Saturday 25 August 2012

Edinburgh to Southampton

I've just spent a week travelling down through Great Britain, seeing places that I felt I should have seen by now, making rough sketches wherever I could.

Edinburgh:  The Albacini Collection, Scottish National Gallery
Birmingham:  Smallbrook
London:  Prommers in the gallery, Royal Albert Hall

It was quite an itinerary, by plane, train, bus, taxi, underground, coach and a lot of walking.  Here goes:

Saturday:  Southampton to Edinburgh
Sunday:  Glasgow and Edinburgh
Monday:  North Queensferry and Edinburgh
Tuesday:  Edinburgh to Berwick Upon Tweed, Morpeth, Newcastle, Durham, Darlington and New Marske (near Redcar)
Wednesday:  Darlington to Northallerton, Ripon, Harrogate, York, Wakefield and Birmingham
Thursday:  Birmingham, Coventry, Rugby, Milton Keynes and London
Friday:  London and Southampton

Some of these were very short visits.  In the case of Morpeth, a delayed train left me with only enough time to try a hat on in Green (Agriculture) Co. Country Store.  In some places I had time to visit cathedrals with the help of the 1960s Pitkin guides.  I heard the accents change and enjoyed stayed with a couple of friends.  But really, I did a lot of walking.

Here is nearly everything from the sketchbook:

North Queensferry:  The Forth rail and road bridges (3)
Edinburgh:  Scottish National Gallery (2)
Berwick-Upon-Tweed:  The Royal Border Bridge
Newcastle:  station portico
Durham:  University library and Cathedral (2)
Northallerton:  The Fleece
Ripon:  market square and town hall (2)
York:  Minster (2)
Wakefield:  Hepworth Wakefield gallery and The Black Cloud; Unity Hall / Unity House / Buzz Nightclub (3)
Birmingham:  Smallbrook (2)
Coventry:  Cathedral and Bull Yard (2)
Rugby:  St. Andrew's Church
London:  Prommers in the gallery, Royal Albert Hall (3)

I didn't get the colours out much.  Here is the train across the Forth and another view of the Proms.

Thursday 9 August 2012


Southampton feels a little separate from the county, and I spent the Spring digging deep for every historical detail about my hometown.  In the weeks since then, I've been out of town a bit more and I'm getting into a Hampshire mood.


I'm a National Trust volunteer!  Specifically, for the gallery rooms at Mottisfont.  I like the variety and the number of people involved.  At first I felt like I was in a gentle fly-on-the-wall series about daily life at a National Trust house, with problems cropping up, sudden meetings, rainy rose gardens and rounds of tea.

I've worked on hanging and taking down shows; sorting files; building dens on the children's trail; staking ropes out along the river; painting posts...
On a quiet day last week a couple of us just went on a ramble around the extensive estate (which is reached by walking across fields and down lanes). Now, though, the head curator is back from a holiday, so I was asked to research the art galleries of the country and have ideas.  Even if they weren't much use, I now have a personal list of exhibitions to see.


The Three Tuns pub wanted a new flyer for their Summer campaign.  This gave me an excuse to visit, after a gap of many years, and find details to bring into the artwork.

As requested, it's all about English things, Summer, local pubs and celebration.  I had fun drawing some of Romsey's buildings (the abbey, the corn exchange, King John's house, Broadlands and the English Court) and including flora (nettles, dock, cow parsley, lupins...) and fauna (cygnets, slugs) and the most ridiculous cake I could come up with - which I then brought into reality.

Some extra influence came from "Colourful Romsey" - a lovely compilation of film from the 1940s and 50s.  With ideas to spare, I could happily go on drawing Romsey.

I got to visit The Three Tuns and their parent pub, the very ancient Chesil Rectory in Winchester.

To top it off, I was, for the first time, on a train that stopped at Dean, where a big sign reads


I think it's about trains, but let's give it a try.

Saturday 12 May 2012

London Round-up

It's May and I'm a few weeks from finishing my degree.  The final project (about the whole of Southampton's history) should be chiefest among my efforts...  but here's how to keep yourself distracted, like I am.

Today is the two-hundredth birthday of Edward Lear.  His poems and songs were a part of my childhood and his work is still a delightful escape into British whimsy.  While Dickens and Browning reach the same age this year, it's Lear's work that lends itself to "an illustrated tribute by 40 artists" in Happy Birthday Edward Lear (Poetry Café, Betterton Street, London, 7th May to 8th June), featuring a number of my tutors and other leading lights from the illustration world.

Lear's joyful drawings that accompanied his poems are just as strong an influence as his words, but the mysterious, playful imagery of the poems encourages very different interpretations.  Over all, you can see the affection that is still felt for all areas of Lear's work, from limericks to nonsense recipes, via the poems and surreal stories.

Some of the artists gave readings at last night's private view - with and without beards - and, best of all, little pies of "mince and slices of quince" were passed around.

There's only one more day to see an exhibition of Mark Hearld's illustrations for "A First Book of Nature" (Foyles, Charing Cross Road, London, 1st to 13th May), but it's worth seeking out this book by Nicola Davies.  Mark Hearld's images fill the pages with strong colour, pieced together from print blocks, paint, found patterns, monoprints, lithographs and hand-drawn text.  Walker Books have a strong tradition of lavish and beautiful productions, and the innovatively-crafted pictures, along with the nature theme, should make this a book to treasure.

Salvatore Rubbino's A Day In London , is another Walker production.  You could call it an update of Sasek's classic "This Is London" and has the same liveliness and the wonder of a child's persepective on a trip to London, seeing not just the big sights but the atmosphere of the city in between.  It's raining nearly all the way through.  The book is in the shops in time for the Olympic tourist influx.

For the same reason, the galleries of London are beefing up the Britishness, and "British Design 1948-2012:  Innovation In The Modern Age" (V&A, South Kensington, 31st March to 12th August) does its bit to show Britain at the forefront of design, fashion, music and technology, between the two years of London Olympics.  The forefront often means the background and everyone will recognise some objects from schools and aunties' houses.  Their inclusion celebrates the marriage of reliability and visual appeal - although there's a fair representation of Surprising Architecture and Innovative Videos.

Paul Bommer's "Umbra Sumus" exhibition, which I mentioned in a recent post, deserves exposure somewhere near the Games, but would clearly give East London too much character.  The Delftware-style tiles are a catalogue of centuries of East London detail and folklore.

I've just heard Anish Kapoor on the radio talking about the Orbit, giddy at having put something on the London skyline and hoping for history to afford it the acceptance that the Eiffel Tower won.  The criticism, gushed the reviewer, is mistakenly aimed at the view of the Orbit from a distance, which is not the point - it's "experiential", simultaneously "protecting and unsettling" - "it will take us year to get our minds around it and maybe we never will" - it will be "the talking point of not only this year but of many years ahead".  It didn't happen for Skylon - perhaps we'll get to wonder at the Orbit in a V&A exhibition in another sixty years' time.

Is there nothing happening in Southampton?  Well, I can't go without mentioning the Titanic.  The artists of Red Hot Press have work on show in Lost Star (Southampton Solent University, 12th April to 22nd May).  It's a printmaker's angle, examining the familiar story and making the most of the atmospheric potential of printmaking.  It will go on to The Link Gallery, in Winchester, later in the year.  On the same theme, I have yet to claim my free entry to the Sea City museum - maybe today!

Saturday 7 April 2012

Titanic / Art Market

Come buy!  Come buy!

At last, I've made another concertina book.  Just after making the Pisa books, last year, I came up with an idea about the Titanic, whose centenary is being marked this month - especially in Southampton.

As my coursemates are raising money for our degree show, we're running a stall  at the "Oxford Street Remembers" event in Oxford Street, Southampton, all through this afternoon (today, Saturday 7th April).

Here are a couple of pages from my Titanic concertina book, showing the ship crashing into different objects.

These two prints are on sale too.

Saturday 24 March 2012

Tudor House and Southampton City Art Gallery

Tudor House and Garden reopened last year, and I didn't visit until yesterday.  The garden is a tremendous oasis, especially in this week's blazing sunshine.  My "research trip" ended up taking a couple of hours.

The property has so many periods and changes of use (variously between one and three dwellings; domesticity and small industry; falling apart, re-styled and heritage-ized) can't be concealed, but make it a place to have fun with history.  The Tudor garden has been straightened up; the old kitchens have satisfyingly smelly lacquered foods on show; the semi-dramatised audioguide (see the "wand" above) is pleasingly silly; there are medieval clothes to try on in a mirror; the remnants of the Edwardian museum have become an exhibit in themselves; and the Norman ruins of King John's Palace, behind the garden, are crying out for theatrical use.  There's even space for temporary exhibitions.  From March to October it's Susan Cutts' "Cherish":  paper pulp sculpted into gowns and garlands.

Before the Sea City museum opens next month, it's worth shouting about the City Art Gallery's impressively lively programme.  The calm, airy central hall always belies the bristling collection.  There's a grand show of Titanic art by local artists of all types (upstairs and downstairs); a retrospective of British surrealism centred on Roland Penrose, along with Desmond Morris and John Tunnard among others; a show of the use of the colour red in painting from the Renaissance to the 1990s (followed by a small room of work in many colours, with "Vorticist leanings", as if by way of adjustment into the hall again) and  pieces by two painting chimpanzees.

The new museum comes with the exciting prospect of a trip up the clock tower.  A view over the city is hard to come by - unless one arrives on a cruise ship; and the huge area of docks is a mystery to the general public.  The "Waterlitz" travelling performance should celebrate the port when it chugs into Southampton, with what looks, from the publicity material, like the colossal floating figure of a man, block-built of shipping containers, with Stomp-style industrial japery.  Here is a slightly nightmarish preview.  The big day is 16th June.

Monday 19 March 2012

Paul Bommer

It's a while now since I last made pilgrimage to the capital from the provinces (well, Hampshire).

One upcoming reason to make a trip is the  "Umbra Sumus (We Are But Shadows)" exhibition by the rather exemplary illustrator Paul Bommer.  He's one of those artists who is working with a set of inspirations, methods and humour that I share and wish I could do so well; and he seems to churn out the fun "Twitter Ye May" series at an impressive pace.

It's on at 15 Wilkes St, Spitalfields on 28th and 29th April.

Another "he's everything I want to be" figure is Adam Dant, who lectured at Solent last Friday, and whose advice I'm trying to capitalise on for my degree show.

Also in April, the Comica Festival, featuring Tom Gauld and numerous others, is worth a visit - with a group of graduates, I hope.  What's more, my degree show will be in the East Gallery, Brick Lane, in July.  Back to it!

Umbo and Sinus

Roman historians!  This is a project that has been on my list since I started it a few months ago, meaning to experiment with stencils for roughly-brushed shapes without the fragility of collage.  I married it to the theme of classical writers and set about creating lively characters for a chronological series of figures.

I made sketches last year but picked them up at the weekend.  I think the primary difference is that I now do arms in a different way.  If they look beefy it's because my inexactness tends to lead to limp and skinny arms, and I decided that, if I'm going to get it wrong, an excessively big arm is more interesting than an excessively wimpy one.

So here is a background that I hope looks like inlaid marble, with a lineup of the following figures:
  • Polybius
  • Cicero
  • Sallust
  • Livy
  • Paterculus
  • Josephus
  • Plutarch
  • Tacitus
  • Suetonius
  • Appian
  • Dio Cassius
These drawings came after pages of sketching.  The pen-drawing style is hasty, so I am always unsatisfied with the final images.  As a result, I would like to do them all again, slightly bigger, and with space for the later figures, Eusebius of Caesarea, Olympiodorus and Priscus; and to fit in Paterculus' little Trojan horse that I came up with.

I spent some time looking at Roman costume and the make-up of the toga - the umbo and sinus (excellent names for a classicist's two dogs).  HERE and HERE are my two main sources.  Other historians that I came across but left out were Julius CaesarDiodorus Siculus, Dionysius of HalicarnassusPliny the YoungerAmmianus Marcellinus and Zosimus.  Other writers and poets include Seneca, Horace, Virgil, Ovid, Catullus, Propertius and Pausanias.  They're such fun to conjure with.

Thursday 8 March 2012

Brass 2

Some scratchy results from lengthy trials with trays of nitric acid, ever increasing in strength.
The brass needed the biggest guillotine I've seen and I cut a small strip for some experiments:

1)  etching in
2)  etching right through
3)  coating the back with varnish
4)  long time in weak acid vs short time in strong acid
5)  narrowness of line drawn with varnish
6)  thinning of the varnish for easier drawing
7)  drawing with varnish in a pipette
8)  best acid mixtures for zinc and brass respectively

There's still scope for exploring the textures resulting from different strengths of acid; methods of mounting the plates.

Inspired by historic pilgrim badges, I tried some linked up drawings, such as the face and the bell.  It's the watchbell on top of the Bargate in Southampton (visible from the printroom window), which is inscribed with "In God is my Hope R.B 1605".

I'm glad that I did this but it has taken up much of this week and I don't want to get bogged down in the process when I should be working on the images and their intellectual content.

Sunday 4 March 2012


Here's a new direction.

At the moment I feel that I've found my new Thing.  The last project benefited hugely from the decision to make an altarpiece.  It got me excited, defined the project and made me work towards a physical product.  That was my Thing for that project.

In my final project I've been foundering for a good method; wondering whether or not I have time to learn any new techniques.  On top of that I hadn't done much background research yet, so I felt rather stuck.  How was I to make the project physical without going over the top and trying to build a model of the old town?

Then I remembered brass-rubbing.  Just as any castle, cathedral or museum is improved immeasurably by the inclusion of a model, hands-on brass rubbing has always been a draw.  Last Saturday I went to Winchester.  Of course, the cathedral is full of monumental brasses; and the city museum has giant copies of coins and a little stack of paper and crayons.  It was simple fun.

During the week I tried out etching deep into zinc plates to make a rubbable image.  The process has everything that I want:  the fun part of etching (HOT BUBBLING ACID) and none of the messing about with ink.  Yesterday I went down to Northam, an industrial part of town, and found a sheet metal company.  The man had an offcut of brass and I followed him through the workshop and up a flight of stairs into a little office to pay.  Now I have a sheet of brass and a list of experiments for Monday:  etching in; etching right through; mounting in on wood with screws or glue; drawing with varnish in a pipette; soldering; polishing...

I am definitely excited.


Brass-rubbing in black on white.  My interactive final show could look like this. (From MBS Brasses)

Brass-rubbing in gold on black. (From Celtic Stitchery's Westminster Abbey collection)

A lovely brass of St. Nicholas, from Lübeck.  (From the St. Nicholas Center)

Monday 23 January 2012

Building an Altar

Well, I finished my final minor project.  I'll show you the finished piece another time, and tell you about what went well and what I'll need to learn from, but here I'll talk about the process.


I've always been fond of the skewed perspective and stylised foliage and patterns of mediaeval art, from the Bayeux Tapestry, bestiaries and illuminations to recent imitations.  Terry Gilliam built his animations for Monty Python & The Holy Grail on it.  Pauline Baynes' illustrations for C.S.Lewis and Tolkien showed that she had internalised the art of European and Persian mediaeval manuscripts.  Her award-winning illustrations for Grant Uden's 1968 "Dictionary of Chivalry" was a major source for me, although I don't share her beautifully clean line.  I'm sure a lot of it comes down to having spent many hours in my teens doing this jigsaw of the fleur-de-lys legend from the Bedford Book of Hours, c.1423 (left).

In Italy I was surrounded by Byzantine and mediaeval religious art, and in September the National Gallery had an exhibition of Italian Altarpieces, which came into my disseration.  I've written before about Ed Kluz's paper reliquaries:  I was inspired by the physicality of those mysterious and timeless structures.  The current Grayson Perry exhibition at the British Museum is a pick-and-mix of unconventional methods of representation.

Here are my sketches of St. James escaping from Prison (in Padua); Donatello's statue of John the Baptist (at the Frari church in Venice) and Carpaccio's painting of St. Peter the Martyr (at Museo Correr in Venice).


The Altarpiece

I'll do this in pictures:  the research drawings, alternative plans, layout, jigsaw work and construction.



Prints and Images

In a previous post I showed some of the early sketches, and I could have carried on with those thumbnails, but I want to print the main images (to make them easy to reproduce in different colours, and to keep the colours simple).  Here are:  an early test for Justinian; a page of experiments; and the acetates for the two main images:  Justinian and Appollonia.

The course is to be exhibiting in the Bargate Monument Gallery in February!  My altarpiece will need improvements, but I'm looking forward to seeing it in there with everyone else's work.