Sunday, April 30, 2006

Sitka - the Title Piece

A group of "widow trees" stand aloof. Mature trees, guardians of the younger saplings stand proudly silhoutted against the sky. From Alaska to the UK they colonise the wild places. Growing tall and sraight they keep their silent counsel. This drawing is in mixed media, - graphite on a charcoal base, The graphite is worked into the paper until a gloss surface is achieved. This work is mounted in a frame 60cm x 80cm.
I've shown here the poster advertising the exhibition. It will be open to the public from the afternoon of May 2.
I'll be busy putting it up about mid-day of that day.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Pine Needles

These are the things that cover the carpet at Christmas time as the tree dries out during the twelve day season. These same needles also fall to the forest floor with the passage of time. They are also the thing we come at close quarters to as we wander through the forest. Indeed if walking though densly packed trees you can get qite a smack in the face off them. Sitka is very springy.
Actually one way of telling the difference between a Norway spruce and a Sitka is by curling your hand round a branch to feel the needle ends. Sitkas sting slightly and Norways don't. Another way to tell is that Norways are green and sitkas, while green also, have a bluish tinge on the underside. Indeed, viewed side by side a sitka has definite blueness about it.
This A4 sized tinted drawing shows new growth: I drew it in May last year. The new growth is a bright green, almost yellow. This picture is in a frame 35 x 47cm.

Thursday, April 27, 2006


I think this one has featured before. The stem is green. We are deep in the forest interior here. Moss has grown about the stems. The sun filtered through and caught this one making it stand out from the others. This drawing is in a frame 60cm x 80cm and mainly soft graphite on top of black charcoal. The greening of the stem is watercolour; just enough to give a hint of green. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the growth of conifers may wonder why the branches are short and broken. This is part of the tree's normal growth. As it gets taller it tends to concentrate its energies in having greenery on the top third of the trunk. Indeed, with the canopy well established relatively little sunlight will reach the ground. Consequently the trees tend to abandon their lower branches. Having said that, those trees on the edge of the group do grow greenery up their entire length and maximise their potential. In commercial forestry these "edge" tree tend not to get felled but remain as "widow trees" to shelter the newly planted saplings on a cleared site.
In the areas left to grow wild, like I mentioned in "faraway", trees will fall randomly from the ravages of wind and other factors and simly lie tere and rot back into the earth. This encourages new growth springing from seeds shed by pine cones. This forms natural clearings in which a wide variety of life flourishes.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


Of course when we walk through the forest we can't spend the whole time rubbernecking looking up at the trees or admiring the grand vistas. We have to look where we put our feet. This is probably what we see most of the time, the forest floor. It can be incredibly detailed. This drawing is done on soft graphite and set in a frame 48cm square.Its these small things that can be just as exquisite as the grand scene. There's a little bit of Zen here. Dogen always encouraged his trainees to "study in detail". Always take care to see where you put your feet.


This picture has featured in previous blogs. Done in soft graphite on Fabriano paper it measures 87 x 46cm in its frame. It serves to illustrate the sheer vastness of the Border Forest. There are sitka spruces as far as the eye can see. The foreground shows how nature has re-asserted itself. The grasses and other undergrowth thrive unimpeded. There are sections of the forest that the Forestry Commission are deliberately leaving to grow wild rathe than exploit it for commercial timber. Here the red and roe deer reign supreme. Even the foxes have evolved into being rather more long legged than usual. Adders are not uncommon. Birds too, proliferate, though hawks and kestrels are not so prominent but there are goshawks. Last year I was even lucky enough to see a white tailed eagle. Now that is a rare sight.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


Having now shown the six canvasses I shall now show the drawings. There are eleven in all making a total of 17 works on show at Kielder. This particular drawing is about 27cm square but in its mount and frame totals 48cm square. Indeed all the drawings, which are on paper, are behind glass so I will give the subsequent dimensions of the frame. The actual work itself occupies about 50% of the frame area.
This is drawn with a mixture of charcoal, graphite and pencil. I tend to lay the graphite onto the paper to give extra "tooth" then work in graphite until the surface has a gloss not dissimilar to a black and white photo.
Annulus is the collection of rings that show in the cross section of a tree. These rings can tell you quite a bit about the tree's past. Count the rings and you can determine the age of the tree in years. A thick ring inplies that year was a particularly wet one and a thin one means a dry year. The bark of the tree is the precursor of the next annular ring. The uneven shape gives sdome idea of the changing form of the tree as it grew from a windswept sapling right up to the mighty tree it became prior to felling.The blank area are knots; a peculiarity of conifers. A knot is the root of a branch.
This particular freshly felled tree caught my attention in two ways. One, it was the only one left in the area. The others had all been taken to the sawmill. Why had it been left behind? It was a Douglas Fir. The only one in the middle of a Sitka Spruce plantation. The annular rings suggested it was far older than the Sitkas which tend to be felled evry 30 years for wood pulp for the paper industry or 60years for timber.I think it had been felled by mistake.The thick turpentine resin it exuded probably made it unsuitable for paper making. Perhaps it will become timber sometime.

Monday, April 24, 2006


The village of Wark (pronounced to rhyme with "ark") lies some 20 miles east of where this is shown. The stretch of forest running west of wark is called Wark Forest. The border forest is made up of several district forests which have all merged into one another, rather in the way some modern cities have expanded and engulfed its neighbours. I suppose you could call this forest expansion "rural sprawl". Well it makes a change. To the west of Wark Forest is Spadeadam Forest. To the north, Kielder Forest and to the east, Simonburn. These forests in turn connect with others in Scotland such as Wauchope, Jed, Ettrick and so on.
The view in this painting looks northwards across both Wark and Kielder forests. Cheviot, a hill some two and a half thousand feet high is faintly visible on the horizon. It lies some 80 miles to the north of this point which is about ten miles north of Hadrian's Wall. The road in the foreground degenerates into a track which joins up with the complex of other forestry trails. There are no signposts in there, but if you know the way can get to both Kielder and Wark villages.There are only two tarmac roads cutting through the trees; The A68 Newcastle - Edinburgh via Jedburgh and a branch road to Kielder from Bellingham which lies north of Wark.
The grey sky is again typical. Rain is always promised. Its not for nothing that the Kielder Resevoir is the biggest in England.This part of Northumberland is just about the emptiest part of the county.
This picture was painted in acrylic on canvas and is 60cm x 75cm. It could easily be a companion piece to Evensong as that piece was inspired in Wark Forest.

Saturday, April 22, 2006


You will notice I tend to keep the titles of works short, if not terse. I find people usually put their own interpretations on what is in front of them. My response to a particular object can change from the initial reaction as the painting or drawing progresses. The viewer's response can be quite varied and they may see a work from a different standpoint to mine. But enough of the philosophy of art.
This piece is my most recently completed painting, done as usual in acrylic on canvas. This work is 66cm wide by 102cm tall. An ancient stump standing like some sentinel in the misty depths of and even older part of the forest; ancient coppice which has become engulfed by the relatively new conifer plantation.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Kielder - Storm

Unlike yesterday's picture of trees under an uncertain sky, here the sky has definitely made it's mind up. It is going to rain, and with a vengeance. there's one thing the Border forest does get and that is plenty of rain. I wonder why tropical forest is differentiated by calling it rain forest? All forests attract rain.
This image is again, acrylic on canvas and is larger at 77cm x 108cm. The forest edge seen here in silhouette can be viewed from East Kielder farm on the Forest Drive toll road some two miles east of Kielder village.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


Acrylic on canvas and 75 cm square. It depicts a group of conifers under an enormous sky. Such tree groups are a common feature of the Northumbrian landscape and the huge skies, often uncertain, - is it going to rain? - with the sun playing hide and seek behind the clouds. This is a picture of solitude. Do not confuse that with loneliness.One can be deperately lonely in a bustling city and at peace in the solitude of an empty landscape.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


Painted inacrylic on canvas, 60cm x 75cm. I gave it the title "Evensong" for a variety of reasons. Actually the titles for most of my work tends to evolve. I usually have no idea what to call a work when I set out. I am an avid listener to BBC Radio 3 "Choral Evensong" on Wednesday afternoons and indeed this was being broadcast at the time of painting this. The original concept arose when cylcling throught the Wark section of the Border forest. The sun was setting. It had ben a long hot day. While riding a bike on a forest trail you have to keep your mind on where the bike is going so the view is little more than a fleeting glance. This is the time of day when it is beginning to cool and it will not be long before the midges come out. Evenings like this are like the dawn; a time when the world seems to momentarily hold its breath.
I had originally intended to call it Nunc Dimittis after the second canticle sung in the Evensong service but I think I need to allude to the whole song, not just part of it.
The words of the Nunc Dimittis, in English, are;
Lord now lettest Thou thy servant depart in peace
According to Thy word.
For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation,
To be a light to lighten the gentiles
And to be the glory of Thy people......
This is a Christian canticle, not Buddhist one but the sentiment is the same. Set to the chant Standford in G, and sung in some grand cathedral like Durham makes for a potent mixture.

Friday, April 14, 2006


This piece is the largest in the exhibition. It is 110cm x 110cm (44" x 44" in English!) painted in acrylics on canvas. I gave the work this title because the ranks of trees arranged across the hillside reminded me of the way a choir is arranged at a classical concert. As the musical tide of a chorale in an oratorio washes over the audience the view is of a sea of people in formal dress of some sort. The men usually in tuxedos and the women in ballgowns or black and white. Or again, if its a cathedral choir, they may well be robed. All look the same yet each one is individual but are as one producing a glorious sound.
So it is with the forest. The sound of silence, the symphony of the wilderness. These trees sing their chorale in the great song of all existence.
A Japanese female monk called Ryonen (1797 - 1863) wrote as her final poem,
" I have seen enough of the moonlight ,
Ask of me no more;-
Only listen to the voice of the pines and cedars
When no wind stirs."
Need I say more?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Countdown to Kielder

Just two weeks left in which to have my Kielder exhibition up and running. My next few blogs will show some examples of the work on show. Probably a picture a day.
The above panoramic view, I guess wouldn't be out of place in North America but this is in the Border forest Park in the north of England. The difference between an American pine forest and an English one, apart from the American trees probably being a bit taller, is the absence of bears and wolves. No elk or moose either. We do have red deer, roe deer and a new pest, the muntjac. Fortunately it has not yet appeared in the northern forests but it has made its presence felt in the south of England. They are regarded as something of a pest.
I almost forgot. the Border Forest Park is home to the red squirrel, that peculiarly English breed. Strangely enough its America cousin the grey squirrel, which has ousted our native red from the broadleaf areas does not do well in a sitka forest. Strange that, in that the Sitka is native to Alaska and the North American west coast.
Perhaps some of you americans who may be reading this can throw some light on this paradox. Are there any grey suirrels where sitkas proliferate in America? Or do they limit themselves to the broadleaf areas such as say, New England, or Virginia?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Its been a Long Winter

It has been a long, cold and dreary winter not noted for its bright frosty days but more for its grey clouds, indifferent rains an the odd snowstorm that rapidly turns to slush. The sort of wet winter that penetrates the joints and makes everything an effort.
But the signs of spring and the promise of warmer weather is beginning to emerge. Even at the back of my terraced house in Lancaster in what passes for a garden. Really a back yard with a few plant pots. I call it a Yarden.
The Forsythia has bloomed and buds are forming on the other plants. To the left, off picture there is a shelf of bonsai trees which are beginning to show signs of life.
The world is waking from its winter sleep. Spring has had something of a lie-in this year.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Just Sitting.........

Just sitting, with no deliberate thought, is the important aspect of zazen. Thus spake Dogen nearly eight hundred years ago, albeit in Japanese. But the principle applies even to this day.
I drew the above picture some twenty years ago. It shows a monk deep in meditaion. It is night-time and a full moon shines through the window casting its image onto the floor. I have meditated in these circumstanses in the past and it can be very uplifling. The imagery is very romantic.
And dangerous.
There is much more to the Dharma than this. Sometimes we are lucky enough to sit where time seems to have stood still and at others we have the noise of the outside world invading our quiet place. All are valid if we just sit still and acknowledge it is there.