The final blog post for the ‘Armchair Artist Residency’.

The Beaney House of Knowledge and Art: The Front Room ‘Armchair Artist Residency’ blog.

Blog number six, February 2014:

In a cardboard box on a shelf in the museum storerooms there is an ancient flint hand axe with a distinctive loop-design at its pointed end.  The loop is a naturally occurring feature within the rock itself but someone knapped the flint in such a way as to place it just so.  I held it and it fitted my right hand perfectly (it felt wrong in my left hand).  My fingers found the indentations around its edge and my thumb settled in a shallow concave dip in its surface.  It felt to me like a craft tool.  I wondered why I found its looping line so pleasing.  Maybe it’s because I recognise in it evidence of that familiar human habit of creative self-expression and play: that urge to transform mindless inanimate material into things with meanings and significance or simply to make them look more interesting.  That museum object has been haunting my thoughts.  It was made to be useful but the deliberateness of the placing of that loop also expressed a side to someone’s imagination and their pleasure in making something.  Museum objects make you think.  My ‘works of art’ have no use beyond that of being ‘works of art’ and I wonder about their place in the world of contemporary art.

I’ve come to the end of my time as ‘The Front Room Artist Armchair Resident’.  The brief was simply to “…be inspired by the collections, the people, the place and the stories.”  It didn’t involve a commission to make works of art.  I was simply expected to make visits to the museum and to write six blogs about my experience.  I spent time looking at the museum objects (the stained glass window on the stairs and the ‘Saxon’ disc broche are particular favourites of mine) and I drew various museum objects to see what my drawings made of them (I’ve written about this in previous blogs).  My exhibition in The Drawing Room was a fantastic and unexpected extra to my time as ‘The Armchair Resident’ and it gave me an opportunity to show sketchbook-drawings alongside some of the drawings I had done in the museum.

The residency gave me an excuse to muse on my relationship with the museum and with the town of Canterbury.  A visit to the Canterbury always used to involve spending some time in the cathedral.  When I was little I loved to go there with my Mum.  It was a place to find perspective.  I can’t afford to go there these days (the entrance cost is extortionate) and so, sadly, it no longer plays a part in my life and I miss it.  But then, maybe, the act of Drawing is a kind of prayer, a reaching-out, or at least a kind of meditation.  This might sound silly but I mean this in the sense that Drawing is an act of paying quiet attention to the presence of something outside of your self.  When you draw, you have to be open to the possibility of changing your mind about what you think you are in the presence of.  Good lines are Drawing’s simple blessings – these are the lines that are better than the ones you might have been able to foresee.  They’re the ones that say: ‘Look, it could also be like this!’  You can’t consciously force the good lines into being; they can only come into play when you’re deeply engaged in making sense of the presence of a thing through Drawing.  People who draw will understand this (we walk amongst you and we are legion!).

It’s been difficult but interesting trying to find the words to describe my thoughts and so I’ll end with a quote from John Berger’s book, Berger on Drawing in which he also acknowledges how hard it is to write about art:

‘ALL GENUINE ART approaches something which is eloquent but which we cannot altogether understand.  Eloquent because it touches something fundamental.  How do we know?  We do not know.  We simply recognize.  Art cannot be used to explain the mysteries.  What art does is to make it easier to notice.  Art uncovers the mysterious.  And when noticed and uncovered, it becomes more mysterious.  I suspect writing about art is a vanity, leading to sentences like the above.  When words are applied to visual art, both lose precision.  Impasse‘.

Thank you to the people at The Beaney for having me as the ‘Front Room Artist Armchair Resident’ and thank you for giving me the chance to exhibit my drawings in The Drawing Room gallery.  If I could have afforded the time and bus fairs it would have been interesting to have drawn everyone who works in the museum and make museum objects of you.

…and finally, will the person who pinched the folder from The Drawing Room please return it (the Beaney put together a couple of information folders to go along with my exhibition in The Drawing Room).  I am extremely flattered to think that someone wanted one so much that they turned to a life of crime to get one but The Beaney can’t afford to lose their posh folders.  You’re very welcome to keep the pages but if you can use your stealth and criminal genius to put the empty folder back that would be nice.

Thank you for reading these blogs.  I wish you all Good Drawing (and if you think you can’t draw, come to my drawing classes in Margate and I’ll prove you wrong)!

In re-posting these blogs I’ve had to tweak a few sentences here and there but mostly these are as they were originally published for the Beaney’s website.  I’ve re-posted them here because they are no longer to be found there.  These are not works of great literature but I think there are some good ideas in them (I think the firs two blog posts aren’t too bad).  Since doing this Artist Residency I’ve continued to develop some of the ideas I was working on at the time and you can find more images and posts about my art-work on this ‘a-n’ blog, my wordpress blog ( and on my facebook page (   



Blog number five of six. 

The Beaney House of Knowledge and Art: The Front Room ‘Armchair Artist Residency’ blog.

Blog number five, January 2014:

I was told that there was an ancient Egyptian mummified human head somewhere in the museum storerooms and I thought it might be interesting to see it and to see what would come from drawing it.

It turns out that the head was donated to the museum a few years ago and that almost nothing is known about it beyond what can be guessed through what is generally known about ancient Egyptian remains and by comparing it to other similar artefacts in other collections.  It was probably bought by a collector on the open market sometime in the nineteenth century and has sat in a house in Ramsgate before eventually finding its way to The Beaney.  I wonder what the actual human being, whose head is once was, would make of its journey and I wonder if there is any trace of that person’s appearance still remaining in his mummified remains.

This person’s head now rests on soft white fabric in a sealed box with glass windows at the top and on two sides.  A large area of its right side is missing and the papery flesh has dropped downwards so that the bone structure of the skull can be seen to be slightly at odds with the surface of the face.  I could make out the remains of a dark painted line around the eye and another, light-coloured, line around the edge of the face.  The skin looks like papier-mâché.  There is hardly a face there to be seen in it.

I began drawing it.  I did so with an open mind and with no outcome in mind beyond looking and seeing what my drawing made of it.  It was a difficult thing to draw as the protective glass made it quite hard to see.  I did twenty-six drawings over the course of two sessions of about four hours each time.  From some angles you can catch sight of the shape of the skull beneath the face and thereby glimpse the general shape of the person’s face.  Earlier in the year I spent an afternoon drawing some of the skulls in St Leonard’s church in Hythe.  Each and every one of those skulls had its own character and individuality.  You could see tantalising glimpses various types of faces in each of those skulls.  The living face which once animated this, now mummified, head is much more difficult to imagine.  The preserved face (what remains of it) has become an obscuring mask.  I look at these drawings and I know I would do these differently now.

[I remember that drawing the mummified head was a surprisingly unsatisfactory experience.  For a start there were practical difficulties involved in drawing it: the glass box that housed it made it hard to see and there was very little of the face remaining and the papery remains of skin  was separated from the skull in a way that held very little of the shape of a human face.  I remember feeling sad that these human remains seemed hardly human at all.  This museum object once contained human thoughts and feelings; and yet, if I hadn’t been told that it was thousands of years old, I could almost have believed that it was a papier-mâché stage prop.  I had hoped I would be able to glimpse some hint of a living face in these remains – this wasn’t to be.  It was a privilege to be allowed to spend time drawing it and I hope I did so in a way which was respectful towards the feelings of the person it once was.]


This is blog number four of six:

The Beaney House of Knowledge and Art: The Front Room ‘Armchair Artist Residency’ blog.

Blog number four, December 2013:

I’ve installed an exhibition of my drawings and sketchbooks in The Drawing Room at The Beaney.  I managed to squeeze everything that is in the exhibition into a couple of large shoulder bags and lug the whole lot over to Canterbury on the number 8 bus.  The journey from Margate takes the best part of an hour and I’ve been doing this trip a lot since becoming the ‘Front Room Artist Armchair Resident’.  This journey has become an important aspect of my ‘Residency’ at The Beaney.  The bus takes me along a line in the landscape which has been there for centuries.  Upstairs at the front of the bus is a good place to sit and notice things and to let my mind wander as the bus draws me across the East Kent landscape.

My exhibition consists of twenty sketchbooks and sixteen loose drawings (I’ve posted a video tour of it on my youtube channel to give you an idea of it).  The loose drawings were done in The Beaney as part of the ‘Front Room Artist Armchair residency’ and the sketchbooks are all recent ones containing drawings of people.  When I installed the work I made the decision to place drawings so that they might subtly relate to each other or direct the gaze in certain ways.  There is no hidden message or overarching theme here.  I simply thought that their placing might bring something extra into play in the mind of the viewer – it is whimsical.  I offer my drawings as interesting things to look at and it’s up to the viewer to look at the drawings and notice things and let the mind wander.

None of these drawings were done for the purpose of being exhibited.  They weren’t designed as ‘Works of Art’ or with an exhibition in mind.  Each drawing was done separately and for its own sake.  If they share a theme, it is that they are all drawings that pay attention to the physical presence of things.  There are drawings of inanimate objects (made of marble, bronze and silver) that were made to look like people and there are drawings of real people being still.  It’s a wonderful thing when someone is happy to be still and let you draw them.  If I did nothing else with my life, drawing people would be a good use of a lifetime.  I wish I could do it more often.

Across the room from my drawings is a small oblong-shaped piece of vellum covered in neat pen-and-ink hand-writing: The Godwine Charter.  A thousand years ago it had a practical function as a legal document but now it has an afterlife as an object of contemplation in a museum.  We can appreciate it as a kind of drawing.  Hand-writing and the kind of lines you find in drawings are similar things.  Both of them are products of human touch and of the time it took to draw them.  That particular human presence and that particular moment of time are subtly replayed every time another person sees it.  It is both trivial and wonderful.  A similar effect can be felt in places too.  My bus journey to Canterbury traces a line in the landscape which was already old when that scribe’s pen was forming those letters on that piece of vellum which sits across the room from my drawings.

We change our minds when we draw.  ‘Objective Drawing’ is a process of continual revision (a good rule-of-thumb is that if your drawing isn’t going wrong then you’re just not trying hard enough!).  Drawings are the trace-evidence of a mind making sense of things.  They show us that someone was here and that they were interested in the presence of someone or of something outside of themselves.

You can watch a youtube video tour of the exhibition by clicking on this link:



This is the third of six blog posts written for my ‘Armchair Artist Residency’ at The Beaney House of Knowledge and Art, in Canterbury, a few years ago.  

The Beaney House of Knowledge and Art: The Front Room ‘Armchair Artist Residency’ blog.

Blog number three, November 2013:

A couple of weeks ago I was allowed to go and have a look around The Beaney’s storerooms.  They are located in the centre of Canterbury in a building you might never notice which is situated half way down a road you might never walk down.  Outwardly there is nothing to tell you what this building hoards a huge collection of museum objects.  I suspect that its anonymity is deliberate and so I’m not going to let on where it is.  Sssh!

The inside is like a hoarder’s house but with the addition of a cataloguing system.  Objects are systematically clumped together according to type.  I saw a cluster of old bicycles, a little line of dusty vacuum cleaners, boxes of flint tools, lots of stuffed animals, shelves of pottery, Saxon spearheads, odd little incomplete glass vessels, samplers sewn by eight year old girls two-hundred and twenty-five years ago… a list of the various types of objects would go on for ages.

Objects have a power to draw meanings and associations to themselves because there is always a wider context in which even the most ordinary object has its place; there are always multiple stories attached to each and every object that has ever been made.  Often, museum objects were unremarkable things in their own ‘lifetime’ (when they were known to someone) but they become objects of contemplation when they are separated from their original context and classified as museum objects.  Collectors and museums grant them an afterlife as objects of contemplation.  Contemporary works of art, on the other hand, are specifically made to come into being as objects of contemplation.

I’ve been working on a series of drawings of plastic toy soldiers (such objects could very easily become museum objects one day).  They are just plastic toy soldiers and my drawings are just drawings; but then objects are never just objects, with singular meanings, and drawings are never just hand-made pictures of things.

The starting point for some of these, ’Dancing Toy Soldier‘, drawings are mass-produced plastic toy soldiers.  This ongoing series of drawings began with a number of drawings of a model soldier falling backwards after being shot or hit by shrapnel.  It happens to be a toy soldier that I used to play with as a child and it was lovingly ‘painted-up’, by my Dad, as a Second World War German soldier (the model actually depicts a British infantryman from the late 1950s or early 1960s).  It shows an imagined final moment of life.  It might also be re-imagined as a depiction of someone lost in an ecstatic moment of dancing.  The figure is at the cusp between balancing and falling.  This serious and dramatic little toy stands about 45mm high and my drawings are equally tiny.

More recently, I have extended this series to include other toy soldiers which could be imagined as if dancing.  One in particular is a model of a ‘Red Indian’ dressed in a bird costume and performing a dance.  Already there are a few real-world associations that are brought to mind.  Few people would use the term, ‘Red Indian’, these days and I’m not sure if anyone makes ‘Cowboy and Indian’ toys anymore.  In its clumsy way, this delicate little toy brings the idea of an ‘exotic’ culture into play.

Recently I have become interested in the use of silverpoint as a drawing medium.  This is a drawing medium with a history going back way to before The Renaissance.  Silverpoint drawings are made by drawing a piece of silver wire over a surface prepared with gesso.  The resulting mid-grey lines cannot be erased.  The grey slowly turns a brown colour over time.  The drawings are worked on and into thick layers of gesso which allows me to scratch and sand back into the drawing so as to be able to repeatedly re-draw each drawing time and time again.  The revision and redrawing allows knew ways of seeing the object to be played out in the drawing.  The figure is re-imagined each time it is redrawn.  Etching needles are also used to draw into the gesso.  There is never really a definite end to these drawings; they are just left as they are at some point and then occasionally they are framed (to protect their fragile surfaces) and put on display for others the look at and contemplate.  I’m not sure how this work will progress in the future or if this series of work has, for now, come to an end.


This was the second of six blogs from my ‘Armchair Artist Residency’ at The Beaney House of Knowledge and Art, Canterbury.


The Beaney House of Knowledge and Art: The Front Room ‘Armchair Artist Residency’ blog.

Blog number two, October 2013:


I continue drawing objects in The Beaney.

The Epstein portrait of Hewlett Johnson (The Red Dean of Canterbury) continues to draw me to it.  Stylistically, it is a typical Epstein portrait with all his signature mannerisms (you’ll see a ‘family resemblance’ about the eyes and lips in all of his portraits).  And yet, this work is believable as a portrait of a particular person with a personality.  It feels alive.  Perhaps part of its aliveness comes from the way in which the viewer is made to complete its form in the mind’s eye.  Its surface is made up of scored lines, clumps of material and deep hollows that catch the light and create shadows so that the sense of the form is partly a figment of sight as well as the presence of the actual physical form.  The slightly fragmented character of the surface generates a sense of unsettledness and movement.  We have to make a little effort to reconcile the various layers of depth and surface details to see its completeness and this makes looking at this portrait an intimate experience full of subtle and surprising moments of recognition and sense of completion.  I like this sculpture and I feel that I like the person it portrays.

A different kind of portrait bust can be found in the ‘Materials and Masters’ room.  I spent far too long trying to draw this, Neo-Classical style, marble portrait of a man from the early nineteenth century whose identity is not known to us today.  I wondered if I could conjure a sense of what he might have been like in life from spending time drawing his marble portrait.

This object was carved more than a hundred years before the Epstein portrait was modelled and cast.  The light on its smooth, and hard-to-like, shiny surface made it difficult to see its form; and its style, with its ‘classicised’ treatment of surface and detail, made it hard to get beneath the surface to feel the presence of a personality.  As I spent more and more time making drawings of it I found myself liking it less and less.  The ‘Classical’ stylisation of the eyes made them especially unrewarding to draw.  Given more time, and if I had the will to make the effort, I’m sure I could make something of this.  I look at my drawings and I can see hints of ideas to come.  Drawing works like that; the things we learn when we draw can’t always be recognised at the time but we get a slight sense of something interesting coming into play.  In the case of my drawings of this object I can see that there is something about the use of fine contour lines that might bare fruit in some future drawing.

As you draw in museums you can’t help but over-hear the things people say.  At one point a couple approached this sculpture and I heard one of them say something like: “Oh look at this, it’s a Roman Emperor” and then, as they got nearer: “Oh, no, it says here that it’s an ‘unknown’ man.” and then they walked away without looking at it.  If the person who paid for this portrait wanted future people to look at it and have nice thoughts about him, he was diddled.

The Latham Centrepiece continues to intrigue me.  I remember seeing this when it was part of The Buffs Regimental Museum (my mum would sometimes take me to Canterbury on the bus and we might go to The Cathedral, The Westgate Tower, The Pilgrim’s Hospital or The Buffs Museum).  The Latham Centrepiece isn’t a fine work of Art but it is dramatic and its purpose was to pass on a story of Lt Matthew Latham’s bravery and self-sacrifice at The Battle of Albuera in 1811.  It succeeds in this perfectly.  It shows Latham, having already lost an arm, grappling with a cavalryman for possession of a ragged flag.  We might quibble at the inaccuracy of the uniforms but another inaccuracy is the way in which the true gruesomeness of his injuries has been left out in order to tell the story visually.  The reality of the event was that, even before he received the wound to his arm, Latham had been slashed in the face and had lost part of his face and his nose.  He was left for dead on the battle field but managed to survive and in 1815 the Prince Regent paid for him to have reconstructive surgery to restore his nose.  A medal was especially designed for him as a tribute to his loyal bravery and he continued to serve in The British Army and eventually retired and moved to France.  In a letter, published in The United Service Gazette of 25th April 1840, it was noted that he “lives at this moment in a secluded part of France, where for years he has remained, unnoticed and unknown.”

These objects were made to tell us about people and perhaps to transmit feelings about them.  As I continue to draw in The Beaney I also continue to work at my other artwork.  All of my drawings feed into to each other in ways that can’t be predicted.  A recent piece is a small (less than half A5 in scale) portrait of my mum (drawn in silver on gesso).  It is based on an unused photo booth image from a strip of three that is dated on the back (in her hand-writing which I have copied on the drawing): Tuesday 22nd November 1983.  It’s part of a projected series of small silverpoint portrait drawings based on unused photo booth images.  In this drawing, as with a lot of my work, I have included text as well as drawing.  It’s an object that, like the ones I’ve been drawing in The Beaney, will go into the future and might or might not mean something to people there.