The Art Class Model

As well as our current tribute to Bob Dylan, the pictures and poems on the website homepage are in effect a de facto tribute to art class models. The whole concept of life drawing must be a difficult one for non-artists to comprehend, since if you have never done it you won’t understand how important it is to improving and maintaining one’s basic skills as an artist. I don’t know how these classes work in other countries, but in the UK they are gatherings where a certain camaraderie tends to develop between the artists, organisers and models. When a class or group works well you feel part of a miniature community, and I have never known a model – male or female, young or old – treated with anything other than complete respect. If only we could all rely on that same level of respect from our managers in our day jobs.

The illustrations for the poems Watercolour Woman and Art Class Model were developed from drawings done with Paul Fowler’s group at Pegasus Art near Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK (http://www.paulfowlerstudio.co.uk/lifedrawingclasses.html). Art Class Model is an attempt to explore how some models have a special, indefinable quality which somehow brings out the best in the artist. It is another aspect of life drawing that I am sure non-artists will struggle to understand, presumably believing that once the model has taken a pose it is all down to the artist. But I am sure that those who draw the figure would back me up on this, and agree that the character, professionalism and skill of the model all contribute to whatever image eventually appears.

For those who are interested, the original drawing for the illustrations was done in charcoal on grey paper. Because the model was in a raised position there was noticeable foreshortening of the image, and so I manipulated it using the perspective tool in the Gimp. Still in the art package I reduced the image to a dark brown outline on a white ground, and added some coloured shading using a graphics tablet. Since I struggle to achieve decent results using a tablet, I then printed the image A4 size and glued the print onto acrylic board. I then worked over the base image in acrylics until I was satisfied with the overall composition. This was then scanned back into the computer, given a final edit by adjusting the colour and tonal balances in the Gimp, and then used on the website.

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Come Gather Round People…

Well, actually, it’s a bit late for that now because the immortal Bob is not after all going to be this year’s Nobel laureate. We have to respect the decision of the Swedish Academy, but it’s still a bit of a shame nonetheless, especially as hopes were high here at Insubstantial Pageant. I think I am right in saying that several of the contributors to this website have been influenced by Dylan’s lyrics, and would have liked to see the legendary singer / songwriter take the prize.

Still, Tomas Tranströmer is no doubt a worthy winner and we shall make an effort to read some of his poetry in the near future. He is even, strangely enough, a musician as well as a writer, so there are some faint echoes of Dylan in all of this. I guess Tranströmer is unlikely to become as well known as Stieg Larsson or Abba, but we should still salute him in his hour of victory.

It’s just a shame he has never produced any classic albums – oh well, where’s that copy of Blonde on Blonde? I know it’s round here somewhere…

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Fleeting echoes in cyber-space

A recent visit to Cambridge allowed a viewing of some of Alfred Wallis’s artworks – both paintings and models – at Kettles Yard Gallery. Wallis was the old sailor whose paintings inspired Chrisopher Wood and Ben Nicholson when they visited St Ives in 1928, showing them a new way to approach the construction of images. It is amazing how well Wallis’s works have stood the test of time, both because of his totally untutored approach and also because of the makeshift nature of the materials he used. Indeed, in my opinion his work is much more credible than the attempts of Wood, Nicholson and their followers to emulate him.

I keep thinking of Wallis’s strange, idiosyncratic paintings as I work on the pictures for this website. Unlike the old mariner I use professional materials, guided by many years of tuition in the craft of producing images. I also use computer techniques to enhance the physical drawings or paintings, and prepare them for the website. This makes the task of generating suitable images much easier and quicker, as even major modifications can often be accommodated at the last minute.

The only problem is that what appears on the screen on the website often bears only a passing resemblance to the physical artefact from which it originates. Despite the advantages I have over Wallis in terms of how I work, there is little of the Insubstantial Pageant artwork that I could hang on my wall (should I be inclined to do so). Like so much else in our modern world the images you see on this website are frequently little more than fleeting echoes bouncing around in cyber-space.

Somehow, I can’t help but feel that this is rather sad.

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Revolutionary Chic

So, if neo-liberalism is a no-no, and laissez faire capitalism has lost its lustre, who better to turn to for a spot of radical chic than that 19th century writer and prophet – Karl Marx. Insubstantial Pageant takes this opportunity to confidently predict that the next big thing will be the return of swinging socialism – 1968 all over again.

Well, maybe. Actually, what we do predict is that there will be renewed interest in figures like Marx from outside the mainstream, especially if the world economy does not improve in the near future. Quite what that will mean in terms of popular writing and culture is anyone’s guess, but we will be watching with interest.

Check out the article Capital for more information.

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The City through the Clouds

It has been a number of years now since The City through the Clouds first appeared in print, and like many independently published novels it soon became apparent that without serious effort it would not reach a wide audience. Now, with the advent of ebooks, it finally has its chance to reach out to a global readership.

I wrote it originally as a story for my twelve year old daughter, though it is suitable for slightly younger children as well. It follows many of the conventions of fantasy novels where the protagonists are transported to another world, and has plenty of thrills of spills for its readers (at least according to some of the feedback I have received). Where it differs from many other novels of this genre is in trying to establish a moral dramework for the events that take place. So the three main characters are forced to consider whether the actions that will save the city are actually justified.

I also wanted to get away from the prevailing emphasis on magic to be found in popular childrens books of the time, and so gave the story slightly more of a science fiction feel. There are still plenty of miraculous events, of course – it wouldn’t be a proper childrens’ book if there weren’t – but at least some of them have some sort of rational explanation.

Anyway, time will tell what judgement others now pass on the story as the book makes its debut in cyber-space.

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An independent writer’s lot…

An independent writer’s lot is… what? Happy? Unhappy? Frustrated? Probably all three at various times, as well as being incredibly satisfying when someone actually reads your work. The problem is, if you want your readers to experience your work with all the mistakes and blemishes removed you need to engage in some serious proof-reading. I suppose it is possible there are people out there who actually enjoy this task, but I for one find it mind-numbingly boring. Whole hours can disappear with nothing to show for it except a few sentences rephrased and the odd typo corrected. And the worst thing about it is that you know there is bound to be some minor, but noticeable, glitch still in there, and that the only way to find it is to start the whole process over again. Still, you tell yourself, at least the manuscript is now ready to make its public debut, and in this age of electronic media readers can be accessing it the same day. Unfortunately, the advent of ebooks has spawned a multitude of different file formats, and so the poor old writer has even more checking to do to make sure his or her words appear perfectly in each one. You sometimes wonder how anyone manages to write anything in the first place.

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Arts and (digital) crafts

If readers are wondering why Insubtantial Pageant has gone all William Morris over the last month or so, the answer is simple – an outing to the house he rented in Oxfordshire, Kelmscott Manor. The place is maintained in pretty much the state that it was in when he and his family inhabited it, and there are plenty of examples of his design work for visitors to inspect. The house is also pervaded by the spirit of his wife, Jane Morris, who modelled for some of the Pre-Raphaelite artists. Most notably, hanging in one of the downstairs rooms, is Dante Rossetti’s portrait in oils of her entitled The Blue Silk Dress. So now you know where the inspiration for the poem on Insubstantial Pageant came from. But Jane Morris aside, the house is well worth a visit, not least to be able to walk around a historic collection where you are not roped off from the exhibits.

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Embracing the Zeitgeist

So, does the digital age make our lives as writers and artists easier or harder? It certainly gives us all more opportunities to present our thoughts and ideas to the world, as long as we have the skills to master the web. And there are undoubtedly projects that the clued-up net publisher can achieve now which would have been impossible just a few years ago. But the web can be a hard master, relentlessly demanding new material to build an audience and then hold on to it. No more can the independent writer remove himself or herself off to some ivory tower and then expect the world to wait patiently for the great masterpiece to emerge. It is great to have a chance to catch the ear of anyone in the world, but to do so you must make yourself heard above the competing voices of everyone else on the planet.

So, not so much embracing the zeitgeist as being embraced by it, and in a pretty ferocious bear hug at that. Quite what the consequences are for the sort of work that will emerge from the web are not yet clear, as new ways of communicating are still emerging. No doubt there will be plenty of rubbish flooding through cyber-space, but there is sure to be ground-breaking work as well. And, wherever we do eventually end up, it will certainly be an exhilarating ride.

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