Writer’s Block

I’m sure all creatives, people who try to make a living from their creations, suffer this at some point. And it’s not, by the way, confined to writers. I’ve been fighting with a new song all day, and it still isn’t playing ball. My ideas sound hackneyed, flat. And that’s just to me. I wouldn’t dare play them to anyone else. Their sympathy would kill me.

But I suffer from artist’s block as well. When the thought of picking up a paint-brush is just too much. When I sit staring at a blank canvas, and nothing comes to me.

All very depressing. And there is no doubt that the best remedy to any sort of creative blockage is just to keep going. To write, regardless, as one of my author friends writes. Paint regardless. Compose regardless. It doesn’t matter if the end result is not up to one’s usual standard. It can always go into the bottom drawer to be brought out again at some point in the future. What’s important is to keep working through the blockage.

But there is one thing which for me works best. Deadlines. And Commissions. If I know that I have to get a painting finished for a certain date, I will get it done. Even better though is if I’m working on the score to a TV programme. Somehow, working to the constraints of a moving image brings the ideas flowing out in a way which they never do when I’m working just for my own pleasure. I always knew that this is the sort of music I wanted to write. Little did I know that it would fit me so naturally. I have yet to experience sitting watching a film or documentary which is awaiting music, and to have no ideas come.

So writer’s block can be worked through, but for me it is less of an issue if I am working to someone else’s deadline. My own deadlines? They can be moved just a little too easily – so they are not really deadlines at all.

Having said that, for many years I have operated a to-do list. the joy I feel in ticking off one of the items for that day is immeasurable. In fact, if I get to the end of a day and I haven’t ticked everything off, I think of things which I didn’t write down, yet did do. I then add these to my to-do list, so that I can experience the joy of ticking them off. I know its sad, but that’s what makes me tick I guess. If you were to ask my wife, she would say I’m far too driven, far too task orientated. And she’s not wrong. But that’s the way I cope with times of great busyness, and times when the ideas just seem to dry up.

Keep working through. Writer’s block will not last forever. Says he hopefully.

What you may have guessed is that this very blog entry is me working through writer’s block. Just write anything. Anything that occurs to you. Make up a piece of music about anything at all. Base it on something else. It doesn’t matter – just keep going! Take small steps, a note at a time, a brush-stroke at a time.

Another thing I’m learning is not to be stunted by my perfectionism. Not every first draft is going to be wondrous. So stop expecting it to be. That strive for perfection can be its own worst enemy. Accept what you are able to do. It may not be the best, but it’s there.

Sometimes though, it’s good to take a break. Go for a walk. Come back to it with a fresh pair of eyes or ears.

If there were a fool-proof remedy for writer’s block, someone would surely have made a mint selling it. But I am discovering that there are things which I can do to get the creative juices flowing once more.

A3 Calendars

Well, it’s that time of year again – I start thinking about Christmas and the New Year. It may seem ridiculously early, but for those of us who are in the business of designing cards and calendars, our work began some time ago.

So I have my beautiful A3 sized wall-hanging Calendars for sale on my Etsy page (click on the link below to go straight there). The company who printed them did a wonderful job for me last year, and they’ve done it again. Printed on high quality paper stock, with a glossy laminated front cover, and what’s more, there is absolutely oodles of space to write events and special dates on. Below are some of the paintings I’ve included this year – most of these have been painted during 2021.

Also available are a selection of mugs and coasters on the shop part of my website – follow the link below.

The Art of Putting Weight On

Apparently most of the UK population have put on an average of half a stone on over lockdown. That’s certainly true of me, and I’m working doubly hard to try to lose it again. But like the old meme says – “I keep losing weight, but it keeps finding me again”.

But if I’m honest, actually a lot of my weight gain has been since Easter this year. The reason is perfectly simple. I’ve been painting. Painting pictures I mean, not walls.

Now you may well ask, what is the link between creating artwork and weight gain? And it’s not what you might think. It’s not to do with the fact that I spend long periods sitting down. It’s to do with the fact that when I’m painting, rather than creating music, I eat more.

Let me explain. When I’m taken by the muse and am composing a new musical work, I can forget to eat. I am so focused on the act of creating, that I don’t even notice my body telling me that I am hungry.

Not so when I am painting. When I paint, I can not paint for longer than 2 hours at a time. I find it physically and mentally draining. So every two hours I need to take a break, and I usually somehow find myself wandering into the kitchen. I’ve taken to buying absolutely no treats or sweets, because if they’re there, my self-control fades away. Of course, what I ought to do is step outside and go for a walk. But as you probably know, there is a difference between what we ought to do and what we actually end up doing.

So a piece of bread mysteriously disappears down my gullet. And suddenly, I’ve taken in calories I didn’t really need.

I wonder why? I wonder why I find creating artwork so much more tiring than music? Maybe it’s because of the techniques and tools I use. I think there is a link between my art and my music. Both are quite detailed and layered. Both delight in light and shade. But to create a piece of music, it takes an awful lot less time, from sitting at the piano, to creating all those layers and textures on my DAW (digital audio workstation, for those who have never heard of a DAW). I choose the instruments, and I play each line, slowly layering them up to create texture both thick and thin. I tinker with the dynamics levels of individual lines. But the truth is, I can start and finish a 5 minute piece of music in an afternoon.

Not so with my art. To create one of my detailed naturalistic paintings, even for a relatively small painting, can take days and even weeks. So the progress I make is much slower. My techniques slow me down, because I am a sucker for detail.

Maybe I need to try creating digital art, using an art tablet. Maybe that would speed up my work-rate. But I think I’d miss all the physicality of taking brush to canvas. Of making mistakes which can’t be rectified with the press of a button. Part of the process of creating art is making those mistakes, and either painting over them, or using them to take the piece in a different direction.

So I guess I’m just going to have to get used to the fact that artwork is going to take longer to produce, and that I’m going to eat more. Unless I can find something else to do in my breaks away from the canvas.

My life as a Freelancer

I took a risk at Easter. I left teaching, in order to give my time to painting and to music composition. So far, it’s been the best decision I could have made, because I’ve had more work than I know what to do with. In fact, I’ve been so busy doing paid work for other people that I haven’t actually had any time to do things for myself. But that is the reality of freelancing – you have to follow the jobs.

So I’ve completed the music for another TV series, this one about an ex-soldier who suffers terrible PTSD, and whilst in a fit of unknowing rage, murders someone. It’s about how we treat those who have mental illness as much as about his need for redemption. It stretched my musical language, as the director wanted things to be quite atonal and confusing for much of it. I will post a link to it when i know the details of showing times.

At the same time, I was working on a large commission for a client in the States, who wanted a view of Carmel Beach from Pebble Beach Golf Links. That was a challenge, as there were no clear photos that I could find of the exact view he wanted, so I created the view from a number of different photos. The issue with that, as any artist will tell you, is that different photos might have been taken in different weather conditions, at different times of the day. So creating a picture which feels realistic, with the light falling from the same direction, is a huge challenge.

Then, I was busy preparing paintings for taking part in the Warwickshire Open Studios. I never have as much work on show as I’d like, especially because my painting style is pretty detailed, so each painting takes a fair amount of time to complete. But There were a good ten new paintings available to buy, as well as some older work, and in addition I’d had coasters and mugs printed with some of my artwork. And I have never sold as many originals as I did this year. It’s been a wonderful experience, confirming that I made the right decision at Easter.

I’m sure things won’t always be as smooth. there will be times when the work dries up, and people don’t buy my artwork. That is what most freelancers go through I’d expect. But that’s not coming yet – I have three painting commissions to complete before Christmas, and there is always the work on The Moons of Jupiter to return to in my music, as well as the small matter of a TV film to compose for, based on the life of St Bernadette of Lourdes. So at least in the short term, I have more than enough to keep me busy. And so I am more than content.

Surface ripples: Tank Water cover reveal

I can’t wait to read it, and the cover does all the right things – it whets the appetite, gives me questions which need answers.

Michael Burge Media

THE COVER OF my debut novel Tank Water is ready to share with the world!

Created by Kim Lock, lead designer of MidnightSun Publishing since 2013, this cover stood out from the group of samples I was sent, and didn’t need much tweaking at all.

Life-giving water captured in tanks comes from rainfall, so the approaching storm in Kim’s design is apt, but it’s also prescient. Facing it is a young person, who could be any one of several characters.

The railway causeway says everything about the rural decrepitude of the novel’s country setting. The person on it is walking into the storm, whereas flocks of birds are escaping in the other direction.

Yet there is hope in the light at the horizon… and the neon-strong pink should flag to those who know me that this work is like just about everything I write: bursting with messages of equality.

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The Urge to be Better

There was a painting I did last year which I thought was pretty good. I thought it worked, and I like the amount of detail I’d been able to use. The source photo hadn’t been that great, but I thought the end product was worth the effort.

I look at that painting now, and all I want to do is repaint it. My technique has improved, even in the 11 months or so since I finished it. Here’s a more recent painting:

And another one…

What’s the difference? There is so much more detail. And with the detail comes perhaps a greater sense of distance, as the detail diminishes in the background.

But what has made this difference? There are three things – the first of which has been working in the background within my artistic efforts for years. The first is youtube. There, I said it. I found a series of videos on youtube uploaded by an English artist called Michael James Smith. His paintings are phenomenal – photographic in their realism. And his videos are full of helpful hints about how to achieve the same detail. I’m not there yet, but he gives me something to aim for. I then discovered instagram, and followed the artists producing work which I aspire to. It’s all a useful motivational tool to help me improve my work.

The second thing which has helped is improving my tools. The aforementioned Michael James Smith has his own range of paintbrushes which he uses to paint with, and he sells them online. I’ve bought about 10 so far, and they are just the most beautiful brushes I have ever used. To have fine brushes which don’t immediately start losing their bristles the minute you pick them up is life-changing! They make painting a real pleasure again.

And the third thing? Time. Since giving up teaching 8 weeks or so ago, I’ve had so much more time to develop paintings. I’m not constantly rushing to get them finished – I can work at them until I am totally pleased with them. Or closer to being totally pleased with them. I doubt I will ever be absolutely happy with them – it’s just the way I am.

Now some people might say that I’m wasting my time – why spend so long doing fine photographic detail when I could just hang a photo up? Well, I don’t just paint from photos. I edit the source photos to accentuate details or colours, or contrast, so that they themselves begin to look like paintings. That’s my way of approaching photorealism – the photo itself becomes part of the process of creating the work of art – here’s an example.

So if I were giving advice to someone wanting to improve in their creativity?

Firstly, be inspired. Be inspired by other artists and practitioners. Don’t be afraid to learn from them.

Secondly, get the tools which will help you achieve your vision. Whatever sort of style we work in, we will find it much easier to create work to be proud of if the tools enable us rather than hinder us.

And lastly, give time. It won’t happen immediately. I’ve been painting for over 40 years, and I’m still learning. My grandpa used to say, “if something’s worth doing, do it well”. It’s something I try to live by. I don’t let anything go until I am happy I’ve made my best attempt at it. It may be that I look at this year’s work in a year’s time and think it’s not much good – but it’s good for me for now. And that is what I aim for. But it takes time – as the old saying goes, it’s 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Creating something worth the creating will often take a lot of time and effort. But it’s worth it!

Life Changes

Well, since I last blogged, there have been some changes. Well, one in particular. I took the step in Easter of this year of leaving teaching. So I am now (and have been for the past one and a half months) a full-time creative freelancer.

So what is it like? Well, I’ve been fortunate. Since I walked out of the school where I’d taught for the past 12 years, I’ve been busy. I was commissioned to paint a large canvas of the Golf Links at Pebble Beach in California, and was also sent the first cut of my next TV series to score – all in the space of a couple of days – both arriving out of the blue in the same week I left teaching. It’s as if the man upstairs knows that I’d need a bit of reassurance that I’ve down the right thing.

So that’s what I’ve been busy doing these last 6 weeks or so – these and writing some four songs for the school – my last gift to them – to use in a production about the Coventry Blitz in 1940. So now, I’ve completed the songs, completed and sent the large canvas, and have almost completed the TV score. I have another TV score in the pipeline, and I’m also extremely busy creating some new artwork for the Warwickshire Open Studios, starting (if all goes to plan and the pandemic doesn’t throw us another curve-ball) on the 19th June.

So I wouldn’t really have time now to be a teacher.

Having said that, what I am discovering is how much harder it is to maintain momentum and motivation when there is only me pushing. I think that’s why I love doing commissions – both art and music – they are difficult to get right, because the customer is always right and they always have a fairly fixed view in their imagination of what they want, but it’s not always easy for the artist or composer to find that. But there are time limits placed on such ventures, and so they have their own momentum.

But I’ve only been doing this for a month and a half, so I ought not to be too hard on myself. I will develop a routine. It will come. In the meantime, I leave you with some of the artwork I’ve been working on recently.

Wild Horses – acrylics on canvas
Diorama – the Shambles, York
Diorama – Bibury

The Dark Crystal – a Triumph of Design

This is not a film review. This is purely my response as an artist to the artistry at work in the design of the film, which in my view is absolutely second-to-none.

Much of the film’s design is down to the excellent and unique work of Brian Froud. His imaginative and organic designs are an astoundingly good match for the weird and wonderful tale Jim Henson was trying to tell. One only has to see the designs for the Castle of the Dark Crystal to see how his unique vision shaped the film. He is to the world of the Dark Crystal what H. R. Giger was to the world of Alien, but more so, because Froud’s vision informed the entire design ethic and shape of the film.

Brian Froud concept drawings for Jim Henson's THE DARK CRYSTAL (1982). |  The dark crystal, Brian froud, Art

Looking at the cultural expressions of the Mystics and their dark counterparts, the Skeksis, one is struck by the opposite ends of the design spectrum. The Skeksis, in body and in clothing, are all vicious claw like structures and dark reds. They are redolent of a fading tatty majesty.

Related image | The dark crystal, Dark crystal movie, Dark fantasy

The Mystics are earthy, soft, and their art is smooth, rounded, with nothing of the sharpness of the Skeksis. It has a sense of being natural, at one with nature and the universe, with it’s suggestion of stars and moons.

Mystic - Dark Crystal Photo (43592490) - Fanpop

The design is just overwhelmingly wonderful – one can sense the joy with which Froud embraced this job. Ever since I saw the film when I was 13, I have loved it – it appealed even back then to my artistic soul. The music too, with it’s wonderfully sweeping and mysterious themes by Trevor Jones, served to imprint this film on my psyche.

But for me there is one very simple aspect of the overall design of the film which encapsulates the whole aura of this wonderful world – and it’s the design used in the film’s name text, seen in the above youtube clip. When I was 14 I bought myself the album of the original score, and I have the album cover on my wall in front of my workspace, because I love it so much. It looks like this:

The flow of the text is beautiful – the rounded quality of the letters themselves perhaps echoes the aesthetic of the mystics, whereas the hooks and points perhaps echo the Skeksis, in all their skeletal talon-like glory . The richness of the colour, with that wonderful rose crystal interior bound by the gold edge – is a reference of course to the crystal itself, bound perhaps by the cruelty and abuse of the Skeksis. The way the letters fit into the spaces created by each other makes this a really very clever piece of design.

For many, the world of the Dark Crystal has been reopened recently with the release of “Age of Resistance”, which is well worth a watch. It expands on the mythology which first burst on our screens in 1982. But nothing can quite capture that sense of uniqueness and wonder which the film brought to us back then. The film begins with the narrator’s voice intoning, “Another world, another time. In the Age of Wonder.” And that’s what the film delivers, in it’s wonderful cohesive design, it’s beautifully manufactured costumes and sets, even down to it’s publicity artwork. It is a triumph of design.

The Gifts of the Pandemic

I was asked this morning what I consider to be the gifts to myself of the pandemic and resultant lockdowns this year. A strange question, to be sure. But not a ridiculous one. Many of us have found something important this year – maybe something we’d forgotten, or lost, has been rediscovered – like a love of walking through the woods in the evening. I’ve returned to charcoal drawing, and I’ve loved it.

Maybe for some of us, we’ve taken up a new hobby, learned a new skill. I’ve been trying my hand at wood engraving. Not a great success if I’m honest – but like all things worth doing, sometimes we have to work at it. Although I am wondering if I really have time to take up another creative venture – the composing and art already take a lot of my time when I’m not teaching.

So it’s not a ridiculous question. But it’s also not just about what we’ve done, or not done. It’s also about, for me, a chance to re-evaluate where I am going. To push the boundaries a little with my creativity, and to see where it takes me. I have a song to sing, and it’s not much use if I’m the only one hearing it.

The older I get, the more I realise my limitations. I will never be able to put up shelves straight. DIY is just not my thing. But I’m aware too of the limitations in my energy levels. I am a workaholic. I am utterly driven, so much so, that I become hugely depressed if I have got to the end of the day and I have achieved nothing, if I have ticked nothing off my todo list. But lately I’ve noticed that I just can’t keep pace with my self.

So I sense that the time is coming to begin to think about making some changes. Making more room in my life to do the things which give me life, and strip away the things which drain me. I don’t mind being tired, even exhausted, at the end of the day, if I’ve been creating. Because that’s a good exhaustion. That’s life affirming and ultimately energising. But all the other things which drain my time and energy? Including, dare I say it, teaching?

As I say, maybe it’s time to start looking at my options. I’m not as young as I once was, and it becomes increasingly difficult to lug crates of musical instruments around the school to make sure the kids are getting a good quality musical education. I love the kids – and they do give me huge return on my investment, but all the other stuff in education – lesson plans, inspections, assessments – they just drain. They give nothing back. If I could teach without those things, maybe it’s something I could still see myself doing in five years time. But at the moment, I can’t see it lasting.

That might seem negative. It might not seem like a gift at all. But sometimes gifts come in the shape of myrrh, as was the case in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago. Myrrh was the spice used by the rich to embalm the dead. Maybe the gift of the pandemic to me, in the end, will be to force me to ask myself what needs to die, in order for me to live?

Where did it all start? And where is it going?

Oldest known cave art was made by Neanderthals, not humans - art and  culture - Hindustan Times

My son asked me the other day (because even at 15 he seems to mistakenly think that I am a fount of all wisdom – until I ask him to do something of course!) when humans started to write. I answered that even the cavepeople drew on the walls – imbuing their drawings with meaning.

But it does beg the question – when did humans start to draw with the purpose of creating art – something which of course has meaning, but that the meaning might be simply to make a small corner of the world a beautiful place. Because what is art really other than an individual’s commentary on what they see outwardly and inwardly? I like to draw and paint in quite a photorealistic way. That’s because I actually think that I couldn’t possibly improve on what I see around me. That’s a deep-seated belief, which drives the way I portray the world.

But I suspect that humans have been drawing since the dawn of time. To a certain extent it has always marked them out from the rest of the animal kingdom. That’s not to say that other members of the kingdom do not show remarkable ingenuity and even craftsmanship in the way they leave their mark on the world – one only has to look at a bee-hive, an otter’s dam, a spider’s web, or even a bird’s nest to see this in action. Those cave paintings are important because they are the earliest proof of humankind’s purposeful manipulation of tools to create image with meaning, the precursor to writing. They are the proof that humankind was developing intelligence. They were also imprinting their relationship with the world – hence the fact that most of the early cave art features hunting animals.

So is that what art is? Is it marking out our relationship to the world? I think in one sense it is – even abstract art reflects perhaps a more introspective way of organising senses into shapes and colours. As the last century progressed, art became progressively darker in tone, often more difficult to understand for the casual observer. I suspect this reflects the fact that with its experience of modern warfare the world seems a more dangerous place, and despite new technologies which bring us closer together as a species, we have become more fragmented and polarised. That’s vastly simplifying the state of art as we find it, and one thing that can be said of art is that it is hugely varied in its expression and its methodology. Certainly in comparison to the art of former centuries, in which there was much more a generic, accepted form of creating art.

Another feature of the modern age which has hugely affected the arts, not just visual art, is the explosion of technologies which help artists to create art, and to share it. It is hugely easier to create professional art or music pieces in your own home. Arguably it is also easier to get your creations out into the world and share them widely, via social media and websites. Except that everyone else is trying to be heard and seen as well.

Personally I find it an exciting world to be creating in. Because anyone can create. It’s like the boy with the broomstick at the end of “The Last Jedi” – the force is not limited to ultra-powerful bloodlines, but is available for anyone. Indeed I think the true power of the arts lies in the creativity of the vast multitudes who are able to produce it and share it via instagram, etc. It is interesting to note that those who perhaps used to have power in the art world – those creating “important” works of art like Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin – are not in the spotlight as they once were. The preeminent artists are those who are just one of the crowd – hiding in plain sight like Banksy. Perhaps the likes of me, painting pictures of nature, are not creating “Important” art – I can’t remember the last time I carved up a cow or dipped a crucifix in urine. But I believe that I am creating a picture of the way I see the world. And despite the fact that the world is a fairly grim place to be living in at the moment, I still love it. I still look out the window and see beauty.

It saddens me when I see what we as a species do to scar that beauty. But I’m thankful too that humankind leaves marks of greatness here as well – we are capable of creating great beauty. The scars we leave are perhaps a natural progression from the cave-paintings of old, in that they are people trying to tame their environment – by building roads and railways and functional living spaces. But let us never lose that awareness of how we can make the world a beautiful place as well.

The Stories in a Face

I find people’s faces endlessly fascinating. A face doesn’t have to be beautiful to be memorable. Sometimes it is the imperfections in a face which give it it’s character.

But what is really fascinating is the way that a face tells the story of it’s journey through life. A child’s face is often almost like a blank page – not in it’s emptiness, but in it’s sense of potential. I like being able to see in a child’s face what they might look like as an adult. But the other thing about a child’s face is how readily a smile and a laugh comes to it. that is one of the great joys of working with children – that natural enjoyment of life is there from the very beginning in most children.

Toby, at the age of 1.
Joseph

But then as the body grows older to which the face is attached, and begins to learn that life is not always something which we can smile through, there is a sense of knowing, of what they would have called a loss of innocence in older days.

Judas

But this journey has to be taken. Faces have to begin to find different expressions – grief. Anger. Uncertainty.

But then, towards the end of the journey, faces begin to show the effects of their particular journey more and more. And it’s here, in the collection of wrinkles and liver-spots, that suddenly one thing can become clear. A life that has been lived well, and by that I mean with integrity, with love, with the discovery of joy along the way, shines out. Open faces on the elderly point to a life lived in the open. And I find the faces of older people especially interesting as an artist. The wrinkles are fascinating, of course, but the eyes are what tell the real story. They tell the stories of the hardships experienced, of obstacles overcome, of love gained and love lost.

Sophia

This lady I have called Sophia. No idea what her name really is/was. But her eyes tell a story of a long life of experience, with perhaps some disillusionment with the way the world has turned out for her. Sophia is Greek for Wisdom. Wisdom I suspect has its own cost, and takes its own toll on a human being.

Maria

And this lady, whom I gave some money to when she was begging on the streets of Madeira, has a quiet acceptance about her. What fate has brought her to this, begging on the steps? But this is her life, and she accepts it.

Faces are the way we are seen. They are the way other people experience us. I hope, as i grow older, that my face reflects a life well-lived, a life of truth, love, of joy. There will be times when tears will spill down my cheeks. That is part of the human condition. But may my wrinkles be etched into my face by too much laughter, not by too much care.

A Special Commission

Every commission is special. Of course it is – if someone asks you (and pays you) to paint a particular scene, or pet, or person, its because the subject matter is important. That’s why I love to paint commissions. It’s terrifying at the same time, because you just never know if what you produce will quite fit the bill. That’s especially true of portraits – painting someone you’ve never met in the flesh, but whose face is known and loved by the recipient. I always ask for a number of photo sources if possible, so that I can build up an image in my mind of how the person looks from different angles, in different lights.

So I thought I’d share my latest commission with you, with the permission of the buyer.

This is a beautiful cottage in North Wales, owned by the person who asked me to paint it. They live most of the time in Coventry, but this is their second home. And it is just idyllic – I’ve visited there and it’s a very healing place to be. But with the present covid-19 situation, and ever-increasing lockdowns all over the UK, they haven’t been able to visit the cottage much.

So this painting reminds them of their beautiful home away from home. And I’m pleased to be able to give them that link with something which feels quite far away at present.

But every commission, as I said, is special. Here are some of the other commissions I’ve painted over the past couple of years.

Venice, special to the couple who commissioned it as they honeymooned there. Painted from their own photograph.
A glacier somewhere cold! Special because the couple spent time there on one of their first holidays away with each other.
Joseph, special because this was a gift, commissioned by his uncle, for his parents.
What a cutey! I’m not surprised the parents wanted this one immortalised.
Winston, special because he was one of a kind – certainly to his owner! He’s since popped off to kitty-heaven, so this is even more important as a memory holder.
This was painted to be given as a gift by the three children to their parents on their wedding anniversary.

This next one was interesting – I was contacted by someone who wanted a copy of an old watercolour doing. The only photograph he had of the original painting was tiny. He also sent a number of photos of the house as it is now – it happens to be the house where he lives. So I merged the watercolour, as unclear and small as it was, with the details from the present day photos.

And So commissions are always special. They always mean something to the buyer. And I feel very privileged to be able to contribute to that special memory, that special occasion. Scared, yes – will it be what they envisaged? But when I am painting these pictures, I am always deeply aware of the emotional resonance which they may carry. There are some which are even more special. They gain resonance with time, and with events. So I’ll leave you with this one. This is a mother and daughter portrait commissioned by the husband of the daughter. It was a lovely portrait to paint – the love between the two is very clear. And faces with a bit of history to them are always fascinating to paint.

But not long after I completed this, the older lady passed away. I hope my portrait brings joy, even if tinged with sadness.

The Faces of those Who Knew him

I’ve been working for a number of years on a series of dramatic monologues (most of which I have performed myself) from the point of view of people who came into contact with a certain historical person. Some loved him, some hated him, and i have tried to capture that dichotomy in the different readings.

I decided early on in the process that not only would I write the monologues, but I would also illustrate them with portraits of what the speaker might have looked like.

I’m not going to give any more context than that for the time being, but maybe it will whet your appetite, or at the very least pique your interest.

Here, then, are a few examples of the portraits, with one line of monologue to accompany each in the caption.

She was always a strange one, my youngest daughter.
Our journey, at last, nears its end.
Fancy meeting you here, in this God-forsaken place.
It’s dark, and I can’t see as clearly as I once did.
How dare he suggest that I have not done my duty as a host?
I’ve heard that there was another one who became a follower.
But I did say it, and because of it I nearly sent a man to his death.
So it all ends.

That’s enough for now. I’ll post more in the future. In the meantime, I’m listening to Fiddler on the Roof which is my pick for the John Williams work of 1971. I’ll be posting some thoughts on that soon enough.

Why did I ever start this???

There are a few pieces of artwork over the years which have almost defeated me. Like an unruly toddler who embarrasses you when you take them to the supermarket. I could quite cheerfully have left these to sit forgotten in some dark corner. They’re the paintings which I got halfway through and thought “Why, oh why did I ever start this?!”

The painting above was one such one. I’d taken a photo of a patch of undergrowth, just beginning to be touched by the autumn. I loved the colours in it, and the way the sunlight caught the veins of the leaves. But after hours of work, it felt as if I were never going to be able to finish it. It was too detailed, and I kept on forgetting exactly which bit of leaf I was actually painting.

Then there was Bath Abbey…

This one was something else. I actually took three years to finish it – not that it actually took three years to paint, but I couldn’t face it for long periods of time. I’d do a couple of hours, with little to show, and then I’d park it for another month or so.

But I did finish both of them, in the end, and there are no paintings of which I am prouder. Sometimes you just have to stick with it, though it feels rather like pulling teeth. But it’s worth sticking at, because not only do you have a sense of deep satisfaction at having beaten the bugger, but actually the things which we have fought for, and with, the tasks we have agonised over, they are often the things which stick around in our memories. They are the truest and dearest children, because we felt every bit of the labour pain.

Yes I am sure there will be paintings in my future which will almost defeat me. The ones of which I ask the same question – “Why did I ever start it?” But I am also sure that they will be the very paintings of which I will be most proud, and most fond.

Leaving my Mark

I always thought I’d be rich and famous by the time I was 30. I thought I’d be “discovered”. And here I am, entering my second half century, and still not there. Yes, I make some money out of my paintings, out of my music. But not enough to pay the mortgage. Not enough to give up my dayjob.

I no longer seek those things. I am very driven – but what drives me now is to make my mark, to leave something of real value behind. So that people after me can see that I’ve lived on this Earth, and made an impression. And that’s not the same as fame.

I have two boys. They are 20 and 15 respectively. They are growing up into confident young men. The oldest one is an extremely gifted mathematician, and he has an easy way with people which means that he will carve out a good living, and surround himself with friends. The younger of my sons is very creative. He writes endlessly – he wants to be a film director. He has a number of health issues, but I am very proud of his confidence and his ability to face the world come what may.

My boys, aged 15 and 10 in 2015

What I’m coming to realise is that I have left my mark. It’s there in my boys, in their belief that they can be anything, that they can achieve anything. Life may take them along strange and unexpected paths, but I’m glad they have that confidence that they will be able to navigate them in the following of their dreams.

I’ve also come to realise that in my teaching, I have inspired young people over the years to take up music as a profession. Indeed, some of them make more money out of it than I do. But that’s part of what I am able to leave.

And quite apart from that, there are homes all over the world which have a painting by a certain Adam Tucker hanging on the walls – and some homes have a number of them! Of course I could sell more. Of course I could be better at marketing. But I am already beginning to leave signs of my presence on this planet.

And my music graces people’s television screens all over the world. No, I’m not yet well known. But I have had comments from people from the other side of the world who have heard my music in something they have watched. That’s humbling.

And I realise that it’s not the size of your following, the size of your bank balance, which leaves a mark. It’s about lives which you touch on your journey through your own life. I have a lovely wife, wonderful sons, and I have the best of both worlds – I can create, and I can educate, and pass on my love of creating to the next generation.

So if I ever start to whinge about not being quite successful enough, will you poke me in the eye and remind me of what I am able to do? I am so very fortunate to be fulfilled in what i do, and I know that is a real blessing. Not everyone is as fortunate.

Life Imitating Art

I painted a sea-scene a few years ago from a photograph given to me by a friend. I loved the painting when I’d finished it – it’s always been one of my favourites. It has just the right amount of land, of sea, and sky. It has movement in the waves, and those wonderful pillars of rock which stand immovable in the middle have a stillness in the midst of it all which I was very pleased with.

The thing is, I didn’t have a clue where the photo had been taken. I guessed it must have been Cornwall, looking at the colour of the rocks. But I didn’t know for sure.

Last year, we had a family holiday down in Cornwall. I’m always on the look out for some good landscape photos, and I heard about the old Cornish tin mine built into the cliff at Botallack. So we took a trip out to find them. The scene is otherwordly.

Botallack Mine, Cornwall The lower of the two engine houses was built in  1835, the higher in 1862 (With images) | England, Cornwall coast, England  travel

I walked down to the ruins to have a closer look. I spent a few minutes looking around, and then I looked beyond the towers, out to sea. And I suddenly realised that I knew the scene. It felt like coming home. The scene I’d painted some years before, suddenly there before me in all it’s natural glory. It was deeply satisfying and resonant for me.

I returned to the car, very excited. “My painting’s down there!” Of course the family thought I’d gone mad. But that’s what it felt like. It felt as if my painting had come to life, rather than my painting being a mere representation of the scene – it was as if my painting was the real thing, and the scene itself was my painting magically transposed into reality.

I’ve never had a similar experience, and it’s possible I never will again. But there was something terribly exciting about finding where my inspiration had been, without even looking for it.

My Pre-Raphaelite Phase

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I was deeply enamoured with the group of Victorian artists who styled themselves as the Pre-Raphaelites. They were very much of the belief that contemporary Victorian art was morally and technically deficient, and stated that a return to the purity of artists before the high Renaissance was needed.

The three men at the forefront of this movement were John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and William Holman Hunt. Millais was arguably the most technically proficient. His paintings are intensely colourful, and the level of detail is positively photographic. See “Ophelia” below

Amazon.com: John Everett Millais Ophelia Cropped Large Art Print Poster  Wall Decor Premium Mural: Posters & Prints

Rossetti’s work on the other hand was the most metaphysical, with languid heroines wandering through crumbling gothic landscapes with their flowing luscious red hair. It was metaphysical in that it’s not always clear what message he intended to convey in his paintings. One gets the sense that they are poems in paint – designed to evoke yearnings for a different age. Either that, or he had a thing for red-heads (he did – one in particular).

Dante Gabriel Rossetti—art meets poetry – 5-Minute History

Holman Hunt was perhaps the best exponent of their beliefs. Through his long and distinguished career, he never really left behind his conviction that art should educate, and be morally and spiritually edifying. Millais, as he grew older, left the higher ideals of Pre-Raphaelitism behind. Holman Hunt didn’t. Every painting has a message, sometimes hidden, sometimes rather gauchely obvious. And whilst his technique was perhaps not quite at the level of Millais’, I loved his use of bright colour, of shadow. His paintings almost look like dioramas populated with waxwork figures – there is something just a little unnatural about the human populations of his work. To our modern sensibilities, his paintings can seem cloying, overly moralistic. But I was drawn to his adherence to his ideals.

10 Artworks By Holman Hunt You Should Know

And so I began to paint my own versions of Pre-Raphaelite paintings. I even at times used their method of painting directly onto still wet white-washed canvas – inspired as they were by the practise in the early Renaissance of painting frescoes directly onto wet plaster. My art teachers often looked askance at my latest venture, wondering what cheese I’d eaten the night before. And I don’t think my early work was particularly successful, either in communicating its aims, or in its technique. Composition for example was often secondary to theme. Once this happens, is it really art? Or is it a sermon?

First painting: “I shall not want”, 1998

Second painting: ” The Garden of Earthly Delights” 1987

Nowadays, I content myself with painting nature. Nature is it’s own story-teller. I don’t need to inject some deeper meaning, when what I am doing is showing how I am affected by the scene which lies before me. I am expressing something deeply spiritual, if you like, in my response to what I see. No need for commentary. That is more than enough for the time being.

Breathing Life into a painting

The painting on the left is how the painting on the right started life. It was painted from a source photo which was taken on a drab dull day, but I loved the scene. So i painted it, but I never felt that it worked. It was just too… well, drab and dull.

But then whilst organising my photos on my PC, I discovered that I’d taken another photo on another day at exactly the same spot. but this one was full of vibrance and light. And hey presto, the painting came to life! Generally, I don’t like to fiddle with work once it’s finished, (I’m not George Lucas!) but in this case, I’m so glad that I did. It’s now one of my very favourite pieces, and it was snapped up very quickly by some very pleased customers.

The sunlight not only illuminates the highlights of the scene, but the shadows are themselves given a beautiful glow by the light reflected off the surfaces. Isn’t light a wonderful thing?!