The John Moores Painting Prize 2018 & some Beautiful Bunting!

We’re in full summer holiday mode here at the moment and lovin’ every minute (just about!).

Today we did one of our favourite things – hop on a train and head to The Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool.

The John Moores Painting Prize* 2018 exhibition is on display at the moment and so we headed in to have a look.

(The *JMPP is a painting competition open to all UK-based artists working with paint. It culminates in an exhibition at the Walker Art Exhibition in Liverpool which is held at the same time as the Liverpool Biennial. It’s named after the sponsor of the prize, Sir John Moores (1896 – 1993) and was originally intended as a one-off. It’s now a biennial event and this will be the 30th exhibition in 60 years – since its launch in 1957).

One of the first paintings to catch the boys’ attention was ‘doubt and distance…..of lost content’ by Pete Clarke. They found it very intriguing, thinking about what kinds of creatures might live in such a place.

doubt and distance……of lost content by Pete Clarke

We all liked Virginia Verran’s ‘Black Star,’ enjoying looking at the shapes and patterns.

Black Star by Virginia Verran

‘One Hundred Harvests’ by Liz Elton is made from painted food bags, getting the viewer to consider our use and waste of materials and impact on surroundings.

One Hundred Harvests by Liz Elton

There were many bold and bright artworks on display, such as the ones by Nicholas William Johnson (‘The Intolerable Strangeness of Vegetable Consciousness (Sunspilt II)’) and Alan Fears (‘My Favourite Chair’).

These contrasted against the muted tones of Mark Osbornes’s ‘Untitled Pink’ artwork.

One of my favourite pieces in the exhibition was ‘Red Road’ by Graham Martin.

The winner of the John Moores Painting Prize 2018, beating 2,700 entries, was Jacqui Hallum with her ‘King and Queen of Wands’ textile piece. Her artwork drew inspiration from a deck of tarot cards – the King and Queen represented at either end of the piece. Such work always causes a stir in the art world, with many questioning whether it should have triumphed over the others. But, I have to say, whether you consider it to be art or not, it did have a presence in the gallery. You can listen to Jacqui talking about her work here.

We then had a go a creating our own works of art inspired by Luci Soni’s ‘Untitled Bunting’

Untitled Bunting by Luci Soni


We all agreed that it was a great afternoon, if a little tiring!

Snoozing on the train home!

You can visit here to find out all about The John Moores Painting Prize 2018 paintings.


Bubbletastic Blooms!

Bubbletastic Blooms

A sunny day not so long ago myself and the littlest member of the family decided to get into the garden and throw some paint around!

Inspired by all the beautiful blooms springing up in the wonderfully warm weather we decided to create some of our own.

We got paint & washing up liquid and mixed them together.

We then got a straw and blew some bubbles into our painty mixtures. (Remember to blow NOT suck!!)

Bubbletastic Blooms
Bubbletastic Blowing!
Bubbletastic Blooms
Blooms or Brains?!

We used a couple of different colours and layered them on the paper.

We did think that our bubble art resembled a brain, but decided to focus on creating some flowers instead!

We found some leaves. We looked at the different shapes, felt the textures and talked about the patterns. We then drew some on our flower.

Bubbletastic Blooms
Really concentrating on drawing leaves.

After a little bit of snippin’ an’ stickin’ our beautiful bubbletastic blooms were complete!

Bubbletastic Blooms
Ta-Dah! Beautiful Bubbletastic Blooms!


Bringing Books Alive!

Dragon Finale

The other weekend we took a trip to the Children’s Book Festival 2018 at Quarry Bank to enjoy a day of superb storytelling!


We joined author and illustrator, David Litchfield, as he read his award-winning book – ‘The Bear and the Piano’, with special musical accompaniment from a piano playing bear (naturally!)

After listening to the story we were then set the brief of designing our very own bears, which would form part of The Big Bear Band! After pondering ideas and with paper and pencils galore we set to the task in hand.

The Final Designs!

Ol’ Red with piercin’ blue eyes and a song to warm the coldest of hearts! Designed, drawn and coloured by Heath aged 6. Please note that MUCH arm ache was endured to achieve the VERY realistic fur with a rather blunt crayon and NO pencil sharpener in sight! But, as I told my eldest son, sometimes you just gotta suffer for your art!

Ol' Red playing his guitar!The Blue Masked Bear. Designed, drawn and coloured by Rowan aged 3&3/4. Blue is a part-time performer, part-time superhero. He has to be ready, at any given moment, to spring into action and thwart the bad guys – hence the mask!

The Blue Masked Bear.Both, I think you’ll agree, quite complex characters!

With completed artwork in hand we joined The Big Bear Band in a rousing finale of The Bare Necessities (go on have a sing-song!). The perfect end to the session!

With vocal chords suitably loosened we went in search of David Litchfield to say hello and get our copy of ‘The Bear and the Piano’ signed.

In the aftermath of all excitement we decided to take a gentle stroll around Quarry Bank, ice cream in hand, to have a look at all the other activities on offer.

A great time was had by all and we’ll definitely be back for more next year!

Feeling inspired I dug out some illustrations that I have been working on for a couple of picture book ideas. I’ve been busily scribbling away over the last year, but, as there are many other things competing for my attention it often feels like a slow process. However, sitting back and taking the time to look through all of my drawings I realised just how much I have developed them. Most of the story and initial roughs are complete and even some colour and character experimentations. A long way to go, but not a bad start!

One story is about a girl and a dragon dress-up competition.

The other features a giraffe lovin’ boy as the main character.

Now, just to crack on and get them finished before my little boys are too old to read them!

Lovely Liverpool!

Gay Is OK

The other day my little sidekick and I hopped on a train and headed to Liverpool.

First stop The Walker Art Gallery and, as always, the obligatory sampling of the treats in the cafe took place straight away!

Feeling replenished we made our way around the gallery, looking at the artwork on display and came across the bold and bright activist signs and slogans by Lois Tierney.  Using her wonderfully vibrant artwork as inspiration we coloured a mini LGBT+ placard of our own to take home.

We then headed to Big Art for Little Artists, which is a section of the gallery that is dedicated to children – lots of fun to be had here! We snipped, we stuck and made……….a Zebra snake!

After letting our creative juices flow we made the short walk down the road to The World Museum, where beasts, bugs and bones were the order of the afternoon! (We particularly like the Clore Natural History Centre area, as you get your paws on all sorts of fascinating objects – from an elephant’s skull to a snakeskin (after moulting!).)

Then there was just enough time to nip to the Central Library (which is sandwiched between the gallery and museum), cosy up and leaf through a good couple of picture books before heading back to the train station and home.

Oh, and of course, a day trip isn’t complete without fleecing mum in the gift shop!



This Kid’s Gotta Whole Loada Ambition! Our Degree Show Day Out

This kid's got a whole loada ambition!

It’s that time of year again when arts students up and down the country unveil their final exhibitions, showcasing their graduate artwork to the world!

Myself and the littlest member of the family decided to take a trip to Manchester Metropolitan University to go and check out this year’s degree show exhibition.

First stop. The cafe. Because we’re all about the snacks!

Manc23 (1 of 1)

Once we’d managed to prise ourselves away from the food we headed for the artwork.

 There was the weird and wonderful!



 The crazy and colourful!



The cute and the captivating!



Small-scale work alongside large, imposing art.



We had our faves and a few pieces really stood out.

The colours and textures of these large-scale banners by Romilly Tucker are beautiful and so striking. They are hung in the cafe area and created a beautiful backdrop as we munched!



Mini concertina books by Hannah Williams.  So delicate and full of fascinating lines, patterns and textures.



These mini ceramic figures by Danielle Rhoda are completely charming and full of character. We wanted to take them home!



Deliciously textural cityscapes by Elise Milburn are just gorgeous!

Elise Milburn Illustration

I think you’ll agree that Amy Pham ‘s energetic artwork is pretty spectacular!



Ooooh, that COLOUR and those MARKS. Gorgeous! Just looking at it makes me want to start throwing some paint around! And you really should check out her Instagram feed, as it is a riot of wonderful colour and pattern – a joy to look at and so inspiring!

Not to be outdone by all the wonderful artwork on show my little fella did a lot of his own ‘performance art.’ He definitely has a signature move!




(Please note that due to the nature of having a small person in tow I couldn’t make notes about all of the artwork that I have referenced above, so, unfortunately, there are a couple of instances where I cannot credit individual artists.)

Bottles, Buttons & Beads

A Saturday morning with no plans & a collection of bottles, buttons and beads! Me and my two little sidekicks set about transforming these objects into something beautiful!

We painted. It was a glorious mess, a riot of colour!

We threaded. Concentrating on putting buttons and beads onto wire.

Boys7 (1 of 1)

We watched. The bottles dried outside and we noticed how all the paint started to mix, big blobs dropped onto the grass below.

Boys8 (1 of 1)

We transformed. We searched for a suitable stick to use. We cut, twisted and revamped all our bits into a wonderful mobile hanging!

Boys10 (1 of 1)Boys11 (1 of 1)


We then ate biscuits!! 🙂



The Gap.

I recently came across this interesting film by photographer & visual storyteller, Daniel Sax, in which American radio personality, Ira Glass, talks about the issue of ‘the gap.’ (Ira particularly make reference to writing in his talk, but his words fit all creative disciplines.) He focusses on the disappointment felt by many creatives, as they are confronted by the gap between their taste and their skill.
Maybe you’ve felt it too? 
You know what is good, but can’t always produce this quality in your own work, resulting in a shortfall, a void, a gap between what you want to create and what you actually produce. I often feel like this about my own work. I like what I create but I know that it could be a lot better.
Ira’s main point is that the only way to get past this phase is to create a large volume of work. Keep writing, singing, painting, whatever it is you do & don’t give up!
Most people quit. 
Seeing work that falls short of what they want to achieve, they put down their tools feeling like a failure. Instead of striving for success and trying to avoid defeat at all costs the healthiest attitude to adopt is a growth mindset, which thrives on challenge and views failure as a way of growing. Easier said than done I know, but take heart in the fact that the majority of creative people experience ‘the gap.’ Patience is also required, as creative success doesn’t happen overnight. It can take many years to reach your potential.
In my previous blog post I talked about the creative curve, a U-shaped line that demonstrates the creative journey. This links to ‘the gap’ idea by talking about pushing through the complexities of your work, developing skills and finding your unique artistic voice.
We should all take a leaf out of Pablo Picasso‘s book. Picasso was one of the most prolific artists of all time. His output includes over 20,000 paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures, ceramics, covering a variety of creative styles, including Cubism, Surrealism and Expressionism. Even in his eighties and nineties he kept producing artwork. Here is a man who didn’t give up!
So, to all you frustrated creatives (including myself!) remember Ira’s timeless wisdom, particularly his words at the end of Sax’s film….”you just gotta fight your way through.”

The Dreaded U!

I get asked to do commissions quite a lot. I find this extremely flattering – the fact that people like my artwork enough to ask me to do a customised piece. 
However, there is also the flip side – what if they don’t like the finished piece?? What if I can’t get it done on time?? 
I put a lot of pressure on myself and this then can have a knock-on effect meaning that when I sit down to do the final artwork I’m often too wound up to do anything that I am pleased with and ultimately don’t enjoy the process.


I was recently reading an article by artist Lisa Congdon and the following text really resonated with me……

My painting teacher used to talk about the “painting curve,” a line that looks like the letter U. He said that when you begin a painting (or another form of art), you are at the top of the U. Things look clean and wonderful in the beginning. But as you develop a piece of work, it often gets messier; that is the bottom of the painting curve. He insisted that working through the bottom of the painting curve—the point at which we think our work looks horrible or awkward—is critical to making good work. Working through the complexities of a piece to the point where it looks and feels wonderful again—rising back up to the top of the U—helps develop your technique as well as your unique voice.

You can read more in Lisa’s book Art Inc.
I have experienced first handed the dreaded ‘U’!

I am always initially excited at the prospect of starting a new piece of artwork, maybe doing a few preliminary sketches to get going. Then I move onto the main piece – excitement turns to fear – this eeds to be good!! I start working, I don’t like it. Lots of questions – do I keep going, do I start again – arrghhh!! Then I generally do the ostrich manoeuvre (head in the sand, avoiding the artwork), until I go back and face it again, get working again, make some decisions, start to like it again, start to enjoy creating. And then it’s done and I’m pleased with it and so is the client!

And I look back and wonder what I was so worried about. It’s quite an emotional journey!

Essentially what Lisa and her teacher are saying is that you have to push through difficulty when creating. I often used to question myself – am I really any good if I sometimes find creating incredibly difficult? After reading the above article I realise that it’s something that all artists go through. It’s inevitable and such a useful process in order to help you develop and grow, if not always pleasant at the time!

Now when starting out on a commission I don’t dread the ‘U’ as I know it will probably happen. I embrace it, I factor it into my time.

I now realise what a valuable process it is and I look forward to all the future challenging commissions that will help me to keep developing as an artist and find my unique voice!

Female Artists Can’t Have Kids!!

Back in October 2014 Tracey Emin said that female artists can’t have kids, stating that it isn’t easy for women to juggle the demands of an artistic career and parenthood. You can read more here
This interview took place around the time that I had my second child. Having children does change your life, there is no question about that. Suddenly your own priorities come second to this little creature who is completely and utterly dependent upon you!
I do think that Emin has a point. It is definitely harder to do things for yourself when you have young children.
Harder, but not impossible. 
It’s quite ironic really, but I have produced more artwork since having my first child in 2012 than I did in the previous ten years when I was child-free! Crazy, when I think of all that time I had – what was I doing??!! I guess I sort of dabbled, not really being serious, letting myself get distracted.
Now I am a lot more focused.

If I have a free hour I get working instead of watching the television. If I get a day (which is a huge luxury & very rare!) I head straight down to the studio, lock the door and create. I am only human & there are of course times when I need to do nothing and relax, but I have found that since having less time I actually get a lot more done!
Arthur Ashe pretty much sums up what I am trying to do when he says ‘Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.’ 
However, sometimes my good intentions are disrupted & things don’t always go to plan! 

One particular night I put the kids to bed. Husband out, house to myself – great! Race downstairs to get on with some artwork. Just get started when I hear a cry from upstairs. I rush back up. Toddler stood on landing crying, covered in sick and I mean covered! Initiate clean up mission – bath, dress, soothe toddler. Change bedding, clean floor, spray lots of Fabreeze about!

Just about to start work again when there is another cry, only this time it’s the other one! I go back up. He also has been sick. So I start the whole process all over again! The small window of opportunity I had vanished before my eyes – highly frustrating!

However, I have learned not to fight it. The children come first. There will be ups and downs. There will be many, many nights like this! I just have to accept it, laugh (and cry!) and move on.
The children are part of my life – a huge part of it. I love them, but I also love my art. So, the two often merge. I enjoy capturing their antics on paper as a reminder of their funny, quirky, heartwarming ways. Many of these scribbled drawings are on scraps of paper or in old sketchbooks – basically whatever I can get my hands on at the time.  I am in the proces of collating all these drawings – I have an idea to put them all together to create a book. The idea being that I create a library of these books over the years, something to show the boys as they grow and for me to flick through in my old age!

Emin may feel that she could never compromise her art for children, but I feel that my children often enhance my artwork and provide new ideas that I’d never thought of previously.