Thursday, November 24, 2011


Fall rise, acrylic & oil on board, 18 x 18", 2011

What are you working on in your studio right now?

I have just finished the last of a group of small acrylic and oil paintings on board which I am about to show at Transition Gallery in London opening December 2nd. I have done 25+ since August and am happy with 10 of them of which the painter Phillip Allen who is curating the show will choose his favourite 5.  Two other painters, Mark Joyce and William Gharrie are also showing work. It should be a good one.

Can you describe your working routine?

I try and find any excuse not to paint! So I get up early in order to accommodate my excuses, and get these ‘necessary things’ out of the way: I go to the shop for the paper, drink coffee, watch breakfast television, read Facebook and any Emails and reply (in detail) to any (thank God I have kept away from Twitter!), eat some toast, have ‘just one more coffee’ etc. etc. until there really isn’t anything left to do except go and paint.
 I paint in the garage at home so when I do go to paint I start straight away. There is no sitting around, no chatting (there’s no one to chat to), no drawing or preparation as that gets done in the house at other times and I know roughly how I’m going to get going, so I just start. With these small paintings I paint very quickly and intensely in about one and a half hour bursts. I usually get about 3 of these intense painting bursts done a day, give or take.
I don’t know why it’s always one and a half hours at the moment but it is. Bigger paintings take longer but that’s nothing to do with them being harder to do. With big paintings the paint application involves a bigger area which takes longer to fill, and you only see the whole of the painting by pausing and stepping back so the whole process takes longer.  

Marker on acetate, 2011

Can you describe your studio space and how, if at all, that affects your work?

I am a very untidy messy painter. Once I get going I can’t keep stopping and starting to keep my stuff organized and orderly as it breaks up my thinking. I seem to always have a tin of brush restorer on the go as I lose brushes in the mess and when they reappear they are hard! I am my own worst enemy but I have tried to change and keep tidy and it just isn’t me. There is no natural light in the garage but that has never bothered me as my paintings don’t rely on subtlety much (not to me anyway). Also, it’s a good test if the paintings can stand out surrounded by mess and lit by strip lighting. This doesn’t mean they should gravitate towards being bright and garish – more that they somehow are more alive, a special arrangement of the matter they have come from, i.e. the mess which is all rounds them.

Tell me about your process, where things begin, how they evolve etc.

I get ideas from anything I might see, think about, read, watch on television, and I distill all this into drawing, mainly in my sketchbook, most often at night – watching television. These days I need a specific idea to start a painting from and these come from the drawings. When I say ‘idea’ this is a very loose term. It could be just a colour or pattern or a real thing I want to paint, a memory or something stupid, anything really, but mainly from the drawings.

I used to paint like I draw – just making it up and seeing where it goes, but now I need an anchor point or two. With drawing it’s just about doodling until an idea takes shape, then making this idea clear, then that’s it – the drawing is finished. There are no changes other than additions because it is biro or ink pen, so I can’t fuss over it erasing like you can with pencil or paint. Any mistakes have to be made into a positive influence to the drawing somehow and this often sends the drawing off on a different tangent. Drawing isn’t a problem; it’s just using my imagination, getting ideas out, playing with them to make something new and making them clear. This would be enough but paint and colour are special and addictive. Once enough drawings are done to generate ideas for about a dozen paintings, I start painting.
When I paint, like drawing I just want to get my imagination working, playing with ideas, going off on tangents etc. I don’t want to refine and polish what I know, but I do want to paint with the least resistance possible and still end up with something I haven’t seen before, that surprises me, and puzzles me and that I learn from.  But what stops me doing this, the resistance, was (and is) the making of the painting: the adjustment of colour, the relationships of shapes, the edge of the painting, dealing with painting as being flat but a real space., etc. etc.

Some artists ignore these problems, but to me dealing with them and trying to get past to a new thing is the whole point. In trying to do this painting is stopped from stagnating and ending up in a dead end, and becoming at best the painting equivalent of a tribute band.
 It’s only been in this last year or so that I have started getting somewhere I think. I have started relaxing a bit, thinking of each painting not having to be perfect, the be all and end all but just as one of a series. This lets me be more playful because if it fails its OK, there is always another painting. I have began painting on large boards with 5 or 6 ‘areas’ of painting which each have their own start off idea but with no fixed edges. This lets me just concentrate on using my imagination, playing with the ideas etc. I can work on all these areas of painting at once and they sometimes merge or split so it’s a very fluid process.

Along the way I photograph the work if I am not sure of something and try changes using the computer. But these are only big changes, or collaging separate paintings together or dramatic colour tests. Eventually the areas of paint become clearer in what they are trying to say to me and more separate from each other. I then cut them up and work on them as separate paintings and only then consider things like the edge, how the space is working etc. But these final decisions are painted in a much less panicked way as most of the paintings main idea(s) and its structure is there. Recently I have gone back to making paintings with edges on fixed sizes again and it feels a lot less frustrating now.  

before & after

What are you having the most trouble resolving?

Reading my description of this process of painting sounds like all things are resolved and sorted. They aren’t! The hardest thing to resolve and which I am a long way off doing, is to try and develop an approach that allows me to paint anything, any subject or idea, without having to be detached; so I am painting from the heart as well as the mind, with equal measure.

Do you experiment with different materials a lot or do you prefer to work within certain parameters?

Poster paints were the first paints I used and my earliest memory is of painting in front of the fire a ‘mural’ on some wallpaper of the local park for my sister who was at university and I was off school poorly with the mumps. My sister still has it and the ‘mural’ is actually only about 2 foot long, but me being 4 or 5 I can’t have been much longer either, so it still seems in my memory to have been huge! The poster paints were in small glass bottles by Rowney and were pre-mixed. You can’t get them in glass bottles now but I still love using pre-mixed pots of poster paint for their smell and their squidgyness which you can’t get from acrylic and gouache – although I use those as well now. I use oils with Turpentine and Jacksons Glaze Medium which gives a lovely glow to the paint without it being like a varnish and makes it flow better and dry quicker.

I pretty much just draw with black biro and ink pens but recently I have been drawing on large A1 sheets of acetate with permanent marker pens and using nail varnish remover as an eraser. This is great as you can draw on both sides and reverse the image and draw but also rub out and leave a trace of the rubbing, and also rub out perfectly if you want, so it’s a bit like painting but also like ink drawing.
As I say I also use the computer to test out large changes to paintings without ruining them. I also have a Nintendo DS and got the ‘Art Academy’ for it which is a brilliant little paint program – lots of fun. It’s the only paint program I know of that has great painting sound effects! Unfortunately you can’t get images printed from it so I will probably get an iPad at some point.

Ink on paper, 2011

What does the future hold for this work?

I want to do lots of different things which I have been thinking about over the last year and will give me a break from my ‘usual’ painting, which I can then come back to later next year ‘refreshed’. I want to make some sculpture on a flat board like a model railway landscape using plaster of Paris, bandaging, clay, plastic – anything. Like a diorama to be able to do what I want with. I don’t think it will be a thing in itself, viewed from any angle like a sculpture or installation. It might be just in a corner viewed from one angle. I might do landscape paintings from it. I also want a digital projector to be able to paint more accurate areas on my paintings but without having to slow down and worry about accuracy. I want to use photographs, my own drawings and paintings, and I want to be able to use it to do things that are impossible any other way like photographing a half finished painting, then projecting it onto itself and painting itself into itself recursively, and distorting itself somehow in between maybe using the computer. I also want to try painting on the acetate sheets I have and seeing what happens there with reversing them and layering and tracing etc. I have been painting all my adult life but I am still in the dark quite a bit about what’s out there in terms of materials and methods and have been recommended a couple of books on the subject which I want to read.  

Is there anything else you would like to add?

It’s great to have been asked to write this. I don’t normally put all this down in words and only occasionally talk like this to others, as do most artists I think. I hope it sort of makes sense!

Desert, acrylic & oil on board, 12 x 12", 2011


  1. Thanks Iain for such an honest and helpful report. Your work reflects your authenticity. James