:

Clayton "Chicken" Gunnells - trumpet
Darryl "Hassan" Jamison - trumpet
Robert McCollough - tenor saxophone
St. Clair Pinckney - baritone saxophone
Bobby Byrd - organ, vocal
Phelps "Catfish" Collins - guitar
William "Bootsy" Collins - bass
John "Jabo" Starks - drums
Johnny Griggs - congas

The improvised stop/start set up from about 5:00 is the industry standard definition of 'tight.'

He didn't play on Talking Loud... but Clyde Stubblefield was the Funky Drummer. Here he gives an insight into how the Brown band worked. And there's some funky drumming.

And while we're at it, Bootsy and Jabo explain the one. To Lenny Henry.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Cinema Paradiso: Ushers With Powers of Arrest.

It's all true and right and good and must be implemented immediately for a better world.

Santa Claws

The magnificent Simon's Cat. Anyone who has or had cats knows that every frame is true.

It's a measure of the appeal of Simon's Cat that I'm happy to shill for his merchandise for free. Now that's success.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Fail Better

I caught this last night by accident, and it was serendipitous, given my own perennial fretful brainfizzings and the recent sacking of Chris Hughton.

It's screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce's talk The Joy of Failure on Radio 3's Night Waves. His thesis is that failure is not something to be fearful of, rather that progress (and Post-It Notes) depend on mistakes.

"Is this pathology-ward level cheering and waving really encouragement? Or is it a strange new morbid dread of failure? Boyce ... makes a passionate plea for the traditional enemies of happiness - error, disappointment and, above all, failure. Bad ideas have often led to great discoveries, he claims, and human knowledge is dependent on our ability to continue making mistakes."

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Brian #3: Pupil Friction.

Teachers, yesterday, enjoying Brian on the internet.

The best thing about teaching, and there were so many best things, was simply filling young minds with knowledge.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Peter in America

A half hour World Service interview with novelist Peter Carey on the back of Parrot and Olivier in America.

"[Information should come from] a diverse, a great number of sources... There should be an education system that teaches it's still important to be able to read, that it's not enough to get a ten-second grab on television that's amusing. You would imagine an education system that led to an educated population that could actually read books - any books."

"I never washed my cars, which upset my father terribly. In fact, he once found a potato growing in the back seat."

Freezo, Freezas, Freezat. But Especially Freezas.

It got cold. You might have noticed. A couple of nights ago it was down to four degrees below freezing. Quite notable, at the time. It was cold. Going to bed early was the only option.

Then it dropped to minus seven.

That was cold. I mean, for Scotland - parts of Scotland, anyway, I know there's people in the Highlands who would say 'minus seven? Luxury!' if only their faces unfroze enough to speak.

Last night it started to get really cold. Icy sky, sharp, flinty stars. Really bitter. We watched the thermometer drop - well, I did. Laura sat on the sofa with a look that said 'stop opening the front door, you freakish thermo-voyeur.'

That's minus nine. And still it fell. When I finally went to bed, we'd run out of thermometer. There were no more degrees left:

At approximately twelve degrees below freezing, it fell off the bottom of the thermometer. They say it'll be warmer by the weekend. We've about a bucket and a half of coal left. I don't think I've looked forward to four degrees centigrade quite so eagerly.

And to put my photographic pretensions to shame, here's Jason Baxter, a local photographer. If all went to plan he was up this morning before dawn to hike to the top of Broad Law to take a photograph of the sunrise. I'd do the same, obviously, but, you know, I've comic stuff to draw. Important, gosh, yes. Inside. Goggles! That's what it is, I've no goggles.

Edit: well, he did it, the nutcase. Chapeau!

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Brian #2: What Kind Of Party Do You Never Want To Go To?

A long agenda, the end of the day, other things to do and someone firing up a projector and PowerPoint. The perfect storm of pencil-chewing abomination.

The high point of my enthusiastic involvement (time span: one year) was being on the committee that drafted the Home-School agreement, a document which took about three months to write, went out with fanfare to parents, was solemnly signed and returned and was never referred to again.

I expressed my rage in badger form.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Tales From the Shovel

So, this morning I helped shovel the snow out from in front of our row of houses. It's hard work.

Then I shovelled a path to the coal house. Then David from the flat next door cleared a path to the gate. Job done.

Then all the snow fell off the roof.

So I went out and dug it out again. By now there's a sort of snowy, Western Front look to the place. A game of football may break out by the bins any day now.

And then it all fell off the roof again.

I've just come back in from clearing a path through that. In the midst of this most Arctic November for fifteen years I'm sweating like a pig on a bicycle.

I'm not going out again until Spring.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Rejection: an Ode.

Last week I received a rejection slip by email from a publishing company I don't even remember submitting to. What are they doing, passing my sample chapters around among themselves now?

When I worked in teaching, I had a colleague who pinned to his office noticeboard all the complaint letters he'd got from parents. (He had a lot.) Some people do the same with rejection letters. It's always a balance between the poles of Lord of the Flies (seventy-odd rejections before publication) and 'There's a Reason for Rejection - Your Book is Rubbish, All Your Friends Lied To You So They Wouldn't Have to See Your Crushed, Defeated Face.'

I did get some excellent help from an agent who read my draft at its monster-in-a-shoebox stage. She told me to cut it in half, so I thought, kill your darlings, be merciless, and excised 100,000 words out of it to make it leaner, tighter and frankly much better. Then she rejected it.

I take criticism like an egg takes a housebrick, so I try to cultivate briskness. So the preferred method is a quick "bastards!", ping the letter into the fire, cross another one off The List of Bastards, and carry on.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The True History of Sparky McNaughton

The tragicomic tale of a life in music.

Christmas Vocabulary, Lesson One

nogged - v, past tense - to be the victim of a move in a board game detrimental to your intended aims in said game, a vulnerability brought about by excessive consumption of alcohol.

e.g. "ha! I landed on your three-hotel Mayfair and you didn't notice. You've been nogged."

Monday, 22 November 2010

Brian #1: Origins.

I first met Brian after a parents' evening over ten years ago. A colleague told us the next day that as he drove home exhausted he actually fell asleep on the journey and woke up in the verge. Terrifyingly, he could have been seriously injured or indeed killed, but more importantly it gave me the chance to draw something funny based on what could have been a hideous accident. Sometimes I'm a glass-half-full person.

All well and good, but my idea, as far as it went, was that the bloke was Brian Badger, and the striped accomplice was a comic restatement of the eponymous protagonist. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realised I had conjured something into being. I looked into his stripy, arsy, well-intentioned, grumpy, sweary, badgery soul and I saw something I recognised.

A kindred spirit. An alter ego.

I am that badger.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Dragged Back From the Edge

From 'The Draught Excluder of Unpredictability Impending Over the Oven Glove of Strategy' to a landscape with spruce trees and a farm.

Laura said that this would end up being posted one of two ways; either finished, or with a big hole punched in the middle. (That's happened before.) I learned that posting the incompetent starting point in public - or as public as my blog gets - is strong incentive to get work done.

I used a box of cheapo oil paints we had lying in a drawer (because they were small, and I didn't want to drag my big wooden box of paints downstairs as I was working on the living room table next to the fire because it was bloody cold, and I sat in a posture that helped ping my back, a process completed by moving a new bed up the stairs, so I'm on a paracetamol cloud this morning, but anyway -) so the colours are a bit garish, perhaps, but I like the condensed-perspective snapshot effect. It's given me the impetus to try some more, but with the Windsor and Newton paints.

They're water-based oils and I know there's some sniffiness about them (always the bloody kit: whether it's cycling, photography or oil paints, there's some bugger there to cast a sceptical eye over what you use) but after using real oils for three days and leaving highly visible traces of my passage around the house in bright green, I remember one reason I changed to water-based oils in the first place.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Things That Go Right. Things That Don't.

I was going to call this post Kids' Stuff 3, because of what I painted last night:

Not a surrealist dreamscape where an orange draught excluder threatens to engulf some blue clouds and an oven glove, but rather a band of orange spruce on a hillside above a cluster of farm cottages that we drove past on the road to Jedburgh.

Look at it! Blimey. I had such a clear vision in my head of what I wanted it to look like -a gauzy haze of colours, scrubbed, scumbled and drifted over underpainting and textured strokes. It is not very much like that.

I was again struck down with The Fear about my work over the weekend, but I suppose the facts that a) I laughed at it (in an amused way, not a "don't make me laugh ... bitterly" way)and b) I reckon I can rescue it shows that I have some confidence in what I can do. I can understand it if you, the viewer, are more sceptical. I shall give it a go.

Unless, of course, you like the oven glove and draught excluder genre of painting, in which case, it's yours.

Better was the time we spent at the coast last week when the sea was up and pounding in after a couple of days of strong winds from out of the east. The power and energy were just hair-raising, so exciting to be near the sea (at a safe distance, anyway) when it's in such a state.

So, some things work, some things don't. So it goes.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Kid's Stuff II

Apropos of a previous post, we watched the BBC4 programme about self portraits on the iPlayer last night. Albrecht Durer drew himself when he was thirteen:

Now that's what genius looks like.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Observational Comedy

Those Simon's Cat films, and the upcoming fair we're doing on Saturday, reminded me of some cards I drew last year sometime. They were cat related. There's one of a cat sitting on a newspaper which I liked, but as I was falling asleep one night, the cat in my subconscious spoke to me and it said:

I drew it the next day, but I wasn't ever quite happy with the drawing or the hand-lettered writing, but I've tarted both of them up now and turned them into cards.

I can see it as t-shirts, posters, a major feature film, eventually. I'd like Bill Paxton to be the voice of the cat.

Root, One

Another addition to the ongoing Plant Portraits series. Usually it's flowers and seeds, but this is right at the other end of the process, a very dead and dessicated root found on the shingle at Coldingham Bay. Always something interesting to find at the beach.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Kid's Stuff

It's a peculiar experience to see an eight year old pondering whether to invest his money in property or buy a Lowry, but I saw it last night on the TV, on C4's documentary about genius children.

Perhaps the most interesting, and certainly the most likeable, was Keiron Williamson, an eight year old boy with a self-evidently remarkable talent for painting. I mean, look at that - he's eight, and probably seven when he painted it. That's pretty good for a seven year old. No wonder people are calling him a genius.

He is a talented kid, and his parents seemed very sensible, protective and encouraging of his talent. They decided in the end to go to Cornwall (he went for the property, with studio space so he "wouldn't have to clear the table for tea") where there were more galleries and artists. I could only applaud their decision and the way they went about it. I hope he carries on painting, because he seemed to love it.

But oh boy, his public. You couldn't help but think about the sense of the freak show that surrounded the exhibitions - and which his parents kept firmly at arm's length. Collectors came from America to buy the paintings. They ran to buy them when the exhibition opened. Perhaps they'd had a catalogue and made their decisions beforehand, but they didn't seem to be looking at the paintings themselves but what hadn't been sold, what was left that they could get their hands on. The gallery owner, who seemed somewhat dazed by what had landed on his doorstep, said, tellingly, (I'm paraphrasing) "There are only a finite number of paintings he did when he was seven. He's eight now. He won't be seven again." He added, grinning breathlessly, "Kerchinnggg!" All right, no, he didn't, I made that up.

But - is that painting worth ten thousand pounds? If I did that painting, would you pay ten thousand pounds for it? The market (which is, as we know, infallible) says they're worth it because some goon will part with thousands for them. Quite whether they're the "investments" that people think they are obviously remains to be seen. (And on a related note, I'd like to take a moment to hoist a jovial two fingers at anyone who buys art as an "investment." You soulless bastards.)

I suppose you can't (or the market can't) disentangle the painter from the painting. It's 'worth' thousands not because of the painting, which, judged objectively, is reasonable, but because of the artist, who is remarkable.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Simon's Cat

Why have I never seen this before? Two minutes and eighteen seconds of splendour.

(I apologise to Google Ads for putting up an advert which is nearly completely obscured by a cartoon. Try to ignore the cat, obviously.)

Friday, 22 October 2010

Rooney and the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Fear not: there will be presents this Christmas, as a Manchester worker secures his financial future.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Papa's Got a Bag of Swordfishtrombones.

Blimey. Tom Waits covers James Brown. It's like a parlour game come true.

Monday, 18 October 2010


Apples, oil on board, 9.5" x 8".

A new painting to celebrate the re-launch of my web site, all refreshed and smelling of new paint.

Apples. Wallop. Simple as you like. I did this as a distraction from another painting I was getting bogged down in. It made me feel better.

Flash? Ah-aahhhhh! Or: What I Learned Today,

I had the website down over the weekend to tart it up a bit, making sure that all the links went to the right pages, that there was no black text on a black background (there was lots) and revamping the opening page with a Flash slide show rather than the plain, non-moving mosaic. I tried about six or seven freeware Flash creator programmes, and for one reason and another discarded them all and used AnvSoft's software - it's free (huzzah!) and downloadable here.

A lot of the free stuff has unfriendly interfaces and an aesthetic best described as Care Bears Go ClipArt - create a Flash slideshow for your website with a background from the 'Love' Theme, anyone? No, nor me. The AnvSoft Flash software has its fair share of that but it's easy to use, clearly laid out and there's a plain option in there, which worked for me. The results can be contemplated here.

I also learned that not all of the features of the web-building pages on Mr Site are compatible with Chrome - or Firefox for that matter, which would explain why my images kept vanishing whenever I tried to insert a link into them. Blew the dust off Internet Explorer, which worked.

I also opened the door onto the horror that is Twitter. I'm very ambivalent about having to use the internet to drum up business. We both had an appointment with an arts business advisor (shortly before he went out of business) and he recommended the usual - Twitter, Facebook, blah blah blah. I held out against it all - I tend to misanthropically think that two of the most damning indictments of human nature are slavery and the comments section on YouTube.

It's not like I've not waded in before, though. I Was There in the early days of StumbleUpon, lovingly crafting a well-designed html-tweaked page of Gill Sans goodness, until finally getting the inevitable internet ennui, that feeling that my brain is freezing over and that I'm making a splendid meal out of rice crackers and nothing else. Step away from the computer, the voice said, go and look outside. I kept up the resistance until a couple of days ago when I joined Twitter.

I'm sure it will prove to be useful, but bloody hell - it's like opening your front door and finding your house on the edge of a gigantic abyss of celebs, Rooney, Zodiac Facts, sikes! and LOLs, a billion voices all yammering away at once and saying bugger all. It's rather depressing. It seems sometimes that if each computer is a chimney then the internet is smog, and now I'm sending my own personal plume of smoke up there into it.

I have been assured that it needn't be like this ("you have to ignore all the bollocks" my friend Colin advised), that it's a tool and not an end in itself, but even my girlfriend who has patience and mildness of judgement in superhuman abundance was moved to describe it as a "vacuous black hole."

We shall see.

Anyway - if you do stumble into while out walking in the smog, come inside and have a cup of tea.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Deep Elm Blues

I'm fannying around with a nimby-pimby autumnmisty landscape, in which depth of field, scale and colour are apparently beyond me and I'm getting rapidly more teethgrindingly angry with myself but I will persevere even if it ends up an inch thick. Which would be nice, actually.

So in pursuit of a bit of light and dark, a bit of letting go, a bit of bloody passion in the thing, this morning I broke out the charcoal and the A2 paper and drew a lime tree I took a photograph of yesterday when we were out for a dander by the Whiteadder. I'm coming more and more to like the Whiteadder as a river, it's appealingly small scale and full of lots of many lovely aspects. Anyway: it might be a lime, it might be an elm, but either way it's a tree.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Relentless Consumer Follow-Up

Baboonery isn't no fickle mayfly dancing in the fantastical air of the blogosphere, buoyed up only by flatulent gusts of its own opinion. No sir. Baboonery is practical. Empirical results. Look at that - flat as you like:


Friday, 8 October 2010

Stretching Paper: Some Mumbling, Digressional Advice.

Stretching paper can be a bit of a faff and frustrating, but there's nothing quite like using ink and washes on a taut, flat, white piece of good cartridge paper. Quite apart from anything else, if you're going to be doing wet work on anything thinner than a piece of hardboard then it's going to warp (or 'cockle'), and that leads to all sorts of problems, both aesthetic and practical. So, how do you stretch a piece of paper?

Things you will need:

  • Paper (in this case two A4 sheets 220gsm Daler Rowney cartridge paper)
  • Brown gum tape.
  • A clean sponge.
  • A drawing board.

Things you will also need that aren't in the photo but I used anyway:
  • Pair of scissors.
  • A clean towel.

The Yes, Yes, Just Get On With It Version:
  • Cut the gum tape to fit the edges of the paper with about a 1" - 2" overlap at each end.
  • Soak the paper flat in a clean sink.
  • Hold it up by the corner to drain.
  • 'Roll out' onto the drawing board.
  • Damp the gum tape and stick down the edges of the paper.
  • Sponge out excess water and air bubbles.
  • Lay board flat to dry.

Pull up a chair for the longer version:

1. Actually, a word on the drawing board first. Mine is simply MDF, which I got from Homebase in a large sheet and had cut in half. It comfortably takes A3 paper. It's important though that if you're using an MDF board you seal it first. I used satin finish varnish.

2. Cut the gum tape to size.

Do this before you get near the sink! If you've got even faintly damp fingers then the roll will gum itself together and that will give you no end of hassle trying to get clean lengths of tape out when you next come to use it. And don't keep it in the bathroom, either...

3. Place in the water.

3a. The sink. If you're stretching A4 then there's enough room in a standard sink to lay it flat in the water. Flat is important. Equally important is that you wash out the sink first. Traces of any sort of detergent (including soap) can transfer themselves to the paper, spoil the surface, and be intrusively obvious when you come to work as they take the pigment differently. For the same reasons, try not to touch the paper anywhere other than round the edges as fingerprints can have the same effect.

3b. The water itself. You'll find different opinions about the temperature of the water. Hottish water can spoil the surface of the paper, stripping off any sizing. Cold water takes a long time to penetrate the paper. I follow the Derek Smallsian route between the poles of fire and ice, and use lukewarm water.

3c. Time: the time the paper is in the water is crucial. You don't want something with the consistency of a newspaper fished out of a pond, nor do you want just a wet sheet of paper. The internet says:
  • 90lb (163 gsm) for 3 minutes, 140lb (307 gsm) for 8 minutes.
Sounds about right. With the 220gsm I'm stretching I'm immersing it for four to five minutes.

3d. Slide the paper under the water end first. If you lay the paper flat on the water and then try to push it under, you can dent the paper, and the little crease you get then will take in more water and spoil the surface. If you slide it in end-on it protects the surface and wets the paper evenly.

5. While you're waiting for the sheet to soak, dust off your stretching board, making sure there aren't any specks or bits of dirt that will form irritating, sharp little peaks in your pristine flat white paper. You want to do this now, not while you've got a wet sheet of paper in your other hand and nowhere to put it down.

6. When time is up, remove the sheet from the water by holding one corner.

Let it dangle for about a minute, so that the surface water drains off the opposite corner.

7. Lay the paper on the board. Again, start from one end. If you 'roll' it onto the board it should go down evenly and without getting any air bubbles trapped underneath.

8. Taping it.

Gum tape ensures a nice even grip all round the paper as it dries out and stretches. If it doesn't grip, it won't stretch. It's important that the gum tape isn't sopping wet when you apply it. I tend to paddle on a bit of water with my fingers so that it's wet enough to get the gum activated, rather than dunk the tape in the sink. Then apply the tape to the paper. As a rule of thumb, I have about a third of the tape's width over the edge of the paper. This means you get a good grip and don't encroach too much onto the painting space. Once you've taped all four corners, rub the tape with your fingers to ensure it's flat to the board and any excess water is expelled. You can sponge it down at this point, dabbing to remove the water.

If you've got any air bubbles, you can gently ease them towards the edge of the paper with the sponge and squeeze them out under the tape. Most air bubbles will disappear during the drying/stretching process anyway. Don't rub too vigorously here - yet again, you can damage the surface of the paper. Dab as if tending the grazed knee of an infant to whom you are related.

Too much water at this point can start to spread the gum around, getting it onto the painting surface, reducing the tape's effectiveness, and - worst of all - sticking your paper to the board. If you keep the paper taped to the board while you work and don't discover that the paper is glued down until you're finished, then at the very least be prepared for a tense few minutes tentatively sliding a metal edge under your painting to try and prise it gently free. At worst you'll tear and ruin what you've just spent hours working on. This will drive you up the bloody wall.

I tend to use the clean towel at this point, laying it over the board and using the flat of my hand, gently pressing to get any remaining water off the paper. When you finish it should be mildly damp, like a mid-autumn afternoon.

9. Lay it somewhere flat and out of the way to dry.

In a normally heated room it should dry quite quickly - certainly overnight, ready to work on the next day. You can accelerate the process by using a hair dryer, as I remember from last minute student panics, but if it pulls free from the tape and you have to start again don't say you weren't warned.

I've arranged these two sheets in opposite corners so that I can work on one and then turn the board around to work on the other 'upside down', without getting too much elbow and forearm all over the other piece.

There will be other advice for stretching paper. This is just how I do it.

It usually works.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Quietly Pleased, Anyway

Rejoice, oil on board, 18" x 24".

An appropriate sort of title, as I got this accepted yesterday for the Open Exhibition at the Gymnasium gallery in Berwick. It's title of 'Open' is surely intended to be ironic as finding out about how to enter involves dropping hints with people who know people, picking up envelopes on park benches and finally meeting with a shadowy figure in a windy doorway who is initially cagey but eventually slips an email address, typewritten on a sheet of paper, into your hand and when you look up he has vanished.

Anyway, it's another picture of rust, a combination of a couple of boats in Eyemouth harbour. We had a day at Eyemouth a few weeks ago (the seal really is blind, I discovered. I sceptically thought it was just a ruse by the mackerel vendor) and I stocked up on some splendidly weathered letters and numbers. The 'Rejoice' was up on the slipway and I only had the normal lens on so I could only get a very cropped, pixellated image. I went back the next day with the telephoto lens, having decided to paint it, only the buggers had got there before me and it was pristine again:

Monday, 4 October 2010

Twenty Lire and a Salami Sandwich.

Fausto Coppi - oil on board, 16" x 22".

So, new territory. A human being.

Hang on, you're saying: Fausto Coppi, two time Tour De France winner, cycling legend and cause celebre? Il Campionissimo himself? How come you move in such elevated circles, Rich - not to mention that he's been dead since 1960: what gives?


I was doing a lot of reading about the Tour de France and Coppi's story is a very interesting one. He was, above all, a phenomenally good cyclist. One of the giants of the sport, to this day. The interruption of his career by the Second World War (he was a prisoner of war in North Africa*) leaves it open to speculation about how much he might have won, but in the years either side of the war he was the dominant force in cycle racing, his achievements only ever exceeded by Eddie Mercx.

*(British cyclist Len Levesley, stretchered out with polio, awoke to find Fausto Coppi giving him a haircut.)

A certain amount of scandal pursued him - and by 'a certain amount' I mean that when his affair with Giulia Occhini ('the Woman in White') was revealed, Pope Pius XII told him to return to his wife and refused to bless the Giro d'Italia because Coppi was riding in it. Italy in the 1950s was not a place to look tolerantly on adultery, particularly when the Pope doesn't like you, and Coppi was publicly execrated, abused and spat at by spectators. After the scandal broke, his career went into a decline, and in later years he was described as almost literally a shadow of his former self: "a magnificent and grotesque washout of a man, ironical towards himself, nothing but the warmth of simple friendship could penetrate his melancholia."

Another, unignorable, fact about Coppi that would be as familiar today as tabloid headlines of a sportsman caught in adultery was his open admission to using drugs. Famously, when asked if he took "la bomba" (Italian road slang for amphetamines) he replied yes, when it was necessary. And when was it necessary? "Almost all the time."

There don't seem to be any great cyclists about whom you can't have reservations, but despite everything there is the legendary litany of Coppi's victories: five Giro d'Italia, five Tours of Lombardy, two Tours de France (he only ever rode three), Milan - San Remo three times, the horrible Paris-Roubaix, the hour record and the World Championship. He was good.

And he had an interesting face. He had a strange look about him on a bike, almost as if his legs were too long for it, but contemporary accounts all say how fluid, elegant and just damned stylish he was, as well as being tremendously effective, obviously. So, greatness and controversy, with style. That was what I wanted to paint.

The first thing that came to mind, almost before I'd really thought about who it would be, was the posture. I had Titian's Portrait of a Man with a Quilted Sleeve in mind:

because I wanted to allude to that sort of classical Italian greatness. I chose the deep red background for the same reasons, because it was imperial and at the same time suggestive of infamy. Also the sleeve in Titian's portrait says a great deal about the sitter, it sticks his opulence and wealth right there under the viewer's nose - get a load of that. I wanted Coppi's arm, the wiry muscle, the tan and that pallid band of flesh under his sleeve, to be as much of a statement about who and what he was. The goggles too were a symbol of his profession, but mainly I just thought they were pretty cool. I had to look up a lot of photographs to see whether such goggles were an anachronism or not because I was dead keen to put them in. Most of the photographs show Coppi riding in a pair of pretty snazzy sunglasses, but I came across a picture of Jean Robic in the 1947 Tour de France wearing a pair so that was enough for me. (Jean Robic won the 1947 Tour de France, and was five feet one inch tall. But that's another story.)

Rather than just copy (pardon) one photograph, I did some sketches based on a number of photographs, to get familiar with his head as a three-dimensional object of changing expression:

In the absence of a model (Mr Coppi, as mentioned above, being dead for the last fifty years) I wanted some suitably scrawny, pigeon chested individual to step in and pose. Luckily I have one such person close to hand. The final composite image was a horrible mess, badly patched together (with overdubbed arm and goggles) on GIMP, but all roughly in proportion so I could transfer it onto a grid for scaling up:

For the scaling up I used an OHP transparency divided into 5 and 7. I cut the board to the same proportions as a sheet of A4 paper and marked out the grid with thread, also increased by the same proportions. I was able to sketch out the outlines according to what was in each box. It meant I was able to have real colours, shadows, tones and the fall of the fabric to work from.

I won't go through the whole process of painting, but suffice to say I learned a lot. Not least that the tiniest brush strokes can alter entire expressions, and even the degree of resemblance. It's extraordinary. I worked and re-worked the mouth and the end of his splendid nose so many times. I was also haunted by his startling resemblance to Dimitar Berbatov.

I looked up the classic Bianchi shirt (an Italian rider had to be wearing a Bianchi shirt) and if it's not baby blue then I'm sure someone will correct me but frankly it's too bloody late now. Also in real life he's less pink than it looks in the photograph. And yeah, I'm happy with it. There may well be some tinkering yet to do, though...

And if you've read this far I'll reward your perseverance with the Fact that twenty lire and a salami sandwich were a fifteen year old Coppi's prize for winning his first race.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Thursday, 9 September 2010


Wahey! I see that the Bostin' Heroes issue Black Cats and Bostinmobiles is now available in tantalisingly serialised form on the Bostin' Heroes website.

It's all lettered up and shaded, and Matt's done a very fine job on it. You can breathlessly follow the Heroes' perilous cat-based adventures here.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Crossing Borders

Crossing Borders seems to be a fine organisation, and everyone we spoke to yesterday was very positive about it. They publicise and support artists local to the Scottish Borders, such as the Open Studio Art trail that's on this weekend. We had a prowl around on Friday, and it was an eye-opener.

Anne Collin is a jeweller in Swinton, who has a studio that made me frankly envious, produces fantastic jewellery and likes beetles, which is a mark of fine character.

Gill Walton is a painter of portraits and still lives who lives and works near Birgham in a renovated cottage with fantastic views of the countryside. She was encouraging her visitors to make self-portrait heads in clay, which we did and it was fun, and she had a large and interesting collection of wasps. Her studio, I might add, made me frankly envious.

I wanted to see this

but it had sold. The pears on velvet were splendid too, though.

After a quick sandwich on a park bench in Coldstream we had a look at the Craft House gallery, where Tom Davidson made his second appearance in the day. Anne the jeweller had a piece of cut lino above her mantelpiece in her studio which attracted my attention. Showing willows on the Tweed, it had come to the end of its print run and was being thrown out so she bought it. It was eye-catchingly intricate work. The Craft House gallery had some of the original limited series prints, and they are fine work in every sense of the word.

Sunset at Edge of Wood, Tom Davidson.

The colour judgement, draughtsmanship and technical skill are just extraordinary. I mean, just look at it! Tom Davidson has his own gallery (his own gallery! I'm, frankly, envious) in Earlston, which is about a forty-minute drive away, and visitors can apparently gawp at work in progress. We're up for a good gawp one day soon, and as soon as I know more, dear reader, so shall you.

So, bloody hell. It's good to see that there are people living and working and succeeding, and it's very exciting to have gifted practitioners like this right on our doorstep. It's intimidating, too, as I spent all day making comparisons. The answer is to keep going. Practice. Improve.

The very idea of crossing borders was interesting, too, particularly at this time when so many of our teacher friends are facing the last weekend before going back to school. I miss the money, but that's about it. I've crossed the border and I'm not going back.

A Dig in the Ribworts


Yesterday was day one of the Crossing Borders Open Studio weekend here in the Borders, of which more in another post, but suffice to say that as well as being a fantastic day out it was a kick up the arse to get on with doing good work.

To that end, I've had a selection of vegetation wilting in a tumbler of water in the kitchen for two or three days now, and if I don't get on and photograph it it will all expire and have lived for nothing.

First one, the first plant portrait I've done in a long time, is the humble ribwort plantain.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Three Parts Oddness to One Part Peculiarity.

The LaFarge cement works near Dunbar. Lovely for a bit of a sit down.

Why turn around and look at the sea when this spectacle unfurls its refulgent majesty before your awe-seared gaze? Unknown gentleman and lady, I tip my hat in salute to your nonconformity.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Gloria! Gloria! Ba-da-daddle-addle-ah, ba-da-daddle-addle-ah.


Twenty-two days after I finished the preliminary character sketches, this morning I scanned, tweaked, saved and sent the tenth completed page of 'Here Comes the Neighbourhood.' Matt has been in touch with the editor of NBC Vol. III, who "likes the sound of the story," which is encouraging.

Overall I'm quite pleased with it. From drawing the panel frames to finishing touches, I'd say each page has about ten hours work in it, and (as usual) I could give you a list long as my arm of things I wish I'd done differently or taken more care over or could do better next time and so on and on, but given that we were up against the deadline of the end of this month for submitting the final thing, I don't think it's bad. I've a pain in the joint where thumb meets wrist which may or may not be related to pretty much twenty two days continuous drawing, and to which I've been applying frozen peas. (Art. My God. The suffering. And they say those Chilean miners have it hard.)

I think it's a good story. Matt has heart and wit, and I like that. I'll link to an online version sometime soon, but hopefully to something more exciting like an actual paper version you can exchange money for. I mean, howay, look at Gloria there - look at that face. Look at those novelty spectacles. What editor could resist?

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Tower of Power

We were on the beach at Coldingham the other week, collecting sea glass and generally breathing in the briny splendour when I got the inevitable sub Goldsworthy itch. It was very absorbing, and interesting to feel how the sense of balance in the structure changed with every stone I put on it. I had four or five collapses before I got one I was happy with. I artfully arranged the photo so it looks like a teetering head-high behemoth, which it was not; had you been close by when it crashed down into gravity's embrace, it could have lightly bruised your knee.

I'd like to say that I built it deliberately in the eye of the advancing tide so that I could capture the moment of destruction, but I hadn't noticed that the tide was creeping so close, nor that I'd built it on the highest part of the beach and we had to wait for about forty minutes for the waves to finally get to it. Don't get too eager about the video; it's stop motion, and decidedly unspectacular, but at least it made me want to go back and give it another go. (You might spot that the top fell off, and I went back to re-stack it: the whole thing went only seconds later.)

Clever bugger, that Goldsworthy.


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