Monday, 28 June 2010

The best cure for post match blues.

Monday 28th June
Another belter of a hot, sunny day and I’m busily being busy painting a study of dog walkers on the beach at Marazion. I am trying to work out exactly how did Turner paint those amazing skies?
This consideration will probably perplex and frustrate me forever, but then again, perhaps its better that way?

After painting, often comes shopping, and in a moment of madness I find myself with my seven year old daughter in Morrisons. Katie always makes it her job to find the various items on our list and this was no exception, until I say “we need some sour cream”, “eeeeeeergh!” comes the screeched reply. “It’s lovely” I reassure her, “where do you think we’ll find it?”
After a moment of consideration comes the answer “in the calcium aisle!”

Unfortunately though not all was joyous at Macey Towers this weekend as yesterday England were completely stuffed by Germany in the knock out stages of the World Cup, so to ease my frustration and as a kind of solace I did what I always do in times of trouble…I made a curry.
But not any old curry, oh no, this is THE curry; decidedly tongue tingling hot, and seductively fragrant.

Try this and trust me, you will not be disappointed.

First and not to be missed out is the good old spicy rub which consists of
2 tablespoons fennel seeds, 2 tablespoons cumin seeds, 2 tablespoons coriander seeds, 
1/2 tablespoon fenugreek seeds, 
1/2 tablespoons black peppercorns, 
1 clove, 
1/2 cinnamon stick, 
2 cardamon pods, sea salt and ground black pepper.

Now simply dry fry the above in a small pan over a low heat until the spices fill your kitchen with an amazingly evocative scent. Then, simply bash n grind with a good old pestle n mortar.

Next the curry paste for which you will need a decent sized piece of fresh ginger, a couple of red onions, a whole bulb of garlic, a big red chili complete with all of those lovely heat giving seeds and a bunch of fresh coriander.
Peel, chop up and blitz in a food processor together with your spicy rub.

In a large oven and flame proof (yes, I have exploded Pyrex pans on the hob) pan, fry the curry paste mixture in a decent knob of butter until it turns golden, stirring regularly. Add a couple of tins of chopped tomatoes and ½ pint of stock. Bring to a boil, and then pop into the oven at about 170 with a tin foil lid for 1 1/2 hours, this will intensify the flavours and scent your whole house.

After the sauce has had it’s 1 1/2 hours blast in the oven pop it back onto the hob.
This is the real fun part; as the sauce simmers you get to decide whether you are feeling veggie, meaty or fishy and you can simply add your chosen favourites to cook in the sauce. I choose some beautiful free-range chicken, which is simply diced and stirred in to bubble away for an hour.

Finally stir in a good dollop of natural yoghurt, chuck over plenty of roughly chopped mint and squeeze in the juice from a lime.

Serve with Basmati rice or even better small, roasted, spiced potatoes.

I promise, this curry always helps to numb the pain of watching how bad England play, well, this curry and a few cold beers.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Swallows and sausage sandwiches (not together).

A bright, then grey start to the day.
Still no sign of our Swallows…Chris Packham on Springwatch tells us that they are late due to the Icelandic volcanic cloud. That the Swallows are flying against the Northerly wind and that it is this that is making them late for their date back at the Cornish lodgings, but I’m not so sure. It seems much more likely to me that the Swallows have stayed in South Africa in order to watch the world cup and will fly back soon after the final.
Answering emails, arguing with HSBC on the phone and clearing the studio ‘once and for all’ while listening to Damian Rice fills the morning.
As I write, I study the Fatsonia Japonica outside my window. It has such an amazing pale lime green stroke lemon yellow hue that I can’t possibly think of how I would ever go about mixing it in paint?
An email pops up on my screen, its from my friend Liz Kessler, now if you haven't heard of Liz Kessler, Liz is the author of the Emily Windsnap series of childrens books and with over 2 million copies sold worldwide and the books translated into 24 languages, I recommend that you get down to your local bookshop!

Anyway - right, that’s it; I bet Liz Kessler’s writing studio is immaculate and gorgeous, so here goes…where is the phone number for Bu-Mar skip hire?

But lunch first.

Up through the garden and in through the decking doors, the house smells like a fairground, all sweet with onion and rich sausages.
So, sticky sausage, slow fried red onion and tomato sauce sandwich it is then, with seedy bread to soak up the juices.
Oh, and a mug or two of tea.

It is warm and dark today; one of those ‘needs a thunder storm sort of days’.

A good day to blitz the studio.

A trip to the dump (maybe more than one) and a trip to B&Q are on the cards, before finally getting down to painting St Michaels Mount for the National Trust project.

An evening of homemade pizza with a rich herby tomato sauce, chorizo, Parma ham, onions and mushrooms; a glass of bitter golden Whitstable Bay and a shared bottle of very cheap but very smooth and fruity Australian Red.

Enjoyed while watching Mexico stuff France, ha, ha, ha, ha, falls off chair laughing.......

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Butterbeans, garlic, mint and words, words, words...

Listening to Baby Birch by Joanna Newsom, parked in the Station car park at Marazion.
Feeling the day begin to warm, the morning sun steams yesterdays rain back into the atmosphere.
Penzance is lit by a Turneresque blast of light while the Mount broods in a sinister silhouette.
All the time the waves incessantly roll in… 7,8,9 repetitions, not big enough to surf and too big to kayak, only the Herring gulls use the beach this morning, scavenging the whipped shoreline.
The powder blue sky is reflected on the surface of the restless, foaming sea.
Dashes of Sienna and Paynes Grey shadows give form to the waves.

Home to the studio for a morning of mounting, wrapping, packing and posting of RNLI studies.

Lunch consists of mashed butterbeans, garlic, mint and olive oil with tiny plum tomatoes, roasted on a glass Pyrex dish so that the intense juices can’t escape.
The mash is spread onto toasted spelt with the tomatoes and accompanying juices spooned on top.
Followed by a mug of tea and piece of cappuccino cake.

The afternoon is spent busily writing an article about using acrylics and mixed media for The Artist magazine while the sun pops his head out, in between dark clouds that threaten but fail to fulfil.

The article goes something like this…


When working on location I am often asked by curious passers by, “Why do you choose to use acrylics in preference to other mediums?”
I always reply, “Because painting with acrylics is like working with slippy, slidey mud. I can spread it around with my hands. Compared to oils it dries quickly, compared to watercolours it dries slowly, it’s tactile, it’s forgiving, I love acrylics and acrylics love me…”
Often the passers by scurry away quickly, other times they simply look at me totally bemused.
But I am now on an excited roll, I go on to say “And acrylics can be over painted, I can work light over dark, I can glaze, I can scumble, I can mix sand, stones, bits of twig, grass, seaweed and earth into the paint; I can carve, I can manipulate, I can spread, flick, drip and splatter the paint”.

“That’s why!” I finally finish.

But, for me that explains the sheer beauty of acrylics; no other medium is as versatile.

One of the other real benefits of acrylics, and there are many, is that you can buy them in all states of viscosity from water like liquid such as Liquitex to thick, buttery, keep your shapeable Artists Acrylic.

In between these class leaders are many other brands and many other formulations, and each gives its own startling performance.

Personally I still love good old student quality Galleria for its looseness, its ‘not quite set custard’ consistency, and its glazing capabilities. Plus when I was a student it was affordable and now it still holds a special place in my heart.

Above all else though, acrylics absolute, top drawer, class of its own virtue is its friendliness towards other media.
For while watercolour flutters its eyelashes and tends to shy away from enjoying the company of full on mixed media, and oil merely looks down from its lofty heights at anything other than the finest Belgian canvas, acrylics creep in through the back door, under the radar and have a wild party with anyone, anything that crosses their path.

Acrylics hold the ultimate open house party, the kind of party that plays its music a little too loud and goes on till the wee small hours.
Acrylics are best friends with everyone; they show no prejudice to MDF, paper, board, canvas, stone, wood or walls and regularly hang out with pencils, collage, rubbish, tat and ephemera of all kinds.

And I love that attitude.

In my work, while concerned about longevity, I am never precious.
The whole ‘though shalt not use white paint when using watercolour’ malarkey never really rang true for me, I prefer and find much more exciting to just get in there with whatever is to hand; hence my paintings regularly are made by a process of collage/acrylic/collage/acrylic/more collage/more acrylic/coloured pencil work/a bit of sand/maybe some emulsion/scratched details/glue/dust/sweet wrappers/coffee stains/menus from the local cafĂ©/more acrylic, oh, and probably a little more collage, just tiny pieces here and there to finish.

I think that’s about it.

At least that’s kind of how I remember it?

But that’s the thing with acrylics, I can add, and add, and then maybe take away a little, and this helps to keep the painting process exciting for me.
It helps the painting to find its own magic.

If I knew exactly how a painting was going to turn out before I started I never would start. That process would bore me senseless.
I prefer to have a rough idea and then just wing it. Of course this means that over 50% of my paintings don’t necessarily work and are never framed, and these bad boys are usually painted over or generally beaten into submission until they do succumb to the required result.

Working up acrylics into finished paintings using mixed media can be, without wanting to sound too overboard, terribly exciting. Not knowing how the painting will turn out is great, each brush stroke or added item has an element of danger to it.
Will it work or will I ruin it.
Of course it is difficult to ruin an acrylic, as you can easily wash off the offending areas if the paint is still wet or paint over them if it is dry.
Either way when working in such a haphazard way I tend to end up with lots of ‘accidents’, hopefully good ones.
These are the accidents that add a certain something to your work that you could never consciously add yourself.
It is these happy accidents that give the finished work that certain spark.

Take for example ‘A St. Ives Summer’, now for me the areas that I am most happy about are the tiny areas of collage ghosting through the over painting in the sea.
Without that random, sorry, carefully placed collage, the blue harbour sea would be flat and much less interesting.
And by using small cut outs from magazines for the boat shapes I can create a whole flotilla of bright fishing boats complete with names and numbers.
My alternative would have been to slavishly paint every boat.
I must say at this point that I am in no way averse to painting boats accurately, or ‘proper job’ as they say where I come from, and I regularly do, particularly for my yacht canvasses such as Blue Water Speed; but sometimes you just can’t beat the childlike enthusiasm of cutting up paper and sticking it down, just to see what combinations you can come up with.

Another case in point for mixed media would be my painting ‘Paignton Pier’, which without the collaged lower half would be a pretty standard sunrise painting, the kind that you find on a million postcards.
To help raise the painting above being a simple postcard copy I used a piece of swept moulding scavenged from Paignton beach, deckchair fabric and a Victorian letterpress alphabet.
Using these items helped me to convey more of the atmosphere and uniqueness of the seaside town.

The same ideas can be seen in my Brancaster painting.
As my diary notes from the day explain:
“17th March 2010 4.00 - BRANCASTER, NORFOLK
Very exposed, salt marsh dunes, stinging hale – a party of school kids on the beach – millions of razor shells, whelks, mussels etc in the impossibly soft sand. The dark gravy grey wild North Sea seems as though it will swallow you!
Arctic shore – birds, ducks and geese flighting in on the Arctic winds.
Nothing between the North Norfolk shore and the polar icepack.
Bleak isolation.
The wind is made of water and ice, grey/brown and creamy froth.
The sea looks menacing.
Only the ducks and geese can tell you what its like out there”.

Hopefully by using some of the found materials on the day I managed to capture some of that windswept, brooding beach.

Both Paignton Pier and Brancaster were painted as part of a fund raising project that I recently completed for the RNLI in which I painted at 180 locations around the English coast.
In each of the studies completed on location and particularly in each of larger studio versions I tried to use ‘local’ materials to help tie in the essence of each area.
This technique can also be seen used on Hastings and Workington, which was painted on a washed up plank from an Irish Sea fishing boat.

So next time you open your tubes of acrylic paint, don’t be afraid, use the glorious colourful sticky paint with abandon.
Revel in the gluey, plastic qualities that acrylics possess and remember to throw into the ring whatever is to hand.
Your painting will be unique; your painting will be rooted to its location.
Your painting will have a magic of its own…End.

Dinner is a satisfying combination of potatoes baked for almost two hours until the skins are crisp to the point of shattering and the fluffy interior just begs for butter.
Served with an omelette of cheddar and chives, which is filled with cream cheese.
Only peas are needed to finish the dish.

Followed later in the evening by a steaming mug of hot chocolate, made with milk, not water and laced with a generous glug of brandy. All topped off with grated 100% cacao.

Kerry still can’t hear properly, I SAID KERRY STILL CAN’T HEAR PROPERLY, but will hopefully have her ears syringed tomorrow.