Worth it

The festival was the last event of the summer, and once it was done and the bags and boxes of art stuff (mostly) crammed back into place, I started the last painting of the year. Trawling through my image bank, photos I took four or five years ago on a Spring visit to the Eden Project caught my eye – some pink and green tulips of a variety called ‘Artist’, I guess because the colours of the flowers are in broken streaks that look like brush strokes.
When the painting was about half done, I went to see an old friend and she had just had a room painted a soft green that went beautifully with the colours I was using. I was trying to get it finished in time for her birthday, and before her next round of treatment started; but as usual it took longer than I expected, and in the end I was bundling it into packing plastic two weeks late, and with the paint only just dry.
The day it arrived she emailed me to say that she loved it, and that it had arrived at just the right time to cheer her up on a particularly low day.
No money changed hands. No reviews were written, no contests won. It’s unlikely that more than a few dozen people will see the picture itself, although maybe a few more will see the hasty photo online. In a couple of years she might redecorate in lilac or something, find it clashes horribly and take it down. But when I called her she told me that she was going to hang it on that fresh green wall where she could see it whenever she came into the room, so that there is a place in her house that is always Spring.
That feels like success to me.

Re print

Last year’s festival was wet and windy, and included delights like shambling across a muddy field in the rain to use chemical toilets in the middle of the night, two airbed disasters and the combined refusal from the rest of the family to ever again do tenting.
This year, too hot. Forty-four degrees in the festival tents, the line for the ice cream van twenty deep; the catering crew next door valiantly serving up cooked breakfasts and roast dinners when sweating in a chair was too much like hard work. Good fun, though; and a nice change to be able to go and see some bands in the evenings without a dozen jumpers and some wellies.
That done, followed up by a last-gasp family holiday – it rained, we loved it – crates of art supplied cleaned and cleared away; time at last to actually paint and print. I bought some oil-based printing ink, having avoided it for ages because of the expense and the huge capacity for mess. And both these things still count, but I got small tubes on sale, and it’s beautiful to work with: loads of pigment for good strong colours, great for picking up fine details without flooding or clumping, workable for hours on the slab. Not even that hard to clean up , although I’m not wild about how it smells and you really wouldn’t want to get it in your hair. Overall a big improvement on the water-based inks and mediums I’ve used up to now, although it taking a week to dry will need some thought.
Three paintings to finish too now, before the dark and the damp and time to bring everything back inside.


Been a while. Even the spambots have given up on me, no longer wasting their alluring offers of apps guaranteed to increase site traffic on such an obvious loser.
So much to do, is the thing. New job, because my kids want to go to university and I only have two kidneys. More hours at work, ditto. A thoughtful (handmade\cheap) wedding present that turned out fine in the end but took three solid weeks to do. Preparation for a group show last weekend, and a demo, and then all the clearing and packing away. A bunch of paintings still to do for the August holiday weekend, but now I’ve got a few days to work on them the weather has turned sweltering hot and by lunchtime I have to give up, as the paint bakes solid on the palette and sweat runs down my back.
Since I have such a lot of things to do, I am of course hyper-distractable, very ready to be sidetracked into anything else that comes along – whether it is the implosion of geopolitics or the logistics of moving all the furniture so that a miserable threadbare carpet can finally be replaced.
At work, a bunch of people are leaving or retiring as the end of the financial year approaches, and I wonder what that might be like, to no longer have that particular toad squatting on my life.
Would I finally read through the box of books under the bed, or catalogue the thousands of photographs? Tackle the rampant roses and fix the garden gate? I might just sink down in front of the television and gradually forget to do anything else. Or just take on a hundred more impractical, ramshackle projects in the expectation of all that free time – and then never finish them?


We arrived late to the car boot, and most of the sellers had gone, or were packing up to go. The stragglers, still hoping to offload their old toys, outgrown clothes and ancient contents of grandads’ sheds before the rain started in earnest and they had to drag it all home again, were hopefully offering discounts.

On the end of a row, propped against a table heaped with rusty saws and shower hoses in broken boxes was a picture in a filthy broken frame with no glass in it, flapping against the mould-spotted mount in the wind.

I picked it up for closer look and got a spiel from the stall-holder: it was a study for an oil painting, it was by a member of the Royal Academy, it needed some research and they just didn’t have the time… all, some or none of which may have been true. In the end, though, I felt sorry for the state of it and they asked for seven pounds fifty, so I took it home.

It was a charcoal sketch on thin brown translucent paper, a woman and a cherub with the suggestions of some trees in a rudimentary landscape. There is very little in the way of detail, which does make me think that it might well be a working drawing or composition sketch; but the lines are clean and sure, and it is signed. The broken frame, thrown away by the people who re-framed it, had a faded gallery label from somewhere in South Kensington.

Now and then I wonder if I should do some research, send a picture to one of those internet sites that value antiques or write to one of the museums. Perhaps its mysterious origins might be revealed, the story of its fall from whatever gracious position it might once have held, uncovered.

But it has hung in my house for more than ten years now, and I’m still not tired of looking at it. It pleases me to think that I rescued it from rain and damage and neglect; and in return I own something beautiful. That’s probably enough.


Rode my bike to work, and on the way back it rained hard, big cold pelting drops that soak you through, drum on your head and back like handfuls of gravel and stream through your clothes. Peddling along beside the canal, squinting against the water running down my face, shoes squelching with every turn of the peddles, I slogged the five miles without another person in sight, only a few ducks for company.

Although epically wet, it wasn’t cold or windy, so it could have been much worse, but the going was slippery in a few spots and on one corner the bike went over. Luckily, a long-ago decade of falling off things had left the muscle memory to land me on my feet, with nothing worse than a wrenched hand and some reflexive cursing. The worst of it was getting back onto the now-drenched saddle, soaking the only bit of me that had stayed dry until then.

It was an oddly nostalgic journey – I seem to have spent a lot of my teens and twenties outside getting soaked, and it happens much less often now – but it did also remind me that no matter what humans can do as individuals or a species, in the face of the weather, we can only hope for kindness, or to endure.