Thursday, November 24, 2011


I have a confession to make. For years when people asked me if I knew, or used, the "tonal method" I'd nod sagely... however, I didn't actually understand what they were on about.

Then about five years ago the penny finally dropped. This hallowed "tonal method" was nothing more than a part of the basic art training I had started to receive in secondary school (about age 13-14), and on into college. That was it, no big secret, no fancy "technique of the ancients".

I merely had the luck to be born, and to have my artistic training, just prior to the end of the traditional system of art education. We did life-drawing (even in secondary school), learnt how to make paint and other materials, anatomy, and so on. In other words, the old-fashioned stuff. No big deal or fuss was made over it, it was just considered a foundation upon which "real" artistic activity would be based by on-going actual practice thereafter.

All that said, the reason this came back to mind was a fellow artist a couple of days ago asking me in hushed reverent tones about "the academic tradition"... to which I unthinkingly replied "you mean basic training"?

That shocked them. The thought that such could be considered only a foundation, and not a "sacred end-in-itself", I don't think had occurred to them. To me it's just basic stuff that is first learnt, then adapted to actual "real" practice (possibly even being abandoned altogether).

What really knocked them was my saying that "training is only training, what use it is turned to in one's practice is what matters". Isn't that obvious?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Blast from The Past

'Mother and Child' 29"x24" Oil on canvas
Well, I was surprised when this painting popped up on the BBC... the very first painting that I ever sold!

I painted it in 1988 just after leaving art school and sold it to Leicestershire County Council in the UK for the grand sum of £160 the following year. I was pleased to have a painting in a public collection, although I felt it was too cheap a price... but the money was really handy at the time.

I remember the sitters were a pair of New Zealanders that I knew back then in Oxford. The mother was a carpenter who owned a bright yellow high-topped Bedford van, but the mists of time are drifting in to cloud everything else.

Looking back at it with hindsight it has a few issues, but honestly I never expected to see it again... I imagined it to be lost in some back room storage facility (à la 'Raiders of The Lost Ark').

Friday, November 11, 2011

Portrait of Abby

'Abby' 30"x25" Acrylic on canvas
An old portrait of a past girl-friend in the "three-quarters of a yard" size.

Looking at the painting now, her hair should have been painted with a more intense purple colour. I also remember how much I hate painting black leather with all the reflected colours.

A New Blog

'Kathleen' 36"x28" Acrylic on canvas (detail)
As I am in a new country, I thought a new simple blog about painting and art, specifically portrait painting and its related practices, might be a good start.

The title is a (mis)quote from Sir Thomas Lawrence who described himself as such: "a slave of the picture I am painting, as if it had living, personal existance, and chained me to it."

However, I thought "painting" would be better as a blog title and address, as "picture" has more modern, photographic connotations... and I'm not in any way a photographer.