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We were blessed with the weather on our May 'Freedom in Painting' course in Port Isaac! As on all our courses in Cornwall, we began the week with drawing on location, the nine artists from around the country gathering on Monday morning in beautiful, inspiring Trebarwith Strand, the skyline dominated by the imposing shape of Gull Rock. The purpose, as always, was to record and respond to the landscape, and its changes over time, and from that process, trigger ideas for painting. 


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After a well-earned lunch at the Port William Inn, we moved on to the different landscape of Bude, with its expanse of sand, jagged rock formations and fascinating meeting of sea, canal and river. The geometric open-air 'Sea-Pool' (below, right) proved a popular subject with the artists. We also took a detour to Bude Castle, to see the exhibition and also my painting of Bude, made during a residency in 2014. 


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BUDE'Bude'  70x50cms  oil on canvas  2014


On Tuesday morning, we met in our studio in Port Isaac Village Hall, starting the day with a simple colour-exercise, taking a shape from one of the previous days drawings. The rest of the morning was spent getting to know our subject through drawing from the harbour and the many magnificent viewpoints around Port Isaac, again looking for ideas for painting. 


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The afternoon painting session included a demonstration and a talk about three different strands of abstraction, with reference to the artists of the St.Ives School: the lineage of colour, the analytical approach of Cezanne, Cubism and Mondrian, and expressive mark-making with its links to calligraphy. Different entries into painting, and over the next three days, as you can see from the gallery below, the artists pursued different routes, with overlaps of course, bringing clarity and personality to their subject.




The course encourages risk-taking and experimentation in a supportive atmosphere. The aim is for the artists is to move their practice forwards: to be creative, inventive, ambitious for their painting and to have confidence and drive (and lots of drawings and studies!) to continue working from the subject when they return home. 

Thanks again, Denise (Hanson) for some great photos.  

(The dates for next years Port Isaac course are Wednesday 13 - Sunday 17 May 2020. While not yet on the website, please get in touch if you would like to reserve a place)




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A new Port Isaac painting, perhaps closer to the subject than last years 'Cool Yellow Harbour- (Gang of Yellows)' which I felt was more of a generic harbour. A good painting nonetheless, and exhibited in the 2018 Winter Group show at Linden Hall Studio. This latest piece feels like new territory, with its twists and writhings and tensions, elusive imagery and singing colour.

The sequence below shows the chaos of (1) and the obviousness of the controlling pier in (2), which took away from the beauty and individuality of the tumbling marks behind. However, its near-diamond shape was a reminder of the harlequin-tiles of the framing wall in the viewpoint which sourced the painting. (3) was a contender, with the simplification and opening of the space, but then I had a vision in the night of the two diamonds - one open, one closed. Their placement, scale and density of colour made the space more complex, and brought the emerald stripe on the edge into the painting. The top colours came out for the diamonds: Sennelier Cadmium Green mixed with a couple of different Michael Harding blues...A quote from Matisse springs to mind: 'a painting is complete when it reconnects to the emotion that sparked it'. Something like that...



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BOOK 5: Re-visited Nov/Dec

New reds, new reductions brings a new clarity and a powerful painting...


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Changes made, painting sharper and more vibrant - we're done.


A six hour session in the studio - out of the black - liking this painting now, (5) driven by Fisherman's Blues and The Koln Concert. Strangeness: 'place' hanging from the significant tree, with its' blue box. Intersections of branches and streets connecting visually. An embedded symbol. There are some good reds in there but perhaps they have picked up too much black - I'll freshen them up in a few days and straighten up the edges of the black triangle.The blue mark needs to be a couple of shades darker, more cobalt... possibilities of a thin black curve springing to the top right corner from the nobble on the triangle's right corner...

A black & white colour-mixing exercise (1) becomes a painting...


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The painting at 3pm, (4) was a contender:graphic and strong, but too raw and not enough. The bottom reds kept sliding off! This forced a repainting over the black-lines, re-drawing, and freeing the triangle, with the refined lines sparking the idea of the introduction of the image of the tree, a third element from the novel.


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Darkness and despair! Looking again at (3), not as lost as I thought: we have a book, we have a place - the black triangle - the seeds of the idea are established - now to bring the painting to life...


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Sticky, oily blacks..this could be many things (2) An idea I explored today from a recent crime-novel didn't work with the location too obvious. But there is another book where black is significant...Love this stage of a painting with it's uncertainties and possibilities, working with paint that is alive...let's build around the point of focus of the bright green disc...


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A good session in the the studio today. The painting is joyous, playful, different, the colours a higher key - we're done. The swimmer has always been there (by chance) and I have suppressed/denied the thought but I find I am enjoying the switch from image to abstraction and the painting is richer for it. Today's moves: a balancing purple disc, then several reworkings of the bottom right corner - which I considered too flat - until I found the orange shape/plane. Beyond the enjoyment of colour, shape and line there are Porthleven references if you seek them but I'm happy with the 'hints of structure and telegraph wires'. Very exciting to see the four new Porthleven paintings as a group (bottom of page). Now to find somewhere to show them...

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I don't care much for beginnings, but the one below is quite tasty with yellows, primrose/emerald green and a pink cup-shape, lifted from my painting 'Falmouth' that I've been looking at in the COLOURSCAPES exhibition. I think we have advanced with the introduction of line and simplifications - hints of structure and telegraph wires. Love the pink-shape and violet-white curve, and the movement from bottom to top...


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(L-R: Porthleven 34, 35, 37. 36)

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We're done.The only painting move today a small but powerful angled line, cut into the paint just below centre. A counter-movement reinforcing the top left to bottom right diagonal. A better photo outside the studio: the rose and green across the top are critically equal-toned to create a colour-hum not a vertical.  


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A difficult day in the studio but a good last hour, with eyes, mind and body in sync to transform the tame decorative water (2) into an elemental force. The final brushstroke the central horizontal controlling the tremendous weight of paint/water. Enjoying the cascading marks from sky-blue top-left to rust-red stain. The colour is working, the painting now has depth and is full of movement, different kinds of movement. Top left and bottom right are talking to each other or does there need to be another mark emphasising that relationship? The return of the purple perhaps across the green? As a viewer I feel queasy and unsteady, low in the water, harbour-safety somewhere over there... Mmm...we could be one mark away. I'll be painting in my sleep tonight.


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(3) The diagonal stained with Michael Harding Red-Oxide then wiped..a glow. More drawing, hints of image. 'Place' emerging, a contender...


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 (2) A more complex space with the introduction of line...a disc hangs, magenta added to the blue...I like its' scale and presence.


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(1) Mixes of Light Green and Rose on pale-grey- new colours. Sky-blue contrast. A dynamic formed by masking-tape - a channel...curves against straight-edge...