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.

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Waves and Ankles

Watercolour study by Adele Cosgrove-Bray on A5 Khadi paper; 2018.
I've been studying the fabulous maritime paintings of Montague Dawson, not for his old-fashioned sailing ships but for his highly skilled methods of painting the ocean. He mostly painted in oils, whereas I find myself reaching for watercolours more and more, but when I spied a book filled with large colour plates of his work in my favourite labyrinthine bookshop in Southport, I couldn't resist buy it solely because of his depiction of waves. Getting water to look wet can be a challenge, I find - but then I always did like a challenge....

Watercolour study by Adele Cosgrove-Bray, on unknown paper; 2018.
The study above was done in a small sketchpad without any manufacturer's brand name on it. It has a pale blue satin-like cover decorated with appliqued shells and beads, and its cream-toned paper has tiny gold flecks threaded through it - far too pretty to leave languishing in a scruffy basket crammed with unwanted treasures.

Speaking of treasures and pleasures, last month saw the 70th members' exhibition of the Wirral Society of Arts (WSA) hosted by the Williamson Art Gallery here in Oxton. I visited the exhibition twice as usual; first to get an impression, then second to really study the works which stand out to me. This is not to imply that my opinions and preferences are a measure of how "good" a work of art supposedly is, but is merely an expression of what I personally find interesting.

There was much to choose from! Three gallery rooms were hung with WSA work, one of these being an historical collection of older works which were not part of the main exhibition as such but which offered an engaging sense of context for the society as a whole.

Personal favourites from the exhibition included Roland Brandon's The Fishing Party; Amy Cain's delightful 3D work, Holy Mackerel; Jim Fleming's loosely drawn The Phil; Mike Hatjoulis's black and white pictorial map, London; Phil Houghton's evocative River Dance: Egrets on the Dee; Amanda Oliphant's oil and cold wax painting, Reflective Landscape/Invisible Boundary; Vidah Roberts pencil drawing, Woodland Stream; Marion Tuffrey's dainty and highly detailed Sparrows; and Roger Young's The Orange Bowl which was so realistic it seemed as if the viewer could reach out and lift up the fruit.



Breaking Light by Adele Cosgrove-Bray; watercolour; 2018.

Work on the 5th Artisan-Sorcerer novel has been interesting. Rowan, who I'd originally intended to have a backseat role this time, keeps demanding centre-stage, which means the reader will learn more about his ambitions and his private reactions to what's going on around him. These are tough times, for the little community, with major changes unfolding. I've blogged previously about how I only loosely plot my novels, as I've found the plots tend to evolve as I write, well certainly has been the case so far with this book. Even the proposed title changed, as naming it Morgan felt wrong. You'll discover why when you eventually read the finished thing.

Richard and I had a week's simultaneous annual leave recently and we enjoyed our "staycation", as people are calling it these-days, making the most of the late summery weather as we picnicked on Red Rocks at Hoylake before walking round to West Kirby and through Ashton Park, up the steep steps to Mariners' Point and through Stapledon Woods. The dogs loved it, of course, though even they were worn out by the time we got home.

Watercolour study of sand dunes at West Kirby; 2018.
When Richard removed his socks in readiness for bed that night, he realised one ankle was badly swollen. It was back to normal by the following morning, but a couple of days later he found a large and ugly black and purple bruise between his ankle bone and heel. As he has diabetes type 2, we decided this needed an expert's eye so off he went to the nearest Walk-In Centre. 

The nurse there said he may have fractured a small bone so an X-ray was needed but they didn't have the facilities to do this, so she sent him to another Walk-In Centre which did. This site, in Liscard, required more of a journey so he had to go after work the following day. Once he'd arrived at Liscard's Walk-In Centre and waited for nearly two hours, he was told they could not X-ray his ankle without a document from his doctor - which of course he did not have, as he had followed the advice given to him by the first Walk-In Centre!

So, the second Walk-In Centre phoned Richard's doctor and then informed Richard they'd made an appointment on his behalf in a half-hour's time. There was no way he could get there in that time, as due to a medical condition he's not allowed to drive. Another phone call re-scheduled the appointment, and so Richard then travelled to his own doctor's surgery - which is a four-minute walk from our house! - to get the correct document which he then needed to take to St Catherine's Hospital - which also is within reasonable walking distance from our house - in order to have the X-ray! And then he was told he'd have to wait about two weeks to receive the results.

Two weeks later, and he's walking without pain already. All bruising has vanished. And, it turned out that there was no fracture. Maybe he'd broken a vein, was the eventual verdict.

Miniature seascapes by Adele Cosgrove-Bray; acrylic; 2018.
Do you like these four little wooden do-dads? Each has two tiny holes drilled at the top, so I can thread some embroidery silk through to make a loop, and then they could be hung on a wall. I photographed them with a ruler so their small size can be seen.

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Ghosts and Things Which go Bump in the Kitchen

Sailing Into the Light; Adele Cosgrove-Bray; watercolour, 2018
I do like a good, old-fashioned ghost story, with a solid plot and a strong atmosphere, and this week I've enjoyed two.

The first was Pay the Ghost, a film starring Nicolas Cage, Sarah Wayne Callies and child actor Jack Fulton, who already has an impressive filmography despite his tender age. A quick scan of online reviews show this film earned lukewarm responses at best, but both Richard and I really enjoyed it - which only demonstrates, once again, how totally subjective reviews are anyway.

With Pay the Ghost you get the story of a father doggedly searching for his missing child. His research takes him into the realms of folklore and fictional magic.

My other ghostly encounter this week came in the form of Cass Green's novel, In A Cottage In A Wood. A tale set in a remote Cornish cottage in dense woodland, and a London party girl spooked by strange happenings - sure ingredients for an entertaining page-turner. I liked the way Neve, the main character, was believably imperfect yet determined not to give in and run screaming back to the city.

Wave to the Waves; Adele Cosgrove-Bray; watercolour; 2018.
Last night, Richard and I watched a DVD of Aerosmith performing at Donnington in 2014. Wonderful stuff! Getting on in years, yes, as are those of us who can remember them from before they hit mega stardom in this country, but their performance still sparkled with vitality and sheer professionalism.

How many other surviving bands have now been playing together for 50 years? Rush started in 1968; ZZ top in 1969; The Who in 1965; the Rolling Stones in 1962; Golden Earring in 1962; the Moody Blues in 1966; and with another 5 years to go are AC/DC and Kiss, formed  in 1973. (Thanks, Google!) Can you think of any others?


A Gate for Seago; Adele Cosgrove-Bray; watercolour; 2018.

Shadowed Shore; Adele Cosgrove-Bray; watercolour; 2018.

I have been enjoying three books by Ron Ranson, an artist in his own right, who explores the watercolour paintings of Edward Seago, Edward Wesson and John Yardley in these books. Each influenced the other, while developing their own distinct style. Ranson was then influenced by them in turn, and now here I am, attempting to stand on the shoulders of giants yet without mimicry, and hopefully without falling flat on my face. 

Are my paintings any good? I have absolutely no idea. All I can tell you is that I love painting, and a theme of big skies and water is a recurrent one in my work - no surprise, considering that the Wirral peninsula where I live is surrounded by water on three sides. 

Which is not to say that I haven't been working on the 1st draft of the 5th Artisan-Sorcerer novel! I certainly have, and in fact chapter 10 was finished this week. I'd made loose notes on how this chapter was to go, but then Rowan threw me a curve ball and decided to do something entirely unexpected. It's such fun when characters do this, as if they've a life of their own somehow.

Actually, Rowan always one of the easiest characters to write. When I wrote his novel, the plot didn't require planning; it just flowed, rather like taking silent dictation. I know that sounds a bit odd, but that's how it was. With the 5th novel, which is very much a continuation of Bethany Rose's story, things are taking a bit more time as I have specific things which I want to communicate.

Sketch: Birkenhead Park Series; Adele Cosgrove-Bray; 2018.

So, there we were, him glued to a Dr Who book, me browsing the book on Edward Wesson, when we were disturbed by a loud crash from the kitchen, followed by a brief odd rumbling sound. Brave soul that he is, I went off to investigate.

Our house is a long, narrow design, so to get from the lounge I have to go down the hall, past my office, through the dining room and then into the kitchen. I arrived to find the dog's dinner bowl dragged into the middle of the floor and tipped on its side. The net umbrella which keeps flies off food, which had been protecting six cooling-off chicken legs, was now on the floor and shredded - not completely, but certainly enough to earn it a place in the bin. There were now only five chicken legs. A plant in the window had been knocked over, and the window pushed further open. And strolling off over the roof of our shed was next-door's cat, proudly clutching his treasure in his dainty little mouth. And here he is:-