Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Stingy Chips and Sidestreet Surprises

Gentle Waves and Tranquil Days; watercolour,2018.
Eagle-eyed regulars have already noticed that I've changed the name of my online merchandise store from Spooky Cute Designs to something more direct.  There was nothing wrong with the old name, as such, but had become rather misleading.  The store's earliest designs tended to be teddy bears wearing a witch's hat, or the ever-popular Beelzebear designs or similar, and while many of these items are still available, (printed onto T-shirts, bags, household furnishings, posters and more), the majority of the store's merchandise now derives from my art and photography, plus the range of items for writers which remains popular.  Therefore the old store name was misleading to new clients.  I only changed its name recently but sales are already improving.

One of my nieces recently posted on Facebook that she was thinking of combining her two YouTube channels into one.  As I said to her, a hazard of having any kind of website is that you then spend forever tweaking the thing.

New store banner - it sells exactly what it says on the sign!
My birthday was on the 17th.  There's an old superstition - in which I don't believe, incidentally - which claims that the predominant theme of events on a person's birthday will continue to be the main theme for them throughout their coming year.  The main activity of my morning was a life drawing class, and in the afternoon I took two watercolour paintings to the Williamson Art Gallery for entry into the Williamson Open Exhibition.

For my birthday, Richard bought me a box of Dairy Milk chocolates and two paperbacks, The Underground Railroad by Colin Whitehead, and Birdcage Walk by the late Helen Dunmore, who's one of my favourite writers.  Richard also took me out to dinner.  We had planned to dine in Chester but the torrential rain encouraged us to cancel our plans.  One hour later, with the two of us moping around, he suddenly said, "Oh rhubarb to it", or words to that effect, "let's go out anyway."  As Southport's Lord Street in mostly under cover, that's where we headed to, and we both enjoyed a lovely day out.
Life drawings, 17th February 2018.
We lunched at a small but busy cafe which annoyed me by serving chips wrapped in a paper napkin and tucked inside a little aluminium bucket whose base was stuffed with a second napkin in a lame attempt to disguise the miserly portion.  It's not as if a couple of potatoes are an expensive commodity in line with, say, a bottle of Rothchild's finest.  Easy solution:  we'll dine elsewhere in future.

When heading back towards Southport train station, we wandered down a sidestreet which we've obviously not been down before as we came across a fabulous bookshop.  Spread through cramped rooms over several floors, it sells both old and new books which are stacked to the rafters, and the subjects are split up intelligently so you can find what you're looking for.

Richard bought a couple of old Star Trek novels, while I picked three second-hand art books:  The Big Book of Painting Nature in Oils by S Allyn Schaeffer; Fresh Watercolour by Ray Campbell Smith; and Coastal Landscapes by David Bellamy. We'll definitely be calling into this bookshop again now we've found it.  We were told it had been there since the 1920s, which is quite an achievement in itself.  These-days there are hardly any independent bookshops left, all squeezed out by Waterstones and WH Smith's, plus exorbitant high street rentals and rates which crush small businesses, plus competition from online outlets.

I'm seriously thinking of changing the title of the final Artisan-Sorcerer novel.  The previous four novels in the series were each named after the predominant character in that novel.  However, while I'd planned to call this last book Morgan, it is more about Bethany Rose than Morgan himself, though his presence is felt throughout.  I've already told Bethany's backstory in the third novel, Bethany Rose, but this fifth novel focuses on her life in the here and now, her choices, issues, problems and resolutions. Obviously, I won't be calling it "Bethany Rose #2". I'm toying with the idea of giving it the simple title of The Artisan-Sorcerer.  Another underlying reason for this will come clear when you eventually get to read the finished thing!

Snowdrops are in bloom in our garden, and in the park there're drifts of purple crocus.  Spring's on its way, folks!

Monday, 15 January 2018

Goals for 2018

 Since 2012, I've created a list of annual goals which I aim to achieve during the next twelve months.  This is one way to keep track of the progress of various projects, and it's a bit of self-entertainment.
These were my goals for 2017:-
  1. Write a minimum of one short story per month; 
  2. Write a minimum of one poem per month; 
  3. Write the 1st draft of Morgan, the 5th of the Artisan-Sorcerer series; 
  4. Paint, draw & photograph; 
  5. Take up swimming again.
Well, the first two goals weren't met at all!   I wrote only three short stories and four poems, which is a spectacularly lousy output.  However, the reason for this is my focus on #3, ( and #4), and progress with Morgan is doing very well.  Will it be finished in 2018?  Here's hoping, as I've been playing around with an idea for another novel for some time already, which explores the subject of reincarnation, karma and soul growth.  It will be a stand-alone novel; in fact Morgan will probably be the last in the Artisan-Sorcerer series.

#4:  Throughout 2017 I was sketching in Birkenhead Park again.  If you scroll down this page, or use the menu to go to the Art page, you can watch a video slideshow of these sketches, plus previous years' work.  I've finally begun the first in a planned series of oil and watercolour paintings in this theme.  Watch this blog for progress reports!

Why Birkenhead Park?  I often walk my dogs there, and it proved too tempting not to start carrying a small sketchbook in my pocket. That's all anyone needs in order to to go sketching:  a pad and a pen or pencil.

The park is an important green space in a heavily built-up area, and offers a range of subjects for any painter - woodland copses, ponds, wildlife, buildings, bridges, meadows...  The sketches tend to be done very quickly out of necessity, as people and wildlife move continually.  Some of my sketches of people look more like cartoons, probably due to the rapid speed that they're drawn at.

I find myself attracted by the shapes of old trees, and will continue to sketch their twisted, arching, gnarled forms.  Winter's great for this as their shapes aren't hidden behind foliage, but then summery leaf coverage brings another whole range of shapes and tones to explore.

I've done quite a bit of photography around the park, too, and I plan to use my photos in conjunction with sketches.   I use photography as a reference but don't reproduce "reality" exactly as I'm more interested by impression, atmosphere and the effects of light. 

So, it's time to create my goals for 2018!

  1. Finish writing the 1st draft of Morgan;
  2. (Then if I've done #1) Write one short story per month;
  3. (If I've done #1) Write one poem per month; 
  4. Paint, draw, sketch & photograph!
Incidentally, I did keep my 2017 goal of taking up swimming again, which is something I enjoy.  However, after around six months I cancelled my membership due to the unsatisfactory hygiene conditions of the facility.

Monday, 1 January 2018

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Paintings, Paintings Everywhere...!

Sunrise Wave; A4-size, mixed media, 2017.
My week's annual leave seemingly passed in the blink of an eye and I enjoyed my time off, and took the dogs on several extra long walks.  I managed to get some of the garden pruned back too - most of the roses and the St John's wort.  The bin's full now so I will have to wait until that has been emptied before finishing the job.

I went to the Tate Gallery in Liverpool to see the "Constellations" exhibition, which thematically links select works by well-known artists of the past century to look at different contemporary approaches to similar subjects.  The diverse exhibition brings together works by Lowry, Rothko, Braque, Duchamp and Warhol, and many more, and is well worth viewing.

I also saw their small Roy Lichtenstein exhibition plus a third exhibition, this one by two lesser-known artists, Mary Reid Kelley and Patrick Kelley.

After a much-needed pit-stop at Cafe Nero, I visited the ever-fabulous Walker Art Gallery which houses some of my favourite pieces of Pre-Raphaelite art plus other old favourites, such as Harold Gilman's Mrs Mounter - I love the bold colours and loose brush strokes of this painting, and the resigned expression of her face, as if the weight of the world is on her narrow shoulders and the highlight of her life is indulging in this simple pot of tea.  The artist produced several versions of this piece.  It reminds me of the person I fictionalised as Beatrice in Tamsin: An Artisan-Sorcerer Story.

The life-drawing group is proving to be a useful and fun activity.  It's a small but friendly group.  I hadn't done much life drawing since my art school days, other than a few hastily sketched portraits, so of course I was totally rusty.  However, my skills are slowly improving.  These are from the two most recent sessions.

Life Drawings; 8B pencil on paper; 2017.

A corner of my art room, 28th November 2017.
I took this photo of my display table in a corner of my art room this morning.  You can see four of the miniature canvases I've been playing with, plus some oil paintings and watercolours.  The work in the two small folders are all watercolours, and you can also see a small stack of greetings cards.  The blue box poking out from under the table holds prints of photos by Richard and myself, which I use for visual reference.  Beneath the box are some sketchpads and beside them, in the lower left hand corner of the photo, you can see some card-making supplies.

The table in my art room, 28th November 2017.
 Here's a photo of the table in my art room.  The drawing board used to be a part of a kitchen cupboard, but it serves the purpose.  You can see a table-top easel with some life-drawings in a sketch pad, with my watercolours in front of that.  The folded towel is used to control the amount of water on my brushes.  There're watercolour pencils in a pot I made many years ago at a pottery class; the square pot holding watercolour brushes is one I made too.  They're not great examples of pottery but they were fun to make!  The brushes in the glass jug are for oil painting.  The felt tipped pens are Richard's. 

Behind the tube of Reeves gesso is a vintage pipe rack I use to holding brushes.  The pliers are used for prising lids off obstinate tubes of oil paints.  There are some larger brushes beside the table lamp, which I rarely use.  The wooden box decorated with a gondola, which you can see behind the glass jug, was made by an uncle during his joinery apprenticeship - he's an elderly man now, so it's pretty old - and it contains art materials which I use less often, such as acrylic paints, charcoal sticks, oil pastilles, conte crayons, artists' chalks etc., most of which date back to my art school days some 30 years ago.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Readin', Writin' and Rovin' (with a sketch book).

The exhibition at Seagrass Studios and Gallery, in West Kirby, Wirral, closes this weekend so if you wish to view my watercolour painting on show there - plus lots of other truly lovely art - then be sure to call in.  The gallery can be found on Acacia Grove, which is directly opposite the train station.

Birkenhead Park sketch, and my painting (centre by lamp) in Seagrass Gallery
These last few weeks, I've been busy writing Morgan.  Explained simply, there are three ways to write a novel.  One way is to plan everything in advance, making detailed notes which are then followed rigidly.  The opposite method is to plan nothing at all, to have a loose idea and start exploring this through writing and slowly discover where it might lead.  The middle way offers a compromise between these two extremes; the writer has a few notes which log important plot twists and outcomes, but which also leaves plenty of room for flexibility and improvisation.

Each writer needs to experiment and discover which method works best for them.  For some, a detailed plan helps them to produce finished work more quickly and so ensure publishing deadlines are met, while others say a rigid plan stifles creativity.  Having no plan at all works fine for some people, while others find themselves floundering, staring at a blank page for far too long while wondering what to write.

Previously, I've used the middle method,  filling a few sheets of A4 file paper with jotted notes about the main events with a clear intention of how I want the novel to end.  I've found that knowing what needs to happen by the novel's end prevents plots from wandering off purpose.  A person might fairly argue that foreknowledge of the end point is the most important part of  any plot plan.

There's also the little matter of getting on with the actual writing rather than wasting time on addictive social media...but that's another issue.

Having now written approximately one quarter of Morgan, which will be the last novel in the Artisan-Sorcerer Series, I re-read my plot notes and found that so many things had changed that the notes had now become redundant other than for reminding me of where the novel needs to end. Fortunately, I prefer the written version to the planned version.  So it looks like I've moved to a more intuitive approach without intending to, but if it works then I'll continue with it.

Life drawing, September 2017.
I have begun attending a life drawing group.  The drawing shown here comes from the first session.  Having not done any life drawing since my art school days some thirty years ago, I'm as rusty as it gets.  There's only one cure for that, though - practise, practise and more practise!

The group is organised by Marie Mairs, who has a studio on Wellington Road, Oxton.  I first met Marie around two years ago when I visited her studio as part of the Wirral Open Studios Tour.

Storm's Approach; watercolour; September 2017.

I've recently finished reading a lively and imaginative novel by Elle Newmark, called The Book of Unholy Mischief, (also published as The Chef's Apprentice).  The main character is a homeless orphan who struggles to survive on the unforgiving streets of Venice in 1498.  He's given a fresh start in life by a kindly chef, but this leads to danger when rumours of a book containing alchemical secrets of immortality and vast wealth begin circulating the populace. 

I enjoyed the story, and not just because it was set in a city I've long wished to explore.  A dash of gnostic philosophy was woven neatly into the plot, too - nothing that I've not encountered many times before but it was pleasant to find it tucked away in a novel.  Unfortunately the author wrote only one more book before she passed away.

Birkenhead Park sketch, 2017
My Birkenhead Park sketching project has continued from last year.  I've shared a few of the results in my blog - scroll back to find them - and here's two more with this post.  It's been fun to do.  I've used quite small sketch pads which fit into my pocket easily, and have used an ink pen for almost all of the work for sheer convenience - plus I like the strong line made by the ink.

My two dogs have become entirely accustomed waiting around while I sketch waterfowl, interestingly twisted and gnarly old trees, or draw cartoon-like studies of whatever people are doing in the park.  Richard likes the cartoony-things best and says I should paint them just as I've drawn them.  They were only intended for my own entertainment, really.  Anyway, I'll post one below and you're welcome to make of it what you will.

Children's football coaching, Birkenhead Park, 2017.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Art Exhibition

Oglet Shore, Speke; Adele Cosgrove-Bray, 2017.
I'm thrilled to announce that my watercolour painting, shown above,  has been accepted by Seagrass Studio & Gallery's annual open exhibition, which will run from Monday 4th September until Saturday 7th November.

You can find Seagrass at #1 Acacia Grove, West Kirby, Wirral.  It's open from Monday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm.

The framed painting will be available to buy, price £120.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Paint, A Birthday and a Goat.

Heath in Summer; Adele Cosgrove-Bray, 2017.
I have now bought kitchen paint.  I have yet to paint the kitchen.  Other things have been taking my time, such as writing Morgan: An Artisan-Sorcerer Story, and beavering away in my art studio.

On the easel, with only its sky painted so far, is Liverpool Waterfront #5, which is in oils.  But I'm already moving away from painting the iconic view of the city as seen from the River Mersey, and have been looking elsewhere along the river for material.  Oglet Shore, Speke is a watercolour of an often-overlooked little beach and meadow area close to the John Lennon Airport.  Local legend has it that George Harrison and the two McCartney brothers used to play here as small children, but then so did countless other kids and this isn't why I painted it.  I chose the area as it offers a contrast to other, more obvious sections of the Mersey.  At Oglet, you could almost be in the countryside - if it wasn't for planes regularly thundering overhead!

Oglet Shore, Speke; Adele Cosgrove-Bray; 2017.
I need a way of keeping some kind of inventory of my paintings.  I'm not sure of the best way to do this - some kind of spreadsheet, perhaps?  The inventory would need a thumbnail image of each painting, plus details such as size and medium, then if it's been exhibited, price, and if it's been sold.  If you have any bright ideas, please pass them this way!

We've had a bland summer, here on the Wirral peninsula.  Earlier in the year there was a brief blast of searing sunshine, and since then it's been rain and moderate temperatures all the way.  However, just to be contrary, as we head into September my strawberry plants have decided to produce some fruit.  These plants were only about 2" high when I potted them up in the spring, and so I didn't  expect them to do much this year but now they're covered in small, green berries.  Will anything come of this late crop?  Watch this space.

Richard turned 50 yesterday.  He said he felt good about reaching this milestone, and of course we both talked about how fast time seems to go by, and how it doesn't seem long since we were in our 20s and he was dreaming of earning his living as a photographer.  He actually went into his family's tradition of tattooing, and owned and ran his own studio in Liverpool city centre for 21 years.  He closed the studio at the end of 2014, and that felt like the end of an era for him.  He's now employed in a totally different field and is enjoying his work. 

Since closing the studio he's hardly done any art.  But recently the old photography interest has begun to simmer again, and he's now talking about buying a better camera.  (Actually, any camera would be better than the horrible thing he currently owns, which is insanely complex  and prone to jamming.)

I've just finished reading a great sci-fi novel by Peter Newman, called The Vagrant.  You have a nameless vagrant struggling to travel through a distopian world populated by treacherous people and various monsters - and a goat.  The goat character provided an occasional splash of comic relief.  I'll be looking for the other books in this series.

Liverpool Waterfront #3; Adele Cosgrove-Bray; 2017.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Dr Who and the Two Donkeys

Abstract Landscape; watercolour; 2017.
The 70th annual exhibition of the Deeside Art Group took place earlier in July, and so I headed off to Westbourne Hall in West Kirby to see this.  My personal favourite piece in the show was Tony Jalland's The Lost Brooch, which was a beautifully observed gouache painting of shells with, as the title suggests, a brooch tucked in amongst them.

Having left Westbourne Hall, I then saw a small exhibition of print art at the library, then headed off into the sand dunes on the beach to do some sketching.  There was hardly anyone around, but the minute I was sprinkled with flaky pastry crumbs and escaping custard from the cake I'd treated myself to, about  a million ramblers promptly trudged past. 

Liverpool Waterfront 2; oil on canvas; 2017.
Here's the next in my series of paintings themed on the River Mersey, which I completed recently.  This is not a good photo but you can get the general idea, at least.  A problem with my little Kodak EasyShare C340 is that the flash won't switch off, and so it tends to bleach out colour and texture when photographing close-ups.

The mood of this painting is more sombre than the first study of the same subject, yet this time the buildings have more details - more buildings, in fact - and the river is dark, swirling and ominous which is how the Mersey usually looks, being tidal and prone to riptides and dangerous currents. 

Starry, Starry Moon; watercolour; 2017.
On Saturday 15th July, I attended an intermediate watercolour class run by New Brighton-based poet and artist Janine Pinion. I really enjoyed Janine's class and I learned a lot.  I have admired her wonderfully loose, semi-abstract seascapes and studies of waves since I first saw them two or three years ago.

The class was also attended by two other ladies and one of Janine's cats, which snored under a table in the art studio.  The other cat, a gorgeous dove-grey fluff-ball, sunbathed in the front garden until feeding time, which he reminded Janine about with a heartrending series of throaty, lugubrious wails.  These ceased the second he saw food.  My old tom, Mutley, - half cat, half teddy bear - used to do the same thing.

The watercolour shown here, Starry, Starry Moon, uses some techniques picked up at Janine's class.

Saturday  22nd was a busy day, it being our annual summer fayre at work.  There was a singer in the lounge.  In the dining room there were pie stalls, a tom bola, a wine and beer stall, a vintage collectibles stall, a raffle stall, a BBQ selling hot dogs and burgers, plus a tea and cake stall.  In the garden were two marquees and two donkeys, who had been rescued from a life of brutal hardship in Spain. Now they live in on a small farm in Upton, with a little herd of buddies.  Guinness and Brandy stoically gave small kids rides around the shrubbery island in the lawn, and of course just about everyone walked over to give their funny big ears a rub.  My name isn't Jill but I happily fetched them a pail of water.

I finally plucked up the courage to climb up the stepladder and take down the old and rather sorry-for-itself kitchen blind.  That's now in the bin.  I've patched up the kitchen walls with filler.  The next job is to buy some white kitchen paint.  There's already plenty of colour from the tiles and the cupboards, so white is the obvious choice.  Too much colour looks messy and makes a small space look smaller.

We watched a wonderful animated film this week, called BoxTrolls, a fantasy story about a boy raised by weird little creatures who dress in cardboard boxes.  Some big names cover the narration: Ben Kingsley, Elle Fanning and Simon Pegg, for example.  There's a hint of HG Wells' morlock and eloi theme in the relationship between the humans and the boxtrolls, and there's plenty of humour worked into the story.  Fun to watch!

The current fuss over the choice of a woman to play the next Dr Who is sadly telling of the misogyny which still weaves its ugly thread through our times.  In reply to the claim that casting a woman as the Doctor is "pandering to women", I will point out that just over half of this planet's human population is female, whereas only one-thirteenth of the casting for the Dr Who lead role has been female.  Unfortunately, some people are so used to inequality that such discrepancies remain invisible to them.

I'm not a Dr Who fan.  If this Time Lord has lived for hundreds, if not thousands, of years why do the scripts have the Doctor behaving like an excitable teenager?  I'd write the character darker, more science-orientated, wiser and more sceptical. 

My husband, on the other hand, loves everything Dr Who - the TV shows dating from the 1960s; the books; the Big Finish audio plays; the lot.  It's an interest we'll never share but that's totally ok.

Anyway, I hope Jodie Whittaker has a blast playing the Doctor.