I’ve always wanted to do fine art. The idea of deciding what I want to create and not being in any way held back by the commercial dictates of a third party is very appealing. It’s why, many years ago, I self published my own comic book; a brave, noble and ultimately doomed attempt to provide myself with an income from the creation of a comic book story that was entirely my own. Sapphire was great fun and a valuable experience (and was even reasonably well received) but a source of income it was not.

It’s also why I self-published Haunted York, a guide to the best known ghost stories in my home town (allegedly the most haunted city in Europe) and although doing somewhat better commercially than Sapphire it still didn’t provide the full freedom of creation that I crave (and there was no drawing involved).

However, Spirits is not about ghosts, nor is it about alcohol (much) and I know what you’re thinking; stop wittering on about things that have nothing to do with fine art and tell us what you’re planning to do. Right, good question and one that I’ve been asking myself repeatedly for the last few months. The main problem is actually deciding what not to do, certainly in terms of themes.

In which case, let’s focus on the actual art, which is in all likelihood why you’re here in the first place, although the style and execution of the art developed as a result of a theme. But first things first.

Most of the work I’ve done in comics has been pencil work. I’ve always liked graphite as an art medium and although I’ve worked with paint I prefer something that is more immediate and works well with portraits and collage, which is the main focus of the work I’ve begun. Not portraits of particular people (although I’m working on some of those as well) but faces that capture the sense of a theme. Ah, we’re back to those themes…

Given that the whole point of this fine art idea is creative freedom, I’m planning to use subjects that are of interest to me, which might sound a little self obsessed but they’re not radical or elitist in any way so hopefully they’ll be of interest to lots of other people too.

The Spirits theme came about as a result of a friend of mine suggesting that our gang go on a small jaunt to Pendle to check out the history of the witches. Being a fan of Forteana and anything a bit weird in general it occurred to me that the Pendle Witches would be a good subject. Great, I thought, my first idea for my first piece of work. Only problem was i had no idea how I was going to do it.

Although I knew of the Pendle Witches I wasn’t as familiar with them as I felt I should be so research on the subject seemed the first logical step. As I read about the hapless folk that were hanged on Gallows Hill in 1612 (eight woman and two men) and the interest that the trials still inspire today (helped by the always beneficial tourist industry) I imagined that those witches were still around, certainly in spirit, and that they were very much the spirit of Pendle. Also, the idea of the accused, the trial and the contemporary documents created an image of wanted posters (maybe that’s just me) and the layers of torn paper and print that are often seen on boards used for such things (although today it would more likely be for gig adverts and lost cat appeals) and it occurred to me that this would work really well as both context and texture.

It was all coming together (at least in my head); I envisioned a portrait of one of the witches (I decided upon Alizon Device, the unfortunate young woman who was responsible for kickstarting the whole affair) torn out of the cartridge paper that I would use to draw her on and pasted, along with additional torn papers (both plain and printed) onto some suitably sturdy board.

The pencil drawing that graces the top of this post is the start of turing the idea into a reality. I’m now gathering materials and I shall post the completed piece once it is finished.

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Although fascinated by creatures of myth and fantasy I hadn’t intended to use such subjects at this point as I have an awful lot of ideas for artwork that are more rooted in history and legend, and delving into a world that I consider to be fictional (I know, it’s a fine line… and who says faeries don’t exist?) wasn’t in my plan.

However, one must be adaptable and I had an idea (oh dear…)
Do not fear, it’s a good one! I think…

Being a regular visitor to Howarth (the inspiration for my Wuthering Heights | Let Me In piece being the result, plus an as yet unfinished portrait of Emily Bronte… must get back to that) I always drop in on Steve Jarrett to see what he’s been up to and see if any of his hand made jewellery takes my fancy (I already own a fabulous bracelet he made) and on one such visit in August he mentioned driftwood. Ah ha! I thought… I wanted a driftwood frame for my Whitby | Sea piece so that the Silver Street Gallery can take it off the floor and hang it on the wall. I enquired as to whether Steve could create such a thing and the answer being yes, I duly gave him the commission and the frame was picked up a few weeks later.

Something I hadn’t accounted for was that Steve, being a bit of a craftsman, had created something a bit more than just a standard frame (albeit one made of driftwood) and I was now the proud owner of a multi-layered frame decorated with pieces of sea washed branches and coloured stones.

This, I felt, called for something a bit different. As a result, I consulted Mr. Google and came across a very old story concerning the north east coastal village of Staithes, itself host to an annual and quite amazing arts festival and a beautiful place to visit (and also once the home of a youthful Captain Cook who, before moving to Whitby, worked as an apprentice in the local grocers).

The story, oddly similar to the Merman of Orford tale, involves the plight of two mermaids who became so exhausted after battling against a storm that they ended up on the beach at Staithes where they intended to rest and recuperate before heading back into the sea. Unfortunately, a number of sailors who were also waiting out the storm found them, imprisoned them in nets and hung them up for the villagers to stare at. Even more unfortunate was that a number of residents decided that just staring wasn’t enough and took to hurling stones at them.

Obviously this was not very friendly, but during the months that our hapless sea creatures were detained the locals began to get used to their presence and some would even speak to them. As a result, they were able to talk a fisherman into letting them out of the nets for a temporary reprieve and, the freedom of the ocean beckoning, they seized their opportunity and legged it (obviously not literally as they didn’t have legs). Having made it safely back to the sea they were never seen again, unlike the previously mentioned merman story where, having gained his freedom, he apparently returned to captivity as though it was some sort of game. He escaped again, hung around for a bit, then finally disappeared, never to be…you know the rest.

The pencil drawing isn’t finished yet but here’s how the mermaids are looking so far… when it’s finished I’ll photograph the artwork complete with frame.

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I know what you’re thinking… why Guildford? And Lady of the Lake? shouldn’t that be Glastonbury?

All fair questions that I shall do my best to answer (hopefully without confusing you).

The choice of Guildford is entirely down to the fact that I used to live there, although it was many, many years ago when I was just a young lad… although not a lad, as that’s what they call young folk up here in the frozen north. In Guildford I was a boy (although perhaps the term ‘lad’ has spread to the southern parts since my departure?) and despite being only 12 when I left I do remember the place surprisingly well (and not in a negative way). I remember the chums I had (even some of their names, and not just because of Facebook) and the town itself (especially the High Street and it’s big black and gold clock) and many of the good and bad times that transpired during the time I was there (which actually wasn’t very long as we moved around a fair bit).
I did re-visit the place as a teenager to see a couple of those chums and was back there a few years after that when one of them got married and kindly invited me and my sister to the wedding. After that though, not been near the place. Which is a shame but I’m a poor, starving artist and Guildford is an awful long way, but perhaps one day I’ll get back there, but in the meantime I have relied on the power of the internet and the trusted aid that is Google to find a suitable story that would make a good subject. And it’s a good one.

It’s a tale that that seems, on the face of it, to be very familiar to those still living in the area although I have to confess I was completely unaware of it, so either it wasn’t so well know when I was there or I was too young and daft to take any notice. Following in the footsteps of Collage Street it’s another actual spirit, although this hapless lady is trapped in a more watery environment than the young girl in York as she is the resident spectre of the Silent Pool. As is common with many a body of water (notably Blake Mere Pool, which is on my list of subjects for a future piece) there is a legend that the pool is bottomless and that birds don’t sing in the trees, This is clearly nonsense as the place is full of singing birds and the water is so clear that you can see the bottom. In fact it’s the transparent nature of the water that makes the pool unusual (apparently the result of the water’s source being an underground, rather than overground, stream. Somewhat similar to the crystal clear and allegedly healing nature of the water that supplies the Chalice Well in Glastonbury). It’s silent (hence the name) and peaceful location imbues an added element of mystery. Something that the poet Martin Farquhar Tupper clearly thought when he wrote the story back in 1857, although he did claim (and who are we to argue?) that it was based on historical facts. So, what happened? I’m glad you asked.

A long time ago, in a village far away (although not if you live in Guildford) a young lady by the name of Emma would frequent the pool and take advantage of it’s unsoiled nature to have a bath. On one fateful occasion she was spotted by a man on horseback who, upon emerging from the cover of the trees, could be clearly identified as none other than King John who, as all those familiar with the stories of Robin Hood will know, was a nasty piece of work. True to his ‘boo, he’s behind you’ nature King John advanced his horse into the water in pursuit of the young lady at which point the desperately retreating Emma found herself disappearing beneath the pool’s surface and, unable to swim, implored for help. King John, being King John, did nothing and Emma vanished from sight never too be seen again (which is quite a task in a crystal clear lake). A different version of the story has her brother racing to her aid but, arriving too late, he also disappears into the depths and is as equally conspicuous by his absence at the family’s dinner table as Emma.

There’s a sequel to this story involving the Archbishop of Canterbury, lost love and the Magna Carta (I can see a Game of Thrones style mini series in this) and I’ve not even mentioned Agatha Christie yet, but that’s all going to have to wait until I’ve finished the piece, which, although the pencils still need some work, shouldn’t take too long as I have all the collage materials ready to go.

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Graphite and collage on plywood board
27” x 34”

Back 2012 I was asked to be involved with a new comic featuring the first ever masked hero. Before Superman, Batman, the Spirit and a long list of crusaders against truth and justice was the Clock, possessing a complete absence of super powers (unless you count his ability to swiftly don a mask and shoot people) and an intense dislike of villains he was the first, sort of, superhero.

Created, written and illustrated by George Brenner in 1936 the Clock is now a public domain character, which means that anybody can use him without fear of copyright infringement reprisals and that’s what John Short, publisher and proprietor of Kult Creations decided to do. Apart from being a jolly nice chap John is a writer rather than an artist..actually he’s an artist too, but he felt his style was too cartoony for the grim noir look he had in mind for the Clock’s grand return and so he asked me if I’d do it. Easily flattered and lured with the promises of bags of silver I agreed. I also thought it would be good fun, which it certainly was, although it was also more time consuming than I imagined but I was proud of the final work and with the story being set in gangster era America I wanted it to have a film noir feel, which i think I managed.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking; what’s all this got to do with fine art and and who’s the dame in the artwork? A friend and fellow member of the art group I take part in (the meetings of which tend to amount to slightly drunken chats in the pub about how we’re going to get people to see our artwork and take us seriously before discussing the hilarious time that we were supposed to be going on a tour of the York art galleries and spent the entire afternoon in the Black Swan) suggested that we create a series of artworks based on the theme of ‘cinema’ and then use actual cinemas to exhibit the work. Brilliant idea (clearly our meetings are occasionally productive) and we each have to approach the theme in our own way so I’ve been researching ideas and reference material. After much hunting around the net and getting distracted with articles about Star Trek and James Bond I’ve decided upon using film genres as my subject and one of those is film noir.

At this point a small light went on in my head and it occurred to me that I could use my involvement with the Clock project and create a dual theme piece that would use the Clock as a springboard for my first cinema piece. I had a trawl around Google images to see if I could find someone that had a look of the character I’d drawn in the Clock and also had a connection with film noir. And there she was: Lauren Bacall.

Although the Spirits project doesn’t usually involve recognised people (unless I’m doing sketches to promote blog posts) I think with the cinema theme it works well.

I was pleased with how this turned out and as I intend to do at least half a dozen pieces for the first exhibition I thought I’d crack on with the next one, which is based on Marilyn Monroe’s Niagara.

I’ll post the pencil drawing for that with my next blog entry (although I’ve also started work on some York themed pieces so one of those might happen first).

Original Artwork : £290.00

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All very exciting..I’ve taken some space in a studio in the centre of York. Which means I have to pay rent each month which I didn’t have to when working from home, but it means that I get to hang out with lots of other artists and I can make as much mess as I like without worrying about upsetting the landlord. Not that he would be upset as I don’t do anything that can’t be cleared up after me and I’ll have to do that at Pica or my new artist associates will wonder what kind of a slob they’ve let into their place.

It does mean that all the work I did setting up my home studio space was a bit wasted but then again it may be worth keeping that in case I want to do some creative stuff at home.

Apart from not spending all day on my own, which generally I’m fine with but can be a little lonely at times (which is one of the reasons I write this journal; it’s not just a way of encouraging people to come to come and have look at my work, but a way of being connected to those who are interested) the main advantage is I have a proper base for my art endeavours, which makes the whole thing seem a lot more serious and I’m finding that very motivating (I frequently find it difficult to take things seriously, even the need to earn money).

I’ve got the desk set up and made a start on a new drawing. It’s actually just a pencil drawing of Mark Hamill that I was doing to promote my next blog post but I felt the minor victory of getting back to actually creating some art after all the moving and setting up was worth a journal entry, so I’ve posted it here instead.

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