Friday, 26 July 2019

British Birds

Gifts and Greeting Cards for Bird Watchers

I have been working on making some ceramic mugs and greeting cards for bird watchers.  I thought you would enjoy a blog post describing how the development process works.

I decided the range would be centred on the birds that visit the bird table.  I started by making pencil  studies of birds.  This is a example of a page of pencil drawings of Great Tits.  I research the images using videos and photographs, but once I have made a few drawings I get a feeling for the bird and I can invent additional poses.  The pencil drawings are then scanned and made into digital images

After the drawings are digitalised the drawings can be rearranged and coloured.   Modern software packages like Photoshop and Corel Painter have very sophisticated digital painting brushes that mimic the ways real brushes work.  The digital painting is done on a big flat screen.   There are hundreds of different brushes to choose from.  Each brush  has its own characteristics.  For instance the digital paint can be thick or watery, it can react as if it is being painted on to a textured paper and the colours can mix with paints that are already laid down.  It this case I have used a translucent yellows and bluey, greening greys.  It only takes a few minute to paint the basic colours on all the images.  I now have a small library  of great tits in different poses

I want to make a design for a mug of the Great Tits in a alder tree.  I have a wrap around layout for a mug. 

The big advantage of painting digitally is that the paints are on different layers that can be switched on and off.  In this case I have a layer for the birds, a layer for the branches and a layer for the background.  I paint the branches using digital brushes and drop the images of  the birds on top of the branches

I also add more layers of paint to give the birds more body.

and on another layer add some background blue that goes behind the branches and birds

I then print out the design and wrap it around mug to get a visual of how the item will look after it has been manufactured.

The big advantage of digital painting is that we can change layer.  For instance when I want to make a card with the same subject matter I change the backgrounds, drag the images around to fit a portrait format, move and resize the birds and add details.

Each of the bird cards will include an summary on the back of the card. My final job is to do some research on the internet looking for interest information about the birds. This card was released in July 2019.


Here are some more images in the same series 

Monday, 10 June 2019

The Streets of Naples

The Streets of Naples

(Stories from a Tourist Visiting Naples)

Priscilla and her friend dancing with castanets

Some say Naples, living under the thumb of Comorra thuggery and lying prostrate before the brooding malfeasance of Mount Vesuvius, is cursed.   The local people are rowdy, disrespectful, anarchic, free and live every day as if Vesuvius will engulf them tomorrow.  If asked, they will rightly point out that their beloved Napoli is a blessed chaotic city that replaces the jaded pallet of the outside world with a renewed sense of life.

Last Sept a visit to their Napoli opened a wild new confluence of the heart.   During those long hot September days I drew and drew and drew making image after image of her architecture, churches, squares and people that emblazoned their presence on my eyes. My brain was thrilled until my senses were numb and later I shared the impressions of those soft pleasures in a post I called Guiseppe's Battered Rose. 

I have returned to Napoli.  I know I will spend my time drawing, drawing, drawing.  One thing I have decided is that this trip will be about portraiture not architecture?  I have arrived on an early plane from Bristol having had no sleep.  I have carried my suitcase (it has no wheels) nearly a mile from the central station to my accommodation which has a door straight out on to a long narrow alleyway that runs through the centre of the Old City.  The city was founded by the Ancient Greeks and the track I am standing on has endured the blasts of Vesuvius and subjugation by invading Arab, Roman, Byzantine, Spanish and French armies.  I imbue her scent from the surfaces of tall walls made of ancient granites and marbles that have engulfed all who have tried to rule her.  She has been chipped, tattooed and polished smooth by generation after generation of Neapolitans that have lived and brushed this way and that through the arteries of the old city.  

I intend to sleep before venturing out, but in the end I can not resist her temptations and go outside. I soon run into a wedding coming out of one of the palatial churches.  Weddings were not on my list of things to do, but drawing elegant Italian weddings are an irresistible pleasure. As I follow the photographers taking pictures of the newly married couple around the city I find the square has filled with local people enjoying an annual festival of music and dance called the "Festival of the Madonna".


The Bacchanalian sounds of tambourines and drums reverberate around the closed walls of the square and at its centre a voluptuous siren in a white dress is dancing a tango with another girl in a red dress.  The girl in the white dress is Priscilla.

Priscilla, last September
I am conspicuously old amongst the group of licentious young men standing around watching the girls' provocative display of sensual decadence. 

Priscilla and the girl in a red dress

Priscilla is handing out castanets and quite soon a crowd of girls are dancing with her.  Seeing me she stops and comes to greet me. I asked her about her boyfriend, Roberto?   "Roberto not boyfriend" she replies

Roberto is the real thing, he owns almost nothing other than two delightful dogs.  There is no fakery about his approach to the street on which he depends to survive.  His roots are Calabrian and in September I have seen him performing Sicilian songs for his living.  When he sings he becomes possessed by his music, his whole body arches and his voice riddles the air with ancient Flamenco like harmonies overlaying the Grecian dance rhythms that he beats out on tambourines and accordions. Roberto had changed his looks and I only recognise him because he is begging Priscilla to take him back.  He is delicately built and not a big man. His manner is brutal and soft, but today he is stressed, insecure and forlorn. He cannot get over his break up with Priscilla and Priscilla is embarrassed by the open wounds she has inflicted.  I see a girl in a white dress fleeing to hide behind a makeshift stage. Roberto runs after her and in his grief tears at the curtains.  People around grab him and he writhes against the incarceration of their arms as if he is having an epileptic fit. The scene degenerates into a sort of madness, a man is bashing the drum. On the cobbles Roberto twists and squirms like an injured snake. The dancers stop and watch in a ring around his contorting body on the stones.  The man is still bashing his drum, escalating Roberto's emotional trauma.  Priscilla has gone.  I do not understand what is going on. I stop drawing because I have never seen anything like this before and it feels unseemly.
The man with the drum comes and tells me I have witnessed an ancient ritual where a troubled spirit has been cleansed.  All I saw was someone's pain being bated by the crowd.  Priscilla sees it that way too.  She comes and apologies to me for what I saw.

The street party re-ignites and moves like a flock of birds across the square to the bar.  The drums and tambourines are still beating and two girls are dancing a sort of Irish jig.  They have mantles of thick black hair and velvety tanned skins.  I am drawing again, sitting on a stone bench practising portraits of passers-by which I give away.  A girl brings an old man she calls uncle, he wants his portrait too! He has a big smile, a white beard, Fidel Castro cap and luminous green glasses.  He doesn't remember to collect his portrait.

The light has faded to darkness, people are sitting with me, chatting and asking to be drawn.  There is a very short girl with thick thighs, thick red lipstick, a large bush of  thick black hair standing amongst careless burly men treading on broken glasses.  She struggles with an enormous dog that is crushing a plastic coke bottles with its jaws, the grabs the bottle and the dog pulls her back and fore like she were a little girl with a too big kite. She is flying, giggling, tormenting and sensuous.  Everything about her presence is dangerous and I am curious to know more about her.  I am somehow relieved that she never notices me drawing her from the shadows and we never meet.

The party continues until three in the morning. It is 36 hours since I left Pembrokeshire.  I have hardly eaten but I am not tired.  That's my Naples love affair kicking in again.  I slink off to bed feeling I have come home.

Three days come and go, it is overcast with occasional showers.  Everyone is complaining that the Spring has been very wet and the sun has not arrived to heat the city up.  Rain is my enemy too.  My paper gets wet, people cover up and stay indoors.  I spend hours sheltering under the tarpaulins of coffee bars, but I never stop drawing.  Everyone has an interesting face.  Perhaps the most important reason I came was to re-evaluate the progress of my portrait drawing after my winter studies.  Every drawing is a sort of test of technique and an opportunity to study areas of failure that need to be worked on.

People are always aware of me, and will often come over to see what I have achieved.  I like it when I have a crowd around me because they can share the development of the drawing.  My drawings are ephemera, like mayflies their genesis is their life.  I think it is valid for people to take my drawings away as mementos of remembered experiences, but I would always refuse to exhibit them (nobody asks anyway), I do not intend them to be fossils for a wall.  When people offer money I always refuse and I try not to sign because these things reduce the potency of giving away a shared memory made in the moment.

Today Martina has graduated from her course in New Media and she is telling the whole world about it by wearing a crown of laurel leaves


The Italian men wear chiselled and manicured beards, not the wild woolly English kind, and smoke a cigarette to  make themselves look intellectual.

The waiters enjoy my presence too.  They greet me with free coffee and plates of giant green olives.

Amongst the many developments I am hoping to see in my portrait's are more simplicity, accuracy and likeness.  These are things that happen naturally as my brain self-organises the cacophony of patterns I throw at it in a process called chunking.  To help you imagine the process think of putting a jigsaw together; in the earliest stages the clusters of  jigsaw pieces float about and coagulate in lumps.  The lumps are free to wash this way and that until the frame of the jigsaw is completed and then they become contained.  This is first step towards unification.  Within the frame a spiders web of tenuous links anchor the lumps in position and build a three dimensional virtual image which is a paradigm of the structure of the head.  The paradigm solidifies like a piece of Emmental cheese which still has holes in it.

My portraiture is now like Emmental cheese. My mind has a solid paradigm against which I measure the head of my subject.  In an instant I can grasp the individuality of  shape of my subject's face, and this gives me the freedom to zoom in and out of the detail without losing control.  

Girl with lob-sided ponytails
The marks are the brushing of the surfaces of the chunks.  Marks are always made in relation to other marks.  A mark is only successful when placed where the viewer expects it to be.  The closer the mark is to being correctly positioned the more strongly it winks its meaning.  But there are some paradoxes, the brain is always looking for individuality and most interested in things that are outside its paradigm of where they are expected to be. Another paradox is that nothing in the brain happens in a single moment; time is always mixed up in an inconsistent mess.  Viewing, like every other sense, is constructed from a jumble of information that arrives in a jumble of time.  Our minds are constantly revising information and changing their opinions about where a chunk should be positioned, about what has been heard, felt or seen.  All these paradoxes are factored in as part of experience of making a portrait.

Hair, including facial hair, is one of the last elements of a portrait because it can only be placed after  its roots are anchored in the framework of the imagined skull.  For this reason hair is one of the hardest and most satisfying elements of a portrait.

The icing on the cake is when the brain can separates the moving soft tissue from the bone structure.  It is beginning to happen in my comprehension but I tend not to use this extra level of insight in my drawings yet.   When it happens the portraits will include flickers of facial movements and become more expressive.

I wander the street making portraits of interesting characters.  This is Philip with his paper cup and cat Alma. Philip looks beaten, Alma looks passive and content.  A dog arrives and looks up at the Alma, Alma looks back with passive condescension. 

Philip and Alba

After completing my drawing I ask Philip about his cat. I am surprised Philip speaks good English.  I give him some money and bend to stroke Alma.  Before I reach to touch her head she leaps up all paws outstretched, all claws flailed, grasps my hand, rasps and bites my flesh.  Alma scuttles under Philip's chair and looks out at me with furtive hostility.  In a quiet manner Philip remains seated as if nothing has happened, he tells me in his quiet voice that the cat is a rescue cat that was tortured and hates people, but she likes dogs.  How wrong my first impressions have been.

This is Babaka.  I meet Babaka many times. He is very gentle.  Sometimes I sit down with him on the marbled stones of the church entrance and we chat as I draw and he plays.  We watch the crowds together as they pass by ignoring us.  Babaka is playing an instrument that looks like a Sitar but it is really a harp strapped to a microphone.  The music he plays is melodic and soothing.


Babaka is a refugee who made the journey from Senegal some years ago and now has settled down in Naples.  He says he likes the city and people are good here, although he tells me of its dark side.

This is Francisco, who wears a peaked cap sideways with his hair sticking out asymmetrically. He has a bicycle, a bottle. We compete for an opportunity to sit on an old wooden pallet.  He backs away courteously, and gives me the place, I feel guilty but he smiles.  He  describes himself as a "revolutionary farmer" and has dreams of leading an attack on the Italian Offices of State. He has a hectare of land just outside the city where he grows vegetables with the seasons.

Francesco, the Revolutionary Farmer

Francesco tells me Naples are proud that they gave sanctuary to the murderous Caravaggio after he fled from Rome.  He likes my drawings of him and wants me to send copies because his mother would love to see them.

Everyday Tammy and Marino are sitting in their favourite spot painting Tambourines with pictures of Naples Bay which they sell to local shops.  The granite stones around where they sit are stained with their marine blue and cadmium red paints.

Tammy and Marino

....and there are so many street bands to choose from.  Julia is Brazilian.

Julia and her Brazilian Band
Many times I sit opposite a cafe which has a giant model of a pepper with messages of good luck written on it.  In Naples to receive a gift of a red pepper is good luck.  On one side of the red pepper Armando is sheltering from the drizzle and waiting for new customers to serve.

Armando and the Giant Rd pepper
On the other side is a street personality called lo Scartellato which in the Neapolitan language means hunchback .  In Italy it is good luck to meet a man who is a hunchback. He wears red pantaloons and a big top hat dressed with garlic which is a talisman against evil, red peppers, horse shoes, a ladybird, and lucky numbers. Around his neck is a horn of plenty into which he puts coins given by tourists who pose with him for photos next to the giant pepper.

lo Scartellato (The Lucky Hunchback)
But my biggest pleasure is when I hear the lovely sounds of Maria Cerbone "Zingerina" singing Neapolitan songs. Her colourful playing and theatrical costumes always draw the crowds and get people dancing in the street. In September I had found it very difficult to draw her.  It was a case of information overload. Maria has upped my problems by adding a complex hair makeover.  For several hours in a series of detailed studies I chunk the problem until I begin to get a likeness from the reassembled pieces.

Maria Cerbone Zingarina

Once the chunking is done the drawings become easier, a likeness is emerging

Maria Carbone Zingarina

Maria tells me she is a classically trained musician still studying piano at the academy. She likes playing Chopin and loves Debussy.  She has four antique accordions which each have there own sound like violins do.  The one she is playing today is called Fatima.  

She is very popular.  She talks of her liberty.  As I walk with her to her next venue a stall-holder gives her a rose made of silver paper and she flatters him by putting it into her hair. A agitated girl, maybe 14 years old comes up and in a bell toned voice speaks to her with urgency. Maria reaches into her bag and gives her a handful of coins. She is a little Roma girl who cannot go to school because she has to work, and she sometimes sings with Maria.  I understand that for all her gypsy looks and bohemian lifestyle Maria has secure middle class values and willingly bears the responsibility of others on her shoulders.

.......and then of course there is Roberto sitting on granite steps with his two dogs Joyeux and Bella.  He and Priscilla are together again.  Neither of them speak English but they seem to love having me around and invite me to share tea in a local tea house.  For Roberto I choose the camomile tea bag with "no stress" marked on the packet and we all laugh.

Roberto, Bella and Joyeux

I have to leave them as Maria has invited me to a performance of Pulcinella in a tiny theatre in a private house.  

The Pulcinella Performance
Pulcinella, a name derived from Puccio d'Aniello, is one of the most popular Neapolitan carnival masks, from the commedia dell'arte of the 17th century as well as a symbol of the Italian carnival. Born from the artistic genius of an actor of the sixteenth century called Fiorillo. Pulcinella has a complex split personality, lazy and selfish, thinking only of eating and drinking.  He is a "Jack the Lad" voice of the people who is a bit out of control and hits other puppets with a stick.  Pulcinella is the origin of our Mr Punch. 
The story of the play is a modern one about Pulcinella falling in love with a girl from Buenos Aires.  As the performance unfolds the musicians who stand in front of the puppet theatre chat with Pulcinella.  They dance the tango in front of the stage, and one point the real Pulcinella himself comes out from under the curtain of the puppet stage and addresses the other puppets. 

The sun finally came.  It is my last morning in Naples.  I run into Priscilla and Roberto who are walking their dogs in front of the church and we spend my last hours in Naples together.  I had drawn the church in September.

Maria arrives with a huge hound called Deigoyyo

A hound called Deigoyyo

a swing band are playing nearby.
A Swing Band
For a moment Maria does something interesting.  She closes her eyelids towards the sunshine.  She knows all the tunes and lets the music breeze across her mind...for a moment all her responsibilities are gone and she has her precious liberty.

Maria and Diegyyo

Roberto and his dogs join her on the church steps

Maria and Roberto with their dogs

Priscilla joins us.  She sits on a wall with her legs wrapped around Roberto's waist.  Roberto rests his head against her torso and closes his eyes
Roberto and Priscilla
Priscilla picks up a guitar and in a thin silver voice sings a Sicilian lament.

I leave them in harmony

lo Scartellato
Roberto and Priscilla
Typical Neapolitan Alleyway
me again photo by Marta Raso

an image of the alleyway where I did all my drawing this visit

Facebook page of Naples photographer Kaiser Ferndinando

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Les Ballet Trockadero de Monte Carlo

Les Ballet Trockadero de Monte Carlo
 (An All Male Dance Company)

Long Zou

The Troks kindly let me watch their rehearsals.  I have written a blog post about them before, you can find it here.   I might add a text to these drawings if I find the time!

Long Zou

Alberto Pretto

Alberto Pretto

Alberto Pretto

Alberto Pretto

Alberto Pretto

Alberto Pretto

Alberto Pretto

Boysie Dikobe

Boysie Dikobe

Duane Gosa

Duane Gosa

Josh Thake and Long Zou

Josh Thake

Kevin Garcia

Kevin Garcia

Long Zou

Long Zou

Long Zou

Long Zou

Long Zou

Long Zou

Long Zou

Long Zou

Raffaele Morra

Takaomi Yoshino

Takaomi Yoshino

Takaomi Yoshino

Takaomi Yoshino