‘Saint Kevin and the Blackbird’s Nest’

Completed  18/04/14

Saint Kevin and the Blackbird’s Nest 
Acrylic on gessoed panel. 60 x 81 cm. 2014

Lots of sgraffito here, used to enliven the the surface of the painting and add sparkle to the trees and bushes. As I’ve always loved painting water, the river has been a particular pleasure to work on. (It’s the river Wye, running past Catchmay’s Court at Llandogo, home of The Old Stile Press and our friends Nicolas and Frances.)

This marks my return to the subject of Saint Kevin after a long absence. Seamus Heaney’s poem has for many years been the source of inspiration for my work on the theme, and indeed I’ve made enough paintings to merit a whole Kevin and the Blackbird section in the Artlog archive. (Check it out in the ‘Topics’ box at top right.)

Kevin and the Blackbird’s Nest will be in:

Telling Tales: new narrative works from Clive Hicks-Jenkins

Tegfryn Gallery/Oriel Tegfryn

Menai Bridge


Opens May 10th

a ‘good friday’ morning stroll around the garden

I love the garden best when the turf paths are freshly mown…

… and the herbaceous beds are a riot of greens punctuated with the singing blue of grape-hyacinths.

Next to the lawn, this shady path…

…leads to a bank massed with just-about-to-flower lily-of-the-valley.

Most of the ornamental cherries have peaked and dropped their blossom, though this ‘eating’ cherry has just reached its glorious best.

The Solomon’s seal is about to flower…

… as is the wild lilac.

Ours is a garden that wears Spring well.



Lovage and creeping-Jenny.


face crazy

I can’t stop drawing faces at the moment, a sort-of-obsession. I guess I’m ‘Face Crazy’! The studio floor is strewn with dozens of them, drawn and discarded. Drifts of faces wafting about with the dust-bunnies. This sheet of faces is lying on a table where I can pause to doodle another one every time I pass. Where will it all end? (I think that’s definitely my friend Victor Beiramar Diniz at top right!)

the saint’s landscape

Day seven, and the appearance of some sheep.

The landscape draws on work I did for the cover image for the second volume of The Old Stile Press Bibliography. Below Catchmays Court a gate leads from the garden through a hedge and into a field where balsamic poplars line the river bank, and sheep picturesquely graze. It seems the most perfect setting for this saint-in-the-making who turned his back on the world, an anchorite meditating in the wilderness. (But a slightly tamed wilderness here, with gates and fences.)

I’m cock-a-hoop that the great Ronnie Burkett popped by my Facebook page and clicked a ‘like’ on today’s Saint Kevin and the Blackbird image. I’ve admired his puppet artistry for so long. The man is a genius.

the artist’s sketches and what they led to

Not all of the drawings from yesterdays post came to anything. Some, like the drawings made in the ‘Paris’ sketchbook, were just ways to gather information and help me better understand what I was looking at. (There’s nothing like drawing to help get inside an artwork. I recommend putting the camera away and taking out the notebook and pencil.) But many of the sketchbooks were working toward projects, whether paintings or books, and so here are a few of of the outcomes from images begun in them.

Project Book: EQUUS

The sketchbook was preliminary to work on the illustrated edition of Peter Shaffer’s play Equus. (The Old Stile Press, 2009.) The drawing on the right prepared the way for the following study…

… and then the frontispiece of the finished book.

The portrait of troubled Alan Strang as shown in the initial drawing here, went through multiple incarnations before making it into the book, though the same basic ideas held throughout. Here’s one of the finished illustrations.

Project Book: CARN EUNY

The Carn Euny sketchbook had a massive influence on the paintings that came after it. The one below, a still-life with a Staffordshire ‘Girl and Dog’, recognisably references both landscape drawings of the page-spread.


The Soldier’s Tale project book prepared the way for two forays into the theme, the first of which was a 2012 concert performance of the work in Washington DC.


This drawing of the village of Montclar in Catalunya, was made specifically to take back to the studio to use as background reference for the painting Christ Writes in the Dust, a commission from the Methodist Collection of Modern British Art.


The goat and ‘fish lamp’ in the drawings above, are of terracotta pieces I made in the pottery workshop of Pip Koppel. The ceramics have since frequently made appearances in my still-life paintings.

The drawing of a still-life in front of a seascape is one of a group that led to a series of paintings on the theme. The pelican ceramic is by the artist John Maltby.


The schematic sketches of vessels in this project book, were realised in later still-life paintings. Here’s just one of them.


The character studies for Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale shown in this page-spread of the puppet sketchbook, were developed into portrait images of Joseph and the Princess used in the animated film I made to accompany the chamber-work, screened at the the 2013 Hay Festival.


The frottage drawings in the above sketchbook were ideas toward the cover of a brochure celebrating fifty years of  a youth theatre I’d once been a member of.

the artist’s sketchbooks

There are so many of them that I can only show a tiny selection here. These days I mainly use sketchbooks when travelling. For drawing in the studio and around Ty Isaf, I use loose-leaf paper. Although I work directly into the sketchbooks, occasionally a ‘project’ book additionally becomes a repository for drawings made on loose-leaf.

Project Book: EQUUS

Project Book: CARN EUNY








If I had a single piece of advice to offer to any artist, it would be this: whatever your practice or medium, draw constantly. Be like the dancer, who never lets a day go past without a class. Draw as much as you can, wherever you can. Draw from observation (of course) but draw for practice too, from memory or from imagination, mark-making for precision or beauty-of-line alone, regardless of subject or likeness. Draw with pencil, with nibbed-pen, with charcoal or crayon or Conté pencil or biro. Draw with brushes and inks, or twigs dipped in watercolour or with old toothbrushes or the tips of feathers. Draw with anything. Subvert habit with new experience. Drawing can be for recording, but more than that it’s an expressive form that can be endlessly reinvented. Keep project-books and work at them even when the spirit doesn’t move you. Work in them out of discipline and respect for your art-form. They’re money in the bank for later, when you need the inspiration stored in them. Draw. Draw again. Never stop drawing.

Drawing is life.

the suit of many colours

Day four at the easel has been spent finishing Saint Kevin’s jacket, complete with embroidered stars and appliquéd hearts and diamonds. I’ve particularly enjoyed painting the frilled edge to the velvet collar. In his hand (not shown here) the egg-laden nest is without the hen. I guess she’s left the saint as egg-sitter while she’s away feeding! But she’s nevertheless present in the appliqué of his jacket, lying over his heart.

As I paint I can hear the blackbirds in the garden.

a ‘Jack’ album…

… just because!

When he first arrived

Best pals: Jack with Tom

With his son, Ludo

In front of the Aga at Ty Isaf

Before we had central heating

Pip Koppel gave Jack to us when he was a puppy

A ‘cwtch’ with Peter!

In the garden at Ty Isaf

The beloved ‘Kong’ frisbee. (There have been many, replaced whenever lost.)

My dog the puppeteer

The last photograph we have of Peter’s brother, Martin, a few months before he died

With the Mari Lwyd at Ty Isaf

At Penparc Cottage

An evening visitor to our doorstep

Theatre dog: first day of stage rehearsals for The Mare’s Tale

Evening at Ty Isaf

The last word on who rules at our roost!