Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Art, Paper and Choices

Life drawing, 2019.
Arriving late at the Oxton life drawing group, the only seat left to me was squashed into a corner. This  offered a severe sideways-on view of the model, Eve. Initially I assumed this would result in a poor pose, but then I realised I could actually turn it to some advantage by using negative space - and so composed the model to fill the lower triangular half of the paper.

The end result is perhaps a bit unconventional, but I'm quite pleased with it. What do you think of the drawing?

This next life drawing presented a few challenges also. This time I was sitting directly opposite the model, Rob, which meant I had to do a fair amount of fore-shortening on both legs. The hands could be improved, but I'm satisfied with that thigh-knee-foot and raised arm-shoulder.

I have maintained a site on Hubpages for some years now, and there you will find a whole series of non-fiction articles written by me. The subjects range from How to Make a Frog Pond, to Watercolour Painting for Absolute Beginners, to fun quizzes and book reviews. I've recently begun a series called A Seeker's Guide, and so far you can read Energy, Vibration and You and Self-Awareness, Free Will and Control.

More articles are planned, of course. I invite you to explore the whole list on my Hubpages' profile page.

The Shropshire Union Canal, 2019; watercolour; A3-size.
Earlier this summer, I had the pleasure of sailing along part of the Shropshire Union Canal on The Pot O' Gold, a 70ft narrowboat owned by the Wirral Community Narrowboat Trust. I took the opportunity to take some photos of the canal, and later created this watercolour which depicts two moored narrowboats and one of the many bridges which arch over the canal. It's now for sale at £140, (unframed and unmounted), if you're interested.

Portrait of Eve; watercolour & gouache on grey Khadi paper; A5-size; 2019.

My love affair with Khadi paper continues unabated, and I've just bought a bundle of Khadi pads off eBay, which also came with 20 A4 sheets of grey Khadi paper. The portrait above is on the smaller A5-size, but it's the same type of paper.

Over the last couple of years I've been experimenting with different brands of watercolour paper in order to find those I prefer. Now, this is not to say that those brands I've demoted to sketching paper are not good; you might try them and decide they're marvelous. Beyond obvious technical issues like poor quality, an artist's preferences are largely subjective, and so I won't list those brands I've given the thumbs-down to. Lets just say I've now got a large sketching paper supply.

One thing I've learned about buying art materials: avoid bargains. They're never bargains.

Anyway, on my journey through the mountains of watercolour papers on offer, I came across some beautiful raggedy-edged handmade paper from India, called Khadi paper. I've been using it ever since. The portrait of Eve (above) was done om A5-size grey Khadi paper, and I've just bought some A4 of the same stuff. Can't wait to play with it! Now I want some even larger sizes, too... (It never ends...!)


This is one of my favourite photos, which looks across West Kirby beach towards Middle Eye and Hilbre Island. The anonymous model reminds me of Rowan, from the Artisan-Sorcerer series.

Tomorrow Britain goes to the polls for a very important General Election. Richard and I have already cast our vote using the Postal Vote system.

I can only marvel at the national apathy which has tolerated the determined undermining of this country's infrastructure, at the torrent of lies and deliberate misinformation which has been flooding the media, at the passive acceptance of rampant greed and inequality which has created an epidemic of homelessness, greatly increased poverty and crime, and the need for working people to rely on food banks - for a need for food banks at all in what is supposed to be one of the world's richest countries.

Are mobile phones being used to communicate subliminal messages to brainwash people into passively accepting this? Is the much repeated "Get Brexit Done" chant a hypnotic command to the susceptible? This is entirely possible.

Ask yourself this: Can you imagine the powerful trade unions of the 1970's and 1980's meekly accepting zero hours contracts?



Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Old Sketches & Drawings of Fellow Art Students, Part Two

Charlotte, 18 Sept 1991
Continuing this excursion down Memory Lane to my art school days oodles of years ago, I'll now share the second batch of my work which captured my fellow students. The charcoal study on rough grey paper is of Charlotte, whose surname I can't remember. I do recall her fondness for boldly-coloured stripy tights, though, which she usually wore with Doc Martin boots.

This economical grey sugar paper was routinely used during drawing classes. If I recall rightly, we students were charged only 2p per A2-size sheet, which was a large part of its attraction. (This was some 30 years ago, remember!)

James Loftus, 25 Jan 1990
This was a group drawing project set by one of the college tutors, Ian Cameron, who asked us to draw the lamp and imply weight and shadow by use of line only. So I'd drawn this boring lamp, which floated in the middle of a sheet of white paper. What else could I do with the lamp drawing, other than twiddle my thumbs for the remaining thirty minutes of this exercise? No matter what, that lamp drawing wasn't going to get any less boring. Or was it? Jim was sitting directly opposite me, busily working away at his own attempt. So he ended up in my drawing. It's not a great portrait by any means, but the memory makes me smile.

Jim went on to study sculpture at Sheffield (?), and still produces art today.

One of The Twins, 22 Sept  1990
There were two twin sisters doing the course, one with very short ginger hair and the other with cascading dark hair. Was one of them named Claire? I can't remember now, unfortunately.  Usually they were just referred to as The Twins. I think they went on to study Fashion and Textiles.

Tony O'Connell (AKA Toc), 18 Sept 1991
Tony loved art school so much he came back as a tutor and stayed for decades. This year his work based on Saint Sebastian was exhibited in London, and he is a co-founder and tutor at the Liverpool Independent Art School at 1 Rose Lane, Allerton in south Liverpool. This charcoal drawing came from a session when the life model had failed to arrive and so we students took turns to pose for each other.

I still have several pieces from this session, usually stored in an A1-size PVC portfolio case bought for art school but rarely used for anything other than storage due to its weight and cumbersome size which made it a royal pain to struggle onto buses then haul up the long stone staircase to the top floor art studios on college. When we students were required to present our portfolios for assessments, then this case had to be used. Still, it's still in use now for storing my old student work.



These two charcoal drawings were both done on 18th September 1991, but I can't recall the names of either of these students.

Angie, c. 1991

Angie, (surname unknown), was one of the two life models regularly employed by the college. This was an informal study of her, possibly on a day when the heating was so poor that the usual life drawing session had to be re-thought.

Billy, with Dave McKay at an easel, 26 Nov 1991
I include this last one even though it's not a particularly good life drawing, but because it completes my theme of sharing drawings of fellow students. In the corner, at an easel, you can see Dave McKay busily working away. While he was a student, he had a part time job as a security guard in St George's Hall, and routinely played his choice of music in the shared art studio rooms - Midnight Oil and Ministry were seemingly his favourites.

Friday, 8 November 2019

Old Sketches & Drawings of Fellow Art Students, Part One

Heather Gum, 13th Sept 1991
In this blog post I'll be sharing sketches and drawings dating from around 30 years ago when I was an art student at City College, Clarence Street in Liverpool. The old building we used then has been demolished and replaced with something new. Did it need replacing? Well, probably. Or maybe an extensive renovation would have been adequate to make the premises meet modern health and safety regulations. It's a shame that the lovely old stone staircase with its ornate cast iron railings was consigned to history, though.

The lofty painting studios on the top floor, where we Fine Art students were installed, had a distinct character of its own, too, its wooden floors being patterned by layered splatters of paint accrued over the long decades of its use. A strong aroma of turps and linseed oil, coffee, incense and, occasionally, wet coats, filled the air - which was usually fractured by Dave McKay's death/industrial metal tracks.

City of Liverpool Community College, Clarence Street, (photographer unknown)
Life drawing studio at City College, Clarence Street, Liverpool.
The majority of these sketches were done quite quickly, sometimes when people weren't even aware they were being sketched. (I still do this!) Some are in sketchbooks, others are on loose sheets of paper, others are stored in a display binder, and a variety of media has been used, including pencil, felt pen, ink pen and watercolours. There are too many of them for one post, so I'll split this subject into two parts.

May 1992
This one's faked! While the setting is based on the studio rooms were we worked, the seated figure wasn't an art student but a friend from that era, Shari Green. What amused me was the note pinned to the wall: "Tell Colin I've gone to Rennies..." This refers to tutor Colin Bennett, and Rennies remains one of Liverpool's most popular art supplies shops. The electric fire was the sole source of heating in the awful flat in Aigburth where I lived at that time.



The date of this sketch is unknown but it's from the same era. I forget the names of the two students who I drew as they worked; one of them travelled to college from her home in Runcorn every day. This was drawn in the room where we students worked, on the top floor of the Victorian building which you can see in the photo above. The college owned both the old building and the 1960's one immediately next to it.

Vicky Bolt
Sharon Evans
Neither of these are dated. Sharon lived in Childwall with her family, and she was known for her elaborate goth style. The ballet shoes in this sketch were probably an invention of my own as I don't recall her actually wearing these. We went clubbing together a few times, but unfortunately lost touch after she moved to Nottingham to study fashion design.

Paul and Sonia, 17th January 1990
Surnames have been lost to the mists of time, but I recall Paul talking about an earlier period of his life when he'd been an Augustinian monk. Or was it a different order? I'm unsure now. He once came to college wearing his religious habit.  A pleasant guy, actually. I think Sonia dropped out in the first year due to child care issues.

Claire Bleasdale and David Montoute, 17th January 1990
I'd love to know what Claire Bleasdale is doing now. She went on to study at Glasgow School of Art. We enjoyed visiting galleries and exhibitions together even though our opinions were poles apart. David Montoute wanted to be an illustrator, but I've no idea what became of his ambition.

Claire Suttle, perhaps? 13 Sept 1991
 Claire Suttle went on to study textiles - in Preston, perhaps? She had gorgeous hair, a great mop of bright auburn curls.

Liz Webster, 1991

Heather Gum and Billy.
I have no recollection of the Time project mentioned in the above sketch; I can only assume it was a class project of some sort. Here you've got a study of Heather while she was drawing/painting, and a life study of Billy (surname unknown) who was one of the two models employed by the college. There's an outline of a guitar next to some stylised tree trunks, and a sort-of Egyptian in the foreground. There's also a steer's head and a beef burger. Hmmm...!!

11th Sept 1991
Jasper, 13th Sept 1991
This sketch of Jasper, (surname unknown), was done in three minutes, in brown felt pen. I suspect it was part of a life drawing class when the model had failed to show up, and so students took it in turns to pose for the group. The sketch of Kerry below is similar, but was given ten minutes.

Kerry, 13th Sept 1991.

One interesting thing, to me, is that the act of rooting out this work from my ancient and increasingly rusty portfolio cases has been the realisation that I enjoyed sketching people, especially when they're not deliberately posing, even back then. I continue sketch people in this way regularly, in my local park especially.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed browsing through these old remnants of my art school days. Part Two of this little series will be along in a few days.

Thursday, 5 September 2019

Horror Story Published!

You're invited to read one of my short horror stories, Make Do and Mend, which was published in Flash Fiction Magazine yesterday. It's attracting some very lovely comments below it, also.

Read it for FREE here: Flash Fiction Magazine 4.09.19

This is the second short story I've had published with this online magazine this year. You can read Whatsername here: Flash Fiction Magazine 02.18.19

Saturday, 10 August 2019

Grotty Bits, Dodgy Doings and A Skull

Bride of Dreams by Adele Cosgrove-Bray; oil on canvas; 2019.

My most recent oil painting, Bride of Dreams, is a radical departure from the seascapes and shoreline landscapes which I've been creating over the last two or three years. While Bride of Dreams depicts a domestic interior, it also has a strong narrative quality and is laced with symbolism. I won't explain this symbolism to others; I'll leave each viewer to interpret it for themselves.

The bride was modelled by Rose Mairs, and the drawings for this came from a themed session for the Oxton life drawing group which I attend. Rose won the photography section of last year's Williamson Art Gallery's Open Exhibition. The cat, Bob, belongs to Janine Pinion, who won the painting section of the same exhibition.

I enjoyed a lovely narrowboat cruise along the Shropshire Union Canal recently, on a day which turned out to be the hottest on record. Top speed seemed to be 3 mph, which made a refreshing change from the usual full-on-charge with which we tend to hurtle through life these-days.

It's good to slow it all down, gaze idly out of a window and watch wild swans paddle by. This is an activity I could really get into. I quite fancy the idea of a floating, travelling art studio.

I've finally managed to squeeze in some gardening, and so the patio is no longer in danger of vanishing beneath an encroaching forest of in-the-wrong-place plants. If they had self-seeded in the border they'd have been fine as aquilegia are among my favourite flowers, and these deep purple and white ones (as in the photo) are gorgeous - but we also need to be able to walk over the patio!

The cherry crop is over now, so I pruned the tree back a bit. Now we can walk along the path without having to duck beneath branches laden with ripe fruit. The blackbirds have gorged themselves into an avian stupor. The squirrel family are looking distinctly portly, too.

Today I went to view the 9th Wirral Open Exhibition run by the Wirral Society of Arts and hosted by the Williamson Art Gallery and Museum. No sooner had I walked through the gallery door than my eyes leapt to a large painting of a ram's horned skull lit up from behind. By Jason Hurst, and called Illumined Aries, this painting's simple subject is vibrant with drama. Majestic work! No wonder that it had been selected as a prizewinner.

The other piece which really stood out to me was a well-planned symbolic painting, also a prizewinner, by John Afflick, called Humanitas. The frame has been inspired by the Italian Renaissance and there's more than a touch of Rossetti about the painting style, with its attention to detail, strong narrative quality and liberal inclusions of symbolism. I would very much like to view more work by this artist, who also had another intriguing painting in the exhibition.

Other personal favourites from the exhibition were: MSC Ellesmere Port by Chris Bellew; The Black Rock Lighthouse by Maria Teresa  Aquilera Calatat; Shallows by Julia Duerden; a delightful pen and ink drawing, Allotments, by Mary Hartley; two semi-abstract landscapes by Emma-Jayne Holmes, titled Morning Hue and Evening Stroll; Red Wharf Bay by Stephen Keenan; Path Round the Lake by Val Kosh; the Celtic-inspired 3D painted woodcarving called Dances with Dragons by Brian Minnery; Amanda Oliphant's atmospheric semi-abstract Escarpment 5; Waiting Hour by Janine Pinion; the exquisitely observed and very delicate Goldfinch by Marion Tuffrey; and On this Day of Your Fall the Islands Quake by Alistair Tucker.

I must stress, though, that my choices are entirely subjective and do not in any way mean that the other works in the exhibition weren't good too. These are just the works which stood out to me, and another person would most likely select differently.

Derelict Ferry Terminal, Liverpool by Richard Cosgrove-Bray, 2019.

Richard took his new camera for a trial run recently, and this is one of the images he took. It's of the long-abandoned ferry terminal not too far from the Pier Head in Liverpool, and I'm amazed it hasn't been demolished already.  Richard said he leaned over a fence to take this shot. I hope so!

Way back in 1992, I photographed Richard standing at the far end of this landing stage. It was more than a bit scary even then. He had his back to me, and was looking out across the Mersey. This happened during my first week working as a photographer at Conservation Practice, which is how Richard and I met.

Our job was to photograph listed buildings and monuments and disappearing sites around Liverpool, which is how we came to be trekking round the then semi-derelict docklands. Where once lay acres of abandoned warehouses, collapsing sheds and vast expanses of rubble now stand luxury apartments and glittering marinas. Gone are the aging ex-dockers with Alsatian dogs on chains outside their tiny wooden watchmen's huts, and instead it's all gated communities and apartment blocks with CCTV, with concierge staff togged out in quasi-military uniforms. And various bits of the city have been given fancy new names, such as the Baltic Quarter or the Ropewalks, which  used to be simply known as the grotty bits behind the shops.

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Call Out to Wirral Poets!


If you're a poet or someone who enjoys poetry, and in the Wirral area, then here's a forthcoming event for you. Technically, National Poetry Day will be held on the 3rd October, but this event will be held a day earlier to fit around other activity events within the venue.

This open mic event will run from 3pm till 4.15pm, in the lovely surroundings of the Chatterbox Tea Room within Oxton Grange Care Home, 51 - 53 Bidston Road, Oxton, Wirral, CH43 6UJ.

The venue is located half way along Bidston Road, offers full disabled access, and has a car park to the front of the building. Several buses service Bidston Road from Claughton or Birkenhead, and there are bus stops very close to the home.

Friday, 7 June 2019

Trembling Knees, Knocking Noses and Dinky Faces

Five cygnets with their parents, Birkenhead Park, June 2019.
Regular visitors to Birkenhead Park, here in Wirral, have been thrilled with the successful hatching of five cygnets, which all seem to be healthy. Their proud parents are keeping a sharp watch over their silvery-grey brood, who seem to be growing by the day.

I also saw two newly-hatched coots, and a mallard who was chirping orders to her flock of tiny brown balls of fluff, seven or eight in number. I tried photographing them but they were too small and too far away for my geriatric Kodak. (Click on photos to see images larger).

Canada geese with two goslings - feeling outshone by the swans, maybe?
I did some painting; nothing artistic, though, more a case of putting a coat of paint on the chunky edging stone with runs around the front of our house. I've used Wilko's Summer Rain, so it matches our front door. It looks a lot like chalk paint but is much more practical. Colour-wise it's hard to describe. Picture a chalky, very pale blue with a hint of green, but it's a muted too-grey-to-be-turquoise. Hmm, that probably doesn't help you much!

There is an exhibition of Wirral Metropolitan College's BA Fine Art degree graduates' work at the William Art Gallery, which runs until the 9th of this month. Charleigh Davidson exhibited some photos of people wearing papier-mache animal heads, which were engagingly quirky. Susan Leach's Womens' Lives was a shelf installation - literally a shop's clothing display shelf with T-shirts set out tidily upon it, but each garment's label referred to various equality issues. My personal favourites of the exhibition were Cheryl Bullough's woodland scenes, which had been created with black light reactive acrylic paint, and which were very evocative of a woodland at night.

Wednesday saw Richard and I in Chester, which is one of our favourite places. The summer crowds seemed conspicuous by their absence. Chester's normally packed-out with tourists at this time of the year, so much so that it can be shuffle-speed only along the main streets. Plenty of pavement space on Wednesday...

Anyway, we stumbled upon an exhibition of Bob Dylan's prints of his paintings in Castle Fine Art. Richard's a huge fan of Dylan's music and so he was very excited to find this exhibition. I'm not into his music, other than for his work with the Travelling Wilburys, but I did instantly take a liking to his bold use of colour and his loose, painterly approach which maintains strong linear and architectural qualities - roads heading off into the horizon, road-side cafes, roads lined with tall houses. I guess roads have featured heavily in his life while he's travelled from  place to place... Or maybe not; I know nothing about his life, other than for him having created a humongous body of music which is loved the world over.

In Baron Fine Art, I was able to view some original paintings by Edward Wesson and John Yardley, two artists whose work I admire deeply. The owner didn't mind us browsing at all, and happily talked about Wesson's and Yardley's work. There was plenty of other works to admire, also, of course, but I was grateful to be able to look at some of Wesson's actual works. He had a fabulously understated technique, obviously influenced by the tradition of Oriental ink landscape paintings. There's not an unnecessary line in his work, not a mark which doesn't play a direct part in the composition; and his paintings are full of light.

On Thursday, Richard and I went to the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight, in order to see the Rembrandt in Print exhibition, which brings together 50 of his etchings and printing experiments. The works were a lot smaller than I'd anticipated. Some prints were no bigger than a postage stamp, floating in  large frames displayed close together. This resulted in a room full of people cramming their noses to the glass, narrowly missing bumping skulls as they peered through magnifying glasses or muttered about needing new specs. (Okay, that last one was me).

Rembrandt's skill with drawing faces and facial expressions was extraordinary. With delicate lines and subtle cross-hatching he managed to capture character without resorting to caricature. Some of these works were done on Japanese paper, as he apparently liked how to ink reacted with that surface. It is an excellent exhibition which runs until September 15th, and if you're in the area I recommend that you take advantage of this opportunity to see some of his original works for yourself.

Bride of Dreams - 1st stage, June 2019.
I have begun work on a new painting which is total change in direction from the coastal seascapes I've been doing over the last two or three years. The working title is Bride of Dreams.  I'm going to deliberately leave its interpretation to the viewer. I know what it means to me, but you're welcome to interpret it any way you wish.

The model for the bride was photographer Rose Mairs, who posed for the Oxton life drawing group earlier this year, wearing her mother's wedding dress. The cat is Bob, who regularly helps (?!) Wirral artist Janine Pinion in her studio.

I actually feel a bit nervous of painting this. I've started on the under-painting, looking to Edward Burne-Jones, Vincent Van Gogh and Susan Ryder for inspiration. I have no idea how it's going to turn out! Maybe it will be a complete disaster... I'm definitely pushing outside of my usual boundaries here.

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Falling Trees and Blue Portraits

Birkenhead Park Visitor Centre, 7th April 2019, by Adele Cosgrove-Bray.

My ongoing series of sketches in the park continues unabated, as is evident. On a few recent sketches I've added some simple washes of watercolour to bring another dimension to the scenes. I've long grown accustomed to sketching in public, and the few people who've passed any comment have always been encouraging. I've even unintentionally captured a tiny bit of park history:-


I drew this lovely arching tree in February this year, and since then its own weight has pulled its roots out from the ground. Probably due to safety concerns, it has been brutally cut back so it's now little more than a stump, and the horizontal section, with all its vertical branches, has been removed. Hopefully the tree will survive this harsh treatment.



"How can walkies please, when every step's a wheeze?" by Adele Cosgrove-Bray.
Portrait by Adele Cosgrove-Bray; chalk and charcoal.

I've been reading a fascinating book, Venice & Drawing by Catherine Whistler. The reproduced images are great to browse through, but there's also a long and detailed account of how Venetian artists' studios functioned on a practical level, and how they sometimes shared resources, such as sculptures or collections of drawings used for reference or for apprentices to practice drawing from.

One dominant trait which was shared by many Venetian artists of this period was the use of blue paper for drawing on. This was not quality paper, but very economical paper originally intended for wrapping. However, it proved fine for apprentices to draw on,  and it was soon adopted by most fully-fledged artists of that region too. They used black, red and white chalks on the blue paper to great effect.

Portrait after Pierre Paul Prud'hon, by Adele Cosgrove-Bray.
I've been experimenting...! These two portraits are both approximately A3 in size, and so I had to photograph them then download them onto my computer, a process which distorts the colouring. In reality, the actual portraits are blended more smoothly than they appear to be here, particularly with the first.

The second portrait is a study of a work by the French artist Pierre Paul Prud'hon, who died in 1823, and whose work was partly influenced by Venetian artists.

Well, one of these years hopefully I'll get to explore those intriguingly beautiful Venetian canals...until then, I'll have to be satisfied with other peoples' photos of the place.

Brochures for the 10th Wirral Open Studio Tour are now available from various community centres, libraries, shops and galleries across Wirral, or you can download a copy from https://wirralarts.com. The tour will take place on Saturday 8th June - Sunday 9th June, though several venues will be open on Friday 7th as well. Check the brochure for details of the 65 artists and 34 studios taking part.