Tuesday, 3 December 2019


Winter is well underway in England at the moment although being on the south coast we get quite a bit of warmer damp weather to break up those lovely frosty mornings.  For me, I find myself quite pleased to get to December.  It always seems quite a short month and near the end we have Christmas - with all its many reasons for enjoying it. 

This is a pencil portrait I did which I've called "Waiting", suggesting the season of Advent when we wait for the festival of Christmas. It comes from a photograph I found on Pexels - a resource of royalty-free photographs which I've only just discovered.  This photograph was taken by Engin Akyurt who is a brilliant photographer with many images contributed to Pexels.  Thank you Engin! 

Google Photos never ceases to amaze me.  I was down at the beach last week and took a photo with my phone of the waves crashing on the cliffs.  A couple of days later, Google Photos gave me a notification that it had done something with the photo and when I looked at it I saw that they'd transformed it into something really nice by bringing out the colours in it and making it really sing. 

And finally, here's one more drawing I did last week - the model was Rick from sktchy. 

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

sktchy Art School

For the last three or four months I've been working through some pencil drawing course on sktchy Art School with tutor France Van Stone.  France is a highly accomplished drawer as anyone who's got her book Sketch will know.

France has courses on pencil and iPad sketching with modules on beards, eyes, wrinkles, cross-hatching and even one where she uses both drawing on paper and on iPad as a useful comparison.

I've learned so much from these course about simplification of materials (just a couple of pencils and a sheet of copier paper is enough!), building volume, proportions within the face, and so much more.  These courses are a reasonable price and of course you can come back to the video lessons over and over again.

There is also a useful community aspect to the school in that you can post your drawings and receive feedback from the tutor and other students.

OK, so the subject matter is a bit limited (portraits) but if that's what you want to learn about then sktchy Art School is a terrific resource.  Anyway here are four of my fifty or so drawings which I've done in the last few weeks.  They're all A4 size (about 8"x11") and are all done with just two pencils on mixed media paper. I'm reasonably happy with them but still have some way to go to.   

A lot of pencil artists try to draw in a photo-realistic style, with incredibly smooth textures and a considerable amount of blending.  I am pleased to say that France Van Stone likes to see the pencil marks and so do I. I see very little point in slavishly copying a photograph so that it looks like a photograph.  Surely a work of art should bring something else to the table than "wow, that's just like a photo!".  

Friday, 2 August 2019

The sktchy app

Well, having had a major birthday last month (one ending in zero) I finally got hold of an iPad - I've resisted all things Apple for a long time now, but I've had to admit that when it comes to art apps, its hard to beat.  In particular I wanted the sktchy app which presents you with a portrait photograph every morning for you to draw or paint.  I also wanted ProCreate - perhaps the best digital drawing app.  Neither of these apps are available on Android tablets or phones. 

I've loved using sktchy and have done a number of drawings from it in the last couple of weeks.  We went away last weekend for a couple of nights in the seaside town of Hastings, just up the coast from where we live. I enjoyed getting up early in the mornings and immediately looking up the portrait photograph of the day and trying to produce something on paper to do it justice.  Here are a few of my efforts.

Hastings itself is an interesting place with quite a few artists working in the town and a prestigious gallery called the Hastings Contemporary.  We didn't have time to visit but I would have liked to have seen the current exhibition by illustrator and cartoonist Quentin Blake.  

We stayed in a really nice apartment on the edge of the Country Park.  We saw a green woodpecker and a greater spotted woodpecker in the tree outside our apartment and a pair of badgers came around at night looking for food.   

The weekend was finished off by us replacing our elderly Vauxhall with a new(ish) car - a Citroen this time which is a treat to drive with all its various gizmos.  It makes me realise quite how old our Vauxhall was and how cars have moved on in recent years.  

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Thérese of Lisieux

I love the Normandy region of France and have been there many times.  I live near the ferry port of Newhaven and ships from there take us straight across the English Channel to the Normandy port of Dieppe.  From there it is only a short drive to some very beautiful parts of Normandy, not least the lovely Calvados country with its apple orchards and farm-based Calvados distilleries where the farmers let you sample their apple brandy.

The ancient town of Lisieux is interesting and contains a huge church - the Basilica dedicated to the Catholic saint of Thérese of Lisieux.  While I am not a Catholic, I have to say, there is something quite special about the story of Thérese and I can see why she inspires to much devotion, particularly among Normandy residents who now have their very own saint.  When you go to the Basilica and descend to the crypt you are confroned with a beautiful chapel dedicated to St Thérese, rich with colour and decoration.

Anyway, hear is a painting I did yesterday of Thérese's childhood home in Alençon (also in Normandy).

The house is open to the public and the website says (English translation), 
 . . .the family home of Saints Martin Spouse, also birthplace of St. Therese, opens its doors to get closer to them and find the authenticity of the time they lived. The visit accompanied by the house introduces the life of the Martin family - Saints Louis and Zélie, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and his sisters - to Alençon, thanks to five spaces: the reception hall with the historic gallery, the exhibition of personal objects, the auditorium, the house and the chapel. A film from the family correspondences presents the life of the family in Alençon, the only city where she lived in full, from 1871 to 1877.  
The staging allows to recreate the atmosphere and atmosphere of the family life of the Martin, and the youth of the little Saint. The chapel with its sculptures and frescoes evokes Saint Therese and opens on the conjugal chamber of Saints Martin Spouse, also birthplace of Saint Therese and place of the death of Saint Zélie. 

Whatever you think of this sort of thing, this is a fascinating place and very picturesque.  Well worth a visit to either Lisieux or Alencon.  

Sunday, 12 May 2019

A visit to Lewes

Yesterday afternoon (Saturday), Margaret and I went across to the nearby town of Lewes to join in the displays for M.E. Awareness Week. M.E. Is a dreadfully debilitating and much misunderstood medical condition affecting at least a quarter of a million people in Britain, yet something which is little understood by doctors and which has attracted little research funding. Margaret has suffered from it for 28 years now - an amazing length of time to be contantly feeling below par and with chronic pain.

There was a good if small group of people on the bridge over the River Ouse and the whole area was thronged with shoppers and other people enjoying a sunny afternoon in the town. The Green Party were also in the area handing out leaflets and I was glad to see that their leader, Caroline Lucas was there. She came over and chatted ot the M. E. People for a while which was nice.

Caroline Lucas beneath the yellow sign.  Margaret to the left looking at the camera
Afterwards, Margaret and I went for a coffee and then came home, she feeling much depleted by the afternoon's activities and in considerable pain. Despite this I am glad that she was able to go and she did actually have the opportunity to speak to Caroline Lucas.

In the evening I completed a painting of the first car I'd ever owned, back in 1968. I sold a Lambretta motor-scooter in order to buy it. It turned out to be a "rust-bucket" with many holes stuffed with newspaper and patched over with filler. I soon changed if for a Mini which while having problems of its own was an improvement.

Here is the painting of the A40.

Last week I also did two morepaintings - one of Montrésor, small town in the Loire Valley and another (at the top of this post) of a beautiful little building in Tréguier in Brittany. I love painting scenes from France as while I am doing them I am taken back in my mind I to happy times driving through that lovely country.


Thursday, 2 May 2019


Well, Easter came and went - this year I was following Tom Wright's book on the Gospel Of John, John for Everyone and had timed it so that the crucifixion and resurrection narratives fitted in with the festival.  At Seaford Baptist Church, East Sunday was marked by the adult baptism of two people who had both become Christians "from nowhere" - one in particular told us how a year ago he was struggling in despair with everything in his life going wrong and excessive drinking, but now everything was new and fresh.

Since my last post I've been doing an online course in drawing pencil portraits by the Canadian artist France Van Stone.  Its been really good learning how to build up volume and form from pencil lines.  Here are two of my efforts, firstly  Phoebe Waller-Bridge as Fleabag (from the BBC 3 series)

And another of the writer and speaker Jordan Peterson (I express no views on his opinions - he just had an interesting face).

Finally, to add some colour to this post here is a painting I did in the garden of our lovely Clematis Montana - the blooms last such a short time I felt I had to try to capture them.

For those who read my previous post in which I mentioned my newly-aquired tortoise "Hilary", we have definitely agreed that he is a male not a female as we first supposed.  The behaviour in the video below apparently proves it.  Some people say its territorial behaviour but who can read a tortoise's tiny brain?  Anyway, he's providing us with a lot of fun and its surprising how much we've taken to having him wandering around the garden (now totally tortoise-proofed - or so I hope).

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Dealing with a death in the family

Its been very difficult to find time for painting over the last month, due to a death in the family.  My cousin died in a town about 40 miles from me.  I wasn't exactly "close" to him but had kept up a relationship after many years and because he was a single all his life we tended to invite him to visit us from time to time and spend the weekend.  My cousin had many interests but after his parents died he found it difficult to cope with organising his life and when he got the first inkling of cancer, he more or less decided to take the ostrich approach and not accept meaningful treatment.  A year later he was gone.

Because I was his next of kin I (and another cousin) have had to spend the last three days going through his house. It has been a dispiriting experience - the whole place was in a terrible mess and I had to wear rubber gloves for much of the time.  He had never seemed able to throw out anything from his parents life (even though they died 12 years ago), or his own and this went to the extent that when he bought a new jacket, he would just add it to his every growing collection.  One wardrobe was full of worn-out Harris Tweed sports jackets going back years and years.  Another had his father's old suits and his mother's ancient fur coats in it.

I also had to deal with the sheer accumulation of pointless collections.  Hundreds of old coins - not valuable ones, but just the now out-of-date variety from 20-30 years ago.  Countless old magazines and journals.  Old clocks and watches - none of which had been kept nicely but just stuck in cupboards or in the loft.  Barometers galore - not even nice ones, just rather dated instruments made of mahogany and all showing different barometric pressures.  The vast majority of my cousin's stuff would be what I would call "car-boot" category where you'd get a couple of pounds for each one.

Add to that hundreds of dust-covered CDs and DVDs which even a charity shop won't accept in these days of media-streaming.  There were literally thousands of books - we found 30 boxes of 100 each in the loft (each box with a nicely indexed list of its contents on top!).  I don't even know how we will even get them out of the loft  and we'll have to leave it to the house-clearance specialists.

Even the house is dilapidated with huge subsidence cracks running through it.  We had a surveyor in yesterday who told us that it couldn't be sold as a habitable home but would have to go for auction or as a cash-sale to a builder.  And this is highly prestigious private road with beautiful properties all around.

After three days of this I am just feeling so weary of seeing the contents of a life displayed like this. My wife and I are already enthusiastic de-clutterers (Marie Kondo's programmes on Netflix are just up our street!), but I have come back this evening wanting to take an even closer critical look at my possessions.  I want to leave as small a foot-print as possible on this planet when it comes to my time to depart.  Our lives do not consist in what we own or keep but in our experiences, our memories and our relationships.  The rest just tarnishes and dulls leaving dust-covered heaps for someone else to clear up.  As Jesus said in the gospel of Luke, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions".

The only bright spot is that we have now adopted Hilary, Gerard's 60 year old tortoise.  She has settled in very well here. It took me a while to tortoise-proof the garden but it was a delight last weekend to see her walking around exploring her new domain and looking perfectly at home here.  Here is a drawing I did of her.  Another generation of children is now feeding her kale and tomatoes, fascinated by the way she pops her head out of her shell and takes whole cabbage stalks from their hands.