The swans on the river Severn somehow reflected my feeling of wistful melancholia in my last days in Worcester.
Nat and I had seen the ballet 'Swan Lake' in London, and the tragic story had an appeal to me. I also enjoyed the novel 'The Black Swan' by Mercedes Lackey, which she leant me, not to be confused with the later work of that title, and the story inspired a painting of Odette... It wasn't any good, but was subsequently reworked as below...
I also wrote a poem on the theme...
I did this creepy house, at this time, too, which appealed to Raven, with whom I was back in contact...
Things didn't work out in Worcester, as noted, with my relationship with Nat drawing to a close. I was without regular employment and not earning enough to keep my nice flat, independently. Our border collie Odin died at about this time, leaving mum on her own, since dad had moved out, and since my sister was now away at college. So it made sense to return, like the archetypal member of the boomerang generation.
Before I left Worcester I stated this copy of Poussin's 'Et in Arcadia Ego'. I may never get around to finishing it...
The above is a depiction, probably post-Worcester, of the expulsion of demons from Mary Magdalene, an episode mentioned in the Bible but seldom depicted. It did not depict it very well, it must be said. The figure of jesus is all out of proportion. The demons are quite characterful.
One unusual painting from this time was inspired by a shocking newspaper cover concerning acid attacks in S. Asia:
Sometimes real life horrors bleed into my artwork, although generally I can't handle too much reality, and tend to escape into either fantasy or history. I don't agree with those who think art should reflect contemporary life or lived reality. All that stuff can be seen on the news. I tend to be fantastical and idealistic when it comes to art, realistic, objective, and (increasingly) cynical in other matters.
Lord Byron once wrote something like: 'at twenty three the best days of life are over and its sorrows doubled.'
I don't know if that entirely applied. I had a few things looking up, for example being back in contact with Raven, whom I met again in London on several occasions, for movies etc. (Including 'Pirates of the Carribean: The Curse of the Black Pearl' and 'Jeepers Creepers II', making this the year 2003). We also sent each other stories and such, and worked on joint literary projects. She was a very talented writer, and also a good artist. Unfortunately complications arose, we lost contact again and eventually she married someone else. C'est la vie. I still have the Nick Cave compilations she made for me, and she presumably still has Grimling...
Raven can also be thanked for persuading me to get a proper PC and for getting me online (I had been previously been making do with an antiquated and dying Apple Mac). She also introduced me to DeviantART, which has been my main online home, art-wise, for a good decade now. (I have now uploaded 1,688 images on that site, had 17,754 comments (invariably positive) and 376.066 pageviews.) The first PC I got had a knock-off version of photoshop on it, but I didn't have a tablet, only a mouse, so my early digitally coloured drawings weren't very presentable...
I laugh at my naivete. Trying to do hair etc with a mouse was a fool's errand. I also didn't understand resolution and the importance, the purpose of layers, the need for a pressure sensitive stylus pen and the need to use a hard brush for edges. I did everything with a soft brush at low opacity, relying on reducing its size to do any detail. All quite appalling! I also had a bad habit of making heads too big, and eyes too large.
I was still by no means imagining that I would become a professional artist. I was now a published author as an historian, and I imagined that this would be the way my career would go. I had also done drawings which were included in the book...
I also took part in history joining the protest against the invasion of Iraq, at about this time.
Went up to Scotland with my father at one point, and was so impressed by Glenfinnan that it inspired a rare forey into landscape painting from me:
I also took in more history in foreign travels, including to Normandy, Malta and Venice.
I'm not sure if I painted 'Masked Figure and Nude' before or after my visit to Venice, but anyway the sinister cloaked figure in the venetian bota mask and three-cornered hat caught my imagination. Such a figure appears in the film 'Eyes Wide Shut', which also has some compelling visuals. I didn't deem this painting a success, however as the female figure always seemed awkward and disproportionate. I ended up obliterating the masked figure, cutting it down and repainting the female with an almost completely different woman (not nude, either) so I would have been as well to leave it alone and to start something new from scratch. Let that be a lesson, which bears repeating! 'Nude and Macaw' also features an enigmatic mask. It was done in 2003 or 2004. It was painted over a portrait of Nat, the only surviving original feature being the artist bear in the corner.
This Egyptian scene suffers from bad paint, and even more form an ill-conceived composition. It's one of 2004's more disastrous offerings. It was inspired by the cover of the book 'Acts of God' by Graham Phillips, which is about the plagues of Egypt, and rather good, I thought at the time of reading. But I added the sphinx, and the way it is facing outward and vanishing off the edge isn't good. The painting is quite weak.
This painting 'Alien and Girl' was a forey into slightly erotic sci-fi. It ended up in an exhibition in Italy, called 'Baroque Blue', and I don't think it found its way back.
I had the good fortune to get a part time job as a picture framer at the local art gallery, in Princes Risborough. This suited me very nicely, and it was interesting seeing all the different stuff that came in. Perks of the job also included being allowed to keep offcuts of backing board for painting on, and offcuts of frame for framing them. The bits cut out of the inside of mount boards, meanwhile, were ideal for drawing on, which is how I filled my lunch break. I still have a box under my bed full of drawings on these boards.
Drawings from 2003 including Templar and Hospitaller knights, my first attempt at Joan of Arc, and a troll.
At this time, meanwhile, I got involved with a group of people online writing a fantasy RPG (or multiple-authored story) called Haven. It was very entertaining, and I always thought the story was worth developing.
It was here that I invented my characters Arrizard the Druid, Asterith his fair apprentice, and Odo Paganus of the Knights of Esa.
I worked framing (and sometimes serving customers) at the art gallery thee days a week, sometimes four. The manager's father was (and remains, at the time of writing) the artist David Aldus, whose influence helped my own art to improve over time. Contact with Steven and Dave Aldus gradually persuaded me that an art career might be viable, though I still had eggs in the history basket. (I was a moderator on the Templar History Forum).
I was getting some good feedback for my drawings on deviantart, but was not yet getting anything accepted on the moderated site Epilogue. Rightly the drawing below was rejected, although I apparently deemed it worthy at the time.
This 'Damnation of Venus' done in early 2005 represented an improvement, though the figure is all over the place anatomically. That was partially deliberate, since I was going for an El-Greko-esque style, but I don't think I got it. I struggled with believable forms and credible, deep shadows.
Quite a disturbing image, but this one actually sold relatively quickly, which was nice. Another one from this time that sold subsequently was this 'Collar Girl'.
One Carole Humphreys, herself a great artist, commissioned this 'Masked Ball' piece. She would later become a close cum of mine. The masked figures here aren't quite so threatening. I was pleased with how the marble pillars turned out. There are some unfortunate anatomy issues with the main figure, however, especially relating to how her head relates to her body.
I think my style became a little more sophisticated this year, and my faces a little more realistic...
My subject matter ranged from classical nudes to gothic and horror imagery, also sci-fi and medievalism, which continued to feature in my output. Some of these pictures were related to stories that I worked on, including a medieval horror story somewhat inspired by Hellraiser, and a Star-Wars fan fiction. Others just came out of my head, where unfortunate damsels in slave collars seem to reside in alarming numbers...
This Venetian scene was somewhat inspired by a similar one by David Aldus, who was great at doing the steely skies and the puddles. I added period costumed figures for the sake of antiquating, and also because when I was actually in St Marks Square there were many extras milling about dressed like this, as they were filming 'Casanova' (a film that was released this year, 2005).
These two nudes 'Seraglio' and 'Amber' were my most successful to date, and I think they stand up pretty well. An article on the Topkapi palace in Istanbul inspired the former, also Orientalist painting, of which I was becoming a fan.
This painting, 'Templar Mass' was one of my most ambitious projects at the time of doing. It was a commission for another esteemed associate.
Now into 2006. Experimenting with atmospherics, in colour and tone. 'A Reclining Affair' turned out quite nicely in terms of setting and overall design, although the female figure still looked a bit strange.
'Centaurion' was an early forey into fantasy, inspired by a rather obvious pun. The composition is dreadful but the atrmour, male face and expression turned out quite well. 'Asterith' was a more convincing effort at fantasy painting. It was declined by Epilogue- I was not yet getting any luck there, but it sold anyway, for £265, which I was pleased with at the time.
Sith Witch was done while I was still feeling starwarsy, after watching 'Escape of the Sith'.
These two, and the similarly coloured profile face further up, were exhibited in Risborough Gallery, and the angel was subsequently in the 'Baroque Blue' exhibition in Italy. Unfortunately it's now lost to me. I like the face the angel ended up with, but the proportions of the body are still a bit off. The arms are a disaster.
'Cryptgoth', a sexy tattooed nude in a crypt. Probably a vampire. I had the fortitude to rework much of her body just after the first go, to a correct perspective error. It just has to be done. It would probably be better with more shadows, so that the figure looms out of them. Her form looks very evenly toned. I like her languid, wasted, but hungry expression, though.
Here's Harry Hill...
And back to regular broadcasting...
The below was a commission from a floor fitter, who saw my other work while he was here, and asked for a drawing of his three boys. A challenge in accurate portraiture, and different subject matter from my usual.
Kneeling girl, inspired by a photo in an advert that took my fancy, especially for the graceful, submissive pose.
'Count Raymond', inspired by the defender of Toulouse during the Albigensian Crusade. Note the somewhat improved, but still less than entirely convincing legs on the horse.
Water-colours based on Treasure Island, somewhat derivative of some pieces by David Aldus...
This strange piece 'Firesprite' has an adverse effect on my dad, for some reason...
A painting of Boudicca, and another of a Venetian scene, done in 2006, and soon sold. Overall I liked the Boudicca painting, although her figure looked a little stiff and her eyes could have done with having more of a gleam....
Bride of sorrows...
HMS Vanguard, Neslon's flagship, returning to a theme from my early work.
Below, a Nosferatu-esque vampire in action. This piece was later reworked with more nocturnal colours.
The copy of the Haywain is actually tiny...
I started to put a bit more effort into some of my drawings around this time, in order to achieve more contrast and detail... We are now going into 2007.
This one, of Dona Gracia Mendes Nasi, led to a series, years later, of illustrations for a book on the lady.
Fulk and Melisende, prefiguring a return of my interest to matters Crusaderly...
At the gallery, came to think that I was stagnating doing the framing job, which was convenient but not challenging. Just then Steve made me redundant, since times were worstening, economically, and he had to cut costs to feed his family. Again serendipitously, I had noticed that there was a Crusader Studies MA being run jointly between Royal Holloway and Queen Mary's University of London. I also received a small inheritance at this time that would cover the tuition fees. It seemed like a natural progression, since I had something of a speciality in that period already. I gained a place on the course, which proved a fascinating interlude. I got to meet such experts in the field as Thomas Asbridge, Jonathan Phillips, Susan Edgington and Jonathan Riley-Smith, and attended many interesting seminars. I wrote another book, 'A to Z of the Knights Templar' while also doing the course, and later expanded my dissertation, on the cult of Mary Magdalene, into an ebook.
This Templar was done at this time:
Some gothic beuties were also done:
And some spitfires:
among other things.
I continued to do a bit of framing work at the gallery, but due to the cost of learning to drive, had to take a full time job on a hospital reception desk, the least said about which the better. That occupied the year of dread 2008, allowing only a few paintings to be done, including this one of San Georgio Maggiore in Venice.
This 'Beached Mermaid' was another picture done in this period.
I was thinking that it might be nice to start my own art gallery, and discussed the idea with my good friend and fellow artist Carole Humphreys, from Swindon, whom I had met via DeviantART. My sister was living in Leomington Spa, and had set up a card shop, and there was a nearby property opposite a beautiful church, that would have made a nice gallery. Carole and I got so far as to attend trade fairs researching the venture. I also carted paintings up to sell on a stand in the Electric Ballroom indoor market in Camden, London, on one of these occasions jointly with Carole. Made a couple of sales, each time, enough to cover travel costs and to get a pint of guinness at the World's End pub after!
A couple that sold in Camden.
Little came of the gallery plan, especially as my sister decided to close her shop in Leamington and to take a design job elsewhere. Still getting on the mailing list for these trade fairs, especially the Spring and Autumn Fairs in Birmingham, proved useful for my career as it developed, namely freelance illustration.
I continued drawing, too, including work on my visual stories 'Expectant' and 'The Blackguard'.
In early 2009 I secured a trial placement at Spiral Direct, potentially to be working laying out the calendars for their ranges of gothic teeshirts. The environment was much to my taste, and I was on the point of moving out to Croydon, before the placement fell through. During my time at Spiral I was introduced to the possibilities of an up-to-date version of photoshop, with a stylus for drawing rather than a mouse. Was given a bit of a tutorial by artist Andrew Dobell, many of whose fine works feature on Sprial products. This was a huge eye-opener. The manager of Spiral opined that I should pursue freelance illustration, and indeed after this taste of the milieu I would not have been able to return to a non art-related job. It was also nice not to have to leave mum stranded, (although by now we had been joined by the new dog, Buster). And there would have been the problem of what to do with the car.
This skull was something I did while at Spiral. Dobell's influence can be discerned!
So I got hold of a new computer, and did a home-learning course in dreamweaver and flash animation. The course also meant I was able to get Photoshop CS4 at the student rate. I redid my website, and also gradually shifted my output from traditional oil painting to digital art. Getting to grips with such mysteries as layers and textures. I began listening to the Ninja Mountain podcast, which gives many essential tips for functioning as a freelance illustrator. I also subscribed, to Imagine FX, and was featured in one issue.
As time went on I found myself doing more commissioned work than personal pieces. I didn't go into web design although I redid my own site, and also made one for Carole.