Why art?

“I believe every artist had someone who told them they weren’t worth dirt and someone who told them they were the second coming of the baby Jesus. And they believed them both. And that’s the fuel that starts the fire.”

Bruce Springsteen
(Kirsty Young’s Desert Island Discs, 23rd December 2016)

Nailed it.

My dad, who I adored and who believed in me, died when I was 12. My mum has been… difficult… I am currently occupied with bending over backwards trying to keep her happy while she transitions to a nursing home. Need I say more?

I’m making art when I can. I have too. It’s difficult.

Saint George Shaw

I am locked out of my studio by flu-induced conjunctivitis and struggling to see through watering eyes that go gritty on the eyeball if I try to keep my eyes open and are glued shut by crusty lashes if close them.

Frustrated at being unable to work, irritated by the wasted time and not wanting to be left sitting in the dark with my own even darker thoughts I needed something to listen to. The Saints of Somewhere site was a random bookmark in my browser list titled “Things to listen to”. That will do, I thought, I can lay down with the lights off and listen, and maybe learn, and not totally throw away my day.

As luck would have it, the episode I had saved is one where Kirsty interviews George Shaw. Loved it. Highly recommended for anyone who has little time for the rah-rah world of fake posivity and a keen sense of urgency about how little time there is to get good enough to do what they need to do before their time is up.

Times up. Sorry for any typos, thought shared, returning to lights out.

Problem paintings

Everyone at some time has work that isn’t working. What matters, is figuring out what to do about it and when. I have a set of panels which are part of a new, experimental, body of work that has been hanging around like the proverbial bad smell. I made sketches and colour studies and went back the drawing boards – digital and paper based – several times.

I have been so determined to make a breakthrough I haven’t been able to think about anything else, yet was still making little progress. Then the procrastination set in. I didn’t even want to go to the studio…

This morning, I decided that what I needed was somewhere to put them –  out of of the way but not out of mind – so I can free up my easel for something rather more fulfilling. It’s not the end of the matter, but they can just sit there while I think about what to do with them.


Of course…

Yours truly trundled of to the Midland Town Hall yesterday to be photographed for the local newspaper, alongside Puff the Magic Dragon, as part of the promotion for the Myths, Stories, Legends exhibition. The telephone interview turned out to be the easy bit. Out of respect for the occasion I went to the trouble of makeup and hairspray as well as changing the paint stained rags for something clean and tidy (fashionable or elegant being somewhat beyond my meager dress sense or wardrobe). That, of course, was reason sufficient for the skies to open up to a downpour minutes before I HAD to get out of the car. I don’t mind stomping puddles at all and in fact, love walking in the rain, but making a dash for it in unaccustomed high heels was not in the same league.

Thus, if you notice a picture of a bedraggled rat (trying her best to smile) in the community newspaper it was me – looking worse than usual.

Hope you were having more fun than I was!


Google’s Tetris logo

Do your remember Tetris? Well, if you were a sharp-eye’d Googler today you’d have noticed the special version of their logo celebrating 25 years of addictive block-plonking. It was an occasion fit to be reported by the UK Telegraph and WMBF News.com (among others).

89 Tetris

Tetris 1989

Then, if you clicked on the Google logo, you got a list of lots of relevant places – including links to sites where one can play Tetris. That’s how I found that tetris.com have an online adaptation of the old ’89 version… yep, monochrome – complete with the old music. Guess who didn’t get quite so much done in the studio today? (You didn’t need to know where to find it either, did you?) My excuse is that stuff’s been a bit tough in Studio A these past weeks and more than a few games of my old favourite was somehow soothing this morning. And, when I interrupted my typing to go find the name of the music – so I could tell you that listening to bla bla bla was a lot better than humming the ancient campfire number “No body loves me, everybody hates me, I think I’ll go eat worms” (I told you it was bad) – I discovered, courtesy of Wikipedia, that more than a couple of people (who appear to know about these things) confirm that the mood-enhancement wasn’t all in my head… (so to speak).

According to intensive research from Dr. Michael Crane and Dr. Richard Haier, et al. prolonged Tetris activity can also lead to more efficient brain activity during play. When first playing Tetris, brain function and activity increases, along with greater cerebral energy consumption, measured by glucose metabolic rate. As Tetris players become more proficient, their brains show a reduced consumption of glucose, indicating more efficient brain activity for this task…

In January 2009, an Oxford University research group headed by Dr Emily Holmes reported in PLoS ONE that for healthy volunteers, playing ‘Tetris’ soon after viewing traumatic material in the laboratory reduced the number of flashbacks to those scenes in the following week. They believe that the computer game may disrupt the memories that are retained of the sights and sounds witnessed at the time, and which are later re-experienced through involuntary, distressing flashbacks of that moment. The group hope to develop this approach further as a potential intervention to reduce the flashbacks experienced in PTSD, but emphasized that these are only preliminary results.

So, there we go. Stressed out? Play Tetris.

Have fun,


I spend a ridiculous amount of time driving. I don’t even like driving, but needs be, having chosen to live outside the city. Boredom set in pretty quickly beyond a basic number of trips along the same road.

Initially, the solution was borrowing talking books from the library. Bung them in the CD player and the car reads me all these books I never have time for. In short order I worked my way through the art related titles, the classics (The one’s that one really should read. Yawn…), and then the racy novels. To be honest I tired of them fairly quickly. What I really got into were the non-fiction books: learnt all kinds of nifty stuff.

Then? I discovered podcasts. Along with no time to read, I also find myself too disorganised to be next to the radio for the shows I’d like to hear. (Can’t bear radio in the studio! Can’t think!) Well, no more of that problem either. Not since I discovered that lots of shows are sitting there as podcasts waiting to be downloaded, burnt to CD and then played at leisure (or several times over) in the car. I find I’m getting about 15 shows onto a CD. That’s a lot of driving.

Currently I listen to: ABC Radio’s Artworks, By Design and The Philosopher’s Zone. At any one time they have the last four shows available but anything older than that and the audio file goes away – the transcripts are still available but it’s not the same. So I make sure I get there at least once a month to get them. Not all is lost though, I did find recently that Google Reader (and no doubt other places) have them archived. But they’re Quicktime files, not MP3, and I haven’t gotten around to figuring out how to get around that. Only, of course, because I didn’t find anything that I really, really wanted (yet). Because…

There are also about five years worth of MOMA podcasts recorded at their brown bag lunch lectures. Some of them are a bit heavy going but there are some real gems. I just fill a CD with them and if I get the odd one that doesn’t get me in I just hit the “next” button on the CD player. No big deal.

What else? Just try Googling “art podcasts”…

The Inscription

Amidst much needed housekeeping around this website, I remembered a linocut (among many other items… oops…) that hadn’t made it to these pages for dissection and discussion among the printmakers who read here and possibly of interest to those much appreciated souls who appear to be collecting my prints (thankyou!!!). My gallery, such as it is, hasn’t seen much updating in the last two years – the work on show is old and early. Ask any artist how they feel about work that is old or early… Wouldn’t most agree on the dubious merit of early work until such time as the artist is famous or dead? Usually both.

My excuse for gallery neglect is that I’ve busy making stuff, reading stuff and writing about making and reading said stuff. I promise I’ll fix it properly as soon as I’ve finished reviewing the stack of books to the left of my desk which, from what I have heard, are the primary interest of visitors (other than diehard printmakers and print lovers). Priorities and all that. That said, the print under discussion has been hurriedly added to the gallery to make larger images available straight away.

The Inscription, linocut, oil based inks on Velin Arches


The Inscription, linocut, oil based inks on Velin Arches, 105cm x 60cm

The forgotten linocut, “The Inscription”, is unusual – in both making and meaning. We’ll have a quick look at both to some extent or other before I (hopefully) leave you with more questions than answers!

The Inscription is big – comprising four lino blocks printed on a single sheet of Velin Arches in the largest size I could find – a huge 105cm x 60cm – the sheet started out slightly wider than that but needed to be cut down to fit the width of the press, the length allowed to hang over. Thankfully there was balance to be found between the constraints and harmony achieved.

Inking four blocks and having the first remain damp enough to print before the last is ready isn’t easy on a day when the mercury is pushing 45°C (113°F). I quickly realised, I needed a second pair of hands, one set to take each block to the press while the other inked the next. After many, many proofs worth of practice – we made a workable team – and decided that the temperature was not going to drop nor the crit-day deadline move further away. Fingers were crossed and just three were printed on the Arches – all of which will be considered artists proofs (fine for critique purposes). The edition can wait until the temperature and humidity are considered more co-operative for good printing.

The building in the image is mythical but I will admit that it’s inspired by the beautiful old stone church about five minutes south of the tiny town of Bindoon in Western Australia. The remaining elements are fictitious. Sort of…

Now for the cryptic bit. The inscription on the final panel reads “lorem ipsum dolor” and no, I didn’t make it up. These are the first words in a block of text famous among typesetters and designers for use as meaningless filler text. Traditionally lorem ipsum was available in galleys or Letraset blocks ready for pasteup but these days it’s generated by software – it’s even standard issue in layout packages such as In Design. In this context lorem ipsum is text used as a placeholder at the layout stage of a design. One could say that it talks about emptiness, being without meaning or merit or true worth.

In contrast to this modern use, “lorem ipsum” is in fact derived from Cicero’s (106 BC – 43 BC) book called About The Purposes of Good and Evil The original passage began:

Neque porro quisquam est qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit

Which translates as:

“Neither is there anyone who loves grief itself since it is grief and thus wants to obtain it”.

H. Rackham’s 1914 translation is also of interest:

“Nor again is there anyone who loves or pursues or desires to obtain pain of itself, because it is pain, but because occasionally circumstances occur in which toil and pain can procure him some great pleasure. To take a trivial example, which of us ever undertakes laborious physical exercise, except to obtain some advantage from it? But who has any right to find fault with a man who chooses to enjoy a pleasure that has no annoying consequences, or one who avoids a pain that produces no resultant pleasure?”

Meaningful words worthy of thought. Would you not agree that these sentiments are a striking contrast to the modern one of no meaning.

So what does all that have to do with The Inscription?

Why would a gravestone be inscribed “Lorem Ipsum Dolor”?

That, unfortunately, can only be answered by the person asking the question.


Oh dear, no model…

Life Drawing at the Midland Art Group was looking a bit unpromising last night. We usually start at around 7pm but the model was late and it was a smaller turnout too. Probably due to school holidays and the particularly horrible ‘flu that’s going around. Not to worry, it just meant there would be plenty of room – some weeks it’s so busy we work two deep with some artists with sketchbooks and drawing boards sitting in front of those standing with easels. Waiting, waiting. Anyway, come 7.10pm and still no model. Ben, who runs the group is on the phone and finally makes contact only to find that she too has taken ill. Oh no. He was looking really worried. You see around Perth there’s another life group somewhere, run by someone called Gary. Now I don’t know who Gary is, but rumour has it that in that group a no show model has Gary taking on the role himself. Ben is on the phone, armed with a list of numbers trying very, very hard to find another model. “Motivated” would be a good description…

Persistence paid off when a he managed to contact a girl, via a referral, who just happened to be at the video store, a mere three minutes away… A sigh of relief from a very grateful group of artists, led by an even more grateful co-ordinator.

Meanwhile, everyone else had been sitting around sipping wine and coffee, relaxing and actually enjoying getting to know one another rather than sweating over hot charcoal as we usually do. Life drawing is serious work for most of us. Does one ever get good enough to have fun rather than just tense concentration? It’s exhausting work.