The Spaces Between. Part 2: On Show


Above: Detail from The Rapture

Looking back, I’m not at all sure why I kicked off the Artlog by deciding to make stage by stage posts of The Congregation of Birds. Given I’d been shy of visitors to the studio while any painting was in progress on the easel, it seems at this distance to have been quite a challenge to myself to have produced fourteen posts during twelve days spent making a single work. I know there were times when I thought I’d made a mistake and should back out of the venture before I made a complete fool of myself. But I stuck with it, and afterwards there was a sense of having achieved what I set out to do, which was to strip some of the mystery away from how a work is produced. The posts can be viewed at this link:

The Saint Francis Diary

Since then I’ve made two start-to-finish posts at the Artlog, and I rather wish I’d made more. They’re a good record, because there can be no doubt that while I imagine I’ll recall all the stages that go into making a painting, without photographs I quite quickly forget what’s under the top layer of it. Sometimes I make notes, especially when something is hard-won and I want a reminder of how I went about the resolving problems. Occasionally I have good intentions to photograph a work-in-progress, but get so deeply engaged by the day-to-day painting, that I forget to make the photographs necessary for a visual diary. My studio diary for Touched may be found if you click on ‘Annunciatons’ in the Topics bar, and once there, scroll down. (There were fourteen days of work that I recorded on it, but alas I ran out of files for my ‘Topics’ box, and couldn’t bundle the posts together in a link for easy access.)

The last ‘diary’ of a painting at the Artlog, was for a large Tobias and the Angel painting. Damian Walford Davies watched its progress, and by the day the painting was finished, he’d produced the beautiful poem that became its title; The Rapture.

Tobias and Raphael Diary

Although there haven’t been any more ‘diaries’ of paintings, I do try to post regular project updates at the Artlog, and Hansel & Gretel and Skin/Skôra may both be located in the Topics box. I hope shortly to add Gawain and the Green Knight, but first need to work out how to upgrade the number of categories that I’m allowed. I’ve currently reached my limit.


Jack is my companion at all times, and as he has a basket at the ready for snoozing in up in the studio, it’s little wonder that he occasionally makes appearances in my paintings. Here in a detail from The Rapture (2011) he’s been angelically hoisted aloft, along with his master, like aerialists from Cirque du Soleil.

Jack is an accomplished model, and he posed beautifully in the studio for this starring role alongside Raphael and the angel’s young charge, Tobias. Of course I didn’t dangle Jack from a hook in the ceiling while I painted him. He was lying on his side in his basket, but by depicting his harness as though it’s bearing his weight, and his ears as though streaming in the wind, the illusion of flight is conjured. Tobias’s untied and ribboning shoelace is probably my favourite part of the composition, along with Jack’s sideways look at the viewer. The oversized hand belongs to Raphael, the ‘catcher’ in this trapeze act.

It’s interesting to note that before I ever read the bible account of Tobias and the Angel (or the Tobias-themed novel Miss Garnet’s Angel by Sally Vickers), I always assumed the dog in the many paintings I’d seen of the subject, belonged not to Tobias, but to angel Raphael. It took my friends Nicolas and Frances to point out my error, by which time I was already wedded to my own notion. And so I reinvented the story, in my head, as one in which a dog arrives unannounced and is taken in as a stray by Tobias, though in reality it’s an emissary sent on ahead to smooth the way for its true master’s arrival. (This is my habit. If a story doesn’t quite fit together as I want it to, then I’ll add a subtext that no-one need know about other than me. In this way I’m like an actor figuring out the back-story that makes his character tick.)

In this detail from Green George (2007), Jack accompanies the maiden on a grassy knoll overlooking the killing-field, where both may have met their fates in the jaws of a dragon had not Saint George intervened and saved the day. Jack looks very interested in the action, and as soon as the dragon has been dispatched, he’s going to come down to check that the deed has been done well!

Finally we have My Dream Farm (2010), shown here in its entirety. You’ll have to play spot-the-dog with this one, as Jack is so small in the composition that he’s easily missed. Click on the image to enlarge it.

Read Damian Walford’s Tobias and the Angel poem The Rapture, HERE.

the rapture, completed remembrance sunday 2011

The Rapture

The Rapture

2011 – Acrylic on Panel – 153 x 122 cm


The Rapture

Earlier that day, sensing something

archangelic in the air, they cordoned off


the cool piazza, locked the domed

basilica, closed the crossing


to the island charnel house and church.

When the quattrocento stage was set,


they sent the scapegoat out, the lure –

fishing-rod in hand, patched terrier


to heel – and drew the blackout curtains

close. When he walked in later,


brilliant as the fish he held, they gathered

round to touch his suit and sun-bleached


hair: So did it speak? they asked, afraid;

What colour were its wings? And did it


burn? No words, he said, or fire;

but from that height I saw beyond


the valley to an exit road where drones

then jetplanes strafed a speeding column


black, and men crept into holes, their

pounded flesh the many colours of his wings.


Damian Walford Davies 2011

e-mail from clive to damian

Dear Muse

The painting is just about done. I’m off to the studio and I will be completing it, I would hope, by mid-afternoon. Yesterday I made some substantial changes to it and with astonishing rapidity that which had been driving me to near despair became whole instead of a poorly assembled patchwork quilt. What a relief! I slept soundly last night, no wandering off to the studio in the small hours!
Peter will photograph it when the daylight has gone and we can set up the studio lamps. It’s going to be bugger to get right as it’s so big to cast an even light over, but Peter did Green George with the same lamps so hopefully he’ll prevail. The painting is due to go on the Artlog before midnight. We’ve had consistently high visitor stats during the progress of this painting, and it’s been a challenge to sometimes show what I have not been happy with at the end of each day at the easel. Yesterdays post, where the unresolved became resolved, made me very happy. Certainly the poem, finished ahead of the painting, impacted it in many ways. Tobias transformed from a brunette to a blonde, I completely re-thought the fish and made the decision to leave the sky an uninterrupted  field of near black. Sigificantly a print-out of the poem lay next to the easel, and as I read and re-read it throughout each day, the tone of it transferred to the panel, aided and abetted by Britten on the CD player. Now poem and painting seem hatched from one egg to me, which is as it should be seeing as they’re twins, though the slow one certainly took his time emerging!
So from now on the painting will not be ‘Tobias and the Angel’, as it has been throughout the process of its creation, but will bear your title, to be revealed when it goes online tonight. I assume that you might one day want to publish the poem and that as such you’d prefer it didn’t appear on the Artlog with the painting. If I’m wrong about this then please tell me, because though clearly it would be lovely to yoke them together I’ll entirely understand if you’d prefer me not to. (I’m happy enough that the poem is to be on the gallery walls, available to all who visit there.)
C xxx

e-mail from damian to clive

Dear Master,

What a lovely email. You’re a writer as well as a painter, Mr H-J.

The painting is astonishing. It really is. Tobias’s shoe against the conifer forest is stunning, as is the collection of built objects around the basilica, and the beautiful shadow of the graveyard wall. I’m so grateful to you for inviting me to respond to the work; it’s been so exciting clocking in to see the latest, and then going back further on the blog to see the several stages. Can’t wait to see it whole, later today.

Please do put the poem up — it doesn’t exist separately from the painting in my mind. It’s meant to be a very dark poem, really: a hint of sacrificial victimhood in some way delivered from horror by confronting it from an aerial view. I got that immediately from the painting in its early stages.

Let’s work together again. And congratulations, mister.


radical changes

Better photographs today as for once I was able to take them by daylight. Usually they’re done after dark with lamps shoved in rather than set up properly.

Last night I spent an hour looking at the painting while preparing my schedule of work on it over the weekend. Occasionally as I work my way over the surface of a large panel such as this one, something that was fine two days ago suddenly makes me uneasy because of what has been subsequently painted elsewhere in the composition. Sometimes these knock-on effects can be quite catastrophic. (Anyone who thinks that a painting is so well planned that once the idea is in my head the execution is a shoe-in, would be surprised by how chaotic things can get.) So it came about that when I completed the foreground of the painting, the lake that had been fine up until then quite suddenly appeared weakened. I was loathe to start over because there were some lovely passages of ripples and a suggestion of depth and a wind-ruffled surface, but once the idea was in my head that it needed to be much darker so that it was closer to the colour of the sky, the problem simply had to be addressed. So today that was one of my tasks, and the result has lifted my spirits.

The dog too needed re-painting to make more of the brightness of his white fur. There had been too much turquoise shadow in it.

But the good news was that some of the additional detailing I’d planned for the landscape became unnecessary, and so my to-be-done-list was shorter than I’d expected. Both of Tobias’ shoes to be completed plus Raphael’s right hand, some woodland and a bridge to be done and a garden to be painted next to the basilica. I got most of that finished this afternoon.

The bridge painted in at last.

I invariably use my own hands and feet as ‘models’ for paintings as they’re always available, either viewed directly or in a small mirror. In this painting a pair of Peter’s leather shoes shod Raphael and a pair of my own suede lace-ups (see image below) served for Tobias.

Luckily the day has gone well and although there is work yet to be done, tomorrow afternoon Peter shall be lighting and photographing the finished painting (no more of my often out-of-focus images taken in poor lighting conditions with a small digital camera) and an image of the entire composition plus the title of the work will be posted here on Sunday night. This I can promise.

two days to go

This painting is full of water. There’s a lake, a waterfall and river, islands surrounded by water and a bridge spanning it. The idea has its origin in My Dream Farm, in which the notion of waterways forming the structure of the composition was an experiment with a happy outcome, and so I stole a little of the topography I invented for that painting to make the foundation for this one. (I apologise for the poor quality of the following photographs. Just couldn’t get the lighting right this evening. Everything looks too acidic.)

Here at Ty Isaf we stand above the River Ystwyth, which invariably breaks its banks in the spring and winter storms. Our neighbour’s riverside fields become lakes for the duration, and so there is indeed the sense from time to time that the house stands above a landscape of water and islands, and perhaps that’s where I got the idea.


Three full days of painting left on ‘Tobias and the Angel’ before the carrier arrives to collect all the work for the exhibition. The framed work will go directly to the Martin Tinney Gallery, while this will be taken to my friend Richard’s workshop in Cardiff to be put into a pre-ordered frame. I really hate working under this kind of pressure… Artlog visitors may remember my account of working all night to finish Christ Writes in the Dust in time for the ‘unveiling’ ceremony in Birmingham the following day… but here I am yet again with the possibility of an all-night painting session looming. Or two. Sigh!

the fish flies over the waterfall


Today has been interesting. The fish has been through four versions. The first fairly abstract in the sense that it was the ‘notion’ of a fish rather than anything recognisable, and the second was painted so that it looked like the ‘crocheted’ fish (made by Roger K Newton and known affectionately as ‘Tiny Fish) used as the model in the original maquette studies. Break for lunch and a re-think. The third incarnation… by which time I was getting close to something approaching panic… was  a carp. Pretty enough with its eye-catching colour,  though it too failed to quite do the trick. Finally I painted what to all intents and purposes is a mackerel, but for the fact that it’s much bigger than any mackerel I’ve seen on a fishmonger’s slab. This now seems to be working for me, though I’ll know better when I see it afresh tomorrow after a good night of sleep. The mackerel’s markings appear to reference the patterns on Raphael’s wings, which telegraphs the ‘miraculous’ nature of the fish and the significance of it later in the story. Meanwhile in the landscape below the steep hill has sprung a conifer forest and through the trees tumbles a waterfall.

I can’t raise the easel any higher as it’s already jammed against the ceiling, and as a consequence I’m having to paint the lower third of the composition on my knees. This is far from comfortable and now everything is aching. Knees, neck, back and shoulders. I’m using one of those padded mats that gardeners have to ease kneeling while weeding, but still it’s a punishing position to be in all day. By the time I’m done my joints crack like an old staircase in the cold. Indeed when I go downstairs I’m not quite sure which pistol shots come from the staircase and which my knees! But the painting moves on, and so the discomforts must be borne.