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.

Back in the room

The library display is hung (and only took an hour or so to do, getting the hang of it now). There are a couple of pictures to finish off, and a whole stack of lino-cut cards piled around the place, taking an age to dry in the typical glory of an English May (cold and wet. Last week, hail. This week, thunder). I’ve been making collograph plates with matboard and assembled junk, coated in yacht varnish to make them a bit more durable. Again, it takes an age to dry, and is horribly sticky besides. I keep expecting to see the nosy cat run past with one stuck to it. I’ve done some monotypes and some more linocuts, experimenting with multiple layers and colours.
An old project I abandoned three or four years ago has come back on the table, I’ve signed up to do the festival again in August. I’ve been asking around to see if I can find some space to work, but so far nothing cheap enough or close enough has come up. There is plenty to do but progress is slow and time is limited.

Holding text

Even before the clocks go forward, I’ve been forced out of hibernation…

In six weeks I am having another display at the library (see output page). I do like hanging pictures there, it’s such a nice space. I have six paintings for it still half-finished. So that’s what I’ve been doing, and probably will be doing for six solid weeks, in every bit of spare time I can find or make. In case anyone was wondering…

Material concerns

A flier from an art supply place had me flicking idly through their new product range – probably as a diversion from some paperwork or other – and among the range I spotted big set of chalk pastels, priced at nearly £1400. For another £400, you could have them in a nice wooden case…

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure they are great quality, and anyone who uses pastels would love them (I don’t – all that dust). And it’s a huge box, there are hundreds of them. But if a basic box of half-decent student pastels is £150 even, and you can get just-about-usable ones for under £5, are they really hundreds of times better?

One of the reasons for expensive materials is their archival properties; pigments that will not fade in the light, or acid-free papers that don’t yellow over time. That being said, the cave paintings as Lascaux are estimated to be about seventeen thousand years old, and are done in mineralised clays (aka coloured mud), charcoal and spit. Their survival is more about a dry undisturbed low-light environment that what they were made from.

By the same token, no amount of care or expensive materials can keep an artwork from its doom by fire or flood if it is in the wrong place at the wrong time; or stop it ending up in a charity shop, cellar or skip should it fall out of favour; or clash with the curtains, or prevailing ideology.

So much of what art is about is the desire to fix something in time and space, and it having a monetary value only reinforces the idea that it must endure; but it also needs its ephemera; its mistakes, fads, neglect, loss and destruction. Otherwise art loses the possibility of change, rediscovery and new creation. Sure, have meticulously-conserved archival works wrapped up and crated in temperature-controlled vaults, if you must; but don’t say that because of them there is no place for sandcastles.