open books

At the National Library of Wales the Open Books exhibition is open for business. It’s the brainchild of artist Mary Husted, who gave fifteen artists known to her Chinese folding-sketchbooks that she’d acquired during her time in Hong Kong. The artists were invited to fill the books in whichsoever ways they wanted, and the exhibition is the result of their labours.

Above and top of page: I made two books. The first, titled Where the Bad Things Are, uses paper-engineering to spring surprises. A tree-trunk snaps back to reveal a monster, a portrait of a beautiful woman transforms into a portrait of a skeleton, and a cyclops’ eye unfolds to glare balefully.

Above: on the bottom shelf Iwan Bala’s text-based  Dim ond geiriau ydi aith is displayed with G. W. Bot’s Austraglyph book: Night and Day. To the right above can be seen Robin Wallace-Crabbe’s The Tragic History of Anne and Anna.

Above: detail of  The Tragic History of Anne and Anna.

Above and below: Natalie d’ Arbeloff’s vivacious My Life Unfolds has been watched by many as it’s developed page by unfolding page at her blog over the past months. I thought it looked beautiful in development, but the reality is a ravishing construct, vibrant with colour.


Above: Robin Wallace-Crabbe’s delightful Journey Around Our Kitchen.


 Above: works by Frank Vigneron, G. W. Bot and David Gould.

Above: Mary Husted’s dream-like Episodes.

Above: my own Alphabet Primer.

Above: Sue Williams’ TULU Girls.

Above:  detail of Maggie James’ beautifully drawn Peripheral Spaces 1.

Above: Alan Salisbury’s Pears on a Table has the sense of a seventeenth century Dutch still life.

Above: I particularly like the stark shapes cut from fabric of Lois Williams’ Undercover.

The exhibition is extraordinarily diverse, though by its nature difficult to capture in photographs. It really needs to be seen first hand for the works to be appreciated. Some, though not all, are for sale. If you find yourself anywhere near Aberystwyth, please don’t miss this beautiful show. It’s small, but perfectly formed.

splicing the primer

I’m sure many of you recall those novelty books where the pages were slashed into three horizontal sections, and you could combine the resulting dissected images in entertaining ways.

The Alphabet Primer has something of  the quality of those books, inasmuch that due to the concertina-construction, the pages can be arranged in unexpected and rewarding combinations. Here the head of John Barleycorn has been grafted to the body of a Griffin to create a hybrid  reminiscent of those great winged-bull reliefs from the palace of Ashurnasirpal II at Nimrud. Such accidents make displaying the book a lot of fun.

d is for…


Fine-liner pen and brush drawing for K is for Knight (based on a Sicilian marionette) and its preparatory sketch.


So the Alphabet Primer is at long last finished. As with all projects, it’s turned out part failure and part success. Part experiment with new objects and part celebration of objects I love and draw regularly. Bits of it I greatly like and others I’d happily jettison, or at least try again.  It started out a celebration in simple line drawings of objects, shapes and ideas that appealed to me.

I would have liked to have kept it that way throughout, but the fact is I just couldn’t find enough objects of equal simplicity… and that I wanted to draw… to cover every letter of the alphabet. With more preparation and with time to collect ideas I probably could… and at some point very likely will… pull off that particular trick, because I think it would make a lovely, contemplative thing.

At one point I wanted to make many dis-assembling images, as with A is for Anatomy. That too would make an interesting stand-alone primer. But it didn’t happen here, as it would have taken far too long to complete.

Making words out of collage with papers that I’d painted in acrylic took me down another route, because the papers gradually transmigrated from letters to the objects. Sometimes I was able to keep things simple, as with this collage of an oval box at Penparc Cottage. (The box was originally a gift from Rex Harley, and it contained pralines. After they’d been eaten I painted the box the way you see it, and ever since it’s been called ‘Rex’s Box’. A tiny thing, the box has appeared in many of the ‘Penparc’ paintings.)

But then I’d get carried away and images would become dense with ink and cut shapes, about as far away as could be imagined from the simple line drawings I’d initially set out to make.

Don’t get me wrong. All these approaches have their merits, and I know that many of you who visit here have expressed which of the letters are your favourite images, But it’s made this particular Alphabet Primer a more mixed-bag than I’d anticipated at the outset. I see too it’s reflected my moods, sometimes sunny and light-hearted…


… but occasionally dark and turbulent.


No doubt I could have planned it better than this ride on a horse that sometimes ambled along happily, but spooked at intervals to carry me off at breakneck speed to places I frankly hadn’t planned on visiting. Peter says he thinks the book hangs together very well. He talks of  a commercial edition, though I think that unlikely. I feel the strongest aspect of the primer is as hybrid object, a book/artwork that lends itself to display in many and varied configurations.

I’ll be sorry to see it go and have no idea when it will return home again. However when it does, no doubt with benefit of distance from the creative process, I’ll be better able to judge it.

I have other things to be getting on with now, but a return to the art of the Alphabet Primer is definitely on the cards.

j is for…

John Barleycorn


There was three men come out o’ the west their fortunes for to try,
And these three men made a solemn vow, John Barleycorn must die,
They ploughed, they sowed, they harrowed him in, throwed clods upon his head,
And these three men made a solemn vow, John Barleycorn was dead.

English. Trad.

z is for…


God of the West Wind

The Anemoi were the gods of the four directional winds: Boreas the North-Wind, Zephyros the West-Wind, Notos the South-Wind, and Euros the East-Wind. They were closely connected with the seasons: Boreas was the cold breath of winter, Zephyros the god of spring breezes, and Notos the god of summer rain-storms. Zephyros was the husband of Khloris, but the best known story of him is one of jealousy, rage and manslaughter. He was a rival with Apollon for the love of the handsome boy Hyakinthos. One day, coming upon Apollon and Hyakinthos playing quoits in a meadow, Zephyros caused the wind to snatch the discus and slam it into Hyakinthos’ head. Apollon in his grief transformed the dying boy into the larkspur flower that bears his name, the Hyacinth.

My first rough sketch for Zephyros.

Zephyros is the transliteration of Ζεφυρος, which looks so beautiful on the page that I’m moved to make a dedicated primer of classical gods and goddesses using their Greek names. The Neptune of the present primer would then become Ποσειδων. There would be the matter of Q, U, V and W, which capitals don’t occur in the names of the gods, though I could fall back on Q is for Quoit, U is for Underworld etc. Just musing here. Interestingly, Euros is the name of my friend Stephanie’s husband, and so we have the god of the East-Wind living here in Llanilar! Euros would definitely have to be my E!