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A good session today. There is a strength in the composition and a delicious tension between freedom and control - a bit of over-editing or a mark too many could kill the piece...  

I'm enjoying the transition and balance between the solid shapes in the top-left and the more open centre. That blue triangle is daring and the yellows sing among the more subdued complimentary mixes. I've softened and refined the drawing - now the huts are grounded - breaking the lines in places, allowing more flow around the painting and giving more emphasis to the angled lines and diagonal movement. 




I often work on my painting in the evening on Photoshop, trying out ideas. Here you can see the effect of a single line on the painting. On the left, the new blue line in the bottom right corner, almost forces the hut to bulge outwards. I think I prefer the thin yellow angled line coming in from the right edge, which makes the 'frame' more ambiguous and brings a touch of yellow into that part of the painting.

Ever since I lived in Whitstable in my art-college days. I've loved beach huts, as an artist intrigued by their individualism, curiosity, fragility and geometry. It's important to express this in a painting and I think it's happenining here. I've thought for a while the series needed a larger piece.


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A line of linear beach huts provides a structure within the structure. The drawing needs to be refined and reduced and some new yellows to find...

Got to keep the strangeness, the tension between image and abstraction, there is no point in painting the world as it is...


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Enjoying mixing, laying down and the interactions of colour...


bigcrop900Collaborative painting, Aylesbury: 'you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone...'  120x180cms    oil on canvas


'Painter Joan Mitchell and singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell, both pioneering women artists ‘being free’, share an extraordinary facility to project their emotions and experiences into their art - landscapes of the heart and mind and memory'


On all the 'Freedom in Painting' courses and workshops we look at a particular aspect of painting, a different way into painting and our inspiration for the recent workshops - one online, the other at the Queens Park Art Centre in Aylesbury - was the art of Joan & Joni Mitchell. In advance, the artists were asked to draw/make studies fron their favourite Joni Mitchell songs, to bring along to the workshop with the following brief: what do you feel, what do you see, what colours, marks and emotions are evoked? 




In both workshops, after an introductory talk making connections between the two artists and an extensive look at the paintings of Joan Mitchell, the artists took part in a group mark-making exercise responding to words, including many musical terms. In the online workshop, there was a series of demonstations over the 2 days, where I worked on a painting responding to my favourite Joni song and album 'Hejira' whereas in the 'live' workshop we were able to work freely on a large collaborative painting.


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The aim in the workshop was to translate the studies into painting, to find our own 'Emotional Landscapes'. My reasoning for choosing Joan Mitchell to help us do this, is that, aside from the emotional content, there is a directness, range, physicality and confidence in her mark-making, qualies that are often lost in translating drawing into paint, a slower medium...




In Aylesbury, in the group painting, the artists were asked to translate and scale up one of their responses to words directly onto the canvas in oil-paint. Artists were also encouraged to come back at any time to the painting to try things out and make changes. On the second day, the artists mirrored Joan Mitchell's use of white to create space.


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Over the 2 days of the workshops, there was an intensity of working from all the artists, each seeking that sweet spot ('The Mellow Pad' - Stuart Davis!) - of content, emotion and the visual. As you can see from the paintings in the galleries below, there is a fantastic range and individuaiism in the colour, technique and paint-handling from all our artists responding to the music of Joni Mitchell. Songs referenced include 'River', 'Both sides Now, 'Moon at the Window', 'My Old Man', Chelsea Morning', Hejira', 'The Circle Game','Turbulent Indigo', 'Little Green' & 'Big Yellow Taxi'. Thank-you Joan & Joni!



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Of course, it's not always possible to resolve a painting in a 2-day workshop and many of our artists carry on working afterwards. Since the online workshop in January, Barrie Kellington continued working, expanding his painting into a triptych and yesterday Barry sent me his final version which I would like to share with you, a stunning and ambitious painting.


'My Garden'   60x150cm 




 'I loved the way all of us working on the huge 2 canvases released inhibitions and felt to be such fun'  ERICA SHIPLEY

'I loved the presentation at the beginning. You managed to share your fascination and understanding of processes clearly and it was catching. It was a good introduction to an artists approach to finding inspiration. I also really enjoyed watching your painting process: down to earth, sharing your thought processes, making mistakes and changes and taking inspiration from participants'  RACHEL GOTSMAN

'It was so useful us thinking about different sources of inspiration.Using different creativity such as music and poetry light up the mind'  HAZEL CRAWFORD

'The tutorials worked really well. I always enjoy Ashley’s unique and positive approach to one to one tutorials'  BERYL HAWKER

'The group canvas - working at scale with oils was liberating as was the initial drawing exercise with words. I found ashley's comments discerning and incredibly helpful!'  ANNA BADAR

'Abstraction is a new practice for me and i am beginning to understand.' JENNY LAW



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THURS 1 FEB 2.30pm

A series of rapid changes that brings that brings the painting to a conclusion (7). Movement is reinforced by a sucession of dark-blue knifemarks top right, charging towards Maine in the corner. A new desert yellow. North Dakota has a brighter rose-pink. The bottom of Texas opened up and reduced to a hook, now a repetition of the curve on the left edge under California. Finally, the vertical line is reinstated, cutting the space, the small white rectangle at the top a reference to the lyric 'White flags of winter chimneys, Waving truce against the moon'.

On the left-side I see a bird in flight or 'Icarus ascending, on beautiful foolish arms'. Freedom...


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A good start to 2024. Thrilling to see the two pieces side by side, mirroring the black and white mood and palette of the album with punctuations of colour. Flight and fear and reflection, love and despair, discovery of the self. Life's journey. Paintings 48 years in the making...

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THURS 1 FEB 12.30pm

We're getting somewhere! (6). The palette now more exciting and the space more complex, with the white rectangle of Colorado popping forward and the larger US shape tucked behind the moody sky. Love the speed of the white brushmarks on the right-edge . I was going to put the journey line from LA to Maine as white dots, but instead it's hinted at with gaps left between the states to get you to the top corner with the yellow triangle (desert) and dotted line pointing the way. Maine is now a heavy triangle a repeated motif with the yellow. I'm missing that vertical-line/intersection in (5) below...


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WED 31 JAN 3pm

Letting the blacks/darks dominate (5). The painting has lost the movement and it's too map-like and too bitty but I'm putting everything in before working out what's needed. The blues are working, bottom right...



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 WED 31 JAN 11am

Putting in 'facts' from the song, states and colours (4). It's overcomplicated at the moment but I have a vision of a black painting with a white journey-line 'a prisoner of the white lines on the freeway'. Also had a thought of intertwining Joni's line with my own journeys on Amtrak around the US in 1998, perhaps in red. The white rectangle of Colorado brings thoughts of the beautiful line in the song:

'White flags of winter chimneys

Waving truce against the moon'


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The first (mixed) blacks, Phthalo Green/Magenta, Violet/Raw Umber, Prussian Blue/Orange, tentatively applied (2). Then something more dramatic (3): blacks through white, blacks/darks with movement, the painting wilder now, the beauty of Alizarin Crimson...


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Laying down colours and 'shapes of states' at the start of a second painting of 'Hejira'. The painting has an icy feel (1) but I want this one to have a dominant black, with places and colours from Joni's long distance road trip L.A.- Maine -L.A. referenced in the songs:

'Amelia' and the Sonara desert, Arizona. A tryst with the 'Strange Boy' in New England'. Memphis, 'Furry Sings the Blues' and the 'Blue Motel Room' in Savannah, 'Refuge of the Roads' and Boulder, Colorado where Joni visits a guru, Chögyam Trungpa. And of course Staten Island and 'a North Dakota junction' in the mesmeric 'Song for Sharon'. 

Another stopover is Point Clear, Alabama where Joni in a crimson wig checked checked in as Joan Black, hence the working title. '"Sure, Ms. Mitchell, whatever you say".  Also, Madison, Wisconsin where Joni skates on a frozen lake in an ice-storm, photos which appeared on the inside cover of the album - 'Black Crow'.


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I'm going to paint a second version in black...


 WED 24 JAN 11.50

We could be there. The framework was in place but today the marks were more physical, more emotional, more certain. In the final moves, the left side was simplified - more white, more snow - a contrasting dark brushstoke bottom-right, a string of white dots along the top and finally a slash/cut angled mark, bringing directness, purpose and difference. Among the soft colours and meandering curves, that last mark is danger, risk...truth.


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Life's journeys, physical journeys, relationships, artistic journeys all intertwined in music, lyrics and paint. In this piece, superficial marks, ideas, experiments are replaced over time by marks with meaning and feeling and belonging, the visual and the emotional finally coming together. The painting has to be called 'Hejira', no hiding...


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 ‘The people that get the most out of my music see themselves in it’  JONI MITCHELL

“The most important thing is to write in your blood’’  JONI MITCHELL




With Joni Mitchell, of course, it's both the lyrics and the music that project emotion, that flexible soprano, with startling notes and chords. I chose to make drawings from 'Hejira' with my eyes closed, my pencil tracing journeys across the page, responding to both lyrics and music. The first visual idea that emerged was from the lyric  'Now here's a man and a woman stting on a rock, They're either going to thaw out or freeze'  - the critical point in all relationships - represented by the parallel lines in 1 & 2, which I then changed to the shapes of California and Maine, almost touching, which dominated the early stages of the painting.


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 WED 24 JAN 10am

A new blue sweeps in right to left,  a large white mark above and a heavier teal in the top-left - 'In this moody sky today' - bringing added heft and movement,

Is there a simpler painting? Bring in some black? Does the journey ever end?


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Too much girly-pink and Joni is not a girly-pink kind of girl...(5)



More pinks, a new blue top-right, the 'journey-line' snakes from LA to Maine. Perhaps the painting needs an area of stability, maybe purer shapes of black and white. The painting has the motion but not the emotion...


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More flow, the centre-section now under snow, but will return, smaller...the 'journey-line' - California to Maine - dances across the canvas...



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THURS 19 JAN 2024

Working my way through a tribute to Joni Mitchell's wintry masterpiece 'Hejira', a constant in my life. It's been a long day. More snow tomorrow, advancing to the left-edge. Whiteout...


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A final tuning-up of colour, especially the border, and re-drawing India - again - including a pulsating sliver of blue on the left-edge.

I'm enjoying  the colour, the composition and content and the irregular, imperfect edges and tactile surface, reminiscent of a rug or tapestry. The shapes and ground are pure but not static:  the paint, brushwork and colours within are moving, shifting, agitating against their containing boundaries.  I considered and rejected a decorative border - let the colour sing...

 A welcome and very different addition to the '20 Books = 20 Paintings' series, now back up to 20 paintings and ready for showing in its new form.





A diamond or two triangles? In Hindu symbolism, the upward pointing triangle symbolises the masculine and fire, the downward pointing triangle a symbol of the feminine and water. 


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The blue of the ocean - Mumbai almost an island - the warrior-blue of the Sikhs, policeman Sartaj Singh, the blue of the Dalits (Untouchables). Muslim green, the white of the Brahmins and Gaitonde's cube, the orange/saffron of Hindus and Sikhs.  I'm going keep the twin titles: 'Silence without Birds' is a quote from the novel about the aftermath of a nuclear explosion. 'Dead Dog' refers to the dramatic opening of the novel, where a white Pomeranian dog is thrown out of fifth-floor window, and also, perhaps, to Gaitonde's death in the eyes of his enemies.





I think we're done (5). The ring of fire has a glowing presence with new orange/red. The curves on the right are now purer, sharper.  A couple of touches to the building: grey in the corner to ground it, an extra white horizontal and a small white line in the top-right making it less static and just dragging the eye across. More orange around the border lifts the colour further, setting off the blues. T


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India redrawn by carving through the paint on the left, now linking to the shadow of the doorway, and a new green on the right (4). A teal dot of Mumbai, touches of pink on the white-cube. Something else needs to go in the border - something decorative? Perhaps a pattern of circle, triangle, square...


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Putting the 'white-cube' inside a yantra didn't work, the image became over-complicated. With new refinements and straighter edges, the building now has more presence (3).  Love the simplicity of the circle - do I need to make it a circle of fire? The wobbly outside edge suggests fire, like looking at the sun. I worked into the diamond, but a bit of the life has been lost in redrawing India. Back to the studio...





A good session (2). Denser, richer blues and refinements of the colour and precision of the border. The two saffron curves on the right now are now free and dynamic. I'm going to try Gaitonde's white cube  inside a 'yantra', which are packed with geometry: the circle, triangle and square. The scale and composition of the three elements feels right.


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MON 27 NOV 23

Throwing in the kitchen sink (1): Gaitonde's 'white cube', Shiva's ring of fire, a hybrid image of the caste-pyramid and the shape of india. Hindu saffron, Muslim Green, Dalit blue and the blue of the Indian Ocean, with a nod to the decorative borders in traditional Indian painting...