Under a pile of paper and other items I found a Sunday Times magazine dated February 9 2020. On the cover is another of my favourite artists, David Hockney. I'd been saving it to read a later date and have squirrelled it up to my studio. It's a great article that covers a lot of ground and mentions his new Exhibition "Drawing from Life" that was opening at the National Portrait Gallery on 27 February. This brought on a huge desire to take trip up to London and see some Exhibitions etc. By now I'd have been up there at least three times. I have been reminiscing (in my head) of trips to London this time last year when I'd visit the Tate and the Garden Museum and then Sam and I would eat out together in the evening after he finished work. By and large I've been ok with having to stay put, but I have to admit I'm ready for a change of scene now.
One place I've been wanting to visit for years is Little Sparta, the garden of the late Ian Hamilton Finlay at Stonypath in the peatland hills just south of Edinburgh. It's only open during July and August each year. Little Sparta is really a work of art where Finlay and his wife built, dug and planted to create this unique place. It was Finlay's idea that the garden was a sanctuary of intellectual discipline and beauty. The garden is filled with statues, plaques, poems written in pieces of stone. The American poet Gertrude Stein's dictum "a rose is a rose is a rose" appears in several places in the garden. I first noticed Finlay's work around 2005 on an annual visit to Cornwall. Each October half term we'd take our boys to Cornwall, often staying in Falmouth. These trips hold some of my fondest memories and would always include a visit to Tate St Ives and Barbara Hepworth's house and garden. Tate St Ives sold original prints, in a small edition, of well known artists such as Sandra Blow, Antony Gormley and there were two by Ian Hamilton Finlay. They depict many roses and lettering in an attractive long format. We now have these rose screen print, pictures in our house. They're quite unusual and pleasing at the same time.
The painting today is the beginning of a landscape series I'm working on. This has come from looking at the same view each day - out to sea.
I've reposted day 30 as it wasn't uploading properly - I thought I'd have to write it all again today, which is never quite the same.
Thank goodness today is a new day. Yesterday was an extremely difficult day for me. I felt anxious and unsettled all day. I realise I don't normally write about this kind of thing as I have felt I need to write an upbeat or entertaining post and keep the flag flying. But then that isn't the truth of the matter and could lead people to think that I'm always chirpy and bright. True I'm an optimistic, glass half full type of person, yet sometimes my mind will rum away with me in a very unhelpful direction. This morning I decided to take charge and have done 45 minutes of Pilates instead of sitting in bed drinking tea for too long. Don't get me wrong I love drinking tea in bed in the morning but this has been stretching on later and later and can make me feel quite morose. I prefer to get going earlier, so here I am blogging in the morning instead.
Liz Gilbert, who I follow on facebook because I like her writing, shared a very useful teaching today. A woman called Byron Katie has taught her a lot about the workings of the mind. A deceptively simple method consists of taking one stress-inducing thought at a time, and asking of it these 4 questions: "Is it true? Can I absolutely know that it's true? How do I react when I believe that it's true? Who would I be without that belief?" I find this very helpful but need to remember to do the work to alleviate any potential effect of the monsters that live in my back cupboard.
Todays painting is about being with yourself. See you tomorrow.
Todays theme is Portraits
Grayson Perry's Art Club focused on Portraits tonight. The best part of the programme for me was when he drew his wife, Phillipa and later on painted her portrait onto a large ceramic plate. She was visibly moved by this and very thoughtfully, said to him "You know me better than I know myself". They were both quite emotional and Grayson said something like having to wear your heart on your sleeve to make a good piece of art. He admitted he was out of his comfort zone doing a portrait and to me this allowed him to make a meaningful piece of work.
I was amused when he advised us not to focus on the detail early on in a portrait - leave the eyes until the end, he said. This reminded me of when I used to teach art to apprentice hairdressers. I taught them portrait painting too and within the first five minutes they were all trying to draw in the eyelashes, eyebrows and makeup.
Chris follows "Manx nostalgia" on social media - this amuses me as I'm the one from the Isle of Man and he was born in Hertfordshire. Yesterday there was a group portrait posted up from St Joseph's Convent School, Finch Road, Douglas circa 1966. "How many Convents are there on the Isle of Man?" he said - highly amusing again as the Island is 10 x 30 miles with most of the central parts being uninhabitable. Of course there was only one Convent on the Isle of Man and there I was age four, in the group portrait. Standing at end of the second row in my yellow dress, looking very grumpy indeed.
This mornings walk along the cliff top was extra special. The sea extremely calm, the colours clear and crisp and an overall good feeling in the air. Perhaps it felt so good because the weather is going to change tomorrow. It looks like we'll be getting rain all week- we're not used to this in lockdown. I associate lockdown with endless sunny days and the option to hang out in the garden whenever I want to.
Last night the programme - "Becoming Matisse" was screened on the TV. I haven't seen it yet but have heard that it's a good watch. Matisse is another of my favourite painters. When he started out he was ridiculed by everyone but carried on revolutionising art in the 20th century. Then in 1941, age 71, he was diagnosed with cancer and he was expecting to die. He had a lifesaving operation but this left him too weak to paint so he invented a new way of working. He began his famous cut-outs. He cut into painted paper with scissors and created a whole body of colourful and lively work. The cut-outs were developed for stained glass and other projects. Matisse took four years to work on stained glass and ceramic murals for the Chapel of the Rosary in Vence, southern France. This is somewhere I'd love to visit and hear that it is likely to move you to tears.
I remember in 2015, visiting Antony Gormley's 'Another Place' at Crosby Beach, Merseyside. I had wanted to see these 100 cast iron figures on the beach for many years. The first time we went the tide was right in, right up to the wall. I couldn't believe it - I'd waited years and all I saw was a rough grey sea as there wasn't time to wait for the tide to go out far enough to see the sculptures of the life size figures (cast from Antony Gormley's body). The next visit, on my 54th birthday was planned to coincide with the low tide. As I walked over the sand dunes and caught sight the figures I burst into tears. I don't have any words to describe it but highly recommend a visit if you've never been there.
Todays painting is "Peveril Point" - a place near Swanage, in Dorset.
Now the only way I can differentiate one day from another is:
Thursday - Bins are emptied
Monday- Bed is changed
Saturday - Buy a newspaper
These are the kind of things that I wouldn't normally pay much attention to. In a nano second, my diary has gone from jam packed to empty. One benefit is that I'm working in a different way with watercolour. This wouldn't happen with a jam packed diary. It's really nice not having that pressure on my head.
Today we were supposed to be Life Drawing with the Bournemouth Arts Club at the Arts University Bournemouth in their fantastic drawing studio. I hope we can rearrange this as it's such a treat to draw from life all day. My first job after I left Art School was as a part time Art lecturer in College. Here I taught Life Drawing once a week and used to love setting different poses, timings, and getting students to use different materials. When I went to Reading University in 1980, to study painting for four years we weren't allowed to do Life Drawing. This was an outdated overhang from our tutors days at Art school when they were expected to draw from life just about all week long. So they thought it would be best if we did none. At first we organised our own Life Drawing and eventually some classes were laid on for those who wanted them. Anthony Frost, one of Terry Frost's sons, came down from Cornwall for a week to teach us Life Drawing. This was absolutely fantastic - not just because we could draw from life but Tony's energy and enthusiasm were infectious. He would stomp round the room in his heavy boots, keeping the energy high.
I was reading in the newspaper that 45 minutes of drawing, or any other similar creative activity, is very good for your mental health. Apparently it releases endorphins that boost your mood. The picture today is from painting I did at the beach in Cornwall - happy people at the seaside and happy me drawing from life.
Today is the day that they think is JMW Turner's birthday. When he died in 1851, piles of unfinished and unsold canvases and three hundred sketch books were discovered in his studio. He was always keen to maintain a mystery about his creative process and particularly his sketchbooks. Turner is one of my favourite painters. I love his free almost abstract landscapes and his bold watercolours. In June last year I visited the prints and drawing rooms at Tate Britain as research for the book I've written about Colour in Watercolour. I was allotted a one hour appointment and had selected some of the watercolours that I particularly wanted to see. During my visit I was allowed to take photographs on the understanding that I didn't publish them anywhere. These watercolours were made by a fearless painter and have so much energy and understanding of the landscape. His watercolours were clearly made at great speed though he said " Every glance is a glance for study...Every look at nature is a refinement upon art." This comment shows his belief in a type of art that was an improvement on actuality, a very modern idea. Often people think that they must include a lot of detail in a painting but seeing Turner's watercolours shows this isn't true at all. Some of the watercolour paintings have an abstract quality. One sketch "Looking across a beach towards the distant sea, with a rain cloud", could easily be a modern abstract painting.
By coincidence I've been writing about colours for watercolour skies today for one of my articles for the Artist magazine. I've worked particularly hard and am going to reward myself by sitting in the garden in the sunshine now.
Todays painting is "Isle of White Landscape"
I continue to read Robert Macfarlane's "The Old Ways" and find that he is a great fan of the poet Edward Thomas. He says 'Of the dozens of people who feature in this book, Edward Thomas is the most important.' Thomas's life was cut short as he was killed in 1917 in the Battle of Arras during the First World War at age 39. Thomas was a poet and a walker and according to Macfarlane Thomas used the old ways to keep himself in motion.
It was in September 1995 that I first learnt of Edward Thomas and his wonderful poetry. My writing class friends and I were at the Haslemere Literary Festival. Sadly this was the first and last Haslemere Literary Festival, which didn't continue due to lack of funding. The weekend was packed with gems and here I learnt about the literature and life of Bruce Chatwin, (and since then have been fascinated with Patagonia and it's Welsh inhabitants) heard Simon Brett give an entertaining talk about writing plays and was introduced to U.A. Fanthorpe and her poetry. Much of U.A. Fanthorpe's poetry is written for two voices. She and her partner, Rosie Bailey, performed the poetry in true style - which I'll never forget. Todays painting is of U.A. (Ursula) and Rosie standing together.
Being in lockdown is giving me the opportunity to read or reread some of the books that line the shelves. I'm reminded of the part of myself that is hungry to learn and explore new things. The part that tires of the minutiae of life and is bored rigid by gossip and hearsay. Thank you so much Robert MacFarlane.
At the risk of being very judgemental of myself, today has been a good day as I've achieved a lot. Every so often I feel extremely despondent about being a painter and once in a while I announce that I'm going to give it up. Without fail, after making these dramatic proclamations something really good happens in my painting world, as if to say "Oh no you're not giving up." At the weekend I was inspired to join the Artist's Support Pledge and began on the wrong foot by comparing myself to other people - something that's so easy to encourage other people not to do. Then in only four days I've sold four paintings and I'm half way to being able to buy a piece of art from another artist (when you've sold £1000 yourself, then you buy a piece for £200) so as to support each other. I'm really pleased that some of my buyers have never bought original art before and feel very excited to have ventured into this new territory. So as I am feeling more upbeat about my painting I finally got round to writing articles that I'd been putting off. This included painting colour charts to show how to modify colours - I'd forgotten what a calming and satisfying job this is.
Later on I read some of Robert Macfarlane's book "The Old ways", which is a beautiful book about following paths - whether they are pilgrims routes, foxes trails, sea paths, or ancient roads. He says that a walk is only a step away from a story, and every path tells. As a walker myself I relate to this very strongly and as I walk I'm sure my mind prepares my stories which are my paintings. I walked a coastal path this morning and could see Durlston Head, Corfe Castle, the Needles and the Isle of White. The horizon was clearing up my thoughts.
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Last night we saw some of the "home video" concert - "One World: Together at home". I really love going to live music events and failing that, watching them on the telly. It was a real treat and I particularly enjoyed Lady Gaga, who I've become a very big fan of since seeing (twice) the film, "A Star is born". Then I was delighted to see Paul McCartney. I've been a huge fan since I was about 12 and used to listen to Wings. My Dad also loved Wings and we both thought "Band on the Run" was brilliant. The cover of this album will always remind me of my Dad.
Paul McCartney's Mum was from the Isle of Man. She moved to Liverpool as a single parent and I know someone who's distantly related to him, who told me that the family on the Isle of Man are very musical too and share his mannerisms and looks. Sam (my eldest son) went to LIPA to study music - Paul McCartney set LIPA up at Liverpool Institute for Boys where he went to school along with the late Peter Sissons. He heard that the building was about to be demolished and has always been a great campaigner to save iconic buildings in Liverpool. He teaches masterclasses to the Music students and always presents the LIPA graduates at their graduation, which is small affair, usually held at the Art Deco, Philharmonic Hall. On the morning of Sam's graduation we were walking to the Philharmonic Hall, to be stopped by a car full of people wearing Paul McCartney masks - something I find absolutely hilarious. They asked if Paul was in town - somehow people get wind of when he's in Liverpool and will hang around looking. I got a brilliant photograph of a car load of Paul McCartneys and laugh out loud every time I see it. It was one of the most special days of my life. When I felt I would burst with pride and love. And topped off by seeing Paul McCartney and highly entertained by the antics of the wonderful Woody Harrelson, a LIPA Companion, during the graduation ceremony.
I did a lot of chatting this morning. The telephone is a lifeline for so many people at the moment. Quite different from sitting on the edge of the landscape next to your friend, like in today's painting. It's hard to imagine going out and sitting down as we've got so used to being on the move when we go for a walk. And it's become very normal to stand a good two metres from people if you do have the rare chance of a quick chat.
Today I read that outside the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan, there's a pop up tomato farm where a white structure is being used to grow tomatoes. The cherry tomato plants are are in oblong boxes about 15ft high and there are windows to allow the New Yorkers to see in. Then underneath the tables there are some yellow cardboard boxes and these are beehives that house about 150 bumble bees. These bumble bees then pollinate the tomato plant flowers and the icing on the cake is the tomatoes are to be donated to charity to feed the homeless. What a fantastic story about inventiveness and a different kind of art.