To Paint is to Love Again

Henry Miller wrote ‘To Paint is to Love Again’ (Cambria Book s published by William Webb in California in 1960). It is a book title that has engraved itself on my mind, and today looking at the progress in the studio I felt the first return of the joy I remember of creating paintings when I was a full time artist in my younger years. It has taken a while to get into this groove again, but looking around the growing amount of work I have on easels and walls in the studio I began to feel the familiar tingle of excitement of ideas, colour and textures mixing and developing.

The blank canvas is intimidating, no mater how much preparatory drawing has been done

The blank canvas is intimidating, no matter how much preparatory drawing has been done


I enjoyed 25 years running a design practice, but design, certainly the design of hotels which I was involved with (and for which we won awards) is a collaborative process. As a painter all the decisions are mine. Starting the canvas this week has reminded me just how many decisions an artist makes as a part of the process of creation.

Drawings look at bits of the colour and textures to be used. I've done about 20, some a metre square, to get this far

Drawings look at bits of the colour and textures to be used. I’ve done about 20, some a metre square, to get this far. This is grass – and relates only through colour and the mark

Everything from the size and scale of the canvas to the size and scale of the marks made, thousands of decisions an hour being made, some consciously, some unconsciously by instinct and experience, makes the process a complicated yet simple one. The process is complicated because of the wealth of considerations before starting, simple because one decision leads inexorably to another.

California poppies are part of the image (see a previous post on this blog)

California poppies are part of the image (see a previous post on this blog)

The process is full of feedback loops and as I painted I realised all the drawings had left some questions unanswered so alongside the painting another large drawing is beginning to take shape on which hopefully some of the questions relating to the painting can be explored and feedback into the creation on the canvas. Drawing is the mythmaking process, painting the formal realisation of the personal legends the artist creates. Myths and legends are a part of the human state – from the shared myths of gods from Thor, Zeus and Anubis to modern mysticism and religions, all have modified behaviours.

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California Poppy (drawing)

Artists drawing process is an exploration of their own soul and creation of their own myths, painting being a way of ritualised realisation of these myths. Makes Hurst’s derivative (sub Larry Poons) dots or bejewelled skull (sub Tretchikoff), or Tracy Emin’s unmade bed interesting as reflections of their souls, doesn’t it? For me the drawing is providing a route back into the joy of creation as well as a way of exploring colour and the texture of the mark, its relationship to the movement of the body through gesture, and the relationship to all this of the different media I am using.

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Finally underway – acrylic on canvas

There are no prizes for being right or wrong, but the process has no end. I am older but the spirit moves me in the same way, thanks goodness. The process of enquiry, of a dialogue with the self, conscious to unconscious, has not changed.

To paint is an affirmation of life. It is indeed, as Henry Miller wrote, to love again.

Canvas, Convolvulus and Carpets

We’ve been in Seaford for nearly a year now. We’ve achieved a great deal in that time, but we are still a long way off finishing. Best part so far is the building of the studio at the bottom of the garden which has set me up for painting again after about ten years. The last major piece I did was based on an image of fuchsias but the recent drawings seem to be taking me away from this – although it may change when I start working on the canvas that is now on the easel ready. Nothing more terrifying than a large blank white canvas when you’ve not had a brush in your hand seriously for ten years…

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My last major work. Acrylic on canvas, 900 x 1500mm. Private collection

So many things come between me and the painting. Prevarication? Distraction activities? Maybe so, in part anyway, but I still run a business too and deciding on working hours is one thing but then I am also fighting a war against convolvulus (bindweed) so even walking down the garden to the studio sometime takes nearly an hour…

Convolvulus wraps itself tightly around other plants, smothering and strangling them

Convolvulus wraps itself tightly around other plants, smothering and strangling them

I’ve worked through some colour things in another metre square drawing, but finding the oil pastels I’m using not right. It seems the make I used in the past are no longer available and all the others I am trying are very soft and greasy – a failing exaggerated by the hot weather recently. It did cross my mind to try making them but then that becomes another distraction activity.


Detail of the latest drawing ‘Summer Garden’.

In some of the drawing I have been playing with working with both acrylics and oil, and getting slightly disappointed that the acrylic doesn’t separate when used over the top of the oils, but maybe that is something I will play with on the next canvas. Where oil does score is on being able to scrape through to allow underpainting to show through, and it responds much better to gestural marks than the acrylics. Everything feels like new exploration at the moment, stuttering, a bit confused as to direction, but I’ll just keep pushing to see where things go.


Using the same format to hold the mark in place, Summer Garden (a metre square) follows on from the Verdun triptych

I have also ideas to explore through using photography more and have access to a wide carriage printer, but now need some real expertise in printing and Photoshop to be able to draw straight into the images. I’m sure there is plenty of stuff available but just being out of the art game for ten years leaves a knowledge gap (anyone?). Right now the next steps in getting the house how we want it are looming – clearing rooms for carpet fitting, making measured survey drawings for the new en-suite bathroom, waxing new oak…

C’est la vie



I now have a Pinterest board for my art at

Drawing and Goff’s Garden

The garden is endlessly fascinating. Even as a student I painted images of a lawn. Now I am working on images of my own garden again. The studio is at the bottom of the garden so the walk down takes while as I stop to battle the convolvulus (bindweed) that seems to be everywhere, or pause to take pics of the flowers or the grass. From previous posts you’ll know that I also enjoy other people’s gardens as well, and the images I have collected are the basis for the work I am trying to progress in the studio, the winter images of waves behind me for the moment.

The studio table this morning (July 5th)

The studio table this morning (July 5th)

I made a little drawing of grass, which to my surprise seemed to work well, and I have been exploring the imagery further through a series of drawings. I have been enjoying the sun and working directly in the garden, but have also carried a camera everywhere on my walks collecting images to work from, using the camera as a sketch book.

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Garden lawn Pencil drawing

I recently bought a decent printer and so am able to print some of my photographs to a larger scale and start playing with them too. Work appears to be going in several directions at once but ultimately they will all feed into a series of paintings, and the first two are forming themselves in my mind, I just need to get the drawing defined more and that will help to determine the scale to work on.


California Poppy Collage

Some of the drawings I have been doing are a metre square, don’t fit in my plan chest and I’m beginning to worry about how I’m going to store them safely. OH says why do them so big? They are not all large but the image and scale need to relate to hand and arm movement, so the size is dictated by the energy and size of the mark. It’s whether I am working my whole arm and body or just my fingers and wrist, together with the relationship of physical to mental, man to art work,  that dictates the size. So I have four drawings over a metre square each which I need to figure out how to store safely.

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Grass and Sky Pencil

Latest drawings include some collage again and smaller works that have a more precious quality – which I am not sure I like, but hey-ho, that’s how they are coming out right now. I’m enjoying the studio, which I keep white with a grey floor painted floor, just like the studios at Corsham when I was a student.

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Drawing in Progress. Oil on paper. Size: a metre square

I have a small room that is set up for the cameras and printer. Here I work with the printer and computer imagery, so finally seem to be getting everything set up right. The printer is capable of producing giclees prints, as I accept that a silkscreen studio is beyond my resources. Finally seem to be getting a good art working situation. So, watch this space….


Sardinia Seaside Success

Well known luxury airline Ryanair flew me back into Luton from the northern Sardinian airport of Alghero.  It is something of a typical British welcome when arriving back the first thing you hear on the station is ‘we are sorry for the delay due to technical difficulties…’ Do we need a British Mussolini before our trains will run to time? For the rail operating companies to blame their breakdowns and disorganisation on too many people using the train (as they do) is positively ribald.

With no tide to speak of boats moor alongside the seafront, shore and sea unified. In England towns stand back or huddle behind sea defences

With no tide to speak of boats moor alongside the seafront, shore and sea unified. In England towns stand back or huddle behind sea defences

The trip to Sardinia was well organised (thanks to Max ,Tamara and Delphina Hotels) but as it covered the Costa Smeralda region rather than just the hotels it put quite a strain on my ability to gather enough photographs of the interiors to do justice to the charming properties. However, I am home with over 500 photos to process, catalogue and sort. The journalistic company was generally youthfully pleasant although a few barbed remarks were made about the fashion sense of old men…

Clear warm seas, large yachts and super yachts, power boats and RIBS

Clear warm seas, large yachts and super yachts, power boats and RIBS

Whilst touring Delphina hotels was the main purpose, we had some downtime on the beach and a few visits to towns, including a cruise around the islands northern tip where France meets Italy, Corsica meeting Sardinia. I certainly recommend taking your glasses off before diving over the side of your boat into 3 metres of clear blue sea. I was lucky both that mine didn’t break and that a quick dive located and returned them to me.

Absolution from teh Priest on sunday then down to the local bars to start another week building enough to confess the next Sunday. Vernacular architecture enmbraces, warms and comforts the sinner

Absolution from the Priest on Sunday then down to the local bars to start another week building enough to confess the next Sunday. Vernacular architecture enmbraces, warms and comforts the sinner

The loveliness of the small Italian towns on the shoreline with their vernacular architecture and cafes along the waterfront made an interesting comparison with our own separation from the beach. There is no tide to speak of in the Mediterranean and that makes a considerable difference to how the shoreline can be exploited – with a 6 to 7 metre tidal variation there is a considerable difference in how the sea is approached from the English towns especially when factoring in the ferocious waves of the Atlantic or the North Sea. But nothing can remove the weather from the equation. Warm seas need plenty of sun, and Sardinia has that along with beautiful sandy beaches and clear blue seas. The softer sunnier shores of the Mediterranean allow exploitation to proceed differently, but this environmental difference does not explain the differences on its own.

Colourful alleyways, abundant flowers and a sense of fun

Colourful alleyways, abundant flowers and a sense of fun

History has also played a large part in influencing layouts. Whilst Sardinia has its defensive towers dating back to Aragon and wars against the Moors, England faced invasion right through until the middle of the 20th Century. So the ancient and colourful buildings of say Cala Gavetta have no comparable equivalents to the centre of Seaford for example, which was demolished in 1940 by bombs from an errant Dornier.

An Aragoniste Tower for defence against the Moors provide picturesque views against the blue sea

An Aragoniste Tower for defence against the Moors provide picturesque views against the blue sea

What warfare did not destroy bad road/town planning and appalling architecture have joined forces to destroy at the English seaside. Many coastal resorts are ruined by poor infrastructure – improvements to road access to the Sussex coast for example have been proposed since 1971 but pusillanimous politicians and Department of Transport uncivil servants have resulted in total lethargy and nothing being achieved – only now is the M23 being completed after 30 years of dithering, whilst the M27 was stillborn in Sussex.

Maretello Tower in Seaford provides a reminder of our military past as do the pill boxes on the golf course. Of course the Museum was closed when this picture was taken

Maretello Tower in Seaford provides a reminder of our military past as do the pill boxes on the golf course. Of course the Museum was closed when this picture was taken

Seaside towns like Hastings have suffered a decline because of the lack of will to remedy the infrastructure problems – something repeated through the decaying towns of the North as the smug Westminster village travels on its £50billion worth of London infrastructure improvements. Sardinia may have problems but nothing of decay is evident. Perhaps it benefits from being an island, having a strong identity and self-awareness.  Much of the English coast suffers from the myopic focus on London. It’s not all to do with the weather.

The English vernacular and the English cottage garden. So much of our culture is private not public

The English vernacular and the English cottage garden. So much of our culture is private not public

Perhaps England needs another Wat Tyler rather than a Mussolini?

Sardinia, bougainvillea and rescue


The bougainvillea, on the stairs to my room, at dusk

At first it was just the intensity at dusk. It made the colours fluoresce, red-violet against green with an intensity that quite took my breath away. The next day I saw that although not the dominant plant in the hotels gardens it was the most dramatic in the way it shone out against the competing oleanders.


Architecture light and shade, colour and bougainvillea

The colours of the Mediterranean glow in the mid-summer sunlight – yes I was reminded today that we are past the longest day and the nights are drawing in again. It didn’t feel like that as I walked to the beach or leaped off the launch into the ocean, and the bougainvillea was full of bees and butterflies enjoying the height of summer celebration in this gorgeous plants’ vibrant petals.


Sunlight and shadow, the drama of bougainvillea

The colours used in the building architecture cleverly also sang against the brilliance of sunlight and the Mediterranean blue skies. My enjoyment of all this was nearly cut short when in an absent minded moment I dived off the launch wearing my spectacles.  In three meters of English waters they would have been gone forever especially as the boat had powered away from the immediate vicinity in the little bay of Cala Napoletana. In the clear Mediterranean waters visibility was excellent so Antonello the boat man proved up to the challenge. Under the admiring looks of the female reporters he stripped and dived in, returning to the surface triumphantly holding my glasses aloft, instantly becoming a hero to us all – well to me any rate, to others, it seemed, maybe an object of desire….???


Pink against orange. hmmm

The fascination with the bougainvillea continued through the three days, as its colour varied with the light and maybe different varieties. I wonder if it is worth trying to plant some in the garden here in Seaford – we seem to be enjoying Mediterranean temperatures at the moment, although I would imagine swimming in the English Channel is a little different to the Med. It is years since I swam off Brighton, and lovely though the weather is I don’t think Splash Point is the same as the Costa Smeralda, nor are my gardening skills as good as the gardeners of the Delphina hotel group..


Love the contrast of colour, texture, straight lines and curves

They are saying May was the warmest May ‘in history’ ! They used to content themselves with ‘since records began’ but obviously the need to dramatise global warming is bringing out the stentorian in the weather people. Warm as it is I have to say swimming eating and drinking in Sardinia made Seaford seem a little, well, lacking in superyachts…


Below is Antonello surfaced with my glasses receiving a round of applause from the hackettes.  If you come across this Italian American, shake his hand, he is one of the good guys.


The hero of the hour, my glasses in hand acknowledges, with a grin, the cheers as he rejoins the boat

Tate Titillation

Going up to town from Seaford, where I live, is relatively easy, letting the train take the strain. There are only three direct trains a day though, and the last of these gets in to town at 10.00. As I often do now, I make my meetings mid-afternoon so I can pop into the Tate. Not the modern bit , which seems to me to be mainly froth, but the Tate Britain, the original Tate that I first visited in 1967.


An old friend, so much nicer, quieter, now the coaches seem to go to Tate Modern

The Tate has followed various foibles of various Keepers through deep green walls etc., but the latest incarnation for the first time respects the original building. The architect and interior designer have allowed it to speak, holding their egos in check with quite splendid results. This is a lovely building and the subtle paint colours used allow its form to sing, whilst the modern alterations don’t hide but are done with great sensitivity yet power. The results are a delight.


The new staircase should be called a ‘starcase’ as it is undoubtedly the star of a lovely sensitive redevelopment that enhances and respects the lovely interior details

It is not just the Friends that gain a new room, although it is not really a room, more seats along the sides of a corridor (not quite as functional as previously although roomier) but the whole circulation area that gains a feeling of space and grace. Maybe it was because I was early on a weekday morning and there weren’t many people around but the ground floor around the side entrance seemed a calm oasis, with corridors to the library and the restaurant looking the part as the areas serving the premier gallery of 20th Century art in Europe.


The basement off which go the restored Whistler restaurant (great for afternoon tea my OH tells me, especially with champers) and the caff, which now spills onto the outside area

The central atrium gains a staircase down and two up, all handled with a remarkable understated effectiveness. All three staircases are beautiful, especially the original one up with its beautiful mahogany handrail, whilst the central stair down to the new Clore Centre both removes school kids from the lobby and gives them a dedicated space. Additional spaces include a Grand Saloon – an event space overlooking the Thames, again with original Victorian details in the ceiling restored.


The sensitivity of handling brings out the sculptural nature of the interior

I have been a Friend of the Tate for many years and in recent years the building works have made visits frustrating. New floors and an unfinished rehang of the main galleries meant a bitty experience but the rehang is now complete and the results are splendid. There are always going to be paintings, like Bomberg’s ‘In the Hold’, that as favourites will be missed when not hung, but the show now is intelligently put together, logical and includes showing at least some of the major English works of the 20th Century.


Galleries now have inlaid brass dates showing the decade they cover – makes finding favourites easy

New roof floors and walls, new ventilation and environmental systems have both improved the visitor experience whilst apparently reducing energy consumption. For once lighting on the artwork is superb to the point where it is, as it should be, not worthy of comment. Daylight is brought back into play too so light is more variable although on the day I was there it was dull and overcast so natural light variation was limited.


The restaurant with its Whistler mural is always busy but not expensive for central London

The architect, Rod Heyes from Caruso St. John (all praise) says “the galleries are a noble kind of background” and a background they remain but a glorious graceful and elegant foil to the art.

Roses are Red, Violets are Blue, and grass is always greener

Raindrops glistened in the grass after we had a thoroughly violent thunder and rain storm.  I decided to draw outside with the oil pastel. The sun was hot enough to turn oil pastels soft and gooey – not a good choice of media to start with. I then compounded one error with a series of other mistakes – getting hung up on trying to draw grass, instead of thinking what it really was I wanted to look at.


The rainstorm that thoroughly drenched the garden – as they say in cricket, “rain stopped play”

I took a table out onto the lawn and set myself up to draw the border that fascinated me with the elusive variations of colour it went through. Second mistake was thinking it was the drawing that mattered. So I spent an afternoon struggling to draw fallen petals on the grass before I realised the camera was a much better tool than my fingers. Interesting that Photoshop made no better a fist of rendering a line drawing of grass than I could do with pencil, but that was another blind alley. Mind you in the process I did make one small drawing of grass and daisies that I liked.


The one little drawing of grass and daisies I was happy with

I came outside because trying to work out the stems and nature of the plants for the California poppies wasn’t working. Same reason – I was hung up on how the thing looked instead of what it was that I saw, if you get my drift. It looked like a load of stems in various shades of oxide of chromium green with the golden cups of the poppies and the red poppies behind contrasting, a picture postcard photo. But what I saw was a golden arc of yellow and orange over the green,  culminating in black centred red poppy shapes against a blue  - two colour pairings of a secondary pair (green/orange) against the primary pair (red/blue).


Look closely and you will see the raindrops held on the blades of grass like midget gems

I had to get behind what I was looking at and see what it was that fascinated my eye – my brain was getting in the way.  Randomness may be apparent but underneath is the orderliness of the progression of growth, almost a mathematical pattern and that pattern of colour created what it was that I was really captivated by.


The image that captivated me

Now here I was making the same mistake again – seeing the picture of the garden border geraniums but not appreciating the fascination arose from the colour change with shadow and the contrast of purple and green created. So another day went on wrestling with the wrong set of problems. Finally I started to see the real issue, and although I filled the sketchbook pages with pencil images I realised the colour could only be matched with paint. I love the involvement I get scribbling with the pencils but my inability to see the real thing I am responding too makes me realise that although the drawing is an essential part of the realisation of the problem (the myth making as Bernard Cohen would have it) then it is through the ritual of painting that the ‘solutions’ with be identified (the ritual).


Shadow and sun show the variation in colour the light brings out

Before it gets to that stage more drawing must be worked through but this time concerned with pictorial composition. The intuitive construct that the camera/eye combination provides through initial composition and then the editing (cropping, sizing etc.) is Ok as far as it goes. But once the process goes through to becoming the icon that sits on a wall then all the considerations of structure, visual tension over the surface need sorting before scale and shape are decided and the canvas made.


Finally getting togrips with teh issues

I look forward to making the canvases with some trepidation. I’ve been to my local art stores but all the canvases have gone metric, and any way I would want something that would turn out non-standard I’m sure. But it is years since I sawed the timber to make my stretchers, so I need to put my thinking cap on. There are two paintings in here perhaps – the California poppies and the very English geraniums. There is still a fair amount of drawing to be done yet to sort out the size and proportions of the canvas, so onward and upward.