What to do when you’re a bit gloomy? A run of bad luck, people not calling back,  can’t settle to anything – it seems a bit pointless. I expect everyone feels this way at one time or another. I can usually forget myself in work by doing something different or new  technically or by devising new images to inflict on my diminishing public.

Sometimes even this doesn’t work and I sit feeling morose and the inclination comes to cheer myself up by looking up some old friends (the kind that can’t give you a hard time). So I turn to my bookshelf, or more lately to the internet to look for the best in my view of painting, and remind myself why I got into painting and maybe find something new or that I hadn’t noticed before.

This can be a dangerous thing to do since it is likely to reinforce the impression of oneself as not being a worthy member of this particular fraternity.

This is what Ive come up with lately.

First up, Lawrence, gorgeous sketch, known it for a long time.


Alma – Tadema;

Alma Tadema

another head, Degas;


Noir Film Still;




1960’s illustration

Pilot couple

Ivor Hele;Ivor Hele

Paul Fenniak;

Paul Fenniak

The next two, I don’t know the artists perhaps someone can tell me;



Lastly a drawing by Aaron Wesenfeld.

Aaron Wesenfeld

My collection part 1


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Apart from a ragbag of my own paintings that have remained unsold (my wife calls them “Lurkers”), like most artists I have, over the years, acquired by purchase or exchange, a number of paintings by artists I admire. They vary from drawings and prints to paintings and even a couple of sculptures. They are works by friends, and others, and I get a great deal of pleasure from them. Like all plastic art, they are unchanging, which means they are a sort of measure of one’s own evolving state of mind and perspective. I’m still adding to the collection.

Here are some of them, more in another blog.

I don’t know who the artist of this Academy still life is, It was in a bad condition when I bought it at an auction, and I restored it.


I am interested in American art of the 30’s-50’s but could only afford prints. Here are two of them. By Douglas Gorseline;


And Isobel Bishop;


A painter who I knew, in the North European tradition, he lived in my area, and the architecture is very evocative of 1960’s Cardiff, Evan Charlton;


I have several Japanese prints, Though I know little about them. This one belonged to my mother;


This is a drawing, not wonderful but typical, by a man Im a great admirer of. He was a great typographer and printmaker. David Jones


The next two are by friends of mine, Mike Crowther;


And Phil Nicol;


I’m lucky to have this, a friend gave it to me,  by Laura Knight;Knight

A little woodcut by Eric Gill;


Finally, for now, a costume design by a friend of mine, John McFarlane;McFarlane

Please excuse the quality of some of the images, some of these things are under glass.

Working from Photos

All my working life, at least in my rather arcane section of the art world, there has been a debate about the probity of working from photographs. There has been an assumption of moral superiority by those who work directly from life and work up paintings either from imagination or from drawings of direct observation. There is an implication that using photographs as references is cheating. Well, I use photographs as references sometimes and I don’t regard it as anything other than another tool in the box.

Take this painting “Stop” for example, And the photo I took to work from.

Stop 44x50 op

IMG_2746 a

There are small but important differences which increase the atmosphere I felt was potential in the image. changing the dresses concentrates more attention on the drama and pushing the front girl more to the profile heightens the tension between them. I made them the same size because we usually feel people are bigger or smaller according to their importance and I wanted no hierarchy or partiality. Also, I tried to even further remove expression from their faces.

Or take this one, “Painter”.

Painter 60x57 op

Here is the photo I used for the male figure.

Gwion 1

I needed to depersonalise that figure so that what he is doing is so much more important than who he is. Similarly the statue;


This is the image that I used for that plus a quick sketch which I have now lost.

Like all tools, you have to know how to use it and what the dangers are. simply copying photographs is boring and self-defeating. The fact is that the interest in a photograph is in the subject, which is more or less remarkable, so copying one is a waste of time. If it’s good you can’t improve on it, if it isn’t it’s not worth the effort. It’s what you say about a subject that makes it worth looking at or not.

Progress 2

I’m most often asked about the progress of paintings and how I build them up, so here is another post on the subject showing the progress of “Falling Five”

It starts with the figures drawn and blocked in with burnt umber and lead white on a burnt umber imprimatura ( a thin transparent layer over the primer).

Prog 1

When that’s dry, background colour is put in roughly and the figures are developed more,

Prog 2

After drying, the same process is followed, the forms being developed further.


Here’s a detail showing how the forms become more defined

Prog 4

The final stage before the finished painting has everything fully formed ready for the final finishing glazes.

Prog 6

Finally, these glazes use the understated colour of the previous stage to enhance the effect of airiness and space.


Then and now

The whole of the last half of the twentieth century has been a push by the art establishment i.e. curators and administrators away from the humanist collective traditions of Western art where the visual interrelations of  narrative, character and place are judged by their insight and complexity. Instead we have moved towards the assertion of an individual’s freedom to make a publicity-led, distinctive statement where judgments about quality, for example in evocation of character, or even of likeness, are considered less important than estimations of public interest.

A wonderful exhibition of Laura Knight portraits at the national Portrait Gallery has made this point very well. She is rightly lauded for her perspicacity, her draughstmanship, her generosity, and her obvious relish of the act of painting. The last painting there was made, I think, in the fifties. Here are a couple of examples.



To make my point, in the same building is an exhibition of Bob Dylan drawings that I will compliment by calling amateurish. There are no reasons concerning quality why they should be there.


But there are always good reasons to visit the National Portrait Gallery. To revisit old acquaintances like Laurie Lee by Anthony Devas;

Laurie lee by Anthony Devas

or a self portrait by Anna Zinkiesen;

Anna Zinkiesen

And get to know new ones like Maggie Smith by James Lloyd;

James Lloyd

Nine Nudes on a table.


In the early naughties, having made a small painting of two nudes on a table (originally meant to represent a rock), an intellectual friend of mine mentioned the “Raft of the Medusa” by Gericault. In my simple way I conceived the idea of putting a larger number of figures on the table and removing any metaphorical intentions that might imply. Composing in the normal way, by making a design and fitting individual drawings into it seemed inadequate so i decided I would assemble a number of women, compose them elegantly on a table, and photograph them, which should give me all the light, shadow, scale and perspective information I needed.

I knew at that time four models who were able between them to drum up another five women (four had never modelled before), and we set a date and time.

It went wrong from the start. I hadn’t considered how much time and space so many would need to change in, let alone the toilet facilities, so after introductions and my faltering speech of welcome and plans, received in deadly silence, chaos followed. I had naively budgeted for an hour. Three quarters of an hour later, nine robed women were gathered expectantly and with, I began to perceive dimly, an air of malevolence.

I began to position them on the table according to my first design, and of course they wouldn’t fit, A couple absolutely refused any physical contact, and others would not go near the edge of the table. With sinking heart and a jumble of figures in no order at all I got my camera and tripod from it’s safe place in the corner and prepared to take a photograph.

At this point one of them said, “What’s he doing? I’m not having my photo taken with nothing on!” Another one started giggling, and that set them all off, one or two of them becoming helpless with laughter.

I felt low enough before, but now, powerless and humiliated, and with the women openly contemptuous and making remarks about my person, I had not the heart to argue with the one who obviously hadn’t listened to a word she’d been told. When I was asked “What do you want us to do now?” I said “Get changed.” I had to listen outside while they, having bonded nicely, cheerily and loudly theorised about my sexual adequacy.

I did eventually, composing in the normal way , make a painting;


And even others;

Tableau 6


Bur I will never, ever, do that again.




I use the word “Figure” to categorise some of my paintings. By it I mean that the paintings consist of a single clothed figure in a space, not intended as a portrait, usually without a narrative, and usually as a simple evocation of qualities that I see as worth celebrating. some detail may have seemed delightful, or a face and expression has moved me in some way.

Artists have always made such things for pleasure or practice, things done solely for the visual qualities it promotes, for example Velazquez,


It wasn’t till artists like Chardin,

Chardinand Fragonard


that they felt free enough to expand this aspect of work into the mainstream and patrons allowed and began to demand a fresh look at the ordinary,  Still life also began to be a respectable field for artists to explore, without it being relegated to the back waters of academic regard.

In the 20th Century this aspect of work is if anything , the norm.



Gwen John










Fancy, Folly, Invention, Imagining, Divertissement, Capriccio, words more commonly used in architectural or musical discussion than in pictorial but the concept is just as common in the history of paintings as in those disciplines or literature. You could include in the genre works by Bosch,



Goya Watteau,






and a friend or mine, now dead, Evan Charlton.

Evan Charlton

Caprice does not mean surreal, since that involves a subversion of reality, nor fantasy, which is the replacement of one reality with another, although there are elements of both. Caprices are lighter hearted and take liberties with the reality we see every day, although sometimes darkly.

Many of them give a nod to classical mythology and treat that rich and familiar world with the same capriciousness as the everyday one. Most caprices begin with the premise What if? For example, what if a building had no other purpose but to look ancient and ruined? What if Hell comprised of punishments specific to our personalities? What if women could fly?


Many of the past are architectural in nature, while others are religious or political. Mine, apart from the humour, reflect my love of human bodies, along with a passion for the techniques and subjects of late 19th century painting that’s been with me all my working life.

Having said that, friends of mine on holiday in Majorca said they saw one of my Caprices for real;


Head size


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The Greeks and Romans always deliberately made the heads of female sculptures smaller in proportion to their bodies, presumably because they thought that female personality and brains were less than in males, who’s heads they made proportionately larger.

Screen shot 2013-04-09 at 13.25.32 Screen shot 2013-04-09 at 13.24.52

This was followed in the renaissance by painters like Titian


Later, artists like Boucher, who used very young models, since youthful, even childish appearance seemed to be in fashion, would slightly exaggerate the head size.


I just get it wrong. When I’m drawing I always seem to get the head size wrong by either too much or too little and don’t notice until near the end of the session, when I desperately try and rectify.

However nobody notices because real people’s heads differ so much in size we make a psychological adjustment. For example, which of these is the correct head size?


Or these?

IMG_3370 a IMG_3370 c IMG_3370b


Forced to spend part of a glorious summer day on the beach at Tenby I resorted to my usual pleasure of people watching and drawing. There is a protocol I follow on these occasions because, for one thing, my wife gets very upset with me “staring” at people, and for another, it’s not without it’s attendant dangers.

One time I was accosted by an angry boyfriend who threatened to give me a good smacking for ogling his girl. I was saved on that occasion by her liking the drawing, so I had to give it to her to mollify him. Another time I became surrounded by a noisy group of jostling young people all wanting to look over my shoulder and scaring off the quarry.

These and other discomforting moments mean I spend time choosing my perch carefully. Always so no-one can get in behind me, e.g. against a wall, and preferably behind a table or a wall. This usually means a cafe or bar, and drinking lots of coffee and lemonade, so there must be a toilet.

I try and look like I’m writing instead of drawing, not looking at my subject except when I have to, and looking the other way a lot. The ephemeral nature of many of the subjects (e.g. walkers or games players) means a lot of working from memory and knowledge of anatomy etc. But it’s a good way of trying to get character and qualities down quickly. Here are some of the results.

B1B2B5 B7 B6B8 B18 B17 B16 B15 B14 B13 B12 B11 B9