Another Monday and another morning devoted to sorting the detritus of the weekend.  I spend a considerable portion of my life on this planet just clearing up those things that others can’t be bothered with themselves.  That’s fine if you have nothing better to do but desperately frustrating otherwise.  Over the years I’ve developed a routine whereby I sacrifice Monday in varying degrees to the drudgery of household management, which leaves Tuesday relatively unsullied and available for work.  Not that this Monday was overwhelming as detritus goes, partly due to some very sharp warnings and partly that we spent Sunday on the road in forlorn support of our football team.  I could have started: another Monday, another football match (or 2).  If you’d told me 15 years ago that football would loom so large in my life, I would have cried laughing.  But like taking on detritus, a mother has to subscribe to the interests of her children or risk a commonality based solely on filial relationship.  At the moment, football and academic pressures various are all consuming.  The only upside of having lost so ignominiously yesterday is that we won’t have to make the gruelling journey to Cardiff and back next month, not to mention the money we’ll save.

I write this as I wait for the sun to take the chill off my workroom.  It seems to have its own arctic micro-climate which has made working very uncomfortable over the cold winter.  Today is bright with sunlight after the wind has blown off the morning mists but the wind still has its winter accent.  The kids are back to school, meaning that I have no dog-walkers.  Apart from detritus, I’ve spent part of the morning rounding up wayward terriers from various fields and retrieving some particularly noxious rotting viscera from my Newfoundland.  No wonder it takes me time to get down to work…..

I have all but finished the last of 3 paintings for my final show.  They are based on the alchemical sequence of nigredo – albedo – rubedo; that is the transition from putrefaction to the red elixir of the philosophers.  Along the way there are many allegories and interpretations but my interest lies in the Jungian interpretation of the alchemical process: that it signifies a union of the conscious and unconscious which affords knowledge of the force of life or the divine, if you prefer.  Not being religious, I prefer the former but it is difficult not to associate the symbolism of alchemy with that of major religions.  After researching my dissertation, I could have chosen countless directions in which to take my work all based on the theme of a sublimated, primal consciousness.  Most tempting, and one to which I shall certainly return, was the development of the alphabet as the prime form of communication and record.  Appropriate as it was to making books, it was less conducive to painting and, in any case, I had already put a great deal of thought into the universality of certain symbols, in particular the mandala or circle within a square.  Mandala is a Hindu word meaning ‘magic circle’; to Jung, it represented symbolically the ‘nuclear atom’ of the human psyche.  I was fascinated, especially after I had found an enormous zodiac on the wall of a 16thC Greek church, by how the symbol appears everywhere if you’re looking for it.  It forms part of a body of knowledge that has been superseded by rational science.  At present, when time allows, I am reading about Paracelsus, probably the most famous alchemist who ever lived but also regarded by many as the first scientist as well.  He marks the parting of the way of magic and intuition and the way of science and reason.

So, the first painting in my sequence of three is Quintessence, comprising 4 canvases, each a metre square, which all fit together as one whole.  I will explain the numerological significance next time but suffice to say at this juncture that the physical assembly of the finished painting is far more onerous than I’d anticipated.   All the paintings have proved problematic in different ways.  This one was structurally problematic from the start.  I used a conventional stretcher but, in order to make the painting more of an object in its own right, edged the stretcher with MDF to a depth of 10cm.  Of course, when the canvas was stretched over the support, the edges warped so I had to resort to bolting and bracketing in order to get a fair fit of all 4 together.  Here’s the finished article which is propped up on my dining room wall after spending 3 months in sole occupation of our spare bedroom.  If you think it resembles a dart-board, then ask yourself why the perfect ‘hit’ is the centre of a dartboard…..and why a bull’s eye?  Answers on a postcard, please.


Well, here we are at Easter Monday, a sunny, blustery day outside and here I am crouched over my computer, writing this.  Work consumes all at present and my social life has died of neglect.  We normally go skiing at Easter but this year we all have far too much to do at home; we’re all on holiday but it doesn’t seem like it.  The boys have gone to the footie but M is doing her Art GCSE coursework and after this, I’ll be doing something similar, then cooking supper.  I’m firmly of the opinion that the time to undertake a degree, even part time, is not when you have a home and family to look after.  No matter how ‘on fire’ you feel creatively, domestic organisation always takes precedence.  It can be dreadfully frustrating at times and I have been known to complain volubly and often but I wouldn’t have it any other way now.

As the blog intro says, I make paintings and artist’s books, which incorporate printmaking.  Over the past couple of years I’ve developed a very fluid painting style using pigments mixed with varying ratios of oil and turpentine, sometimes thinned with white spirit.  I was strongly influenced a few years ago by Gerhard Richter’s aquarelles and was struggling to imitate his dense curtains of colour when we were visited by the artist, Kwai Lau, who gave a workshop demonstration of her technique.  It is her technique that has influenced my own painting methods.  I suppose you could say that my work is based on colour and proportion, and it is, but I have to have a concept from which to work in order to develop the image. 

At CCAD we progress along a path of ‘negotiated learning’ with increasing independence.  We are encouraged to link our dissertation with our body of work, which makes eminent sense to me.   My dissertation grew out of my work and vice versa.  Briefly, I was concerned with the cycle of life, as Dylan Thomas incomparably put it:

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower

Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees

Is my destroyer

and looking at myths of regeneration such as the Green Man image.  The point of my dissertation was that, no matter how masked by the cosmetic of contemporary culture and religious dogma, life is still organised on the primordial belief system of the ancients, based on the passage of the sun and moon and superstitions regarding the annual ‘rebirth’ of nature.  The myths and symbols repeat across many belief systems, indicating an ancient wisdom sublimated over the ages and all but extinguished in post Cartesian belief in the West, where sign has been superseded by the written word.  The story of Man’s expulsion from Eden allegorises the loss of this primal wisdom or consciousness, the signs of which remain in legend, fantasy and myth and also in arcane belief systems such as Alchemy.  Carl Jung posited that we have a conscious self and an unconscious ego, which should strive to join together in a process he termed individuation.  He interpreted the alchemical process as an allegory of individuation; the union of opposites, the fixed and the volatile, male and female, sol and luna.  The search for the Holy Grail is interpreted by many as a similar allegory (by the way, Mike did you know the HG or Nanteos Cup was once kept in Lloyd’s Bank in Aberystwyth?).  So, my present work is based on the alchemical sequence itself which I will describe in the next blog.

Here, though, we’re still at Easter and I won’t even begin to talk you through the signs and symbols that permeate this festival.  If I manage to get my images on this blog, they are concerned with such things.  They concern the passage of the sun, Twins depicting the twin gods of the waxing and waning year; Triple Moon Goddess, the passage of life reflected in the cycle of the moon; the birth of the alphabet.


A quick note for Mike before I start.  Yes, I do know what you mean.  My Welsh connections aside, I think West Wales and Cardigan Bay are some of the most beautiful places anywhere on earth.  I gave up a PGCE place mainly because I feared I would spend the rest of my days floating around the Cambrian Hills and never get down to life proper.  The Aber experience is a bit like North East England or an undiscovered holiday spot – you don’t disabuse people of their negative preconceptions because it leaves more for you.

Back to the blog.  Thursday was a very good day.  The Boro, to quote our local football commentator, ‘made the greatest comeback since Lazarus’ and my interim feedback tutorial went as well as could be expected at this stage.  It’s amazing how Teesside civic pride is connected to the success of its football club.  At the moment, the pride of being ‘a small town in Europe’ is almost palpable.  I’m not a native of Tees Valley though my husband and children are.  I was born and grew up in Hong Kong and, like Jay, have always felt a sense of displacement.  I suppose our situations are sort of opposite; if he’ll forgive me, if he’s a BBC does that make me a CBB?  (ouch)  I can hear Dr. Jung making mutterings about synchronicity….

We haven’t been used to receiving formative feedback over the years.  The full timers finish their semesters in January/February and June, whereas we do the equivalent of one semester a year.  So you go the whole year without a clue as to your grade progress; I’ve always quipped that it’s a little like one of those old-fashioned game shows where you ‘open the box’ or a where a waiter whisks away the silver top from your order – you’re either delighted or have to fix your face to suit.  Not that grades are the be-all but indicative assessment can only inform, in my opinion, and is very welcome. 

How the full-timers cope with their dissertation and final show in the same year defeats me.  They also have to cope with 4 production/evaluation modules and professional practice.  The college is pretty hot on its professional practice emphasis, which I think is valuable for those actually looking to survive in the art workplace.  There is now a strong ‘curatorial practice’ theme running through the programmes behind us, again of enormous value for the workplace.  Those of us who are in our 6th year have seen the course change several times for the later intakes, presumably to accommodate the needs of a professional art world.  So, for us, this year is preparing for our degree show and collating a professional promotional ‘package’.  Alongside that, we are also assessed on our production and research/development strategies.  The latter were the basis of the feedback on Thursday and, not surprisingly, the main weakness many of us display at this stage is the progression of ideas and skills (or lack of same) because of the inevitable limitations imposed by planning and producing a body of work for a specific purpose: the final show.  I don’t know how one avoids that.

My work next time when I have sorted out some images as well.  I’ll try and make Monday blog-day and perhaps add the odd comment here and there.  Mike, you need to allocate time when you have more to do than the time available comfortably allows.  Tell me about it!


There is tension in the Bloom household.  Mother is reaching the end of a 6year part- time Fine Art degree course.  Son, J, in his customarily applied manner, is preparing to finish his A levels while he waits to hear from his last UCAS application.  Daughter, M, to whom organised application does not come naturally, is revising for GCSEs.  Meanwhile, Father, R, bears the pressure of being senior partner in a cutting-edge law firm based in the North East.  To add to all that the Boro have to turn around a 2-0 defeat in the UEFA Cup at the Riverside tomorrow night.  There’s definitely tension at the Blooms.

I study part-time because my family takes priority in my life and I will inevitably include them over the next few weeks. I must say the past couple of years have not felt like part time to them or to me.  I feel part of the reason I was selected to write this blog was that, as a wife and mother, I present a somewhat different perspective than the usual graduating student – if there is such a thing.  Not that I haven’t been that creature myself, way back in the last century, the 70s to be precise – huge hair, curtain cloth cut into denims and lashings of Leonard Cohen (entirely coincidentally, I was at UCW Aber, like Mike).

There are 5 part-timers graduating from CCAD this year.  3 of us are from the original group of 7 or 8 (so long ago I can’t remember!) who started out in 2000.  Fallout seems to be a hazard of the part-time course and disappointing uptake will probably lead to its withdrawal altogether.  We have an odd relationship with the full-timers, getting to know various groups at different times, usually due to Contextual Studies modules.  Probably the ones we got to know best were last year’s graduates with whom we produced our dissertations.  This year’s cohort was virtually unknown to us but we have built bridges through our degree show fundraising (another blog) and planning the catalogue.  This year marks the tenth year of Fine Art graduation from CCAD and coincides with the opening of our very own and very special new art gallery in Middlesbrough.  The full-timers have effectively taken over our ‘hut’ at Burlam Road post deluge (another blog), meaning that for the next few weeks we’re all confined to barracks – which brings me back home.

I work from home anyway, going into college on our designated Thursdays, so you can see that we part-timers develop in a rather solitary manner.  I paint in part of an unconverted cowshed attached to our former farmhouse home.  Over the past couple of years I have been developing a very fluid painting style using pure pigments, oil and turps.  I have always enjoyed printmaking and used it as a reason to work at college on our ‘days’.  Recently it has taken on greater significance for me in connection with artist’s books.  I have always loved books and paper so book-making is an ideal medium for all the themes I’ve been storing up to use in the future.  I should have mentioned more about my work but it will have to wait until next week now.  I’m running overtime since I made a complete hash of submitting this blog earlier today.  I’m in to college tomorrow so hopefully some kind soul there will help me post some images before too long.  Let’s see if I can get this on first, though.  Fingers crossed…..