28 Feb 2017

February, not enough days in the month.

It's been a busy month. Or is it that I kept myself busy? There is a subtle difference. Whichever, there's been more than enough work to keep me happy.

My main art activity has been the making of an animated music promo for a friend of mine who I’ve worked with in the past. This came about as I thought of a “shortcut” enabling me to make the individual frames necessary for such a project. Specifically, I ran short pieces of video through an on-line GIF making application thus rapidly giving me five individual frames per each second of film. These I could then draw / trace from as a basic guide, inventing and modifying in the process so the final outcome looks nothing like the original source which simply provided a foundation on which to depict all the movement and activity in the final promo. It seemed like a good idea, and it is. However, a “quick-fix” it did not turn out to be. Working at a good pace it has occupied the entire month and is still not finished. But I’m enjoying it.

I have continued to attend the Monday night life drawing sessions in town, although my enthusiasm wanes. They don’t incorporate any real degree of social interaction, which I was hoping for, and the models are of variable merit. Some very good and clearly experienced, some seemingly anyone willing to stand naked for the requisite three hours. Nevertheless, it has been a good activity to get involved in. I don’t attempt to “make art” on these occasions, but rather develop and hone the practice of looking and drawing, mostly in short concentrated sketches.

Also this month I have been asked to write an article for Painter’s magazine, the same as has included me twice before. (See THIS POST and THIS POST). The subject I’ve been asked to write about is my series of oak paintings from last year, and for which I would be paid upon publication. This will be an interesting task indeed, especially as I don’t regard myself in any way as a landscape painter.

31 Jan 2017

Back to Life.

My first life drawing class since c.1973. I’ve obviously drawn friends and girlfriends in the long interim since, but never taken part in a formal group session. So I approached this “return to class” with some trepidation. For two reasons: Firstly, I’m not enthusiastic about making art in the company of others unless it is as part of a collaboration. Secondly, would I be any good? Would I measure up to the “competition”?

In the event I am well please with the outcome. Thoroughly enjoyed the intense three hour experience, the challenge it presented, and I think my work certainly stood up to that produced by anyone else there. I shall be returning for more.

 Above: All sketches made between 3 and 15 minutes.

30 Jan 2017

In anticipation.


- what is / was intended to be the first of three paintings inspired by Christopher Bookers’ “The Neophiliacs” and his “five stages of fantasy” therein. Shown here is “Anticipation”. It’s not working. Although this is only the start of the under-painting it lacks all sense of passion. I need to let this stage dry, then proceed with more spontaneity. Perhaps acrylics would have been more suitable.


Whilst till thinking of writing more I avoid people like Joyce, Fitzgerald, etc. Instead I’m reading all the Ian Fleming James Bond novels in sequence. They’re a quick, easy, well-crafted indulgence at bedtime. (I first read them all when I was about 14).


Or am not. “My intended novel” is on indefinite hold. Although pleased with progress so far, I have growing reservations about the project, based as it is on actual events from my life. Firstly, do you know how you sometimes remember someone or some past event from how they are depicted in a subsequent photograph or video? I hate that happening, and I don’t want to end up recalling my fictionalized version over the real thing. Also, even using the happiest times as source material can be rather a morose process. Therefore, for the time being, I’ve written an actual autobiography across five blog, preserving all the information and inspiration I need if and when I decide to return to “my intended novel”.

Elsewhere in the news:

I had to re-activate my Facebook account, much though I dislike the site. The problem is it’s becoming the dominant, sometimes sole place in which to gain information and access to certain art activities. For example, I have entered three paintings for an upcoming open exhibition, and the only place I could acquire the entry forms was via Facebook. I won’t be posting there, just using it as a search engine.

12 Jan 2017

The Duke’s Graves.

The Pierrepont and Manvers graves, Perlethorpe Church, Thoresby Estate.

I’m not a Christian, and never really was, even though as a 1950’s child I was christened and Confirmed at the appropriate ages. Hence my initial links with the above location. An extract from my personal journal will explain:

“An integral part of a Church of England village education were the Sunday school classes, for a short while conducted by my mum herself, and subsequent Confirmation classes. The big attraction of Sunday school for me was simply collecting the exquisitely illustrated attendance stamps, no doubt an early pictorial influence. I never really understood any of the Confirmation classes conducted in the vicarage but, whilst waiting for the vicar Mr Barton to come downstairs, I could look around at the veritable treasure trove of souvenirs his travels had brought him from as far afield as Newfoundland which cluttered his room.”

So what brought me back to this location a few years ago is nothing to do with spiritual beliefs, although I do confess the surrounding area (with which I am very familiar), does offer a kind of sanctuary when life goes off kilter and a solitary stroll with one’s thoughts might be the remedy.

What actually brought me back here was my deepening interest in the history of the Dukeries and the Dukes who presided over them. Over time I have made several on-location sketches of this aspect of the churchyard, with the Pierrepont / Manvers graves in the foreground. In December (2016) I thought it time to look through these resources and make a final painting.

My intention was to studiously avoid all sense of Gothic gloom or melodrama. This is a very peaceful, quiet place. The sunlight really does stream across from the South like that. The ducal gravestones adhere to a well-planned formation which must have been conceived centuries ago. A real sense of pride in their accomplishments lingers here, even though the subjects are long since gone. The most recent stone is that of Lady Manvers (third from right), her husband having been buried on that spot in 1955, she in 1984.

Painting is oil on canvas, 40cm x 50cm.

More information about Thoresby, Perlethorpe and the Dukeries can be found on THIS LINK.

21 Dec 2016

Stopping Distance.

For those who don’t drive, the “stopping distance” is the space between the point one applies the brakes and the place one actually comes to a halt. You are meant to know a number of these in order to pass your driving test. I can only ever remember one: If I hit the brakes at 30m.p.h. on a dry road surface my car will stop 75 feet (23 meters) down the road. Of course I’m convinced it would stop before that, just as I’ve always been convinced I can come to a dead stop in all things. But I’m always proved wrong. Stopping is hard.

The most effective way to apply the brakes is by applying, releasing, and applying them in short bursts. In retrospect, I see my 2016 has been a little like that. Matters I thought had stopped preoccupying my mind long ago, lingered still. Dedicating myself to a strict regime of one-per-month paintings was like applying the brakes on my thoughts in short bursts, bringing them to a more effective halt.

2016 was a good year, although somewhat intense artistically, even sleeping and painting in the same room, the smallest in the house. That probably took a toll, resulting in a recent “cold” virus lingering over long. I no doubt missed out on a lot of sunshine during the summer months in particular, something I intend to put right in 2017. I am wring this on the December 21st Winter Solstice. Tomorrow the daylight will last that little bit longer and the night that little bit shorter.

Above: Photograph taken on 5th December during a stroll on Thoresby Estate.

10 Nov 2016

November Oak.

November Oak brings me to the end of my one-per-month series of twelve paintings. I’m really pleased with the result.

A time honoured subject with a contemporary approach. Importantly, I can lead you to any one of these trees and you would recognise it from the painting. Unlike the vague “one size fits all” tree paintings of the gallery shops, these function more as portraits, and I hope I’ve captured the character of tree and season alike in each case.

Above: Not the nicest of ways to end my one-painting-per-month art year. I reckon nature has a way of making you stop occasionally, creating a space in which to lie back on the duvet, rest up, and have a think.

1 Nov 2016


Rejected by the upcoming Nottingham Open Exhibition. They are nothing if not consistent.

21 Oct 2016

October Oak. “When shall we three meet again?”

Macbeth? Or an unfulfilled bucket list?

The Halloween connection with October had me considering making “October Oak”, the penultimate painting in my series of twelve, a more sinister, "witchy" piece. But it wouldn’t have matched the rest of the series that way, and so I settled instead for the season’s autumn shades, leaves falling, and the darker nights advancing.

There will be lengthening shadows, Goose Fair doughnuts to be eaten, pavement leaves to be kicked and conkers to be picked. And just one more painting to be painted to complete the series.

 You can watch a work in progress video of October Oak on THIS LINK.

 Went to see the Billy Fury Story at the theatre. I’ve idolized Billy Fury since my Big Sister took me to see Play It Cool at the cinema back in 1962, so I was really looking forward to it. Big disappointment. The singer and band were probably older than Billy Fury ever got to be, and certainly carry more weight. I’ll bet this show would have been great to see back in the days of the smaller working men’s clubs or similar, and when the cast were younger.

25 Sep 2016

September Oak. The days grow short.

There is a famous song lyric: “The leaves of brown came tumbling down, September, that September in the rain”. Great song, but it’s not actually true, or least in the U.K. it’s not. Here I am a couple of weeks into the month, and the leaves on the trees are both abundant and decidedly green. So, whilst still adding a little sienna to the mix to take the brightness out of that green, how best to represent September in this the tenth painting of my series of twelve oaks?

My painting depicts one of those days when the sky is evenly overcast and the air is still and a little humid as the warm days of sunshine give way to a slightly cooler feel, maybe after the occasional passing shower. Colours are a little more sombre. One of those days where one now knows for sure that, if the hot sun does make its presence felt again this year, it will probably be only a fleeting visit.

There is a possibly even more famous song lyric:

“Oh, it's a long, long while
From May to December
But the days grow short
When you reach September”.

“September in the Rain” Harry Warren and Al Dubin.
“September Song” Kurt Weill lyrics Maxwell Anderson.

You can watch a work in progress video of September Oak on THIS LINK.

My pace dropped this month, perhaps to be expected after producing one painting per month since last December. Also, not helped by a badly sprained finger which turns out to be “trigger finger”. Not heard of that before.

Decided to digitize an old journal from Liverpool student days of 44 years ago. Not read through it all before now. My reasoning is that I might find ideas for my intended novel. Don’ think I’ll be sharing it publically though. It does get rather intense, me being in my early 20s at the time.

Had a day in Skegness for a change of scenery. Speaking of which, it’s time to move back into my other “studio” at the north facing back of the house. The sun is getting low now, so it’s back to daylight bulbs in the rear. This present small room though, right next to the bed, has proved a productive environment for almost a year now. (Time flies).

Art copyright Ian G Craig.

26 Aug 2016

August Oak. Reap what you sow.

August Oak. (31 x 41cm / 12” x 16”).

Regardless of whatever the final painting might be, I do like to study my trees early in the year, taking both sketchbook and camera into Sherwood Forest. Understanding a tree's basic structure helps me capture their character and know how best to place the foliage later on. But how best to express the month of August?

It’s still summer, the leaves are still lush and green, but gone are the blooms and blossoms of June and July, and out in the fields the harvesters are busy at work. So I decided my “August Oak”, the ninth in a series of one-per-month themed acrylic paintings, would be about the sun setting at the close of a warm summer evening. The holiday season may not yet be over, but the anticipation is there.

You can watch a work in progress video of August Oak on THIS LINK.

Artwork copyright Ian Gordon Craig.

Above: New fence and my fuchsia in full bloom.

Watching: The Legend of Tarzan new movie. It’s dreadful.
Reading: Paul McCartney biog., Pink Floyd biog, and Wind in the Willows,
Listening: Pink Floyd.

19 Jul 2016

For Talking Out Loud.

13th July, 2016.

“They look like a comfy pair of shoes”.
“Yes, and so clean”.
“And shiny”.
“I bet they’re new”.
“Do you know you can buy a pair just like those down the market for about ten pounds? It’s the brand you pay for you know”.

I am seated in a cave two or three “floors” below street level, in one of Nottingham’s most noted pubs for performing arts, and I haven’t yet spoken one word. The cave itself, carved out of the sandstone, is a characteristic underground feature of many buildings in the city centre. Above me is the one time Victorian Music Hall the Malt Cross, a venue I’ve variously written, dated, and drunk in, often watching local musicians perform as I did so. Somewhere in this pub’s files they have, at their request, copies of sketches I’ve made here. But I’ve never performed here. Indeed, I can’t remember the precise date I was last on a public stage of any kind. Tonight, that’s about to change. A couple of weeks ago I saw a poster announcing the venue’s Spoken Word Open Mic Night and thought, “Why not?” So I’m here, to both test my mettle and the worth of the words I write.

Painting is very different. I send the paintings out beyond my walls to be judged by others within their walls. In return I get a slip of paper which simply reads either “rejection” or “acceptance”. No further explanation than that. Tonight I am presenting my words to strangers for the first time, face to face. I put my name down at the door, number 14 on the list of tonight’s performers. If my words prove to be no good at least my shoes have been a big hit.

When I was a student in Liverpool, poets like Adrian Henri and Roger McGough were not yet widely known across the U.K. The Merseybeat groups of the sixties had all followed the Beatles south, to be replaced in the seventies by the Mersey Scene, predominantly one of poetry and improvised music. So it was not uncommon to both sit alongside and experience such talent in the local pubs. I certainly cannot pretend I was ever a member of that in-crowd, but it was an inspiring atmosphere for a young student to witness. Tonight reminds me a little of those days. The sandstone benches along the walls are rock hard, but the people are supportive, in good spirits, and raring to get started. Importantly, they are all listening attentively to each other’s works.

I’ve spent much of the day rehearsing out loud in my studio. I reckon of the dozen or so acts which precede me I must be on a par with a good percentage of them. One notable exception being number 13, a youthful, passionate performance in rapid contemporary rhyme and without notes. Not an act I would have chosen to follow. Nevertheless, one pint into the evening, number 14 “Ian” is called to the front…

I am expected to read two poems. I'm happy to say both go down really well. The audience laugh with me at my brief introduction to “The Gift”, how my 30+ years as a teacher was rewarded with a simple book token, before they then become totally involved with the poem’s pathos, catching them off guard. Similarly, the “four and twenty seagulls” and “balding braided doorman” of “Skeggie Day” elicit giggles of appreciation, before the poem’s sombre conclusion makes its mark. I like this well established literary device, mixing opposing emotions in the same piece. (“It’s getting better all the time. – It can’t get no worse”). I shall be using it again. Probably in this venue.

Read “The Gift” on THIS LINK.
Read “Skeggie Day” below OR the video on THIS LINK.
See my Malt Cross artworks on THIS LINK.

 Skeggie day.

Railcard trip to a Lincs coastline,
“Which way are we facing?” Going back in time.
A day beside the seaside, the rain did not stop play
On Skeggie day.

Snakes and ladder fingers
On the backseat of the train,
Slipping her the whiskey,
She slips it back again.
Her kite strings got in the way
On Skeggie day.

Under the Boardwalk, Up On the Roof,
Identity crisis, asking for proof.
Photographing footprints
All along the beach,
So close to the salty edge,
But always out of reach.
Walking away
On Skeggie day.

Shakin Stevens ashtrays, the bandstand had no band,
Just Betty Boop mementos for a Jolly Fisherman.
He thinks he’s on a promise, a saucy postcard date,
But Betty left too early, and the Clock Tower’s always late.
Shakey fades
On Skeggie day.

A penny for the arcade
Soon comes to push and shove,
As four and twenty seagulls
Abstained from making love,
Swoop down on deep fried chickens,
Their favoured fast-food prey.
Don’t Take-Away
My Skeggie day.

The tin skinned street art lady, trapped in her pantomime,
Waves secret hand-sign signals, that passion is no crime.
She pays for rusting tea breaks
With small change from her jar.
Her day job is a statue, by night she works the bar.
She has no time to play
On my Skeggie day.

The cinema on High Street is showing “G.I. Blues”.
They haven’t changed the program there since 1962.
A balding breathless doorman,
In braided uniform,
Has a look of recognition,
Thinks he’s seen me there before.
Checks the tickets at the kiosk,
Checks himself out in the glass.
Checks the sidewalk for a certain girl
Who’s way outside his class.
Perhaps a lack of judgement?
It’s not for me to say.
I leave him to his fate.
On Skeggie day.

Returning to the station, the train is running late.
The driver’s in his swimwear, been on a heavy date.
I take my seat inside the carriage,
Take a moment to reflect,
Take a selfie of the station sign
Not finished with me yet.
In the pages of my sketchbook
The sketches from my trips
All draw upon the good times,
Plus all the empty bits.
I’ve said too much already
There’s nothing left to say
About Skeggie day.

Now plastic Disney figures
In fairgrounds long shut down,
All chat about the Summers
When I still came around.
There’s no-one left to heed now
Their wind metallic voice,
They stand there for no reason,
They do it out of choice.
Before a wintry snowman took them all away
On Skeggie Day.

All text copyright Ian G Craig.

1 Jul 2016

July Oak. Make hay while the sun shines.

“It’s 8.45…”

I have a built-in body clock. No need to set the alarm on the 1990’s style minutes-and-hands face so close to my own each morning. I now sleep and paint in the smallest room in the house. Everything is close-up. I roll up the blinds, open the window, drink the remains of the overnight water and check my phone, all without leaving the duvet. Yesterday’s jeans and t-shirt are within arm’s length on the floor beside. I only change work clothes between paintings. It helps preserve the mood. The closeness is working for me. Hashtag prolific.

Juice; porridge, not soused overnight (sorry grandpa); coffee; Sky news; second coffee. Back up to the bedroom studio. I stand and survey yesterday’s artwork. The year is half over. Am I on course?

“July Oak”, the eighth of a series, sees my painting target for the year well ahead of schedule. Anticipating little change in what has been a particularly rainy season so far, I decided to base July’s painting on my fleeting visits to Sherwood Forest in June and get started. For future exhibition purposes it is more important the work depicts a more typical account of the British weather than the climatic shortcomings of one particular year. I am pleased with the outcome, the dense green foliage almost obliterating all shape and form in the forest, yet failing to completely disguise the fact these ancient oaks are ageing and fading. My energy for art has not faded. Indeed, keeping this pace has produced better results than those landscapes I exhibited and had published in 2013. I haven’t faded, it’s just that the activity has become more solitary.

Walks away from easel. Third coffee; Sky news update; resumes train of thought.

I can see now my personal target for the year’s work was too ambitious. All twelve oak paintings will meet my deadline of December 31st. Drawn illustrations for my intended novel (see THIS LINK) rather than paintings, will be more or less on course, it being an unquantifiable number until more chapters are written. Therein lies the rub. I am not writing enough. The oak paintings, intended as a side project, have taken over.

Solution: Make hay while the sun shines. Whilst the daylight is good in my tiny south facing bedroom studio, press on and complete the oaks ahead of schedule and save the writing for the darker months to come. Sorted.

You can watch a work-in-progress video of July Oak on THIS LINK.

30 Jun 2016

June Oak. More loon than bloom.

The month started cold, dark and breezy. I’m in tune with the cold dark bit. Perhaps not the breezy. On days like that my motivation is low, as if painting wasn’t hard enough at the best of times.

I completed my “June Oak” painting within the first week of the month, not pausing for breath after producing the first two illustrations for “my intended novel”. I don’t say this as a good thing. Such pieces normally take two or three weeks, working reasonable hours. I think the result is a good one, but one has to question the self-imposed pressure / isolation. A typical day these past few weeks might be:

Get out of bed at 9.00a.m. Porridge breakfast with Sky News. Small coffee. Check Twitter.

Start painting about 10.30a.m. Break for 30 minute snack lunch as and when. Resume painting and work until about 8.00p.m. Background music is chosen to match any current rock biography reading matter.

Then simple, late night T.V. or a movie on Youtube. Bedtime between midnight and 1.00a.m. Read a chapter on kindle, probably a game of pool on my phone.

And so it goes. It gets things done.

When June did indeed come “busting out all over” it necessitated further visits to the ancient forest of Sherwood. My resources for this series of twelve paintings were mostly gathered in the winter months, and didn’t address the problem of depicting the fresh leaves and foliage now before me; a pictorial challenge I find quite daunting. However, I am really happy with the solution I came up with and look forward to July and August presenting more of the same. Further insight into my technique can be seen on the video below.

June Oak, Sherwood Forest, work in progress video on THIS LINK.

Also this month: Went to see Brian Wilson in concert. Not quite as good as previous shows I’ve seen, but delighted to see Beach Boy Al Jardine with him. Another hero of mine, Muhammed Ali, has died.

And came across no less than two wild bees nests. One in Sherwood Forest, one on Thoresby Estate.  See videos on THIS LINK and THIS LINK.

The end of the month saw a significant event in British history as the U.K. voted to leave the European Union. Purely on grounds of sovereignty, and nothing else, I voted to leave. Of less significance to the country, and a surprise for me, was my mother finding a photo of me and an ex-girlfriend form the 1980s. One for the archive.

25 Jun 2016

My intended novel #3. Chapter 2: "Billy Gordon".

The following are two brief excerpts from chapter two of my intended novel.

Excerpt 1:

He had been awakened by the shrill vibrations of the water pipes in the cupboard just beyond his bedroom door, as they struggled to cope with the clattering demands of the kitchen sink below, demands made all the more formidable by the customary weekend visit of Grandpa Craig, instructing daughter-in-law Mavis as to exactly how he liked his porridge. “Soused overnight, and don’t spare the salt”. The sweet aroma of grandpa’s pipe tobacco was just now reaching Billy Gordon’s door. A veritable giant of a man, with an insatiable breakfast appetite, his Scottish grandpa proved a source of much fascination to the small boy, who was nevertheless most careful to make his observations from a discrete distance during those occasions when adults conversed and children only listened. Grandpa Craig always stood with a perfectly straight back, legs braced, swaying very slightly as might a soldier at ease. But unlike the soldiers that occasionally marched through the village from their nearby camp in the woods, the old man’s cheeks were a constant shade of bright red. All year round. And Billy Gordon hadn’t seen a soldier quite like that. Not even in his toy box. He’d checked.

Excerpt 2:

“Where’s the boy?”  Billy Gordon stepped carefully between a gap in the carnations and joined the already assembled group on the lawn. “Come on Gordon,” that name again, “You stand in front of me”. His grandfather placed a large Scottish hand on each of his young namesake’s shoulders, whilst Big Sister snapped to attention on his left, her gabardine creases glinting under the cloudless sky.

“Now everyone, say Cheeeeeeeeeeese!” And everyone dutifully smiled as his father peered through the little silver square viewfinder and pressed the little silver button on the front of the shiny black box. Small fragments of tobacco ash floated down onto Billy Gordon’s shoulders from his grandfather’s pipe above. Not that he noticed. His mind was elsewhere. He was thinking about the chrysalis.

Artwork & text copyright Ian G Craig.

6 Jun 2016

My intended novel #2. Chapter 1: "Hey Ginger!"

The following are two brief excerpts from chapter one of my intended novel.

Excerpt 1:

“Hey Ginger, I want you!” may not have been the most subtle of pick-up lines a normally shy Private 14246464 could have chosen to call out as he strode past Fourth Avenue’s corner chip shop in the modest English village of Hedgby, no doubt emboldened by the consumption of a few light ales earlier in the evening. But for this nineteen year old wartime conscript, fresh down from the Highlands and a long way from home, the cheers and encouragement it drew from his equally merry army buddies who knew him simply as “Jock”, would alone have made for the perfect ending to the night’s high spirited shenanigans before returning to camp. Little could he have imagined the journey he was about to embark upon as that small khaki clan paused on the street corner, swaying slightly, chattering quietly, in anticipation of a response from the girl within.

Excerpt 2:

His services no longer required, Mr Churchill took the nation’s once great sense of ambition with him when making it official that “Our finest hour” lay behind us. Young marrieds who had spent their late teenage years in battlefields and bomb factories, could now stop watching the skies, confident in the knowledge that bluebirds and not Messerschmidts now flew over the white cliffs of Dover, and look instead towards settling into a new life in a new home. Jitterbugging G.I.s heeding the call to “Yankee go home” became an almost comical memory, their jazzy mannerisms surely never again to influence the more reserved tastes of English towns and villages like Hedgby. Blitzed Sheffield factories that had turned the skies incendiary red now cleverly produced a penny sized steel disc to fill the penny sized hole in Jock’s head, over which his shock of thick black hair would continue to thrive for the rest of his days.

Artwork & text copyright Ian G Craig.

1 Jun 2016

My Intended Novel #1: The illustrations.

Above: Illustrations for the first two chapter of my intended novel.

I’m typing this on a rather cold, dark, breezy, first day of June. But I’m in good spirits, having just completed the first two illustrations for my intended novel. I shall refer to them as illustrations, although they don’t literally depict exact events in the story as much as accompany it. And I shall keep referring to the book as “my intended novel” as a means of taking off the pressure. Above are the colour variations which I can exhibit as prints. The black and white versions, more suitable for Kindle, are slightly different and I shall post them in due course with excerpts from the book.

The “work-in-progress” video below will explain my thought processes in making these works after abandoning the initial idea of producing them as paintings.

Watch work-in-progress video on THIS LINK.

Artwork copyright Ian G Craig.

28 May 2016

May Oak. The modest buds of.

The oak tree I selected for my sixth painting of a series has a rather auspicious presence about him. He’s probably the oldest of the twelve I have chosen to depict, and bears many scars. Nevertheless, come the month of May, he still rises to the challenge of the new season ahead, producing fresh buds, stimulating new ideas. I like to think I can identify with that.

As one might expect from such a cantankerous old character, set deep in his roots and his ways, his “portrait” didn’t come easy. Oak trees would seem to show their foliage later than most, and extra visits to Sherwood Forest were necessary to see how far to go when depicting the leaves. Also, in reality his bark is so deep in its texture that the marks I first made were a distraction to the overall picture. However, in the end our relationship was one of compromise and it’s safe to say we were both very happy with the outcome.

You can watch a video of “May Oak” in progress on THIS LINK.

Away from the canvas I've been putting my house back in some kind of order, unpacking everything I had prepared for moving out. CDs back on shelves, paintings back on walls. Half the year gone. On course with my paintings, need more fun elsewhere.

 Above: This month I also took great pleasure in presenting my Big Sister with “The Night Me and Christine Watched the Barn Owls”. It depicts us both in our childhood, and is indeed based on an actual event, living as we did amidst woodlands. I like all my paintings to have their “day in the sun”, and this one was once accepted for exhibition in Nottingham Castle, as well as a more recent on-line publication. So it’s now time to pass it on.

Above: The first Art I can distinctly remember seeing and really trying to analyse was when, at the age of only four years old, I discovered the water colours of my Great (Great Great?) Grandfather William Catto of Aberdeen. During those weeks whilst my pregnant mother was in bed preparing for the home birth of my brother, I would sit at the foot of her bed in a blue wicker chair, staring up at those paintings of the Aberdeen shoreline, convinced the artist had tried to suggest the shape of a human figure in the rocks. (I remain convinced). I like to think now that as the decades or maybe a century goes by, my Big Sister’s descendants will find themselves looking up at my painting in a similar manner, and wondering...

Copyright Ian Gordon Craig.

23 Apr 2016

April Oak. It looks like showers.

April Oak is the 5th in a series of 12 planned acrylic paintings featuring  a selection of oak trees from along the path which leads to Robin Hood’s tree (the Major Oak), Edwinstowe. These were intended as a side project, whilst working on a series of larger, more contemporary, autobiographical paintings. However, the latter didn’t work out (see below), and I shall be returning to them in due course.

But I am pleased with the oaks, and the idea of making 12 paintings all adhering to a common theme, composition, size, and materials. I like having defined parameters to work within. If I knew maybe 8 or 10 people it would be interesting to repeat the exercise using the human figure or character.

April Oak proved tricky. It is too early in the month to see any significant foliage on the trees, but look close and you can see blue bells amidst the bracken. I wanted to capture that moment on an otherwise sunny afternoon when one anticipates April showers. Being no stranger to the rain falling on my parade, I think I pulled it off.

You can watch a video of April Oak in progress on THIS LINK.

Above: The abandoned painting based on the first chapters of my intended book. I doesn’t work, but I shall return to the idea in a more suitable medium.

Reading: 1960s Marvel comic collections.
Watching: Gotham, Walking Dead, The Americans, Vikings, Bates Motel, American Horror Stories, Vinyl, all TV series.

29 Mar 2016

Artist Lady Manvers, my dad, and Coquette.

Those familiar with my Dukeries blog, or the piece I wrote for Nottingham University Art History Department, (see this link), will be aware of my respect and admiration for artist Lady Manvers. I accept my opinions are in part due to sentiment, having spent my early life on Thoresby Estate, but I do like to think my 30+ years teaching Art, whilst developing my own painting skills, give my opinion about the best of her canvases some credence.

I refer in particular to those which depict the interiors and grounds of Thoresby Hall. Her outdoor studies are excellent in their own right, mostly water colour sketches documenting the seasons as they pass through the estate, its employees, and, perhaps most importantly from a historic perspective, the military presence of the war years. But it is the interior canvases for which she has been able to leave her easel undisturbed at various locations within the hall, returning to them at will over a period of days, which exhibit her true skills and understanding of the colourful palette she acquired in France. That said, I should set my story here within a little biographical context.

In 1947 my father, William Craig, had recovered from the head wound received in the Battle of Arnhem, and the tuberculosis he subsequently contracted in P.o.W. Camp Stalag 9c. Having then begun his married life in nearby Edwinstowe, his skills as a carpenter and joiner soon found him gainfully employed by Thoresby Estate. A sequence of dwellings therein coincided with five additions to his family: My elder sister at Cockglode; myself at Rose Cottage; my younger brother at Radleys Lane; and my two younger sisters at Three Gables. This latter house being a result of his promotion to Foreman at the Woodyard.

The Woodyard was essentially the place which processed the timber from the forestry department, turning out everything from telegraph poles and fence posts, to items needed by the pre-PVC building trade. Thoresby workers were also responsible for the maintenance of the estate, and in this respect my father was frequently involved in repairs to Thoresby Hall and its contents. For example, he hung the original blue wallpaper in the Blue Drawing Room, and items of antique furniture would often find themselves transported to our kitchen whilst dad tended to their upholstery. Such work of course had to meet Lady Manvers’ standards and, although a lady of sweet disposition, she could be rather fastidious in her demands. For example, all the firewood for her bedroom, sitting room, and dining room, had to be billet wood, 9” (23cm) long and 3” (8cm) diameter, and totally free from knots. Nothing short of these specifications would do. Happily, dad’s skills and general work ethic soon won the Ladyship’s approval. During their encounters she would always enquire about his family’s welfare, and in 1962 she would even ask him to pose for one of her water colours, (shown on this link).

Sometime in the late 1950s dad came home from Thoresby Hall with a broken figurine in his pocket. Smashed might be a more appropriate description. (I count ten pieces). Quite possibly it was a favourite ornament with Lady Manvers and so, rather than relegate it straight to the bin, dad was asked if it could be fixed. Not surprisingly the outcome was rather unsatisfactory. One elbow was missing, and lines of Evostik adhesive were unavoidably visible. As a consequence, the “Coquette” figurine remained on our family sideboard, often commented on through the decades, though its origins all but forgotten. Until now.

In March 2016, Thoresby Courtyard Gallery exhibited a selection of Lady Manvers’ still-life paintings, the majority of which had quite possibly not been seen anywhere since Thoresby Hall closed to the public in 1979 (this link). So you can imagine my surprise and delight upon seeing the painting above. It is probably an unfinished piece, or perhaps abandoned; the leaves are somewhat heavy handed and the background left rather unresolved. But there in the corner sits “Coquette”. The very same one.

Last thoughts on Lady Manvers.

In 1963 the estate’s management of the time decided our family should move out of Three Gables and back to a smaller house on Perlethorpe Village Green. One afternoon before that move took place, the news of which had only just reached Lady Manvers, her chauffeur driven limousine pulled up outside. She expressed much concern at what had happened, and even offered the flats in Thoresby Courtyard as accommodation for our family of seven. It was a sincere gesture, and typical of her character. But it was time to move on.

I was born into Thoresby Estate, and left there aged thirteen. Everyone I’ve spoken to who once lived there says the same thing: When they left, they left a little piece of them behind. It’s true. Just like Coquette’s little elbow, as she now resides on my shelf.

Top painting copyright Thoresby Estate. Text copyright Ian G Craig.

22 Mar 2016

March Oak. Not yet the greens of Spring.

I have no Umbers or Siennas in my palette. I binned them long ago in an effort to improve and liven up my colours. Nevertheless, I thought the colours for “March Oak” (below) should address those more subdued shades as the month sees the green hues of Winter tree trunks take on a browner aspect. My chosen oak tree for this month, shaped in part by the strong winds of March, continues to reflect the demise of Sherwood Forest. There are no fresh buds on the branches anticipating the coming Spring. True enough for me to.

A bit of a shock this month. I took a drive over to a particular gallery in the Dukeries area, one which has rather sentimental links for me, it being a short walk from the primary school where I first had a painting go up on the wall as a child, and the one in which I first managed to get a piece exhibited after leaving teaching c.2006. Nothing on their website or Twitter page prepared me for what I encountered as I stepped through the door. An empty, bare stone-walled room. The art gallery as I knew it, and the people I once met there, all gone.

Video documenting this painting in progress can be seen on THIS LINK.

Reading: Richard Carlson "Stop Thinking, Start Living". My first ever self-help book

Copyright Ian G Craig.

February Oak. Expecting rain.

From resource photos and sketches made during my walks through Sherwood Forest, I selected the ten oak trees needed for the rest of the planned series, which means I can draw out a basic composition on the boards at any time, engaging in the painting process as each month arrives. This will help me keep pace, but not pre-empt whatever the coming year may bring. Apart from Valentine’s Day, February seems something of a forgotten month. One expects the frosts and snows of winter will have passed, but not yet see the winds of March or the light showers and buds of April. Me and February have much in common, and we’re both expecting rain.

In February the sun is still low, but the yellow hues it makes along the horizon are more “lemon” than cadmium. The high clouds vary from silver grey to slightly lilac. The low clouds which bring the rain are fast moving, and much darker, almost silhouettes. I’ve also been shooting some video of the 12 oaks selected for this project, with the intention of making short videos explaining my thoughts and processes.

"February Oak" (above). I chose this particular oak for February because of its character; its form distorted from straining to reach the sunlight between the surrounding birches. It’s quite a dark painting. I was even tempted use black, something I hardly ever do. It did prove a bit of a struggle, and it’s not quite the painting I envisaged, but it’s the painting which emerged from that struggle. I think I’m always a little disappointed when my landscape paintings don’t look like everybody else's in the arts and crafts gallery shops, but then again, if they did, I’d bin them.

Video documenting this painting in progress can be seen on THIS LINK.

Reading: McCartney, Fleetwood Mac, Dylan, Rolling Stones biogs for the years 1970/76.
Listening: Albums for the above.

17 Jan 2016

David Bowie and my Unisex lilac velvet jacket, R.I.P.

The date is 10th June, 1973. I am an art student in Liverpool. I have long since owned a worn-out ex-juke box copy of “Space Oddity”, and the hit single “Starman” saw me purchase the Ziggy Stardust album. We all like “Walk on the Wildside”, but neither myself nor anyone I know of in this city, or my hometown of Nottingham, is listening to the Velvet Underground, let alone aware of what an Iggy Pop might be. I know a little about German Expressionist cinema, but never even heard of Japanese Kabuki, Bertol Brecht, or William Burroughs’s cut-ups.

Within 24 hours all this and more will change. Forever.

Our curiosity peeked by a couple of hit singles, and the stories in the media, my flat mates and I are deciding what to wear for tonight’s David Bowie gig at the Liverpool Empire. Tickets were quite easy to obtain. “I’m going to wear all brown”, I joke with a camp wave of the hand, “I don’t want to appear to be competing with David!” And brown it was, although my platform boots were already about two building bricks high by that stage. We assumed that the night’s concert would be more of an entertaining spectacle for the teens, rather than second year art college students like us. How wrong we were.

As we approach the theatre we are swept aside by a youthful crowd emerging from Lime Street railway station, their eyelids painted like rainbows, silver tinsel circles glued to their cheeks. Stopping for no-one they charge through the theatre doors with scant regard for ticket collectors, rush to the front of the stage, and go into their chant: “David! David!” I am twenty-two years old, and the only teen adoration I’ve witnessed prior to this is my younger sister crying over The Osmonds. I clearly have no idea what is about to happen.

Let’s be honest, detailed accounts of most concerts one sees fade from the mind over time. They become a tick-box list of those bands one has seen and those still on the bucket list. But I can still replay that night’s performance in my mind: The swirling Japanese cape as the curtains opened on Jean Genie (complete with Love Me Do harmonica riff); the single spotlight on a solitary mirror ball which turned the theatre into a Space Oddity galaxy; Bowie shouting at the audience for screaming and not listening; the slick on-stage costume changes, the occasional instrumental-break mime, and hearing Lou Reed’s song “Waiting for the Man” for the very first time. Most of all the moment Bowie went “down” on Mick Ronson, seemingly biting at his guitarist’s strings, Ronson’s thigh mere inches away. I can tell you that three very straight art students emerged from the theatre that night wanting to be Mick Ronson.

After witnessing this Aladdin Sane stage show a lot of things I’d previously encountered became joined-up in my mind: “The Cabinet of Dr Caligari”, “Metropolis”, Scott Walker’s take on Jacques Brel, “Clockwork Orange”, Andy Warhol, “1984”, and more. The undoubted genius of The Beatles had tapped into largely British roots, marrying American pop with Music Hall, Irish limerick, the surreal humour of the Goon Show, the fantasy of Lewis Carrol. That well had been bled dry three years previous. Bowie was embarking on a whole new direction, merging European and Eastern art forms with the sound of Jeff Beck’s Yardbirds and the glitzy attitude of Andy Warhol’s factory. Put simply, it was the second coming of Elvis. Everything began anew, and he’d only just begun.

 Everybody uses that tired old cliché about “it changed my life”. But in some small measure, for me, that night did. Being a stranger in a strange land at that time became an easier mind-set to accept. It still is, when “everybody’s going out and having fun”, and I want to stay home and paint. In fact, so empowered did this fresh out of the countryside young man begin to feel, that a lilac velvet jacket and mullet hairdo seemed to be in order. Of course nobody told me the jacket, which buttoned to the left, was obviously intended for a girl. Never mind. I couldn’t get into it these days anyway. But I am still listening to David Bowie. I never stopped.

Above: Posing for a fellow student c.1973.

15 Jan 2016

January Oak, last years snow.

 I wonder what normal folk do on New Year's Day? I spent mine painting, making a start on the second of my series of Sherwood Forest oaks. This one has no particular personal message, I simply wanted to have a go at painting snow. The secret would appear to be not in the colour but in the rhythmic patterns it defines on the branches. Although I love painting, it's always really hard work for me. It's like I'm always struggling to find a graphic solution for what's in front of me, rather than simply picking up a brush and doing it like most artists seem to do.

I visit Sherwood Forest often. At this time of year it is an even more enchanting spectacle than usual. The snow highlights every small detail, whilst turning the sound-scape to an eerie mixture of silent and still. But I have to confess, there was no snow this year, so I had to work from previous resources. “January Oak” (above) is the second in my ongoing series of acrylic paintings.

Video documenting this painting in progress can be seen on THIS LINK.

29 Dec 2015

December Oak. Making a list, checking it twice.

In my long-hand journal entry for June of this year I set myself two objectives: First, to move house by the end of the year; second, to put all serious artwork on hold until that had been fulfilled. However, after four months of paperwork chasing the bungalow of my choice, here I am still inside number 35, and, apart from some small sketches on Twitter (above), this has been the most inactive year of my entire life. So this month, amidst the packing case contents of my current life style, I decided to break the lethargic spell I’ve been under for far too long, and embark on the next project.
My intended novel, a series of contemporary paintings relating to that novel, and a supplementary series of smaller paintings (one per month) based on the oaks of Sherwood Forest.

The reason the dark evenings of late 2015 failed to have their usual depressing effect on my mood can only be because the entire year has already felt that way from the start. However, this December my spirits lifted, bringing about a much more positive change in attitude. Why this should be I have no idea. It was hardly a “good news” month considering my failed attempt to move house, plus the very sad news about two former friends, and the stress of Christmas obligations. Nevertheless, even though my personal space is quite empty, the lights came back on, and in that way “December Oak” (below) is about me.

"December Oak". Acrylics on 31cm x 41cm board. I’m really pleased the result. It combines my natural drawing style with the painting technique. I'm also liking acrylic paint. They dry so fast they allow one to work without pause.

Video documenting this painting in progress can be seen on THIS LINK.

28 Dec 2015

...and it's my birthday.

 Had to withdraw from the house purchase, couldn’t get a date for exchanging keys / signing contracts. I’m not willing to put a deposit down without knowing when its mine, otherwise they could keep my money for years, or even go bust in the current economic climate. Bugger.

Sad news from an old flatmate of mine from Liverpool days. Our fellow flatmate, Bob, is suffering from advanced dementia. Terrible news. I wrote a post about him not long ago. (THIS LINK).

Further bad news came via a visit from an ex-colleague of mine from when I was a teacher. By head of department from those times has died of cancer. I attended the funeral, surprised to find how religious he was.

As December came to a close I felt better about not getting the property I’d set my sights on. I can see in retrospect how isolated that location could have been. Also, I've started painting again.

Reading: Short stories.
Listening: Bob Dylan’s Radio Hour.
Watching: A different black and white 1930s / 40s horror movie most nights.

28 Nov 2015


Still awaiting a date when I can sign contracts and move house. Seems rather slow.

Reading: A book on The Krays.
Listening: Fleetwood Mac.
Watching: Homelands, The Walking Dead, Nashville, all TV series.

3 Oct 2015

All the fun of the fair. Not.

Goose Fair is not too much fun on one’s own. It’s even less fun is sitting with a neighbour at night waiting for the paramedics to arrive.

28 Sep 2015

Waking up house hunting.

 I feel I’ve been in hibernation (in summer?) and I’m waking up.

8th: Seriously engaged with the property hunt. Viewed two properties, and made an offer on the second.
15th: My offer has been accepted.
19th: Filling out paperwork for the purchase. Emptying out my house of all I don’t want to take with me. Putting all creative work on hold ‘til I’m under a new roof.
28th: Made a 20 minute video using footage, recordings and photos made in this house from 1982 – 2015. It’s called “goodbye 35” for obvious reasons and can be seen on THIS LINK.

Reading: Scott Fitzgerald short stories and ghost stories.
Listening: Fleetwood Mac.
Watching: Hunted TV series, Nashville TV series, and Luthor TV series.

25 Aug 2015

31 Jul 2015

Still restless.

Still restless. Leads me to delete or archive. Did a bit of personal writing, putting things in perspective, and a longer piece about an old schoolmate, which I might use in my intended novel.

Been looking at properties for sale on the ‘net.

Reading: Andrew Loog Oldham “Stoned 2”, Sinatra biog.,
Watching: Veep TV series, Dylan videos,
Listening: Sinatra,
Drinking: Cold cider,