Sunday, 19 January 2014

Gate of honour

The nice thing about having visitors - apart from their company of course - is that you see the place in which you live through their eyes.  Even somewhere as extraordinary as Cambridge is easy to take for granted when you see it every day.

We walked across Jesus Green and along Trinity Street and, as it was open to visitors, we popped into Gonville and Caius (pronounced 'keys') College - through the Gate of Humility, past the avenue of trees in Tree Court, through the Gate of Virtue into Caius Court.

At the south side of Caius Court is the Elizabethan Gate of Honour, designed by Dr Caius, who had studied in Padua under Vesalius and who had been physician to both Edward VI and Mary.  The gate was built to his design (but after his death) in 1575.

Nicholas Pevsner is very snooty about this gate, but it is one of my favourite buildings - if it actually counts as a building - in Cambridge.   Graduating students pass through it on the way to get their degrees from the Senate House opposite.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Kettle's Yard

We also went to Kettle's Yard yesterday.  Kettle's Yard is a small museum in Cambridge, linked to the house of art collector and supporter Jim Ede who died in 1990.  He studied painting at the Slade and was assistant curator at the Tate at one point.  His house is open to the public and is a magical place.  I first came here many years ago with friends, long before I lived in Cambridge.  It is full of lovely pieces by the likes of Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood, but it is the little collections of stones and quirky pieces of glass and ceramic and wood that give it its charm.

We arrived near to closing time and it was dark outside.  It gave the house a totally different atmosphere  as there are areas of the rooms that were in deep shadow.  It made it feel even more like sneaking into someone's else's house than usual, somehow.

Friday, 17 January 2014

John Craxton

We had a friend staying with us for a couple of days - Susan Harvey-Davies - and she was keen to see the John Craxton exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum.

I like the exhibitions at the Fitzwilliam.  They tend to be small and a little bit eclectic.  It was filled with young school children when we first arrived and the atmosphere changed radically when they left.

I don't know what I make of John Craxton's work.  We have a lot of examples of his paintings in various books on our shelves, whilst not owning an actual monograph on him.  Some of his work I really like, but there is a lot I really don't like.  His influences are possibly too readable.

The exhibition starts with a lovely little painting, but the main thing that is so lovely about it, is that it is very like a Graham Sutherland (in fact it was painted when he went to stay with Sutherland and is a view of the very place that produced Sutherland's own Entrance to a Lane - and has the same title).  Elsewhere can be seen little (and large) echoes of Picasso, Miro, and Braque.

Having said all that, there were paintings I liked a lot here, my favourite being a small picture - a tempera I think - of a goat.  Craxton was fond of goats and they appear in a lot of his paintings.  It is a golden rule of exhibitions that they never have a postcard of the painting you liked most and this was the case here.  I have even tried Googling for it, but nothing appeared.  I shall just have to remember how nice it was.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Two brave boys

For reasons that may eventually become clear, I have been looking at Victorian and Edwardian book jackets a lot lately.  I had been looking at them online, but remembered that my studio is in an area that contains quite a few charity shops.  A quick excursion and I grabbed two or three nice examples, this being one of them.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Floating head

In the studio today.  I've been playing around with various technical aspects of painting - trying to get a fixed working method together for some illustrations I want to do.  I seem to have hit on a basis I'm happy with - some very think watercolour paper that I just tape to my desk rather than stretch on a board, a layer of roughly applied black acrylic, a thinner layer of white/grey over the top and then scratched back, and then the image itself painted over the top in thin glazes applied in short brush strokes in a kind of tempera technique.

One of the problems with painting in acrylics is that it can be hard - if you are using a textured ground as I'm doing - to see any pencil lines when you come to lay out your image.  This matters when you need to hit a particular mark or repeat a face, say, as is often the case in book illustration.

I have used a waterproof pen here.  It did lift a little - but I think that was mainly due to me not waiting long enough.  It didn't matter as I am only using shades of grey anyway.  It might if I was using colour. We'll see.   I have actually used the same pen to draw the mouth over the top at the end.

I have a large notebook full of random images - images I just drew without any end in mind.  They are drawn very simply in line only, mostly.  I was interested to see if I could take one of these line drawings and make something more resolved from it.  I was quite pleased with this beginning.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Peake again

Peake also makes an appearance on my notice board next to my desk at home, with an illustration to stories by the Brothers Grimm, but most of the cards are ones I picked up from the Dickens Museum last year - three illustrations to A CHRISTMAS CAROL and a photograph of the man himself.

I like to have a kind of mood board on the go when I'm writing, and it feels right to have Dickens keeping an eye on me at the moment as I am daring to tinker with the great man's work

The illustrations to A CHRISTMAS CAROL are there to remind me of the impact that story had on me as a young boy - the story and those images (by John Leech) - particularly the cowled figure of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come...perhaps one of the most unsettling creations in all of English literature.

Monday, 13 January 2014

A very nice Christmas present

My wife gave me this rather wonderful Christmas present  - a lovely edition of Coleridge's THE RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER illustrated by Mervyn Peake.

Peake must have known the famous Gustave DorĂ© illustrations but has produced something far less cinematic in its sweep.  They are darker, simpler - more intense, more psychological.

He makes the mariner - and the story - seem more universal and therefore more modern.  Good illustrations, like good movie adaptations, can reinvent a story for a new generation.  Peake certainly did this.  He was the best of the 20th Century illustrators of the poem, I think.