Chalk clouds


My friend Wendy texted me at about 9.30pm last night and said how strange the clouds were. So I went and looked and took these pictures. They reminded me of chalk or pastel marks you make whilst drawing.



Underpainting 1

Hereby begins a novel I began in 1993 and completed in 2007. I will put up 1 or 2 chapters each week and it can be followed on Categories. I hope you enjoy it and would love to hear from you about it.



Underpainting is the technique of painting multiple thin coats of paint before painting the final layer



Peter switched on the strip lights which slowly took hold of the darkness, the last one flickering into full throttle by the time he and Marianne were half way down the long studio. Marianne could smell the expensive paints. When Peter and Marianne argued, which wasn’t often, she told him he was more interested in the paints than in what he painted. Not true, but it caught a nerve. Peter bought paint from Osborne’s in Covent Garden, Marianne went to B&Q.

The studio was part of a former railway warehouse in Longhill, divided into artists’ studios, Peter had one of the largest spaces, he had enough money nowadays. At one end was a large window overlooking the orange glow of the railway yards, rain was streaming down the glass breaking up the dirt into maps of river deltas.

The left hand wall was mainly taken up with a long workbench which Peter had found in the basement. Above it were shelves neatly set out with tins of oil paint, bottles of turpentine and linseed oil, racks of spatulas and brushes, pots full of pencils, chalks and pastels. Some said it looked like a shop. There was an old radio covered in multi coloured finger marks and stuck forever on Radio 4, and a kettle which had once been white plastic but was now a burnt brown colour. Near the door there was a thick roll of expensive canvas and a stack of wood for stretchers. It was orderly, Peter paid students from the college to make sure of that.

Marianne’s much smaller studio was a tip, but her own tip and she hadn’t visited Peter’s studio for ages, and even though they’d been together for more than twenty years. She’d forgotten how methodical he was, very different than at home.

At one end of the room were two racks which Marianne and Peter had constructed together about twelve years previously, when he first moved in. One to store completed paintings, the other for ongoing work. These were supposedly to share but were full of Peter’s work.

On the right hand wall were hung large pieces of hand made paper, covered in preparatory drawings. Marianne stopped to look at them. The hard green strip lights made the thick charcoal shine. She always liked these, ‘sharp images…’, but they never appeared outside the studio, and usually Peter would destroy them when a painting was finished. They were accurate in the extreme often focusing on a tiny section of the completed picture, a stone, a clump of grass, a broken bottle.

“Help me out with this Mari will you?”

Peter was standing beside a large canvas. Her hands caught the wet oil paint at the edge.

“Careful!” he snapped.

“You should use acrylics like George” she retorted. They carried the picture to ‘the stage’, as Peter called it, in front of the window. A couple of years ago he’d bought some theatre lights from a school and set them up so he could always work in the same light, it cost him a fortune replacing bulbs, but he liked to see his work in a constant rather than natural light. They set the canvas on two heavy Victorian easels and made sure it was secure. Peter closed the large black out blinds to get rid of the orange glow. The painting looked dark and dull. He lit up the stage and the colours burst into life.

“It’s finished”, Peter said, with some pride. He was never satisfied with his work and found it hard to finish, but there always came a time when no more could be achieved, that was the completion. He picked up the kettle and went out to the communal kitchen to get water.

Marianne studied the canvas. The painting was crisp and confident, lines sharp and assured. To the left there was a vast block of black paint scraped away from under painting of shapes in greens and reds. The centre was taken up with a pool of cold light in tones of blue and white. Was that a lamp post rising above, or an arm, or a knife? She couldn’t tell. A deep red pool of paint hovered underneath. To the right was set of images, broken up, a wall with posters? No. A house open like a dolls house? No. She moved closer, looked carefully. ‘Claustrophobic’ she thought.

Peter’s paintings evoked the spirit of a place, they picked up the essence rather than topographical details in blocks of colour, unrelated lines, disharmonious shapes. But they were that place, when you knew where it was it never again felt as real as in his paintings.

Peter returned with the kettle and a couple of chipped mugs.

“Herb or Typhoo?”

“Peter?”, she only used his full name when annoyed or needing to be matter of fact. He looked up as he switched the kettle on. “Peter where is he? I thought he wanted some sort of portrait, isn’t that what he’s paid you for?”.

“Oh… he didn’t really mean it, he knows I’m no portrait painter, you should know that”

“Peter… look, you stood there making out as if you knew it all… smarming about…”

“That was the drink… he’ll know that, he’s seen my work before” Peter cut in.

“No Peter he won’t… you stood there telling him about how Renaissance princes would go out and burn down a city, steal cattle, screw the peasants, then pay Fra Angelico or whoever to put them on the right hand of God. I heard you, he loved it”.

“What does he know anyway… he’ll love it, it’s where he grew up, where he started, he’ll know this place as soon as he sees it… it’ll go up in a fancy office and his new friends will be green with envy, they’ll all want one”, he ended quite emphatically.

“Peter, he wanted to be seen in it” Marianne said very definitely.

“Perhaps he is”

She turned and looked at the drawings on the wall. There were details of mud pools, some grass, a gate, a brick, a boot, no person.

“You never intended to put him in did you?”

Peter looked like a naughty boy in front of a headmistress.

“And you know where he gets his money, he won’t like it and he’s nasty, it’s all a front… you know that… and he’s paid you… and you know you’ve screwed him”.

They stood in silence staring intently in the midnight silence at the picture, the central pool of light grew brighter, the colours around deepened, the red pool of paint like dark red blood, the studio seemed miles away.

They jumped as the kettle made a noise like a door buzzer.



My attempt to take a photograph and ‘publish’ it every day this year has rather petered out. It began to ‘fail’ when I had to go into hospital for an operation, though there was absolutely no reason to stop, then I think it has mainly been the blandness of hot sunny weather.

That is my excuse anyway which is better than the one I used for not attending Renegade Writers, that I had been abducted by aliens, however true that had been.

The positive side is that the failed attempt has renewed my interest in using photography alongside writing as a means for expression. I have begun to look again at the poetic potential of imagery, not just internalising it but creating something, and images from usually a very close environment as I don’t own a car now. The ease of ‘developing’ photographs on screen, rather than the need for a darkroom has helped with this, as equally the ease of editing and rewriting, has also helped. Very oddly this has also led to my working on some drawings, though I am far from ready to show anything even here on my blog. I probably need a life drawing class to work on my skills, there is no better discipline.

One of the blogs I follow is by a photographer/artist who I think is based in Australia, she set up a monthly photography challenge, perhaps for herself but also for others to enter, I am thinking I may do something similar, giving myself a challenge each month rather than try to do the daily thing. What will happen of course is that the vision and ideas will come each day as soon as I do that!

From another blog I follow which is an ongoing daily story, I am going to use another idea. Every now and again the character draws a magic card (those are my favourite episodes), with a word on it, quite often a rather bland abstract word. The last three were Engage, Faster, Awake. So I may choose my ‘challenge’ in that way, fitting with my writing. Where I will get the words I am not sure yet, perhaps from a book or poem.


Today’s photograph is taken on a wet windy day like a day from last summer, with a colour and b/w version.



A couple of days ago I liked an article in The Guardian and shared it on my FB page, which basically argues that the internet far from broadening our horizons, that instead we actually choose to limit them. This is great news for the advertisers who want us to fit very specific remits. It made me think about what I look at and yes, I have to admit how most of my use is within at best 10-15 sites each day, probably less, broadening mainly when I am doing research for my writing.

My regime is look at FB and e-mails, I don’t bother with Twitter only use it for notifications, I usually have a look at the Port Vale site and Onevalefan to see what is happening at my favourite football team. I have a few blogs I read most days and wander round in Pinterest a bit. Messy Nessy’s blog is a favourite as it always brings up some interesting photos. Most days I read a few articles in The Guardian. All of which just back up what I already think. During a week I’d look at various music sites and often a couple of poetry sites. I probably get more from listening to the radio.

There is so much available that we cannot take in what is available. I don’t know if it is true but Leonardo DaVinci was supposed to have read every book available at the time of his life, a good myth, now he would be unable to read everything written in just one day. Do we write too much rather than read and understand? Look at me now writing to what could be a total void!

When I was working for the FWWCP a report on them had been written by The Arts Council a year or so before I was employed by them. One of the things which really annoyed some of the members was a point made that people should stop writing and read more, they may then understand what they write and write better. I mainly agree with that, though it is important for people to write, it is probably more important for people to read and think more about what they write. Poetry is written by millions and read by hundreds. Few people read poetry, especially contemporary writers. It is something most people think they can ‘do’, perhaps because it was part of school writing. I find it sad that so many write and could express their feelings and viewpoints better if they just studied others, and learned about critically editing their work.

Is mine so great? Well not really, but, especially in poetry, I work hard on how each word fits, the meaning of words and phrases, the double or hidden meanings, the irony.

How do we broaden what we look at? Opening the mind is hard, early in our lives we build walls of prejudice that limit us. A friend of mine buys The Daily Star, a paper I cannot even be bothered to scan when she leaves it at my flat, hence I know nothing about the promiscuations of Big Brother contestants or the eating habits of people in reality TV. I don’t bother looking at right wing papers or websites. I am prejudiced against anything the current Government puts forward and am pleased to see their ideas fail.   

When I used to go to the Library many years ago, I’d look through The Daily Telegraph and The Times as well as The Guardian, I didn’t agree with a lot I read but it was useful to read stories from another point of view. For a while I used a cuttings site but it just became a mess! I look at Peurop which is useful as it offers stories from newspapers around Europe, often giving very different viewpoints, but it often just backs-up my pro-European viewpoint.

Does it matter? Well yes, my viewpoint may not be important in the greater scheme of things, but this narrowing goes across the board and we need people to have a much more open view, this goes especially for politicians. In the UK they are going for strong so called populist stances as the next election looms onto the horizon, but which are representative only of tiny pressure groups, much as the politicians in the USA are.

Today’s photograph is of some brickwork I found on a warm cloudy day.




Last night I watched Before Sunrise, it was the first time I’d seen it, as it was made in 1995 it had taken some time to get round to watching it. I enjoyed it, I liked the format and the fact that it was the first of a series about the same characters. It didn’t have the quality of the Antoine Doinel series by Truffaut, but then I would say that wouldn’t I. 

It didn’t feel 18 years old until I realised that neither character, or any of the others, were carrying phones, tablets or laptops. It immediately dated it. The angst the characters had about keeping in touch would not have happened now. To me, aged 59, 1995 doesn’t seem that long ago, but in terms of personal communications it is another age. I didn’t get a mobile until 1997, a big Nokia phone that I hardly used. I was certainly not using the internet to any extent as it was dial-up and very slow and things like Facebook were not invented.

It is odd how quickly the change has happened. When I was little we had a TV which only picked up BBC, I remember we went to a friend’s house to watch Richard Greene in Robin Hood every week and were desperate to see Chuck and P.T. in Whirleybirds! We also have to remember that it was only in the mid 1980’s that we had a fourth channel available. Now we have so many channels and there’s hardly anything worth seeing!

I began a novel in 1994 it is called Underpainting. It wasn’t completed until 2007. I wondered whether to update it, for instance there was a ‘scene’ where one of the dual main characters cannot get in touch with anyone whilst travelling on a train, as the train’s payphone keeps cutting out. That now feels like the stoneage. But it added to the tension he was feeling. I am wondering whether to start putting a chapter every couple of weeks on this blog, get ion touch with me if anyone is interested.

I enjoyed Before Sunrise, I quite enjoyed being annoyed by the character Ethan Hawke played who firstly needed a shave and would have been better drowned in the Danube. I’m sure Julie Delpy could have found another more interesting lover, a young Tim Diggles would have suited her well who would have understood her take on Seurat! I look forward to seeing the other two films.

Today’s photograph is a bit more tree bark, creating maps and abstract shapes. Taken on a cloudy summer’s day with sun emerging dappling then disappearing, just waiting for some more showers.


Don’t shoot into the sun…


The photographs today were taken yesterday evening at around 9.15pm. The sun was low in the NNW and giving a golden warm light onto the overgrown grasses and flowers in the local park. Most shots are into the sun, something we were always taught NOT to do! Oskar was pulling hard at me so as many were blurred as sharp. I’ve tried to capture something of the feeling and complexity.