Diary 2005

December 22nd - Final painting for 2005    

Cwmwl isel, Yr Eifl (o draeth Aberdesach)

Sold at Oriel Tegfryn January 2006


...and a couple of days later, the colours were out again but a little more muted this time and the style was looser. These smaller, spontaneous paintings have a very immediate feel about them and tend to 'happen' quite quickly but with great intensity.

Back to Aberdesach beach again but this time with yr Eifl hidden in low cloud and on quite a grey day. I started with a light pencil sketch, then set to work gradually building up washes of gouache, finally drawing back into the painting with a soft (probably 8b) pencil to give a bit of defninition to some of the rocks in the foreground.

Before framing a little more work was done on the sea to make it look less lake-like and the 2 detracting pencil 'squiggles' were removed from the sky.

December 19th - Haf, Y Glyderau

It's been quite some time since I've worked in colour, so as this painting evolved from a quick pencil sketch into something more, it was a bit of a surprise to me that I started adding more and more colour, moving away from recent monochrome work.

From a distance, I'm aware (possible a bit too aware) than my work looks quite photographic but the detail on the left shows that the painting style is quite loose and freely painted. In fact, the more I look at the 'detail', the more I see that it has elements that would make an interesting starting point for another painting, something a bit more ground-breaking?.

The finished painting is quite a small work for such a large subject, with an image area approximately 10" x 16" (mounted and framed about 16" x 22"). It is currently hanging in Oriel Tegfryn, Menai Bridge, Isle of Anglesey.

finished painting 'Haf, Y Glyderau'
Sold at Oriel Tegfryn March 2006

December 5th - Wales Portrait Competition

My entry form for this competion should reach its destination today, so now, having paid my entry fee, I'm committed. I couldn't face doing a self-portrait (too many memories of college), so I've asked my Mum to sit for me. My only reservation is that she is notorious for not being able to sit still - always on the go, so I'm trying to think of things which will help, apart from tying her to the chair. I don't simply want it to be a life-like study, I want it to say something about her. She's full of character, so it should be fun.

November 12th and 13th

A bit of a marathon print weekend and everything went well, no major disasters. In fact, while the Peruvian Daffodil print was drying I started work on something totally different, a new Gecko print!. I'm not sure yet how it's going to turn out as it's quite experimental but there's definately potential for a future print if this one doesn't make it.

With 2 colours to go, I'm up against a Wednesday deadline to finish the second Peruvian Daffodil print - and make 6 frames, so things are going to be a bit crazy for the next couple of days. But it's often when things are like this that the best work emerges. No time to worry and fuss, only time to get things done.

November 11th

Following on from really enjoying producing the Peruvian Daffodil print and lots of postive feedback about the finished piece, I'm working flat out on a second one, this time looking at the flower in profile.

The handing in date for the Christmas exhibition at the RCA is getting close but if all goes to plan, I should have just enough time to get this finished.

It's going to be a bit of a juggling act making sure the print has enough time to dry between colours, so while one colour is drying, I'll be cutting for the next and making frames!




October 31st - Rescued ...

Having cut the final layer for the Pervian Daffodil print, I started inking and printing last night but after printing 2 proofs, it was obvious that something was badly wrong. I'd cut far, far too much lino away, and the remaining marks were having no impact at all on the image, they just looked like mistakes.

Not one to give up and cry, I knew I had to take drastic action and I pretty much knew this meant cutting a replacement lino from scratch - not something I particularly wanted to do but if I didn't, the finished print run would be sub-standard and possibly wouldn't even see light of day. So, using a previous print (without the last colour) I traced a new template and made a much more detailed and careful preparatory drawing and re-cut.

The 4 images below below show the huge difference between the first and second attempt. I can't quite understand how I kept on cutting the first piece without realizing what was happening but sometimes concentration wanes and mistakes happen. The second, final print shows how the darkest colour (not quite black) adds strength, definition and depth to the image, as well a decorative, descriptive dimension - which were all missing from the first.

(more information about this print can be found in Gallery 4 - Plants)



October 27th

As the darker tones are added, the narcissi begins to emerge from the background   Mis-registration sometimes produces one-off interesting images but in this instance just an artists proof.

(Blotchy appearance is ink drying)


October 25th - Good progress with all 3 prints. All now at the stage of having 2 colours printed and the lino's cut ready for the third. Minimal losses through registration which is pleasing, I should end up with editions of 15 prints for each one. Now that the first two 'base' colours are established, the cut areas become more critical, because they have to start building up layers of tone to form the image.

It's all too easy to be merrily cutting away and suddenly realise you've cut too much away - so it's time to concentrate, think about how the shapes relate to each other, think tonally (difficult with flat areas of colour) and in relief, whilst at the same time keeping the whole image fluid, expressive and sympathetic to the subject matter.


October 22nd and 23rd - Productive weekend, 3 new prints started

Sketch stage for Narcissi print


Sketch stage for Narcissi print

It suddenly struck me on Friday, that it's only a month until the Christmas exhibition 'hand-in day' at the RCA and I haven't really given a thought about what I'm going to show. I felt that some smaller scale, decorative botanical linocuts might be suitable, as well as being fun to create and a total change from recent landscape subjects. I'm working on 3 pieces at once which is quite a challenge, both mentally and physically, but hopefully this will give a consistency of style and mood (and colour).

This weekend's work included, creating the 3 base drawings from earlier sketches, transferring the drawings to the lino, cutting the 'white' out of all 3, printing the first colour on 2 - a 2am finish! (pause for drying overnight) - on Sunday, cutting the second colour on the first 2, printing first colour on the third and finally printing second colour on the first 2. Confused?


October 19th - Llanw isel, Aberdesach (Low tide, Aberdesach)

Sold at Oriel Tegfryn October 2005


A second painting done from sketches drawn at Aberdesach beach. Unlike the first version below, this larger painting feels calmer and perhaps lonelier. Although there is still a lot of detail, particularly in the foreground rocks, the brush marks (both line and washes) are stiller and less hectic, creating a different mood altogether.

Is one more successful than the other? Yes and no. One shows an ability to 'let go', the other shows a little restraint and control. I think there's merit in both ways of working, sometimes letting go simply results in poor work, at other times you hit the nail on the head and end up with a stunning, expressive piece but there's never a guarantee - that's what makes it exciting ... and exasperating at times.

October 11th - Print problems

Not all prints reach completion, and it struck me that I've never mentioned my 'failures' in this diary. Thankfully they've been very few, 2 in the last 2 years I think, but I thought I'd mention this one as it might be helpful not only to myself to identify what went wrong but also to people/artists reading this, to see that it's not joy all the time.

Firstly, as mentioned below, I think I was tackling too large a subject (physically) at too small a scale. This meant I was trying to cram too much detail into a small area and the cutting was getting more and more detailed. Although this technique isn't 'wrong' and is perfectly suited to some subjects, this didn't feel right to me. My most successful linocuts tend to be quite 'chunky' or blocky, rather than linear and I feel that here I was drawing with the cutting tool and as a result was loosing the essence of the landscape.

In both failed prints I've been guilty of trying to 'copy' rather than create an impression of what I see and this has resulted in a fussy, mechanical, overworked print.

Secondly, ink problems! My white ink is incredibly sticky and it's causing big problems with getting an even coverage on the palest tones. My attempt to resolve the problem, (adding a transparent gel inherited from another artist) only seemed to make the problem worse but by this time I was tearing my hair out and was ready to try anything. Once added, the lino appeared to ink up beautifully, but when it came out of the press, there were areas which hadn't transferred to the paper at all. I need to check shelf life of my inks and do a bit of research into suppliers.

So, a bit of a frustrating time. a handful of problems to sort out and nothing to show at the end of it - but it's not all negative. I need to choose my subject matter more carefully, the orginal drawing was fine but I know that when I print at this scale, there needs to be a strong focal point as there is in my river and waterfall prints.

(image to follow)

One a more positive note, after abandoining the print as a lost cause, I started a new ink drawing of Aberdesach Beach which is progressing very well.


October 4th - The new print is progressing well, 2 colours printed - 3, maybe 4 to go. The main thing this print is highlighting is my need to print at a larger scale. The subject matter really is too big for an A4 book press and I can feel myself cutting marks which are simply to small. I'm still thoroughly enjoying it but I do need to find a home for my other press (currently in storage), which is so heavy it has to be handled in 3 parts! Once it's up and running it'll allow me to print an image almost up to A3 size which will be sheer bliss (although it'll also mean using huge quantities of ink).


September 29 - New print


With the light now starting to fail quickly in the evenings, it's back to a lot more 'inside' work. I started the drawing for a new print last night, again based on the Black Ladders crag (is Cwm Idwal out of my system? - I doubt it somehow, just a break).

Although they're only a few miles apart, the landscapes are so different. If I had to explain why to someone who doesn't know the area, I'd describe Cwm Idwal as intimate and detailed, whereas the Carneddau range is very airy and distant, both majestic in their own way - and crucially, there's no visible river or waterfall as a focal point on the western side of the Carneddau. It'll be interesting to see if the image lends itself to linocutting or whether it'll be a matter of developing new marks and methods to describe the softer, grassy foreground hills that lead up to the shattered rocks and crags.

Above, first sketchy stages of the new print. I felt the proportion of the A4 sketchpad wasn't quite right to achieve a balanced composition. The main peak was too close to the right hand edge and I felt the lower edge needed more breathing space. A few strips of paper and plenty of masking tape sorts this out. At this point the size is still flexible but once the drawing is transferred to the lino, it's got to be final.


September 22 - Four buzzards circling above the Black Ladders (Graphite drawing with gouache wash)

Detail of black LAdders drawing
Full image size (framed) is 36" x 24"


Only a few miles away from Llanberis, the main honey-pot of Snowdonia, the Black Ladders (Ysgolion Duon) is an impressive and fairly remote north/northwest facing cliff face between Carnedd Llewelyn and Carnedd Dafydd on the Carneddau ridge. A climbers dream (I shudder to think of being poised, or knowing me, more likely stuck up there), it's also a fantastic subject to draw, with the contrasting gently rounded slopes leading up to the weather beaten peak of Carnedd Dafydd.

This drawing was purposely kept 'simple' and uncluttered as this seemed the best way to communicate the scale and mood of the landscape.

Some areas are barely marked. I felt this was particularly important in the sky, where the only marks are the four buzzards circling high above, and a simple outline suggesting a bank of cloud, which deliberately draws the eye upwards.




Weekend, September 10th and 11th - A bit of an art marathon

With the RCA 'Eryri - Land of eagles' exhibition on my doorstep, I decided to go for it. I'd learnt a lot from doing the drawings (below) and as I've got a record of them, it was time to see if I could stop thinking "what if I ruin a set of good drawings" and turn it into "what if I can create 3 great paintings".

Unfortunatley ...or maybe it was simply meant to be another challenge, the boards which I'd drawn on behaved totally unexpectedly when I started applying ink washes - they were incredibly absorbent which made it difficult to get rich blacks. After a bit of thought and experimentation I found that black gouache was the answer - that and drawing back into the painting at various stages gave me the depth of tone I wanted.


Sold at Oriel Tegfryn, July 2006


The results are different to what I'd anticipated - from afar, the 3 paintings have a look/feel of early watercolours but close up a lot of the original drawing is still visible and this gives them a fresher, more contemporary look.

There's always a danger of overworking with line and wash, a temptation to add another mark here and there, pushing and pushing for perfection, resulting in something which is more photographic than painterly - but I think I stopped in time.

The exhibition opens on Saturday, I'm sure seeing them again after a few days will give me an opportunity to assess less emotionally and probably more critically.



Wednesday August 24th

The light wasn't quite the same last night (much flatter) and it kept threatenting rain but I didn't want to leave too much of a gap between the first two drawings and the final one, so I packed a pared down rucksack and the previous two drawing in a bin bag (very artistic!) and headed for the same spot. Did a bit of work on the previous two drawings first, checking that critical angles and landmarks were 'correct' and to make sure there was a continuation in style and marks carried over into the third drawing.

So, now I have a trio of drawings which I'm happy with and would like to evolve into finished works. The dilemma is - do I treat these as preparatory sketches? - are they already finished? - or can I stop being precious about them and take them further, adding ink and colour?


If I live to be 100, (make that 150, I've got a lot of drawing and painting to do), I could never be bored or uninspired by this landscape. It's so huge, so majestic, awesome, yet it's strength somehow protects too - and I'm not embarrassed to say it's moved me to tears more than once.

Image size 20" x 16"


Monday August 22nd

I imagine most artists have good and bad days, for me, good days are those when I know that come hell or high water, I'm going to (got to) draw, when some intrinsic need drives the pencil or paint almost automatically. And the drawing days don't necessarily come from positive feelings, it could equally be a way of dealing with something negative, but the common thread is the intensity, there's no room for being woolly. The drawing is often fluid and strong, there's no fiddling and no rubbing out, just immediacy and a strange fearlessness.

detail of drawing
Detail from drawing opposite

Scrambling up the side of the Ogwen Valley, with a rucksack full of brushes, ink, water bottle, tissues, pencils, sharp knife, sketch books and 3 watercolour boards under my arm (you never quite know what you're going to need), I keep glancing back to check if I've reached 'the' spot. I'm looking for a place where my eye level is in line with the low bumpy ridge that Llyn Idwal hides behind. I don't want to show the lake, but I want to suggest that there's something there, beyond the ridge. A hundred metres, maybe a bit more, above the road, I find a place to sit, pretty sure that no-one's going to struggle up and bother me here. For a few minutes I sit and look, it's truly amazing, the sun casts huge swathes of evening shadow all over the landscape, throwing crags into sharp relief. It'd be too easy to just sit and watch the light changing, but there's drawing to be done.


The first sketch is a disaster, the sketchbook is too small, so I start again on the largest board (I knew it was a good idea to bring all this stuff!). Quickly, I loose myself in it and draw my heart out, still the board isn't big enough, so I continue on the second, making marks without looking at the board, (that's when I know I'm concentrating properly), it's almost impossible to describe what happens - it's almost like the eye and drawing hand are linked and as the eye scans the landscape, the hand 'translates' what it sees into marks on the paper.

An hour and a half later I have 2 rough, vigorous drawings (unfinished) sitting on the grass in front of me, and I want and need to go back to do a third to complete the whole view. I doesn't matter that I'm going to end up with 3 separate pieces when I set out to capture it in one. I think the view is simply too big for me to do it justice in one drawing, certainly in the loose style I've chosen to work.

Above Dyffryn Ogwen, looking towards the Glyders
Image size 20" x 16"

Image size 20" x 16"


Tuesday August 2nd

Firstly, an apology to those of you who drop in every now and then to see work in progress. The long summer nights seem to be mostly spent in the garden, watering and de-slugging, so there's been a bit of a gap since the last diary entry.

This ink drawing has been leaning againt the wall in my studio for too many months waiting to be completed. It wasn't started with a view to being a finished piece, simply as a sketch for the print (below), but the more I looked at it, the more I liked its looseness and unfussiness and wanted to take it to a conclusion. It reached a point where it was shouting 'finish me', so it was make or break time.

It's much harder to disguise errors in a drawing like this, so any extra marks have to be thought out carefully beforehand, so that when they're put on the paper, they're as fluent and fluid as possible.


I decided to add some washes to the sky so that it wasn't such a stark white, a few lines to deliniate the cliff in the middle ground and some darker tones to the peak in the middle of the drawing to push it back ...

Traeth Aberdesach - yn edrych tua'r Eifl

... and I think it's pretty much there.

Sold at Oriel Tegfryn September 2005




Thursday, March 31st

About 3 months later than I'd intended I eventually found the perfect location for the start of the Llŷn series of prints.

Without a map to hand, my first attempt at finding a quiet spot to park up and reach the beach ended on the cliff edge at the end of a single track road, the car being rounded up by an over-excited sheepdog and having no other choice but to reverse all the way back to the main road.

Undetered, I tried the next likely looking lane and found Aberdesach beach.

Everything about the place was perfect, the tide was out which meant I could get far enough out to see the landscape in 'layers' - sand, rocks, the low cliff and the mountains behind.

There is always an experimental element in the first piece of work produced at a new location - I suppose it's part of getting familiar with a place.


3 colours printed
Note how 'milky' the print looks without the darker grey and black of the final version

The final print

I can already see areas of the print which I could tackle differently. I don't see this as a negative thing because it continually makes me re-assess my work and look more closely at the subject - and perhaps it pinpoints a need to try and control (just a little) the initial rush of enthusiasm and adrenalin which never fails to hit me.
I will take you down to the beach one day
And show you my sea, my rocks, my sand
And my view of a distant land.
They are mine but I will let you look
because you see them, and feel.
And you look with eyes deep and brimming
With tears that aren't sad,
With a smile that outshines the sun.
And all I want is to watch your peace
as the tide washes in.


Tuesday, February 21st

I've been struggling with my paintings for a while, not through lack of inspiration but simply some sort of fear of failing I think. It was as if I convinced myself that a painting wasn't going to 'work' from the start, not a good frame of mind to be in. My colours were instantly muddy, my mark-making was stiff and predictable - I fiddled and fiddled with things until they were beyond recovery.

So there was a huge sigh of relief when I spent a couple of days on this painting and found some of the old fluidity returning. I didn't fuss over every rock, I simply responded to what I saw.

(Painting was sold at RCA Annual Summer exhibition)



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