Stockbridge Church before a gray sky, with a rainbow.
Taking Games Seriously
by James S. A. Corey
As written on the frontispiece of the last in the series :
Nine books later and you're still here, so this one's for you.
Nine books is very impressive. They're chunky as well, but the biggest deal is how consistently good they are.
And nine books later I get to the end of The Expanse and close the final book, Leviathan Falls.
I've waited a long time for the last book to appear: the paperback version seemed to take forever to get released.
This has been the best action/adventure series I have read, consistently good and usually great.
The series started well and stayed that way: if anything, it got better. Quite a believable
future mapped out by the two authors, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck ("Corey" is a pen name), with the
solar system politics and fighting looking a bit parochial as the story expanded into a huge galaxy spanning
collection of worlds.
In the end though, what made these novels special were the characters, who we get to know, understand
and love. With the vast distances involved, the characters age and by the final few books, they're decades older, and showing it.
We've grown besides them.
It's always hard finishing a book you love reading and even if the end is somewhat bitter-sweet,
Leviathan Falls does not disappoint.
Player of Games
by Iain M. Banks
Second time lucky? The last time I read Player of Games I was underwhelmed. I thought the
book was okay but a little dull, perhaps a bit hard to understand and lacking in action. Over the years since,
however, I keep on coming across people online who consider this book a favourite, and perhaps
the best "Culture" novel he wrote. So, an impetus to give it another chance. As is increasingly clear to
me, the reaction you have to a book is very dependent on when you read it.
So now I am very glad I came back to the novel because I really liked it this time. I'd forgotten almost all of the story so
it felt fresh. It is not action packed, akthough it has some and is a bit more "cerebral" perhaps. The story's
about a complicated game: a "game" a society uses as a part of its organising principles.
So we learn about cruelty, hierarchy, equality and politics through a cast of very different, and not always very
likeable, characters. This is typical Banks, as is the "Culture" culture and humour, including a malicious drone. Things are not always
what they seem but we get a satisfying, dare I say, happy ending?
I think I would now consider myself a "booster" of this book.
Inverleith Sunrise Process
Going through some of my old comics and comic books, I came across a
hardback French edition of Moebius' Le Garage Hermétique, the first version in colour.
A true classic of French bande dessiné and a strip I first came across in
the American Heavy Metal magazine in the late 1970's.
This colour version was published by Les Humanoïdes Associés in October 1988.
Inside is a colour poster insert: a blow-up of one of the most striking panels in the
strip. I had completely forgotten about his but what a wonderful surprise to rediscover.
It is revealed that it was a woman under that hat all along, not a man!
This is not something to leave hidden away inside a book anymore. It deserves a frame and to be
hanging on a wall. RIP Jean Giraud a.k.a. Moebius.
I often take photographs of work in progress for my own interest and sometimes think to
blog about it. So, in the interests of full disclosure, here
is the first of a few occasional posts about paintings and the steps I used to create them.
Firstly, a picture of the sun coming
up through trees in Inverleith Park, Edinburgh, with the New Town and castle in the distance.
A beautiful golden sunrise on a cold day. I'm happy with the result.
A 50x60cm linen canvas, painting in oils.
On the left: Start with a toned canvas. I used a grid on the canvas to do an initial (basic) drawing in pencil, then used thin raw umber paint to
block in a light under-painting. I sometimes use faster drying oil paints (e.g. Winsor and Newton Griffin) for an initial block in.
Right: Paint the graduated sky first (bright sun at left), then the graduated city and then foreground. The tree trunks in front of city
are also painted in.
Left:Start the tree branches. I waited for the sky to be "dry".
Right:As I go along painting the branches, I adjust the branch colour to account for the sunlight passing through them. To finish the branches, I used
a dry-brush technique (and a fan brush) to brush the finer branches at the end of the main branches.
The end result came out well I believe. It is now varnished and framed.
The Morrocco Connection
Now that decent summer weather has arrived, perhaps it's time for the bikini?
Right: Community Garden Melbourne: The Morning after the Night Before, 2019-21, Oil on canvas. Leon Morrocco. Detail (link).
I hadn't heard of the Scottish artistic dynasty named "Morrocco" until I moved to Scotland: a little surprising. First Alberto Morrocco (who died in 1998), then his
son Leon Morrocco. A sort while later I saw an exhibition by Jack Morrocco, who turned out to be Alberto's nephew. A lot of artistic skill here: all
fine artists. One wonders whether it is a genetic foundation for the artistic talent or perhaps genes cause the disposition to put in the practice. Maybe a bit of
Leon Morrocco has an exhibition on at the Royal Scottish Acadcemy.
He is eighty years old this year and his work is as large and colourful as always. His palette seems to include colours not often used by other artists: pinks and turquoises perhaps. He is
in a post-impressionistic vein, with some admixture of the Fauves perhaps. A wonderfully bright
artist and a perfect match for sunnier climes. A type of weather that Edinburgh has right now luckily (for a few days at least). Reading a book
about the great Scottish Colourist George Leslie Hunter just now, I also see traces of similarity, as well as that of Matisse, whom
Below: View Through to the Marina, 2015, Oil on canvas. 85x91cm.
Below: Mountain near Cipières, Alpes-Maritimes, 2021, Oil on canvas. 152x157cm.
You can see all the oil paintings, and many gouache, pencil and watercolours, at the RSA site.
The exhibition is free, so no excuse.
I have been "active", just not on the blog so much. One thing I need to do better at is complete a post I start!
Now we're well into summer, and a summer that has got quite hot on occasion, even here. Right now, a lovely sunny summer day and about 24°C. It hardly seems any time since Christmas.
I finished a larger painting (my biggest yet) a couple of weeks ago and haven't started another yet.
As I posted about a few months ago, I have enjoyed copying an Amedeo Modigliani painting if I am between
paintings and feeling stuck on what to do. Pushing a bit of paint around but not thinking about composition or colour helps to re-eneergise me.
Modigliani is an instantly recognisable painter who had an unfortunately tragic and short life. I find his works quite easy to copy.
Shown above, a copy I finished yesterday :
Jeanne Hébuterne in yellow sweater, 1918 (link).
My copy is 30x30cm and also in oil.
By Iain M. Banks
Well, this was the last of Banks' Culture novels I had to read. Now I've read it and really enjoyed it so I'm sad about that.
A quick overview : The story's about a coup in a royal house on a shellworld planet, one of a number in the galaxy created aeons ago for an unknown
reason by an unknown race of aliens (there is speculation). The coup takes place in an industrialising but still fairly primitive society on one of the "levels"
that exist on the artificial world. This happens during a war with the next level down. We follow a prince of the fallen house and his man-servant as they search for
help recovering the throne from the world's manager species, then up the chain to the management's "mentors" and beyond them to the "involved" races. The levels
travelled are literal (up the "shells") as well as figurative: civilisational and technological advancement. It might not be a coincidence that an archaeological dig is uncovering
something very ancient, unexpected and dangerous on the newly conquered level below.
It is a bit of a tour de force, seeing the fresh wonder of the superior technology as it gets more and more magical. Luckily, the prince
has a sister, long ago apprenticed to a Culture ambassador and sent off-world for a higher education. She has many of the usual Special Circumstances
agent improvements. It is all a lot of fun following it all.
In a sign of a good book, I would have liked to have known a little about the aftermath of it all. I also missed that
the book had a few appendices until I got to the end. In many respects this is one of Banks' best Culture novels and it covers a lot of what's
special with them. The unbelievably high technology (post singularity),
the odd, interesting and often very flawed, alien species, the dynamics
of a post-scarcity economy (no money needed) and the repartee (usually between an intelligent robot and human SC agent).
I will have to read some of them again I think.
Ba' Girl Mar'cela
A long time ago I bought a new comic magazine called Love and Rockets in my local
comic shop and discovered the amazingly talented Hernandez Brothers, Jaime and Gilbert. This comic
was a real watershed in my appreciation of the art of the cartoon strip.
I've recently been looking through some of these and re-reading a few of Gilbert Hernandez's Palomar stories.
Palomar is a fictional and old-fashioned Mexican town inhabited by an odd
variety of people (some real eccentrics), dysfunctional families and a cast of
children and adolescents that can steal the show. A bit
of a soap opera with a latino telenovelo feel to it. Often a bit
magical or weird. Now I want to re-read a lot more.
Gilbert Hernandez is very good with the women and children. Here, little Casimira is learning
what it takes to be "mom" in her house; much to the horror of her sister Guadalupe. Funny, but also a bit sad (I mentioned
dysfunctional already). This is from Human Diastrophism in Love and Rockets no. 24 from 1987.
Click on the images for larger versions.
I would like to return to these pages and my love of comics in the future.
The Royal Scottish Academy has its annual exhibition on just now and it is the usual mix. Some
very good art and some terrible.
It was nice to see some Philip Braham paintings (see below). He had an exhibition on at the Scottish Gallery in 2021
but it was virtual only due to the pandemic restrictions. An atmospheric landscape painter; his work is similar to the sort of
subject I like to attempt myself (less successfully). All his paintings in the exhibition were strong. There is no substitute for seeing a painting in
real life. He is now "RSA (Elect)".
Above: Last Light, Green Turret by Philip Braham, Oil on Linen, 81x116cm (link)
Another painting really stood out to me: an amazingly colourful picture of a plant from the Royal Botanic Gardens:
The Corpse Flower by Laura Footes (Acrylic on canvas, 150x120cm). Shown below, I thought it had shades of the great Hockney, especially
the garden background. Very impressive work you can see on the RSA site.
The show is free and on until June 12th.
The Expanse TV
I finished book eight of The Expanse series, Tiamat's Wrath, a while ago and have been waiting for
the last book to be published in paperback in the UK (June I think). In the meantime, the TV series grew in critical acclaim and then
recently came to an end (with season six). I finally sat down to watch them all and, in a word, was impressed.
The TV show has been blessed with a good cast, good scripts and a good production. The books work particularly well because the
characters work so well: you come to care about them. Happily, this is also the case on the show. There comes a point where your
understanding and sympathy for the characters allow their moments of silence or laughter to say everything you need. There is plenty of
action and adventure packed in on the screen, and more compressed than the the page, but the quiet moments make a lot of difference.
The terrible trials and trauma people go through on the page have been translated to the screen in a very satisfying way, and a way that
packs the same emotional wrench I remember from the written words. There's a lot of dross around: it is very refreshing to meet its polar
Black Haired Girl
Above we can see my copy (on right) of Amedeo Modigliani's 1918 oil painting Black Hair (Young Dark Haired Girl Seated). I did this
from a postcard (on left): the original oil painting is 92x60cm, mine is 25x30cm. I like the stylised, doll-like quality of his work. This piece
seems very sympathetic to me.
This was also the first time I used a proportional divider tool to get the copy
proportions correct. It worked well and is a little less time consuming than using a grid.
I bought the postcard at the Tate's Modigliani exhibition back in 2018. I wrote about
the VR studio reproduction they put together.
Brentford Covered Warehouse
This is a watercolour painting by Tracy Love
as featured in the 2022 Mall Galleries Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour :
Well, what a stunning piece if work! Who knew Brentford had
such a beautiful covered warehouse? This is a complicated work to paint, with many intricate details. It must have taken quite a while.
Once again, this just goes to show how great watercolours can be, something
I am reminded of every year when I visit this exhibition online.
The Pond and the City
A small (8x10") oil study painting done a week ago. The source scene was from last year
when the pond at Inverleith Park was mostly frozen. The swans sometimes seem to manage to keep an area
clear of ice for themselves, but other birds are reduced to standing around on the ice looking a bit forlorn (if they hang around
at all). Back when the pond had water.
As I posted a few days ago, Lorenzo Mattotti certainly knows how to paint
exciting, energetic and colourful pictures. Also found in the book Altre forme lo distraevano continuamente are
portraits of some colourful and fashionable women. A quirky set. For a change of pace to my usual practice, I thought I'd try copying
Below: On the left, a Mattotti and on the right my copy.
I decided to dig out my acrylic paints for a change as well. No solvent required (not that they are a big deal to me) and also
fast drying. A curse sometimes, but at others a blessing. Small 18x13cm canvas boards.
I've now done four copies, each done quickly. I haven't got the likenesses right (portrait likeness is hard, and a
skill I need more practice of) but they came out well I think. I'm happy and had a lot of fun doing them. That's
the most important thing to me right now.
Further proof of how amazing and colourful pastels and pencil can be, jump over to the Mall Galleries for
the Pastel Society 2022 exhibition.
These shows are always a reminder to me that any medium can produce great art. Even a graphite pencil.
Below: Evening Pond, pastel, 46x35cm by Sheila Goodman
The pond at Inverleith Park has been drained, which gives a very different view of the city
as the sun rises. Nice reflective puddles at least :
Not so good for the park or pond though, or the various animals that like the water. The swans are just about coping.
The board-walks at one end are being rebuilt so the water level had to be dropped for the foundation work. Hopefully finished
in a month or so ready for spring, and the baby cygnets we hope arrive. We have four surviving from 2021.
Also in the park, an unfortunate casualty of the recent high winds. Always sad to see an old and large tree down and
I hope no one (or dog) was nearby when this happened.
Above: Detail of cover for Altre forme lo distraevano continuamente
Lorenzo Mattotti is an Italian artist and illustrator. I first came across his work
through comic art (over thirty years ago) but he also does a lot of book and magazine illustration. I recently bought an art book
of his, finding it cheap in a charity shop, and it re-kindled my interest in his art. He has a wonderfully colourful and dynamic style that I
think is instantly recognisable. I believe he works mainly in pastel and coloured pencils, a great combination given the results.
One of the draws of the work is (what seemed to
me) its inspiration from early 20th Century Expressionist Art, and also particularly the colourful
Fauves. Although, in an interview with Dave McKean at Paul Gravett's
site, Mattotti himself references the Russian Constructivists.
Right: Mattotti's cover to the book Fires
I already own a few of his books, including : Fires (from 1986), Murmure and Pinocchio.
The book I recently bought is in Italian and titled
Altre forme lo distraevano continuamente ("Other forms continually distracted him"), from 1995.
It contains some beautiful pictures, including a fair amount of work done for the New Yorker magazine.
A good selection of his art work is on the artnet site.
I really love some of the ilustrations in this new book and decided to do a copy of one. I'll make a separate post
Seat By The Loch
Above: View over St Margaret's Loch, Arthurs Seat, 8x10", oil, Jan 2022
Another small painting with a bit of orange in it. I'm worrying a little that the painting is a bit too "nice" now. Too colourful, too bright?
Maybe one for the tourists. Or maybe just paint a really big version and go all in on the sweetness? I have another two similar paintings I should
also dig up.
Edinburgh is blessed with many beautiful views, a few can be
found close to its own extinct volcano, Arthur's Seat. The picture above shows the view Eastwards over
St Margaret's Loch near Holyrood, with the ruins of St Anthony's Chapel on the brow of the hill on the right.
Above: Photo from wikipedia, license : CC BY-SA 3.0
Although Arthur's Seat does not compare to the mountains of the Highlands, let alone the Alps, it is a very impressive and
monumental place in Edinburgh. It has a grand scale when you walk around it's base or climb to it's summit. Make sure
you dress properly though - especially decent walking or climbing boots.
A Cold and Frosty Morn
Above: A Cold Morning Frost, 8x10", oil, Jan 2022
The new year has got off to a quiet start, as they often do. The pestilence is still hanging around unfortunately
but this wave seems to be less pestilential than previous ones. Apparently, this version is much milder if caught,
perhaps as bad as a case of the hiccups. Better safe than sorry though: no one wants to risk long hiccups.
I did the small painting shown above using a TV screenshot as a reference (a BBC nature program I think). That was the
first of the year and I'm also getting to the end of my next one, hopefully completing it without disaster. I was looking at some of my old
pieces I've stuck up on this blog, and see a few clunkers. Maybe I'll look back on this one and think the same? Anyway,
here's to a year of few clunkers.
Almost the end of the year 2021, a year few will look back on with any affection. However, there
were a few good things for me in 2021: I painted some decent pictures, I got my flat into better shape,
I did more walking and cycling, played tennis. Summer wasn't bad in Edinburgh and it was good sitting in the
park in the sun. I got to know a few more people, including their dogs. And perhaps most importantly of all,
I managed to stay healthy and active. So, here's to a better 2022.
A bigger picture completed a few months ago. This is a 50x60cm oil painting in a decent frame.
A very basic composition but it works well I think. Hopefully looks good on a wall.