Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Palace of the Popes

A page from the sketchbook I kept while meandering around southern France. One of the things I like about that country is that municipal campsites are often sited on the choicest bits of land. In the case of Avignon, on the Ile de Barthelasse immediately across the Rhone from the old city and Palace of the Popes.

This was done, rather quickly, right at sunset. The scrawling in the upper left are the beginning of some quite extensive notes on Provencal Gothic. It's a style of architecture I don't really like, but find intriguing due to its rather bleak angularity. It's unfriendly architecture, and provides a nice reminder that Provence, despite its current holiday-destination status, is in many ways a hostile environment.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A girl on the train

Another sketch made on the train, this time on the line between Florence and Siena. We were almost at Siena, if I recall correctly, and I had to rush to get it done before we pulled into the station.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Harry on the train

Sometimes on public transit, you really want to get closer to the person sitting beside you. Other times, it's as if an invisible wedge is hammered into the space between the two chairs.

Drawn on the train back from La Spezia, Italy, sometime in the summer.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Apres Holbein

I had been looking at Holbein's Christ Entombed, and found myself wondering about applying a similar format to some contemporary figures. This is a drawing I prepared at the time.

Sadly, I never managed to fit the completed painting into my schedule. Perhaps it's for the best; ideally, I would have needed to do at least four of them. Stacked above one another on the gallery wall, the effect would have been fairly unsettling.

Another time, perhaps.

The drawing is just shy of life size, on mylar.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

In a bar on College street, Toronto

Drawing in bars is harder than it looks. There's a lot of subject matter, yes, but sometimes it lurches about uncontrollably. More often, there just isn't enough light. In that case, one just has to guess, as here.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Winter over Green Bay

Tarragon's landscape practice swings between two axes. Barriefield, Ontario, is a village swallowed up on three sides by the encroaching city of Kingston (the fourth is the waters of Green Bay). Compton, Surrey, is a tiny speck in the scant miles separating the city of Guildford from the large town of Godalming, and is obliged to share those miles with several other communities.

Neither village has its own centre, or post office, or corner store. Their denizens are not villagers but transplanted urbanites.

Paradoxically, both locations in Tarragon's paintings become deserted zones. There are signs of habitation, but no inhabitants. He has removed them from their urban confines and replanted them in the remote places of the earth, accessible only to, perhaps, intrepid dog-sledders.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Street Show

The apartment was sweltering, the air dripping. Even the floor did not want to be touched.
Outside, it crackled, like cereal or strings of light bulbs in movies made in the '80s. Something was happening, but it was too dark outside, too bright inside, and she did not want to turn off the light.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

An old self-portrait

I did a whole series of these nine years ago, when I was living in a small, drear flat in Florence, and had hair like Conan the Barbarian.

Drawing can be a shiversome activity in winter. Tuscan architecture is designed to keep out the summer sun; in the winter, the marble and stone encouraged me to layer on the scarves and sweaters. I didn't always look this disheveled, however.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A view near Narbonne

Some years ago I stayed in a small and squalid campsite just east of Narbonne. From the site, one could see "La Clape," a dry and stony ridge that shelters the city from the Mediterranean. It's an unfortunate geographical feature, I think. Although the sea is only a few kilometres distant, Narbonne - a few canals notwithstanding - feels like an inland town, and a small provincial one at that.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Domesticity IV

This is the fourth in a small series of etchings dealing with the small matters of daily life and the realities of cohabitation. Again, the influence of Mary Cassat is visible, and beyond her, that of ukiyo-e prints.

This is an etching, about 9" tall, printed on Japanese Washi paper.

Eyebrow maintenance is strangely fascinating, I think.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A palazzo in Venice

A very typical Venetian scene; it's a largish watercolour (about 16" tall) that I did a few years ago when I was touring Italy. Whistler notwithstanding, the colours in the Venetian lagoon are irresistible, and easily overcame my usual preference for black and white work.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

News of the Pilgrimage

A good sized oil painting, showing the towers marching like giants across the level plain.

For a more literal interpretation of electrical towers as giants, there is an interesting project intended (but not, sadly, destined) for installation in Iceland.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Barbarino Val d'Elsa

A page from a sketchbook I kept while cycling around in Italy. Barbarino Val d'Elsa is a small town in central Tuscany, about four hours cycling south of Florence. I drew this from the associated campsite, which - as usual in Tuscany - was located down a steep hill and up another one from the town itself.

The place is quite charming, even if it lacks much that holds the attention. It has a plan designed for defence - imagine an almond shape formed by high walls, embracing just two streets that meet at either end of the almond at fortified gates. Of course, a lot of additions have been made to that basic medieval plan, but it's still quite apparent on the ground.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Danielle in blue

An acrylic on cardboard, painted in something like an hour. As usual, I started with a fairly detailed pencil drawing on the primed board, and added the acrylic subsequently. The creases in the clothing and detail in the hair were made by scraping into the wet paint - since acrylic dries almost instantly, I had to work fast.

When I originally made this, I was irritated at how pointy the chin appeared, hence the inscription. It doesn't look so bad now.

Monday, August 9, 2010


This is an old one: when I was living in Florence, back in 2001, we frequented an Irish bar on piazza Santa Maria Novella. Fiona worked there as a waitress, and one day she was dragged back to the studio to serve as a model.

The drawing has been sitting around in one of my folders since then, and has suffered some water damage.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Winter in England, again

The village is really a very green place, but when it's grey, the grey hangs low and deep over the houses and the trees and the narrow footpaths. Foliage is everywhere, and there are no cast shadows, and no horizons.

Friday, August 6, 2010

English Winter

There are two very dainty villages in Surrey named Compton. This is the one next to Farnecombe; the other is adjacent to Farneham.

In these paintings: the outbuildings and pollarded plane trees of the village's Tudor manor, and a distant view of the Withies, the 17th c. pub. The staff of the latter were kind enough to bring me hot cider while I was painting.

I painted these around Christmas, and therefore, although winter in Surrey is not like winter in Canada, both were done as swiftly as possible. It was not so cold that the watercolours froze, but my fingers became very stiff very quickly nonetheless.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


A quick sketch. It's nice when people decide to sit still and let you draw them.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


The bride walked one way, the bridesmaids another. Tom stood at the edge of the woods and watched them go, and knew in his heart that no matter how many dresses he tried on, he would never look so fine.