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:-

Saturday, 25 August 2018

Memory Lane with a Grumpy Woman.

The Dawn of Misty Dreams by Adele Cosgrove-Bray; watercolour; 2018.
I've been thinking about the internet and how it's changed over time, and how my use of it has changed too. Around 17 years ago, purely out of curiosity, I took a Learn Direct course which promised to be an 'Introduction to the Internet'. I quickly became hooked on this strange new world where the creativity of total strangers provided a seemingly infinite variety of entertainment.

Intrigued, I set out on a journey of exploration which not only made research for my novels easy but also brought me into the world of RPGs. I won't reveal which characters I played, or on which boards our games were played out. That would spoil the mystery - and mystery was all part of the fun. As a talented co-player, Tristan, once told me, "If I wanted reality, I'd go to my parish."

We used message boards and linked LiveJournal blogs to these; role-played in Yahoo! IM till dawn broke. We created long and complex stories, co-writing with people whose legal names we'd never know and who certainly we'd never meet. Inevitably there were occasional fireworks, but negative drama was easily counterbalanced by escapist fun.

Then social networking washed over the scene. The masks provided by pseudonyms were removed. Now everyone has to be aware that the world will read online profiles and posts. Everyone's "real" - except that much of it isn't real simply because it's all so guarded.

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person.
Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.
Oscar Wilde.
Three Blue Boats by Adele Cosgrove-Bray; watercolour; 2018.
The internet is older now, and so am I. No longer do people say, "Wow! Do you really have a computer in your home? But what can you do with it apart from maths?"
Like many, I've tried more sites than I've stayed with. Twitter is one I never did take to. Facebook, to me, is increasingly dull, even if I ignore their dubious marketing policies - not that all other social networks aren't also exploiting their subscribers as a means of making money, (which is what every business exists for). Some old sites are like ghost towns now, despite having once been The Cool Place to be. Well, you remember what old Lao Tse said about change, hmm?
Sunset City by Adele Cosgrove-Bray; watercolour; 2018.
Ok, so websites now look more sophisticated, if also homogeneous and predictable, than they used to, but there was something much more individualistic about those old DIY make-your-eyes-bleed graphics of the earlier internet. The internet used to be an anarchic hot bed of creativity; of people doing battle with HTML. Now all anyone need do is pick a ready-made layout and choose between several shades of the same design. Add an icon with huge eyes and no nose and it's a "Manga" theme. Add a handsome-but-dead guy and the same thing is transformed to "gothic". Flowers = girly; stars or dolphins = new age; winter trees = thoughtful; city skyline = office bore. Take your pick of nothing much, then post a photo of beans on toast and you're all done.

Monday, 6 August 2018

Trips Down Lanes and Exhibitions.

How's this for a spider plant? It had only five or six baby leaves when I brought it home. It's grown a bit since then.

My so-called Easter cactus flowered in June, which is not exactly Easter. It's not exactly a cactus either, seeming more of a succulent in character; and despite a prevailing belief that it is difficult to get these plants to flower again, it really isn't just so long as you don't change their position around or water them to death. Well-drained soil, feeds few and far between, sunlight and, quite simply, leave it alone, and it'll flower every year without fail. This year's flowers were the most abundant for three years. Three years ago we moved house. Remember the bit about not altering this plant's position.

Birkenhead Park rapid sketches series, 2018.
My series of rapid sketches done in Birkenhead Park is now in its third year. They're done as I'm walking my dogs, hence the small size of the pads chosen so they fit in a pocket. They're all done at speed - sometimes no more than a few minutes, as wildlife and people will keep moving around! Consequently, some of the drawings turn out more like caricatures, but who said art can't be fun?

If you use the 'Art' tab in the menu above, you'll be able to watch video slideshows of the two previous years park sketches.

Stick; Birkenhead Park Series by Adele Cosgrove-Bray; oil on canvas, 2018.
I've been a bit slow to turn these sketches into paintings, which is the plan. However, as I was walking through the park I nearly stumbled over a stick, which was richly dappled with lovely lichens. And so we now have the fourth painting in this series..! A still life, obviously; an oil painting. There's the juxtaposition of the natural environment  - if a man-made landscape can be described as being natural - having been carried into the built environment. There are the subtle curves of the broken, rotting branch against the sharp lines of the clean table and window, and the gentle colours of the living lichens as opposed to the harsher synthetic table cloth. And there's the quiet humour of me having painted just one bit of a branch when there's a whole host of whopping great trees to paint. Well, it amuses me, at least.

Life drawing, 8B pencil on A2 cartridge paper.
Here's the life drawing which I did on Saturday, which took around 1.5 hours. The model is Brenda, who has posed for our group several times before. The A2-sized drawing's not quite finished but I'll work on it during the coming week. I used a rather lovely 8B pencil manufactured by Rexel Cumberland, called Derwent Sketching: Dark Wash. I really should have bought more than just one of these - but I'd been hunting for 10B pencils, which is what I've always used, but no-one seems to make them anymore. (If you know differently, please tell me!)

Every two years, the John Moore's Exhibition rolls around. And this year, once again, I meandered round the splendid Walker Art Gallery on William Brown Street, Liverpool, to view the latest batch of creative offerings. It is always interesting to see what other artists have been working on, even when the genre isn't to my own tastes.

Visiting this exhibition never fails to remind me of my art school days, long ago, when the tutors would troupe us from our dilapidated painting studios to the hushed and lofty rooms of the Walker, and there, segued between Pre-Raphaelites and Renaissance and morbid medieval religious paintings would hang the John Moore's Exhibition. The gallery cafĂ© always did do a good cup of tea.

Untitled watercolour sketch by Adele Cosgrove-Bray, 2018.
I'll probably be inundated with a zillion grumpy emails now, eager to tell me that if only I understood what I term the Blob & Squiggle School of Art then I'd like it more. Well, I understand Brussels sprouts but I still don't like them.

Speaking of trips down memory lane, I was rummaging through some ancient data discs and came across my old RPG stories. I was closely involved in a few online RPGs, and what good fun we participants had.

This was back in the halcyon days when the internet felt much more autonomous, before social networking's stranglehold. Back then, people used the internet as a creative playground. Videos of cats behaving like cats were rare. No-one cared what you'd eaten for dinner - unless you were pretending to be one of Anne Rice's vampires, in which case a dedicated audience would clamour for details.

Ah, fun days...!

Birkenhead Park sketch series, 2018.

Friday, 27 July 2018

Doom, Gloom and Choices.

Rain over the Loch by Adele Cosgrove-Bray; watercolour; 2018.

Here in Wirral, we've been basking under a fierce summer. England's seen high temperatures in the past, of course, and the news is full of excitable fluff about today possibly becoming the hottest day on record - remembering that British weather records date back to 1659 in the form of diaries kept by amateurs, which are now known as the Central England Temperature series. The method of recording the weather only became more standardised in 1914, however, and so it's from this more recent date that the Met Office measures its statistics.

Life drawing by Adele Cosgrove-Bray.
Prattling about sunshine gives the media something to talk about other than the looming disaster of Brexit. As the countdown to the current government's B-Day (pun intended) looms ever closer, they're still batting ideas around in increasingly desperate attempts to sort out the mess their own party colleagues, and their far right buddies, helped to create.

Maybe not enough people took the proposed split from Europe seriously, trusting that no-one would be daft enough to vote in favour of the culturally retrogressive, financially self-mutilating, and xenophobic myth of Little Britain, All Alone in the Night. Oh wait, wasn't that last bit from the intro of Babylon 5...?

Fun was had when the drawing group I attend couldn't use its usual room due to a community event. Instead, we were invited to draw inside Christ Church, and our model was to be the vicar! Allan volunteered several poses, and even stood as if preaching from the heavily carved, towering lectern which, he said, he rarely uses during services as it feels too grandiose.

Allan Goode of Christ Church, Oxton.
I've just finished reading Girl, Balancing & Other Stories, a collection of previously unpublished writing by the late Helen Dunmore, whose books I've blogged about several times. It's a admirable testament to her skills as a story-teller, and comes in a week when I've seen several social media posts by other writers who are on the point of stopping writing due to poor sales.

Historically, unless a person had independent wealth or a partner who was willing and able to pay most of the household bills, it has been usual for mid-list writers to have a conventional job in addition to their writing career.

Some years ago, I was genuinely surprised to discover that a writer whose work I'd admired for over a decade still worked as a postman as this, he told me, is what paid the bills. Now there's absolutely nothing wrong with being a postman, or with holding down any other kind of constructive employment, yet this myth of writers penning a few books then living solely off the fat of their ink still prevails to the extent that when a person is faced with the reality behind the myth, they believe they've failed.

Lighthouse at the Point of Ayr by Adele Cosgrove-Bray;
watercolour; 2018
Writers across the world 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. People buy less new paperbacks and browse free social media instead. The market for second-hand books, such as via eBay or Amazon, is of no help as the author earns nothing from these sales.

Compounding this issue is the shrinking variety of high street book shops. Here in Britain, we have Waterstones and WH Smith, and little else. Independent bookshops are teetering on extinction, and so unless an author already has a big name, like Stephen King or Laurell K Hamilton for example, it can be difficult for a reader browsing for something new to find their way to a relative unknown. Online there is a much wider market, of course, but there a 'small' name is like a bit a straw in a planet-sized haystack.

But who said success was easy? Nobody has to write. No-one is forced to patter away on a keyboard for hours on end, month-in, month-out till a year or so ticks by and another book's done. To write is a choice. To stop writing is a choice. To write only when you feel like it...well, it will take a month of Sundays several times over to get the MS finished, but again, it's a choice.

If you fail to keep going out of a fear of failure, then a self-fulfilling prophesy has been created.

And you could always do something else. Paint, for example...

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Open Studios and Worn-out Feet

Pigeons: Birkenhead Park Series, by Adele Cosgrove-Bray; 2018; oil on canvas.
The annual Wirral Open Studios Tour took place from 9th - 10th June, a free event wherein many local artists and crafts-workers opened their doors to the public. Venues ranged from garden sheds to community centres, from back bedrooms to rented studio spaces. The work displayed was as diverse as it's possible to get, and a supporting free brochure listed all the participants with little maps to help visitors find their way around.

As I don't drive, there was no way I was going to be able to see everything even though I'd like to. So, armed with an all-day train ticket and comfy shoes, I first travelled to New Brighton where Janine Pinion welcomed me into her front room which has been converted into a bright and airy studio crammed with her incredibly beautiful watercolours. Janine recently won the Open Exhibition at the Williamson Art Gallery.

Bertie, an adorable Yorkshire Terrier, was determined to greet visitors to Breda Whyte's garden shed, which she's cleverly adapted for use as a studio. Her lovely bold, expressionistic mixed media paintings filled the space, along with sculptures and some of her batik designs. Her old bicycle was half-buried beneath a glorious tangle of climbing plants which had commandeered it as a trellis.

Five exhibitors were located within the Floral Pavilion on New Brighton's Marine Promenade. There was also a book fair plus an arts and crafts fair unfolding at the same place, which helped to attract a steady flow of visitors. Emma Johnson was busy working on a lovely commissioned portrait in oils but quickly initiated a friendly conversation about my own work.  Emma creates wonderfully realistic portraits, animal pictures and landscapes, all rich with colour and detail.  Sharing the exhibition table with Emma was her mother, sculptor Jo Burton, who was deftly using a mallet and chisel to shave wafer-thin curls of wood from a block which she was slowly turning into a cat's head. For sale were delicately carved jewellery, various busts of people and animals, and ornamental pieces, all made with remarkable skill.

Also exhibiting at the Floral Pavilion was Rachel Wibrew, an art student, (who doesn't seem to have a website), who was showing pen and ink drawings based on tattoo designs. Gerard McGregor's paintings explored the complex relationship between the human memory and technology, and their fragility. He enlarges tiny bits of technology and turns these into vibrantly coloured, psychedelic, mixed media paintings. Neal Dawson has turned his urban photography into practical, printed coasters. Local buildings, pubs and landmarks, plus textures and patterns, are what inspire Neal who started out as an oil painter then got more into photography. His work is on sale at various tourist venues around Liverpool.

Journey Awaits, by Adele Cosgrove-Bray; watercolour; 2018.


Catching the train to Hoylake, a warm welcome awaited me at Susan Boardman's delightful cottage, where I was immediately offered a glass of refreshing apple and elderflower cordial. Susan's truly lovely textile art was displayed throughout the ground floor of her home. She uses torn paper, paint, dye, beads and sewing plus fabrics to create beautiful landscapes, seascapes and abstractions. She also makes fabric jewellery and cute little peg dolls. In a lovely, plant-packed garden is the shed which Susan uses as her studio. I'm always fascinated by other artists' studio spaces, how they set it out, how they develop their working environment, and of course I love looking at other peoples' sketch books. I would have stayed inside the shed studio for longer but the merciless summer heat made that unwise.

My next port of call was to the home of sea and shore photographer Marianthi Lainas, whose dramatic images have been featured in Countryfile Magazine and the national press. What would have been her guestroom now houses her computer and large-size printer, and her photos seem to fill every available space in her lovely seaside home. She also exhibited her recent experiments with cyanotype photography, describing her processes to me and making it sound like a fun thing to try.

A group of artists were exhibiting at a studio in the heart of Hoylake, and Helon Conning was about to lead a portrait-drawing session as I arrived. Helon runs a weekly life drawing group, and her own colourful, expressionistic paintings depicted her interests in experimentation and quirky ideas. Michelle Murray, (who doesn't seem to have a website), is an illustrator who creates mixed media drawings and 3D sculptures.  Suzy Chappell, (who also doesn't seem to have a website), makes bold abstract mixed media paintings, collages and prints. Emma Dromgoole, who attends the same life drawing group as I do, is a retired art teacher who produces gloriously vivid portraits and figurative paintings which express her love of colour and line. Visitors to this working studio were treated to a generous finger-food buffet.

One of the Open Studio Tour's organisers is Xitina Ferres Zendrera, whose home directly overlooks the broad, sweeping sands of Hoylake beach. Born and raised in Barcelona, and widely travelled, Xitina has worked as an international fashion designer for major-label companies, and as an illustrator.  Her paintings show her interests in surface pattern and abstraction.

On the train to West Kirby, I got chatting to a bearded man whose name I don't know but who I'd seen treading a similar Studio Tour route as myself. We both agreed that it's a great event, allowing visitors to not only see contemporary new art and crafts but to see different workspaces and to meet the creators themselves. Our only regret is that it's impossible to see it all in the time allowed, as the venues cover the length and breadth of Wirral. Even with a car it would be a struggle.

Life Drawing by Adele Cosgrove-Bray; 8B pencil on cartridge paper; 2018.
It was 4pm by the time I arrived in West Kirby. With 18 people exhibiting in West Kirby and neighbouring Caldy, I was left having to choose only two to visit before the event closed for the day. The nearest place was Seagrass Studio and Gallery, which is virtually opposite the train station.  Gallery owner Jo Smith was exhibiting her deliciously textural seascapes - she mixes sand and soil into her atmospheric works. Jo also makes jewellery, and offers work by other local artists. I got talking with potter Jo Williams, who had exhibited last year at Janine Pinion's studio.

We ended up talking about Pretty Ugly Pottery, where I used to work many moons ago. Jo told me that Stan Johnson, who also worked for that company as a thrower, would be exhibiting alongside potter Carla Pownall at her back-garden studio. I would have liked to have visited them both, but constraints of time proved too limiting.

With just half an hour left, I arrived at Lois Hayes-Holland's flat, where the foyer and stairway served as her exhibition space. A retired art teacher, her work was incredibly diverse; she told me she had had to learn how to be, in order to meet the needs of diverse students! I fell in love with two watercolour floral paintings, which had a narrative quality brought to them by the inclusion of straw hats and small gardening tools. These had been commissioned, Lois told me, but the man had vanished without paying. (Unfortunately, this isn't the first time I'd heard similar stories).

Watercolour sketch by Adele Cosgrove-Bray; handmade Khadi paper; 2018.

On Sunday, partially due to having other commitments, I was limited to visiting venues local to me, and so my first destination was Wellington Road Studios in Oxton. The resident artists have been creating a pretty garden area for themselves, which features an old rowing boat. Marie Louise Williams was busily demonstrating her enviable basket-weaving skills, while Marie Louise Mairs was encouraging visitors to sample the lovely buffet on offer. (That's not a typo; there are two Marie Louises there.)

I enjoyed looking through Marie Louise Mairs sketchbooks and seeing her cluttered workspace, which she told me she had deliberately made no attempt to tidy up as she feels visitors need to see a real working studio rather than a carefully manicured space. I have to agree, but then I think that seeing quirky innovations - such as re-used wooden crates fixed to the walls for use as shelving, which I saw in one studio - and organised chaos only add interest. She was also exhibiting her lovely ceramic work, and a large and deeply thoughtful painting about the human cost of war.

Every nook in Wellington Road Studios seemed to have a different artist tucked away within it. These included mixed media artist Janet Ewing, who offered hand-painted baseball hats, plus other works; Mary Bryning, who is inspired by maps and by nature; photographer Victoria Evans and abstract painter Nicky Perrin, (who don't seem to have websites). I hope I've not missed anyone out... The range of work was entirely diverse; something for everyone, really.

Round at the Williamson Art Gallery on Slatey Road, Oxton, there were two photographers exhibiting: Karen Lawrence and George Evans, both interested in land- and seascapes but with quite different styles. Both had a huge amount of prints available for purchase.

I enjoyed a pleasant conversation with David Jones and his partner, who I know as we all attend the same life drawing group. They're about to move to north Wales, but meanwhile David was exhibiting his paintings, illustrations, and miniature model boats which he makes from thin card.

It was a pleasure to chat with LiWei Chen again, whose gorgeous traditional Chinese paintings demonstrate great skill with brush and ink. She has recently begun painting on silk, a time-consuming and delicate process which can require up to 20 layers of watercolour paint - but the results are amazing. LiWei taught art at Yunnan University, China, then at the Multicultural Centre in Birkenhead. She still offers Chinese painting and calligraphy lessons for all age groups at her Phoenix Gallery in Bebington.

Life drawing by Adele Cosgrove-Bray; 8B pencil on cartridge paper; 2018.

Well, that was the end of the Wirral Open Studio Tour 2018 for me. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. As I've already mentioned, there was a large number of other venues that I simply couldn't get to due to time constraints and distance.

One thing which genuinely surprised me was being asked, by several artists, why I wasn't exhibiting my own work. I replied by saying I wasn't sure if it's ready yet, if exhibiting it wouldn't be premature. Almost as with one voice they all said effectively the same thing, that artists never feel ready, and to just dive in and go for it. I truly don't have a huge amount of material, yet...  Maybe, next year, I could borrow a corner of someone else's studio?

Monday, 28 May 2018

Cheep-cheep, Quack-quack!

Is there anyone who fails to smile when watching newly hatched chicks? They're so fragile, so tiny, yet bravely scoot across dark lakes swarming with huge fish, or waddle determinedly after their parents through long grasses threaded with fox runs and rat holes. Or, like the little gosling in the photo above, amble contentedly on the mossy bank in full view of a murderous heron.
The two parent geese were keeping a sharp eye out, helped by a large white goose which seemed to be behaving like a visiting aunt who, not entirely approving of the parents' skills, did her best to shepherd the two little goslings closer to safety. (You can only see one gosling in this photo, and the parent birds were quacking at the other youngster which had wandered too far. Aunt Goose was having none of it, and was photographed mid-march in readiness to gently usher it closer once more).

If you peer through the tangled branches in the photo above, you can see a nest filled with ginger-headed coot chicks waiting for their parents, who were very close by and making frequent trips to and from their brood with beaks full of food. One of the chicks was scrambling out of the nest ready to paddle off by itself. While I watched, several of the chicks did this and the parent birds kept nudging them back into the relative safety of the nest which had been built on top of some low lying branches on the water level.
The fallen tree overhanging the lake is the regular sunbathing spot for three terrapins which have been living free in the park for at least two years that I know of. If you view this photo at an enlarged size you can see two of them on the branch next to the purple flowers, at the water's edge. There's also a heron which likes to use this tree to hunt from, and the tree usually has a few snoozing ducks dotted along it.
Pigeons are everywhere in Birkenhead Park. Pale ones, dark ones, ginger ones... They're all well fed and are so used to people that the second anyone stands still and reaches for a bag which might  contain bread or birdseed there'll be a flurry of wings heading their way. The birds seem to favour particular trees to roost in, but will also snuggle down on to daisy-carpeted banks. In this photo, you can also see some mallard chicks, probably about two weeks old, swimming with a parent duck.
I wonder if pigeons ever watch the ducks and geese gliding by on the water and think,  "I wish I could do that...?"
Birkenhead Park, spring 2018.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Climbing Ladders, Brush in Hand, Nose in Books.

Estuary Moon by Adele Cosgrove-Bray; watercolour; 2018.
I've been busy decorating my art studio, stripping off old wallpaper, mending dents and holes with Polyfiller, (one and a half tubes' worth!), and then climbing up and down an ancient step-ladder in order to paint the walls with three layers of plain, pristine white. The job is not quite finished; one small wall needs a final coat of paint and its skirting board doing with white gloss, and the door frame needs white gloss too, but the end is in sight. Photos to follow once it's completely done!

I've also been pulling out armfuls of forget-me-nots from our garden. There are supposed to be 74 official species of forget-me-nots, some of which are very pretty. Unfortunately, we're lumbered with horrible hairy things which self-seed prolifically and swamp all the other flowers and, once they've bloomed, flop over, turn brown and go brittle. Pull them out then and the spiny hairs cause a nasty rash.

We both enjoyed watching The Dressmaker, a film starring Kate Winslet whose character gets revenge on small town malice. She played the role so well, and having gown up in a small town myself I could easily relate to the issues of gossip, boredom and narrow horizons.

I found myself engrossed by EV Thompson's novel, The Dream Traders, which follows the struggles of a young Cornish merchant whose dream career opportunity in China brings him into conflict both with his European peers and with the Chinese rulers on Hong Kong in the 1830's. The factual politics behind the story describe the East India Trading Company's heavy involvement in opium production in India and subsequent illegal sale of that same opium in China for vast profit, with the British government's full knowledge.

Also good reading was The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman, the first in a fantasy trilogy about the life of a boy raised to be an assassin. He is equal parts naive and vicious, knowing only the confined and brutal world of the fanatical monks who trained both him and others like him.

I've also just finished re-reading Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, which I've loved since my teens and have lost count of how many times I've read it. Many years ago, in 1981, I watched Granada TV's serial production of this novel, which featured Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews. A film was made in 2008 but I wasn't keen on this version as it messed up the plot by having Julia Flyte go to Venice with Charles and Sebastian, and lost many of the novel's underlying themes. Anyway, as anticipated I thoroughly enjoyed re-reading Waugh's novel, and have no doubt I'll read it again at some point in the future.

Do you have a favourite novel which you've read and read again countless times?

Haven's Approach by Adele Cosgrove-Bray; watercolour; 2018.