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Summer has now undeniably packed its bags and left. Autumn now reigns in East Sussex and I sit here looking out of the window at dirty grey clouds, like cotton wool that’s been dropped in a puddle and watch the wind bend all the plants in the garden whistling tunelessly as it catches the edges of the windows, seemingly angry that it can’t get it in. Good job it can’t, because I’m drinking my tea, cosy and warm inside and I have no desire whatsoever to be outside!

I’ve spent more of the morning than I wanted to fiddling with my latest painting. Initially I thought I wanted to add the words “fig. 1.” just below the subject, but having done so I came to the conclusion that it drew too much attention from the subject. While I was coming to this decision and listening to Radio 3’s Essential Classics, Sir Richard Eyre was saying that, “if an artwork needs a label explaining what it is, then it has probably failed as an artwork”, at least I think that’s what he said. Anyway I agreed and rightly or wrongly removed the still wet lettering with a little linseed oil on a rag.

It’s been an interesting piece. Initially I was going to paint-in the wooden surface that the subject was sitting on, but the complexity and detail in the sunken scarred wood grain got the better of my patience and I came upon the idea of painting it out. This was one those occasions where victory was snatched from the jaws of despondency and in fact a better idea than the first emerged.

I don’t know about you, but for me believing in my ability to pull a job off is almost everything! Discouragement can be so immobilising that it can even be the end of a project entirely, but this is a phenomena that I’ve noticed isn’t just limited to painting. DIY projects, public performances, essays, anything that you’ve not done before (and every painting falls into that category) seems to rely on your levels of self belief. One of our favourite films, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, opens with a conversation in the heavens. As the hero, George Bailey, is being discussed Clarence the angel asks, “is he sick?”, “No” comes the reply, “worse, he’s discouraged”.

Encouragement in life is essential! If you want someone to succeed they must have encouragement from somewhere, whether that is from a loved one, from their faith, from friends, or even from themselves, wherever it comes from it is of primary importance to enable someone to succeed. Discouragement on the other hand crushes the heart and destroys self-confidence and joy.

You see if you’ve done something before then it’s as if an invisible track has been laid down that speeds progress and encourages a sense of certainty that whatever you are doing can easily be done again. However if what you are doing is new, then every tiny step can be difficult and uncertain. The greater the fear of failure the more crippling slow progress becomes. In short, encouraging someone can be one of the best and most rewarding things that you can do for another person and discouraging, one of the cruelest.

Anyway, suffice is to say that with the advent of a new direction I was encouraged enough to press on with the new picture. I’ve not done a still life before, but the source photo for this one was shot late one evening in the shed outside and the resulting combined lighting of candlelight and iPhone screen light seemed give the subject a beautiful quality that I wanted to paint.

It’s called “Fig.1.” because… it’s a fig, and… well, I thought it was funny. As usual the photographs of the piece are somewhat disappointing. Photographing black seems to be challenging. Painting in black is likewise challenging. Black seems to have its own gravity, sucking towards it every speck of dust in the room! Perhaps that’s actually how black holes really work, it has nothing to do with their density, it’s actually their blackness that creates intense gravity!

Here it is. Oil on panel:


The original lighting of the image seemed to make the skin of the fig look more like a constellation of stars rather than a fruit and the image is more luminous in real life. I incorporated a lot of purple into the black background to give it a richer feel and the black around the edges of the fruit is blended with oranges, yellows and purples to give it a sort of glow. I even added a few constellations in the spots on the skin for fun, but they’re not that clear from the shots sadly.

There were some progress shots, but my phone crashed and lost those, however they wouldn’t have revealed much about the process. What this piece did teach me though is that transparent and semi-transparent paints are much more efficient at creating luminosity than an over reliance on Titanium white and that underpainting your tonal values well first gives you much more creative freedom with colour later.

Somehow I can’t believe that there are any heights that can’t be scaled by a man who knows the secrets of making dreams come true. This special secret, it seems to me, can be summarised in four C s. They are curiosity, confidence, courage, and constancy, and the greatest of all is confidence. When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way, implicitly and unquestionable.

– Walt Disney