Wednesday, 13 June 2012

i'm moving

Just to let you know that I'm still blogging but at a new address. Click on the picture above and it'll take you to my new blog, see you there!
Thanks for taking the time.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

a sense of place

I cherish the chance to be immersed, enclosed, enfolded in the familiar landscape of home, more so now than in my youth when it furnished my daily horizon. Despite my love of walking I have no sense of direction: I can become utterly lost in town centres and deliberately seek out familiar landmarks to plot my way along the simplest route. Since childhood I have enjoyed long walks with my dad whose mysterious ability to navigate and bone-deep understanding of the hills leaves me to soak up the heaving green landscape, lose myself in tiny patterns of lichen, moss and bud and wonder at the lives of the men whose hands and hearts built the impossibly distant dry stone walls.

The Purple Path                                                   acrylic on canvas  100cm x 50cm
A painting as a gift for a new home: what better subject than that of a place which conveys the sense of belonging, the feeling of being with someone who understands and the belief that it will always be there. Sheep-strewn grass and steep, rough heather; ancient dark hedgerows tangled within, clipped flat on top;  unyielding stoney islands in green seas of planted beet; long winter bleached grass; flags of stolen fleece flying on rusted barbs; grey stones hewn and laid into strong long walls, skill and experience the only mortar; vast pure skies: these elements combined bring me home. The Purple Path expresses this feeling.

ribbons of green

As in Stripes (See I love 31.01.12) and The Stream (See  a life together blog 20.02.12) I used bands of colour, not parallel this time but wavering like ribbons to represent the undulating landscape. The dark edges of these bands depict the trees and hedges, often gnarled and windblown, that frame the land as they are rooted in it.


The foreground of the painting is filled with spring green grasses, bright petals, drying seed-heads and faded winter stems: the year round. The purple path takes you through time to a place that feel likes home.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

child's-eye view

During the school holidays, my small son and I had been walking to a "faraway" park: an early lesson for him in the art of compromise as we negotiated how each of us could make the best of an afternoon outside in the wintry sun. I got to walk and he got to ride on the roundabout when we got there. 

I wanted to represent this walk in my next painting: how we had discovered the walk together, what happened to us on the walk and how walking with a small child makes you, allows you to consider familiar things with a fresh mind.

When the painting started to suggest itself I was reading Bruce Chatwin's Songlines. Two themes seemed to connect with the notion of The Walk: the aboriginal representation of landscape and the fundamental need to walk. I wanted to think about how I could express the landscape of this walk and also celebrate the connection with the land and ourselves walking can bring.

The Walk                                acrylic on canvas, 100cm x 100cm

To help my children make sense of how the world works I find that I chop the whole into smaller thinkable pieces and between us we develop a more relevant labeling system. So Thursday becomes gingerbread-man-day as we nip into the shop on the way home from school to buy the local paper and treat ourselves to something from the bakery then choose between walking home the tangly-hedge-way or the Post-Office-way, as road names don't hold much meaning for a four year old.

Although it is not a circular walk, a circle best expressed our experience of the walk: we set off, we passed several landmarks, we got to a place, we passed the landmarks later in  reverse order; we found ourselves on the way home again.

sketchbook; colourwashing background and circles; blocking in sections

First we walked on pavements, turning corners past rectangular brick walls and square green gardens: this part is represented by the geometric shape in the top left corner. The contrast between that and the curves of the circle echoes how urban and rural landscapes can affect us in different ways. We didn't feel the walk had started until we got past the straight bits and on to the mud. By following the same route many times, the characteristics of the different sections revealed themselves: we looked into the dark  hedge to find bright round cushions of green moss and dripping scarlet berries; we bent double to look at the upside down trees reflected in the silver grey water; we counted the neat fence posts against the blushing sky but couldn't count the tangled hedge posts; we lifted our eyes and felt ourselves to be right at the centre of the tallest trees reaching up into the pale afternoon light.

tangly hedge; reflections in the water; fence and hedge; stop and look up

After our ride on the roundabout the rosy glow began to leave the sky. We set off to retrace our steps and make our way home, however as the sky was changing and the day  drawing to an end the sections of the walk took on a more sombre age-old quality. We didn't feel like we were going over old ground, we were seeing and sensing it anew. I have conveyed this by changing the sky around the outside of the painting. We can never go back to a place and find it to be exactly the same, we can't recreate the past, we can't hold on to the present: we move through time in one direction.

Homeward bound on our last walk of the holiday we found the moon in a puddle.

Monday, 20 February 2012

a life together

Several months after painting Stripes the need to investigate colour returned. I had been intrigued by the energy that comes from juxtaposing two opposites: edging a lime green with a deep orange, cutting through a stormy blue with a custard yellow. Now I wanted to investigate further how closely related colours work together. This time I kept to a palette of predominantly blue and green and had the stripes running horizontally: it felt like water. 

The Stream                                  acrylic on canvas, 100cm x 50cm

I was commissioned to paint a piece as a wedding gift. When two people make a commitment to build a life together whatever lies ahead, I feel echoes of what I experienced when my children were born. (See the maternal tug blog 06.02.12) Difficulties and successes, grief and joy, problems and solutions all waiting in the future to be faced together. The flowing water metaphor seemed perfect for expressing how we are affected by events in our lives, and how our lives are shaped by what happens to us. 

I enjoyed revisiting the notion of hue on hue: a clear swimming pool beneath a layer of smokey duck egg, wet summer grass laid over mushy peas. The energy is calm this time, quiet and strong.

The parallel lines on the left of the painting set the colours out. They represent what we hold dear, the way we know we want to live our lives, the things we know we will never compromise. Some are broad, some are narrow and all are important. The thin threads give edges and structure, supporting and making sense of the wider bands. About half way down there is a silvery lavender line, its clarity cuts through the soft colours of the stripes on either side helping to define them. As it flows along the piece it broadens and undulates, responding to what is happening above and below, towards the end it is wide enough to enclose another shape and flow around it.

When we visit river banks and beaches my children and I look for heart-shaped stones,  captivated by how such a man made design can be found in natural objects. As the bands of colour flow along in The Stream they are met by golden shapes, stones. Most have the smooth roundness of water worn pebbles, some are heart-shaped. Despite varying in width and intensity of colour, none of the stripes disappear as they accommodate the stones in their path. I think we do hold on to our fundamental beliefs whatever difficulties we have to overcome or delights we unearth along the way.

The stones which form their own band of colour around them represent those times when something comes into our lives which brings us a deeper understanding of the way things work, in effect adding another strand to our stream. I chose a gold colour for the stones, because as I get older I realise that everything that happens in life, be it difficult or comforting, is a gift.

Monday, 6 February 2012

the maternal tug

Twenty years ago I held my first born son, filling my eyes and heart with his tiny perfection. Since that moment I have been preparing myself to let him go. They say a dying man's life plays out before him, but immediately following the birth of each of our four sons I experienced an overwhelming sense of the rest of their lives: their future accomplishments and fears; the relationships that were waiting to frustrate, teach and delight them; the choices they would make in their unfolding lives and of course their burgeoning independence. This last one, their independence and my responsibility for encouraging it to grow, has brought me both excruciating fear and heart-swelling joy. It is a theme to which I often find myself returning when talking about the trials and pleasures of raising children.


The painting Holding On & Letting Go illustrates my feelings about being a parent, and a child for that matter. Each sphere represents a point in this relationship, time moves on in a clockwise direction, beginning with the orange sphere growing inside the pink one and ending with the pink one being contained inside the orange one. However it is not a simple timeline with one beginning and one ending: the cycle is repeated infinitely during the relationship, on miniscule and enormous scales.
As well as representing the obvious relationship of mother and unborn child, the first sphere refers to the notion of how we hold inside what is important to us and shape it so it can be passed on. When I first planned out the next three spheres showing the cradling, holding and supporting of something small and precious as it grows, I was thinking simply about the developing child. However as I worked on the piece more it also came to depict for me the process of becoming self reliant with the support of someone who has gone before you. Each time one of my children does something independently, be it choosing what to sprinkle on the fairy cakes as a toddler, disagreeing with a friend who has made a bad choice as a teenager or deciding which house to rent as a student, I feel myself letting go a little bit more. 
At the bottom of the circle the spheres are of equal size and are holding on to each other. It wasn't until I had completed the painting that I realised that the orange one has the dominant hand position, maybe this is to reassure the pink one in preparation for the next stage - the orange one moves away and is only partly visible in the painting.
When the orange one returns the pink one has reduced in size: as we reach the end of our lives it is often the case that the relationship reverses, as our abilities diminish and we need more support. However, this point in the painting also expresses the idea that we are needed less by our children as they become more independent. After lots of practising together, they can tie their own shoelaces; negotiate confidently and come to agreements; and navigate their way through relationships. 
In the last sphere of the cycle the orange one seems to be on its own, but look closely and you will see there is a small pink sphere held there inside. It would be too obvious to explain this last point as simply holding on to the memory of someone after they have died. It also represents the idea that even when we are physically absent from our children we leave our values and beliefs with them- they can keep what is important to them and shape it ready to hand on.

Holding On & Letting Go is currently for sale at the Bury Collective exhibition 
( in The Malt Bar at Automatic, Market Street, Bury 

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

I love colour...

... and I love how colours affect eachother. I hadn't painted for a long time before I started work on The Eildons (see I miss my hills blog 28 Jan 2012)The palette knife, a tool new to me, can deliver the medium to the canvas in so many ways. I had to get to know the physicality of acrylic paint: smear it on thickly like peanut butter; texturise wet paint with the sharp edge of the knife; spread wet layers one over the other; or learn patience and work on top of dry paint. An element of the work that I particularly enjoyed was reacquainting myself with the notion of colour and the astonishing effect one colour can have on another. Lay a lime green over a mossy green and see the green-ness intensify; cut some sharp orange through a deep blue to heighten the energy.
I had the perfect opportunity to investigate colour further when I was commissioned to paint a large piece for a client who definitely didn't want a landscape. The client's taste is very minimal, in fact the room where the painting now hangs is almost gallery-like in its simplicity.
I started on a 50" wide canvas with broad vertical stripes. I enjoyed generously buttering the canvas: the contrast between the easy movements used in introducing the colour and the care I had to take with the edge of the knife to create a neat edge between each block was very satisfying. The character of each stripe began to develop as tones and shades of the same colour were laid over one another: wet on wet created a creamy mix; wet over dry, a rougher more stark effect. Sky over cerulean beneath midnight; wet grass under moss through pea soup; lipstick on top of burning embers.
To make the piece really sing I created thin bands between some of the stripes, see the custard yellow beside stormy blue (stripes 1 and 2). The grey of stripe 12 was originally red, it didn't work. Unfinished paintings sit at the end of my bed, they nag, question and whine at me like a needy child until I can find an answer. In this case the pillar box became battleship leaving a sliver of its energising hue alongside the green next door. 
I have seen Stripes several times since its completion, looking at the finished piece brings something new each time, whether it's the subtleties within each strip or the contrast between them. Working on Stripes allowed me to develop my understanding of how colour works, for this opportunity I am grateful.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

I miss my hills.

I grew up in the Scottish Borders but haven't lived there since my early twenties. Since then my addresses have included Crete, Walsall, Stoke-on-Trent and Bury. It wasn't until I started going "home" to the Borders for holidays with my own family that I realised how much that landscape was in my bones. Leaving those familiar round hills behind as we headed south to the motor-way tugged at my innards. I was unable to pull my eyes from the horizon and often found my cheeks wet and chest beating with a deep nostalgia. The hills had been there and taken for granted by me as I grew up; I hadn't taken them with me emotionally as I moved on in the self-absorption of young adulthood; but I needed them now, maybe I had to surround my own children with that green love. An empty space on our kitchen wall now bears this metre square painting, The Eildons.