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.

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Something Borrowed, Something (Mostly) Blue...

Sunset at the Beach by Adele Cosgrove-Bray; oil on canvas; 2019.
I finished this oil painting just this afternoon. It's my largest painting to date; you can see it here, balanced tentatively on my wooden French box easel, which is marketed as being portable though it isn't really, not unless you're willing to carry an attache-case-size tonne weight which requires a master of origami to unfold its various extendable bits, and which is guaranteed to spill the entire contents of its storage drawers over the floor in the process.

Light Approaches by Adele Cosgrove-Bray; watercolour; 2019.
I've begun looking for an easel which is genuinely suited to painting outdoors. It needs to be light but not so light it'll blow over with the first breeze. It needs to be suitable for both oils and watercolours, i.e. it needs to be able to offer vertical, tilted and horizontal angles. It does not need to have integrated storage, as a bag is more useful anyway. Try fitting sandwiches and a flask in an easel's storage drawer - it's never going to happen, yet oddly enough such items tend to come in handy.

On annual leave from my part-time day job, I'd decided to do battle outdoors with my old box easel despite its limitations. There's a particular scene in Birkenhead Park I've been meaning to attempt for ages. Naturally, each day that I was free to paint we had torrential rain and howling gales.

Shown above is my latest watercolour, Light Approaches, which has now been properly mounted and framed. I chose neutral colours for these as I didn't want to overpower the delicate sky. I've used a more painterly approach with this one; you can see the loose brush strokes in the pale blue of the sky, (though you may have to view it full size to do this; just right-click on the image). As is usual for me, the theme is the coastal light.

Having been an avid bookworm since childhood, these-days I read  around 45 - 50 books a year. So I recently decided to begin writing book reviews, which you can read HERE if you wish. This link will take you to my profile page on  Hubpages, and if you scroll down that you'll find 110 articles,  to date,  on a broad variety of subjects. Enjoy!

Last Saturday's life drawing group was a lot of fun. The model, Rose Mairs, wore her mother's wedding dress, (the mother being Wirral artist Marie Mairs). Rose also wore a floral headdress and bouquet created by Wirral textile artist Angela Stringer. It was good to see a few new faces among the group; also good was the sheer diversity of finished drawings, each quite distinct in style and approach.

I used a 9B graphite pencil and two sizes of sketchbook, an A4 hardback book for the ten minute poses and a larger A3 sketchbook for the 40 minute pose. Though the paper in both look similar in colour to the eye, my scanner only fits the A4 and so I have to photograph the larger one, and this comes out grey-looking for some reason unknown to me - probably something to do with light levels.



Currently on show at the Williamson Art Gallery is the Art & Photography Exhibition 2019, all work by artists who either live in Wirral or who have a clear connection to the area. Anyway, I went along to view the exhibition and found it to be more contemporary and less "safe" than in previous years. There was a clear narrative element to many of the works.

My own favourites were: Langdale Pikes by Heather Davies; Lowtide by Leslie Devonport; Harbourside by Julia Duerden; Sunlight in Cannes by Clare Flinn; Reflections by Irene Goodier; Drifting Sands by Amanda Oliphant; Where I'm Going You Can't Follow by Poppy Palin; January by Dennis Spicer;  and Lakeland (Autumn Morning) by Susan Stevens. This is not to imply that the other paintings on display were inferior; my selection is merely a reflection of my own tastes.

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Crash, Bang, Wallop!

High Tide by Adele Cosgrove-Bray; oil on canvas, 2019.
We've had builders here, taking several weeks over a fairly big repair job. Having re-pointed both chimneys and replaced a couple of broken roof tiles, the next task was to re-point the brickwork on the front of our house. However, when the building company owner looked at the wall he advised us to bring in a structural engineer as he thought something more serious was going on.

The engineer discovered that water had been coming in from the roof level and instead of flowing away down the gutter it had been pouring between the two layers of the wall, causing structural damage. Re-pointing would have merely hidden the problem in the short term.
Life drawing, Feb. 2019.

It was suspected that the weight of our modern PVCU double-glazed windows was too great for the walls which were built in 1897 for the Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. Apparently this is a common problem with older houses.

A trial pit was dug immediately adjacent to the front wall so that the foundations could be checked for subsidence. The foundations proved to be fine, fortunately. The pit was then back-filled and the old and deteriorating concrete surface next to the wall was discarded - which meant saying goodbye to the vile 1960's looped iron fence, (which we were planning to have changed anyway at some point). New concrete was then put down.

When the plaster beneath the bedroom window was removed, we could see for ourselves that the mortar had been washed away. Bricks were cracked, crumbling and saturated. This was repaired then strengthened with steel mesh and ties, then a thick waterproof layer added before being re-plastered. Similar repairs were also carried out beneath the ground floor bay window, though this wall was in better condition and did not require the waterproof layer.

Once the plaster was off the bedroom wall, it was obvious that the column of bricks to one side of the bay window had been repaired at some previous time. But someone had used cinder-blocks to rebuild it, and while these are fine for interior walls they are porous and therefore the wrong materials to use in any external wall. These were saturated and crumbling. So all those had to come out and be replaced with the proper kind of bricks.
Life drawing; Feb. 2019.

The bedroom floor had a definite slope right next to the window. When the floor boards were lifted up to investigate, it was found that a joist had dropped out of alignment due to the condition of the wall, and that this joist was rotting at both ends. Someone had "repaired" it by nailing new floorboards to this rotting, misaligned joist. So this joist had to be replaced, which meant part of the living room ceiling had to be removed in order to get it out and a new one put in at the right position. The ceiling then had to be repaired.

Anyway, the building work is now complete, the humongous forest of scaffolding has been taken away, and the dust has settled - literally, actually; we no sooner cleaned up one grey layer of dust than another had settled over every surface of the entire house. That can't be helped, considering the amount of work that's been done here.

Tidysite builders did their best, putting down dust sheets and draping a dust-catching curtain across the living room. For us, it was a bit like camping out in our own house. The people themselves were polite and pleasant around the place - no blaring radios, no men bellowing to each other rather than simply talk. They even came back after the job had been completed in order to put our curtains back up for us, after we'd had to order new track brackets. The old ones had gone brittle and so couldn't be re-used.

I'll be using this company, again. There're a few jobs already lined up. Not this year, though! Anyway, if you're local to Wirral and are looking for a building company, I recommend Tidysite.

Life drawing; Jan 2019.
Despite this domestic disruption, I've still been creating some art. Here you can see three examples of my recent life drawings. The models are Emma and Ron. I've also done an A3-size watercolour that I'm pleased with, and that's currently at the  framer's.

Entries are already being accepted for this year's Open Studios Tour. I know I'd hoped to be in a position to take part this time around; it sounds like fun, and I might even have sold a few paintings! But looking around my little studio objectively, there simply isn't enough work to warrant it yet. Next year? Maybe.

Meanwhile, I aim to continue building up a body of work and developing/exploring my art. I shy of inviting people in only to offer them an exhibition which isn't ready. How does any artist judge if their own work is truly ready? When a piece is flawed it's obvious. But deciding when a piece good, or as good as it can be currently made, is much more tricky - and so subjective, also. Suggestions are invited.

Monday, 18 February 2019

Whatsername is Published

My short story, Whatsername, was published in Flash Fiction Magazine, and you can read it online HERE.

This 500-word monologue comes from a conversation I had while sitting on a bench in Birkenhead Park. A lady using a mobility scooter began chatting to me, and all the time she talked I was thinking "This would make a story..." And so it was done - and now you can read it online. You can also download a free ebook of flash fiction by various authors at that same URL.

Monday, 14 January 2019

Art Videos and Exhibitions



I hope you enjoy viewing this video slideshow of my art completed in 2018. There's a fair bit to see....

 Here's another video for you, this time showing my sketches done on location in Birkenhead Park.


 

As I type this, I can hear loud clattering and clanging as workmen put together scaffolding outside the front of my house in readiness for some structural repairs to the bay window section. Apparently, modern double-glazed PVC windows are too heavy for this house's antique Victorian framework, and so some restructuring is called for, involving steel ties and so on.

In December, the same building company re-pointed our chimneys and replaced some broken tiles. This will be a much bigger, more complex job, though. In all truth I'm not looking forward to the disruption, as workmen will have to be inside the house upstairs and down - a royal pain with two inquisitive dogs eager to "help" - but needs must; the job has to be done. That, or have the front of the house slowly collapse; even more inconvenient, hmm?

Saturday's life drawing class saw quite a few new faces, and had a rather good turn-out too - standing room only, by the time everyone had arrived. Following that activity, I went to the Williamson Art Gallery and saw an exhibition of work by Will C Penn which was enjoyable. His still life and portrait skills were excellent - traditional and realistic, which may be out of fashion with certain big name galleries but which remain admired by the majority of people even so. Penn taught at the Liverpool School of Art where he became the Vice Principle, and he founded the Wirral Society of Arts in 1948.

Work on the 5th Artisan-Sorcerer novel has been slow. I'm struggling with this one. Characters who were planned to have only a minor role keep demanding more attention and diverting the plot. Maybe I should just roll with it and see where it takes me?

Friday, 21 December 2018

Empty Shops and Arts Solutions

A corner of my art studio, December 2018.

In my last post I mentioned the changing face of town and city centres, and how their empty spaces could be utilised in the future. This article looks at a Parisian community project in a disused hospital. While the building awaits demolition, it's attracting 1,000 visitors a day while it is being used for a cafe, a market, artisan studio space, pop-up shops, a garden and to house homeless people. In London, a former fire engine workshop awaiting development is temporarily housing a migration museum.

Pop-up shops are great for the micro-businesses of artists and crafts-workers, (or "makers" as they're increasingly termed). Official definitions of micro-businesses vary in detail but most agree that they're owned by one person only, employ less than ten people, and have an annual turnover of less than £632,000. It might be fair, then, to classify a typical art or craft business, owned by one person who also is its only part-time employee, and having a turnover that's only a tiny fraction of that suggested, as a super-micro-business.

High street trade in Britain is also feeling the effects of people having less disposable wealth. Average workers are earning one third less than in 2008, as found by research carried out by the Trades Union Congress. One obvious result of this is that people spend less - and so shops close, and high streets look increasingly empty. Some of these empty shops could be transformed into homes to help solve the housing crisis.

Even though people increasingly shop online, we're a social species; we like to gather in groups, watch whatever's going on, to meet and mingle - hence the popularity of cafe culture, where indulging in people-watching is politely masked by the supping of a multitude of coffee options.

The arts and culture sector in Britain has grown by 23.6 percent since 2011, while contributing more than £100billion to the economy, 60% of this being from TV, music and film but 24.8% came from the arts.

If empty shop spaces can somehow utilise the continuing growth in the arts sector, then perhaps a way forward can be found for our ailing towns and cities. Shopping centres could be revitalised and re-purposed by using otherwise empty retail units for pop-up arts events, whether these be theatrical productions, crafts courses or exhibitions.

It seems pointless to wax lyrical about how wonderful old-fashioned high streets may have been. People largely abandoned them in favor of supermarkets long ago, partly as these were often cheaper but also to get the boring job of grocery shopping over with as quickly as possible. Plus there is the issue of battling to find a decent town centre parking space, whereas most supermarkets were built with plenty of parking spaces as part of their design. Now more people buy foodstuffs online and have it delivered, perhaps the days of massive supermarkets are also numbered.

It will be interesting to watch how things change. And change they will. It's happening already.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Shrinking Towns and Strange Trips

Dance of the Storm Lords by Adele Cosgrove-Bray; watercolour; 2018.
Currently on show at the Atkinson Gallery in Southport is a small exhibition by Wirral Society of Arts members, which I enjoyed viewing on Saturday in the company of my sister Evelyn. There was also a photography exhibition which fused together new and old images of Southport, which was fun to see how the town had changed, plus a music-themed art exhibition, and a very small makers' market in the foyer.

We had lunch in one of Evelyn's favourite cafes, and she showed me a video of her new kitchen which looks fabulous - all pale and pristine. Then we ambled along Lord Street as we caught up on each other's news, and ended up sipping coffee somewhere; a lovely day.

Heading for home on a very crowded train, I sat opposite a middle-aged man who was smashed off his skull on skunk weed, or so he informed everyone within earshot. He continually jabbered about him being in great danger as the train might crash at any second and there were no seat belts.  He was yesterday's man, he said, listening to yesterday's music - and there was all this music whirling around inside his crowded head. He wanted to grow his hair like Frank Zappa's, or maybe he should grow a beard like an old, old man - like Gandalf! - because he was nearly old now so he might as well look the part, but he wouldn't have time to grow a beard now because the train might crash at any second....


The Naiad's Garden by Adele Cosgrove-Bray; watercolour; 2018.

In the train station was a large poster advertising a new novel. It showed a picture of the front cover, and the blurb, spread out down the image, read: "Your son has been kidnapped. What would you pay to get him back? £4." Well, I thought it was funny, anyway.

Birkenhead Park Series; ink & watercolour sketch; 2018.
Southport has a lot of empty shop units even along Lord Street, its main commercial hub. It's the same in so many once-thriving towns. High rents, greedy business rates on both property and services, and competition from online retail, plus our dismal economy are obvious causes.

Constructive questions need to focus on solutions. Building new shop units seems pointless when perfectly good older ones have been empty for years already. We'd just be swapping old empty units for new empty units. Maybe we need to accept that town centres are shrinking as public needs change? All things change.

Birkenhead Park Series; ink & watercolour sketch; 2018.
Empty department stores could be renovated and turned into affordable one- and two-bedroom apartments to ease the housing crisis and help the construction industry's economy.

Many shop units are privately owned, so perhaps a change in the law might be considered, so that if a commercial unit has been empty for a year then it has to be sold and possibly re-purposed.

Or perhaps cheaper, short-term rental agreements might be made, so pop-up shops run by crafts-workers, artists or micro-businesses could make use of them?

I'm only bouncing ideas around, here. Feel free to share your own ideas in the comments section below.