ę November 2005 | Main | January 2006 Ľ

December 31, 2005

When the going gets tough

the tough throw their palette across the room.

Sometimes things just pile up, personal things more often than not. And if doubt seeps in, then the work suffers. You got to be confident to do this painting shit.

When I was painting yesterday I felt I was just going through the motions. But thatís not a worry in itself, going through the motions is okay, it has its time and place. Sadly this wasnít the time or the place.

Iíd mixed up a whole pile of paint, in three tones: light through to medium shadow, and I was just putting them on: one, two, three. I told myself this was okay, Iíve got to get a lot of paint on before I start to work it.

But then the crap caught up with me, personal crap, like some fucking emotional exocet missile Ė it was locked on to me. There was no escape.

So next week Iíll buy a new piece of white Perspex, a bit bigger this time, and make myself a new palette. Meanwhile, scraping paint from the broken palette I continue to push the paint about. Only this time itís not going on: one, two, three; and the painting gets some life back into it.


Posted by john at 05:52 PM | Comments (0)

shit happens


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

December 30, 2005

let's be honest

some times this happens:


Posted by john at 11:57 PM | Comments (0)

Just so you know

But mainly so I don't forget:

French Ultramarine mixed with Yellow Ochre is Crapsville, Arizona

Posted by john at 10:54 PM | Comments (0)

December 29, 2005

The universe in the background

or: what happens when you fling the paint about a bit


also demonstrating the transparent nature of Indian Yellow

Posted by john at 08:17 PM | Comments (0)

December 28, 2005

Early fruit

I canít just work on one thing at once. I get caught up, bogged down and generally lose my way if I just have one painting on the go. When there are a lot of paintings happening the studio is an exciting place to be with lots of distractions, and distraction is the key to painting. Hereís one part, or rather two parts, of my current work in progress:


Lin said: ďDo you get the same thrill painting fruit as you do painting figures?Ē
No, I donít, is the simple answer. I do get a thrill in getting the light and colour working to describe the ripeness, plumpness and fullness of the fruit; but there isnít as much intensity or engagement. There arenít as many details for one thing. And I miss the conversation.

Conversation with a lemon:

ME: ďSo, youíre a lemon then.Ē
ME: ďWhatís it like Ė being a lemon?Ē
LEMON: ďLemonyĒ
[long pause]

Pears arenít much better, it has to be said.

Posted by john at 05:04 PM | Comments (0)

December 27, 2005

The first three stages of a painting


The Outline, getting the shape down


The Bodycolour, starting to fill the form in.


The Background, in amongst the splattery stuff.

Again, this isn't a small painting, it's larger than life: 1110mm x 2390mm, oil on panel.

There's a long way to go before it gets carried off to languish in The Racks. The figure will be worked over to find the underlying muscle and the light kicking off the skin. The background will get knocked back. Sometimes it goes almost back to white, but the dark tones will still break through in places, particularly round the form, where it will begin to fight with the lines and make them into edges, make them into roundy-corners which disappear.

The background is part of the history of the painting, but it has an important role to play helping create the depth of the painting too.

Posted by john at 12:05 AM | Comments (0)

December 26, 2005

What every artist needs, part IV [probably]

I spend many an hour wandering round the studio tapping random things, while waiting to want to continue to paint. Mostly this is a frustrating exercise as the sounds produced are jarring or timid. But what a brief delight it is when I chance upon a resonant paint pot or odd box.

I say brief because I have to be careful: paint pots and odd boxes arenít designed for a percussive assault of the size often required. So hereís what you need:


A few weeks ago, in a moment of sheer indulgence, after a brief period of rhythmic frustration, I stuffed some notes in my pocket and set off into town to purchase a drum.

But you canít purchase a drum Ė just a drum, and I didnít want the whole battery. I should at this stage point out that Iím not musical; I like music, but I donít know how it works. So a complete drum kit would be way too much egg for my particular pudding.

You can purchase just a drum, but it has to be ordered and takes a couple of months to arrive, and costs almost as much as the cheapest ďfull kitĒ. I understand the dilemma, and the guys in the music shop were most helpful, but there is a need for this kind of thing Ė it should be kept in stock in art shops, clearly.

Thanks to Daphne and Gareth for their hard work tracking this beast down.

Posted by john at 01:39 PM | Comments (2)

December 24, 2005

Big Paintings and Astro-Physics

The bigger the painting the more paint you have to use. Doesnít take a genius to work that one out. But it isnít quite that simple, and I think the key to the answer to the whole question of the universe is locked up in here somewhere*.

Painting big paintings is not just a case of using more paint. I have to alter the consistency of the paint to enable me to paint in the manner to which I have become accustomed; that is: energetically and with a profound sense of immediacy.

There must be frightening equations at work here: the ease of application equals the thickness of the paint times the amount used, over the surface to be covered. Because to get paint straight from the tube across nearly 2 metres of primed panel, is a feat in itself. So I let it down with pure turpentine, or extend it with linseed oil. This produces the creamy buttery paint consistency which is almost, but not quite, as good as sex. But this then affects the way the colours mix, or at least the way I mix colours. So we end up with:


The important thing to remember, amongst the dizzying equations, is:


That is: donít put thin paint over thick paint, or your layers will crack when drying. Always stick to: fat over lean. So no matter how complex or simple the universe is [and letís face it it probably comes in on the complex side] there are some fundamental truths, worked out over the centuries, that itís good to stick to.

*well, okay, maybe not

Posted by john at 03:26 PM | Comments (1)

December 23, 2005

My father


J.E.M.Coombes MBE oil on panel, 1130mm x 1130mm

and I still have the glasses:


Posted by john at 10:28 AM | Comments (0)

December 22, 2005

the light and the dark

The light tones are relatively easy, itís in the shadows that things can get tricky. The body, in shadow, we are taught, takes on greenish hues. Matisse said it didnít matter what colours you use to paint a face, it is the tones that are important.


Even so the colour [hue to be accurate] does affect the mood of the painting, it is an integral part of the whole thing. So itís important to experiment to get it right, or at least to make it work in the way that you want it to work, there being no ďrightĒ or ďwrongĒ in art.


Posted by john at 07:56 AM | Comments (0)

December 21, 2005

What is it all about - this art thing?

"Is it not about accepting to be ready all the time? Looking for this space/state, where everything is possible, and things seem to flow, without any thought, or questions?"

Ninon Foiret, musician extraordinaire.

Posted by john at 12:26 AM | Comments (0)

December 20, 2005

Fear and the first marks.

It happens every time. Youíd think Iíd know about it by now, and be able to ignore the sickening feeling of futility after the first marks have hit the panel, or at least sidestep it and trip lightly over the grim quagmire that lurks at the onset of every painting. But I canít.

This is one of the reasons I fear starting a new painting. After all the drawings and choices and preparation the first brushstrokes never work. I suppose theyíre not meant to, not in the way the last brushstrokes do - fine tuning the whole image. The first marks are there to block out areas and bulk out form.

When I look at the painting in the first hours itís hard to believe anything good can come of it. A lot of this is due to The Early Years. Those years when nothing good did come of it. My memory has this fear deeply implanted in it.

The odds are stacked against these first few marks. The huge expanse of empty panel increases the impact and significance of any marks on it. They donít stand a chance really. As opposed to the last few marks, which arrive amidst a plethora of marks, and can easily hide their inadequacies amongst the mÍlťe.


Posted by john at 01:38 AM | Comments (0)

December 19, 2005

Four years three months eight days seven hours, and the rest

ďOhh, how long did it take you do that?Ē They ask, regularly.
In fact thatís the second most popular question. The most popular question is:
ďOhh, whoís that?Ē

Well, to answer the first query, [we can chew over the other question some other time] this White Head:


White Head, oil on panel, 1060mm x 1060mm

for instance took five years three months eight days and seven hours. Which breaks down like this: the panel was constructed some four years ago, since then it has been home to many images. There have been two figures standing left and right, there have been some pants stuck to it, itís had holes drilled in it and tools hung from it. Itís had a heavy impasto of gesso applied, itís been kicked and wrecked and over painted.

In March this year, together with a few other panels, it got a rich background:


Then, after spending most of the day selecting the image from a batch photographs I took a few months ago, at eight oíclock yesterday evening I set about the painting, slapping on a wet off-white paint first of all, over the background colour, then wiping it off to find the features. At one point I got in amongst it with an angle grinder, to flatten back some heavy impasto. At about three oíclock this morning, after an hour or so of looking at it, I decided to call the brushes in. So thatís the last seven hours.

Of course, itís taken many, many years to get to that initial starting point.

Posted by john at 02:09 PM | Comments (0)

Lost underground

ďTwo roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.Ē

Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

This is all very well, but itís not always easy to recognise the less travelled path. Itís not always as straightforward as noticing the overgrown brambles, the long grass and the low branches.

During my time in France I did a lot of caving Ė sclathing around in dark muddy holes underground. Often you would be confronted by a choice of routes, two passages, or a passage branching off. Often one of the passages would be a dead end after a short distance.

You might think you could look at the floor and see where the most muddy footprints went. But if you think about it there are just as many footprints going down each passage: the dead end has as many coming back as going in, as does the through passage. So you always have to go find out.

Sometimes there arenít any footprints:


Mr Dixon negotiating the underground river in the Goule de Foussoubie system, South of France.

Posted by john at 01:27 AM | Comments (0)

The Straight Path

percentages of reality

Too long spent sitting in a room thinking is not always a good thing. The monks manage it, but, to be honest, they donít have as much to think about.

But you have to think, you have to struggle, you have to try to get at reality. My paintings exist in physical form, so there can be a reasonable assumption that they are real. But thatís not the reality Iím talking about. The reality is: The Straight Path. Anything else is just pushing paint.

A straight path from feeling to thought to action. Without let or hindrance. Or reference to the fucking past. Use the past, yes, draw on it Ė wring it out and take the good bits, yes. But donít dwell there, it isnít real.


White Head, oil on panel, 1060mm x 1060mm

ďTwo roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.Ē

Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

Posted by john at 12:22 AM | Comments (0)

December 18, 2005



Posted by john at 09:12 PM | Comments (0)

J.E.M.Coombes MBE

In 1953 my father was invited to North America, to talk electronic engineering, with Honeywell Inc.


He was developing electrical and hydraulic closed-loop control systems, which today weíd call automation. With Honeywell Inc. he developed a three-axis tracing system for controlling machine tools from technical drawings. ďThese were essentially self-correcting mechanisms to which can be attributed a certain degree of intelligence.Ē


My father is second from the left, next to the guy with the sprauncy tie. Using a photograph from this series Iíve embarked on a large portrait of my father. Bit spooky as I wasnít born when the photograph was taken. My father died in 1974.


JEMC MBE 1953 oil on panel 1130mm x 1130mm, second state

Posted by john at 01:30 AM | Comments (2)

December 17, 2005

Nothing comes for ages,


but, not wanting to go down the whole waiting-for-a-bus-and-six-turning-up-at-once route, I shall draw my analogy from a river, a small river, a mountain stream perhaps. It dries up when its path is blocked, by a stray boulder, beavers or a Chinese construction crew, and all the water builds up, until the dam bursts and the valley is awash with number 7 buses.


Two weeks ago, after a break of nearly four months, I began painting again. Now I have five paintings on the go.


As regular readers of these journals will know I have been trying to lighten my palette of late. Trying to get away from the dark and mysterious and into the realms of the sweet and light. But this new territory is dangerous for here there be demons.


The Land of Sweet and Light leads inexorably to The Blended World, a world I do not wish to inhabit.

[more on the other four will follow, I'm sure]

Posted by john at 09:52 PM | Comments (0)

December 16, 2005

A few answers, perhaps


Some [misplaced] need for people to see what I feel.


I want people to get something from what I do and the way I do it, and, if the truth be known, shell out large amounts of currency to take the pictures away with them so I can paint some more.


The all-consuming passions I feel for people and the human body.

The visual
The physical
The sensual
The liminal
The sexual
The visceral

Posted by john at 12:43 AM | Comments (0)

December 15, 2005

Go blindly among the brambles.

Itís a difficult path, the ground falling away sharply on one side, rocky underfoot, with brambles tearing at your bare skin. It hurts, it isnít comfortable. But if itís comfort you want stay in bed. Push on.


Itís important to maintain a sense of purpose throughout a painting. Donít get lost along the way, in the tangle of colours. Itís all too easy to get distracted and lose sight of the original idea.


The piece must remain challenging, flexible and fluid. Donít flatten it, donít steamroller it with technique. Yes, get to know your medium, learn your skills well, then forget about them and respond to the feelings.

I have to keep saying this to myself, over and over, because nine times out of ten I fail miserably and get caught up in the brambles.

Posted by john at 11:41 AM | Comments (0)

Pigments Behaving Badly, trouble with colours.

The Further Adventures of J. Palette Esq., Buccaneer

Pigments vary from natural earths to chemical compounds, so different colours behave differently Ė and some behave quite badly it has to be said.


Burnt Umber, about as earthy as you can get, is a coarse paint, prone to foul language and other vulgarities, but it dries like a silk scarf in a warm wind. In fact Burnt Umber dries so fast it speeds the drying of other colours when mixed with them. For this reason itís called a siccative. Burnt Umber will dry in the course of a day whereas Prussian Green takes about four months to dry. So unless youíre planning on a World Cruise between sittings, avoid Prussian Green.

Some colours are opaque and some are transparent, this speaks for itself. The transparent colours are used to create a sense of depth, where the light falling on a painting goes through the transparent paint and strikes an opaque layer which reflects it back through the transparent colour again. The result is almost, but not quite, exactly the same as being under the bedclothes at night when youíre supposed to be asleep with a torch and some toffee wrappers.

The other thing you need to take into account if you want to keep your palette healthy and out of trouble is: tinting strength. Some pigments are very strong, others are weak. Some you can trowel into the Flake White and it just knocks it off white, others you only need a tiny scrape and a full rich colour ensues, and then you have Prussian Blue. Open the top of a tube of Prussian Blue in the next room and before you know it the palette, the painting, the walls and the hand towel in the downstairs toilet are all PRUSSIAN BLUE.

Posted by john at 01:22 AM | Comments (0)

The sickening responsibility of the potential picture.

or: How Deep is My Paranoia.

When a painting is underway I worry about ruining it as I continue. This, as I have said, is par for the course, part of the deal, part of the Creative Baggage. But it gets worse: if a painting isnít begun, it is potentially a ďgoodĒ painting, indeed that would be my express wish, as a result I can worry about ruining it before I even start.

As if it isnít hard enough starting a painting, with so many elements to consider, to worry about messing up something that isnít there yet Ė how stupid is that? But I can spend hours pacing up and down in front of a blank panel, terrified almost.

I know where this particular fear comes from. I feel things so strongly my energy and passion are barely containable, so I fear that my skills arenít up to my feelings. And they seldom are.

These paintings I do don't look like I want them to. They donít look like the images and feelings I have in my mind. This is why I keep painting Ė to try and get closer to expressing what I feel.

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

December 14, 2005

The Life and Times of Johnny Palette

Yet another reason why this art business, or at least the particular branch of the creative tree I have decided to crawl on, is not a nine-to-five occupation, is the nature of oil paint.

Oil paint takes its time. Itís a sloooow medium, it doesnít like to be rushed. Which is a Good Thing. Acrylic paint is all quick, quick, get it on, oh, donít worry about the Ė oh, quick hurryÖargg Ė itís dry. Oil paint is not like this, itís old and mellow and generally slips about on the palette for a couple of days, getting into its stride.

The paint is organic and, at the risk of sounding pretentious, the palette is almost alive. It certainly has a lifespan. As Iíve mentioned before, it takes a while to get a palette up and going. The paint starts off all separate across the top of the palette, then slowly begins to mix down. The colours emerge gently as the palette warms up.

This doesnít last forever, the palette reaches a delicious optimum state about twelve hours in, then the oil paint begins to dry, and as it dries it gets sticky and can drag on the panel, not nice. There are ways of slowing this down, using linseed or poppy oil can keep things smooth for a while, but too much alters the eventual texture of the paint, giving it a bit of a dull sheen. Not what Iím after at all.

Coming soon: The Further Adventures of Johnny Palette, starring Burnt Umber as the Siccative, Prussian Blue as the Pirate and Titanium White as the Good Fairy. Bet you canít wait.

Posted by john at 11:25 PM | Comments (0)

Thoughts while painting, continued

Things scribbled on walls, paintings and scraps of paper, while waiting to want to continue to paint:

What is it I feel Ė what drives me?

I feel a passion,
a lust, a love
of subject and medium.

Itís my fucking frustrations that drive me.

The endless complex mindless confusion of existence.

The sickening responsibility of the potential picture.

Itís all about whatís missing Ė chasing the missing bits.

Everything has been done before.

Same tone, different hue.

There comes a time in the life of every painting when youíve got to stop fiddling and get on with making it work.

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

December 13, 2005

The Big Torso

Finally the whole torso is covered with paint, arranged in order of colour and place to an approximate idea of the form. It took some doing. Just the physical act of applying paint, which is thick and sticky, to a large area takes time.


Now itís got to dry. Then Iíll lay up another palette, mix up some more paint, and apply another layer. This should get some depth to the image and refine the solidity of the form. Though I donít want to lose the sense of spontaneity. I donít want to blend the whole thing into a soft fudgey mush. I want it to be strong and dynamic. Full of power and possibilities, like the body itself.



...but what it mostly needs is a good coat of looking at.

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

Three ingredients, therefore...

Three ingredients, mainly, have given rise to these colours: Flake White, Naples Yellow, Alizarin Crimson. And it still amazes me the subtlety of the mixing. There are realms of mud and whitewash surrounding the gorgeous warm hues that are possible from these ingredients. Itís finding them that is tricky. It could be done scientifically Iím sure, but part of the thrill of painting is finding the fantastic colours. On the downside, of course, there is the depression when I canít rise above the mud, and then paint has to be scraped off and thrown away.


Certain colours on the palette have to be keep away from others, or thereís trouble. This is why I use so many brushes, trying to keep the colours fresh. But mixing on this scale allows good accidents to happen on the palette, accidents which suddenly throw up a sumptuous colour.

The palette has a finite lifespan. It starts off stark and bold and crude, then it warms and melds into a wonderful lively place with every nuance of tone and hue available, then it slowly descends into the mud.

Remember the First Law of Plasticine: three colours or more will always end up muddy brown.

Posted by john at 03:18 PM | Comments (0)

Naked painter painting naked figure.

Just to give you an idea of the scale you understand.


Suggestions that Iím trying to boost my ratings are frankly unbelievable.
What Iím actually doing in this picture is beyond me, apart from painting of course.

Posted by john at 01:59 PM | Comments (0)

My favourite painting

ďWhich is the favourite of your paintings?Ē they ask.

The one Iím working on, I reply,
in speech marks or not Ė
itís up to you.

[Well, clearly itís not up to you.]

Posted by john at 12:06 PM | Comments (0)

First things first

Doesnít look much at this stage,


I still have to concentrate, it's not as slapdash as it looks. I heft in the lightness, with big strokes, and I look at the form, at the anatomy, to help me see where it all goes. Itís hellish inaccurate at this stage, but, a bit like the Apollo space programme:


it gets better as it goes along.


Though I need more paint, Iím scratting around a bit.

Posted by john at 03:05 AM | Comments (0)

A lot of paint

First of all mix up A Lot of Paint.

This is a delicious part. Scoop out a whole schlop of flake white from the Big Tin, add a dash of MH NY, a hint of WN Aliz C and mix thoroughly.

Then the good bit: pour on some long sticky sun-thickened linseed oil. Apart from anything else the smell is gorgeous. Summer, cut grass, the hot whitewashed timbers of the pavilion. Dusty musty smells of dead grass, oils and limewash, pungent whiffs, broken flower pots, crumpled tennis nets, willow bats, cat gut rackets, rusty locks and big metally keys, pushing at the stiff door as it catches on the swollen wooden floorboards; and the azaleas, oh the sweet heady perfume of azaleas and teenage love.

Meanwhile back in the studioÖ


The round thing is a penny, with a view to showing scale, hey ho...

Posted by john at 02:12 AM | Comments (2)

Just plain big

[I refuse to use the hideous portmanteaux and slogans of the fast food corporations when referring to a bigger amount of things.]

Iím embarking on a Big Torso Ė very big. Bigger than Iíve done before. I usually paint life-size, I paint a life-size figure on a six foot [1800mm] panel. This time Iím just painting the torso [tor∑so n. pl. tor∑sos or tor∑si (-s) the human body excluding the head and limbs; trunk]. So it must be at least three times life-size [donít go there].


It must be a Law of Something or Other. Equal and opposites? Ė nah. Diminishing Returns? Ė Nah. The size alters the effect of the brushes, the relative sizes of brush to detail, the differential of the fluidity of the paint to the area of panel to be covered. That one where the size and temperature of the thermometer affects the readings [you know the one, Jonathan].

There is a danger though. The danger we fall into at an early age. Usually in Geography lessons. COLOURING IN. Large areas to be covered in paint can lend themselves to mindless colouring in. But I have the advantage that the body is infinitely subtle and virtually fractal, so there is detail in there, and I must hunt it out. It's an adventure! [Oh look, there I go, nearly falling into the trap of consumerist led consciousness.]

Posted by john at 12:50 AM | Comments (0)

December 12, 2005

Later the same dayÖ

It was a slow start. As ever with these things, fear gripped me. It goes something like this: if Iíve had a good day the day before, then I fear I canít possibly do it again. If I havenít had a good day, then I fear Iíve lost it and so canít do it at all.

Now I realise this isnít the most positive attitude, but then one is not always master of one's moods. [I think this fear is all part and parcel of the Creative Thing]

Eventually, with the speed of a mollusc experiencing an ice age [to quote HH Munro] I began to apply the paint. Firstly fiddling around in the background of yesterdayís picture. Then, finally, on a panel I last worked on nearly a year ago, and which has been languishing in the racks ever since.


this panel is part of a diptych:


dig and spin 1220mm x 244mm, oil on two panels.

I want to say that processing images for these diaries I have to sacrifice quality to speed and size and that the colours, as a result are not accurate, frustrating for me, misleading for you, but itís something weíve got to live with.

Posted by john at 01:16 AM | Comments (0)

December 11, 2005

A day amongst the oily paint

Pacing the studio floor, seven brushes in hand most of the time, working over an incomplete painting, because the model just didnít show up one week Ė and hasnít spoken since. How frustrating is that? And she was such a fantastic model too. It's hard enough being a painter without that sort of thing going on and generally throwing a spanner in the works. So, trying to get the spanner out and working from drawings and photographs:


and not a small painting, by the way, it's larger than life, weighing in at just under two metres.

As always, while pacing about or pushing colours around, my mind chances upon profound thoughts, these often form the words and scrawl you see gracing the sides of my pictures. Here are a few from today:

Knife throwing and drumming
[donít ask me, I just thought it]

The act of painting is more important than the results of painting
[thatís pretty good Ė it deserves to be in caps]


Like playing the flute, not practising the flute
[thanks Ninon]

Spend more time mixing up colours Ė use more paint
[all well and good, but whoís paying?]

Knees are fantastic, especially after the subtle desert of the thighs.


The painting will continue tomorrow, or, judging by the time: later today

Posted by john at 12:34 AM | Comments (0)

December 10, 2005

How to paint; in three, easy to follow, steps:

1. Squeeze paint onto palette
2. Stick brush into paint
3. Drag brush over panel

after that youíre on your own

Posted by john at 06:27 PM | Comments (0)

December 09, 2005

How do you paint the Mona Lisa, redux

With an informed interest
in both human nature
and natural history.

and passion,
did I mention passion?

Posted by john at 09:08 PM | Comments (0)


re∑dux adj. brought back; returned. Used postpositively.

[Latin : re-, re- + dux, leader; see duke.]

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

It's all in the name

Damien started it, love him. [Well he didnít really, but he springs to mind.]

He put a shark in a tank and we would all have gone: ďOh Ė a shark in a tank,Ē except that he named it. Thatís what did it. He called it: The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living. Now we all gasped and sighed and the worldís media heralded a new genius.

Iíve been working on a series of images connected to the very Unstuck project that spawned these diaries. Being interested in the surface of the body and writing, I began writing on bodies.


This produced some good images.


But once in the shower the work only existed as a photograph, or more existentially as a thin trickle of dirty water heading for the main sewer. Which in itself is not a bad thing.

I wanted to take it further, into something more tangible and lasting. So I thought, well, next to the skin we have clothes. Underclothes in particular follow the contours of the body. I could write on the clothes the figure is wearing, and thus describe the form.


Iím still working on it, and Iíve just put up an image on my other site, where I title the work. [and hereís the reason for this entry] I called the image Unstuck Bodymapping, which isnít headline grabbing, I know, but thatís not the point. I then described it: gesso and ink on fabric.

Now, that sounds very proper, and adds a sense of authority to the piece. Much better than: writing on pants for instance.


Unstuck Bodymapping, gesso and ink on fabric, 230mm x 270mm


Posted by john at 11:01 AM | Comments (0)

December 08, 2005

Why do painters paint?

Many reasons I guess.

Iíve been searching
for why I paint
for as many years
as Iíve been painting.

But do we really need to know why?
Is it not just enough to have the pictures?
Or does the ďwhyĒ clarify them?
If it does then maybe the pictures are incomplete.

Posted by john at 11:53 PM | Comments (0)

How do you paint the Mona Lisa?

Some skill,
some knowledge,
and mainly:
the right girl
at the right time.

Posted by john at 11:50 PM | Comments (0)

Naples Yellow

One of the oldest synthetic pigments, Naples Yellow [a colour I am particularly partial to and a sample of which you can see in the previous post] was discovered in the 16th century BC. But it has been found in Babylonian tiles dating to the 5th century BC, so I donít know whatís going on there. Sometimes called Antimony Yellow, for reasons that may [or may not] become apparent.

Itís very stable, not prone to breakdown or tears. It isnít fugitive either, unlike Rose Madder, which though beautiful is wont to get in amongst neighbouring colours and fuck with their hues. But be careful Naples Yellow is toxic because of the lead, which can kill you, especially if dropped from a great height Ė like a church roof.

As always, when I start to look into these things, everything becomes suddenly very complicated and incomprehensible. It is, basically, as far as I can tell, Lead Antimonate, which I have to say doesnít make things much clearer and the pool only gets muddier the further in we wade.

Itís chemically similar to the mineral Bindheimite, which was discovered in 1868 by a German chap called JJ Bindheim [what were the chances of that?], and has an isometric-hexoctahedral crystal system [I hope you're taking notes, there may be questions at the end].


This mineral is mainly found in obscure and unpronounceable places in Russia, [the Adun-Cholon Range, Nertschinsk Mines, Buryatia Republic, Zabaykalye, Eastern-Siberian Region if you must know] though it can be found in Wales [in equally unpronounceable places it has to be said: Hendre Felen Mine, Ysbyty Ystwyth, Ceredigion]

If youíre not into geography, or geology, but youíre into the whole alchemy thing, Naples Yellow can be made as follows:

Take twelve oz. of ceruse, 2 oz. of the sulphuret of antimony, 1/2 oz. of calcined alum, 1 oz. of sal ammoniac. Pulverize these ingredients, and having mixed them thoroughly, put them into a capsule or crucible of earth, and place over it a covering of the same substance. Expose it at first to a gentle heat, which must be gradually increased till the capsule is moderately red. The oxidation arising from this process requires, at least, 5 hours' exposure to heat before it is completed. The result of this calcination is Naples yellow, which is ground in water on a porphyry slab with an ivory spatula, as iron alters the color. The paste is then dried and preserved for use. If you wish it to be more fusible, increase the quantities of sulphuret of antimony and calcined sulphate of alumina.

Otherwise buy it in a tube from Michael Harding.

Posted by john at 02:25 PM | Comments (0)

December 07, 2005

Hot Dark Matter part II

With a view to avoiding the over-cooked look my figures have been acquiring of late [see Hot Dark Matter part I] Iíve spent the day, yesterday, with all my tubes of dark paint:

French Ultramarine

Alizarin Crimson

Ivory Black

Indian Yellow

after putting a Very Small Amount of each on my palette, in a dark corner, locked in a dark cupboard [with a dark key, obviously]

So Iíve mainly been using Large Amounts of:

Flake white

Naples Yellow

This is what the painting looked like before:


and this is what it looks like now:


which I feel is an improvement.

thanks to Michael Harding for the excellent paints and for the colour samples above.

Posted by john at 02:08 AM | Comments (0)

December 06, 2005

Two things

There are two things in a painting.

The Man on the Street: ďOnly two?Ē

I say again, there are two things in a painting Ė for me

The Man on the Street: ĒAh! For you. Now why didnít you say so in the first place?Ē

The paint itself is one. The subject is the other.
Both are equally gorgeous.

I could paint a chair and enjoy it just for the paint.

The Man on the Street: ďYou have painted a chairĒ

Not just any chair though


a brief glimpse of reality, oil on panel 1060mm x 1060mm

Posted by john at 09:19 AM | Comments (0)

Hot Dark Matter

A universal difficulty. Without it the universe collapses [apparently, though I havenít tried it]. A painting needs darkness, dark tones, a dark edge. But itís hard to find. It took them long enough to find the hot dark matter in the universe, and itís all over the shop.

I can do the light colours, the highlights. The joyous bits where the light catches the skin and wraps round the form. But the shadows are another matter [hot and dark]. Trying to find the right colours and tones for the shadows is a constant problem.

I have of late [but wherefore I know not, etcÖ] been getting a bit heavy with the big dark brush, resulting in a series of figures looking like theyíve been standing by the fire longer than is good for them. And I donít want the pictures to look like this. Which is odd since I painted them.


Cousin Kyffin says that the more contrast there is in the picture the more manic the painter is Ė well thatís me fucked then.

Posted by john at 08:37 AM | Comments (0)

December 05, 2005

It's all in the mind

[Go and make a cup of tea and sit down before attempting this one.]

Art as we know it isnít really art, itís just the product of art. The art is the process by which the things we know of as art come about.


Art is a state of mind. Thatís what makes it so tricky to do. Thatís why youíve got to sneak up on it. Thatís why itís not always possible. Art is what happens when your trying to do something else. If you can sit down and JUST DO IT then it isnít art.

[tea, and maybe a sweet biscuit]

So to do art, you must try not to do art. In fact you must use every means at your disposal NOT TO DO ART. When it works, art has that someotherness about it, that je ne sais quoi. Notice how these terms are abstract and indeterminate. The doing of it is just as indeterminate. Itís not so much about what you do but how you do it, and more about the way you are.

All this doesnít lead to an easy life.

[finish tea, go for a short lie down]

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

December 04, 2005

Minute by minute

Minute by minute we accept our fate

Posted by john at 04:29 PM | Comments (0)

Fiddling with the background

Oh, itís important [the background]


very important.


But I get the feeling Iím avoiding the issue.

Avoiding the Big Wan.

And I am [of course].

And the Big Wan is?

Painting: getting the sticky stuff out the tubes and whapping it onto the flat thing.

And whatís stopping me?

Fear Ė thatís what.

And what am I afraid of?


Posted by john at 03:31 PM | Comments (0)

December 03, 2005

Interesting, isnít it?

With the two images in the previous post: on the first one you can clearly see that the ears are at different levels; the right one, as we look at it, is decidedly lower than the left [as we look at it]. But on the second image, further down the line, with more information going on, the ears arenít obviously different in height. In fact I would go so far as to say that if you just saw the second image you would say the ears were level.

This is the key to drawing. Putting it down how it is, not how you think it is. On the second drawing, because we know that ears occur at the same level on either side of the head, and we can clearly see weíre dealing with a head, we assume they are level. On the first drawing the there isnít enough information available for our brains to recognise a head so the level of ears is more apparent.

When you are doing a drawing yourself, which Iím sure almost all of you are, you are faced with this difficulty of not having enough information on the paper and too much information on the subject, so you go for the assumptions as opposed to the fact. When you look at the head you are drawing [if indeed if is a head you are drawing, though it relates to drawing teapots or anything else] you see the ears as level, if you measure things you will put the ears down as they are, but on reflection it wonít look right so you adjust them to what you think looks right, which is wrong.

Answer: believe your eyes not your mind*

*harder than it seems, believe me

Posted by john at 10:49 PM | Comments (0)

Whom do I paint?

ďCan you paint anyone?Ē Jo asked.
ďNo.Ē I want to reply, then: ďyes,Ē then I drop the speech marks.

I can paint anyone, though the results are not always what Iím looking for. I donít want to paint just anyone. I am very interested in painting certain people. And not so interested in painting others. And there was a woman in the supermarket this morning whom I had absolutely no interest in painting whatsoever.

Itís about finding someone who can give me what Iím looking for in a painting. This is not always easy because the people I want to paint donít always want to be painted. That is very frustrating.

When I met Joís boyfriend I knew I wanted to paint his face. There was so much there; so much history, life, sadness and energy. So we started today:


And the good thing is we talked and talked, all about the way things are. Very interesting. And while we were talking I made a few marks on this piece of paper with this black stuff in my hand. And you should never start a sentence with and but always start a portrait with the ears.


A truly snuck up on drawing.

Posted by john at 02:38 PM | Comments (0)

A fairly typical day

There are several big drawings up in the studio at the moment. Some for reference, some for working on. And I wander about among them. Looking at them, not happy with the two Iím working on. They annoy me, they donít work, they look awkward.

I know why, itís the mouth on one, itís the breasts on the other. But I canít start in on them. I pick up the charcoal, but I canít use it. I do the usual pastimes, I move stuff around, I look at pictures, I prime panels, I keep glancing at the drawings, at the charcoal on the table. Iím frightened of something. Iím frightened of making them worse Ė after all I got them into this state, maybe Iíll fuck up some more and itíll all get horrible and nasty.

Then, without really knowing how, at 23.45, I kick a box up to the easel*, I pick up the eraser and the charcoal, and start doing what Iíve known all day I must do.

It takes that long to get from this:


to this:


and Iím still not happy Ė happier, but not happy.

*the drawings are big - large than lifesize.

Posted by john at 12:23 AM | Comments (0)

December 02, 2005

Reasons for art, No.1

"Logic only gives us what we need - art gives us what we want."
Tom Robbins

Posted by john at 11:58 PM | Comments (0)

December 01, 2005

sausage, egg and beans

If life was just an all-day breakfast, sausage, egg and beans, and cheap wallpaper, what a good place it would be.

But I fear it isnít as simple as that. Our fundamental needs may be merely being kept warm, dry, fed and caressed occasionally. [for which sausage, egg and beans goes a long way] but there is something else Ė and it ainít wallpaper.


We have demands Ė we want answers goddammit! And the answers arenít forthcoming so we need the arts to pose questions to stimulate the discussions that might eventually throw up some answers. The arts arenít just here to look good. As Daphne says: ďif you want pretty Ė call in the decorators.Ē If you want to live a little - call in the pirates.

Posted by john at 11:50 PM | Comments (1)

And while we're on the subject...

...of pirates that is:

ďAt the base of every masterpiece is a plinth of inhumanity and barbarismĒ

Arthur Benjamin

Posted by john at 07:28 PM | Comments (0)