Well, it’s finished! Although things went broadly to plan there were inevitably some pragmatic decisions that had to be made along the way – including filling an empty space that I hadn’t anticipated between the car and the area above the top of the barriers. In fact, it was a classic piece of serendipity which prompted me to include the logos of the companies I have worked for and a thumbnail of a retirement card saying ‘Don’t think of it as retirement’ – all excellent additions to round off the picture.

The whole process has been very instructive. I now know just how long it takes to plan and put together a coherent piece of art; and just how much skill there is in mixing paints and applying it with brushes. As for actually creating recognisable pictures of things in paint – well, I am in awe of those who are good at it. I am not, and my decision to stick to collage and broad swathes of paint was certainly the right one. The result is at least presentable and recognisable, and I have enjoyed the experience of turning a vision of an image into reality. Perhaps I will be moved to do others in the future.

As to whether the final result is what I wanted and as good as I would like – well the answer has to be, not quite. There are lots of aspects that could have been better – the outline of the vortex, the shape of the yellow leakage from the top, the too-uniform set of loose rocks below the car, the pattern around the edge – all these perhaps could be better. But most things can always be better, and these days I lean more towards completing than perfecting on the sea-saw of project choices. Anyway, judge for yourself.

Time to start on the real thing

The photo prints of the images I need all arrived early last week, and I finished trying the paints and trial sketches yesterday. So, all is now ready – I must take the plunge and actually start assembling and producing the painting!! I’ve realised that doing some things before others will have a significant effect both in terms of getting things in exactly the right positions and in getting the desired colour paint to appear on top of any adjacent colour. Consequently I’ve decided on the following order of work:

  1. Glue on the article
  2. Cut the road print to the right shape including any parts where the lava breaks through.
  3. Glue the road print
  4. Paint the background for the pictures at the top
  5. Cut the tie barriers to the right shape (including where the vortex comes through
  6. Glue on the barriers
  7. Paint the base layer of the edging
  8. Paint the black parts of the lava
  9. Cut and position the road surface and flying gravel and road foundations vis-a-vis the car
  10. Paint the orange and red of the lava including the blow out
  11. Paint the vortex
  12. Stick in the pictures above the barrier
  13. Stick in the car and flying road surface and gravel
  14. Paint the yellow in the lava
  15. Paint the design on the edging

So that’s it! There’s no more trying things out and prevarication on designs etc. It’s time to start work on the real thing and just do the best I can. What will be will be!

Where am I up to?

Over the last few weeks I’ve worked on the car and tie photos I took a few weeks ago, but my time has been largely taken up with the Wiseman element of our photo collection. However, having completed that yesterday, I decided that today I’ll assess the state of each element in the painting and what needs to happen to each of them. This is the result:

Element Current State Work to be done What to do next
The edging around the canvas Thoughts about its width (about 1 or 2 cm) and its composition (probably a repeating kind of design for which I’ll take a look at some of my doodles from 30 years ago). This will be done freehand in Acrylics. Try out some designs in pencil and then try doing them in acrylics. Rough out the designs in pencil on the canvas. Rough out the designs and widths.
The Guardian article Cut and ready to be used Assess if the left and right edges should wrap around the edge of the canvas or be cut off. Figure out how best to stick it to the canvas. See what happens when acrylics are painted onto newspaper. Try out gluing under newspaper and then painting over that bit with acrylic paint.
The simmering lava under the road Very rough sketch Figure out what the interface between the lava and the road picture will look like. Do a more detailed rough sketch and then try out painting it in acrylics. Design the interface and do a more detailed sketch.
The vortex Very rough sketch Decide on its exact position and size and what its shape will be at the top. Do a more detailed rough sketch Decide its position and size.
The car Image obtained which can be resized as required Decide what parts of the road surface are to be shown under the car wheels and what they will look like. Work on the road surface material that will be shown under the wheels.
The road scene Image obtained Decide exactly where the vortex will be placed in the image, and the material on which the image will be reproduced for use in the painting Get the image produced ready for use in the painting
The Barrier Draft tie image obtained Probably needs a black background. Needs to be expanded to cover the width of the painting. Decide the material on which the image will be reproduced for use in the painting. Design the interface between the vortex and the barrier. Complete the image with an appropriate background
  The better place Some pictures assembled for use in the better place Finalise the pictures to be used and design their layout Rough out the design of the better place deciding on the rough size and position of each of the pictures to be used.

Back to the Canvas

The Olympics and some major house and garden jobs have diverted my attention for the last two months, but today I started working on the painting again. I’ve sketched out its overall structure and am clear about each of the main areas and their contents. I also photographed some of the elements including my car with me leaning out of the drivers’ window, mouth agog as I’m shot up in the vortex to a better place at the top of the picture. For these shots I stiffened my resolve and put on a shirt and tie for the first time for quite a while. Those uncomfortable and constraining ties were also the key component of some other photos. Laid out on the floor and arranged as a grid of squares, these will comprise the barrier separating the commuting area from the better place above it.

Collage and Canvas

A bit of preparatory sketching has confirmed what I knew already – my current drawing skills are rubbish and it would take a lot more time than I’m going to spend on this painting to improve them. However, I know I can do collage, so that’s how I’m going to construct most of this painting. I’ll use some acrylic paint, but only for the large blocks of colour.

Having made that decision, I’m much encouraged. The paper version of the Guardian article dictates the width of the painting so I have purchased a canvas of 14 x18 inches (356 x 457mm); and I’ve acquired the road scene from a Google street view of part of the commuter route I used to travel. Now I’m working on how to represent my car being blown upwards to the space at the top of the canvas.

The inspiration – AwtMiB

A few years ago I read this piece in the Guardian ( describing how the journalist concerned went to interview Johny Cash who so moved her that she changed her career. The words she remembers him saying were “You have to be what you are. Whatever you are, you gotta be it.”.

I cut out the article, which was called ‘Alone with the Man in Black’ and promised myself that I would eventually stop being a company man and would do the things I wanted to do. I also started to think about how I would use the article as the base of a painting with its ideas bursting through and beyond an upper layer of commuters travelling to work (by that time I was doing a 1.5 hr each way journey).

The article went in a folder in my desk and from time time I doodled ideas for the painting. Now, shortly after retiring, and actually ‘doing things I want to do’, the time has come to try and produce the painting. By way of getting started I re-read the article and was struck by how long ago it was that I had cut it out of the paper – over eight years ago in September 2003. It was a sharp reminder of how quickly time passes and a nudge for me to keep pressing on with all those things I want to do. So, now is the time to plan and sketch and paint – though I lack any skills in the latter two departments.

I’ve decided that blowing up lots of commuters as the fire of the article spews upwards in the painting is just not the right thing to do – after all they’ve got enough to contend with just with all the driving and traffic jams etc.. So, its going to have to be a rather fanciful science-fiction-type transparent tube abducting me and my car and swooshing us to a better place above the clouds. Well that’s my starting point anyway. Watch this canvas!