« July 2005 | Main | September 2005 »

August 30, 2005

Limiting the choice

As I mentioned below it’s easier to choose breakfast when offered either bacon and eggs or toast and marmalade, than it is if you are offered absolutely every edible thing in the world, well alright - Tesco.

So maybe one of the reasons I paint the figure is because it is a limitation. With a model in front of me I know what to paint. There are plenty different ways in which to paint the figure, and that alone is enough choice.


Faced with a huge empty panel and permission to do absolutely anything you want, the scope of choice is daunting and the decision-making process almost impossible.

Another reason I paint the figure is that I like painting life.

Posted by john at 09:41 PM | Comments (0)

What do you want for breakfast?

You can do anything, you just have to face the consequences, say The Wise. And of course it’s true. In art, today, especially.

But if you can do anything you still have to do something. And to do something, you have to choose what and you have to chose from the whole scope of anything. And that’s a difficult choice, there’s a lot to chose from.

I always maintain that it is easier to chose when the limitations are narrow. “Do you want bacon and eggs for breakfast or toast and marmalade?” A relatively easy choice, made easily with little fuss. “We’ve got everything, what do you want for breakfast?” Much more difficult.

So when painting had its rules, religious icons and portraiture, it was relatively easy to get going in the morning. But today, when absolutely anything is art, where do you start?

You go to the café and have a toasted teacake for breakfast, that’s where.

Posted by john at 09:56 AM | Comments (0)

August 29, 2005

Are you feeling comfortable?

Secrets of painting No. 7

Matisse painted more often than not in a suit and tie, sometimes with a white coat over the top. Magritte painted in a suit, but his cause is not mine.

I favour comfortable clothes.
Old shoes


Or no shoes preferably
Baggy trousers certainly


Try to remain unrestricted,
so you can move freely.

whatever you do

[Matisse did.
But he had other secrets
that we aren’t privy to.]

for the best results,
I [and Picasso] advocate
total freedom:


Posted by john at 04:10 PM | Comments (0)

August 28, 2005

Caput Mortuum

Caput Mortuum means: the residue. You can buy a colour of the same name in a tube, it's a sort of purpleyreddybrown colour. I use the residue from the bottom of the turps pot, the old tin where I leave the solvent to clear after washing my brushes out.


Applied here as a ground, and mostly wiped off before sealing with damar varnish cut 50/50 with genuine turpentine - for the techincally minded.

A lot of work went on before I got into the Caput Mortuum thing. There was paper stuck to the panel and gesso and primer a-plenty to give it the texture.

Posted by john at 06:45 PM | Comments (0)

August 24, 2005

not blowing eggs

I don’t blow eggs. I have blown eggs, don’t get me wrong, and there’s nothing better for making you dizzy, short of trying to inflate a hot water bottle with your lungs.

I do many things, as might be apparent to regular readers of these diaries. It’s good to do a lot of different things, it's good not to narrow your outlook and specialise - look what happened to the dinosaurs. [okay okay, before you all start e-mailing me I know the dinosaurs were wiped out by a virulent strain of Bird Flu] [that was obviously just before the giant meteor hit the Yucatan peninsular and created The Caribbean, Pirates and Package Holidays.] [enough in parentheses Ed.]

But, when doing a lot of things, there is a danger of not doing them all terribly well – the Jack of all trades, master of none syndrome. So if you do a lot of things you have to work especially hard at each and every one.

That’s okay, I’m not a stranger to hard work. But it can confuse people, people who like to think they know what you do and who you are.


Oh yes he’s a figurative painter


Who does portraits. So far so good


Oh, and he takes photographs, yes, well it's visual I guess


And he paints abstract pictures… we’ve all got to earn a living


And he does abstract sculpture – well we could understand it more perhaps if it was figurative sculpture, but...


And he’s doing some weird shit with text and clothes



What, what, what is going on?

You tell me.
I just do it.
[amongst other things]

Posted by john at 01:09 PM | Comments (0)

egg blowing

Some people start blowing eggs at an early age, and stick with it, for reasons known only to themselves.


They get better at it, as is often the case if you stick at something. They become the best egg blower in the village, then the best egg blower in the area and get onto regional TV.

They continue their egg-blowing activities and in time become recognised as the leading authority on egg blowing, and indeed their collection of blown eggs and egg-blowing stories is considered unparallel. They appear on national television, and are sought after by many egg-related events and publications.

Their book: Blowing Eggs, becomes, if not a best seller, at least the final word on the subject. They get invited to speak at dinners. They are important. And they probably eat a lot of omelettes.

Posted by john at 12:38 PM | Comments (0)

August 22, 2005

Painting is killer shit

"It's like being a god half the time and a murderer the rest of the time. You're creating a universe in the studio. You're trying to make something new in the world one minute, and the next you're cutting it up and lacerating it. You're tearing it, sweating like a pig, totally soaked. Painting is killer shit."

John Hoyland RA on being an artist

Posted by john at 01:41 AM | Comments (0)

August 20, 2005

Escaping the fugg

Distractions in the humdrum day

No matter how bright and inspiring, how full of possibilities, the studio is; sometimes the walls close in and a fugg descends.

So seeking for further amusement, I pay and go into the zoo. Which in this instance is a café in town. Where I can get a cup of stimulant and watch the world go by, with the sun shining on the flapping white shirt [which reminded Dewi, on the table opposite, of the Bard] warm on my back.


And I scratch and scribble and write and dip my finger in the dregs of the coffee to add some depth to the page. There are no conclusions to be had, no destinations, but I find a few more places to visit, and a few more sticks to break into the fire.

Posted by john at 04:49 PM | Comments (0)

August 19, 2005

Splatt Theory - part the second

Mary Shelley meets Jackson Pollock

As the Glasgow commission continues, I deconstruct the splashes and splatters and, [taking bits from here and bits from there] reconstruct an Ideal Splash mwah-ha ha ha! [Hoist the lightning conductor, Igor, the storm is getting closer]


The final piece will be four canvases hung in a block with a gap between them it’ll be something like this:


The difficulty is maintaining the Spontaneity of the Splash whilst in amongst the acrylic paint with the small brush. I’m not happy with it yet, there’s still more work required before I set about the final piece.


And as a bonus Scottish Television are coming to film me flinging paint about.

Posted by john at 06:39 PM | Comments (0)

Risking failure

"Any artist worthy of the name, takes risks, and when you take risks you often fail"
Tom Robbins

Alan Sugar, of Amstrad, told us that out of a hundred ideas 40 would fail, but so long as 60 succeeded that was ok. You can’t learn to ski without falling over. And we all know about omelettes.

It’s important to take risks in art. Though because painting is a lengthy business, undertaken by one person, failing is an expensive, time consuming affair, doing little for self-esteem and confidence.

No one can expect good paintings all the time. But a modicum of success is encouraging. The paradox is unless you take risks and push your ideas as far as you can the chances of success are limited, but by taking risks you increase the failure rate too. So the temptation is to go for the cosy-easy life of low risk, little failure and little success.

Don’t be tempted, break some eggs.

Posted by john at 12:37 AM | Comments (0)

Popular portrait requests

“Hello, John Coombes.”
“Do you paint portraits?”
“Could you paint a portrait of my mum and dad,
for their silver wedding,
from their wedding photo?”
“No – I only work from life”

“Hello, John Coombes.”
“Do you paint portraits of dogs?”

“Hello, John Coombes.”
“You do portraits don’t you?”
“Do you do pet portraits?"
“No – that’s what cameras are for”

Posted by john at 12:12 AM | Comments (0)

August 18, 2005

Letter to Theo

“You must boldly exaggerate the effects of either harmony or discord which colour produces. It is the same as in drawing – accurate drawing, accurate colour, is perhaps not the essential thing to aim at, because the reflection of reality in a mirror, if it could be caught, colour and all, would not be a picture at all, no more than a photograph.”

Vincent van Gogh


Posted by john at 09:24 PM | Comments (0)

Thus spake Freud

"I paint the sort of paintings I can, not the ones I necessarily want."

"I want paint to work as flesh... my portraits to be of the people, not like them. Not having a look of the sitter, being them ... As far as I am concerned the paint is the person. I want it to work for me just as flesh does."

"I could never put anything into a picture that wasn't actually there in front of me. That would be a pointless lie, a mere bit of artfulness."

"The painting is always done very much with [the model's] co-operation. The problem with painting a nude, of course, is that it deepens the transaction. You can scrap a painting of someone's face and it imperils the sitter's self-esteem less than scrapping a painting of the whole naked body."

"I don't want any colour to be noticeable... I don't want it to operate in the modernist sense as colour, something independent... Full, saturated colours have an emotional significance I want to avoid."

"Since the model he so faithfully copies is not going to be hung up next to the picture ... it is of no interest whether it is an accurate copy of the model. Whether it will convince or not, depends entirely on what it is in itself, what is there to be seen. The model should only serve the very private function for the painter of providing the starting point for his excitement. The picture is all he feels about it, all he thinks worth preserving of it, all he invests it with. If all the qualities which a painter took from the model for his picture were really taken, no person could be painted twice."

"The aura given out by a person or object is as much a part of them as their flesh. The effect that they make in space is as bound up with them as might be their colour or smell ... Therefore the painter must be as concerned with the air surrounding his subject as with the subject itself. It is through observation and perception of atmosphere that he can register the feeling that he wishes his painting to give out."

"A painter must think of everything he sees as being there entirely for his own use and pleasure. ... And, since the model he faithfully copies is not going to be hung up next to the picture, since the picture is going to be there on its own, it is of no interest whether it is an accurate copy of the model."

Lucian Freud, painter

Lucian Freud.jpg

Posted by john at 05:32 PM | Comments (0)

The hundred and ten percent man

There's no point in doing this creative stuff unless you put in a hundred and ten percent.

Live it.
Breathe it.
Be it.

Or forget it.

There are too many people out there to go at these things half-heartedly.

But the Hundred and Ten Percent Man faces problems. It’s not easy being around him. There aren’t many gaps. He does things at 110%, but he also feels things at 110%. Which, when they are good things, is great; but where they are bad it’s terrible.

Okay, so no-one said it was easy.

Posted by john at 12:55 AM | Comments (0)

August 17, 2005

Looking different – feeling good


Just some of the things needed to be an artist.

Posted by john at 02:06 PM | Comments (0)

This Art thang

Anything can be art, but everything isn’t art. If everything was art, then, in a puff of semantics, art would cease to exist. It’s a matter of choice, you choose to call what you do art. There are no guidelines anymore. Art has become existential: if it’s in an Art Gallery then it must be Art.

After the choice it’s all down to commitment, conviction and confidence. Oh, sure, there can be skill involved. But ever since Art left Artisan skill has been downsizing. Skill can be worked at. Skill can be practised and learnt and improved. You can’t create passion if there isn’t any there in the first place.

If you have a passion that’s the beginning. If you have an obsession that helps too, particularly these days. Strong emotions are a focus and will spur you on to acquiring the skills necessary to produce work that will exorcise or communicate your passion.

Posted by john at 09:14 AM | Comments (0)

August 15, 2005


Duff link, sorry,

In RED ON WHITE, below, the last link: white isn't a colour, sent you to Farrow and Ball again. It doesn't any more, it sends you off where it should: to that far flung corner of the internet where clever people discuss the nature of the universe.

Posted by john at 10:56 PM | Comments (0)

Back to the Circus

The trilogy, or triptych as we call it in these art-sodden circles, of the Circus Girl is reaching completion. The final painting awaits some fiddling in the background to bring it in line with the other two and generally tie the whole thing together.


For, though it was the last to be painted, it actually forms the centre of the piece.


On the left we have the Young Apprentice, on the right we have the Visiting Dancer and in the middle there stands the Daughter of the Owner, born and bred into the ring, with sawdust under her fingernails and between her toes.

things proper to be known: Every time the circus moves on, some of the sawdust from the ring is collected and kept to be thrown into the new ring at the next town.

Posted by john at 09:54 PM | Comments (0)

Splatt Theory

Acrylic paint! I’m an Old Dog and I realise the difficulties in learning New Tricks, but how the fuck does anyone paint with acrylic paint? Or am I missing something?

It streaks, it drags and it dries before you can get the brush back for a second helping. Okay, so the quick drying properties have their advantages, but you got to be quick with the rinse or it’s time to buy new brushes.

Being used to leaving my brushes laden with the history of the oil mix, I find it distressing to have to wipe out all trace of paint from the tools so often.

So, yes, there are extenders, and you can let it down with water, and, yes, it does come in big tubs and looks all good and gloopy, but when you apply brush to canvas it doesn’t work! It’s a whole different discipline, and we’re talking:

More work required I feel.

Posted by john at 12:14 PM | Comments (0)

It's okay

It’s okay not to do anything for a while.
Just wandering around thinking
[and tapping things, obviously].

Then it’s okay to do anything.
Going anywhere is better than going nowhere.

Posted by john at 09:07 AM | Comments (0)

August 14, 2005

A splash of red paint in the mind of somebody with a paint kettle

In an attempt to maintain the intrinsically dynamic effects and idiosyncrasies of reality, whilst simultaneously stimulating a received impression of what visual sensation a splash should trigger I will reconstruct an image using elements of illusionary splashes coupled with realistic detailing from actual splashes to increase the verisimilitude of the overall impact and suppress the reality/non-reality conflict that could ultimately confuse the intended reaction and set up a visual contradiction presenting the eventual work merely as a pastiche of post-Disney graphic pop iconography as opposed to the painterly representation of the active results of a contrived accident.

Posted by john at 05:43 PM | Comments (0)

August 13, 2005

All the reds

Napthol Red
Alizarin Crimson
Indigo Red
Venetian red
Red Oxide
Cadmium Red
Caput Mortem
Madder Lake
Geranium Lake
Crimson Lake
Boating Lake*
Rose Madder
Indian Red
Terra Rosa
Red Ochre
Golden Barok

And today we’ll be using Red Ochre, on the left, mixed, progressively, with Cadmium Red [hue] on the right, over Titanium White cut with Unbleached Titanium Dioxide.


*okay, maybe not

Posted by john at 07:20 PM | Comments (0)

Red on White

“Red on white” he says.
“Red on white?” says I.

there is a pause

“Do you know how many whites there are?”
“Ah,” says he.
“Never mind the reds!” says I.

The Ford Motor Company confesses to 30 shades of white for their cars, Farrow and Ball [manufacturers of traditional papers and paints] have upwards of 20 shades of white on their colour card. These include:

Strong white
All white
Great white
New white
James white
Blacked white
House white
Lime white
Off white
Old white
Wall white
Bone white

But white isn't a colour I hear you cry.

We’ll come to the reds when I have more time.

Posted by john at 02:33 PM | Comments (0)

In case you were wondering...



Posted by john at 01:58 PM | Comments (0)

getting there


thrown, flicked and dripped,
in that order

still not the bucket,
it has to be said,
but somehow pleasing,
none the less

Posted by john at 02:29 AM | Comments (0)

August 12, 2005

Anatomy of Splatter III

the story continues…

The paint must needs be acrylic owing to the prohibitive drying times of oil paint.


Still trying to get the splash and splatter right. It needs to be part illusion and part reality. Too much illusion and it is a one-hit wonder with plenty of WOW! factor but no AHH! factor.


Too much reality and, whereas it may have AHH! factor a-plenty, it lacks the WOW!


eh well, back to the paint kettle…

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

August 11, 2005

Anatomy of Splatter II

flinging the paint about a bit

You have to balance the blot and splatter. It's getting the consistency right: too thick and there’s no splatter, too thin and there’s no blot.

Drop the paint from on high:

or scoop it out and fling it at the canvas à la Jackson Pollock:

Dash it across the canvas straight from the pot:

or flick it from the end of the big palette knife:

All have different results. None of which looks particularly like paint flung from a bucket, but we’ll get to that later.

Other famous flung paint stories: Ruskin accusing Whistler of “flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face”.

Ruskin said he “"never expected to hear a coxcomb ask 200 guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public's face"

Whistler sued Ruskin for libel. The defence lawyers asked him if he thought the two days he spent painting Nocturne was worth 200 guineas: "No", Whistler replied, "I ask it for the knowledge of a lifetime."

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

Anatomy of splatter

A commission from Mr Edwards in Glasgow has got me back into the swing of things. Mr Edwards, who already has some of my figurative work, wants a giant red splash on his wall – “as if you’ve thrown a bucket of red paint at the canvas”.

Well if you throw a bucket of red paint at a canvas sadly it doesn’t look like you’ve thrown a bucket of red paint at a canvas, it just looks a mess. To get a canvas that looks like you’ve just thrown a bucket of red paint at it you could line up blank canvases from here to Tesco’s and still not get it.

As a Foley Artist will tell you, to get the sound of something on a film you don’t always use the actual thing. Which tells us something about perception and what we think things sound, and indeed, look like, as opposed to what they actually are [and do]. In this, the media is often self-fulfilling. That is: we have heard gunshots on film and television for so long, if we hear a real gunshot we wonder what it is. Effects in the media are exaggerated to highten our excitement.

So to make an image that looks like a bucket of red paint has been thrown at the canvas I shall have to spend a long time flinging paint about to achieve the desired effect. Once more proving art is an illusion to get to the truth.


ink dropped from 3m onto white cartidge paper, 30mm x 35mm

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

getting back up to speed

stopped moving furniture around and started flinging paint about a bit.

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

August 10, 2005

Creeping back

not so many zeros

Posted by john at 01:20 PM | Comments (0)

August 08, 2005


still nothing

Posted by john at 08:01 AM | Comments (0)

August 06, 2005


sometimes it's just zeros


Posted by john at 04:55 PM | Comments (0)

August 05, 2005

fruit salads

"Imagination is more important than knowledge"
Albert Einstein

"Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit - wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad"

Posted by john at 02:43 PM | Comments (0)

August 04, 2005

Naming of parts

Sometimes it’s a title that helps make sense of a series of images. A title like Becoming Unstuck, can give a sense of purpose and reality to an otherwise subjective business. Hell! With a title you can get a rubber stamp.


And once you have a title other things grow; the Unstuck Diaries for instance, because it can have a name and a name gives it life.

Sometimes I’m in the studio, like today, sitting in the middle of a lot of panels I’m working on, wondering which way is up, and I don’t understand what I’m doing. Except for the single thread which runs through everything, namely: that I am doing it. And I can’t fit the images and ideas and feelings together into The Grand Scheme of Things. And I question my purpose. And I discover there is no purpose. And it is the creation of a title, a name, that makes sense of it all, and gives it a purpose. Once you start collecting things together, you got to start naming the parts.

Posted by john at 03:43 PM | Comments (0)

August 03, 2005

cat from bag - found!

After an exhaustive search,
we finally found the cat,
[that got out of the bag]
and cornered him;
the little tyke.


Posted by john at 07:15 PM | Comments (0)

the cat's out the bag

"Drawing the naked body shows up every incompetence, every sloppiness, but especially every infantilism, vulgarity, lovelessness, callousness, of the person who draws. All peeping, all looking, all non-seeing, non-feeling, is caught red-handed. Show me your nudes and I know who you are"

Fredrick Frank - The Zen of Seeing

that's me fucked then.

Posted by john at 04:36 PM | Comments (0)


There is no point whatsoever in painting anything, abstract or figurative, creating anything conceptual or concrete, unless it has some resonance. Unless it communicates something to other people and somehow triggers an emotion.

Some of today’s more sensational artists tend to go for just that, an easy emotional trigger: shock or horror. It’s harder to go for deeper emotions, but important to try nonetheless. Though it is a shame that the media always picks up on the cheap, dirty, trick; and has no time to dwell on work with a deeper, more satisfying, resonance.

Posted by john at 09:49 AM | Comments (0)

That initial belief

“There’s no point in writing a book if you don’t think it can be as good as The Great Gatsby. I mean, it’s all right if you fail – if the finished book just isn’t, somehow, very good – but you have to believe it can be good before you start”

John Irving - The Hotel New Hampshire

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

August 01, 2005

Originality - the truth

The thing that hath been, is that which shall be;
and that which is done is that which shall be done:
and there is no new thing under the sun.

Is there any thing whereof it may be said, see, this is new?
It hath been already of old time, which was before us.

Ecclesiastes, The Bible.
chapter 1, verses 9 & 10


Posted by john at 04:07 PM | Comments (0)