A Fox Tale

Late last night, on the way home from Edinburgh, I ran over and killed a fox. It had suddenly appeared as a sillouette in my headlights; like the idea of a fox conjured up by my weary mind on the dark road. Then it was gone. I couldn’t stop on the duel carraigeway as there was traffic behind me. I felt shaken and distraught. I just killed something!

I love foxes. I once spent a magical hour watching a playful pup dancing on the graveyard lights in St Cuthbert’s church in Edinburgh. It followed me to the cemetry gates where I had to shoo it away, as it might have followed me out onto the street and all the way home. I went to sleep thinking about that fox and how fragile life is. One second it is there, animated and full of spirit. The next it can be gone, like it never existed. I’m not religious, but I began to think of the spirit of the fox and all foxes and hoped that maybe I had set this one free. Poor consolation, perhaps!

Of course, I realise that killing this wild animal was an unavoidable accident. And I know we sometimes look for meanings in these situations, whether they exist or not, probably for our own comfort. This morning I was still upset and felt a need for that comfort and meaning. So I read about the nature of foxes and their use symbols in life and art. I learned that they hunt with their entire body, head to tail, stretched out, poised and pointed like an arrow; focussed only on one thing, their target. This is exactly how the fox appeared to me for that split second in the headlights. It must have been hunting. In art, the fox is often used as a symbol for inspiration and the emergence of ideas. This reminded me of one of my favourite poems, The Thought Fox, by Ted Hughes. His fox took him from staring down in frustration at the blank page on his desk to writing one of the best poems in the English language. I’m not expecting my poor fox to do the same for me, but I do feel more inspired today than I did yesterday. And hopefully I’ll be a little more focussed in my life and work in future too.

So Mr Fox, if you are out there somewhere, thank you for that!

And I’m sorry!

Here’s a link to Ted Hughes reading of The Thought Fox


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New etchings of Edinburgh and Dunnotter Castle, plus a note on the ‘sugarlift’ technique

Here’s a couple of new prints I’ve just finished. Dunnotter Castle in particular is quite different from what I’ve been doing for the past couple of years, but I have loved the painterly method and the scratchy effects you get from using sugarlift, which is how I did this plate. Picasso invented this style of etching where you paint or use a fine nibbed pen to draw a suger solution onto the metal, then once it’s dry you cover the whole plate with straw hat varnish before pouring hot water over it. The water and the heat makes the sugar solution expand and burst through the varnish in the areas you painted, exposing the bare plate.  The varnish elswhere on the plate protects it from the acid. You then clean the plate and add an aquatint (a fine spray of acrylic or resin-based dots which acts like a protective mesh screen) to it and begin the process of exposing it to the acid for the various tints. The tiny dots of aquatint again protect the metal beneath them allowing the acid to only etch the spaces in between, thus creating tone. I usually bathe the plate in 30 second dips for each tone, but it depends on the metal and the acid being used. It can be a wonderfully expressive technique and I’ve used it a few times now.

Edinburgh from Inverleith Park  below is another sugarlift etching. I’m looking forward to experimenting with it some more in the coming months.


Edinburgh, Arthurs Seat, etching
Edinburgh from Inverleith Park, etching (35x15cm)


Dunnotter Castle
Dunnotter Castle, etching (30x30cm)


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Think I’m about to have an art attack!

Storm Approaching Catterline (80x80cm oil on canvas)
Storm Approaching Catterline (80x80cm oil on canvas)

It has already been a ridiculously busy few weeks for me, what with various galleries putting out requests for new work in the run up to christmas and also preparing for and entering the end-of-year open exhibitions etc. Last night I conked out at 8! And next week is going to get even more hectic! I somehow have to get a load of paintings and prints including the one above to Gallery Heinzel in Aberdeen (that’s a new one for me) before 5pm on Monday and then get back in time to take my son to his violin lesson in Edinburgh at 5. I also have to finish sorting out the prints I’ll have on show at the Dunfermline Printmakers stand at the Edinburgh Art Fair by Wednesday morning (was actually due in yesterday!) then help deliver most of our prints and equipment to the fair, which is ope to the public on Friday at the Corn Exchange in Edinburgh – plug plug! On Friday I’ll spend the whole day at the art fair along with some of my printmaking pals showing people how to screenprint and use an etching press and then I have to get my print of Edinburgh Castle over to the RSA before heading off to Cornwall on Saturday for a week of sketching in the campervan, with my girlfriend and her 2 mutts! Oh yes, and then there’s the 3 gallery preview shows I’d like to go to between now and next Friday – mainly for free wine, of course!

Jeez, I think I’m in the middle of a middle class crisis!!

Talking of exhibition openings, I have 2 free tickets to get into the Edinburgh Art Fair. They can be used any of the 3 days it’s on (and also the Thursday preview). If you’d like to have them then all you have to do is share/retweet this post and I’ll select the person whoo did that and is most likely to spend loads of money on prints! 😉 Anyway, here’s a few links to some of the things mentioned above:

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Painter’s Block

When I have painter’s block and I’m struggling to think of a new project, I often go for a long walk in the hills or a drive in my campervan and come back to the studio fully inspired. Sometimes though I can’t get away for one reason or another, so I’ll just paint something nice and easy that doesn’t require a lot of stress or strain. Here’s one I did a few weeks ago, (photo is a bit fizzy but I’m afraid). It’s a miniature version of an oil I did a few years back, Dean Village in Edinburgh. The only real challenge here was to try and get the same level of detail that was in the 80x80cm original onto a canvas barely 6 inches square. It was fun to do and got me out of my rut. It also gave me the idea of doing more detailed miniatures based on previous larger works as a little sideline.


Dean Village, Edinburgh, oil on canvas (15x15cm)
Dean Village, Edinburgh, oil on canvas (15x15cm)


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RSA Open Exhibition 2014

Heard back from the Royal Scottish Academy today that my print Edinburgh Castle From The Grassmarket has gotten through the first online round of selection for this year’s Open Exhibition. Keeping my fingers crossed they like the real thing as much when they see it mounted and framed in a couple of weeks!



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Exhibition in St Andrews this Friday

Please come along to the preview night of an exhibition of contemporary prints editioned at Fife Dunfermline Printmakers Workshop.

This Friday 19 September between 6pm to 8pm

Kinburn Gallery, St Andrews Museum, Doubledykes Road, St Andrews KY16 9DP

Hope to see some of you there!

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Bloody hell, it’s NORMAN ACKROYD!!

A couple of weeks ago I was asked by my fellow artist friend Olga to help her move house permanently from London up to Dunfermline. I thought it would be a great chance to have a wander round the galleries and soak up some sunshine down there, so jumped at the chance to go down for a few days. We had a fantastic time hanging around in the Shoreditch area of  the East End and I paid my usual trip to Cass Art in Islington and also stocked up on some printing supplies at Intaglio near London Bridge. It was scorching late that afternoon and we were dying of thirst in the 35c heat so decided to go for a pint before heading off our separate ways. Olga had a gallery opening back in Brick Lane she wanted to go to and I just wanted to wander around the city some more and take loads of photos. We had discussed trying to find the printmaker Norman Ackroyd’s studio earlier in the day, but that was probably like looking for a needle in a haystack. Ackroyd is probably my biggest inspiration when it comes to etching, and I have always wanted to pay a visit to his studio. Since Bermondsey was just the other side of The Shard, and I knew that his studio was somewhere in that vicinity, we decided to have a look for it on the off-chance we might just see it from the outside, or perhaps even bump into him in his favourite bar just across the road. Wishful thinking indeed!

We’d both seen the BBC programme What Do Artists Do All Day which featured Norman (follow link below if you want to watch it, it’s fantastic!), and I had taken a mental snapshot of the outside of his studio building from that show. And so we headed off with the aid of Google Maps and in the somewhat vague hope of finding this sacred place. In fact, we found the distinctive studio building surprisingly quickly – with it’s bird feeders hanging from a rather ornate iron ornament high up near the roof. And so we hung about outside like a couple of kids, trying to pluck up the courage to ring the bell. You may call it stalking, though I prefer to think of it as making a pilgrimage to pay my respects to one of my few still-living favourite artists. Anyway, Olga thought it might be a little rude to arrive unannounced, and I had to admit that it the feel like a rather bizarre thing to be doing right then and there, when you actually thought about it. She offered me a tangerine to chew on while we mulled the situation over. After a moment, and when she wasn’t looking, I rang the bell and casually wandered off to a nearby bin with the orange peel, leaving Olga to explain herself if the door should actually open! Alas, all this was to no avail. He wasn’t in and that was an end to it. Ok, next best thing was to go and have our pint in the Spanish tapas bar where Norman usually had lunch (well, that’s what it had said on the tv show!). We ordered drinks and some tapas and I asked the manager if he’d seen the great man recently. Yes, as a matter of fact, he’d been in for lunch only a couple of hours before. Buggeration!! The manager continued to rub salt into our wounds by adding what a lovely chap Norman was and how everyone round about knew him as a local character, but not at all what he did or that he happened to be one of the country’s most highly respected and best loved artists.  I couldn’t help feeling gutted, but at the same time I felt quite warm inside just to have caught even a tiny glimpse of the man, his routine and his home environment. Olga and me felt happy enough really just to be sat there in his favourite bar, thinking of the man and discussing his wonderful work.

I was just about to attack my tortilla when out of the corner of my eye I caught site of a rather sprightly old man across the road, albeit laden down with heavy shopping bags and colossal bunch of fresh flowers from the market across the road. Bloody hell …  it’s him! IT’S NORMAN ACKROYD!! Without hesitation, I was out of there and across the street in a flash. Standing there, gesticulating and bumbling like an idiot in front of a rather startled Mr Ackroyd! Words failed me as I tried not to sound like the weird stalker I was so obviously aware of looking like at that moment. I could hear myself asking his name (like I didn’t already know!!) and it sounded odd to be saying it to the man himself. But he smiled and, thankfully, cut me short by explaining very matter-of-factly that he’d just gotten back from a week away on the North Sea, sketching the Yorkshire coastline from a fishing boat out of Whitby. Not bad going for a chain-smoking 76 year old who lives and breaths in the alchemical world of etching (Mr Ackroyd’s etching methods are not for the Health and Safety brigade, but they are the only way to get those kind of results!). He motioned to his front door just along the street and asked if I’d like to come in for a look. Eh, are you kidding me??!! I was already on my way with him before remembering poor Olga who was still in the bar and watching all this from the window in total disbelief. I asked if she could join us then rushed back to get her, before making our excuses to the bar manager for not eating, drinking or paying for anything as yet (he was fine with that, so long as we came back afterwards and he actually waved us off!). And then we were inside the studio.

The next hour or so was probably the most incredible experience of my artistic life, not only to be shown round the whole place by Norman, but also to be given etching tips from a true master. He described his processes and techniques in some detail and allowed us to wander round freely while he was on the phone to a to a neighbour about an extension. The opportunity to see so many beautiful Ackroyd prints up this close and especially to analyse the copper plates he used to make them was more than I could have hoped for. We even got to go upstairs where he dries his prints and has his painting studio. A real highlight for both me and Olga was to see the map of the British Isles onto which he has posted a pin at every place that he has visited over the past few decades to make an etching or a painting. Pretty much the entire coastline and archipelago of the north British Isles and Ireland is dotted with coloured pins. I was also lucky enough to get a signed  copy of his very rare and wonderful book, A Line In The Water, which I’d been trying without success to buy for over 2 years. The fact that he dropped some fag ash on it while signing made the whole thing even better in my mind.

They say you should never meet your heros, but that hour or so spent with Norman Ackroyd has taught me more about art and what it takes to be an artist than I could ever have learned from books, or tv programmes alone. And I also learned that if you really want to make  good art, or make anything happen at all, you just have to get out there and go for it.

Here’s a link to the BBC programme: What Artists Do All Day

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Week 2 at Abbot House

Having a studio at the Abbot House has many fringe  benefits, one of which is getting my stuff pimped out by the team there!! Here’s what they’re saying.

It’s great to have support from Devon and the team and I’m loving my inspiring new working environment. Week 2 is going well with 4 new paintings on the go. I might run out of easels though! Here’s a few photos from the studio this week. I hope to have a new update next week showing my paintings and prints as works in progress through their various stages.


Well stock cupboard with materials and prints
Well stocked cupboard with materials and prints
View from studio
View from my studio window

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Introducing my new studio at The Abbot House, Dunfermline

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This weekend I was finally able to move all my art stuff out of my flat & into my new studio (I’m calling it “The Garret”). It’s a beautiful, airy room on the top floor of a 500 year old building in the heart of Dunfermline’s historic quarter. The building is called the Abbot House, it’s pink on the outside and very medieval on the inside (interconnected rooms with neuks and crannies here, there and everywhere! I’ve already been lost several times in the building). And, knowing my luck, it’s probably haunted! There are 3 windows in the studio, 2 of which look out over the Abbey and it’s ancient graveyard. I absolutely love it and it’s way beyond what I could have hoped for in a studio. I have 24 hour access (not sure how I feel about being in there on my own after midnight mind!) and there’s even a cafe downstairs!

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In the above photo, you can see the front facing window of my studio at the top of the tower, the highest part of the house. I’m kind of excited about painting in a building which has been around since the The Renaissance.

Here’s some cool things from ye olden days which me and my lovely assistant, Victoria, found in the yet-to-be emptied out cupboard! Yes, we had a lot of fun with those helmets!


I’ll post more photos of the studio and work in progress once I get up and running.

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