Back in Black & White, 2018

Here’s a figure drawing from a few weeks ago of a female model, drawn using white pastel pencils on some lovely black paper. Always enjoy working like that, but it can be hard to find a pose that’s lit in such a way to make the most of white-on-black. I think this one, courtesy of this NMA video, fits the bill. It’s now up for sale at the usual place for 50 of your earth pounds.

Back in Black and White, 2018 – pastel pencil on black paper, £50

I think I’ll return to that pose another time in the future in a different medium, since the bright whiteness of the model’s skin against the black background really is striking – white oil paint, perhaps?

Stretch in Ochre (2), 2018

Apres l’homme, la femme! Second of my paint-in-the-evenings-when-I’m-not-reading-bedtime-stories paintings, water-mixable oil paints on a canvas board working from a New Masters Academy video. Worked out okay, more to come (third one finished tonight, online in a week).


Stretch in Ochre (2), 2018 – Oils on canvas board, £60.


Book review: Everything Under by Daisy Johnson

During the course of every month I get to read a few books, courtesy of a daily 2 hour commute from the depths of Fife to Auld Reekie. And when I finish a particularly good one, my brain’s always buzzing with thoughts and reflections on what I’ve just read. This blog seems a good place to put them, so I’m starting with an absolute cracker – Everything Under, the first novel from Daisy Johnson.

Johnson’s previous book, Fen, is a collection of short stories that really knocked me for six. They’re incredibly earthy, elemental stories that quickly get beneath your skin and wriggle about. The settings and protagonists are everyday, real, yet in every case there’s some kind of dread becoming apparent as the story progresses, driven by a cold inevitability. At times there’s the same sense of close personal horror coming out of the shadows that I felt from Mariana Enriquez’s remarkable Things We Lost In The Fire (an equally impressive, shattering collection of short stories) but swapping the latter’s sun-blasted Argentinian urban setting for the rural flatlands of East Anglia, not a million miles from where I grew up (and almost absent in film and literature). Anglian Gothic, anyone?

Some writers have a real knack of invoking a particular location, channelling a sense of place that goes beyond describing the landscape. On the strength of both Fen and Everything Under, Johnston has that knack in spades. Fen evoked perfectly that sense of living somewhere small, uneventful, barren, the rural emptiness a cage of sorts.

Everything Under builds on elements from those short stories – the written voice is recognisable, the closeness, the strong female inner voice, the sense of being an outsider, increasingly adrift, a primal earthiness seething and pulsing underneath normality, threatening to break through at any moment – and uses the space of a novel to develop and build on them further. Here’s the synopsis:

Words are important to Gretel, always have been. As a child, she lived on a canal boat with her mother, and together they invented a language that was just their own. She hasn’t seen her mother since the age of sixteen, though – almost a lifetime ago – and those memories have faded. Now Gretel works as a lexicographer, updating dictionary entries, which suits her solitary nature.

A phone call from the hospital interrupts Gretel’s isolation and throws up questions from long ago. She begins to remember the private vocabulary of her childhood. She remembers other things, too: the wild years spent on the river; the strange, lonely boy who came to stay on the boat one winter; and the creature in the water – a canal thief? – swimming upstream, getting ever closer. In the end there will be nothing for Gretel to do but go back.

As the story progresses, there’s an increasing sense of inevitability, of being pulled by the current towards something dreadful but unavoidable – a sense mirrored in the way the narrative unfolds and reveals itself. A number of different events in time run in parallel through the book, switching from first- to third-person perspective – initially it’s unclear how they connect, but all becomes clear in careful, subtle reveals. It’s a story that rewards your attention, as strands (or streams) come together.

The scope of the story is relatively narrow – the number of characters is in single figures, the range of locations few – which allows it to move in close, really close, to those characters, to an almost claustrophobic degree. You increasingly care about them, even as the story flows into the realms of Greek tragedy. You see where the story is leading, and you really don’t want to go there, but the current is too strong, unstoppable.

It’s a brilliant novel that absolutely lived up to high expectations, and well deserves its place on the Man Booker longlist. The quote on the back of the book is spot on – on the strength of Fen and Everything Under, I’ll be following Johnson’s writing for life.

August Thoughts (Commission), August 2018

A pretty straightforward commission – do a painting like this one from four years ago


…but with a male model instead. Righto!

First step was to find a pose and model. Since I’m currently lacking in any life drawing sessions, I browsed through the Croquis Cafe Photo Archive until I found some pictures that clicked. Once the client had confirmed which pose they preferred, I got the same kind of paper (textured paper made for acrylic painting) and the same paints – water-mixable oils. The majority of the painting was finished in one evening, with some extra touches the following day after I saw it from a distance and thought “hmmm… hang on.” Now it’s all done and the client is delighted with the result. Hooray!


August Thoughts, 2018 – Oils on canvas paper (SOLD).

It was the first time I’d tried oil painting in the evening for as long as I can remember (ie, since becoming a parent) and I was pleasantly surprised with how it went. As a result I’m now committing myself to more evening painting (when I’m not reading bedtime stories, of course) working from videos like Croquis Cafe and New Masters Academy in the absence of a real model. Stay tuned for more!

Stretch in Ochre (1), 2018

First in a new series of oil paintings I’m going to produce (hopefully on a weekly basis, if reality will let me) based around poses showing various kinds of stretching, working with a limited palette. Such poses are a real pleasure (and challenge) to capture, especially in a painting. It’s one thing to do a sharp, exaggerated gesture drawing in 30 seconds, quite another to maintain a similar vitality in a painting that took a couple of hours to produce. I’m looking forward to seeing how these paintings progress as the weeks go by, but here’s the first – now up for sale.


Stretch in Ochre (1), 2018 – Oils on canvas board, £60.


Zoo sketchbook, 16th August 2018

Lunch over at the Budongo Trail at Edinburgh Zoo today, the highlight being the littlest chimpanzee (I really should learn their names) twisting a rope before using it to spin like a top, much to its obvious delight. Couldn’t sketch it, but a joy to watch.



Zoo sketches

One of the benefits of where I currently work is that Edinburgh Zoo is just a few minutes walk away. As a result of that, and buying a year’s membership to said Zoo, there’s going to be a steady stream of animal sketches on this here blog, hopefully leading towards some paintings. That’s a good way off yet, but here’s some sketches to start me off.

Right now my focus is on the chimpanzees, who present a fantastic challenge in both their similarities and differences with the human figure. They can be wonderfully expressive, character coming through in facial expressions and body language. I’d love to capture that someday.