Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Don't let the door hit you on the way out, 2013....

So, today is the last day of 2013.  Right now I won't be sorry to see the back of it.  The last few months have, frankly, just been waiting for Sylvester to come to the end of his life, which finally happened four days ago.  It was inevitable, as it is with all of us, and I'd been expecting it since September but it's still most unwelcome.

This has, naturally, somewhat coloured my view of 2013 but there has, of course, been good bits.  For me it's mostly been to do with art and painting.  I've produced quite a few paintings this year, some of which I've not shown you.  I even got commissioned to produce a painting for someone to give as a Christmas present, which was absolutely lovely.  We went to the Pre-Raphaelite Exhibition at the Royal Academy which was so beautiful it made me cry.  We also saw the Summer Exhibition at the RA, as we always do, and the British Museum's exhibition of Ice Age Art also made me cry.  In a couple of days we're hoping to finally get to see the British Museum's two exhibitions on Pre-Columbian gold and Japanese erotic art.

The weather this summer was absolutely stunning, for once and the winter, so far, has been wet and windy rather than bitterly cold.  We did, though, suffer power cuts on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (off for 12 hours on both days) which stressed me the feck out as we were meant to be hosting Christmas at ours this year.  Admittedly it was only going to be a very small gathering of just me, TLH and his sister, but we'd got all the food in, and the fridge and freezer were full.  Unfortunately, everything in our house is electric, all the heating and the cooking are electric, we couldn't even have a hot drink.  Luckily, TLH's sister got her electricity back late on Christmas Eve so we decamped over to her house and very much enjoyed her enormous kitchen (mine's teeny-tiny) and toasty woodburning stove.

Yet again, we didn't manage to go anywhere on holiday this year (the last year we got away together for a holiday was way back in 2007) but hopefully this will be rectified next year.

I've let the blog slip somewhat, haven't I?  To be honest I've been finding it quite hard this year to be upbeat about things, and it all just felt like a tremendous effort to try and think of something interesting to say, and then it became about the same things, which was mostly my paintings.  As I said, I have some pictures that you've not seen and I'll do a catch up next month. 

I've continued with my running and successfully reached my target goal of a total of 250 miles in 2013, finishing the last 5 miles just before Christmas Day.  I've decided next year to push the goal and go for 365 miles - that's 1 mile a day.  If the weather is okay, I shall start tomorrow, 1 January.  TLH's running has been brilliant this year - he completed his first run and managed to finish halfway down the field of 600 runners.  He's been so encouraged by this that he's signed up to run Surrey's first ever Half Marathon in March.  He's an infinitely better runner than I am and I've been so impressed with his progress.  It's been lovely to see him take a real interest in something and discover he's naturally good at it, which came as a complete surprise to both of us!

Some other stuff has happened this year I'm sure, but I can't really remember what.  All the family members (apart from the cat) are accounted for and although there's been some illness (some of it quite serious involving hospital stays), we're all still here.  My brother had an interesting November as they discovered the house next door to them was being used as a cannabis farm!

Anyway, as we're now boring old farts and especially due to the events of the last week, are not feeling especially sociable, we're staying in tonight.  I don't really give a toss about New Year's Eve anymore.  We're having Peking Duck and possibly the bottle of champagne that we were going to have at Christmas but didn't; we'll stay up until midnight just to see in the New Year, then go to bed and say goodbye to 2013 once and for all.

Let's reconvene next year, shall we?  And let's hope it's fabulous for everyone.

Friday, 27 December 2013

RIP Sylvester Bean 21.6.96-27.12.13

If you recall, back in September a lump was discovered in Sylvester Bean's abdomen.

Well, it didn't get any better, and on 17 December he suffered a seizure.  Fortunately I was at home at the time and looked after him as best I could.  I took him to the vet that afternoon who confirmed things were not good and it was agreed that we would do palliative care to keep him as comfortable as possible.

We were very fortunate to have him around for another 10 days but, inevitably, the time came for him to take his final journey over the Rainbow Bridge.

Farewell, Sylvester Bean - you were the best of cats, my constant companion for 17 years and are sorely missed.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Frensham Pond - Sept 2013 (and autumn colours)

I think I can cancel my order for an iron lung - woke up this morning and, apart from still being bunged up, I'm actually starting to feel a bit more human.  I actually got up at 6.15am and joined The Lovely Husband at breakfast as I felt wide awake enough to do so.  The last week I've slept in until about 9am because I've been bone-tired but today I wanted to get out of bed.  The coughing seems a lot better too, so I think, all in all, I'm probably going to survive!

This means I can finally start thinking about getting on with stuff I've had to put on the back burner although seeing as how it's chucking it down outside, I don't think it'll be doing stuff in the garden OR getting my running shoes back on (I'll have to be careful with that and take it slowly and short distances to start with so as not to alarm my lungs too much!).

Talking of the garden, though, the autumn colours are going into overdrive, and I must just show you a few photographs that I took from my garden this week while standing on the bridge to get a breath of fresh air.  I'm extremely fond of Japanese Maples and have one at the end of the bridge which goes the most extraordinary orange colour, which it suddenly did earlier this week:

Isn't that just the most gorgeous thing?  It's a lovely plant - the leaves are very finely cut and lacy, and a lovely pale green in the spring, darker green in the summer and then this riotous firework in the autumn.  I have a red Acer as well but that hasn't turned yet.

Then I wandered a bit further into the garden and realised that the blueberry plants that I had brought back from the allotment have also turned vivid red:

Beautiful.  They didn't give me much fruit this year (unlike last year) but when they look so gorgeous in the autumn, I'll forgive them.

And finally I have a Boston Ivy that I weave through the upright struts of the bridge to provide colour at this time of year:
Anyway, it'll be interesting to see how the woodlands have changed colour when I manage to get back into running again.

So, back to the drawing - not too far from where I live is an area of 992 acres of heathland owned by the National Trust called Frensham Pond(s).  There's a Great Pond and a Little Pond.  Originally dating from the 13th century when they were freshwater fishponds for the Bishops of Winchester, they're now wildlife habitats and areas for swimming and sailing.  There's also a sandy 'beach'.  The Great Pond is shallow and has a roped off swimming area, free parking during the week, showers, loos and a shop selling food, ice cream, buckets & spades, that sort of thing.  It's fab.

This summer's heatwave was drawing to a close by the beginning of September and on 4 September I decided I'd pop along to enjoy a lie on the sand and a swim in the pond, and to take my sketching pad along with me for some incognito life drawing.

I did a quickish sketch of the pond from where I was sitting, but left all the people out:

And then did some line sketches of my fellow sunbathers.  I had to work rapidly as these people weren't sitting still so I had to be quick to get the 'lines' right:

It was good practice but brought up an interesting quandary.  I posted this sketches on my Facebook page and one of my contacts immediately asked me if I had asked these peoples' permission to draw them.  Well, of course I hadn't.  Would I have asked permission of everyone there if I'd been taking photographs?  Of course not, that would be ridiculous.  Plus it's not exactly as if any of my drawings would be recognisable to anyone else.  The question made me feel really quite defensive and as if I was being told off but, then again, the questioner is pretty judgemental at the best of times and generally finds what I do 'amusing' so I'm trying not to let it bother me.  But it's quite an interesting moral dilemma.

It did make me think a bit and I did a bit of research on Google to see what the laws were, and there doesn't seem to be any - if you're in the public domain (i.e., outside), then you're fair game, but there were a lot of people who weren't happy with the thought of their photos being taken.  Other artists commented that only very rarely have they had a 'model' complain and insist they stop sketching; some 'models' ask to see the drawings and others ignore the artist but try and sit still.

Drawing people in public is not something I do a lot of but I don't think I should stop because someone else - not even someone I've drawn - disapproves....

PS.  It would appear maybe I spoke a bit too soon, as I now appear to be suffering Montezuma's Revenge.  No idea what's going on but possibly too many painkillers...

Monday, 21 October 2013

Piazza dei Signori, Padua

Seeing as how I'm fairly incapable of doing anything much other than coughing and producing snot, I might as well take this opportunity to try and catch you up on the backlog of paintings and drawings that I've done over the summer.

And, yes, I'm still struggling to breathe and walk a few feet without sounding like Typhoid Mary - I hope it starts to clear up soon as I've got things to be doing this week, apart from working on new artworks and continuing to sort out the garden - the new International Orchestra Season at the Guildford Civic Hall starts this Wednesday with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra doing Mozart's 'Eine Kleine Nachtmusik', Beethoven's Eroica and (one of my all-time favourites) Bruch's Violin Concerto.  Then on Friday morning I have art class (I had to miss last Friday's because I was too ill) with a visit to Watt's Gallery in the afternoon with my sister-in-law to see an exhibition of Moorcroft Pottery that's only on for three days.  On Saturday, The Lovely Husband and I will be visiting his native homeland to see his mum; a visit we had to postpone from last Saturday because we were both too ill to make the journey and we didn't want to give her our germs and, finally, on Sunday we're off to London in the evening to see Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds!  This is a jampacked diary for us reclusive people and it will be a real shame if we had to forego any of it.  Fingers crossed.

Anyway, as I said, I did a small amount of painting and drawing over the summer, and one of the things I wanted to have a go at was painting light.  In early August I went for a wander around Flickr and found this evocative photograph of the Piazza dei Signori in Padua, Italy.  Taken late on a summer afternoon, the photographer shot straight into the light which is reflected off the flagstones, and in soft focus:

 I knew it was going to be a challenge on many different fronts - getting the light right was just one, perspective was another, and dealing with the washed out colours was, weirdly, the biggest challenge of all for me.  I found it deeply frustrating and very nearly scrapped the whole thing but I decided to carry on, as an exercise if nothing else and, in the end, I think it was fairly successful.  

I did it on A3 acrylic paper and, as always, have photos showing progress:

And finally framed:

Sunday, 20 October 2013

That's handy! (Part I)

I'm still poorly.  I've coughed my lungs up so many times I'm surprised I've still got any left.  And I'm astonished at the body's ability to create so much snot.  Which is now, apparently, in my Eustachian Tubes and has made me go deaf on my left side.  And I also woke up at 6.30 this morning with a sinus headache, one of those bastard ones that doesn't really respond to paracetamol.  Thank the Gods I included Sudafed Sinus in my online grocery delivery which should be arriving within an hour or so (I'd already decided there was no fecking way I was going to be facing Sainsbury's on Monday - they can bring it to my house instead).


Still, on the bright side, I've managed to do quite a lot of work on my current cross-stitch project.  I rather like doing cross-stitch.  It's easy and is a bit like painting with coloured thread.  I did a post back in November 2011 about rediscovering cross-stitch when I did my series of Mexican sugar skulls, and then more recently I did my Alan Measles cross-stitch which you may recall.

Anyway, I fancied doing another and recently found a couple of patterns that appealed to my inner Goth and current obsession with all things skeletal; one was of an x-ray of a hand, and the other an MRI head scan:

I got both patterns from nerdylittlestitcher on etsy for less than a couple of quid each, I think.  That's just for the pdf pattern, of course, you then have to buy the black aida fabric and all the embroidery floss but I think it came to less than £20 for the lot.

I started by printing out the hand chart on 4 sheets of A4 and joining them together.  Located the central block of 4 squares and marked them on the paper.  I then cut my aida fabric to size and found the middle by folding it in half, then half again, then ironing the central point.  I then did something I don't usually do and that's basted in each block of 10 squares with thread so that it matched the squares on the chart.  Protip - be VERY careful when counting out the 10 squares because it's incredibly easy to miscount.  And that can be very disconcerting when you come to doing the cross-stitch later because it suddenly doesn't line up.  Ask me how I know.

Also, for a pattern that seemingly at first sight is just a couple of shades of grey, there are an AWFUL lot of different colours in it.  Often just one stitch, here and there.  But it's best to be scrupulous about putting them in because that's where the magical shading happens.

And black aida fabric is a bit challenging to work with until you get used to it.  I've found it's best to have a lamp shining on your lap (and preferably put something light coloured on your lap) so that you can see the holes in the fabric and where to put your needle, and I also need light behind me so I can see the front of the fabric as well!  This generally means I'm only working on it up until mid-afternoon because I sit with a window behind me, and the natural light starts to go by then.

This is turning out to be quite large and so is going to take a long time to finish.  But that's okay - there's something weirdly addictive about cross-stitch.  I started it back in early September and have tried to do a bit each day although I've done more this week due to this stupid bloody cold.

Anyway, have some photos:

The chart - four sheets of A4 with the central squares marked.

Close up of a section of the chart.  Each symbol relates to a colour.

Close up of the same section of chart, as it was being worked.

As far as I've got, as of this morning.  The oval cameo thing with the stylised letter 'K' on it is a magnetic needle holder, so I don't lose my needle!

Friday, 18 October 2013


I am ill.  Proper ill.  I sound like a consumptive Victorian street urchin.

The Lovely Husband very kindly brought back a gift of germs from fellow London commuters last week which meant I had to do a craft fair in Alresford on my own last Saturday while he got on with the business of being pale and wan at home, filling the wastebins with snotty tissues and moaning quietly to himself.

I started with the scratchy throat on Saturday night, with the tickly cough arriving on Sunday.  I made arrangements to withdraw from polite society and entered seclusion in the west wing of Jones Towers in order to keep my germs to myself.  You're welcome.  The only things I actually needed to leave the house for this week was the weekly foodshop on Monday and art class on Friday morning.  I arranged for Sainsbury's to deliver on Monday and we'd see about Friday.  Surely I'd be fine by then.


The coughing has got worse and worse all week and has now defiantly lodged into my chest.  I lie in bed at night and listen to it, and wonder how I managed to inhale a crisp packet as my lungs fizzle and crackle away to themselves.  It's taken nearly a week for it to start streaming, which began last night.  Great.

I obviously had to dob off art class, which was this morning, as my sinuses are currently channelling Niagra Falls and I have a 1,000-a day smoker's cough.  I'm not sleeping very well so am utterly exhausted too but find I cannot nap during the day.  I don't think it's flu.  I did have a temperature back on Monday but it's fine now.  And I'm actually okay to do a few things around the house in the afternoons (I'm much worse in the mornings and evenings).  I think it's just a very nasty cold.

But even though I do a few very minor things in the afternoon, such as empty the wastebins, do a load of laundry, even change the beds a few days ago (but just one thing, I couldn't do all of them in an afternoon), I'm falling behind on things I want/need to get done, and it's frustrating.

For example, I've been doing work in the garden.  My garden is not big but I have rather been neglecting it and it's become overgrown with ivy.  So at the beginning of September I decided to do something about it and started ripping out spindly shrubs, tearing out ivy, cutting down smallish trees that were blocking light, weeding beds, planting winter bedding such as cyclamen and pansies.  And I made a good dent into it but, due to this cold, the most I've done this week is stood out on the bridge in the sunshine for a few minutes to enjoy a bit of fresh air, before coughing up a lung.  Again.

Also, at the beginning of the year I set myself the goal of running 250 miles before 31 December 2013.  So far I've run 184 which means I have 66 miles left to do in 74 days (as of today).  And I can't honestly see myself doing much running next week if this cold hangs around.

Thirdly, I've had my first painting commission (can't go into detail) but that needs to be done by Christmas.  I made a start last week and managed to draw it out and start with the background colour but then lurgy hit and I've had to just walk away from the easel for now.  I'm also supposed to be working on a project for my contemporary painting art class and I pretty much know what I want to do, but need to get a canvas the right size and just generally do more thinking about it, which my brain doesn't want to do just now.  It just wants to concentrate on producing phlegm.

And, to top it all off, my period arrived this morning.  I'm 50 years old, why can't this stop already?

So, to bide my time while this bug liquifies my insides, I've been catching up on telly programmes that we've had sitting around for far too long and working on my latest cross-stitch project, which I think I'll keep to a separate post so I can find it later!

Oh, and thank you for your kind works about Sylvester Bean.  The antibiotic injection seems to have done little to reduce his weird lump but it doesn't seem to be getting any bigger.  He doesn't seem to be distressed in any way about it and is the same as he's always been, so we're not going to worry about it. I don't want to put him through the stress and pain of medical examinations when he seems cheerful enough in himself just now.  He's obviously not suffering - he's getting about as much as his arthritis will allow, eating, drinking & pooping normally, swearing at the neighbour's cats, shouting at us all the time demanding cream and fish.  If we continue investigations, the next step will be a needle biopsy under sedation, possibly an x-ray under sedation, all to be told that it's probably a tumour (which is what the vet first suspected when we took him) which, given his age, it isn't worth operating on.  Something's going to get him.  Something's going to get all of us.  He's happy enough currently and isn't ready to go just yet so I think we'll wait until he tells us.

Onto slightly cheerier things, I do have some paintings that I've done to show you but they'll be in the next post(s).

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Bloody pets

Pets.  Who'd have 'em?

Little furry bastards worm their way into your hearts, stick their claws in and don't let go.

I'm currently a quarter of a bottle of red wine down and have more to go, I reckon.

I had to take Sylvester Bean to the vets today.  He hates going but I hate it even more because I'm more aware of it.

About 3 weeks ago, he was getting underfoot, lying on his back, sprawling on the floor of my studio.  I reach down to rub his belly and found a bulge.  Or a lump.  Or a lumpy bulge/bulgy lump.  You get the idea.  In his abdomen towards his back legs.

Oh god.  It's obviously cancer, isn't it?  I can't deal.  I ignore it.  I'm a bad, bad cat mother.

But he is 17 years 3 months old.  That's about 85 human years.  He'd old.  He's arthritic.  He has hyperthyroidism for which he has daily medication.  A major operation is going to be horrendous for him - general anaesthetic for several hours, stomach incision, the 'cone of shame' (perhaps - he can't really reach his stomach easily so that may not be necessary), the weeks of recovery - is it worth it for a cat that old?  Something's going to get him some day.  Oh god - I'm a bad cat mother.

He showed no signs of discomfort from it.  He was eating, drinking and pooping just the same as always.  Getting up and down the stairs as best as he could, as usual.  No vomiting.  Absolutely normal.

I mentioned the lump to TLH and we decided to leave it to see if it went away.

It didn't.

Last night TLH rubbed Sylvester's belly and was alarmed at how much bigger the bulge had got.

I'm now at that menopausal age that seems to have flipped my emotion switch.  I lost it.  I ended up sobbing for far too much of the evening.  He's been such a central part of our little family for the last 17 years that the thought of losing him was just more than I could deal with. But I knew I had to take him to the vet.  It might not be a tumour, it could, for instance, be a hernia, or an abscess, but we wouldn't know until a vet had had a look.

I made an appointment today and got him in for 5.10pm.  I'd rung in the morning, got the appointment and was pretty much useless for the rest of the day as I couldn't concentrate on anything much.  As the time for the appointment approached, I sought out my very small bottle of Rescue Remedy to try and still my anxiety.

I got him to the vet without any stress on his part.  He was a very good boy in the car and didn't complain once.  The very nice lady vet starting feeling his belly and said 'Ooh', which didn't really bode well.  She asked prurient questions, listened to his heart, took his temperature - all were normal.  She said she'd never felt a lump like it.  It was the full thickness of the muscle in his abdomen.  It was hard.  Abscesses are hard.  The 'front' end of it wasn't seemingly bothering him, but the smaller, 'back' end was.

She said that she couldn't tell what it was without a needle biopsy which would ascertain if it was an abscess or a cyst (not entirely sure of the difference) and, if enough cells could be extracted, if it wasn't a cyst, if it was a cancerous tumour.  Then we'd have to contemplate surgery, perhaps, with all that that entails for a cat of his age.  Alternatively, an abscess/cyst could be treated with antibiotics.

I decided to go for that.  If antibiotics worked, then, obviously, surgery would not be necessary.  The nice vet lady said she could give him an injection that would last for 2 weeks thereby obviating the need for giving him yet another pill of an evening (along with his Vidalta for hyperthyroidism).

So he got his £50 injection.  And we're hoping for major mojo from the universe that his lump responds to the antibiotics - she said that, if it was going to respond, she would hope to see results within a week and, hopefully, definitely within 2.

So that's it for the moment.  Bloody cats.  I've already decided that he's going to be our last pet (at least for the moment).  I get too emotionally invested in them - they are my fur children.  And it tears me apart when they come to the end of their too-short lives.

But at least we have Sylvester for another fortnight and I'm accepting of all the mojo anyone is willing to give.

The Wasp Factory

Many, many years ago - at least 18 or so - TLH and I had been 'courting' for about a year.  We were still at that massively loved-up stage of making mix tapes and buying favourite books for each other.

It was lovely.  I made him a cassette tape of some of my favourite songs (yes, it was that long ago, when cassettes were still common) and bought him, one Christmas, the DVD of Cleopatra with Liz Taylor.

He bought me, amongst other things, 'The Wasp Factory' by Iain Banks.  For some reason, I never read it.

Last week I finished reading 'Ragnarok' by A S Byatt (which I can highly recommend, by the way, and reminded me very much of how much I had enjoyed reading the myths and legends of other countries, especially Norse and Greek myths, when I was about the age of the girl reading them in Ragnarok) and needed to find something else to read.  Something not too long as I'm trying to read more books this year than last (if you give a toss as to what books I've read this year, click on my Shelfari link on the left hand side of this blog and they're all listed).  All the books I've got in my pile beside the bed, waiting to be read,  are hefty tomes and practically all of them are non-fiction - there are a couple of books about popular culture in the 1950s and 1960s; there are 3 volumes about the Third Reich, each of which are so thick that if you threw them they could stun an ox from 50 paces; The Kenneth Williams diaries which is about 2 inches thick; 'Swallows & Amazons' which, no, I've not read yet but didn't fancy just now.

So I went downstairs to our study where we keep some of our books (the rest are in several large bookcases in the garage - I don't want them in the living room because, well, I just don't, okay?  Don't judge me...)  I looked at the titles, actually looking for one of the several P G Wodehouses that I know I've got, but not locating any.  All my Nancy Mitford books were there, as were my Evelyn Waughs and, tempting as they are, I just didn't fancy them right now.

Then my eye fell on 'The Wasp Factory'.  I'd not read it, it was purportedly Gothic in tone and it was pretty thin - 'that'll do' thought I.

Then I opened it.  It's only bloody signed by the author, isn't it? Look -


I asked TLH about it and he had no idea he'd bought a signed copy!  And, what's more, Iain Banks has just sadly died from Pancreatic cancer so it might be worth a few bob in the future.  Unfortunately it's not a first edition but, hell, I'm not that mercenary about it!  We do have a few signed books in our library - there's a Spike Milligan, a Melvyn Bragg and (my favourite) an Al Shepherd (one of the Mercury Seven/Apollo astronauts) so once I've finished reading this, it can go with the other signed copies.

To be honest, I'm not entirely enjoying the book.  Animal cruelty upsets me tremendously and the book seems to have some on every page so I'm finding it hard not to throw it across the room.  I'm about two-thirds of the way through and I do kind of want to know what happens but I have very little sympathy for a murderous 16-year old who kills small animals (even if he had his genital bitten off by the family dog when he was 3) who is waiting for his psychotic older brother Eric - you know, the one who sets dogs on fire - to return home after escaping from a mental institute.  Basically it's a bloody horrible story but I will finish it.

Then find some lovely, soothing Wodehouse to wrap my soul in fluff as a reward.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

July update!

Ah, me.  July seems to have gone by without my posting anything.  In truth, there's nothing much really to tell.  A couple of paintings have been finished, which I'll show you but, frankly, this unaccustomed heatwave has been an energy-sapper for me, and I don't think I'm the only one.

Being British, I'm just not used to heat in the 90s.  Well, let's be clear - I'm not used to heat + humidity.  Living on an island surrounded by water (yes, I know, the very definition of an island - let's not get pedantic, eh?) means the UK climate is generally pretty moist.  There's a reason it's been called a 'green and pleasant land'.  It's what give us UK females that so-called 'English Rose complexion' that provokes envy in those from drier lands.

The downside is that when it gets very hot here - as it does every 5-7 years or so - the humidity makes it feel even warmer than it is.  And sweaty.  Oh, so very sweaty.  It's loathsome.  Also, while we're here, the humidity in winter makes the cold seep through to your bones.  I know of people from northern Scandinavia where the temperature frequently falls to -20 who find our -2 winters much colder than they're used to, due to the humidity.

But, hey, I'm British and one of our favourite hobbies is moaning about the weather.  It is, though, very lovely to see the sunshine especially as, due to the aged feline, we've been unable to go anywhere on holiday since 2007.  I've been toying with the idea of popping down to West Wittering Beach (much like we did back in 2009 - lord, was it that long ago?) but, of course, it's the school holidays now and it's likely to be packed.  Plus I'd have to go on my own (my local friends all work, and TLH doesn't really 'do' beaches) which means there'd be no-one to look after my stuff while I go for a swim, etc.  It's all a bit complicated.  Alternatively, I could go to Frensham Great Pond for a bit of a paddle, as it's a lot closer, and has a sandy, lakeside beach.  I'll think about it...

Art classes have now finished for this academic year.  I've signed up for a one-day master class in acrylic painting in the middle of this month, and I've signed up for new, more advanced, classes in September.

The last course - the one just finished - ended with a 3-week project where we could create whatever 2-D piece we wanted, using any technique we'd learned in the course (pastels, ink & wash, mono print, pencil, acrylic paint).

I chose acrylic paint, and to do another Jewel Beetle on A2 canvas this time.  If you recall, I did a small A5 painting on canvas board of a beetle back in June.  I researched on Flickr and found a fantastic photo of a beetle on a twig.  The picture incorporated all the elements that I've grown fond of doing - out-of-focus background, botany (in the shape of the twig), and the gorgeous metallic colours of the Jewel Beetle.  Anyway, as usual, I've done a photographic record of its progress:

I'm really very pleased with how it's come out.  It's actually much greener in real life.  I've added metallic paint (which is what the close up picture is supposed to show you, but it's not clear) for a bit of added shine.

Apart from the beetle, I was looking through my selection of favourited photos from Flickr and remembered that I was going to have a go at making a painting of city lights at night - out-of-focus, of course!  I found a photo of the Empire State Building in New York which looked easy enough.

I started by painting a piece of A4 acrylic paper completely black, then, using one of my small, flat-topped round stencil brushes, put in circular swirls for the lights - I think it worked quite well:

In fact, I liked the effect so much that I've found another photo of Las Vegas at night time that I've just made a start on, and I've got a photo of London lined up as well - I feel a new series coming on!

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2013 & 'Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan'

Yesterday saw our (now) traditional trip up to London to see this year's Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy.  We've been going for several years now and I usually try to do a blog post about it, illustrated with copious photographs taken ninja-style (it's not allowed).

I had every intention of doing the same thing this year, but things didn't quite turn out as planned.

But I'm getting ahead of myself here.

We drove up to London.  We always seem to do this now.  It's not necessarily quicker (sometimes it is, but it wasn't yesterday...) but it is cheaper than going by train and getting a railcard, for e.g., it would cost us £21.70 each for a railcard (= £43.40).  Yesterday we went up in the Smart Car which probably used about a fiver in petrol.  We parked right close by to the British Museum and paid £37 for parking.  £37 + £5 = £42.  Plus we had the benefit of being in our own space and not having to share it with everyone else = priceless.

We had an extremely quick and easy drive into south London, then things got very gnarly around Nine Elms where roads had seemingly been closed at random with no diversions!  Got a lot of people very confused, that did.  We eventually crossed using Battersea Bridge instead of Waterloo Bridge which was actually quite interesting because it's not a route we usually use and it's always good to see new stuff.

We parked up in a car park in, I think, Museum Street at 4 minutes to midday.  Our plan was to try and get round the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, the British Museum's Pompeii & Herculaneum Exhibition and the exhibition of Japanese outsider art at the Wellcome Collection in Euston.  An ambitious timetable, I think you'll agree.

We'd already checked the intertubes to see what was going on in London in case there were any roads that were going to be closed off, etc.  TLH had seen that there was some sort of Triathlon event happening that was going to affect roads but that was way over around Canary Wharf so wouldn't affect us.

As we were walking from Museum Street towards Chinatown, we noticed there were really quite a few side streets in Soho that were being closed off with metal barriers.  There were lots of people with neon yellow safety vests and clipboards.  Something was happening.  Eventually, as we passed another neon yellow-clad group, I scrutinised the lanyard thing around someone's neck and spotted the word 'Pride'.  Hmm.

Research on the 'tubes had completely failed to reveal that the huge annual gay Pride Parade was going to be taking place that afternoon.  Right through the centre of London.  London was going to be full of fabulous.  I hoped we'd be able to see some of it.

I was starving hungry and we couldn't decide where we wanted to eat.  We wandered past Kettner's to see if it had improved any since our last disappointing visit there back in 2010.  Short answer - 'no'.  Saturday lunchtime on a sunny day in June when London is packed with rainbow warriors and the place was completely empty.  And it was open (we checked).

So off to Chinatown we went, to a restaurant that was the first place TLH took me when we first started 'courting'.  It used to be called 'China China' but is now 'Wan Chai Corner'.  It's at 3 Gerrard St, and since we were there last they've started serving dim sum!  Hooray!  I LOVE dim sum and hardly ever have it because there's nowhere near where I live that does it (I should really just buy my own and do it at home, shouldn't I?)  We stuffed ourselves with crispy fried salt & chilli pepper squid; prawn & chive dim sum;  pork, shrimp & peanut dim sum; fish ball noodle soup and lovely, lovely char siu bao (Cantonese barbecued pork filled bun - they're both sweet and savoury!)  I'm going to be hard pushed to want to eat anywhere else next time we're in London.

We then headed off to the Royal Academy.  Due to the forthcoming Pride parade heading along Regent Street, past Piccadilly Circus and into Haymarket, that end of Piccadilly was blocked off to traffic, which meant that at about 2pm on a Saturday afternoon, we were able to walk up the middle of the road:

I hadn't prebooked tickets for the Summer Exhibition this time so there was always the concern that the place would be packed and we'd have to wait for hours to get in but no, bought tickets and went straight in.

As soon as we got through the doors, I realised that taking photos was going to be tricky as there weren't very many visitors.  Plus as I'm now creating art myself instead of just looking at it, I sort of wanted to look at the pieces with my own eyes, rather than through the lens of a camera.  And it's always stressful having to dodge the gallery staff, and the thought of having to do that again this year was, frankly, a bit sigh-inducing.  Still, I'd have a go.

It didn't last very long.  I got into the second room, having taken a couple of shots in the previous one, and had scanned it for staff.  Thinking I was okay, I'd taken one shot, then moved in for a close up when suddenly there was a hand in my viewfinder.  A very cross, short (that's how I missed her, she was tiny) steward practically shouted at me 'No photographs!  And I think you know it...' very bossily.  So I just turned away and sighed internally.   This was going to be hard work today.

I headed into another room and found a totally delightful piece that I really wanted a picture of.  Trouble is it was painted on a button and only about an inch across so would necessitate me going right up close to it in order to get it in focus.  And, yes, there was a gallery steward (not the same one) leaning against the door frame practically opposite.  I would have to wait until he moved on.  I ended up waiting for about 10 minutes before he finally did and I got my shot but I decided that photo would be the last of this trip as I really couldn't be arsed to wait around for the stewards to go walkabout just so I could get a picture, at the risk of me finally getting thrown out if they did keep catching me.

I decided I would compromise a little, though, and marked with an 'x' in the catalogue those pieces that I liked, then I could look them up online and see if the artists had websites with images on them.

There were a few but, out of necessity, I apologise for there not being as many photos in this post as I would normally like to give you, but I hope you understand my reasons now!

Anyway, onto the pictures:

 'Etna', oil by Fred Cuming, RA. (£28,000).

'From the Arabian Nights', oil by Tom Phillips, RA. (£39,000)

'Everything meets here', pencil by Jessie Brennan (£7,200)

 'Study for a battle', giclee print by Cathy de Monchaux (£550).  This, incidentally, is the piece I was going in for the closeup on when the gallery Gauleiter caught me, and I managed to take a photo of the floor grating instead:

This was the final picture I got to take.  It's called "#1 from The Runaways series" by Hannah Battershell (£200).  I loved it.  Click on the link to see more of her button work.

I have to say I found this year's exhibition very much a mixed bag.  I definitely got the feeling there were less pieces overall than usual, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.  And I thought there were a lot of prints and etchings which is only to be expected when you find out that one of the curators of this year's exhibition is Norman Ackroyd.  There were quite a few pieces I could quite happily have taken home with me, and quite a few that made me wonder what the hell the curators were thinking.

Some of the others I liked were:

'Venice - Mouth of Italy', ink and watercolour by Adam Dant (£31,200).  This is the artist who did the painting at last year's exhibition of a map of London as a medical textbook illustration that I loved.

'My heart a wounded crow', mezzotint by Sarah Gillespie (£600).  A mixture of the endearing and the Gothic.

'Titania', oil by Miriam Escofet (£13,500).  If I'd had the money, this is the one I would have bought.  Exquisitely painted, with unbelievably fine detail.  I stood in front of this painting the longest.  Her website is just fabulous too - check out her recent work and try not to cry at the sheer beauty and skill of this artist.

 Grayson Perry had an entire room to himself to show his six-tapestry series 'The Vanity of Small Differences' which he created in conjunction with a TV series about the British class system last year.  He's such a clever man.  There's a huge amount of detail in the tapestries and the more you look at them, the more you see:

After the compulsory visit to the gift shop, we decided to schlep our way up to the Euston Road to the Wellcome Collection but first we had to get across Regent Street.  Which was, of course, cordoned off as the parade was passing along, so we stopped, ate some ice-cream and watched a very noisy parade of hugely happy people pass by for about 20 minutes before we could cross the road.

We went to see their current free exhibition 'Souzou - Japanese Outsider Art' which ends today.   My lovely blogging friend Antonia - a woman of great style and taste - recommended this unreservedly.  And it was, indeed, brilliant.

So what, exactly, is 'outsider art'?  The Collection's website describes it best: "‘Outsider Art’ has since become an internationally recognised term, commonly used to describe work made by artists who have received little or no tuition but produce work for the sake of creation alone, without an audience in mind, and who are perceived to inhabit the margins of mainstream society. The artists in this exhibition have been diagnosed with a variety of different cognitive, behavioural and developmental disorders or mental illnesses, and are residents or day attendees of specialist care institutions." None of these pieces would be out of place at the Summer Exhibition, and quite a few of them were a damn site better.

Again, this is another place that won't allow photography, but I bought the book anyway, so I'll take photos of the things that really caught my eye:

This clay piece is about 4 feet high and covered in spikes.  There's something very African about it.

These figurines are made from cloth, sellotape and fabric and are about 12 inches high.  We particularly liked the crab-headed doll (bottom right picture).

These were brilliant - very Chapman Brothers.  Tiny little invented anime figures made from metallic bag ties.  About 2 inches high.

These figures look 2D from the picture, but they're figures that will stand up and are created from card, and based on box construction.  About 6 inches high.

These were terrific.  Created by a guy who works in a printing facility and who collects small amounts of india ink with which he creates his pictures.  These are big, about 3.5 feet across.

Big images in reality, these are made from charcoal which the artist then rubs out.

This fabulously spiky creature is a representation of an Okinawan Lion.

The artist really likes food and has decorated cotton pyjamas with images of his favourite foods - in this case salmon roe sushi rolls and roast chicken!

In many ways, the most traditionally accomplished artist on display also produced the most disturbing artwork.  Large paintings full of sexual imagery that were hard to look at but impossible to ignore.

I then took TLH upstairs to look at the permanent collection of shrunken heads, torture chairs, trepanned skulls, flying phalli (phalluses?) and ancient surgical instruments.  Stopping then for a recuperative bun and tea, we decided that we were all arted and walked out and there was no way we were going to fit in the British Museum's Pompeii & Herculaneum exhibition, but seeing as it's on until September, we decided to make it a later date.  London, we love you with all your noise and people and sights and smells but, ooh, you make our feet hurt!

We got back to the car at 5.15 and pulled up onto our driveway at 6.30, which is pretty impressive.  We got back in time to catch the evening's coverage of Glastonbury which confirmed my firmly held opinion that the Rolling Stones really are quite shite.

And on that bombshell....