Wednesday 24 December 2008


For the first time in a few years - and as a pleasant by-product of my studies - I have a Winter holiday.

Last week I spent a few days in ambitious artistic luxury at the V&A, drawing sculptures and photographing textiles for future inspiration.

The rest of the time I visited a variety of cafes and started my equally-ambitious reading pile from various libraries.

Now, at home with my family, my creativity has gone into Christmas preparations. I've just finished wrapping presents.

Thursday 11 December 2008


Last night I carved a turkey; this afternoon I stuffed a pelican; this evening I've brought home the ostrich.

Some People Like Fonts

  1. The law of good design decrees against the use of more than two or three typefaces per publication.
  2. Fonts designed to look hand-written usually turn out unconvincing because the freely drawn characters are the same every time.
  3. The skills of calligraphy and illumination are underrepresented.
I love fonts! They fill me with happiness. I used to spend many hours quite regularly basking like a shark - throat open wide for free fonts. There are hundreds for every situation and mood and hundreds more that will never be useful but are always so delicious and enticing. A long trawl would always lead to a new collection and time wasted with pleasure.

In recent years I discovered the rules above and entered a subtle process of repression. I became a closet font fan, shying away from sharing my love of computer typefaces for fear that people will disapprove or simply won't understand.

Last week the box was opened when, making a poster for a Christmas dinner, I found the exact point at which an orgasm of different typefaces is acceptable. I was set free and printed out a tidy notice

and it was called
The Prince of Posters!

What was I worrying about?

Sunday 7 December 2008

Project Marks

Friday, 7.45 am: arrive at college laden with:
  • one backpack full of books
  • one kitbag of materials, food and more books
  • one A1 portfolio
  • two and a half umbrellas
  • a large polystyrene meat box containing various items found in the street
The tutors have given everyone a brief review of their work thus far. That's why I had to bring my portfolio. This was encouraging overall and highlighted my need to spend time in the holidays making a proper album of inspiration and ideas.

My "Self-Identity" project had been marked: I have a respectable 76%. The tutor commented that I would benefit from more experimentation in the course of a project.

The lecturer gave my essay on Marcel Duchamp 70%. It's a fair mark and I'm pleased. He felt that it was "solid if rather 'safe'".

So I got on with the current project: writing notes; sketching; arranging my salvaged items; hammering scrap metal in the workshop and borrowing yet more books from the library.

At the end of the day I was too tired to go out as planned. Jon Ahearn, chatting online, mentioned a series called "Samantha Who?". Looking it up I found that it was created by Todd and Ahern.

Wednesday 3 December 2008


As someone who spends a lot more time listening than watching, today I feel like I'm in visual overload.

Today's lecture was based on David Cronenberg's "Videodrome" (and included videos of Debby Harry and Blondie). Last week we studied his "Crash". Next week we've Peter Greenaway's "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife And Her Lover" and we've already had his "The Draughtsman's Contract". (I missed the "Blade Runner" lecture)

This came in on top of a glut of mind-stealing science fiction time-wastage last night. Having seen only a portion of "Survivors" on the television I spent far too long looking up that programme, its predecessor and other similar series, as directed by Wikipedia, such as "Threads", "The Changes", "The Last Train", "The Tribe", "Jericho" and more. Post-apocalyptic fiction is always bewitching so it has plagued me all day.

The radio rescued me this afternoon with an engaging afternoon play by Sebastian Baczkiewicz, in a series about Pilgrim, a folkloric figure doomed to walk the earth for eternity.

Tuesday 2 December 2008

Spaghetti Westerns

I've enjoyed a couple of extra-curricular early-evening lectures at the universities, in little lecture theatres with a lot of clever and important people drinking wine.

A few weeks ago the CMRC organisation at Southampton hosted Prof. Nigel Saul on "Chivalry & Commemoration In Late-Medieval England".
Today CEISR at Portsmouth hosted Prof. Sir Christopher Frayling on "Once Upon A Time In Italy: How Europe Re-invented The American West".
I took copious notes because my would-be companion couldn't come.

The travel time allowed me to get going on the research for my current art project, which is the construction of an animal out of recycled or salvaged material. At the moment I'm looking at heraldic and mythical beasts.

Here are the driftwood horses and other trash art.

I'm glad to have got that started but I need to watch The Good, The Bad And The Ugly.

Friday 21 November 2008


Today I drew gay magpies.

UPDATE 29th November: here they are, awaiting marking.

Wednesday 19 November 2008


"I'm not keen on cauliflower"; "I dislike the trilby". This morning I was thinking about English and our habit of implying aversion with a negative of approbation. We've developed polite ways to equivocate and distance ourselves from any strong statement. It's hard to phrase a negative view without using a word based on the opposite.

Only a couple of hours later I found considerable ease in saying "I hate Wednesdays".

After a few weeks of the term I was beginning to feel frustrated at the fuss of 100 minutes' travel to and from Portsmouth for a 75-minute lecture, but the past three have been disastrous.

I overslept because of the US elections and woke too late and bleary to fling myself down there before the lecture ended.

I arrived in time, only to find that the lecture had been moved to an earlier time, so I came in near the end and didn't understand much. I left my luggage on the train home (and retrieved it after many enquiries). The whole morning was a waste of eight pounds and four hours.

The train was late to Southampton and even later to Portsmouth. I was late for the lecture and found that I really didn't care about it anyway. I hadn't slept much and I wanted only to hand my essay in and go home to write the next one. I left after half an hour.

So I (here's a definite word) hate Wednesdays and I'm (here's another one) inclined to give up going in at all.

Thursday 23 October 2008

Musical Lectures

My seven art history lectures in the first half of this term have featured an ever-widening range of music. Here is everything I can recall, whether it was a band performance, youtube video or background music to images; and in alphabetical order.

Blur "Country House" (video)
David Bowie "Everyone Says Hi" (live video) (and other tracks)
David Bowie "Modern Love" sung by a woman, possibly Astrid Young (background)
Dandy Warhols "We Used To Be Friends" (live video)
Enya "Only Time" (background music to a youtube video about Hitler)
Kaiser Chiefs "Modern Way" (background music)
Kraftwerk "Radioactivity" (live video)
Marilyn Manson "Mobscene" (video)
Michael Nyman: music from "The Draughtsman's Contract" soundtrack (background music)
Pet Shop Boys "Rent" (background music)
Roxy Music "Remake / Remodel" (live video)
The Velvet Underground "Venus In Furs" (background music)

Monday 20 October 2008

Divertment... And Seriousness

Highlights of a trip to London at the weekend:

Now I must settle myself to write two essays:
  • Art: 1000 - 2000 words; due 19th November. My choice from six options: one work by Marcel Duchamp. I will try "Nude Descending A Staircase, No. 2".
  • Archaeology: 800 words minimum; due 29th October. My choice from three options: Ethnoarchaeology.

This week's studies are as follows:
  • Art: perspective drawing and a lecture on Charlie Chaplin;
  • Archaeology: "Cultural Systems" and "Neo-evolutionism".

Thursday 16 October 2008


or The dread of a task unfulfillable and the euphoria of a deadline met.

I've had two difficult projects in the past fortnight.

The first was a college project. The brief: to fill a sketchbook and create / explore a series of logos about oneself. This kind of thing is more reflexive than I'm comfortable with and I spent several days unsure of where to take it.

Lacking inspiration and suffering from unwise sleep patterns I found myself rebelling against the disciplines of study and reading. I bicycled around Portsmouth; fell asleep in the studio; ate my packed lunches before mid-morning and went to the library computer room and listened to the sound of busy typing.

On the final day I awoke to find all the missing ideas and motivation jostling at the front of my mind. I got right up to speed; finished the project and went home satisfied after handing it in.

The second project was a mini-commission (at least, I chose to see it that way) to produce a handful of A3 posters to be displayed at a little conference. With only four days' notice I prepared by taking a few photos of the subject and brainstorming content - but the specification was vague in the extreme.

On the due date I found myself greatly motivated by washing-up, shopping and tidying. Things in cupboards needed using up and I spent hours choosing and executing recipes for figs, marzipan, celery, mackerel, sole and sausage rolls.

This time I got down to the job with under three hours to spare. When the time ran out I had to tidy my drafts; laminate them and shove them up on the wall. I still don't know if they fitted the request but, as before, after the frustration, uncertainty and self-criticism of a difficult project, I was walking on air.

Now, this is bad practice and a hard habit to break. The redemptive relief of finishing a task is a rare joy but bodes against sanity for the majority of my work time. MUST LEARN.

Sunday 12 October 2008

Explanation #2

Southampton; Portsmouth:
Two universities at which I am enrolled.

Hartley; Frewen:
Two libraries that I can access.

Library Of Congress; Dewey Decimal:
Two classification systems that I navigate.

Theory Of Archaeology; Art, Design & Photography:
Two subjects that I study.

1930s German Nationalism:
The common link last week.

Les Oignons

I should have perceived it when I stopped to inspect an enormous onion in the road, outside the wholesalers in the High Street:

to bicycle around town at 2.30 am on a Sunday, wearing a black-and-white-striped jumper, is to be taken by tipsy nighrevellers for the Onion Man, the itinerant Frenchman of local lore.

After a couple of comments ("Onions!"; "Is your name Pepé?") I decided that I didn't mind letting the clubbers walking home think they'd seen the onion seller, so I put the beret on. ("Frenchie!"; "Don't shout: he's French.")

All of this came about because, as I rode home after an evening of pleasant sprawl with Amy and Andy, I found that I didn't feel like stopping and so rolled down the Avenue, London Road, Above Bar and the High Street.

I go out in town sometimes but tonight I could have gone straight to bed in my hushed suburb and forgotten the activity that hums away, a mile south - Southampton is not glamorous. Yet, I feel expanded and comforted by a furtive glide past the mêlée of taxis, packed takewaway houses, collapsees, police and busy club pavements. I took the chance to visit Rob, night-portering at the Grand Harbour Hotel, which, tonight, hosts Cyndi Lauper.

Just as the day had begun, it ended with a thick mist. It muffled Town Quay in a greasy cloud that almost hid the moon and was broken only by big, silent white gulls. The Isle Of Wight ferry was at dock and about ten fellows populated the end of the quay surrounded by rods, buckets, vans, cycle-trailers and a large "No Fishing" notice. It must be a weekly gathering: they turned as I passed and I felt like I was interrupting. I stopped to sketch the faint shimmers of light from the container port.

All of this was unplanned; I was alone and didn't even buy chips (which is always fun on a bicycle) but I hope I added something.

Perhaps the Onion Man was someone just like me all along. If so, for tonight, I am him.

Tuesday 30 September 2008

Red Hot Press

It's Freshers Week at the University of Southampton. I was flitting about on the campus; finding books and enjoying a Chaplaincy cooked breakfast.

During my travails to understand the Hartley Library classification system I discovered a temporary exhibition by the Red Hot Press, an open workshop in Southampton, producing printed art in every method, many of which I don't understand.

I'm love this kind of thing, especially wood- and lino-cuts, so I'm thrilled to have found this show before it ends and I hope some of the students find it before Sunday. It's on Level 4.

Sunday 28 September 2008

Masking Tape

Masking tape. Life is a whirl of masking tape. It can be used in nearly every art-based situation.

The swatches mentioned previously were to be put on the wall in any arrangement; juxtaposed with colour cards and then used as inspiration for painting - all as an exercise in colour theory.

Enjoyable elements of physics, biology and geography have crept into the fine art tuition. These were all the easy bits from school: photons; colour; rods and cones; geographical differences in sunlight and so on.

According to the tutors this is the start of our careers as "visual practitioners". The current project will build my portfolio up and won't be assessed. At the stage pictured here I had used pastel pencils and then acrylic paints to copy the blocks as they appeared on the wall. Since then I've done a lot of mental arithmetic to measure the next phase.
I have been captivated by the process of colour-mixing - it stays in my mind like Tetris. I used masking tape to get sharp edges on blocks of colour. When I took it off the page this happened...
... and then the Art Claw was formed.

Wednesday 24 September 2008

Preparations For The Week

A list of what I'm taking to college:

1) My notepad for this week's lecture, Warhol: Deeply Superficial.

2) My homework from last week. I made this my first foray into hatching (see Albrecht Dürer's examples - 1, 2; see mine below), aided by a lot of masking tape.

3) For this week's project on colour:
a) swatches of plain red, blue and green fabric;
b) the color wheel: simple... and ceaslessly diverting.

4) Home-made liver-and-onion quiche.

Friday 19 September 2008

Duchamp; Postcard; Architecture

That lecture on "Duchamp And The Readymade", featuring prominent use of "Fountain" and Roxy Music performances. Here is the opening slide.

I finished my work on the introductory group project, based around a postcard. The top left corner is mine.

Thursday & Friday
This week's project has been based on architectural drawing. We're required to make A1 monochrome drawings (in any medium) of any part of a structure visible from the college premises, whether internal or exteral. This was the first assessed project and I felt a little out of my depth but the tutors have been encouraging.

Looking for a subject was quite a challenge: I needed a good structure, not an interesting image; and I needed only to draw it rather than to adapt it. My first plan failed: using ink and a nib to draw a building frame. I ended up sitting on tarmac and attempting some pencil hatching to draw the eaves above me, using a table that I had lugged into the lift from the top floor because all the drawing boards had been taken.

Thursday 18 September 2008

Explanation #1

The Aim
A log of my new direction - my adventure into a second career. With it I can watch my progress... chart the bewilderment... keep my bearings... make sense of this explosion.

The Title
"Traveller C". I'll own that it sounds a little Orwellian but that's the wrong tack. "Travellerc" might sound like a french camping emporium: no, no, that's not the way.

It is, of course, a typewriter. My favoured model: portable, manual, sleek... and discontinued.

Wednesday 17 September 2008

Second Week

Last week was a lot of fun. The course hasn't made me busy yet: at the moment I feel like all I have to do is draw pictures and go to the library. It's a good library.

Since Friday I've been making quiches and cheesecakes; playing frisbee and enjoying the delicious Autumnal feeling.

Today I'm going to the college to finish last week's project and to have the first proper lecture (more on that later), so it's back to St. Denys Station - a place that has already entered my dreams... when they're not about robot gremlins firing liquid blue circles.

Thursday 11 September 2008

Art College

Today was my first day at Art College. The lecturer insisted on the importance of that term, as distinct from "university".

This week is to be spent on a large-scale project in small groups. My group are still sketching ideas.

The first art history session was bewildering. The group of about fifty Access students was combined with a whole lot more Foundation students. After a video about online facilities we were given an introduction to some of the topics coming up in the term. The bizarre and endearing lecturer showed us images and film clips (sometimes gruesome) set to David Bowie (a lot of David Bowie), the Velvet Underground and the Pet Shop Boys.

Wednesdays end at lunchtime, so I found the library and then headed home.

Tuesday 9 September 2008

Ready At Last

I have enrolled at the University of Portsmouth for an access course in Art, Design and Photography. It starts tomorrow. I left my job for this and I confess my nervousness.

All of the paperwork is complete; I have bought the sundries and my home is transformed into a studio. I had to clear as much space as possible - get all of the little jobs out of the way and train myself to fulfil tasks as soon as they crop up. I'm a little unsure about my capacity in the latter area.

I look forward to finding out what the other students are interested in - whether patterns, textures, structures, narratives.

My friends gave me a lot of useful things. I'm off to pack for the first day.

Wednesday 20 August 2008

Edging Closer

In the past few weeks the busyness of preparing for the course has settled down. I've posted certificates and photos for my enrolment and filled forms in for funding; researched season tickets for the train and investigated the station that I'll use.

One of my favourite illustrators died: Pauline Baynes, known for her work on the Dictionary Of Chivalry, and numerous CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien books.

I found a jolly, if less enduring artist in Ashkahn.

The Southampton City Art Gallery has a particularly enjoyable three-room exhibition by local artists, all representing water in their own ways.

Tuesday 5 August 2008

London, Last Weekend

National Portrait Gallery
BP Portrait Award 2008
I spent a long time at this exhibition, looking at methods, moods and motifs. The writeup on each piece says where the artist studied and to what level, which now feels so much more attainable.

British Museum
Hadrian: Empire And Conflict
A similar story here. I had never paid much attention to sculpture: it seemed a distant and magical talent. This exhibition was full of busts of emperors and their lovers. Now I'm looking forward to trying it out.

Victoria & Albert Museum
I wandered without aim but paid particular attention to the textile library; Islamic illustration & tiles; leafy patterns on jugs, paper and stained glass and an exhibition on theatre set design and costume.

Thursday 31 July 2008


A collection of doors to old buildings. They're usually shut up and ignored but each summer they turn into the best gallery in town, filled with mysterious and though-provoking contemporary art installations.

Despite Southampton's lacklustre heritage sector I'm really quite proud of what's going on.

Look at the website!

Tuesday 29 July 2008

Shopping List

Today I went to Perry's Art in East Street with the list of materials that I need for the course. The staff are so helpful: I handed the list over and they guided me through the options for each item and even gave me a discount for buying student supplies. I left with:
  • A3 pad
  • A3 acrylic pad
  • Acrylic paints (set of 8)
  • Drawing inks (set of 8)
  • Conté pastels (set of 24)
  • Brushes (set of 3)
  • Masking tape
  • Stanley knife
  • 40" steel rule
I have everything else except for the drawing board. I'm looking at the whole pile and the course feels more real.

Monday 28 July 2008

Warming Up

This is the journey of a mature student, preparing for his return to study after seven years. Over the past few weeks I've had innumerable conversations, always full of advice and inspiration, about universities, courses and various interests. Following one such meeting this evening I'm looking for a topic for a practice essay. Thanks, Adam Chapman.