The Best Job in the World (Except for the Money)

The other day in the studio, the chat turned to one of our favorite topics – what we’d do if the Half Moon syndicate won the lottery.
It’s funny how we are all absolutely convinced that we wouldn’t give up working, however rich we became. We’d just buy a better studio, preferably one on a tropical island, and while we’re about it, a gallery on Cork Street and, hey, let’s treat ourselves, one in the East End, too.
I guess this is why:

1. It’s not a regular job – so you’re free to come and go as you please. But then I do find I go to the studio five days a week anyway. What can I say, the guilt gets to me….

2.  There’s no-one telling you what to do and when to do it. You choose what you feel like doing each day, even if that’s sitting around all day drinking coffee and discussing what you’d do with your lottery millions….

3.  That interested reaction when you tell people what you do. “Oh, how lovely!” they say, picturing you floating around in a sun-lit meadow with your smock and watercolours
I don’t know why but I always feel compelled to explain, to their increasingly glazed faces, the reality of working in a freezing cold studio and the hard physical work of using a press.

4. Knowing that there are people who actually want to own the things that you love to make (and that you would be making anyway, lottery win regardless….)

So while I’m not completely convinced by this – that us newly minted multi-millionaires would really find that dragging ourselves into the studio to work is a realistic alternative to spending the day water-skiing with George Clooney – I can definitely understand why we might think it…..

From Sketch to Editioned Print

 I like to do a lot of very quick and varied pen drawings in my sketchbook – it’s a bit like limbering up. I also like to write lists of everything I’m seeing – sandcastles, seagulls, etc., to jog my memory later….

Here I’m looking at beach huts more carefully – these ones are in Wells-next-the-Sea in North Norfolk. I like to do lots of little vignettes in the hope that something stirs (an exciting idea rather than a yawn obviously).

Another sketchbook page but this one is of the beach huts in Cromer – I don’t want to spend much time on drawings at this stage as I don’t want to over-analyse what I’m doing and lose the spontaneity. Well, that’s my excuse…..

Once I’ve got the ideas fixed in my head I try a few thumbnail sketches – just playing around with composition and structure. I like this part – trying to bend the reality of what’s in front of me into what I see in my head…

Here is the working drawing, a combination of the thumbnails above, bottom left and top right. These beachhuts are in Cromer but there is no great curve around the bay as such and the railings are much closer to the huts. And if that viewpoint was real, I’d be standing in mid-air over the sand….

And finally here is the finished print, with added seagulls and abandoned toys – I’ve called it Indian Summer (33x34cms, linocut).

Avoiding Your Fifteen Minutes of Fame…

I read an interview with Grayson Perry, where he said, “It’s one of my deep fears that I might become fashionable. All that means is that you are on the verge of being unfashionable.”

I remember when it used to be clothes that went out of fashion very quickly, but it’s absolutely everything now. There was a time when you’d buy some furniture, fully expecting to keep it for years, but now, heaven help you if your new sofa’s covered in amethyst linen – everyone knows it’s taupe barkcloth now. And what about bathrooms? Limestone mosaic is so last year, darling….

An artist colleague of mine got taken on by a very good gallery and immediately started selling amazingly well – so much so that she couldn’t keep up with the demand. Then within a relatively short time, the sales just dried up. Her work was still stunning – so why? Well, her background was in fabric design, she absolutely devoured lifestyle magazines and once supplied Ikea with some of her images for reproduction – her work just hit the zeitgeist. Then the world moved on, she was devastated, got dropped by the gallery and never really recovered confidence in her work….

Another artist I know has a similar approach – good sales for her are a validation of her work and she will focus very strongly on current trends to facilitate this. Somehow though, she manages to move with the times as she’s very inventive and resourceful. But oh, what a stressful way of working – she’s forever having to think up new subjects and colour combinations – windmills, artichokes, turtles, you name it, she’s done it.

So what happens to those ordinary artists who quietly develop their own visual language over the years and then one day wake up to discover that their work has just become the latest thing? I should be so lucky, you might think – but what happens when fashions change? Do you sigh and quietly get back to work? Well yes, of course you do, but unfortunately your work now looks curiously dated and you’re left feeling very frustrated that no-one seems interested anymore.

I guess the ideal is a slow but steady career progression, with time to make mistakes and to learn your craft. I fully intend to go on working until the day I die – or until I win the lottery, I haven’t quite decided yet.

My New Media Journey

Here’s the thing – I have been told (more times than I care to remember, quite frankly) that more blog posts = more readers.
My response has always been to reply loftily, “You don’t understand, I’m not doing it to amass hundreds of readers”. Which is just as well….
“It’s a personal journal – the fact that it’s public is neither here or there” All lies, of course. Obviously I want to be famous…..
Anyway, worn down as I have been, I agree to carry out a little experiment – to blog at least four times a week for a month, and to link to the post on Facebook and Twitter. Then I’m to sit back and see what happens.
So here I am, two thirds of the way through, with bleeding fingers and a new facial tick – is it working? I’ll let you know at the end of the month….

London Printmakers at the National Theatre – Ends Saturday!

The frontispiece to the exhibition, featuring my linocut West End Girls.
Here are some of Carole Hensher’s  lithographs.

And Martin Ridgwell’s etchings.

 Veta Gorner’s etchings.

Trevor Price’s etchings.

Mychael Barratt’s etchings.

Sonia Rollo’s etchings.

Colin Moore’s linocuts.

Susie Perring’s etchings.


Jazmin Velasco’s relief prints with letterpress.

Karen Keogh’s etchings.


Louise Davies’ etchings with collograph.

And because I forgot to take any photos of my own work, here is the banner in the National Theatre foyer.


Imitation Is Not A Form of Flattery

The other day, a colleague tells me she’s just seen some work ‘exactly’ just like mine. ‘Oh really?” I say, politely (whilst thinking something else entirely).
“Where did you see it?” I ask her.
“Along Southwark Street, I think,” she replies.
“Which gallery?”
“I don’t know if it was a gallery as such,” she says.
“Well, what then?”
“I don’t know precisely – I only saw it from the top of the bus.”
“Yes, but were they linocuts?”
“Well, like I said, I was on the bus, and it was going fast and I didn’t have my glasses on.”

Really though, this whole copying thing is a bit of a nightmare – using someone else’s images is just plain wrong. Of course, there can be a fine line between using another person’s work as inspiration and copying it – but often, that ‘personal interpretation’ might not be personal enough.
And be honest, there’s not a lot you can do about it, short of challenging them to a paint-off – artists have always borrowed from each other and always will.

Paul Catherall was asked the other day on Twitter if a current poster featuring Battersea Power Station was one of his. His answer was, “not me though does look similar. Still, I don’t have patent on Battersea (much as I’d like!) ;-)”.
Absolutely. When you’re using actual places as the starting point for your work, you have to be relaxed about it – I didn’t invent the London Underground, more’s the pity.

And, looking on the bright side, you know you’ve arrived when other artists start to copy you, right? They wouldn’t bother if your work was rubbish…..

Painting, Printmaking or Both?

I do like to be able to do both printmaking and painting – I find that one informs the other and I use both to explore a subject; to develop and refine an idea more fully. So once a painting is finished, I may use it as a starting point for a print and sometimes it’s the other way around.

And on a practical note, printmaking is a great way of persuading a gallery to stock your work – a few of your prints in their browser is not as much a risk as giving valuable wall space to a painting. Prints are more affordable in this recession too and the artist has more work available to send out to galleries, open exhibitions, etc., and thus has more opportunities to show.

So I find it enjoyable and advantageous to do both. You know those times when you’re so dispirited that you never want to see another lino block again? Well, you can just put down those cutting tools (try not to throw them out of the window) and turn once again, with a small sigh of relief, to a new white canvas. How lovely, you think, to be able to pick up a brush and enjoy the immediacy of painting (until the inevitable time comes when you never want to see another tube of oil paint again and wistfully recall the pleasures of printmaking…).

So anyway, here is an oil painting of mine (Early Morning, 50x50cms), which I sold at my show ‘From the City to the Suburbs’ at Cambridge Contemporary Art last year. It’s now available as a greetings card.

 After quite a bit of alteration to the original working drawing and a lot of simplification, I started to cut the four blocks – the colours used, in order of printing, were raw umber, crimson, cream (olive green and a lot of white) and monastral blue (as a glaze).

And here is the finished linocut, now called Up With the Larks, and due to be shown at Bankside Gallery during the RE Annual Exhibition next month….

Because Your Work Is Worth it?

How many times have I gone into a good gallery and seen badly presented work? Very rarely – because believe it or not, gallery owners and buyers really care about that stuff.
Unfortunately I know a fair few artists who don’t – they create wonderful work but then their frames are falling apart, the mounts aren’t cut straight or the print margins are ink-smudged…..

A good friend, who’s something of a repeat offender in this department, once left a short and curly black hair squashed between the mount and the glass of an etching of his – I’m cringing as I write this – I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when he actually sold it. I guess he’d argue that this proves his point, that presentation doesn’t matter and that it’s the work and the ideas behind it that count….

Well yes, of course the work is of prime importance but give a thought to those potential buyers. If they fall in love with your work, dodgy frames and all, then fine, they’ll buy it regardless (or they’ll buy it unframed and sort it themselves).
I find, though, that there are often several pieces that they’re looking at and so which would they buy? Probably not yours – they’d choose the one that’s beautifully presented and therefore ready to put up at home – it’s the easiest option.

And that goes for galleries too – they need a vibrant and immaculate set-up to get those buyers through the door. All those white walls and wooden floors will go for nothing if the display is second-rate. They want work that’s ready to hang too, as they have better things to do than sort out shoddy frames (like selling the work?)

And, in any case, what does badly presented work say about you, the artist? Does it show how professional you are? How seriously you take your work? Not really, no.

I don’t think I’m being finicky for choosing quality frames for my work – and I’m convinced that if the artist doesn’t think their work is worth presenting properly, then no-one else will either…

A Little Tour of the Studio….

Here is the main building – an impressive Art Deco ex-Marconi factory rising up out of the wilderness of Victorian terraces that is South East London. Can you imagine getting planning permission for something like this now?

 And here is where our studio is situated – the not-quite-so-impressive back extension, which I would guess was probably built in the 1960’s. Oh well, at least there’s parking and the skips are handy….

                     The front door to Unit B23, Half Moon Studio, where all the magic happens …


                                 My section of the studio – possibly in need of a bit of a tidy….

                                          Yes, it definitely could do with a little something…

And here is my beloved press, an 1841 Albion – bought on eBay a decade ago, lashed upright to the back of a trailer in Norfolk and delivered to my London studio ( then in a garage – I’ve since moved up in the world…..)

Looking across the width of the space towards the back wall of windows- as you can see, there is a distinct lack of housekeeping in all parts of the studio. We studiously ignore that side of things…..

 We feel strongly here that we need plants in the studio to help with the air quality – poor babies…..

And finally here is our view over West Norwood Cemetery – 40 acres of it and still used today – a nice daily reminder of the general shortness of life and how it’s best to get on with it before it’s too late….

A Shed Instead of a Cathedral…

In the Observer the other day, I read an interview with author Sadie Jones. ‘I’m never happy with what I’ve written,” she says. “You imagine, before you start, there’s a cathedral, and the moment it starts on the page, it’s a garden shed. And then you just try and make it the best shed you can.”


It’s all about managing your expectations – I start off with the intention of producing a visual representation of the truth of the human condition and end up with, well, a linocut.

So I think, from now on, I’ll just go about making it the best linocut I can….