Wednesday, 27 November 2013

the inner voice

"If you hear a voice within,

you cannot paint

then by all means paint,
and that voice will be silent".

Vincent van Gogh.


Sunday, 10 November 2013

cloud pencil names II

geranium lake  rose pink  champagne  sky blue  primrose yellow  chinese white  storm 
pale vermillion  red violet lake  ash rose  cloud grey  blue violet lake
sunset gold

Saturday, 9 November 2013

there ariseth a little cloud

"There ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man's hand".

I Kings XVIII 44

Thursday, 7 November 2013

cloud pencil names

felt grey  teal blue  fell mist  gunmetal  salmon  slate violet  parchment  blue grey  soft violet  light ochre  silver grey  indigo  light violet  french grey  ash blue  bistre  taupe

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

cloud names IV

portentous  pall  plume  with my mother in the garden at sunset  the evening of the day on which I last saw my father alive 

It is one thing to conjure names for cloud drawings yet-to-be-made, altogether another to attempt to make them.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

cloud names III

presentiment  harbinger  ominous  obscurus  precipitous calamitous

skein  messenger  flotilla

My own names for clouds.

mind and body

"She could smile to herself now to think what contortions the body may twist itself into when something goes wrong in the mind. That detestation of food, those dizzying moments when you twirl helplessly on a kind of vacant devilish merry-go-round; that repetition of one thought on and on like a rat in a cage; those forebodings rising up one after the other like clouds out of the sea in an Arabian tale....."

The Wharf by Walter de la Mare from a collection of short stories entitled: Modern Short Stories edited and introduced by Jim Hunter, published by Faber Educational Books, 1969.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

cloud names II

"Watchtower Smoke Syringe Hoof Pick-axe Tribunal Knickers Whip Soap House Dog Photo Revolver Dysentery Fire Scissors Shin Train Bowl Typhus Turnip Latrines Sun Coat Soup Lawyer Bed Child Straightline Coal Blanket Phenol Wool Fly Bathroom Rat Moustache Tooth Stove Lice Screams Skull America Barbed-wire."

Refusal by Soazig Aaron, translated from the French by Barbara Bray, published by Harvill Secker, London, 2007.

cloud names I

"She and her friends agreed to give names to the forty-five kinds of clouds in the five different languages they spoke. They spent some time agreeing on the names, repeating them, and then making up words out of the first or second letters of each name, and so on, then doing the same with the names spelled backwards.....

......Right up to the end, Klara told me, the clouds helped them get through the blows, the screams, the lack of privacy-....

......She gave me the list of clouds. One is missing."

Refusal by Soazig Aaron, translated from the French by Barbara Bray, published by Harvill Secker, London, 2007

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

cloud quotation

"When I do not walk in the clouds
I walk as though I were lost."

Antonio Porchina  Voces 1943

Translated from the Spanish by W S   Merwin.

Monday, 9 September 2013

fear of flying

Once, taking a much delayed night time flight from the island of Cyprus, where my father and I had attended the wedding of my youngest sister, I fell prey to an overwhelming anxiety concerning the safety of air travel, and our journey in particular, a powerful presentiment of disaster taking an unshakeable hold on my mind. Overwrought by the long waiting, oppressed by the darkness of the night, and longing for home, I became convinced that my father and I would never see our family and our home again, that we would fall out of the sky over land or ocean, thus to perish.

As we took our seats in the aeroplane, I was conscious of a fine tremor throughout my body, a parched mouth and pent up breath escaping my lungs only in small gasps. Once seated, I placed my clenched hands, icy despite the heat of the night, in my lap, closed my eyes for a moment. In that moment, I felt the warm enclosure of my father's hand, taking my own in his, as though I were a child. He did not speak, beyond remarking that my hands were cold, there was no need for words; my desire to implore him to reassure me that we would reach England safely assuaged by the compassionate pressure of his hand.

At present, experiencing an anxiety of the most profound order regarding my ability to draw, I realise that whenever I think about the act of drawing, I suffer the same symptoms that possessed me whilst suspended in the airspace over Europe; a pounding heart, mouth as dry as the desert, chilled, damp, trembling hands, a nervous flutter in the gut. I have not touched pencil to paper, yet am wholly in thrall to the fear of failure, a terror of taking wing and thus becoming vulnerable to the possibility of falling.

Of late, desperate to calm my fright, which is a grave impediment to my practice, I have taken to closing my eyes, and imagining the loving warmth of my father's hand closing over mine, affording me precious comfort, and conferring upon me the reassurance that it will be possible for me to begin to draw once more, even though it may be many months before I feel that I am ready to make the attempt.

 I shall never again, beyond the bounds of memory and imagination, experience my father's tender concern, shall never again be able to take his hand in mine, as I did during the weeks of illness before his death, and as he took mine during that interminable flight from Cyprus, but I have at least the cherished remembrance of his paternal sensitivity, the selfless love he extended towards his family throughout his life, and which guided his every action.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

my odd children

During a troubled adolescence, I made the decision never to have children, convinced that I would not be able to bring them safely to adulthood. Over the years, I have seen no reason to revoke that decision; rather events have persuaded me that my offspring were best left unborn, although I admit to something of a fleeting feeling of regret when I have occasion to touch the fine, shining hair of the very young, or become aware of a small, vulnerable hand steeling into mine.

As I noted in a much earlier post, I once read that Werner Herzog likes to think of the films that he makes as  children, bestowing the greatest love upon those which are perhaps disabled in some way. As for my own work, having destroyed all but a relatively small number of drawings, I come close to regarding the more eccentric drawings of tree, mountain and rainbow remaining, as my odd children; drawings which are decidedly quirky, and which sprang from a powerful imperative, the greater number of them coming into being whilst I was struggling to recover from an episode of depressive illness.

The last three years have been barren. There have been no offspring, no images clamouring for release. It is as though I had suddenly been rendered infertile. Perhaps illness was the motivating force behind that series of drawings, at least in part, for the tree and mountain drawings were begun before my breathless descent into the abyss. At a remove of almost five years from that devastating period, I find myself only partially recovered, still prey to an agonising sense of worthlessness  and an all encompassing terror of committing myself to the creation of a drawing which may fail my intentions.

I have a binding connection to my odd children, and, for the present at least, cannot bear to be parted from them; I cannot let them take their place in any other world but my own. In that sense, I am an extremely possessive mother; it is my instinct to protect these unusual drawings from harm, from the critical gaze of the viewer. I harbour a desperate need for them to be liked,  to be understood, to elicit a positively evaluative response, whilst yet knowing that I cannot, or should not try to dictate the terms of their reception, although perhaps it is true that without my communicating the circumstances of their coming into being, they would be difficult to comprehend, or appreciate. It is my feeling that they exist in the liminal space between art and art therapy. They were not made, strictly speaking, within the context of a therapeutic consultation, but they were born of a profound need to communicate that which I found impossible to to express by any other means, and their birth was occasioned by an overwhelming personal calamity. I made them, not only as the artist I then felt myself to be, but as a being consumed by forces that I was unable to withstand without psychiatric intervention, and a committment to drawing. Thus it may be said that the making of them was of therapeutic value to me; they afforded me the opportunity of releasing and exploring difficult material visually, and that perhaps they would not have existed but for the particular circumstances of their creation.

Therefore, I surround myself with my odd children, still puzzled by them, although I know them intimately, still learning from them, and as yet unable to surrender them, for they offer me hope and the reassurance that I will become able to draw again, that the well spring from which they emerged is not irrevocably drained dry despite my lack of self confidence with regard to making further drawings.  I remain convinced that two paths lie ahead of me, in terms of the creation of new drawings, one being the resumption of cloud formation drawings, this time with the particular skilled attention granted to one with the benefit of hindsight, and the other the making of a suite of images informed in their method and character, their qualities, by the series of drawings of tree, volcanic mountain and rainbow which preceded them.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013


It is of no use to compare oneself with the giants of visual art, or literature or, for that matter, one's parents, peers and siblings.  To do so invites despair at one's  shortcomings. I shall never be able to paint like J M W Turner, draw like Louise Bourgouise or Vija Celmins, still less write like Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf or WG Sebald. Neither shall I ever be as selfless as my father, as sensitively imaginative as my mother, nor as intelligent and articulate as my sisters.

However, I am beginning to recognise my own voice now, in the words that I commit to paper or screen; a modest, rather homely voice, narrow in compass, devoted to the personal, not given to brilliance or greatness, nor yet to exquisite lyricism, but possessed, at times, of a distinctively succinct turn of phrase. I would that I were, in the words of William Styron,"splendidly creative", but have come to understand that I shall never be described in those terms, I simply do not possess that level of ability, nor shall I ever, which realisation causes me considerable pain.

As far as drawing is concerned, I have yet to establish a consistent self. Over the last nine years I have produced  two distinct bodies of drawings, that of the cloud formation drawings, and the later drawings of tree, mountain and rainbow, which I group together because they sprang from the same imperative, and marked a departure from the drawings of clouds. I find it difficult to reconcile the two, and, for the present, impossible to move forward from the latter group; I find too, that I do need after all, to travel backwards in order to rediscover the forward path.

At present, although I had forsworn to indulge my habit of removing early drawings from the boxes in which they are stored in order to look upon them, I have extricated a drawing of a cloud formation  made in 2004, one of my earliest drawings of clouds, and at present the drawing lies on the floor of the back bedroom, where I can study it daily. Instead of becoming mired in fruitless retrospection, I find the exercise helpful; it can be useful and instructive to engage thus with an earlier work. It is reassuring, affirms that which I am unable to affirm myself; I could draw, and perhaps I shall be able to again.

The drawing is by no means equal in execution, concept or stature to a work by the consummate painters of clouds written of in a previous post, but it is quietly proficient; I feel no shame on regarding it, have no desire to destroy it, rather I seek to absorb the lessons it offers in the hope that I may be able to approach the making of cloud formation drawings once more.

Monday, 6 May 2013

opening night

I am successful in submitting a drawing to the local art centre's annual open submission exhibition, and find myself in a state of nervous anticipation regarding my attendance of the opening night, where I shall encounter the drawing in public for the first time, in the company of other artists,  invited guests, and amongst other works.

The drawing is of a cloud formation entitled two clouds almost the same. It is now eight years old, made whilst living in very different circumstances, facts I did not disclose to the selection committee, and of the three entries that I submitted, was the only one to have been selected.

I am anxious as to how it will appear, and both dread, and look forward to seeing it. I had delivered it to the gallery in a portfolio, as it is as yet unframed, accompanied by two clips by which to suspend it, and a pair of white cotton gloves to be worn whilst handling it, together with an explanation of how I envisaged it to be hung. I need not have worried. The drawing hangs against the white wall, above an austere, darkly coloured abstract painting, and, as far as the somewhat crowded conditions allow, appears to have been hung sensitively enough.

Seeing it in the context of a group show is instructive. It looks succinct, conveys an air of stillness, reassures me that I am correct in judging it to be among my better drawings. I wish that I had been able to afford the expense of having it framed, which in my eyes would have conferred a sense of wholeness upon it, allowed it breathing space within the frame whilst quietly containing it, provided a critical distance from the viewer and the surrounding wall,  finished it, so to speak. In conversation with another artist present, I find that he does not share my view, giving instead  a refreshing and unexpected insight, although I remain unwilling to agree with him. We compare notes; I enquire about his painting, and we speak of the joy and pain in making art. I explain in brief terms my current inability to draw, confiding the age of the submitted drawing, and he offers me a solution, one which I had indeed thought of, written about, and almost determined to put into practise, a solution that I had employed once before in order to overcome a hiatus in my work, to wit, the drawing of clouds.

We move on, talk of other things, say our goodbyes, and I am left with a feeling of having had my previous intention endorsed, and, more importantly, with a sense of hope that I may be able to return to the drawing of cloud formations, my present fear of failure notwithstanding, secure in the knowledge that it is a fit subject for attention within the context of contemporary practices, even though I shall remain forever unable to produce works on a par with Constable's cloud studies, or Gerhard Richter's masterly paintings.


I cannot proclaim, "I am an artist", or, "I am a writer", becuase I do not believe myself justified in so doing. I write a little,  draw a little, but pursue neither discipline with the dedication or level of ability of the true artist. Perhaps the affirmation mooted in the previous post is inappropriate also. Can I write? Can  I draw?

Monday, 15 April 2013


It has been suggested to me that I utter an affirmation each morning on waking, in an attempt to quell the self critical voice that leads me to stifle ideas before ever giving birth to them, causes me to wage destruction upon the works that do slip past my censorious gaze to be born, and stays my drawing hand. I am led to consider the words I should choose.  I cannot yet proclaim " I am an artist", or " I am a writer". Would " I can write", meet the case, or " I can draw", the emphasis being very much placed on the positive can, or should I attempt a more profound declaration, one which prefigures the above, and affirms that which depressive thinking renders almost impossible, " I am worthy" or  perhaps, "I do deserve to live?

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

the scent of daffodils

In the dim brown quiet of November, I plant close on three hundred daffodil bulbs in the long flowerbeds of my mother's front garden, sinking the point of the trowel deep into the stubborn, flinty soil, placing each paper jacketed bulb carefully into a funnel of damp earth at trowel's depth, trying for the engineer's neatness with which my father  had always planted them, yet straying eccentrically from the mathematical regularity which he attained.

I remember my father, crouched over the  chill ground as I crouch now, handling the plump, dry, rustling bulbs tenderly, working with a rhythm acquired over a life time of planting bulbs, bright annuals, fragrant wallflowers, elegant foxgloves, reassuringly steady. It is only when he stands, pausing from his labours, that one recognises the weariness of old age, the reluctance of his limbs to perform the task he has set for them, and only then that a shaft of disquiet penetrates one's mind, hitherto lulled into security by the easy cadence of his actions.

I find that I am suddenly blinded by the tears called forth by my remembrance, scalding tears  that fall upon my hands, and cause me to cease in my endeavour, overwhelmed by an intensity of grief, muddied, chilled, exhausted.

Months later, the daffodils stand tall and brilliant in the long flowerbeds, legions of golden trumpeters proclaiming the arrival of the yellow season in all it's cool glory.When I come again to visit, my mother fills a vase with them, and places it in my room, where at night their cold, honeyed scent  perfumes the air, recalls to mind the image of my father, meticulous, stoop shouldered  over the dank, leaf littered soil of Autumn, entrusting the delicate globes of the bulbs to the darkness below ground, confident that with theearth's turning their nascent brilliance would come as a benediction and a vital affirmation of the cycle by which we all are bound.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

self punishment

I have wielded the cudgel of self punishment to such effect that my spirit cowers as a stricken animal, waiting in terror for the next blow.

How to recover from such an assault? How to be gentle with oneself?

It is difficult to undertake the endeavour of beginning to make drawings again, when, owing to lack of practise, the first results will, almost certainly, fall far short of my hopes and desires. Because of this, I am liable to punish myself in such a manner, that approaching the task will be made yet more difficult. I must find a way of allowing myself to make mistakes, and , most importantly, to recover from them; not to perceive myself as an unmitigated failure just because one, two, or several drawings fail. It is unrealistic to suppose that the first drawing attempted after three years of abstinence, will be successful, and it is, I realise, inappropriate to punish myself as cruelly as is my wont on the occasion of failure. I need instead to understand and accept that failure is a necessary and inevitable factor in one's learning. I have to learn how to draw all over again. After all, when I first began to make drawings of clouds, some nine years ago, I had to learn how to tease the graphite powder into the shape I envisioned before smoothing it carefully into the surface of the paper, allowing for the play of chance, and adapting my methods accordingly. In the course of my work, many drawings were discarded, or later destroyed; I seem to have to produce much dross for one good piece. But I did not punish myself for my mistakes; self punishment is a feature of my behaviour that I have acquired since falling prey to depression and anxiety, and which I recognise as a pattern recurring with each episode of illness.

Beginning to draw again, with the weight of unsuccessful drawings hanging heavy on my mind, and the likelihood of failure in the future, is almost impossible. It appears to me to be a part of my being, of my personality, to be scouringly self critical, under which regime of condemmnation, experimentation, discovery and pleasure, all inseparable components of the practice of making art, will remain unobtainable until I find a way to be at peace with myself.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

the gift

A close friend makes me the gift of an idea, luminous in its simplicity, an idea that involves the pencils with which drawings are made, yet does not involve touching pencil to paper.

She proposes that I inscribe, or have inscribed into the shafts of new pencils, texts or words of my own, thus replacing the names of colours, the mark of the manufacturer, number and grade with which pencils are printed before being offered for sale. The idea seems to me to be about drawing, and also about text; it is literary, and yet very much concerned with the act of drawing. Why could I have not thought of it myself?

Anxiously, I contact my friend to ask her permission to use the idea; it is, after all, hers and not mine. I find that the idea has been freely given to me, to use, or not, as I will.

I am immediately cast into a grateful quandry. Which pencils could I use? How would I suggest the idea to a manufacturer, whose pencils would be inscribed? What text should I use? Should I use the names of colours, perhaps those of different greys, which I have researched, and of which I have already made a list, or should the texts be more emotive, more personal, so that the collection of pencils thus inscribed becomes as a journal, perhaps a journal of drawing? I find myself much more inclined to consider the latter.

I feel a flutter of tremulous excitement at the idea , a kind of visceral reaction. It is difficult to refrain from jumping up and down with amazed pleasure, as a child does and as I may well have done when a little girl.

Perhaps this gift is, or could be, the guiding light by which I may find the "straight foreward pathway", and so begin my journey to the brink of the "forest dark". I am all gratitude.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

the forest

Could I perhaps come to know the forest as a place of redemption, the site of possible rebirth, so that instead of longing to find a way forth, I find myself re awakened in amongst the trees, the darkness giving way to an inner light, so that I long to stay, and enjoy the whisper of foliage overhead, the possibility of catching sight of a reticent hind, the flash of a jay's brilliant blue wing?

Certainly the endless cycle of birth and death is evident all around, the fallen tree yielding up stored nutrient to a host of miniscule life, the tender sapling springing from a cleared glade. May I not perish here, but instead becomed renewed, healed of my psychic disarray? May I indeed find myself, and become not as one lost?

Or should I hold fast to the dark forest as a symbol of despair and loss, the emergence from which heralds a return to the world of hope and lightness of mind? It is a powerful symbol, that of a tractless expanse of trees growing so closely together that light is obliterated and day and night become as one, the "straight foreward pathway" hidden in the gloom.

Perhaps I should have charted my progress by means of marking the trees in some way, tying a bright ribbon to a bough, carving an arrow in the bark of a trunk. However the way lies not behind, but ever onwards, and one ploughs forth, navigating by  means of a sorely blunted intuition, for the most part one's mind being as dull to stimuli, as the eye is eclipsed by a blindfold.

I should like to make a drawing of  the forest, having a vision in my mind of a regiment of densely foliaged conifers stretching as far as the eye can see, appearing to stand one atop the other, as in a child's drawing, yet I do not know how to begin, and am certain that my skills as a draughtswoman are not equal to the task. It is difficult even to write of the forest; I am aware that my literary gifts are modest in scope, I do not write with ease, my sentences jar and falter where I would they were smoothly flowing. The symbol of the forest as a place of profound crisis has been much better treated by other pens than my own. One must do as one can, improving on one's talents where possible, learning one's limitations, celebrating the ocassional rush of lyricism, the well turned phrase, the sudden insight which illuminates one's text.

I cannot, for the time being, bring myself to take action in terms of drawing; it is beyond my capabilites to pick up a pencil, I am far too subject to dismay, yet I am conscious, with a kind of frantic intensity, of the passing of the days, years in which I have made no drawings. The image of the forest haunts my mind, I tussle with it, visit it frequently during my waking hours, imagine touching pencil to paper, but hold back. How to portray it? How to convey the weight of dark timber, the sense of isolation and remotemess, the dense mass of heavy foliage, the dank airlessness? I am at a loss.


I wonder if I do not need to revise the terms of my sabbatical and refrain from any research concerning the works of other artists, particularly those for whom drawing is their principle area of practice. I am faced with a dilemma; if I continue my researches I know that I will become dazzled and confused by the display of beautiful works set before me, and would be more than likely to lose all sense of purpose with regard to making any work of my own. Yet If I abstain, no longer allowing myself the somewhat double edged pleasure of viewing the works of others on line, then I deny myself any source of inspiration, or encouragement and confine myself thus to solitude once more. I must weigh up carefully. I know from previous and ongoing experience that I am most susceptible to a profound self doubt regarding my own practice, and that this self doubt is painfully deepened when I view the drawings of others; I am always astounded by ideas that I had not had myself, by evidence of materials used in drawing that I would never have thought of, and so I suffer very much by comparison, finding my own attempts paltry indeed. I also find myself easily confused by the proliferation of practices, and much cast down when I consider my own practice in the light of those of other artists.

Perhaps psychological solitude would be helpful, perhaps I need to travel inward rather than outward; there are appropriate times for either approach. Sometimes one needs, and thirsts after contact with others, even if that contact is limited to the viewing of other's work online, a poor substitute for engaging with works presented in a book or catalogue, and certainly no substitute for gazing upon a work displayed in a gallery, or studio. Yet without the facility for online research, my evenings alone would be lonely indeed, and I would have little idea of contemporary practice. Still, I feel that a period of self imposed abstinence is called for; I have recently been very active in my researches, now the need is for a time of reflection on what I have seen, and an in depth consideration of my own practice in relation to the wider context of contemporary practice.

Hanging upon the walls in the back bedroom are two of my framed drawings,  mensis Ianarius I, and mons quies or  calm mountain. I have forsaken the habit of removing earlier drawings, like the nimbostratus drawings, from their boxes in order to contemplate them, and in an attempt to find a way forward; the way forward is not to be found in previous works. Yet I still gaze upon the two drawings hanging on the walls, having chosen them carefully to be companions in my solitude. I now understand that the way ahead does not lie in attempting to repeat existing drawings, but as yet, I do not know the way ahead, it has not been made known to me. I am, for the time being bereft of idea and inclination, though possessed of a powerful anxiety to be making work, for how can I consider myself an artist if I do not, or cannot work?

It is lightless in the forest. The way is  deeply mired, the undergrowth clings to one's clothing, and entraps one's limbs, the trees mesh overhead in a impenetrable canopied darkness.The forest is a place of profound disorientation, difficult to write of and almost impossible to speak of, it is a place both contained within and yet containing one's psyche, where the demons of self doubt and self loathing do their work silently, laying waste to one's sense of self.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

on naming oneself as an artist

"As a child, I'd even put the date and my name on my drawings, whereas when I thought of becoming an artist as an adult, at first I wouldn't put my name on them because I dared not think I was really an artist. I was afraid to call myself an artist until August 15, 1960. Thats when, as an adult, I first put the date and my name on a drawing. It was like jumping off a building"

William Anastasi, American artist, in conversation with Rachel Nackman.

March 2012, New York.

Monday, 25 February 2013


I am on leave, have decided to cease from all attempts at creating drawings, or indeed any work at all, for the time being. I am hoping that this period of respite will enable the eventual return of my abilities and skills which have departed from me as if on a migratory path. Having recently made several abortive attempts at drawing cloud formations, I find myself not only woefully out of practise, which state of affairs could, I suppose, be remedied, but wholly disinclined to undertake the endeavour. I simply do not wish to make drawings of clouds, or anything else at present, my desire has flown along with any skills that I may have possessed. I have not emerged from Dante's "forest dark", and must yet be patient.

Hence my decision to formalise the arrangement; to designate this empty period a sabbatical, thereby effecting a release from the self imposed pressure to make drawings, and instead to fill those hours previously beguiled by making  drawings, in research, in reading the books that I have always intended to read, but never have, in attempting a more formal account of my ongoing struggle with depressive illness, in the hope that one day the work may be published for the benefit of those others, who like myself wrestle with the forces of darkness, and who have lost the "straight foreward pathway".

Sunday, 24 February 2013

a forest dark

"Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark
For the straight foreward pathway had been lost".

Dante Alighieri  The Divine Comedy canto I Inferno

I can think of, or compose, no better sentences than to describe my own condition.

Monday, 18 February 2013

my father's hairbrushes

Almost two years after my father's death, his hairbrushes remain upturned upon the bedside table in the room in which he last slept before being taken ill and admitted to hospital. There are two brushes, one for each hand, and it was my father's habit to take them thus, and sweep them one after the other from his brow to the nape of his neck.

They are old, slightly worn, a few silver hairs clinging to the bristles. They still smell of clean skin and the faintly musky odour of hair; the scent of my father's forehead when I bent over him to kiss him farewell at the close of each hospital visit. The scent, lingering on well after the extinguishing of life, and the cremation of my father's body, shocks me into tears, awakens such an acute sense of loss that I can no longer bear to hold the brushes, and I lay them down, side by side as my mother had placed them.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

cloud pencils

I have in my possession well over a hundred coloured pencils, stored in various tins and boxes, kept sharpened to fine points, regrettably unused for the past three years. I have been collecting pencils for years, having an especial liking for the different greys and for those which have the names of colours painted on the shaft.

On a  snowy afternoon in January I select four grey pencils from one of the tins - what I think of as cloud pencils; indeed one of them bears the words  cloud grey, another the word  storm. The pencils are made of cedar, the scent of the exposed wood is almost intoxicating, I am tempted to sharpen one further just to intensify the resonant exotic odour.

The pencils are by Derwent of England, and are members of their Graphitint range; made of water-soluble graphite and coloured pigment, although it was my habit to use them in their dry state. They are beautiful drawing instruments, of a glossy, metallic mid-grey, their provenance, colour name and number printed in white along the length of the shaft. They feel lovely in the hand, smooth, perfectly balanced, so that holding them is close to being pleasurably therapeutic, evoking memories of their use in previous drawings. To handle the pencils thus is a conscious play on my part to approach the making of cloud drawings once more, to become involved again in a process which held great meaning for me, and which began at a time when I was otherwise at a loss as to how to proceed with my practice.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

untitled cloud formation drawing

This untitled drawing would have been made in 2005 or 2006, and like some of its companion drawings, eschewed destruction, although it had been relegated to the bottom of one of the boxes where I store unframed works. Along with a contemporary drawing posted earlier, it had been in my thoughts for some weeks before retrieval, whereupon I decided to publish it, and include it in the suite of cloud drawings for which I still have some regard.

I feel a faint stirring of hopefulness when I look upon this drawing, and the other untitled cloud drawing recently reinstated in my affections. Both drawings lie on the floor of the back bedroom, and I look upon them each day, trying to find in myself the necessary courage to recommence the drawing of cloud formations, but with the precious gift of hindsight.

I am immensely heartened by the knowledge that there is an established canon of works depicting cloud formations- I often need reassurance of this nature before I can proceed, and remember feeling extremely insecure and somewhat embarrassed when I was engaged in drawing rainbows. I have not an idea in my head for a  new work, but a cloud is not an idea, the execution of a drawing of a cloud formation does not require one to be in possession of an idea. It is as close as I can get to making a purely abstract drawing, which I would love to be able to do. Always there is an imperative in my mind that whatever I draw has to depict some object or phenomonem - I can never escape into the realms of abstraction. However, it is eminently possible to take flight into a landscape of clouds, to find a release whilst gazing upwards at the heavens, rather as my mother did when a little girl, lying on her back in the grass during a Summer afternoon rest period at infant school.

It is not my intention to draw clouds from direct observation, at least, not at first, rather to attempt to construct drawings of imaginary formations, relying on remembered observations. I need courage in order to proceed. I am deeply afraid by the thought of committing myself to the making of suites of cloud drawings, am frightened by the spectre of self harm which forever looms in my psyche, and manifests itself in blows to the head and face when I experience failure. For failure is inevitable, but I must learn to experience it as a vital part of learning; one must make mistakes in order to make progress. There will be failed drawings, as, I am hoping, there will be drawings that I may regard as successful. I do not intend to attempt to copy the drawings above, rather to absorb them into my thoughts as gestures made in graphite and coloured pencil dust, which gestures I may consider on my journey to new works.

Sunday, 6 January 2013


This slight drawing represents a moment of rare indulgence and pleasure on my part. It is the last drawing to be made before the onset of the crisis of fear which has prevented me from being able to work, and dates from November 2009. It is a drawing of a lupin seedling, which was growing in a little pot on the kitchen windowsill. Something about the frailty of the minute leaves, and the courageous aspect of their habit of growth moved me to make this tiny sketch, which remains precious to me, especially so as the seedling did not survive, and I have only the memory of it captured in wax crayon and pastel on a scrap of paper.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

untitled cloud formation drawing

This drawing was made in 2005, and is one of the earliest drawings of cloud formations completed whilst still a student at Winchester School of Art, and whilst living at the lodge. It survived the rigorous purges performed upon many of it's companions, and until a few days ago lay at the bottom of one of the boxes in which I store unframed drawings. I had not looked at it with any degree of attention for years, but the drawing had nevertheless been an active presence in my mind for some weeks before I retrieved it. It was made at a time when I possessed a degree of courage and hope in terms of my ability to make drawings, when I felt a measure of creative freedom and confidence.

Nothing could have prepared me for the tide of self disapprobation and loss of faith which has swept over me during  recent years, causing a truly devastating departure of both skills and self confidence. Yet I believe that I am emerging from this crisis with renewed hope, and a keener , more reliable sense of the worthiness of each drawing, although at times I still weep with despair when I consider my work in comparison with that of others. One does not emerge from such a crisis unmarked, and the struggle to recover one's sense of self worth is dark indeed, yet amidst the pain and darkness there is now a frail light, like the pallid grey dawn of day after a long and wearisome night of tormented sleeplessness.