Residency Day 2

Today is cooler and cloudy. The huge entrance door is shut to retain what little warmth there is.

Wrapped in my duvet coat I sit before the alter, a magestic structure honouring Jesus the boy and the man.

Today I want to experience the feel of the chapel, rather than it’s visual qualities. I sit with eyes shut. The chill air presses against my face. The sensation is not unlike a face pack. There is a silent ringing in my ears. Real life is a distant hum. The air smells of oldness, containment.

The sun must have come out. The red and the blue of the southern window shine bright, but not for long.

I am intrigued by the ornate structure above the boy. It feels top heavy, as if it could fall forward at any moment. I am reminded of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona (1882). I don’t profess to understand the symbolism of such structures. I need to focus on how it makes me feel and not how it appears, or it’s meaning.

Today I want to explore the ‘feel’ of the colours within the chapel that are much more subdued, than the stain glass. The wall panels, in various stages of decay, (ignoring the religious symbolism), faintly echo Virginia Woolf’s home, Charleston. The subdued red, green, ochre, and elsewhere the dominance of red, green and the muted beige palette of sandstone. The chairs grouped purposefully around the alter, the carpeted treads leading up to the boy Jesus, the kneeling cushion before the alter to Mary, the prayer chairs, the draped fabric, the embedded tableaux. The exception, and clearly a later addition, are the blue painted radiators that line the side walls, obscuring the lower panel.

I record the colours in watercolour. It is too cold to try to do more. I venture outside. The air is warmer, softer.

I would like to experience music in the chapel. I have downloaded some of John Tavener’s works in Spotify, but I am prevented by technology from listening today. I will try to unravel the mystery during the week and try again next week.

I return to contemplation, to the questions I need to formulate. I follow the tableaux of suffering that fill the space between the stain glass windows. The contrast of light and muted, of celebration and of sorrow, of grandeur and humble offering, the difference magnified by a burst of sunlight, that casts jewel-like patterns on the recesses of the windows, whilst casting the tableaux into further shadow.

My walk round the walls of suffering, round the edges of the building, the edges of life. Are the questions buried in the tableaux or floating in the chilled air, everywhere?

The light is starting to fade. I feel quite alone. No energy of former lives, no ghosts, just aloneness.


Residency Day 1

I have decided to work every Tuesday, at least through January.  I plan to arrive at 10am and leave around 4pm.

My first day was perfect.  The South facing entrance to the Chapel was bathed in sunlight on a crisp January day.  The sole key was used to open the imposing door and light flooded in.

My plan was to ‘just be’ in this historic building.  I came prepared with materials but did not expect to use them.

With no expectation, it is interesting how the mind fills the void.  My natural inclination is to plan, to anticipate, to expect the unexpected, yet here I was without direction.  A weird feeling.img_2394

I had expected to just sit in a meditative state and absorb the building, but I found this too difficult.  I needed to explore, so I did, with the aid of my ipad.

At first I photographed anything that caught my attention.  I was not short of subject matter.

Pattern, symbolism, light.


I systematically walked around the building recording my visit; a creative tourist, but as the day progressed and energised by comforting lunch, I became aware that the pictures were becoming more abstracted.


And whilst I already, possibly have the basis for a substantial series of abstract paintings (173 photos), this is a long term project which requires me to really evaluate my connection with this building, to dig deeper than perhaps I am prepared to venture.

I came away from the day with some questions.  The building felt cold.  Yes it was January!  But more than that, I didn’t warm to the building.  Why?  This is what I need to explore.


It is now over a year since I finished my MA and I am learning to impose structure to my work.  The Tread Softly series is nearing completion and my thoughts now turn to what to do next.  I had expected to start work on a series of images based on my parents love letters, but events have overtaken me and another exciting opportunity has presented itself.

I had the good fortune to meet the owner of the Pugin Chapel in St Leonards who was looking for community engagement with the Chapel.  I suggested a residency and yesterday I completed the checks necessary to work on a school site.  If all goes to plan I will start work in the Chapel in the New Year.

For some time I have been considering the possibility of working in a church.  As my work moves into a ‘softer’, reflective period, I have been wondering whether it would lend itself to responding to a spiritual building.  I am not religious but I have lived in a converted chapel and found the experience enriching.  I am hopeful that creatively exploring the Pugin Chapel will open a new direction for my work.

I should add that even asking for the residency is way beyond my comfort zone, but I have seen the results of other artists from such an experience and as I move purposefully towards the next stage of my life, I feel that now is the time for such a challenge.

Where to start?  I toured the Chapel yesterday with the director and explained that I will not be painting views of the building.  That my purpose is to paint the feelings the building arouses, which may be abstract or may include details that resonate with me.  I plan to spend a day a week for the first few weeks, just contemplating, observing and recording details.  Due to the way I work with many layers of very wet paint, on site painting will not be possible.  I will need to rethink how I approach this project.

Still Treading Softly

I want to use this blog to think out loud.  For three years I worked within the structure of the MA.  For the last six months I have been free to do whatever I want.  This should be liberating, which of course it is, but it then requires a self imposed structure and a self generated sense of purpose.

It took three months to emerge from the deep trance-like state that I had found necessary to focus on, what was for me, the huge challenge of the MA.  It is only with hindsight that it is evident that this was happening.  I read page-turners and played with paint, but steered well clear of challenging myself.  The space created allowed time for reflection, and an insight into a possible future as a professional artist.

Painting is a solitary task.  I enjoy the time alone with music to suit my mood, but  local support is a necessary pillar for motivation and survival.  Our crit group is now in place and has already taken me on an unexpected path.  I attend occasional networking groups with fellow artists.  I am about to become more actively involved with one of the exhibiting groups I belong to, with a view to increasing our collective profile.  The experimental drawing and exploratory colour group continue, which together with social media activity, leaves surprising little time to paint.


Tread Softly l, Watercolour on Canvas 100 x 100 cms

This painting is about the ravages of time, how hope lives on in spite of the knock backs.  It will represent the final painting in the series.


Detail from Tread Softly l

Following our crit discussion I am now working on two further canvas paintings (100 x 100 cms) to create a Tread Softly series.  I wanted to work on two simultaneously to explore different approaches.  The first specifically works with the warm and cool colour wheels, the second expands on that in a much looser style.  The question posed by the crit group was what happened before the first finished painting and what happened after.

Work in progress Tread Softly ll

Watching paint dry and detail from top left corner.

The second stage, where the general direction is clearer.


Detail from lower left and top right.

The final work 100 x 100 cms


Tread Softly ll has become the start of the series, full of hope and dreams, with only the slightest of anxiety.

First stage of Tread Softly lll



Second stage as the form takes shape.


Detail from the second stage of lll, mid left and mid right.

Stage two of this painting revealed much frustration and I wanted to develop this idea.


The work is not finished, but I now need to live with it to determine its final destination.  This may be weeks or months away.

The series so far:


Tread Softly

Throughout the Autumn I have been exploring abstract figurative images on paper, effectively a sketchbook in loose pages.  The aim was to find a way of incorporating my exploratory drawing work into paint.  I am still a long way from achieving this, but I am pleased with the outcome so far.  The works are all 20x20cms.

I now need to live with the work for a while before deciding what to do next with this project.  I would like to explore more expressive mark making from the drawings, and maybe use theses images as the basis for larger works, but for now I am content that the figurative work is feeding through to the painting in an unconscious way, after all that was the basis of my exploration during the MA.

Alongside the smaller works I have been battling with a larger work on canvas, revisiting again and again over many months, finally resolving after suggestions from our new crit group, set up to support such a situation.


Tread Softly  watercolour on canvas 100×100 cms

Details from the work.

The work evolved from a visit to Nunhead cemetery on an icy January day.  The visit was preparation for a print course to be run at my son in law’s studio.  The peace and observation gave time for reflection.  The snowdrops offered fresh hope that the year would be different.

Nunhead Cemetry (2)

I am now working on a second large image to follow on from this work.  This series is about hopes, dreams, realisation, acceptance or otherwise.  I have little idea how this work will develop but I know it will be emotionally charged.



What Now?

15 July

A strange in between place, no pressure, no deadlines, no running track.  Launched like a bird into the wide blue yonder, qualification trailing my name.

I am sitting inside.  Outside the faint breeze has reduced the temperature to a more modest 30, down from 35 yesterday.  The time away lying by the pool has given me time to reflect on what happens next.

I have submitted recent MA work for some Open competitions, a long shot, but if accepted, comes with a feel good boost and hopefully, wider recognition.

In the meantime I have been reflecting on how to move my work forward.  I like the idea of working in series, building on the knowledge of work and self, gleaned from the previous series, but this time there will be more planning, exploration of form/ mood/colour/support/size.

More planning has the potential for more procrastination, so it will be important to be honest, but  working within such a structure feels right for the orderly me.  This will not preclude the more decorative work, which will offer light relief and balance to the more intense and emotionally draining series.

So what to paint?  I am working on two ideas.  The first abstracting the figurative drawings and mark making from the exploratory drawing group, revisiting older paintings, to create a historical trace of the journey from decorative to figurative, an exploration of the luminal space between.

The second, a more demanding and emotionally charged project based on historical family letters that I have yet to read.

I want to work with the academic year to have the body of work developed during the Autumn/Winter months, and I will be scheduling the work once I have had a chance to read the documents, review the timings of the submissions I plan to make and quantify the volume of work I need to produce for the Opens and local group shows.

To support my self imposed academic year, I have joined a local crit group run by Paula McCarthy at the De La Warr Pavilion.  I will be presenting my work in December to the group, with the focus on the experience of undertaking an MA in later life on a distance learning programme.  I have never spoken about my work in public before, but I feel now is the time to push myself and be uncomfortable.  In the Autumn I will also be forming a local crit group with some fellow members of the experimental drawing group, with a view to a joint exhibition in 2018.


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