Friday, November 28, 2008

The 6 x 4 pictures I’ve been doing have always been intended for giving away. Recently, though, I’ve been ‘designing’ some especially for certain people. It is a slightly different discipline to be more self-conscious about the idea behind the picture.

This is one I did for my in-laws. They both have birthdays just gone or coming up and I wanted to give them a gift. I haven’t seen them for a long time but I wanted to let them know I still think of them with affection.

I’m going to resist all the mother-in-law jokes and say that as a couple they have been nothing but good to me.

When I visited yesterday, only my father-in-law was there. We had an hour together just catching up.

He told me a story about a potter making a clay pot. As the potter worked, he noticed a flaw, so he broke down the pot and remade it. I was strangely moved by the story and by the kindness with which it was told.

For the rest of the day I was quite emotional – veering between happiness at renewing contact and sadness at what has been lost.

Then last night the ghosts came back.

Does art open doors?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

When I read or look through magazines, I'm always looking out for words, phrases and images that spark something inside me. When I see something that does that I 'leap' into action and, faster than you can say attention deficit disorder, I'm scanning and printing, cutting and sticking, copying and pasting.

Just this morning I came across this GREAT chapter heading in a book:

How cool is that?! I don't know what one of them is but I WANT one! It's gone straight to the top of my Christmas list.
I also recently came across this phrase from Hazel Dooney's blog :

"… a reckless 19th century explorer ... disappearing off the edge of the map, only to be heard from in terse, sporadic missives sent back with packages of obscure maps hand-drawn on pale hide and bags of arcane artefacts ..."

Don't you just LOVE that imagery?

I like the idea of maps. I like looking at them.


I don't understand them and can't read them.

I like the idea of exploring too. But just the idea of it. I'm too much of a wuss to actually do it.


I'm not safe outdoors (as you know).

I went out for the day last Sunday (in the car) and I got lost twice. The first time was only 20 minutes after I'd left home. The second time I turned left instead of right. I think I was in Telford.


Last weekend I ran over a squirrel and a small dog.

I'm thinking one of those electronic tags might be quite handy. That can be number 2 on my Christmas list.

Monday, November 24, 2008

I think I’ve got ADD.

I don’t really know what it is but I was reading about it just now and it sounded awfully familiar. And fun.

I know I’m a bit old for it (isn’t it something kids have?) but I like the idea of it and it’s sitting quite comfortably with me at the moment.

It’s not that I’m looking for an excuse for my inadequacies and failings – I don’t need something to blame them on. They seem to worry other people far more than they worry me.

But if this is the way I am – the way I work – then I can “adopt appropriate and productive strategies to manage myself”.

The way I’ve been doing things hasn’t been working particularly well so far. I try to do things the way one ‘should’ but I lose interest extremely rapidly.

I’ve been timing myself. At the moment I can sustain attention and activity for 7 minutes. When I have to. It was 9 minutes but I’ve slipped a bit.

It works when I tell myself I only have to work on a thing for 7 minutes - and set the timer on my phone. Funny thing is, when I do, often I find that I work for longer!

But, if I get in a stimulating environment, or I get a cool new idea, or I’m with someone interesting, I can keep going for AGES!

I was going to write more … but I’ve lost interest.

(Damn, that wasn’t even 7 minutes)

Friday, November 21, 2008

A couple of Book Reviews

In recent weeks I’ve read a couple of books that have got me thinking – an unpleasant experience at the best of times. They’ve got me thinking about people and how I would like to do portraits. I’m not good enough to capture a likeness in a quick sketch – and I think that’s a good thing. I would have to take time to “see” the person – to get “the idea” of the person – before I could paint them.

These books portray people by taking the time to look more deeply into their stories.

Broken Biscuits by Liz Kettle

This is a story about Jodie and her senile grandmother, Agnes.

Jodie is an odd character – like many you see from time to time. This story examines, through the story of Agnes, how she got that way. As Agnes travels back through time in her failing memory, we see the emergence of Jodie and the seeds of destruction that were sown into her life.

At first, I found Agnes’s story confusing – until I realised it was being told backwards. It’s as if she remembers something recent, and then goes further back to make sense of that, and then further back again … and so on. Once you get the hang of it, it works well!

Jodie’s story, on the other hand, seems to inch forward. She, too, looks back, but it seems more like random access memory. You wish for things to change for her – and they do – delightfully so - but it’s a slow and painful process.

It’s so easy to form opinions and judgements about other people and about ourselves, without understanding the story that has been unfolding – often through generations. For me, reading this book was like walking through an old house and looking at the portraits on the walls, with the author being the tour guide filling in some of the back-story.

This is sometimes a grim story, but also at times amusing and endearing. It describes a world that few of us know, but far too many do. I’ve only ever touched on that world and, frankly, it scared me. But that’s mainly because I don’t understand it (though more now than I used to). This book gives that world some humanity, and tells the story of the people who live there.

Black Boxes by Caroline Smailes

Ana is trapped in her own room, slowly falling apart after an intense and unrequited relationship with Alex. Her children, Pip and Davie, are left to fend for themselves. As Ana’s story unfolds we begin to see the tangled web of relationships that became so unmanageable and destructive for her.

The layout and structure of the book is unusual and could lead to the storyline being fragmented and interest being constantly interrupted. Instead, it’s like a relentless series of jabs and punches that leave you reeling but helpless to know how to fight back … just how Ana feels.

Language plays an important part in the book … sign language, backwards-spoken language and the etymology of words. The communication is used to reveal to those in the know, and to conceal from others. Nothing is straightforward between the people in this book. Games are being played, but they are games of manipulation and control, leading to degradation and ultimately death.

It has some of the grimness of a fairy tale (there are numerous allusions to fairy tales) where the story sounds romantic on the surface (the princess locked in the tower waiting for rescue) but it soon becomes apparent that stories such as these are not at all what they seem – they are dark tales that disturb you long after the telling has ended.

With stories in the media about child abuse this book is timely. On the surface it is like many other stories – relationship failure, depression, neglect, tragedy. An open and shut case. But Caroline Smailes opens the case and unpacks it – piece by piece - taking a long, hard, uncomfortable look at each piece of the story and laying it out for all to see.

It would be ‘nice’ if the story had a sudden, redemptive twist - Hollywood fashion. But it doesn’t cop out like that.

I was left with the feeling that the ball had been batted firmly into my court.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I visited a new gallery in Cardiff – Magpie Gallery.

It’s up the top of a few flights of stairs with some twists and turns and the first time I went I couldn’t find my way in! This time I did but I got lost coming back down again … I ended up in the kitchen of the Club below!

It’s a nice place, though (the Gallery, not the kitchen) – light and airy. There is a fairly big exhibition space, and in the front section is a shop selling cool crafts, small pieces and, well, ‘stuff’.

Usual thing, though … nobody spoke to me or tried to sell me anything. I don’t want pushy sales type people (nobody does) but it would be nice to have someone offer to show me round and give me some background to the art and the artist.
Shame, too, that their website’s not up and running.

Still, a cool place to visit if you’re in the city.

In contrast, on Saturday I went to an exhibition organised by three local amateur artists. It was in a church hall just off the city centre. The work was, mostly, great with each artist having their own distinctive style. They also had their sketchbooks around for people to look through – and I love that! It’s a bit like having a sneaky peek at someone’s diary.

But the best thing was that the artists were there and chatting enthusiastically to people. No hard sell, but a genuine desire to share their work and the background to it. It made me appreciate the work all the more as I heard their personal stories. In fact, it made me want to buy from them – not only because the pictures were good – but to support their endeavours and to enable them to carry on working and bringing art into the world.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


I’ve been sorting through a lot of old stuff lately, including old scripts, photos and promotional materials.

From time to time I used to do solo pieces of straight drama … monologues. One piece was called ‘Passivity’. It was performed to an empty chair … based on a psychological technique where you address the issue concerned as though it were a person sitting opposite you.

A much more accomplished actor friend of mine - Maurice Adams – co-wrote the script and directed me. (It was important for me to remember and acknowledge that).

Reading the script again, it seems some of the issues remain … here are a couple of extracts:

PASSIVITY, you have kept me in so many shadows, telling me I must wait for an invitation to step onto the light. Here I stand, my heart stretched out inside me, begging to be invited to live and participate. I feel I have something to offer, but you convince me that I must wait to be discovered; that I must be drawn out – by invitation only.

PASSIVITY, perhaps you are not just timid hesitation. Perhaps you are a dark fear that your contribution is inadequate. Perhaps you are pride protecting yourself from hurtful exposure. Perhaps you are lethargy waiting for someone else’s zeal to spark you into life.

PASSIVITY, I see situations where I could help and maybe make a difference – but you tell me to wait for a sign to intervene. I see where a talent of mine could complement what others are doing – but you convince me that my contribution might not fit into the scheme of things.

So I lapse back into a pregnant nothingness and more days are lost.

It’s easy – in any kind of work, I guess – to hope for ‘the break’ … to be discovered … for everything to suddenly fall into place as if by magic. But that can so easily lead to passivity … and, in my case, it often has.

But lately, I’m learning by doing. I’m making dozens of pieces of art. I’m working each day. Some of them are taking a long time because they are growing and developing as though they have a life of their own. I’m getting more and more of my art – and myself – “out there” by not thinking too much about how to do it, but by just doing something. I’m following paths and signs that are coming clear as I go, rather than trying to work out how to get there from here, before ever setting foot outside the door.

I am, by nature, an ideas person and an initiator. But passivity remains my biggest enemy. Go figure.

Maybe I need to give it a good talking to.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Magnetic North

I once read about an architect who designed and built a new University campus. When it was complete, someone pointed out that he had not designed or laid any pathways around, between and connecting the various buildings. The architect said this would be done in about 6 months’ time. In the meantime, the students and staff made their way from building to building, creating their own pathways as they went. After 6 months, the architect simply laid the paths where the people were already walking. As he pointed out, even if you lay paths at the outset, people soon take and make their own shortcuts and form the pathways that suit them and their natural movement around the area.

I’ve been noticing lately the pathways that I am naturally creating and moving along. These are neural pathways in my thinking and geographic pathways in my travels. I find myself moving in some directions, and not others. These directions are quite new to me and are, as yet, unformed. But paths are starting to emerge.

When I have tried to plan my way forward, like an architect’s drawing for my life, I have found that often I have naturally veered off in different directions. I could just stick to the plan (like the good project manager I was trained to be – plan the work, work the plan), or I can observe the paths I find myself taking and begin to work with those. I’m choosing the latter.

Monday, November 10, 2008


Today I went out again to take photos ...
in the wind and the rain and the cold.
But this time I didn't retreat ...

This time

I had

a HAT!

I recently "discovered" the black and white setting on my camera ... so I was very excited about that.

Here are some of the pictures ...

Funny thing is, I only went out to buy a loaf of bread.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

No, I haven't been looking in the mirror ...

I’ve been thinking a lot about gargoyles.

Are they,

a) Carved stone grotesques with a spout designed to convey water from a roof and away from the side of a building (as I said)


b) Guardians of the buildings they were on keeping evil spirits away (as I was told).

Someone sent me these links. (If I’d been sensible, I’d have copied and pasted them at the time … but, oh no … I had to look them up all over again.)

It seemed to prove my point.

However, it almost never happens that I'm right about anything, so the more I've thought about it (I have way too much time on my hands) the more I’ve come to think that the answer is probably

c) Both

(Do you even remember the question?)

We seem to live in a very utilitarian world. But the best design achieves a utilitarian function whilst also imbuing a thing with ‘personality’ (brand images are often described as representing the ‘personality’ of an organisation or product).

I think that medieval designers had a worldview that integrated the ‘physical’ and the ‘spiritual’. They could have made simple hollow pipes to drain away the water (like we do today) but instead they put faces on them and gave them characters. Why did they do that?

Nowadays we seem to have separated the two. (Is this ‘dualism’? Did it come from Plato? Somebody help me out here.)

I like that you can look at a Cathedral and see the architecture and design in so many ways – which represent so many things. The physical elements are deliberately designed to ‘speak’ of a mystical dimension.

I like, too, the idea that art has the power to ward off evil (or even summon it, I guess.)

I like it when I go to the home of someone who owns and displays a piece of my art. It looks decorative and attractive, but it is also ‘doing its job’ and speaking of another dimension to life (or so I believe).

One of my goals is to walk into corporate environments and see big examples of my work hanging there, for the same reason.

And I would love for there to be conversations taking place about whether it was just there to disguise a damp patch on the wall, or whether it had some other meaning or significance.

Or both.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

It’s the first day of the Celtic New Year and I don’t want to be here.

The trouble with being here is that I can’t get there from here. And there is where I want to be.

(I know some of you think I’m not all there – and that’s true.)

I’ve seen what I want to be and what I want to do. But it won’t happen here. It will happen there.

I have projects lined up that will keep me working for the next 2 to 3 years and I’m very excited and motivated by them. So I need to get there quickly.

But I don’t know the way.


I need a massive release of collaboration and resources.

Estimates show that I can do a thousand times more than I’m doing now.

Just not here.

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