Tuesday, February 26, 2008

When the Boat Comes In

Yesterday was largely taken up with paying my eldest daughter a visit. She has not been feeling too well of late. It is a recurrent problem she has and when it goes acute it really floors her. She's managed to stay out of hospital this time, but only just. I will not go into any detail here on the blogosphere but we are both nurses, or leastways she is, I have retired so that makes me an ex-nurse. Sufficient to say we are both fully aware of what's going on. Consequently the studio and everything else was put on "hold" for the day. I can happily report she is starting to improve a little. These things take time.
Today I got back to the studio. The walk across town was a cold and draughty affair. February can be a strange month and can catch you out. One day it feels as though winter has relaxed its icy grip and fools you into thinking spring is nearly here then, like today, a gale sets in with a chill factor of -5°C even though the real temperature is a couple of degrees above freezing. I have felt chilled right through all day.
Winslow Homer, a 19th century American painter from Connecticut did a residency in Northumberland and painted this watercolour, "Tynemouth". Everything in this picture says what today has been like.
As a matter of interest, the boats in the background are traditional Northumbrian cobles, pronounced "cobbles". These boats have a distinctive deep bow after the style of Viking longships and designed to cut through the big waves of the North Sea. The stern is higher than usual for a rowing boat; it prevents the boat being pooped by the unforgiving breakers that roll in. Despite the deep bow, these boats are flat bottomed amidships, they need to be to ride the tidal shallows of the Tyne. This design of boat is still in use on the North-east coast today though they usually have an engine to power them.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Meanwhile, Back at the Studio....

My next exhibition will be at Arteria 23 in Lancaster and will run from May through to the end of August. The private view/opening is in mid May when I will be in Cyprus. So there is some urgency to get something ready. Some of last year's "Sea Pictures will make up part of the show but the gallery have requested new work and somewhat larger than the current series. I have made three triptyches which I show here on my studio walls. I put them up this afternoon to try and get some idea how they will look in the gallery.
The left hand piece is called Breaker #2 and each panel is 30 cm (12") square. The middle vertical running piece is Beach #6. I have only just completed this and the paint is still wet. The right hand triptych is Beach #5 and made up of panels 20 cm (8") square. The smaller work on the extreme right is Cove made up of four panels 10 cm (4") square and mounted on a board 20 x 60 cm.

There is the promise of spring in the air. I set off back home at tea time with the sun just setting in the shadow of Lancaster Castle, the great brooding wall on the right of the picture.
As I walked back across town the sunset intensified. Here is the town hall clock tower sillhouetted in its Edwardian glory. Strange how we still talk of going into "town" and refer to the "town hall" when Lancaster is a city in its own right and a Royal Peculier (this is the correct spelling) as part of the Duchy of Lancaster.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Home Work

Not "Homework" as in extra-mural activity, or maybe it was, you can be the judge of that. We have had a new boiler installed and now the electrician has been and gone so it no longer runs on the jury rig that had been cobbled together. Its all up and running properly so the central heating isn't blasting away all day and night. The loft insulation people have been and improved that for us so this house is really warm, all the time. I really do "feel the cold" these days ever since my highly over-active thyroid was well and truly zapped with radio active iodine five years ago.
There is one advantage to a zapped thyroid, I may "feel the cold" but don't even break sweat in an Eastern Mediterranean heatwave, great. But I digress....
So, new heating system, the old one removed which means the copper recirculating tank in the airing cupboard has gone too. This has left a gaping cavern with a door.
Years and years ago, way back in the mid-twentieth century, when this then state of the art system was installed, the airing cupboard was little more than a plywood box built as an afterthought and now the water tank has gone we could see just how dog-rough this bit of joinery was.
We size up the job, head off to B&Q, get the timber and bring it home. My wife then clears off to Sunderland for a few days leaving the proverbial field clear for me to get on with rebuilding the cupboard. I said it would need some sort of lining and nice, big, full depth shelving. I decided it would look good with wood cladding. So after waving to my better half as she drove off down the street I set to.
It turned out to be a major undertaking. This cupboard had no right-angles in any of its corners and no two sides were the same. Everything had to be tailored to fit where it was to go. Plumb and level were foreign concepts to its very structure. Good job my wife had gone for a couple of days or so.
Day One, got the internal framework in place. At least internally it would be nearer to some semblance of a geometric aesthetic. I worked at it for twelve hours then, exhausted, crashed into bed.
Day Two, Installed the cladding to walls and ceiling of said cupboard and fitted shelf brackets as I went along thus ensuring they were hidden, or leastways not immediately visible. I had planned on a shorter day on the job but time flies. BBC Radio4 kept me company as Iworked and when "Any Questions?" came on I couldn't believe it was so late already. So a cup of strong coffee and once more unto the breach my friend.
I needed to get the job finished that day (Friday) because (a) my wife would be back on the morrow and the bedroom looked like a joiner's shop and (b) I would be at a retreat the next day.
The job was completed at 11-30 pm. I sat down amidst the clutter of off-cuts, tools, Workmate bench in the middle of the room and sawdust all over the carpet. There it was, finished, a brand new linen cupboard with three full-depth shelves and the pine cladding giving it the appearance of a miniature Scandinavian sauna. I felt as though I had just emerged on the summit of the Eiger having got there via the North Wall. ( I was a rock climber for some thirty years in my youth).
After a trip to the kitchen, a cup of tea and a bit of toast it was time to take the walk down the Mitteligi Ridge, to use the mountaineering analogy. By one o' clock in the morning, all was cleared up. The room looked as though I had never been, - apart from the new cupboard and the smell of new wood. I crashed into bed and slept the sleep of the blessèd.
Next morning at the retreat I sat meditating in the Zendo quite surprised to find myself alert and awake, I was expecting to be struggling with sleep deprivation. But my body was aching and I really had to drag myself across the town to the venue. However, as the day wore on I felt better.
I got back home at teatime to find my wife had returned from her sojourn in the North-East. She likes the cupboard.

Saturday, February 16, 2008


Flicking through some old photos I came across one I took at Tintagel back in 2006. The scene was post sunset over the Atlantic. The cloud patterns had me thinking of developing an idea from there. I thought I would do a sketch strip which I did in watercolour at first. It had a bit of a "Turner" look about it so decided to see how it might look in acrylics. I was intending to make a larger piece later made up of 20 x 20 cm squares but when I finished this thing on the left here on ten centimetre squares I felt I had arrived at the statement. To make another piece would have it looking too contrived. The spontanaety would be lost. So this is it. Definitely "just something I ran up" in a half hour or so. It came together as a happy accident, - serendipity. It only needed a title....

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Hot Water

The installation didn't go quite as smoothly as the plumbers hoped. The job overran a couple of hours. The old Baxi came out easily enough but the slimmer (in one dimension) was a bit taller and there was no room to put the pipework above the boiler like the old one. So it all had to be fitted beneath. The only problem is it will all need boarding in and that wasn't in the schedule but it will get sorted afterwards when the other snag is dealt with. The pipework all exposed tells the world this is an unfinished job, but, - it does have a certain aesthetic. Hence the photo.
Now what of this second snag, eh? Its the electrics. It needs an electrician to connect up the power properly and the job cannot be completed, wall cladding, shuttering etc. until then. So for now we have a lead running from the boiler along over the sink, across the work surfaces and behind the bread bin to a three pin socket. A temporary arrangement. I thought they only did jury rigs like that in Cyprus, ναι ?
Speaking of Cyprus, their hot water systems use solar power. Two solar panels on the roof of every house heat up the water in a storage tank. Believe me it really works. You get seriously hot water from it. But then you would in a country where the sun shines every day and their idea of a cool spell is our idea of a heatwave.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Its All Happening

It really is. Being of that "certain age" we qualify for the Warm Front scheme and our central heating system is in desparate need of an update. The system was old when we moved in quarter of a century ago. (Doesn't time fly?) So what with all this global warming malarky and carbon footprint rubbish its reckoned our boiler's carbon output would compete with a transatlantic airline.
Carbon footprint, sorry can't resist this, "carbon footprint" sounds like you should wipe your feet before coming in.
Anyway we had had to get up out of bed kinda early(ish), the heating engineers are here and the work is ongoing as I type. They reckon it'll all be done by tea-time.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

A Tale of Three Pictures.

After having had the redecorating done it was time to put the pictures back on the wall. Also a golden opportunity to have a bit of a change. New pictures are not a problem, after all I make plenty of them. But of course, the next question is, which ones? My other half came down to the studio t'other day and found she was rather spoilt for choice. So we ended up with a selection of forest and woodland pictures in a variety of media and frames. After much deliberation, it was settled we would have "Gully" that's the one with the two blue pools in it and Needles, the detail of some Sitka branches.

But we needed a third one to add to this pair which we have hung on the stairway wall, so this last week and today I have worked on a new piece, now completed and framed. I have called it "Redstem". There is another work by me called "Greenstem" so as it is red the title seemed appropriate.
That is half the problem with a lot of art that's made, what title to give it. Pictures can say one thing to one person and something else to another and as for what it says to the artist who made it, it might have nothing whatever to do with what it provokes in said artit's public.
All three works are slightly bigger than A4 and mounted in A3 frames.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Cleanup Time

Around Lancaster Castle it is a maze of little known alleys. Hard to imagine that just past the bottom of this narrow street is the traffic choked mayhem of Lancaster's infamous one-way system.
* * *

A day away from the studio today. That wasn't the plan, but I had promised my other half I would clean the bathroom and kitchen this week. She has after all, done the rest of the house. We decided the place needed a good going over as it hasn't had one since the redecorating was finished. Had to admit the place was looking a bit scruffy.
Mop and bucket, check. Domestos, check. Cleaning cloths, check. Spray-on Megakleen stuff, check. Elbow grease, check right then, off I go.
I always work best at this sort of thing while my wife is out and she had arranged to lunch with a friend of hers from Church.
Well I got the bathroom done in fairly short order, its nobbut la'al so I had it thoroughly done in an hour or so. So as yesterday's washing was now dry, I got it ironed before stopping for lunch. Then set to on the piece de resistance, namely the kitchen. That took a full three hours to do properly by the time the oven and stove had been stripped down and scrubbed then the surfaces and the cupboard walls washed down and finally the floor mopped.
I'm afraid I get a bit obsessive when I do the kitchen, it gets a going over as if it were an operating theatre. Once a nurse, always a nurse, I s'pose...
Three-thirty p.m. and I sat down for a coffee feeling totally knackered just as B walked back in.
At least its all done now.
Probably put in a full day at the studio tomorrow.