Sunday, 28 February 2010

Order out of Chaos

When my children were young they enjoyed playing with those well know building bricks. They came in packets with the appropriate bricks to follow the instructions and to build the model in the plan. My daughter used to follow the instructions to the letter build the model the dismantle it and replace all the bricks into the box with the instructions and they were all kept in order and in place. My son on the other hand would open his build the model then put all the bricks in a large box with all his others. He might build the model again but most often he used the bricks to make his own creations. Two people who had two different ideas about what to do, with a box of bricks.


I remember visiting a carpet making factory in China. We were taken into a room where five girls each had a frame before them with the warp stretched between to struts of wood. They were standing on a plank of wood balanced on a stack of bricks at either end. As they progressed up the weave hey added further bricks. (Health and safety?) Before them on a small table they had a large array of coloured wools strands. They seemed to working from a design they had in their head. It took them six months to make one carpet but at the end of the six months it was a thing of beauty.

The artist stands before a clean white canvas. They have an assortment of colours placed on a palette or other such. Some lay the colours out in a very ordered way, others in a seemingly random arrangement. From this seeming haphazard assortment there emerges on the canvas a pattern or picture that stimulates and excite the emotions of others.

We come into the world, a blank canvas. The time we have depends much on the choices we make, the lifestyle we choose. There are restrictions on us depending on where we are born the circumstances of the family we are born into. But each of us has a palette with which to weave the pattern of our lives.

There are for each of us important moments, when we have to make choices. For the artist it may be a choice of colour or pattern. At those moments it is always wise to take time to consider the possibilities of the outcomes of our actions. Sadly, more than ninety percent of the people I met in prison, as I visited as chaplain, had reacted rather than acted. In the face of the blank canvas we must stop and consider. This is the way of Tao.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Happiness in Order

The young boy arrived home from school to be greeted by his mother. “Well how did school go today she asked?” “It was ok,” he replied. “And what did you do at school today?” “Nothing very much,” answered the boy. “You must have had something interesting,” retorted the mother. “Well we got this story about Moses,” he said. “Moses was trying to escape the Egyptians and they were being chased in the desert. The Egyptians had their fighter jets and they were strafing the escaping Israelites. They had to move fast because the Egyptian tanks were catching up. The came to this big river and Moses got his men to build a Bailey Bridge over the river. When it was built they all crossed and then when the Egyptian tanks were trying to cross they blew up the bridge and sank all the tanks.” “They did not tell you that,” said the mother. “No,” said the boy “but if I told you what they told me you would never believe it.”


How we try to make our lives more interesting. A small exaggeration here and a little fib there. Stories over time get more dramatic, conversations take on an extra turn or two. We do not mean any badness we just want it to all sound more interesting.

A Taoist was looking for happiness. He had thought of all sorts of things that might bring him happiness but to no avail. He sought out a sage and asked him if he could help him to find the answer to his search. As if he was ignoring his question the sage asked him. “Did you have your breakfast this morning?” “Yes answered the seeker, I did have breakfast.” “And did you wash your bowl when you were finished?” asked the sage. The seeker wondered why when he had asked such an important question he was being asked this, but replied, “Yes master I washed the bowl.” “Good,” said the sage,” and did you wash it well?”

It was then that the seeker after happiness realised that he was being told the answer to his question was to be found in the mundane tasks of every day. That by doing everything to the best of ones ability one will find happiness in everything.

I found cleaning up after working long on a painting such a terrible chore. I have a friend who hates painting the edges of box canvases and put the task off till she has a bundle of them waiting to be done. I have another friend who hates sorting out the inevitable bundle of pastels lying around his easel at the end of a pastel work.

Taoism tells us we can and should find value in every task. The chore of cleaning brushes becomes a joy, when you see it as not the end of a painting, but the first preparatory step to the next one. The same with cleaning paint pots away. Cleaning and putting back pastels allows you to enjoy the colours and to begin thinking of when you will use them next.

It all takes effort, but it is so easy to fall into lazy habits and lazy thought patterns, and this can so easily be the first steps to negative thinking. See each thing we do for what it is, and how it is, and do to the very best, then be still and happiness will follow as surely as night follows day.

This is the way of Tao.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Secrets and Giving

In recent years we have seen the growth in the large charity events, sport relief, children in need and numbers of celebrity events in aid of the growing number of charities. Now for those that benefit this must be a good thing. Who would ever question the motives of the celebrities, who get plenty of publicity? I often think that for the amount they raise after all the effort they could almost just slip that amount out of their wallet and never miss it. The fact that those in need benefit must never be objected to.


Religions have from time immemorial have tried to persuade their followers to be generous in giving to those less fortunate. There is the promise in most of these religions of future benefit beyond death. It is still a fact though that there is no promise of a special deal in the here and now. For most religions giving must be done in secret with no show of giving. It was wonderful to see artists giving artwork quietly to various groups to help those whose lives were so dramatically affected by the disaster in Haiti. Giving brings its own reward in exchange for our kindness there is a growth in the inner being.

When we begin to think of others besides ourselves there follows a growth in the person. It is wonderful to watch a young child for the very first time hand something it has to a parent. In this action is the first signs of growth of the human personality within, they are becoming aware of others. When a person for the first time begins to stop wanting to be loved and begins to do things for another without seeking any payback we can be sure that this person has began to learn what love really is.

So can we argue that it is from selflessness that growth can happen? When you see a pain in another person you recognise because you have felt that pain yourself then you can help. If you have felt the deep pain of loneliness it is possible to see that in others and you have the power to help.

Artists can be so guarded of the things they have learned that they want to hold on to them. How many times people have said to me don’t give step by step help to other artists unless somebody pays you to do so. There has to be a payback it would seem. Not so long ago I was asked by a fellow artist how I had achieved an effect in an abstract painting. I described it as fully as I could. Not long after I saw her exhibit a painting using this effect to its full, and better than I had myself. There was the payback for me; I saw that there was even more that could be done with this effect and new doors opened for me.

We all have our secrets and our places we want to hold onto for ourselves, and rightly so. But it is from giving that there comes knowing and from knowing comes growing. So open some of those secrets of experience and in secret share them with others, then you too will grow.

The painting attached to this blog is my most recent it is called:- Secrets.  ( The little secret places we have and the secrets of our minds)

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Dogs and Conflict

I had a dog called Damon a great companion and running mate. He was always there for me. When nobody else wanted to run because the weather was so bad, Damon was there at the ready waiting to go. When I had a long spell of total silence unable to speak, because of voice problems, he seemed to know exactly what I was saying to him. I did not need to say anything a pat was enough. Sadly he was knocked over by a car while we were out running. I had noticed he was not keeping up with me, he seemed unwell. I decided to turn and head for home, he misunderstood and crossed the road as we usually did and was hit by a passing car. I frequently think of him when I am out running, how he would have enjoyed this run or that run.

I heard, or read, a story of a person who had bought a dog from a breeder. She had grown very fond of the dog and did certainly not want to lose it. The breeder had sent her a contract of sale within which there was a clause that said he retained the breeding rights of the dog. The lady was upset thinking that the breeder could come at anytime and take the dog from her for breeding purposes. She had consulted some lawyer friends and they had all said she had a case. Ready to go down that road she told another friend who advised she make contact and check with the breeder first. She did and discovered that this clause was included in the contract in error. All conflict was resolved.

A friend of mine was giving a talk at a meeting. He was in full flight and feeling very good, thinking the talk was going well. About halfway through a person got up from her seat and left the room in which the meeting was being held. He was concerned about what he had said, what had offended this lady. He kept looking for her to return but she never did, his concentration was lost and the second half of the talk he limped through. At the end they all thanked him but he was aware that he had not given of his best.

As the tea was being served he headed off to see if he could find the lady who had left so that he might apologise to her and put things right. He found her in the kitchen and asked her if she was alright. “Oh yes minister, she said, “I remembered I had left the light on under the urn and was concerned it would boil dry. Then I did not want to interrupt what was a really good talk so I just waited here and heard what I could through the shutter.” A misunderstanding and a conflict that never existed but so easily could have led to bad feeling.

The artist is often at conflict with themselves, nothing is ever as it should be. Conflict can and does always define the final outcome of a venture. It can create aggression or fear, either emotion which can lead to a paralysis. The artist in the midst of inner conflict must remain open to the many options. By harnessing the emotions that can cause conflict we can be even more creative and what could be destructive can become affirming and a joy. This is the way of Tao.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

The River

I am very fortunate to live very close to a river, the River Forth, because of its famous bridge known in many corners of the world. I frequently run along the coastal path of this river and find inspiration and pleasure. To many the river is a place of industry and labour, I am fortunate that for me it is just a place of sheer joy.


Walking along the coast the other day I looked at the river and I remembered a tale of the students and their master on a journey and stopping by a river to rest and eat. As they sat and looked the teacher asked them what the river had to teach about life.

One student said, “Water can be both powerful and also calming. It can be cleansing and yet also at the same time overpowering.” “Yes,” said the teacher, “but it is always constant it is always true to itself at either extreme.”

Another student commented that, “Water is unafraid of anything it will throw itself over a rock face no matter the height plunging to the bottom fearlessly.” The teacher remarked, “This is because it knows that no harm can come to it, knows it will not be injured so it ventures onward.”

“Water is balanced,” said another student. “It will always find its own level it will flow downwards till it finds that level where it will settle.” “Yes and it conforms to all situations in just this balanced way finding its own level.”

They all thought for a moment longer. Another student spoke out saying, “Water is nourishing like the food we are eating. Without water nothing would survive and we would not have the sustenance of this food.” “Well spoken said the teacher.”

“Water can also be still and peaceful, sometimes so still that it can reflect to perfection the world of creation around itself,” said another.

Water in its essence is pure and clean it needs nothing added or taken away, other than that which man in his folly adds.

The students finished lunch packed and travelled on their way. Refreshed, nourished and uplifted.

For the artist to accomplish greatness and to feel at peace with their work they need to be like the water, flowing, unafraid, balanced, nourishing, pure and above all still. This is the way of Tao.

The Tao tells us:-

"The best people are like water.
They benefit all things,
And do not compete with them.
They settle in low places,
One with nature, one with Tao."

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Age and Its Many Faces

Memories can happen with the simplest of events igniting within us thoughts of times gone. Travelling down a path I walked with my father as a very young boy I remembered those days with a fondness. It had changed, as all things do. Where there once was just a path worn by the tread of feet now there was a tar macadam path. Where there had been edges to look over in excitement now there were safety fences. All of the adventure had gone now it was just a nice footpath to be walked, or run. Every so often a little fingerpost to guide one on the way and the warning signs of steep banks and deep water.


Time moves on for all of us. Each day is another step on the onward journey. The ancients were fond of telling us that there were things that would only be learned from the process of ageing. That is true. Yet nobody ever wants to really acknowledge that we are growing older all the time, and the older we get the less we want to admit this. But let us reflect on what this for just a moment.

Rather than concentrating on the span of years let me give you this to consider. There are different levels of consciousness, depending on the age we have reached. What the teenager knows, (even though they often think they know everything) is just perfect for being a teenager. In fact those who try to stay as teenagers long after they have moved past that age can look so foolish. What the elderly does is perfect for the elderly, anyone else who mimics the elderly can be accused of being ageist, and look foolish. There are benefits for each age and each level of consciousness. It would be good though if there was more respect between each age of this fact. There is nothing wrong with being in tune with ones age; it is the way of the Tao.

Now here is the important bit. None of this means that we cannot begin new things, things that others might have begun much earlier in life. There are people who begin running marathons when youth deficiency is beginning to raise its head. What must not be ignored is having started late there will not be much opportunity to represent your country at the Olympic Games. That come from the consciousness of the age, so they run to be the best they can.

Art offers new opportunities for all ages. It offers the feeling of new beginnings and a feeling of adventure and freedom. It allows expression for all at what ever level of consciousness. It bridges the gaps of thinking and allows expression of thought. I will be the expression that grows from the level of consciousness but that is the way of Tao.

Where so much of the adventure of life is being factored out for the artist each new project is one of adventure.

I had another thought that we need to take time to learn. It is important to take time to learn at all stages, and to give ourselves time. If life is a constant rush and we have no time to learn at each stage of life then we will arrive at old age having learned nothing.

The painting above is the portrait of a man full of worldly wisdom.

Monday, 22 February 2010

The Hatchet, Butterflies and Poppies

It was a bible study night in the prison. I had invited along an English teacher from the local high school. The prisoners had been having difficulty with the problem of whether the bible as a book was to be taken literally or should there be an effort to interpret for better understanding. I thought that this particular teacher might have something worthwhile to contribute to the discussion. She was trying to explain the use of poetic language. She said to the prisoners, “If I said that I floated over the lawn like a butterfly you would know exactly what I meant. Likewise if I say bury that hatchet you know I do not mean that to be taken as literally.” “Well,” said one prisoner, “maybe you might not, but that is why I am in here, because I did just that.”

Two things that never fail to bring joy into the lives of people are Poppies and Butterlies. Both so transitory in their existence. Here but for a moment and gone.


Butterflies do indeed float over gardens and with them they bring a great presence of beauty. For this very reason I planted a Buddleia plant in my garden. Butterflies love the enormous flower heads and the strong aroma. Butterflies have always evoked emotion down through the centuries. An old worthy speaks of how he dreamt he was a butterfly and such was the emotion when he awoke that he was forced to ask. “Was I a man who dreamt I was a butterfly? Or am I a butterfly who believes I am a man?

It is this sense of wonder and that is the goal and aim of most art. The desire to share with others the emotions stirred up in everyday life. Sometimes what we try to convey might be a flash of insight worthy of sharing, or it may be a fleeting ephemeral passing feeling.

I can think of emotions brought to my inner being by the sight of a butterfly landing on a flower and opening its wings to the sun.

I remember as a young boy capturing a butterfly in a jar so that I could look at. In so doing I had captured something and contained it in a jar for a large part of its expected lifespan. Such is not the way of Tao. The artist can capture that moment and share it for eternity. Then they are at one with Chi.

Oh beautiful butterfly

Fly my way

Here for a day tomorrow you die

Touch me with wonder

Excite me with joy

Ephemeral moment

Stay with me for aye.


Sunday, 21 February 2010

Hedgerows, Beaches and Frost

Yesterday I walked along the beach at the edge of the River Forth with its famous Forth Rail Bridge. It was a crisp beautiful day sunny yet still the frost could be seen on the grasses and hedgerows. It is a marvellous feeling to be able to drink in such beauty and wonder. Sometimes it becomes so overwhelming that the inner being feels overcome by it all. Yesterday I felt just like that for a moment. So I paused, and instead considered small aspects of it, bit by bit.


A handful of sand, allowed sifts though my fingers, grain by grain. How many millions to make this beach? Some of the driftwood washed on to the shore by the incoming tide, creating patterns as it was captured and held in place by the seaweed. Shells no longer required by their incumbents discarded adding to the myriad of beauty.

The light, catching the grasses and dead flower heads, sparkling with the jewels of frost. The whole scene a thing of wonder and yet each section, each ingredient a marvel in its own right.

In the face of such, the painter reaches for the canvas and paint, to capture the moment that others may also share the joy. The sculptor reaches for the slab of stone and the chisel to create a decorative head for a column that will remember this moment for centuries to come. The poet reaches for the pen and composes words that pluck at the inner strings of the reader. The composer creates a melody from the sounds of the birds and the waves.

They will all be different because each going with the Tao will see it in their own ways. The viewer the reader and the listener will be inspired to greater things, because each will bind with the creation to make yet another in their mind.

We are surrounded by the inspiration of artists day by day, moment by moment. I saw an abstract painting yesterday, I think probably one of the first abstract from this particular artists and it captured all of the patterns and colours of my walk and took me back to enjoy it again. My own painting added to this blog is from a very similar experience and captures just a small part of a wondrous landscape.

At one with the Tao we can see in the infinite the minutiae. The artist can chose the svastness or the small but they cannot ever ignore.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Mountains Trees and Lotus.

I remember when I was just a young man in those wild times of the 60s. I like all young men wanted to be more grown up than I was in fact. It was the days when you thought your parents were ancient and knew nothing, it was only when you were a bit older you began to realise they had forgotten more than you had learned. I had a friend who like me was involved in music. We used to do all kinds of things together one of which was going for a few beers. He had this rather wicked saying. When we walked into a bar he would look round at all the people there. He would select a female and say to me when that girl starts to look beautiful it is time to leave we will have had enough. I remember one occasion he came out with this usual “witty”. I looked at the selected girl and said to him, “I think it is time to leave now then because I think that girl is very beautiful.” I later went to the dancing with her and not him.


Many years later I remember taking my son and his friend to an adventure park. They had this tree walk where you walk along a narrow walkway high above the treetops. We got to the top and the view was absolutely stunning. You could see for miles. The snow topped mountains of the Cairngorms and the entire vista between. It was breathtaking. I commented on this to my son and his friend. His friend replied, “It is just a few trees and mountains.”

My favourite flowers are the orchid and the lotus. They grow in the most unexpected of places often on rotting bark. I remember seeing lotus growing in a pond and being captivated by the beauty of them. I commented to somebody and the opinion of this person was, “If that was my pond I would be giving it a good cleaning.” The lotus lies deep in the mud at the bottom of the pond from where it reaches up towards the light and then bursts into bloom with such breathtaking beauty. In the still of the night it gives colour and often a beautiful aroma.

The purpose of the Tao is to help people to rise above the grim and the nasty things of life and to see the beauty around us. The task of the artist is to challenge the beholder to see in all things beauty and meaning. beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Stolen Moments

The students in the monastic community were studying under a very wise sage. One of the students loved to slip out at night and have a wander round the town, something that would be frowned upon by the wise old sage. The student used to climb over the wall at the back of the garden so that he would not be seen leaving. One night the old master was checking on the dormitories and noticed the young student’s absence. He walked round the wall until he came upon the stool that been used by the student to get out of the garden over the wall. He removed the stool and stood quietly meditating under the wall.


When the student returned he placed his foot on the masters head and jumped back down into the grounds. On landing he discovered what he had done and stood in shocked silence.

The wise old sage said, “It gets very chilly of an evening. Please be careful you do not catch a cold.” He then left very quietly. The young student thought for a moment. He never ever crept out at night again.

I lived on the beautiful Island of Iona for a year when I was trying to teach myself enough to be able to pass the examinations that would allow me to enter university. I had been living a fairly wild and hectic life up until then and living on a dry island (an Island with no bars or places that sold beer) was to say the least a learning experience. I had to work on the restoration of the Abbey during the week and for this I was given my keep and a little pocket money. On a Saturday a tourist ship anchored in the sound and allowed its passengers time to come ashore and to visit the abbey. Now and again I and another young man used to slip out to the ship and have one or two ales. On one particular Saturday when we arrived back on the jetty at the village of Iona, standing on the jetty was Lord George McLeod the founder of the Iona Community, and the person responsible for the rebuilding of the abbey. I thought I was in for big trouble but all he said was, “The beer on that ship is a bit expensive I must be giving you too much pocket money.” That was my last trip to that ship all summer.

It is possible to encourage people to greater things without giving a long lecture or being censorious. We artists are often the worlds worst for saying too much and in the process discouraging others to progress. Positive and to the point. I remember a teacher who I am sure knew his subject as well as any. His trouble was he never used three sentences when twenty three could be found to say the same thing.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

The Lost Axe and the Stolen Sweets

A man was in his garden chopping wood for his fire one day, as he chopped he was also making a very tidy woodpile sorting the logs in to various thicknesses. As he worked a young boy who lived not far from him joined him and offered to help. They took turns at cutting and stacking. After about two hours of labour they had made a considerable sized woodpile all stacked very neatly. The young lad left and went his way. The next day the old man went out to the woodpile to collect his axe. It was not where he normally left it, it had disappeared. Later that day the old man saw the young lad who had helped him pass down passed his house. He thought to himself, “That is what has happened to my axe. He has stolen it.” Each time he saw the young man he repeated this not only to himself but also to others in his hearing. The young lad was branded a thief by almost everybody in the village. People could be heard to whisper about him as he went about his day to day business. He became known as the village thief by almost everybody.


As the winter progressed the old man was thankful for the large pile of wood he had made. On cold evenings he had a ready supply of wood. On one such night he went out to gather some logs for his fire. As he lifted off some of the larger logs there exposed was the shaft of the long lost axe.

I remember when I was a very young lad in my second year at school a fellow pupil had a bag of sweets in her classroom desk. We had a period of gym to attend and we all left the room to go to the gym hall. On our return he sweets had disappeared. She looked round the room and noticed that I was eating a sweetie. She promptly went out to the teacher and accused me of stealing hers. It must have been a Friday, because that was the only day I ever got sweets. I knew who had the sweets, it was the classroom bully and he had told me that if I reported him I would get a lot worse on the way home. That day I got the belt from the teacher. Worse though years later I met that girl and she said to me, “You were the guy who stole my sweets.” I told her the real tale but for all those years she had branded me a thief.

Before we speak we should consider the consequences of what it is we say. This can work two ways. If we are the kind of person who is fast to judgement we may stigmatise another. If we are hyper critical of another we may put them off for life. Artists are often quick to comment on the work of others and in a strange desire to always be over enthusiastic miss an opportunity to encourage improvement. I was, and maybe to a degree still am, guilty of putting my mouth into gear before engaging my brain.

What we say can have a lasting effect on the lives of others. The painting I have included with this thought is one I have called, “Fractured Dreams.” It is one that I am sure inspire a deathly hush or some quiet thought it came to me as I considered the thoughts above wondering if I had ever fractured the dreams of another.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

The Tigers and the Strawberry.

A man was on a journey and was travelling across a field as he moved across he met face to face with a tiger. He ran as fast as his legs would carry him, the tiger after him. He arrived at a cliff edge and there was no way he could turn back. He grabbed hold of a vine and swung himself over the edge. He looked up as he hung from the vine and saw the face of the tiger looking back down at him, waiting. In great fear he looked down. Not only did he see a great drop but he also saw at the bottom of the drop another tiger looking up at him. The only thing that was saving him was the precious vine.


He looked up again at the tiger and at that moment, to his horror he also saw two mice. They had started to gnaw at the vine. To his right he saw a luscious strawberry. Holding on with all his might he reached out and picked the strawberry. Never ever in his life had he tasted a strawberry as sweet!

I remember once slipping on a mountain track and falling. Fortunately there were no tigers waiting at the bottom just a river. It was a steep drop and I could easily have landed not in the river but on the rocks at the edge. I hit the side twice on the way down and fortunately landed in the water hitting the bottom of the river. I remember it as clearly as if it was yesterday the thoughts that filled my head between top and bottom, amazing how much in such a short space of time. It was a life changing event. I remember one of the thoughts was that I would not be able to run in that years London marathon even though I had a place. How sweet it was to stand on the starting line and hear the starter’s pistol.

Every empty canvas should be respected by the artist as if it was the last canvas they might paint. Every day lived as though it was the last and ever moment cherished.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Respect and Priorities.

It was a beautiful crisp clear Monday morning on the golf course. The local minister was playing his usual Monday morning round of golf, a time when he could relax and consider the quality of the Sunday sermon. He was playing with a number of club members and the golf was going very well. The group had arrived at the fairway that ran alongside the main road. As the prepared to tee off a funeral cortege approached on the main road heading towards the local cemetery. The minister replaced his club in his golf bag, took off his cap and stood with his head bowed. His fellow golfers watched until the cortege had passed. One of them then said, “My minister what a grand mark of respect”. “Well,” said the minister, “she was a grand wife to me for 45 years.”


Respect and priority, are two important words in all our lives. Here was a man who thought he knew what his priority was, what was the most important thing in life. Those who have passion for art or for that matter for anything in life can so easily allow it to cloud their vision. It is right that if we take up anything in life then we have to do so with the passion it deserves but if we fail to get our priorities right and to respect that life cannot be lived in a bubble of self-containment, we will have a passion that becomes so insular it fails to express itself.

As the ancient said,” it is no use being so heavenly that you become no earthly use. The athlete who runs to excess or who over trains is the athlete that often suffers the most lay offs due to injury. Balance is the way of the Tao. The well known Taoist symbol of Yin Yang, "It represents the balance of opposites in the universe. When they are equally present, all is calm. When one is outweighed by the other, there is confusion and disarray." It is important for creativity as well as health to find the balance, the way of the Chi.

Monday, 15 February 2010

The Search for Happiness

There was a man who decided that life was not as it should be for him. In fact, truth to tell it was not good at all. He decided that his life was empty and shallow. He was surrounded by people who really did not care for him at all. He decided that he needed to find happiness. He had been told that if he really wanted happiness he had to find chi in his life. He decided that no matter how long this took he would not settle until he had found happiness, chi.


It seemed that the obvious place to beginning looking was in the temples and places of worship. At each place he stopped he was told that if he really wants to find this chi then he would have to travel to a temple further away in another place. He did just this, each time making the journey to a further place. After visiting more than one hundred such places he felt that he was not further forward in his search for happiness, for the chi, it was suggested that maybe he was searching in the wrong places. That rather than places of worship and temples he should go to the shrines and the places where in historical time’s great things and events had occurred. Once again he undertook many years of search and pilgrimage. The desire within him to find happiness was still very strong. Again after many years of such a pilgrimage he had not found what he was looking for.

It was suggested to him that what he was looking for would only be found in the mountains where there lived wise hermits. So he set off climbing many high mountains and speaking with many mountain hermits. Finally, with his hair gray with age he was told of an old hermit that lived in an isolated high mountain cave. He began the torturous climb with a determination. Finally he arrived where he found an old man, a solitary ascetic. He told the man of his goal and his search. The old man gave a wry chuckle. “If you want to find the chi and happiness,” he said “sit down and close your eyes.” He took hold of his hands and said again, “Chi is here within your grasp, it is within every being.

As the artist searches for the best painting, the best sculpture, the best piece of art. The search must begin within the artist. Others may be able to help bring it out to give tips and hints. But the search for happiness in the creative process begins in each artist own hands.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Gong Hei Fat Choy and Happy Valentines Day

Yes it is both Chinese New year, The Year of the Tiger, and Valentines Day. Valentines Day has lost over the years lost what it started out to be. It was a day to remember the martyred “Saint” Valentine. I put the saint in inverted commas because I have real concerns about the idea of sainthood, but I respect those who do believe. That all seems to have got lost in the modern celebration and consumerism has become the name of the game. Shopkeepers love it sales of expensive cards go through the roof. To make sure you can get a bouquet of flowers you have to order well in advance. Strange how nobody seems to think that if it is all anonymous why we don’t just recycle last years cards. OK I know I am being very, very cynical. It is nice that we have set aside a day to think of those that matter dearly to us. To pay some recognition to those who hold a special place in our lives. You will note that I am somewhat reluctant to use the word love. It is a word that is so often used that it has kind of lost all sense of real meaning. We can say we love a beef burger and the same times tell a person we love them. The Greeks had three words that are now often translated as the one word love. The had the words, Eros, Philos and Agape. Eros was the romantic sensual, Philos the relationships we have with friends and family and Agape the kind of love that gives and goes on giving and never seeks anything in return. Now I don’t know where the love of a burger would fit into that but there you go. Can I say I love art? No but I can say I am bound to it and obsessed by it so that is a kind of love I think. So I say to all those who mean something to me, and I hold dear in my life, Happy Valentines Day.


I visited China with a group of students in the year 2000. We had a marvellous time and I so loved the culture and the places I visited. It was a cathartic experience. Being a teacher of world religions I was aware of Buddhism and its teaching and also of Taoism. For the first time though I had considered that maybe there was more to it than just a subject to teach. It has a great benefit because I have the traditional New Year when I can make New Year resolutions then not long after it I have Chinese New Year when I can see how I am progressing and make some adjustments. I get the best of both worlds really.

But as Taoism says every day is a new day and every day has many possibilities to be grasped. Kind of almost like One day at a Time. "Be still like a mountain and flow like a great river." Lao Tse.

So I wish all my friends, “Gong Hei Fat Choy” Happy New Year.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

New Beginnings and Opportunities

There is not a single person I know who has not got regrets about the past. If you have no regrets then you are either too young to realise it or you have lived a very sheltered life. Life is scattered with missed opportunities and the things we wished we had done differently. The reality is though that there is not always a lot we can do about it.

The amazing thing about being an artist and by that I mean all those who are involved in art at whatever level. From the person who occasionally takes their watercolour pad on holiday and makes some holiday sketches to the person who paints most days a week. Yes there are those who paint almost every day. I do not paint every, but on the days I don’t I usually find same way of getting myself into my paint area. I make the excuse that I have brushes that need cleaning paint pots that need tidied away. Then there is the pastel dust I have collected to be remade into pastels, new and sometime exciting colours. I just like to keep up acquaintances with my materials and tools. The amazing thing is this.

Art always gives you another chance. There is always another sheet of watercolour paper or another canvas. If the last painting turned out to be a disaster and you feel you failed then you have the opportunity to this time succeed. If the last one was a tremendous success then you still get another opportunity to reach the heights of joy yet again. There is always another moment that you want to get down. There is another scene that is calling you and just has to be painted.

Consider this, if you have always painted using oils or watercolour you could try something else another medium something that forces you to look again and consider the project a new way. This of course is not just so for artists it is equally true for so many aspects of life.

You get a chance to forget the past, a chance not to worry about the future, a chance to grasp the present and live it to the full. Think about it. How often in life do we get so many chances to do it again to succeed even in the face of failure. It does not rain forever there are always more sunny days to come.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Mistakes and Putting Them to Use

I suppose the tale I am about to tell in today’s open and free culture may seem tame but when it happened this was far from the case. I came out of a church building fairly late one evening. Standing at the bus stop opposite was a middle aged couple much under the influence of alcohol. They were in fact waiting for a bus that was never going to come, the last one had long gone. At this time I was giving serious consideration to putting my head down and trying to get myself into college as and was always eager and willing to help others. If I was going to be a minister then I had better start practising. I got the couple into the car, not mine might I add, but a friend. We got them round to the address the man had given us. On arrival he asked if I would help him get her into the house. I did that but then he wanted me to help get her into bed. Well I did this with as much decorum as was possible. He got in beside her I put out the lights and locked his door and put the keys back through his letter box.


The next day I popped round to see if all was okay with them. They did not know each other. They had in fact only met a short time before I came out of the church building.

Was this a mistake? Who knows I never hung around long enough to ever find out.

I read a letter in an art magazine where somebody was reflecting on his art master and his insistence on drawing and getting it right. He stated, “Nobody was allowed to touch paint until they could draw.” For those who could draw, wonderful they got to move on to paint for others art for the rest of their life was a dead thing. I had an art teacher who made the same mistake and so it is only recently I came back to art.

We all make mistakes and the artist is no different from anybody else. The wrong colour, the wrong mix, the perspective is all wrong, one kind of gaffe or another. For so many starting out in art these mistakes can be seen as a disaster, they see it as a conformation that they are no good at art. The true artist accepts it as a part of what happens to the artist and learns from the mistake. They note it away and make sure they do not make the same mistake again. If it does happen again then they feel that the lesson has not yet been learned and they start again.

Everyday for the artist is a learning experience. It should be shared with others. I have set myself the task that in the coming year I will open the door to art for at least three people who say to me, “I would love to be able to be an artist, but I am just hopeless.” I will do not to become a tutor or as another source of income but simply to inspire.

As you can see from the painting at the start of this blog,I still cannot draw. That does not mean I did not get a great deal of pleasure in the production of this "picture". I am also aware that it has brought pleasure to many others. Would it be a mistake to show others the error of my ways?

Thursday, 11 February 2010

The Golfer and the Art of Seeing

A golfer was playing the last hole of his local golf course. The hole wasone with a long fairway that ran alongside a fairly busy road. He teed up his ball and took up his stance then  played his shot, but unfortunately he hit the ball off in the wrong direction. The ball flew off to the left over the fence and towards the road. Just at that moment a car was climbing the hill, the ball struck the front pane and the driver in shock swung to the right far too sharply. The car rolled over and another car coming down the hill could not avoid. There was an almighty collision. Both drivers were injured.


The golfer ,made his way clubhouse a very worried man. He saw the club captain and approached him to speak with him. He explained in detail what had happened and asked the captain what he should do now. The captain thought for a minute and then said, “If you just adjust your grip a bit further round the club handle that should solve your problem.”

Is it not amazing that two people looking at the same situation,or for the artist the same viewpoint, and yet both see it completely differently. It never fails to amaze me how the same scenery can be depicted in so many different ways. There are those who strive to show every blade of grass and those who hardly show anything at all yet capture the whole scene with just a few strokes of the brush or the pastel.

We will all as artists know which it is that best suits our style. That being said I think art is like life, the simpler we keep it the easier it is. As the ancient sage said, “Why try to climb over the boulder in the middle of the river when it is possible to swim round it and go with the current. I am always in awe when I look at so many works of art that capture an atmosphere and the scene, I am full of envy and long to be able to do the same.  Whether it is a detailed painting or an atmospheric interpretation the ones that seem to grip are those where we can see the heart of the artist.

If we are painitng, sculpting or creating just because we have to meet deadlines or fulfil commissions do we have time to put our hearts into the work? I frequently consider not doing any commissions for this very reason. How do others cope? Would love to hear your suggestions.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Mountains and The First Blotch of Paint

It was Oscar Wilde who said, “Why put off till tomorrow what you can put off till the next day” and Don Marquis who said, “Procrastination is the art of keeping up with yesterday”, No yesterday we all know is now dead and buried and not a lot we can do about it. I procrastinated all day yesterday with that painting I started. I looked at it, I drank a coffee, and looked some more. I decided that it was too early to give up on it so instead I went back a stage and added some more modelling gel. Let it dry and gave it another covering of acrylic gel. So here I am at exactly the place I was at this time yesterday. Not usually a habit of mine to procrastinate, think yes but not procrastinate.


I have often stood at the bottom of some of Scotland’s more frightening mountains and thought do I really want to be going up there. Or I have stood at the start of a ridge looking at a very narrow path with drops of two or three thousand feet on either side and said asked myself if I was crazy. I have had a fear for heights for as long as I can remember and yet Scotland can be seen from ground level looking up or from the top of one of its peaks looking out and down. There is no comparison and once you have seen it from the summit you just have to do it again and again. I discovered that walking over ridges and climbing slowly up mountain paths gave you time to think and yes time to procrastinate and maybe even decide to just turn back. This happened to me one day on of all places an English mountain. (Those of you who are not familiar with the English – Scottish relationship to be beaten by an English mountain seemed worse than even a small Scottish one.) It was at the start of Striding Edge. I procrastinated and eventually turned back. It was a whole year later before I got the opportunity to put this to rights. In the intervening period I had learned that running those tracks ridges and paths was the way to do it. Stop thinking and just do it. The hardest part is the first step once that is over it gets easier.

It is a bit like standing in front of a blank canvas. I wonder if it is the same for those who work in stone or metal. The hardest part of any painting for me is the first blotch of paint, or returning to one that needs further work. It can be like the mountains though; you just know that getting started is the only way you can reach the summit. The glory of the summit is the goal. The finished work is the glory of the artist. So as we stand before the blank canvas, the sheet of metal or the block of stone remember procrastination is the art of keeping up with yesterday.

Finished Painting.

Well the procrastination is over and the painting has had some more work on it. Now that I see it I wonder if procrastinating was the better option.


Tuesday, 9 February 2010

A Painting Interupted.

Circumstances prevailed in my life yesterday as they do in all of our lives. I began diligently going through the process of painting. A new canvas, bright, fresh and clean, ready for some interaction and creation. I decided to leave the brushes aside and go for it. I chose a mixture of colours all in the one range. I had, Burn Umber, Sienna Light, Yellow Ochre, Lemon Yellow and later I opened some Cadmium Yellow. With a little water to keep my hands wet I started at the bottom of the canvas with the darker colours and working my way up to the lighter ones I covered the canvas. I did not use the yellow. I stepped back and looked at it and with my fingernail scrapped out some of the darker areas using strokes. I left it to dry.


Now this is how haphazard my art can be. I set it where I could see it in the light and asked it to speak to me, as I savoured a coffee. It said sun and laughter. It said bright days and carefree moments. I added a covering of matt acrylic gel. This dulled it slightly but what was there was now sealed. I will not tell you at this stage what I was thinking. The burnt umber had spread a bit on my slate. I took the top on a paint pot and dipped it into this brown umber and made some random circles on the canvas. At this stage I so wished I had chosen a larger canvas. Into these circles I added some gel mixed with small gel balls to add texture. I roughed it up by dabbing my finger in it. Then again with my finger I added petals round each of the circles. Yes sorry just another flower picture. I left this to dry. For whatever reason it seemed to take forever to dry so I decided to head off and go for an afternoon swim at the pool.

At this point circumstances took over. For family reasons I had to leave the pool and go attend to my family. The painting was left. While in my pjs I painted the petals with the yellow.

Will I finish this or not? Who knows? Today I do not I have not visited it but I will after I have posted this blog. My thinking is of another of the words I have in my collection of art words.

TRUST


Without trust there is no peace or sense of being at one. Without trust there is only fear and uncertainty and a sense of insecurity. Trust and only good will happen. Trust in the inner person the inner you and you will find it bubble forth. It is all in the hands of the artist. I am sure, I trust. What will happen? Only one thing can happen, if there is trust I will do what is right. I will re-establish the bond between this art and me. Then no matter what happens I will be at peace because I have given myself to the inner chi called art. I will surrender to something bigger than myself.



Just a few words of thought but I have a feeling an old friend is waiting for me downstairs. I hear it call. I will let you know the outcome and if anybody at all is interested the next steps. What I have described is for me a method a way and trust me it works.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Oneness and the glory of nature.

What has all this to do with art? Well there came the day when I was out running and for the first time I felt no pain. I was just running and it felt so good. I did not have to force the legs forward they went of there own accord. It felt so good, I felt at one with everything around me. The old ancient would say I was at one with the Chi. Whatever I was at one with it felt good. I was so sure that if that day I had spoken to the lambs in the field they would have answered me.


It did not come easy this, oneness. I had been painful and had made demands on me. There are days when, painting, and I would suppose working with metal or stone is like running with wings on your feet. When we feel at harmony with the work we do sometimes to the extent that we do not know how we ever thought it was hard. The number of people who say, “How I wish I had that gift.” I am thinking of yesterdays comment from Ruby. With help that young girl had produced something that made her feel at one with the paper and pencil.

What about the days when we do not feel at one. One of the words suggested to me by a fellow artist was, constipated. What about those constipated days when nothing is going right, when nothing happens the way you wish it. Then maybe that is when you have to be like Moses. He took two tablets and went into the hills of the Lord. In other words maybe we need to go and re-find our oneness. To be at one again with the Chi of nature. We who strive to be artists tend to forget that we cannot be good all the time. There comes a time and a day when we have to doing something else. To get rid of the angst and find again the oneness that allows us to soar like an eagle.

I believe that artists are the most fortunate of people. We are free to look at nature and to soak it in, allow it to be part of us, and if that means sitting in funny places and strange positions people just put it down to the fact that that is what they expect of artists.

I hope those who are following this blog are aware that some comments are being made. How we would all love to hear from others those following publicly and those following privately.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

What is Art? The question raises its head again.

Blogging is a strange thing to be involved in really. It is very personal cathartic almost. It allows one to gather their thoughts and express opinions that in other place you might keep to yourselves. Having said that I have realised it is also very similar to sitting on a barstool and saying things you would be better keeping to yourself, because others are listening. I have become very aware that there are more people reading this blog than those who have signed up and can be seen on the front page. I have been getting many private emails and because they are private they really should remain just that, very private. If somebody expresses a personal opinion on the comments of this blog, that is different, then I feel free to make comment but strangely reluctant to do so.


We have touched on the topic, or raised the question, a number of times in the last week or so. What is Art? I suppose we could also ask the question in a slightly different way, “How do we recognise good art?” One person, maybe more than one, has expressed the opinion that, I know nothing about art. They are entitled to their views and respect and admire them for making them.

Having said that I got up early this morning with thoughts in my head about today’s blog. I had some thoughts that came to me yesterday as I walked round a caravan show looking at all the latest and best new models, knowing that there was no chance of me purchasing one. Trouble was before I began to write I read two emails I had received while I was on the night train to today. These two emails have aroused so much emotion in me today that I cannot find it in me to write anything, thoughtful, meaningful or with any depth.

I have not asked their permission to use them and so if they get in touch with me later today, as I have no doubt they will I will be happy to remove what they said, and we can have a day with no blog because I will just leave the pictures.

I quote them both but will not identify either. I apologise in advance that I have changed the spelling to the weird way we spell on this side of the pond.

1 Ralph, I have nothing but time so I had a good old look through your gallery. Wonderful paintings, all of them, but this is my favourite because it is particular, unusual, "one of a kind" and so much more than another flower by another artist. It has colour, movement, dance and fun all in one!

2 As you know I saved the Midnight Poppies you sent in the email as my screen saver. You know I look at those bright red poppies and I smile. First thing everyday they make me smile. I see so much heart in this piece; the poppies seem to be overflowing with love. I look at your Abstract MM and smile....I see the heart here also. I look at Stormy Day Along the Coastal Path, Along the Shore on a Wild Day...and I feel the wind, I feel the heart you've put in these pieces; its like seeing a part of you. I don't think you realize what emotions people see in your paintings and just how wonderful they are.

The person in the second quotation then goes on to make some less than complimentary comments about one of her own paintings. Let me say it now both of the above are producing works of art I would be proud to call my own.

It is so strange, or maybe not so strange. But you know it is easier to accept the comments made by the first two people who said I know nothing of art than these two comments of astounding praise way beyond anything I am worthy of.

What is very interesting is the pictures these two people have chosen to comment on. They are all so different and yet all have one thing in common, they painted themselves, or my little lovely ladies and I were at one in spirit on those days.

I thank them from the bottom of my heart today for the emotions they have created within me. I will beg to differ with their opinions.

This brings me back to the big question. What is Art? Seems we might all have to agree that it is in the eye of the beholder. But better it was there than in the pockets of the wealthy as I so often suspect it might be.

I am confused and overwhelmed at the same time. But I know who I believe.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Happiness and a Smile

There is no doubt the death of a friend makes you stop and become aware of your vulnerability. So a little light heartedness today. There has to be a little button I can push to make me happy in the age of instant everything. We are all searching for happiness and in this age we want it now. Not tomorrow or the next day but now. “If I could be rich I would be happy.” We hear this all the time, all I need is to win the lottery. Yet the stories of just such winners ending up in more misery and despair are countless. All I need to be happy is a good husband/wife. Sadly if the other person does not measure up instantly to ones expectations we move on to something or someone else. The number of broken marriages increases daily, and with it the number of children with a sense of question about where their loyalty lies. If I could just get that or this I would be happy.Maybe if I moved to another place. When we get it we are happy but sadly so often it is a transitory happiness.


We live in an age with few boundaries and so the excesses increase and with it the unhappiness. It is a strange world we live in when so many people struggle to get enough to eat but just as many people die from the illnesses caused by over indulgence.

Real happiness cannot be purchased or given to us. Others can share it or enhance it but they do not have the power to make us happy. Real happiness comes from within. In 500 BC it was said to be happy we have to control our desire. How I wish the person who said that would come back and say it again and we stopped and listened.

Gosh this is sounding heavy and I set out to be light and joyful. I was thinking today to leave my thoughts with a chuckle. So let me tell you a story. Now before I do it can be told in many ways it is not intended to be sexist with a little thought it could be turned round so the other side is the butt f the humour.

A married couple were feeling the pinch of the credit crunch and had decided to try and save some money on the weekly shop. As they went down one of the lanes the man lifted a pack of twenty four cans of lager and placed them in the trolley. “What do you think you are doing asked the wife?” “They are only £10 for the twenty-four.” he replied. “Get them back on the shelf,” he was told in no uncertain manner. A couple of lanes later the wife lifted a jar of very expensive face cream costing £24. “What do you think you are doing asked the husband?” “Well it makes my face look beautiful,” said the wife. “So does twenty-four cans of lager,” said the husband. “And at half the price.”

Yes I am sorry it is the wife that is the butt of it but I am sure you can change it round very easily. If you had a little laugh then remember it came from within and your life can be full of happiness from within.

Abraham Lincoln said, “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be".

Friday, 5 February 2010

Words for Art the Artisan

I am in a sombre mood today as I get ready to attend the funeral of a fellow artist. Funerals always make me contemplative. It was the conduct of so many funerals in my time as a minister that got to me most and forced me to ask the most questions. Anyway enough of that.


Yesterday I asked artists to give me words that described art to them. I have been overwhelmed by the response. Twenty-three words in the first day. I will not list them here but if anybody has any words that spring to mind make a comment or get in touch and leave them with me. I am considering, as is my want, the connections between Taoism and Art. I thought the best way to do this was to gather the words of others in the world of art and see where that leads my thinking. Maybe once I have shared a thought or two on here from time to time others could add their thoughts. Possibly we could then link them to appropriate artwork and see where it leads. Who knows? Maybe it is time to put all the  hot air to good use.

I know that this is also a big day for one who follows this blog. I am sure he is aware that he will be in my thoughts today. Ok, if the words that follow are meaningless waffle or rubbish please say, and I will lay this idea aside.

ARTISAN

I am sure like me all artists have their favourite brushes or the tools that they use to sculpt. They become precious. I know I have a brush that is wearing very thin and I am wondering how long I can work with her. Every time I lift her I feel an affinity with her. Does she have an inner being I wonder? In years gone past such things as tools were the treasured items of the owner and no other craftsman would ever use the tools of another. It used to be so when I was a butcher also, knives where for the use of the owner only. I am told that now there are tools and they are just used by whomever. I think most of us in the world of art will still have our own tools and cherish them.

The elimination of each having their own tools for me means we also lose a sense of inner pride and connection with out art if we lose the personal affiliation with our brushes and tools.

There will be those who are laughing at me. Some who think I am nuts to suggest that my brushes have an inner spirit of their own. A brush is a brush nothing more. But that sense of oneness with my tools, with my brushes brings with it a sense of self realisation.

For a year I lived on the Island of Iona off the coast of Mull in Scotland. A small Island, three miles long and one and a half miles wide with a total population then of about eighty people. The birthplace of Christianity in Scotland, where in 562AD St Columba set up his sect of monks. Many people who visited the Island during the summer on day trips said the minute they got off the boat they could sense a feeling of spirituality. There were times when I used to think, if you are looking for it you will find it. Maybe it is the same with the tools of the artisan. Nevertheless on the days I feel at one with my tools and sense their inner being there grows a respect for them, and that in turn creates a sense of oneness in me. In feeling this about my brushes I also get a feeling of being able to focus on my own perceptions of what I am trying to achieve. I find a sense of ability to create. On the days when I sense this feeling of spirit in what I am doing and my heart sings, then I can create something that I often wonder where it came from. Other days are what I call bin days.

A friend yesterday expressed this with the words, “I embraced the wind.” What a wonderful thought Maybe our brushes are just brushes, our tools just tools but a sense of respect and feeling for them can bring an inner change in the artist. The Taoist would say it was being at peace with the Chi. The Chi being the inner spirit of nature. It is easy to be about the business of making art. To lift the brushes open the palette and get on with the work in hand. That wonder when you pick up madam brush and acknowledge her inner being we paint on a different level.



I leave that thought with you for today. I Would love all your thoughts on my ramblings today. Positive or negative.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Blogging, Cycling and The art of Experiencing Life

It seems that the number of people Blogging is decreasing. The reason for this decrease it seems it that percentages, a growing percentage, of students prefer to use social networking sites to leave short messages. Reading it seems is not fun. This is at a time when the number of young people continuing in full time education is growing rapidly. This little piece of information came at a time when I was noticing the number of people appearing on television quiz shows claiming to be students could not answer simple everyday questions. One yesterday asked about the name of the Russian President responsible for the breakdown of the Iron Curtain given his first name answered Lenin. Probably the only Russian leader the person knew.


This is not a new phenomenon. I was aware while teaching that the number of families never watching news broadcasts was increasing. The head of the school I worked in at an open day revealed that she never bothered with news or newspapers she preferred to start her day listening to an inane morning television show. I find this worrying because it goes hand in hand with a large decrease in the number of people using their democratic right to put their cross on a paper. The reason given when asked is, “All politicians are the same it does not make a difference.” Well it is an argument, but not a valid one for letting the country be run by the so called morons. I suppose when they then go on to cheat on the finances for their own benefit we deserve what we don’t vote for.

It seems if it is not fun now it has no value. When I was part of education I watched it year on year being dumbed down to ensure more students left with a certificate. The learning process has to be made “fun”. The number of times students would say to me, “Mr T. your no wanting us to write today are you, writing isnae fun Mr. T”.

What concerns me deeply is the knowledge that the things in life that have given me the greatest sense of joy and achievement was not always fun along the way until we arrived. Think of a painting. The preparing of the canvas for me is never fun. There are always times during the creative process I want to throw a stomp. The cleaning up at the end is far from fun. All of this pales though when you see the finished work., and all the emotions that come when somebody wants to own it and give it space in their life. A friend was telling me of her learning to ride her first bicycle made up from bits from a scrap yard. I can see her learning to ride it; I am willing to bet there were times when that were not fun either. But once she had a sense of balance it led to a feeling of freedom she had never experienced before.

No, not all reading is fun. Not all learning is fun. But if we do not have the less fun times how can we ever fully experience real wonder? In fact in this day and age of instant everything when fun is the goal it seems to be there is less joy around than ever.

It was written in the 6th century BC, To know yet to think that one does not know is best; Not to know and think that one knows will lead to difficulty. It is by being alive to difficulty that one can avoid it.


Can I say at that this blog never ever sets out to upset or offend but to open up routes for discussion. Ralph


Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Cut Fingers, Music and Life Changing Moments.

Having suffered a spell of painters block has given me much time to reflect. The positive side of this is that it has reinforced the idea that such times are often the moments of change and from the empty low points comes the next stage of creativity. I remember one just such moment in my life that did in fact become life changing. As readers of this blog know I started out as a butcher and working in a slaughterhouse. Not the most intellectually taxing job on the planet. But then I had been told that I was not one of life’s intellectuals. Well after a number of years getting through and getting by with playing in a band some evenings and working during the day. Making and spending too much money on pursuits that could only lead to disaster came two events that were to change my life. The first was just a simple cut finger.


I had cut my finger badly and had to go to hospital to have it stitched. So with a towel wrapped round it I presented myself at accident and emergency. I was told to go and sit in the waiting area and to keep the finger raised as much as possible and I would be attended to soon. After a bit a lady appeared with a mop and pail. She asked if I could move to another seat while she mopped up the blood dripping from my elbow. I waited. Some time later a nurse came and asked me what I was waiting for. Well. I am waiting for that bit floor over there to dry was my response. The finger was stitched but I had made up my mind there and then that I was finished with the playing silly it was time to have a rethink about my life.

At the same time a new minister had arrived in my home town. Now that was not something that interested me, having been brought up by a father who was positively anti-religion. This minister came to visit me. Brave man really. After putting up with my tirade against religion we started to talk. It turned out he was a real wonderful guy. Deeply caring, and with a head full of good thoughts and great ideas. It seemed he had a group of young people writing new hymns. Trouble was he said they could not write music, “Would I consider giving them just a little of my time to help them?” Life changing moment. It was not to be too much later I was to head off to Iona a little Island off the coast of Scotland. But that is for another day and another time.

For today my thought is this. That the low and the bleak times should never been seen as the end in themselves. They can so easily become the turning points, the beginning of something better. Somebody made a comment that I knew nothing about art. They were right I do not. This much I do know though it has become very much a part of my life and has given me a motive to get up in the morning and to rejoice that I still seem to be able to bring some joy to the lives of others. So here is to all the painters blocks taking place right now. May they be life changing moments that go on to enhance the world of art. When I was a minister of religion I used to call these moments, “Dark nights of the soul”. What could we invent for the painters block, because it sounds more like something for beheading that the birth of new creativity? Has anybody go any suggestions? I have started to call my block moments my, “Moments under the rainbow.” I apologise for this little meander this morning, but it has been good to reflect back.

Can I say at that this blog never ever sets out to upset or offend but to open up routes for discussion. Ralph

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Doors, Monks and the Questions of Life

Two stories of doors come to my mind today. The most recent is the discovery by some small theatre that Banksy had painted a mouse on the backstage door. The owner was unaware of its presence until the phone calls started to arrive offering to buy the doors. So in the early hours of the morning, 2 am I think, the owner and one of his employees went down to the said theatre and removed the doors and boarded up the space. They are still deciding what to do with this, “Work of art”. So in a moment Graffiti becomes art. or was it art before they took the door from its hinges?


The next door is the one on the cottage owned by Salvador Dali. He on the beach beside the cottage that he shared with his wife Gala that when the fishermen were cleaning their brushes, after painting their boats, they did this on any old piece of wood lying around. He asked them in the future to do this on the door of the cottage. After a passage of time he had the door removed and he applied his signature. The, “work of art” then sold for a price high enough to build an extension to the house.

So we still have that question. What is art?

There is a story of two monks on a journey together. They had a vow that they would not speak to females having taken a vow of chastity. Early one morning as they walked, after a nights rain, they met a young beautiful women dressed in a lovely Kimono. because of the rain the road ahead was covered in mud and she was standing wondering how to negotiate this obstacle. One of the monk lifted her in his arms and carried her over the hazard. On placing her back on her feet she was full of thanks. He spoke to her and said he was pleased that he was able to be of assistance.

For the rest of that day the two journeyed on. The monk who had carried the beautiful young girl spoke to his companion once or twice but received no reply. As the day drew to a close the monk eventually asked his companion. “Have I offended you? I have spoken to you more than once and each time you have ignored me”. The other monk then spoke. “Not only did you speak to that young beautiful girl, you carried her in your arms.” Ah said the first monk. But you see I only carried her for a moment. You have carried her in your heart all day.

How often we carry our garbage with us refusing to let go of the old prejudices and hang ups. Or we are like the person who goes to worship taking with them all the woes and baggage which they leave at the door of the place of prayer only to collect it all on the way back out.

Maybe this is a bit like finding the answer to the, “What is art?” question. Maybe we all have to open our eyes to what others see that we might be missing. Also maybe our own art will improve if we unclutter our thinking and allow the work to speak to us more. For me that might mean listening to the rules slowing down giving the work more thought, for others it might be the very opposite. it may mean stop all the angst over a painting and the touching and retouching. Having said that I have listened to a few people who have said to me that I did go a stage to far with the last painting I did. I just might go have another look.

So, What is Art? Has anybody got anything to add to the debate. Right I will go and collect my baggage and get on with my day. Ha ha.

Can I say at  that this blog never ever sets out to upset or offend but to open up routes for discussion. Ralph

Monday, 1 February 2010

I hope this tale does not sound too gory but I tell it in all its realism. I was helping the meat delivery man to make his delivery to a shop. I was working in the shop at the time. Being small in stature and not blessed with the greatest of physique I took every opportunity to lift heavy sides of beef. All was going well all that was left to unload was a large churn of blood. (I did warn you). This was used in the making of that fine delicacy black pudding, normally served as part of a meal, but in Scotland we never do anything by halves and it is usually eaten here coated in batter and deep fried. Anyway I lifted the churn and on the third step down from the rear of the lorry it slipped from my grasp rolled down the steps and of course burst open. After the lorry had gone I was clearing the mess with a brush and buckets of water. At this point a lady dressed in all her finery and fur coat was passing. In what I in those days would call a posh accent she enquired, “Has there been an accident”. Yes I replied there has been an accident you have not long missed it. “Was it serious?” Oh yes I said very serious. Within an hour it was all over the street and further and the local press had called to find out information on the accident. “I am told it is very serious”, said the reporter. “I have been told there was a considerable amount of blood on the roadway.”


Accidents are not always what they seem to be. As an artist I am constantly looking and aware of what I now call, My Happy Little Events. When there occur, and they do from time to time I go with the flow. At least two of my fastest sales occurred after happy accidents. So often when they occur it is easy to jump to the wrong conclusions and thing the project is now a disaster. It may well be that the project you started out on is a disaster but the canvas or paper may now hold the potential for an even better creation.

Accidents happen. Sadly in our present blame culture and sue culture we seem to have forgotten this. There always has to be somebody at fault, somebody who can be sued. Somebody has to pay the price before “justice” is done. it is a strange fact that justice is not always what we would want it to be.

The painting above I called this one "Carnival Jazz" one of my Happy Little Events.


Can I say at this point that this blog never ever sets out to upset or offend but to open up routes for discussion. Ralph

Death of a Lovely Person and an Encouraging Artist

 It is with great sadness that I have learned of the death of a wonderful lady and a very unassuming yet beautiful artist. Enid Bell was one of those ladies who just quietly painted some of the most beautiful art. She was a lover of flowers and was often seen at Dunfermline Art Club with a vase of new blooms and constructing a beautiful painting. She also enjoyed painting beautiful watercolour landscapes such as the one used in the Dunfermline Art Club Calendar I know she will be sadly missed by all at the art club and each member will have their own thoughts and memories. My own are the words of quiet encouragement she gave in an unassuming way. I spoke to he while she was in hospital and even here she had nothing but positive kind and thoughtful words. Enid will be missed but never forgotten and her art will bring joy for years to come to all who knew her.