ę December 2003 | Main | February 2004 Ľ

January 30, 2004

the wave

Not so much a plank, maybe. Perhaps it’s about riding the wave. Hanging ten [or six], as Henry once told us, in the art college, in Liverpool, in the seventies; when he advocated taking up surfing, not so much as a pastime but as a way of life.

Catch the swell, he said, and ride in to the shore. But it’s hard to catch the wave, Henry, it’s not so much in your control. But thrilling none the less, I’ll give you that.

The plank, on the other hand, is where you walk yourself, alone. Making the marks that seem to matter. At first you don’t notice the footfalls, but then, as you leave the deck, they become more obvious. Until the din is almost unbearable.

it is the plank, however, that they first started surfing on; so maybe, just maybe, I'm on the right line here.

Posted by john at 10:14 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

one for capt'n Jack

Out, further out
reaching out, further
and further.

Stretching out
onto the edge
and out
onto the plank.

Tentative steps,
along the plank,
out over the dark water
where the eyeless creatures
of the deep lurk.

Itís shaky out here.
Itís extreme danger.
One slip,
one fall,
one feels
the teeth of the deep,
and heart beating
the thrill, already.

Posted by john at 11:15 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

30 ways to spend a day not painting

1. put up some panels on the easels
2. make a coffee
3. clean the palette
4. squeeze out some new paint
5. cut some wood for a new panel
6. make another cup of coffee
7. eat a fig and cut some cheese
8. walk round looking at things
9. glue the wood to the new panel
10. see if anyone’s e-mailed
11. clean the sink
12. shuffle through some drawings
13. empty the rubbish
14. make some more coffee
15. select some brushes
16. cut and glue some more wood
17. eat more cheese and figs
18. mix down a bit of paint
19. stare at the panel
20. make some more coffee
21. change the music
22. write down good ideas about painting
23. make coffee and find recently undrunk coffee
24. drink glass of water instead
25. wet some brushes
26. walk round with brushes, tapping things
27. rearrange paintings in the racks
28. try and find where brushes are now
29. wonder how on earth anything gets painted
30. go out to find snow and better glue

Posted by john at 08:18 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 29, 2004

time spent

When is a day spent not painting a day well spent?
When itís a day spent looking.
or, better still, a day spent feeling
- discuss

Posted by john at 01:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 28, 2004

the nagual

here's one from Jim:

" The nagual is the unknown, the unpredictable, the uncontrollable. For the nagual to gain access, the door of chance must be open. There must be a random factor: drips of paint down the canvas, setting the paint on fire, squirting the paint. Perhaps the most basic random factor is the shotgun blast, producing an explosion of colour into unpredictable, uncontrollable patterns and forms. Without this random factor the painter can only copy the tonal universe..."

William Burroughs

the nagual is part of Native American philosophy - they had a few things worked out, except gunpowder, sadly.

Posted by john at 08:55 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

the descent

And, like the arrival of the swifts and swallows on a late summer evening – sky waning into the warm blood orange of a lost sun, the muse descends. Fluttering and swooping with such delicious intimate spirit that it is almost dangerous. The creative promise is such that normal senses are put on hold and the moment is held, savoured, tasted, re-tasted, toasted, [tested] remembered and stored away safe in the soft corners of the right side.

There is a possibility again, a release, a window flung open upon the weather, whatever the weather, flung open on torrential rain thick snow deep frost hot sun, no matter. The window’s open, the big brushes are out.

Don’t say you don’t get the veg and gravy here.

Posted by john at 08:43 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 27, 2004

blank blank blank

There are days.
[there are many days]
when it isnít there.
When the muse is away
[doing other things]
as I guess muses must do
but what are we supposed to do?

make panels
deal with wood
and tangible stuff

thats what we do

Posted by john at 11:29 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 22, 2004

standing figures and tall grass

Iíve been painting standing figures for the Unstuck panels, and they are tricky. Your standing figure is a hard nut to crack. To make it look balanced, relaxed, comfortable and strong is difficult. [I have in fact been trying to crack this particular nut for many years.]

Iíve been doing studies of the figures, which are generally torsos. The torsos look fine, proportion-wise. The same figure, standing, as I say, is difficult. The legs are good, the torsos are good, but together something isnít working yet. And I know why.

Three and a half million years ago, when we first came down from the trees and generally started walking around upright, Africa was all tall grass. So the first impression we got of ourselves was from the thighs up Ė torsos. And it is into that image that we try and fit the image of the standing figure today.

Which is also why no-one notices when you shave your beard off Ė but thatís another story for another day.

Posted by john at 05:56 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

getting back to listening

Another aspect of music which is similar to painting is the use of the theme. Just as a good painting has elements of recognition and repetition to reassure the viewer, a musical piece will have repetitive elements which keep bringing the listener back to hearing. The painting has visual motifs which bring the viewer back to looking.

Posted by john at 01:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Beethoven and me, both

Like me, Ludwig carried a small notebook with him whereever he went in which he would jot down themes as they occurred to him. Creative thoughts occur at the most inconvenient times. On the GNER London train, where use of big brushes and oil paint is frowned upon, I feel great potential, like the solutions discovered in the dark of a woken night, but am unable to carry them out. So I write and draw in my notebook and try, later in the studio, to rekindle the flame. [Unlike Beethoven I haven’t written Ode to Joy.]

Posted by john at 12:49 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack


It’s the same with music as with painting. Most of the time we listen but don’t hear – we look but don’t see.
John Cage made this point with his piece 4’33”. Four minutes and thirty three seconds of silence. He said that by creating a silence he was forcing people to listen. I don’t think darkness would have the same effect.

Posted by john at 01:07 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 20, 2004

the flux

flux report [from coastal stations] at one six double oh, yesterday.
Good, occasionally moderate, appearing fine, increasing five to six, later.

Posted by john at 08:38 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 19, 2004

the third stage

There are three stages to a painting. Well there are many stages to a painting actually, but for the purposes of this article, Iím talking about three of them. The first stage, the second stage, and the, er Ė third. Though the first stage here isnít absolutely the first stage in Ė [enough, Ed.]

One of the first stages then, is the decision: what goes on it, how does it go on and where does it go. A difficult stage as, with nothing as yet on the panel, any marks are very obvious and vulnerable. This stage is explored on paper and with photographs before it gets to the panel, but there is still a nervous tension surrounding the first marks.

The second stage is the best. Itís really quite luxurious as itís just an abandonment of paint. A letting go. The actual act of expression, where things are fluid and changeable and generally in flux [if the flux level is okay, obviously] and sort of soft and run by the right side of the brain. The second stage [unlike a Saturn V rocket] can last for a long time.

The third stage is a stage a great many people say I should omit. It is the processing of the piece. The honing of the emotion to ensure communication. And this is where I can get stuck. Perhaps I should leave out the third stage and just leave the emotion raw. After all any marks I make on the panel are valid expressions of myself. And if this business is about anything itís about the expression of the self, not about what the self thinks others might perhaps like to see expressed.

So, there are two stages to a paintingÖ

Posted by john at 05:58 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 16, 2004

the 3 rs

revelation, recognition and repetition.

A painting should be a mystery that will slowly reveal itself over time. As it reveals itself the viewer will begin to recognise elements of the painting. If these elements are repeated within the painting, it confirms the viewerís growing beliefs and satisfaction increases [exponentially].

Posted by john at 10:46 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 15, 2004

scottie dogs & tartan ribbons

Do you paint what you want to paint or do you paint what others want you to paint?

Well the answer would appear easy, especially if youíve been paying attention to these diaries. But the basic truth of the matter is: if you paint what you want you struggle to sell your work, whereas if you paint what sells Ė what others want, then perhaps you can earn a living. But then itís Scottie dogs and tartan ribbons all down the line.

Posted by john at 02:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 13, 2004

what work works

I donít want to over work the panels, but then neither do I want to under work them. Which leave me facing the dilemma: what work works?

Artists have exhibited canvases just painted white, or not painted at all. Artists have exhibited unpainted canvases turned to face the wall. Artists have exhibited no work whatsoever Ė just the gallery painted white.

So there are no guidelines out there, there is no rule book. I just have to go on what I think works, and that is a long frightening struggle.

Posted by john at 04:46 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

approaching the edge

Rolling along, approaching the edge. Itís good; getting closer to the feelings I want to express. But, like a snowball, the further I roll, the more associated baggage I seem to accumulate, until the snowball gets unwieldy and difficult to handle, and, wobbling along the edge, itís in danger of getting away, crashing down the slope and smashing itself into a million* pieces at the bottom.

*give or take a snowflake.

Posted by john at 03:54 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 12, 2004

the paint and the brushes

The paint, originally squeezed or dropped in separate dollops, merges across the palette, from light to dark, from right to left*. This doesnít happen straight away, it happens as the paint is used, as the hues and tints are created.

This palette is created by the brushes. The brushes merge the paint, and the paint builds up on the brushes. When I have been painting for a few hours and the palette is beginning to evolve, creating a wealth of rich skin tones, the brushes are building up a mixture of hues and tints. It is this build up on the brushes that creates a new level to the process of painting. I only vaguely know what tints and what strengths are on each brush, so I can be delighted by the marks the brushes make on the panel. [I can be horrified too Ė but that is the delight of oil paint: it can be scraped off]

*I lay up my palette with white on the right, dark on the left. In my various studios, the windows have always been on my right, facing North for the matter of that, and therefore the light streams across the model from the right. Maybe thatís why I put the white on the right and the dark on the left. Not to mention rhymes and Latin significance and cranial job allocations.

Posted by john at 05:08 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

painting and scraping

I sit and look at the panel, I put some paint on. I look some more, I scrape the paint off [but not all of it]. I put some more paint on Ė I have perhaps six brushes to choose from each with a progressively darker tint from white to dark shadow. I push the paint about a bit, drawing the darkness across the light, or moving the highlights into the darkness. Always looking, always sculpting the form.

The brushes, loaded with paint, hold their history, the palette shares it; the picture, eventually, holds this history as its own story.

Posted by john at 09:05 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

tabla rasa

The empty slate, scraped clean, leaving potential. Rasa, to erase, rase, shave, shaved clean. The slate was covered in wax, the stylus scratched the surface of the wax, describing letters, forming words. When the slate was full, or the lesson was over, the top layer of wax was shaved off, leaving a clean slate.

Posted by john at 08:59 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

ancient feelings

Bare feet on cold rocks
Cold water in grass pools

Posted by john at 08:52 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 07, 2004


What is significant to one might not, nor should be, significant to another. But it is interesting to know what is significant to others. It can help to throw a little light onto the puzzle that is our all too brief time on planet Earth.

And it is the Arts, above all, that demonstrate this individual significance. By looking at the creative output of artists we can see what they feel is significant and gain insight or comfort.

Posted by john at 10:02 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

naked truth

Can we let on? Can we tell others? Can we do what we want? No, we can’t, we can’t face the shame of the bold, bare, naked truth; the gut-wrenching honesty that would finally free us. We can’t let go; we can’t, in fact, be ourselves.

But I can try and paint it, the truth, as I see it.

Posted by john at 08:07 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

getting going

it's always hard
to get going.
I'm sitting here,
waiting to want to continue to bother...

Posted by john at 04:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 06, 2004

blind gunnery

"exercise practised by Ruritanian artillery who are blindfolded, given the general direction but not the precise location of a target and required to fire, at their own expense, as many shells as may be necessary until it is hit."
Jeffrey Caine, Writers' Guild Newsletter, September-October 1991

Posted by john at 12:36 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Disappearing through the trees

So I am attempting to capture the momentous feelings our DNA provides us with, to ensure the continuance of the strand I guess, when we experience [as Cole Porter put it] a glimpse of stocking. But why are we so attracted to the glimpse? Vilayanur S. Ramachandran suggests, in his Reith Lectures 2003, that we evolved in highly camouflaged environments [forests and such], and, to ensure our continued interest, as our proposed mate disappears through the trees, our brains are programmed to find every partial glimpse of her to be pleasing, pleasing enough to continue to want to bother.

Posted by john at 12:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

waking dreams

To try and get down the images which drive the emotions I search blindly through my subconscious, questioning questions, thinking about thoughts, activities as tricky as trying to chew your own teeth. I struggle and grope in the darkness, dredging up my feelings and endeavouring to GET THEM OUT, endeavouring to get unstuck.

Like those early morning dreams when you canít quite see, when your eyes are only half open, when your eyes are wide shut for half the time and the world exists in a twilight un-focused haze created from snatched views of a shuttered darkness. A reality pieced together from glimpses caught in the brief moments when your eyes are open, unable to make sense of things, missing crucial information.

Posted by john at 12:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 03, 2004

straight from the barrel

What painting’s for:
feelings of life
[experience gained]
feelings felt,
emotions ridden.

A life lived:
always waiting
temptations fought,
urges suppressed,
sights ignored.

Sights ignored, but then searched out under the spotlight. The created glimpse is not so powerful, so exciting, as the chanced upon, suddenly discovered beauty, of hidden life.

So the marks on the panels must attempt to capture the nature of the found image. Obscured and layered in paint, they must trap the instant, the momentous, the stimulating, the exciting, [the slightly risky edge of the most exciting, heart stopping, emotion] and hold it firm for four hundred years.

many thanks to the Barrel House cafť, Totnes.

Posted by john at 11:08 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack