Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Art Gallery #6: a Flu-Free Video Slideshow



Here is a video slideshow of my paintings and drawings from last year. I hope you enjoy looking through this collection of watercolours, oils and drawings, plus a few related photos.

So other than making a few videos, what have I been doing? Since Xmas the life drawing group which I attend has been suspended due to the organiser's ill health, but to keep drawing regularly I began a new daily sketch project. It's been fun to turn these into little slideshow videos which you can see in posts below or on YouTube. Do subscribe to my channel there, as more videos will be posted regularly and there are already over 70.

Last Wednesday saw me enjoying lunch in Southport with my sister Evelyn. We had a slow amble round the shops and between us bought absolutely nothing, excluding the utterly gorgeous orange and chocolate cake from a cafe in the Wayfarers Arcade. The arcade itself is a genuinely beautiful Grade II listed building with a lovely arching glass roof and ornate mahogany shop fronts which remain unchanged since Victorian times. The sad thing is that almost all the shop units stand empty. I have to wonder what the future holds for this genuinely elegant arcade which seems likely to become another victim of greedy rents and rates combined with a deflated economy and the changing face of high streets.

Britain is now teetering on the brink of the zombie apocalypse Corona virus outbreak. Some people seem certain this is a diarrhea virus rather than a flu virus, hence reports of panicked purchasing of loo rolls the world over.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that ordinary, everyday flu caused between 9 million and 45 million illnesses, between 140,000 and 810,000 hospital stays, and between 12,000 and 61,000 deaths annually since 2010 - and these figures are only for America, never mind the rest of the world! Deaths from Corona virus are reported to be a much lower level than the usual shiver-and-sniffle flu varieties which we as a species have survived for multiple millennia.

Annual flu deaths are real - and so is mass hysteria.

Really, just chill out, enjoy some more orange and chocolate cake, and ignore the silly tabloids.

Daily Sketches Project: February 2020


I have decided to present this on-going one-sketch-per-day project as a monthly video slideshow rather than as a picture-by-picture blog post as it's simply quicker this way.

Can I encourage you to subscribe to my YouTube channel? There're over 70 of my videos there already and I plan to add to these.


Sunday, 1 March 2020

This Writing Life

According to this article, in 2019 just 26% of under-18s spent some time each day reading, and only  53% said they read books purely for pleasure. This is the lowest level recorded by the National Literacy Trust since 2005.

Elsewhere in The Guardian, it was reported that, "According to a 2018 Author’s Guild Study the median income of all published authors for all writing related activity was $6,080 in 2017, down from $10,500 in 2009; while the median income for all published authors based solely on book-related activities went from $3,900 to $3,100, down 21%. Roughly 25% of authors earned $0 in income in 2017."

As I've written previously, all writers have experienced a steady decline in book sales. There is so much free reading available online, including free books by the thousands just waiting to be downloaded. Consequently most writers, including traditionally published writers with established reputations and fan-bases, hold down conventional jobs as well. If they can manage with just a part-time job, they're doing better than many.

As the writer of the piece about young reading habits pointed out in her article, lots of writers gloss over this reality. Can you make a living solely from being a writer? Yes, if you're a  millionaire already, or someone else pays the bills, and you have no children or other dependents, and have paid off your mortgage, or you're receiving a retirement pension and therefore can describe yourself as  a full-time writer. Actually, I know quite a number of writers who fall into that last category!

So what can be done about it?

As a parent, you can buy your children books for presents, enroll them in your local library, and sit with them and read stories together; all simple ideas to help foster a lifelong interest which will contribute hugely to your child's cultural experience and appreciation.

As a reader, you can take a chance on buying an author whose name is new to you. (See the side column for clickable links to outlets for my published books.)

As a writer you can choose to live in abject penury or you can get a job.

Or you could stop writing altogether, which is what some traditionally published people have done after balancing the huge amount of time and effort required against financial gain, then asking themselves if it's worth the bother. Truly, if you imagine you'll write a few novels then live comfortably, you're only displaying how little you know about how the publishing industry works.

The publishers of those glossy novels in the bookshop window have paid for them to be  positioned there. Likewise with the books on the eye-catching stand just inside the shop door. The books on the ordinary shelves have also paid for their placement - and most novels get only two weeks to sell before being returned to the publisher's distributor to be pulped.

And then, because your masterpiece has already been published, another publisher is unlikely to be interested in it.  And by the way, those paid-for placements come out of your profits, assuming you actually make any.

So first you write  your book, which can take a year or ten depending on your other commitments and how fast you write, and then you enter the usually long-winded process of finding an agent and a publisher, then go through the editorial process (which can take another year), and after all that you get two weeks in which to sell enough to have a second novel even considered. Low sales mean cancelled contracts, and if your contract has been cancelled then finding a new contract with a new publisher can be tougher than finding one the first time around.

So now you know why so many previously traditionally-published authors now self-publish! A new self-published book release might be akin to another stalk of hay added to a planet-sized haystack, but at least it has a long-term lifespan. Besides, these-days even traditionally pushed authors have to do much of the promotion themselves anyway, so there's little difference on that score.

Writing is a choice. A person can easily choose to do something else instead, or to do something as well.

Some of the most interesting writers I know have more than one creative outlet, and hold down a regular job too. They paint, perform in bands, do gardening, create textiles, join amateur theatrical societies, etc.; whatever their outlet happens to be, they do that too.

And on that thought, I'm off to sketch in the park!

Saturday, 29 February 2020

Video: Life Drawings from 2019

I hope you enjoy this video slideshow of my life drawings from 2019.

The video features adult nudity throughout, so if you're likely to be offended by that simply close the video down and move along to my next post.

Please subscribe to my YouTube channel.



Sunday, 9 February 2020

Daily Sketch Project: January

Our Jack Russell Terrier, Poppi, snoozing (as usual).
At the start of 2020 I began a fun little project which involves creating one sketch per day.

A sketch is not the same as a drawing. Sketches tend to be done quickly and are intended as practice or experimental pieces, whereas drawings are more carefully composed and refined, being intended as finished works of art. People often use the two terms interchangeably, seeing how a sketch is drawn and drawing can be sketched out during its preliminary stage. Anyway, here are my favourites from January.

One of the plants growing in my studio.
A neighbour's Westie, keeping guard in their window.
Self Portrait
Bananas in a hand-turned wooden bowl.

Watercolour sketch of a tree in Birkenhead Park.
Best buddies: Emily and Poppi

Graphite and watercolour.

Sketch of my left hand.
Poppi.
Richard, with two couch companions.
Emily.
Beyond the kitchen sink.
Well, I hope you enjoyed browsing this selection of January's daily sketch project. More will follow next month.  I'm using a thick journal/sketchpad of handmade Khadi paper for this project, (until it runs out). I haven't set out to focus on any particular theme or medium; it's been a case of whatever catches my attention when the time comes to do that day's sketch. I feel it's way too soon to attempt any kind of analysis or evaluation of the sketches but if you want to have a go, feel free.

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