Archive for July, 2010

Making a cartoon

July 29, 2010

I have become interested in cartoons, of late, mainly through looking at the sketches of Osbert Lancaster. I have tried to copy some of his characters and here is an example taken from the Penguin Book collection of his cartoons (p.13). This is not an exact copy and was not traced.  I was trying to learn a little about his technique.

My copy of a couple of Lancaster characters


I am a very long way from being able to do anything remotely as good as the Master, but if you would like to have a look at my first original attempt, you can find it on my website, here:
It is a cartoon of David Cameron, the British prime minister. I have played around with the notion of a ‘hedge trimmer’: on the one hand a power tool for clipping hedges in the garden; on the other hand a hedge fund is a slightly dubious super-ordinate lump of cash in the banking and money markets. Well, have a look and see what you think. The scanned version is not so good, but I will have to live with it for now.

Penshaw monument

July 23, 2010

This morning I drove over to Penshaw monument, a folly just outside the city of Sunderland. I was meeting my friend Tom for our weekly Friday breakfast. I arrived about twenty minutes ahead of schedule and so walked up the pathway to the monument. I think it looks much better from a distance; the building itself did not strike me as a thing of beauty. Still, more importantly, I hurried down to the cafe at the bottom of the hill and settled down to a bacon butty (Tom had a sausage butty). This location made a pleasant change from our regular haunts but I have to say that the bacon butty was no real substitute for the full English (which, regrettably, they did not do).

Penshaw monument


The other week I had made contact with my former music teacher, Graham Garton (from when I was at school). Somebody else who had been at the school was able to forward me his address. I had long hoped to be able to thank him for all he had done for me, back then, and at last I was able to write him a letter. This week, I had a lovely reply from him telling me what he had been doing with his life, all these years. Although now over 80 years old, he is still giving individual music lessons each week in term time, to both adults and children. He certainly inspired me, and nurtured my life-long interest and practical involvement with music.

Down by the riverside

July 6, 2010

I have been reading Danny Gregory’s book ‘An illustrated life’ which presents samples from around 50 people who keep sketchbook journals. I read a couple of his previous books on this topic when I was studying in the animation and design studio at my local university. I find it almost impossible to sketch in public, even when I am using a tiny A6 pad which can almost be held in the palm of my hand. Some people write a commentary in their sketch books, often the equivalent to a stream of consciousness as they are drawing. I am not inclined to do that; I would rather scan from the sketchbook and embed the image within my blog, for example. One of the contributors to Danny’s book, Butch Belair (and what a name that is) explained that he felt most comfortable drawing in his car. He would park up some place and sketch away. I wondered whether that might be a good approach for me to adopt.

Inspired by Butch and Danny, I threw my pencil case and sketchbook into a bag to take with me when I went out to visit the bank and do one or two other chores around the city. I then drove around looking for possible subjects. I found this strategy very difficult in practice in the city centre area owing to traffic flow and the general lack of convenient places to park the car. I found myself on one of the approaches to the south side of the river at one point and parked the car near an isolated pub on the river bank. I got out of the car and walked down to the railings along the footpath. I was then faced with the decision as to what, exactly, to draw. This is by no means a trivial problem for a sketching artist. Indeed, why do you think Van Gough ended up drawing a pot of flowers, or Monet ended up with a bridge over a lily pond? The choice of subject matter for sketching could easily become a separate blog post in its own right.

Here is a small selection of views that I considered.

Small boats on the river

Muddy dingy

   The row of boats strung out seemed to provide a nice composition, I was more enchanted by mud spattered dingy. The question of scale and framing throws up yet another set of decisions. For example, the view across the river to the far bank provided a somewhat messy industrial image. I liked the strong lines of the columns holding up the cement quay. However, zooming in, I loved the geometric structure of a close up of the blue trailer with the circular wheels and tyres set against the heavy virtical bars of the timber supports to the quayside. 

Industry on the river bank

Trailer on the far bank

I know that some modern artists move out into the world to capture their images with the digital camera and then return to the comfort of their studio to do the bulk of the sketching and finished artwork. This seems to me to be a good strategy if you want to paint or use pastels. In my case, it is a way to get around my neurotic fear of sketching in public. 

The sketch, below, started on location with a drawing in pen on a small A6 pad. I drew the view sitting in my car, parked up conveniently, so I could look at the scened through the front windscreen. I finished it back home in the studio with some pastel work.  

Pen and pastel sketch across the Wear

Quiches and couch grass

July 5, 2010

I seem to have been busy but shall get another post onto this blog, forthwith. I have a few things to report.

I have been cooking some quiches. Last weekend I made one from courgettes, mushroom and onion. For this I bought some ready-made shortcrust pastry from the supermarket. I can see that this saves time but I don’t really like to do that. After all, part of the fun of making a quiche is making the pastry. Although I oiled my quiche tine, I had a lot of difficulty getting the pastry out once it was cooked. I therefore bought a new non-stick version.

I made the second on a few days later. For this, I consulted my Delia Smith cookbook and went with her recommendation of 50-50 butter-lard combination for the fat (and then twice that weight in plain flour and water to mix). I made a prawn filling for this. Although I used raw prawns, they ended up being over-cooked and rubbery to bite on (obviously way too long in the oven). For this quiche, I followed Delia’s exhortation to go for double cream in the custard. The result was a little too rich for my taste.

I decided to make a third variation of the quiche to take to my friend Tony’s 50th birthday party, since they were having  buffet food. Once more. I used the butter and lard combination for the fat in the pastry because I find it yields a pleasant crispness around the edge of the tart. I made a plain filling with eggs, single cream and yoghurt (50-50), together with some grated Gruyere cheese. As usual, I baked the pastry blind. While the filling was cooking, I cut out letters and numbers from a red and green pepper with a small sharp knife (TONY = 50). I had to wait until the custard had nearly set before placing the letters onto the surface of the quiche, otherwise they would have sunk in the liquid and disappeared from view (I had already established this in a previous experiment). So, after about 20 minutes I was able to delicately place the pepper letters onto the surface. It really did look lovely and the pic I have put up for you, here, does not really do it justice (it might have been better if I had not taken it from the bird’s eye view).

Onto another topic: I have found some couch grass in one of my borders in the garden. Fortunately the roots do not run very deep but they become densely matted. Now that I know where it is, I shall target the area and hope to have gotten rid of it in about a couple of month’s providing I keep checking regularly.

The dreaded couch grass

As for my Second Life internet shows, I have now played 530 one hour gigs since January 2008, so they are ticking over at a fairly regular rate of about 4 or 5 shows per week. For some months I have been working on a group of about 25 new songs to play on digital piano. It has been rather frustrating but I feel that some of them should be moving into performance over the comming month.

I am doing some preliminary work in terms of writing my autobiography with the intention of publishing an illustrated version through This has not been progressing as fast as I had hoped, but my mood is currently optimistic. It will be a long-term project and I would imagine that it will take me at least one year, possibly two, to complete.

The progress I had been making in getting my tracks up onto has dwindled considerably. I want to get that kick-started again in the near future. So, lots to be getting on with, I feel. Bye for now… talk to you later, my dear blogophiles.