From tug boats to Turner

You know those times when you get back to the car park and you can’t find where you left the car? I had a moment like that in the boatyard the other evening. The good ship ‘Else’ has been lifted out of the water for a bit of maintenance (and I have to say that her bottom is not in bad shape for a lady of delicate years, but I will resist the temptation to take that analogy further. A friend asked me how my stern gland was doing and I could only reply that it was in need of attention from men with large spanners. The non-nautical amongst you can make of that what you like!)

refit at melton2

 High and dry on the quay…..

In the meantime I’ve been working long hours in the studio on a welcome rush of illustration projects, so each evening I return to the yard quite late. I knew that my boat was going to be moved to a different place on the quay at some stage, so was not surprised to find her gone from her usual place by the dock. But where was she? It should be quite hard to lose a 27 ton tug boat but it was a dark night and my pocket torch is small. Ah, there she was, tucked into corner of the quay hiding behind a crane. The ladder is long but the views from the top are spectacular. At the moment it’s always dark when I get home from work, but I had a day at ‘home’ on Sunday, doing a different kind of painting..

refit at melton1

The secret of New Year Resolutions is to choose ones you enjoy and stand a chance of keeping. It may seem odd that after an intensive day drawing in the studio I would want to sketch to relax, but I’m having a great time doing my ‘sketch a day’ and my sketchbook journal is filling up with all kinds of strange and wonderful squiggles.

 sketchbook page

Sometimes it’s only a five minute doodle; sometimes I can fill a few pages. If I miss a day (and I do) then I’ll do extra the following day. It’s a great way to make me sketch in new places – like a jazz club in the dark! When you can’t see what you’re painting and you’re trying to draw a moving target you have to be fast. It’s quite liberating going straight in with a paintbrush, no faffing around with pencils first….


There really is nothing like sketching – anything and everything – to develop your artist’s eye. It’s the single most important message I pass on to art groups when teaching or demonstrating. Trying to produce a good finished painting if you don’t sketch regularly is like trying to run a marathon straight from your armchair. It can’t be done. Sketching develops your art muscle. It doesn’t doesn’t have to be perfect and you don’t have to show anyone. You just have to sit down and look at something, really look at its form and proportion and tone and shape, and make that connection between hand and eye. There is so much emphasis on end results that every student in every art group is always trying to make a ‘finished’ painting. At the risk of staying too long on my soapbox my message would be: take the pressure off, give yourself a chance to play. Fill your page with colours, squiggles, trees, anything you like. Enjoy the journey. A finished piece is the end of the road, not the road itself.

 anchor open mic

First attempt at double bass went wrong, so second attempt is better.

Don’t take my word for it, look at the sketchbooks of Monet or Turner for example. They practised with pages of lines, brushstrokes, notes and observations, because they wanted to learn how to do it. That’s how they got so good.

And, as if I hadn’t gone on enough already, I picked up a book about illustrator Shirley Hughes, ‘A Life Drawing’ in a second hand bookshop yesterday. I’ll let her have the last word:

‘Fluency in drawing is largely to do with having a pencil in your hand most of the time as a kind of commentary, a response to life in general. As with football, it’s a matter of kicking the ball about at every available opportunity’….

Now it’s time to climb down off arty soapbox and work out how to get three sacks of coal up a twelve foot ladder…..!

1 thought on “From tug boats to Turner”

  1. Alan Coy says:

    I always enjoy your scribbling as well as your paintings and sketches. Just thought I should say!

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