Several years ago I set out to do a series of small gouache paintings recording some childhood memories. Tomorrow is 75 years since VE day and one of the paintings depicts a vivid memory of the celebratory bonfire on our street complete with an improptu Bitannia with dustbin lid shield and toasting fork trident. Bonfires were not allowed during the war years so as a just turned five child it was magic.
We lived in an end of terrace house and one of the two communal air raid shelters was againt the end wall so it was literally next door. The shelter had a dog legged entrance to stop any light escaping and making us a target for bombers. When the siren sounded an ARP warden stood by the door with a doward facing dim torch and helped people in. For some reason I was frightened of this man and I vividly remember him shouting to a man running full tilt across the cobbles in the street, “Hurry up! The Jerrys are coming.” I had no idea who ‘the Jerrys’ were and no real concept of the danger we were in but the panicked atmosphere coming off the adults communicated real menace.
The shelter had wooden benches running along both sides and was dimly lit by a single light bulb suspended from the ceiling. We sat by the entrance and our neighbour, Mrs Freeman who lived across the Terrace, sat on the opposite bench with her faithful little companion dog, Judy. I remember my Mum muttering that she was not supposed to bring a dog into the shelter but I as very glad she was there as she held my attention while the antiaircraft gun pounded away from the nearby Park.
We had a small canary finch cross which sat in a cage hung in the window of our kitchen living room. I didn’t know much about the bird except that because it wasn’t a pure canary it didn’t sing, Sadly we returned from the shelter one night to find poor Joey dead in the bottom of his cage. Perhaps all the crashing and banging was too much for him or he was just an old bird. The other possibility was that gas got to him. We all had gas masks and I remember mine having a Mickey Mouse shape.
There was no street lighting because of the blackout but one night I stood in the back yard with my Grandad who pointed out strange lights beaming upwards.To me these were just pretty lights but I now know they were searchlights trying to spot enemy planes in order to shoot them down.
I really meant to post more on this blog but somehow what with trying to source groceries online, worrying about my very vulnerable spouse, getting a raised bed up and running for the first and time tidying the rest of the garden after a very wet winter I didn’t manage to get anything finished in my studio. It has been a difficult time for everybody but for me at last I have managed to clear the back log and got into my studio to finish off this triptych started in response to the Australian fires which seem a long time ago now.
Who would have thought the humble toilet roll could become such a soughtt after item, there must be vaults of them carefully guarded in the royal mint. My husband has the lung condition COPD as well as being over 80 (I’m getting there soon) so we come into the most vulnerable category during this corona virus crisis which means weeks and weeks of lockdown for us.
We are lucky to have a garden back and front and I have my beloved studio so It won’t be too bad. Because its now almost impossible to get a delivery slot from my long standing supermarket I have sent for a raised bed kit to grow some greens to stop us getting scurvy during this long voyage. I have decided to be kinder to my neglected blog and post more often so will be reporting on armies of slugs eating my produce, cat invasions,( there are bound to be some of those as my neighbours felines will find the newly filed bed put these especially for their use) and with luck, some food.
There will be new work from the studio and things to make you smile, I hope. We can get through this!
The other day I took out a plastic container with pigment in but was alarmed by my finger going through the plastic lid which had denatured and turned brittle. I soon found that all the others were the same so ordered some lovely glass jars from a company called EcoRefill seen on line. This new little company also delivers dry goods as well as glass containers and even reuses the packaging which is sent back to them. I will be buying more of these containers which come in a variety of sizes. I will be ordering some of my dry groceries from them too which will reduce the amount of plastic packaging going into my rubbish bin.
On a whim this morning I decided to sand and repaint a little side table I use every day. It was in need of a quick freshen up as it had began to look like something Paddington bear has been using. Easy little job, just sand it, clean it off then apply a fresh coat of chalk paint. Obstacle number 1 the chalk paint has gone hard. Having got the bit between my teeth I decided to use emulsion. Obstacle number 2, enter the large tin that has not been opened for couple of years. Then ensued a battle that many of you DIYers out there will be familiar with, getting the tin open. Having tried unsuccessfully for 15 minutes to prize it off I resorted to giving it a gentle bash on the floor which I did with caution as in the past I have had the lid come off and the tin vomit its content all over the floor. Still no movement.
As an artist I often have to deal with stuck lids and a quick emersion in hot water usually works so I decided to try this. I boiled water lay the tin in the sink on its side and poured the water round the rim then I turned the tin Poured more hot water over it upright and began to prize the lid off. The tin had a more spectacular show in mind and explosively blew the lid off sending it across the kitchen splashing the paint collected in the rim all over me, the floor, my hob and units. Jackson would have been delighted!
Today I’ve added one or two more collaged bit of paper and covered the picture with a a glaze of Indian Yellow which gives it a more orange appearance and unifies it as a whole. I think its finished though I may add one or two thinner lines in the background but at the moment I am leaning towards leaving it as it is. This not a very good photo as its too wet and windy to take a canvas outside to photograph.
I am still mentally reeling from the the images of the devastating Australian bush fires and here is another picture started in the firestorm series this time collaged paper and acrylic on canvas. In progress. 50x70cm
Yesterday I posted some digital sketches on the theme of the Australian bush fires. This painting in oils is called ‘After the fire’. It is 80x80cm on coarse Jute canvas. I used black oil stick to create the tree lines which worked well on the jute though used the stick up rather quickly.
As some one who believes passionately that we need to take the issue of climate change much more seriously than we are doing I was filled with anguish and horror at both the burning Amazon and the terrible bush fires caused by drought in Australia. As an individual there is very little I can do but as an artist I can try to put some of this distress into my work, This probably achieves nothing but at least it gives me some relief.
I have been using my new iPad to produce sketches which I will turn into much larger paintings and here are a few examples.
Well hello 2020, so far Australia seems to be on fire, south Africa in the grip of drought and famine, Jakarta is flooded, Harry and Megan have resigned and we are told by those who are really paying attention (unfortunately not the ones who should be) that we have ten years to get our act together or we are doomed to fry drown or starve before the end of the century if not before.
In the light of all that I thought I would share some of the good things that have happened for me last year starting with my lovely Garden.
A while ago I shared my work on a painting called Sea Kale which had languished in my studio for a couple of years. Having just registered for the 2020 Chichester Art trail I decided I had better get on with finishing it. Its always hard stopping and starting a painting with long gaps between work and as I began I realised just why it was the painting got pushed to the back of the pile in the first place. As I started I wondered what fit of madness had made me attempt the thing in the first place but I have a thing about finishing things so gritted my teeth and got on with it. After a while I began to feel chilly as I did not have the heat on though I did warm the studio, a log cabin in the garden, before I began. Oil paints make fumes so its not a good idea having a heater going whilst working with them. Before you get your violins out, its long way from the starving artist in a garret and I do retreat to the warm house when I get cold. Any way the painting progressed though its not finished and there are many hours of frustration left in it!
I live in Elmer, by the sea, and sometimes I forget what a lovely place it is to be especially when harsh salt winds blow in to scorch my garden plants, but this beautiful September morning I took a walk to see the progress on the improvements being made to our sea defences. There are some lovely old Groynes washed by the sea but as I suspect some of them will disappear under more rocks I decided to do a photo sweep before that happens. I won’t say any more but let the images speak for themselves.
I was so distressed at the sight of the burning Amazon forest and all that means for the animals trees and humanity that I got a large, 100×120 canvas on my easel to express what I feel. In the end I settled for covering the canvas with red, orange and yellow alkyd oil paint diluted with thinners. I allowed the paint to drop from the top edge rather like tears then took a cloth to wipe out the shapes of trees using photos of the forests as shape guides to make them appears negative images, like ghosts. Alkyd oils are quick drying and can reworked again after six hours especially when thin. The next step was to turn the painting upside-down and dribble black paint down the canvas wiping the trees clean again after. I’ve added some grey and one or two white bits. This makes no difference to the forest but helped me with the grief I feel.
This painting in oils which is 70×70 cm on box canvas started as a wild sketch but as I worked on it in my studio I was afraid of losing the wildness. I find most paintings end up as a compromise between what one sets out to do and what one is able to do. I’m sure I could go on working on it but feel to do so would end up with what I call knitting where all freedom has been lost, not that I have anything against kitting, just not in a painting. No doubt I will see things that need tweaking as it hangs around my studio though.
Well my oil paints have come in from the cold and I am enjoying using them. The odourless thinners is working well and can be seen in the Bombay Sapphire gin bottle (must remember its not gin!). I enjoyed using my old oil sticks so much that I’ve indulged in a set of larger ones, Its summer and I can open the doors and windows of my studio and throw paint around with glee, so look forward to more gleeful paintings.
Today I returned to this painting started plein aire in my garden about a week ago. Went at it with paint sticks in the first session but used a more careful approach this time. I didn’t want to lose the freedom though so tried to to keep it loose whilst giving some structure to the plants.. I worked all day until the wet paint prevented my from continuing. I used alkyd oil paints which dry overnight so it should be ready to work on again tomorrow.
At last I have managed to get down to work in my studio again. This is stage two of this one. I have used lovely Prussian blue for the background and as I’m using alkyd paints it shouldn’t be too long before I can add the gold stars with my new paint stick. There are other things to add on the figure too.
My garden is a peaceful therapeutic haven where I can sit with a coffee early in the morning to watch the bees wake up and get ready for another day. I miss it in the winter but try to go out as long as I can until its too cold to sit out. Through the dull months the memory those bright buzzing mornings carries me through the times when my studio is really too cold to think of heating economically without destroying the planet.
About 20 years ago I bought many large tubes of oil paint on offer in a sale and as I can’t resist a bargain I greedily snapped them up. Sad to say they have lain cluttering up three drawers in my little studio. It’s not that I don’t like oils, just the damaging fumes and the mess, also I moved to acrylics and water based oil paint. Now I have discovered an odourless thinners, bought a large can (it really does have no fumes), as its summer and I can throw all the doors and windows open the time has come to use the languishing paints. I have started three works the last few days and this Harlequin jumping for joy is the latest.
We live near the beach and Sea Kale grows in the pebbles every year and in the spring emerges with beautiful purple tinged foliage. Here the tight flower buds can be seen too. I began this painting two years ago but scraped most of it off leaving just flat colours and I’m determined not to be beaten this time.
Having decided the moment was passed for a painting in acrylic I started over a year ago I primed over it reducing it to pristine whiteness. I carried it out into the garden along with easel and oil paint sticks and let myself loose on it covering the whole canvas in one session. I really enjoyed the freedom of working direct onto the canvas with the sticks and thinner. Just what I needed to kick start my flagging creativity. I will have to wait until its dry now before I can finish it off.
We spent two weeks in our old beach hut which looks over to Cowes on the isle of Wight. Most of the first week we had weather which I quite like as clouds are much more interesting to an artist than clear skies. My friend gave me a concertina sketchbook and I tried to do a view from our doorway each day.
Last year I got this garden up and running after having front relandscaped to improve drainage. This year its taken off and I’m enjoying sitting outside in the morning with a cup of coffee. Its delightful to see folks enjoying it too as they pass by, worth all the hard work.