Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Acrylic paint Update

Much research has been undertaken since my last post, not least by me....

A quite lengthy discussion of the issue (acrylic paint lifting from the surface) has been going on at Painters-Online (www.painters-online.co.uk) but it might help to summarize the main points here.

  1. Acrylic paint can lift from the surface if it's under-bound, i.e. if it's diluted too much.  
  2. There is a problem with some canvas-boards, canvases and other boards sold as being fit for acrylic painting.  This became obvious when I took a close look at a number of boards I've just bought: something has been used - perhaps to inhibit mould growth, perhaps for other reasons - which has given the acrylic gesso a shiny surface which repels water, and will also repel acrylic paint.  
  3. Papers - watercolour paper, mountboard etc - are not affected by this and can be used safely with acrylics.
  4. If it doubt about a canvas board or canvas, wash it - warm water, plus a very small amount of washing up liquid, scrubbed into the surface (carefully!) with a nail-brush until all the shine is removed.  Applying a coat of matt medium (anybody's)  will also encourage the paint to stick.  And I've found that using Daler-Rowney's acrylic gesso on the surface, over the existing priming, also helps.
  5. If you buy canvas boards or canvas sold for acrylic use which have a shiny surface, bring it to the attention of your supplier: Manufacturers need to be discouraged from adding anything to acrylic gesso which actually repels paint - whatever made them start doing it, they need to stop!
  6. Take more than a cursory look at your boards - hold them up to the light: if you can see glittery bits in the weave of the canvas, it needs to be washed.  If you spray the surface with water, and notice the water is being resisted in places, again - it needs a wash.  

Tuesday, 20 January 2015


This is another version of my dream house - i.e. a building I've dreamt about now on several occasions; its architecture varies a bit from time to time: it's gained a pediment this time round - but its desolation is fairly consistent.

What lies within, that's what I don't know......

A word of warning while I'm at it.  I used a fine-grained acrylic paint for this, one I've used many times before and which gives me usually good results.  On this occasion, there was a problem - the painting is not quite the same now, although the differences are minor, as it appears here.   When I went to varnish it, some of the paint actually lifted, and smeared - most of the picture was fine, but the damage occurred on the lit part of the pediment, and parts of the tree.

I'm in discussion with the paint company about why this might have occurred with paint which had never given me this trouble before, but I don't believe it was a batch problem, as I've used this specific pot before, several times.

What I  THINK happened is this: I nearly always use only water as a medium with acrylic paint; this particular product can be diluted a great deal while still maintaining pigment strength, but there is a limit to how far you can dilute acrylic without the paint becoming under-bound (i.e. its "stickiness" is compromised).  This is likely to be all the more true if one's painting on a canvas-covered board, as I was, for several reasons: one, while the paint will dry reliably quickly on a stretched canvas, as it's exposed to the air front and back, and on paper (watercolour or acrylic paper) it can actually take longer on a heavy board - it will look dry, and feel dry, but it might not have proved throughout; especially if the weather is cold and damp.

It might have been safer if I'd waited at least a week before trying to varnish it - as it was, the quite soupy (thick, sticky) varnish and the bristle brush with which I applied it just pulled paint off the surface (and caused me to squeal somewhat.....).

Lessons from this:

  • Employ painting medium, eg gloss medium, in future rather than just water when painting thinly
  • Let the painting dry thoroughly in a warm room
  • Bear in mind that canvas glued to board will cause the paint to dry more slowly (or at least can)
  • Leave the painting for 7 days or so before varnishing
  • If using a fine-grained acrylic, particularly, bear all the above in mind even more so!
I'll post  any further suggestions I might receive from the company.  As for the painting - here it be.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015


First, sorry that the last post was hard to read - I may delete it in a while, but it was something I needed to get off my chest, and I'm not too good at cut and paste.

Secondly, and speaking of getting things off my chest, while some people like to listen to Carols at Christmas and to read festive literature, I celebrated New Year's Eve by re-reading Bram Stoker's Dracula - an infuriating novel in many ways, but retaining a distinct power of chill.

Having read it, I got two images in my mind: one of Dracula's castle, and the second of the boy himself - not the usual image of him portrayed in nearly all the films: first Max Schreck in Nosferatu, then Bela Lugosi in the 1931 film, Christopher Lee - Lugosi's character, with added gore - Klaus Kinski (reverting to Max Schreck's performance), and of course numerous others, ending with Francis Ford Coppola's film, which was closer to the book than some of the others, but created a character in Dracula that came out of Gawd knows where.  (Well played though by Gary Oldman: we'll pass lightly over Keanu Reeve's English accent, achieved presumably with a mouth full of golf balls.)

The Dracula of Stoker's novel looks nothing like any of these personations - and it was Stoker's Dracula I drew: or rather, sketched; or even scribbled....  My favourite screen Dracula remains Bela Lugosi, but actually the character described so completely in the novel is a great deal more sinister than any portrayal so far shown.

These are not tremendously serious drawings, in short, but better out than in - so here they are.  Pen sketches in both cases.

 Home, Sweet Home............

Its Occupant.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

The Rose Report on the NHS - not an arty subject, but then, there are other things in life.


    Publish it now.
    The NHS - and I'm intimately familiar with only a relatively small corner of it, while having a longstanding wider involvement - is crippled by its management structures, imposed by the last two governments.
    The separation of commissioning and provision - introduced, apparently, to satisfy the EU's competition legislation - is a flagrant absurdity, leading to two levels of bureaucracy within every NHS region where one would be far more efficient. There is little or no cooperation between the training and provision element - so that we have severe shortages of qualified staff in whole areas of expertise (particularly haematology) and no means of directing medical students into the needed disciplines - we don't have enough nurses, so are forced to recruit from the Phillipines, and insist on degree-level training for basic carers. And we have a dog's breakfast of scrutiny systems - one at local authority level; another, allegedly independent, in Healthwatch; another, with the Care Quality Commission; yet another, with Monitor, whose function seems to be to enhance the march towards privatization.
    We have Foundation Trusts, with a membership system which is expensive to maintain and offers absolutely no measure of public involvement in running the NHS, although that's its ostensible purpose. Each of these Trusts is responsible for establishing its own governance arrangements and - subject to the scrutiny of these outside bodies - clinical standards. We have a proliferation of such Trusts, some responsible for specific hospitals, some for mental health within a region, some with no very obvious purpose at all, and a gap between all of them, demonstrated by a lack of common standards: except that occasionally they realize they don't have a policy on which they're likely to be examined, so speedily rush to establish one under the heading of 'sharing the learning'.
    You wouldn't run a sweet-shop, a springs factory, a Glee Club like this - you wouldn't scrutinize such a complex system as this - in this way.
    The NHS management structure is a shambles - one disaster built upon another largely as a result of cack-handed government reforms, the worst of which were kicked off by that utter, dangerous, incompetent fool Alan Milburn, and built on by a succession of lamentably stupid Secretaries of State and a dysfunctional and generally lick-spittle Department of Health ever since.
    Not only that, but they LIE about it! They pretend that the intention all along has been to strengthen the voice of the patient, the GP, those who work in the NHS - all of whom have been the passive victims of this incompetence because none of us were ever consulted!
    We're told that Andy Burnham is going to scrap the Health and Social Care Act. Good. But then what? Are we to revert to the Milburn/Reid shambles? Are we still to be lumbered with the Foundation Trust model, the separation of commissioning from provision, the ever-open invitation to the private sector to suck whatever meat remains on the bones? Is there going to be investment in the service and a serious, severe rationalization of management? I don't know, and I wish to God I could believe that Andy Burnham does, but nothing he has said, or been allowed to say, so far gives me even a hint of confidence that the Labour Party will take on this crisis of unwieldy, unmanageable management.
    The NHS still manages to be efficient, whatever its numerous critics claim; it still manages to keep its head above water in international comparisons. How it does this, I don't begin to understand, given the hobbles around its ankles placed there by this government and the last one. It can't be expected to meet the challenges of the future for so long as its entire management structure, from the Department of Health downwards and including its fantastically incompetent 'watchdogs' and regulators. remains in place. It doesn't work. The service functions despite the systems within which it's required to operate. It is crippled, in so many areas, by PFI debt, and dependent upon the fairweather 'support' of the private sector, whose interests have nothing in common with maintaining a national health service free at the point of provision.
    Publish the bloody report, and while there's still time to save the NHS, let's start a real conversation to determine how the blunders of the last 20 years can be reversed.

    Saturday, 20 December 2014

    Lord Fisher of Lambeth, Archbishop of Canterbury - flogger or not?

    Mentioning Geoffrey Fisher, the Archbishop of Canterbury when I were a lad, as I did below, reminds me of a conversation I had with Edward Upward about Repton School, where Fisher was Headmaster and Upward, and Christopher Isherwood, pupils.

    Fisher gained a reputation, largely through the memoirs of Roald Dahl, as a sadistic flogger of small boys.  Edward, however - no great friend of public (i.e. private) schools, nor yet of the clergy -  felt that Fisher had been "badly traduced"; he was not the Headmaster of Repton when the beating to which Dahl referred took place, nor any great wielder of the cane.

    Public schools could be foul places in those days - before the First World War and in the 50 years or so thereafter, but Fisher was far from being the worst sort of flogging Headmaster, who could lecture you about sin at the same time as thrashing your bare buttocks - a classic case of adding insult to injury.

    There was a Bishop - possibly an Archbishop - who HAD been a flogger, of a particularly repellent type; Edward told me his name, but I've forgotten which of them it was; I had best not repeat Dahl's libellous habits by speculating on the culprit, and they're all interred in the hungry grave now anyway, as are many of their victims.  It always impressed me though that Edward Upward, a Marxist and atheist, should have cared about the reputation of a man with whom he can have had little in common - injustice, however, was something he couldn't tolerate.

    Wednesday, 17 December 2014


    Well, the EU has proved that it can see sense after all.  The proposal to ban cadmium in artists' paint has been rejected, because the evidence in support of it is negligible.

    Good: I'm glad I neither stockpiled vast quantities of Cadmium Yellow, Lemon and Red, which I'd probably never have got round to using, nor now need to consider voting for UKIP.  Not that I ever would have done: I do have some standards.  Low ones, but not that low.

    In celebration, I shall post this year's two Christmas cards!  Happy Christmas to all, and congratulations to the EU for examining actual evidence.  Not everybody does.....

    Foxy, in confident anticipation of Christmas dinner.   Watercolour.

    Bishop O'Booze celebrates the true meaning of Chrishmash ... (Acrylic) - with apologies to those of a religious disposition, but clergy haven't dressed like this for many years now, so he's gone to his reward or punishment by now.  When I were a lad, senior clergymen did dress in frock coats, apron, gaiters, and some still wore the top hat with cords, or with a bit of crepe tied around it.  Times have changed: can anyone imagine the late Archbishop Fisher helping at a foodbank?  Actually, yes, I can - but he'd still have worn his gaiters......

    Saturday, 13 December 2014

    Cadmium Yellow, Red, Orange - . Nearer and nearer draws the time ....

    Very soon now, the European Union's decision on whether or not to ban Cadmium in artists' paints will be known.   I'll save any vituperation until they pronounce - but if they do ban cadmium based paints, they'll be stealing one of the greatest advances in colour in the last 100 years from artists everywhere.

    It's interesting that some of the critics - possibly even all of them - on the national newspapers haven't grasped how important this is, reinforcing my view that 99% of them know absolutely nothing about the process and practice of painting.   Does it matter that they don't - is it necessary to know the boring technical details provided you have a degree in art history - or at least a diploma from an ex-Polytechnic posing as the real thing - and have read Clement Greenberg (you could look him up: I'm not sure I'd necessarily recommend that you do)?

    Yes, it does.  A critic who knows nothing about the way in which paintings are made just doesn't know anything like enough to be worth listening to.   All too many of them know about is auction prices, market value, saleability.  Some of them wouldn't know a Bright from a Filbert, or a tube of Buff Titanium from a tube of Colgate plaque-removing toothpaste.

    If there's one thing I can't stand (honest observation here: there are MILLIONS of things I can't stand) it's critics who trade on the public's ignorance to shield their own.   Any critic or art "expert" who has failed to express concern about the possible banning of cadmium pigments in the EU is either an idiot, whose opinion on art is worth about as much as mine on Crown Bowls (trust me on this, don't trust me on this - I know zilch on toast) or so remarkably complacent about a real danger I wonder what could possibly awaken them to a threat.  Nuclear war, possibly.

    Saturday, 6 December 2014

    Hatchet job posing as Review

    Artists, perhaps particularly those who make a bob or two out of their efforts, must expect - and will certainly get - criticism.  Sometimes that criticism will be fairly extreme - the so-called Young British Artists have discovered that; in general, I don't value their work any more than I'm impressed by the majority of the "Stuckists" who purport to oppose them.  I  also don't feel any compulsion at all to vilify them - whether I like or value  their work is quite irrelevant to its quality and ultimate aesthetic value.

    Criticism from the public is one  thing; of course people aren't going to like or understand certain things, but whether that's their fault, or the fault of the artists who haven't got their point across, or actually nobody's real fault at all, is usually a wide-open question.

    The professional art critic may take a more robust view - John Ruskin certainly did, accusing Whistler of being a 'Cockney coxcomb" who threw a pot of paint in the public's face (Whistler was a great draughtsman, and an awful snob).  Robust it may be, but we're entitled to expect that it won't be hysterical and personally offensive.

    But then we have the Guardian's Jonathan Jones - I'm aware that he's a passionate man, with very strong views about painting (and much else).  He is a former admirer of Damien Hirst - or at least of Hirst's early work - who rarely has a good word for him these days.  He is generally supportive of Tracey Emin, she and Hirst being the enfants terribles of modern art, and the collective epitome of all that many people hate about it.

    I don't have a view about any of that - I really intensely dislike Hirst's sculptural work, and am indifferent to his paintings.  I simply don't understand what Tracey Emin does, so don't express an opinion on her work if I can avoid it.  I do not seek to demonize them, however, and I think they're trotted out far too often by those who ALWAYS come up with the tired old "Emperor's new clothes" cliché, when all they really mean is "I don't get it so it must be crap".

    Generally speaking, the passage of time will sort out whether anyone's any good or not, and I'm happy to leave it to do so.

    But what to make of a critic who calls an artist's work "loathsome"?  Who tells us it isn't even sincere; who refers to her "daft daubs"?  Because this is what Jonathan Jones had to say about Maggi Hambling's latest exhibition - all that, and worse.  Is t his actually criticism at all?  Is it a review?  I think not - I think it's vulgar, splenetic, personal abuse; just about the most disgraceful thing I've seen a critic write.  The Guardian referred to it as "biting criticism", but of course it isn't: it isn't criticism at all; critics examine work and analyse it. offer a view of it, dissect it if they feel it requires it.  What they don't do is use emotionally-laden language approaching hate-speech - language that reminded me of Dr Joseph Goebbels' comments on the Entartete Kunst (decadent art) exhibition which the Nazis staged to demonstrate how modern art was all anti-social, rubbish, Jewish-dominated subversion.

    That exhibition backfired on Goebbels - it attracted huge, and generally appreciative, crowds; whereas his approved art exhibition flopped.  I hope Jonathan's words backfire on him - his standing is not, frankly, high with those who know anything or write about art: after this vicious tirade it's likely to plummet, and it deserves to.   Go to the Guardian's website and read it, if you can stomach it.

    Monday, 1 December 2014

    Robert, what HAVE you been doing lately?

    Well, I'm so glad you asked.

    Drawing, mostly - and as the drawings are by and large Christmas-related, I can't as yet reveal them.

    However, suffice it to say that I am rediscovering my interest in pen and ink - I've been looking at Victorian magazine and newspaper illustrations, and observing the hatching techniques pen and ink artists employed.  Some just stuck to vertical ink lines on basic drawings; others used cross-hatching - lines that might come from any direction but were primarily against each other, to indicate depth and darkness; and some combined those techniques with "bracelet" shading, ink lines which follow the contours of an object in order to show its volume.

    I've always used "real" ink and nibs before - i.e. dip pens and Indian ink; and this is still my preferred approach.  But it does seem just a bit like cutting off your nose to spite your face to avoid all the many lightfast disposable and refillable pens that are now available: so I'm going to get a few.

    Oh, and Christmas is coming, don't forget .... a nice little box of pens would go down very well.... Faber Castell, pigment ink, that sort of thing.   I leave it with you.  No pressure.....

    And, while waffling, I was reminded the other day that I have a page on Free Index - reminded because the site owners told me if I didn't log in and make use of it now and then, which I hadn't done since 2011, they'd take it away.....  So I've updated it, and there are several pieces of work on there, with contact details.

    Take a look at - www.wightpaint.freeindex.co.uk 

    Also, I've just taken delivery of a marvellous book of bird paintings by the Indian artist Pratim Das.  If you have any interest in birds, and watercolour, Pratim's book should be on your shelves.  It's available directly from him, email him at: ektooono1rawcom@gmail.com, or look him up on Facebook - the page you want for the book is Birds the real buddy.  

    Friday, 14 November 2014

    Autumn on the River

    A 30 by 40cm oil on canvas-covered board - I've done several versions of this.... difficult to get a good picture of it, ie one that looks as good as the painting (honest).......

    Find the rat - shouldn't be too difficult.

    This one unframed would lighten your bank balance and fatten mine to the tune of £300.  Apply within......

    Thursday, 30 October 2014

    New oil, Autumn on the Undercliff

    What with arthritis in my lower back, joining up with arthritis in my neck and shoulders, I haven't felt up to painting for a while - but the snag is, it's so easy to lose your momentum, and your touch (so far as I have one: self-deprecation being my middle names).  So on the whole, it's better to plough on through pain and discomfort and get on with it.

    This is a bit of a moody one, I suppose.  Rat present and correct, if you should choose to look for him.  Used the Cadmiums in this one - Yellow, and Red Deep: quite how I'm going to replace them if the bloody EU bans them, I don't yet know; maybe the Cad.  Red Deep could be substituted with Winsor Red Deep, which is basically Pyrrole Red; although it doesn't have the plumminess.  But the Yellow - much more difficult: there are very, very few strong, opaque yellows.

    A decision is due on Cadmium in paints in December: I suppose I could stock up on them, but as these are some of the most expensive colours you can get, I'm a bit limited in how many I could afford in one go.

    I dunno - life gets tedious, dunnit?

    Friday, 3 October 2014

    Hiatus, and Cervical Collars..... (Neck supports)

    Very little work done lately, so nothing to show; I finished 3 postcard-size acrylics for the Art for Youth auction, which will held in London later this month, but given it's an anonymous auction I can't show them here until it's over - and incidentally, I do find painting that small a real challenge.

    The reason for the inactivity otherwise has much to do with cervical spondylosis - arthritis of the neck vertebrae, basically.  And as I have no work to show, I shall ride a hobby-horse into town for a moment.

    If you suffer from neck pain - which tends to come and go - you will know that when it's at its worst nothing will shift it: you can't stand, sit or lie in any comfortable position.  Sleep is difficult, and when you do get off, you tend to wake at odd intervals and so don't get a restful night - now, many of us deal with this with painkillers, but even the strongest aren't much use without immobilizing, or at least limiting the mobility of, the neck.

    Here is where support collars come in.  I have one which I wear at night when the pain is severe.  If you look online, and in text-books, including the know-it-all Wikipedia, you will see that support collars have little proven effectiveness; physios tend to advise against them, or at least the more dogmatic ones do.  It is claimed that they can even do harm, as they weaken the muscles of the neck.

    These claims are drivel.  For one thing, if you wore a collar every hour of every day and night, yes, your neck muscles might well atrophy; but few of us would, and very few need to.  This claim by the way is made at the same time as the (accurate) observation that a collar doesn't actually immobilize the neck at all: it just makes you aware of limitations to movement, tends to make you hold the neck still, even in sleep, and it warms the muscles.  So while on the one hand it weakens the muscles, on the other hand it doesn't actually affect them sufficiently to do any good ..... crap.  Both points can't be right.

    I have tried everything for neck pain, exercises, drugs, even "cracking" the neck manually.  The only thing that works, and it won't do so immediately, is a combination of painkiller and a firm support collar.  If you've been discouraged from using them and told they don't work by some fathead physio who's never had spondylosis him or herself, smile sweetly at them - or don't, it's entirely up to you.  Either insist they provide you with a collar so you can find out for yourself, or pretend you've listened to them and go out and buy one.  Try it and see, and if it doesn't work for you you can always send it to me........

    There is so very little that the medics can do for osteo-arthritis (they can do a bit more for rheumatoid arthritis, a desperately unpleasant condition for those unfortunate enough to have it) other than drug it, or prescribe generally useless exercises plus the TENS machine, which they prefer because they think it's "scientific".  The one thing that does bring relief is the one thing of which they're most suspicious.  Probably they think it's too easy - that treatment should involve effort, stretching, deep breaths and pure thoughts; the sort of thinking that used to lie behind the idea that medicine would be better for you if it tasted like swamp water a camel had died in.   Ignore all that.  Get a collar.

    Tuesday, 19 August 2014

    The Work In Progress Progressed - I hope

    Here is the former WIP, with a bit of glazing and some sharper details.

    Again, I think I shall avoid tube greens next time - on the whole at least; and certainly avoid Pthalo Green.... I am not a devotee.

    Friday, 15 August 2014

    Work in Progress

    Another WIP - love that word - a fairly large oil (40 by 50cm) on rough linen on board.  This is based on Afton Down, at Freshwater on the Isle of Wight: I say based, because I don't see any point in producing very accurate landscapes: a photograph is better at that - but this is somewhat more accurate than I actually like to paint....  I tried to veer away from the actualité, but found myself drifting back to it.

    Lots of glazing to be done, plus the fiddly bits - for those into painting in oils, I used Pthalo Green, because I was lazy: better to mix your greens, and I wish I had, because the wretched stuff permeates everything.  I OUGHT to  throw the tube away and never buy another, but on the one hand it does have its uses (makes an excellent black, mixed with red, and cool greys if you add white)  and on the other I'm as mean as sin: so until the tube is exhausted I know I shall keep using it.

    There's nothing wrong with a ready-made green, in certain circumstances - a permanent Sap Green (they aren't ALL permanent: check the rating) can be pleasant, mixed with yellows, reds or even blue, and Viridian, though more expensive than Pthalo Green if it's the real thing, while hideous on its own and suitable, as someone said, only for painting park benches, is softer than Pthalo and mixes more satisfactorily.  Terre Verte, which has very low tinting strength, also has its place, as does the rather expensive Cobalt Green.

    I suggest you avoid most of the others you're likely to encounter, at least if trying to paint in Britain and Europe - Emerald Green, Cadmium Green, Prussian, Chrome, and Alizarin Green (the last three quite difficult to find, in any case) are more suited to tropical vegetation.  And although I know a lot of people use Olive Green, I find it a colour of peculiar hideousness - there are many different types, it's a nondescript colour based on mixes particular to each manufacturer, but so far as I'm concerned all of them are vile.

    And I can mix Vile myself, without actually buying it .....

    Wednesday, 30 July 2014

    Too Pooped to Paint

    Far too hot, and I've had one or two health issues, to paint in the last few weeks: beginning to get cooler, and I'm beginning to feel better, so back to the fray very soon.  Today was the last day of the Alfred 'Paddy' Kerr Art Group's exhibition at Ventnor Botanic Gardens: I go back tomorrow to either pick up my unsold paintings, or a bag of cash ..... guess which it'll be...

    Beginning to think that exhibitions are an exercise in ever diminishing returns: it's either the wrong time of year, or the venue isn't what it used to be, or the recession is still in full flood, whatever the government claims, or a mix of all these things.  In the case of the Botanic Gardens, the loss of the through-road hasn't exactly helped - where once people would drive by, notice it, and stop, or plan a visit and find a direct route, now the main road has gone over the cliff; there is no passing traffic, and the place is that much harder to get to.

    Not only that, but the last Tory council, defeated all too late, sold the Gardens to a private owner - people didn't like that, and they certainly don't like to have to pay to park their cars and pay AGAIN to actually get into the Gardens.  One of the many things I hate about the Tories: if it isn't nailed down, they'll flog it.........

    This is probably my last exhibition this year; I don't enjoy them very much, and coinciding with blood pressure/oedema problems I haven't exactly been a-float on a bubble of enthusiasm.  Stick to selling on the web, I think - it's a lot less labour-intensive.

    Or a gallery to represent me would be good - apply within!