Thursday, November 30, 2006


A year or so ago I had some sign carving to do and there was a bit I couldn't reach so I made this little chisel chap out of a snapped driver bit. He works like a charm and I use him for a lot of other inaccessible stuff now. I am right handed, so my left thumb acts as a stop here, the right hand would be swinging through an arc of 80 degrees or so scorping out a sliver each time, either in the same spot to make a deep hollow, or moving along to a new spot. For really tight spots or if the thumb starts to bleat too loudly you can make up little sticks to act as stoppers. As you can imagine, the leverage afforded by the handle means you don't have to put much effort into cutting. Unfortunately this is not one of those Harry potter moving pictures, so there is no motion, neither can you hear the lovely scorping sound or get that christmas tree scent.
You don't need much gear to make something similar. I had a propane torch a few fire bricks, a pair of mole grips, a little hammer and a piece of scrap iron with a curve ground into it to act as a swage. When you have done beating the steel about you heat it up to where a magnet just stops sticking to it and then dunk it into water. This leaves the tool steel hard and I just left it that way with no tempering. I am careful not to over stress it. But the reason for risking destruction is that it is such a tiny little poppet that I want it to keep its edge, because it is a bugger to sharpen and there isn't a lot of blade length to assure it a long life. The inside curve is the problem area, actually you need a few sharpening stones as well while you are out shopping for mole grips....
Compressed charcoal on cartridge 29x42cm

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Unfortunately this is the kind of face I think I make a lot when I work, so I thought I should try and memorize that for future reference. I switched over to the mallet from yesterday to eliminate the risk of further damage to my left thumb. The upswing is not that common, but sometimes there is a bit that you want to get done and it is too much trouble to turn everything around. I suppose wood is a bit more troublesome than stone in terms of carving angles because of having to go with the grain.
Gouache and compressed charcoal on cartridge 29x42cm

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Some guy messing with my chisels. I really must do a few more observed self studies to get some more data on the old map. Last job of the daylight chores was hauling that sculpture downstairs to the shop on the wheelbarrow and having a quick go at chiseling.
I spent the morning making up a turning saw, which is the frame like thing down at bottom left. I wanted it to cut some curves in the corners of the table I need to make and to make use of a tipped bandsaw blade that gave up the ghost after a few years of service. The carbide is still good and sharp, so it seemed a shame to let it rot. I had rewelded it a couple of times, but there are many stress fractures in it, so each time it cracked somewhere else. Never on the original weld, so that is a tribute to the guys who did that job.
Gouache on cartridge 29x42cm

Monday, November 27, 2006


Not much news today. I had a call from a friend saying there was a building being torn down and did I want to have a look for any desirables. The place was a concrete apartment building about ten minutes away by car, so I wasn't expecting much and it had already been torn down to the shell. There were some 3/4 iron pipes I took for use with pony clamp fittings and a ventilator fan that looked useful as well as a few other odds and ends. A good job really as I have very little space left and am doing my best to put stuff to use or chop it up and throw it out rather than collect more.
I think I forced sammy to stay on the computer longer than he wanted, so he was zonked looking at the screen. I held off the sculpting for the day and will have a go at that tomorrow with a fresh eye.

water soluble pen and water wash on cartridge 29x42cm

Sunday, November 26, 2006


I did end up getting a load of dry logs from the woodyard, and they are now chopped up thanks to a sterling effort from young sammy, however I kept just one aside as possible carving material. It smells like fir to me, but I am not sure, suitably christmasy to match the time of year. I had a little go at it with the chainsaw, but quickly switched over to the hammer and chisel. The chainsaw is speedy, but no respecter of over cutting, so I am usually very sparing with it. Fittingly, the subject is based on sammy himself back when we found a tiny little Japanese dormouse earlier in the autumn. He was fascinated by it, especially when he found out they are an endangered species. The piece is just liftable, so I may move it down into the shop, but for today I was out in the drizzle whacking away in this peculiarly sensitive yet brutal form of communication with inanimate objects that I appear to enjoy. Much more fun than making firewood.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


A hard day out sawing up and chopping wood. Sammy relaxing on his laptop, checking out driving schools on the web when we got back inside. I need to draw the chap a lot more to get an up to date version of his face fixed in my head. We carried a great big plank of wood down the steps from the road just as it was getting dark, which was my choice for the remote viewing drawing, but energies were too low by the time I got settled down. The plank will be the top of a table but it was no fun at all to carry, so I have left it in a halfway position in front of the house where I can work on it, but won't have to carry it back up from the shop downstairs. I hope it will dry out a bit more and grow lighter while it is being worked on.
Compressed charcoal on cartridge 35x25cm

Friday, November 24, 2006


Another troublesome batch of wood made me lurk by the stove longer than normal this evening. I guess I feel a strong sense of responsibility at this time of year. The wood stove is our one source of heat for the home, so it is my major preoccupation. I only feel balanced when I have a good stock of firewood in case it snows and I am constantly checking how the puppy is doing.
Every year I seem to make the same mistake of forgetting how dry things get and I suffer nasty cracks in my heels for a couple of weeks until I can get the skin thinned down by scrubbing away with a pumice stone.
The university drama is now resolved, candidates can check how they did on the web these days so my son input his numbers and checked as soon as he came home and he had been accepted on to the landscape architecture course he had chosen, so he is able to kick his heels for a bit now until that course starts in the spring. He is apparently looking forward to helping out with the firewood, so we should get to spend a bit of time together over the winter.

Charcoal on cartridge 25x25cm

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Wood chuck

One of our local absentee landlords cut down a load of cedar trees a couple of years ago and some of them are quite near the road, so we went to chop up some of the felled logs. I was on the chainsaw and the young un was chucking the stuff down the path towards the truck and then loading up. I hit a carefully concealed rock with the chainsaw so I am being paranoid in the background after resharpening it, checking there aren't any more. Of course there weren't and the horse that bolted is somewhere out in the woods. The wood turned out to be soaking wet as I suspected, but we have it stacked now, so it will be burnable some day. The trouble with cedar from our valley is that it is so fast growing there is nothing to it. It is fine when dry, but it won't make its own charcoal in the stove, so you have to burn it with something that will if it is wet or it is like trying to burn a wet bath sponge. I have a date at the woodyard to buy some timber tomorrow, so I hope to pick up something more combustible then.
Charcoal on cartridge 29x42cm

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Morning on the computer looking at translation work. I have never really been a big fan of chair etiquette, especially with desk work. I usually find myself all knotted up after a while. If there is a lot of correction on the computer I tend toward a more formal pose with both hands on the wheel, but when there is not much to do I tend to slump and drift toward foot massage, etc. I got the concrete support thing up together in a continuation of yesterdays efforts, so the stone can go on tomorrow I expect. It is a national holiday here, so I shall be exploiting my son and get him to help out collecting firewood.
Charcoal on cartridge 25x25cm

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Dead weight

I popped out to do some shopping this morning, a little cement, a new saw chain for the chainsaw, that kind of thing. Lovely to see the leaves turning, not so lovely to see the parking spaces for the disabled filled by people chatting as they stroll with able bodies into the shop. None of the alternatives of didn't notice, don't care or private logic routines of justification are attractive. It doesn't matter really, but those features are not what I want to see in my fellow humans.
Back at the ranch my post lunch activity was directed towards the brick oven again, putting in a heavy stone as a kind of hearth or shelf in front of it. I drilled holes for pins and metal reinforcing, then I will make some shuttering and put in a cement block under it as a support poking out of the wall for it to rest on. Just about to rest it on some iron pins here to see how it fits.
Charcoal on cartridge 29x42cm

Monday, November 20, 2006


There are some days when you close your eyes and find an interior with a great deal of depth, vistas of the imagination. Not today, close the eyes and nothing but a squirrely little black space. I had to warm up a bit drawing sammy on the piano before I could get my mental gubbins to retrieve an image of self. I found some charcoal the other day, it is certainly fun to make marks with, I must remember next time I feel like skiving off that it is not hard just to do a bit of a scribble with this stuff. I guess I should make some in the stove really.
Mainly hauling lumps of wood about today searching out viable pieces as material for a dining table. This lump got cut in half lengthways to form part of the legs.
Charcoal on cartridge paper 29x42cm

Sunday, November 19, 2006


I find myself in need of a vacation today. I don't recall feeling stressed, but I suspect I may have devoted some nervous energy to supporting my son in his efforts. This sculpture is swimming in the ether above our wood stove, the chimney of which is the pole like item on the left. These objects I make are a little bit like children, the ones that I have sent out into the world to fend for themselves are always a pleasure to see after a long separation as they almost seem to change over time. This one has never been away for long. The carving isn't in eyeshot most of the time, but sometimes when my brain needs a rest it swims into view and is a comfort to me. I can't say that every home should have one, but I'm glad mine does.
Carving from cypress root approx 100x140cm

Saturday, November 18, 2006


Round the table again. The stove was slightly more cooperative today. Sammy opted for a bit of tadpole fingering this evening, it gave him a new line to explore and some different sounds resulted. He has an interview for university entrance tomorrow, so perhaps this piano session was a helpful vent for nerves. He even went up the temple earlier to ask for a bit of help. He also put a picture of Grandma in his wallet to carry along to the trial. The system is that if you are recommended by the school you have a chance at getting in on an interview and one short essay, if that falls through you have to go through normal entrance exams. So, fingers crossed.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Living Room

A particularly stubborn batch of moist pine kept me lurking by the stove waiting for it to make up its mind and burn. As I tried to tempt it to health it sat there licking up bits of cardboard and plywood without commiting to anything in return. Sammy was up the other end of the room putting in a supportive and energetic stand at the piano. Not a viable image without some major space manipulation. It does look a little bit like we are not speaking, but fortunately that is not a situation that has ever occured yet. I had the piano accompaniment going on while painting this at the round table that sits in the middle of the room.
Sometimes it really is a living room.

Gouache washes on Watson paper 23x33cm

Thursday, November 16, 2006


Today was my day for visiting the local primary school to do a little craft work. This used to be once a fortnight, but the change to the two day weekend in Japan made it a once a month thing as the teachers needed the extra time to fit in more useful studies. Making triangular stools out of sticks. The sticks are irregular, so the girl at the back is steering me in the right direction with the drill angle for the hole. Some of the kids dig in and have a go, but the atmosphere at the school is gradually changing to a more hands off approach and the apparent fear the teachers have of tools is catching. We spread out one of those blue poly sheets to keep things tidy.
Last of my gesso boards.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


The morning went on some strange translation work. I had just enough time in the afternoon to put in the brick arch before it got dark. The little support worked well, but the keystone shaped bricks are bigger than they look here and I had to balance on one leg to delicately hoik the back ones into position without dumping them too hard. There were just two pieces of 5mm plywood front and back strung across the span holding the form in place, so I was able to whip them out as soon as I had finished, pull out the form and tidy up the mortar in the joints. I also took off the shuttering from yesterday's concrete, but forgot about dismantling the chute until it was too late and it was too dark to see. I did remember the chimney in the end, I had a cracked brick, so chopped that in half and the resulting hole will be where the smoke comes out.
Gouache washes on gesso treated plywood 16cmx16cm

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Bricks work

The weather was fine. I got the next stage of brickwork in today and the little oven will be ready for its arch tomorrow. With wonderful timing, I got a call from the local concrete company around 4:30pm asking if I wanted half a cubic meter of their leftovers. That is now the floor in front of the fly press. I made the horizontal arch wall here with some of their leftovers a year or so back. I am laying the shell of brick and stuffing loose concrete and whatnot down the back of the bricks, so the delivery worked out well. It is particularly auspicious as it means I can start stacking up firewood under the roof that covers the area around the press as soon as the concrete is hard enough to walk on.
This is another gesso coated board.
It is a bit blotchy as it got put in to service outside trying out the arch support and some of the concrete splashed on it.
45x23cm plywood and gouache wash.

Monday, November 13, 2006


There must be some kind of deadline coming up. Late night session on the laptop redoing floorplans for the young architect in her jammies. Digging and chainsawing and chopping firewood for me today. More outdoor stuff tomorrow too, weather permitting.
Another gesso primed plywood scrap with gouache 12x15cm

Sunday, November 12, 2006


My daughter is on an architecture course in her second year. We were talking about her current project, a gallery with a cafe, etc. I was trying to get her to see how important the cafe aspect is. It made her rethink some stuff, first looking at her model and then redrawing some ideas. She has one of those step stools and a high desk and perches up there thinking and working. Good to have her home for a change.
Gouache on gesso primed plywood. 29x25 and 45x26

Saturday, November 11, 2006


Rain stopped play on the brick work.
We had a little happening when a stray baby monkey suddenly appeared in the bushes outside my son's room. He looked very miserable and wet, but I think he was way old enough to chew, so plenty of food about. He freaked me out a little when I first spotted him as he was very close to my feet and all messed up with his feet teeth and eyes all of a mix and fur matted with rain trying to look menacing and escape all at the same time. Then he froze and I could tell what he was. He made a pretty good job of climbing up a drain pipe to get away from us, so hopefully he will make it back to his family in the end.
Pottering around with other stuff, hunted out my can of Gesso to prime some scraps of plywood and cleaned the brush on two sheets of 35x25cm cartridge paper,and this is that paper with some gouache here and there.

Friday, November 10, 2006


Can't seem to shake this cold. No energy for real world drawing today, back to the tablet PC for the day. Making up a little wooden thing to place under bricks for support while making an arch. This will be for a little brick oven for bread and whatnot. At least I hope it will, the way my head is working I will probably make it without a chimney or something. I just put in the base layer of bricks today, the arch will go in tomorrow.
About ten years ago I found a load of boxes of stick nails for use in an air nailer that had been thrown away by the road side. Despite the fact that I didn't have an air nailer I picked them up and gave them a home on the shelf, they didn't thrive and multiply, but, last year a friend gave me this unit, so I am using up the rusty little devils whenever I get a job that suits. I am afraid the mystic portal for them is a whack on the head and sinking into darkness. Nailing planks on roofs and stuff is what it has been best for. It is also ideal for these fiddly little fix up jobs, you get the peice just where you want it aaannnnddd.... BANG it is nailed.
You can see that my left hand has stopped trusting me, so it is taking care to keep all the unused fingers tucked out of the way. Back in my twenties I chopped the end off of one of them with a planer, and I also gave it a hell of a beating learning to carve stone, so it has good reason for its little foibles.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Treed squirrel

I went out for a short walk up the road with my son this evening to see what we could see. This was the first Giant Japanese flying squirrel we saw up a cedar tree. You can just see his eyes glowing. We saw some a lot closer and in walnut trees growing up from the river valley below the road and they were on branches the same height as where we were standing. Yesterday a couple of little wild boar were rooting around in our garden, so I thought we might see more of them, but no luck.
Caran dache crayons and gouache washes. Watson paper 33x23cm

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Sam's Corner

We each have our corner at the dinner table. Everyone else is dressed up warm today, but sammy gets back late on Wednesdays and I suppose the change from the cold outside to the warm from the stove got the better of him. All the better for drawing, I shall have to remember to have another go next week. It was either this or a drawing of my feet, so consider yourself one of today's lucky winners. It is a shame he is still mainly on barley tea instead of something stronger, one day..
4B pencil on cartridge paper 16x22cm

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


Same model, metamorphosed again by my poor focus, but it does have a little of him in it. He plays like that for about an hour on evenings when he is home early enough.
My son is up for entry to university, he has some kind of exam next week, essay writing and interview (so why is he lazing around playing the piano).
He often goes for the short cut when this type of ordeal is approaching. It is definitely a spiritual thing to rid oneself of irrelevances.
There are many elements of this society that strike an immediate cord with me in this way, things that seem too obvious to need explanation, I think they are just intensely human activities that convey respect; for oneself, for others, an event, an object...everything.
He does the business with the clippers, but I shave the back of the neck where he can't see and those little wolfy hairs get left behind. For some reason this always makes me think of Japanese families sending their boys to war. I am sure they mostly went to the barbers, but there must have been some fathers or mothers who did this little service for their children knowing what they were sending them off to, even as suicide bombers. How nightmareish that this foolishness is still going on around the world with the support of the people we elect, just because there is no more creative solution....
Same paper and materials as yesterday, but with a bit thicker paint in parts.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Potato hop

The young gentleman was home early again today so volunteered to cook up a curry. He is about to hoik the grab of chopped taters into the pot. Fleecy trousers, woolen jumper and the wooly hat as worn for flavor, then bare feet, so you can see how confused our climate is. Still suffering a little from the cold, all kinds of mental meanderings last night, but fairly logical at the time rather than the usual fever thoughts I get, which involve putting things together that don't fit or getting to places that don't exist on public transport that isn't running.
Gouache etc on Watson paper 163 33x25cm

Sunday, November 05, 2006


The young man arranging things in laptop world for the ipod he is plugged in to. My daughter dropped her ipod for the last time this week. It buzzes and clicks now, but that is all. Christmas must suddenly seem a long way off for her. I think her commute is dull without the choice of music. I have one of these media player things too, but for some reason I haven't got back into it since the summer visit back to the UK, my work time seems to go by OK without accompaniment. The podcast world was interesting for a while and maybe it will be again. The american radio channels on there were certainly a lot more human than most of what I hear on the Far East Network, which is the diet for the forces out here in Japan. I am sure many of the people in service must get a little sick of it too. I don't think I would like to hear so often that I had so many of my fellow countrymen so squarely behind me.
I must make a point of drawing the kids when they are home if I can.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Beatles tribute

I made the mistake of gobbling up a load of leftover tempura yesterday, some kind of germ has taken advantage of my weakness. I spent most of the day on the sofa only managing a little rewriting work and a trip outside to clean the tank that collects our drinking water from a spring. It was beginning to taste a bit muddy to me. I noticed this sprightly collection of hairs in my eyebrow the other day, the growing of which seems to be the new and surprising hobby my body is trying out. I don't normally have much success at growing stuff, but these boys will need naming soon and there are four of them. In my fevered condition it seemed like about all I was capable of to draw that, then the double image of the little hand mirror and the room behind became interesting enough to squiggle in. Hopefully back to normal tomorrow.
Rowney A5 cartridge paper sketchbook

Friday, November 03, 2006

We didn't walk up the mountain today, just stuck to the roads. On the last stretch coming past where the truck is parked we had a bit of company from this wire act. I shall have to revisit this and give you the back view as well one day, this chap was singularly well endowed. The breeding season must be closing down a bit now I think, but the important areas are still a brighter red than one would feel comfortable with in formal society. The pup has long since learned to feign disinterest in the monk fraternity. He knows he can't get at them and they know it too. I catch him looking at them out of the corner of his eye though. The young chaps are not too hot at walking the wires and their bums wobble about like crazy as though they have recently been in severe accidents. This guy had a very casual attitude and a classy flick to the wrists upper and lower on each confident stride.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

I bought this fly press
back in the summer for fifty quid (10,000yen). It is actually a lot bigger than this I guess with the top wheel about five foot across, but you can get an idea of the gubbins from this. You yank the wheel clockwise and it acts on a big threaded rod that punches down on a big dovetailed hammer thing that slides up and down. I made a tool holder for that and I am using it here to texture the edges of some angle iron for curved table legs. Putting the texture along the edge also puts a curve into the iron as the edges are stretched a bit by being compressed. The only difficult part is keeping control of the work with one hand while putting in a lot of effort with the other. I have my left elbow rested on my knee here so that helps, each blow is only a tiny space apart. The best thing about these presses is that it is quiet work, there is no banging, just a satisfying umph and an irritated squeak from the iron as it gives in and spreads out. The press is so strong most of the time you don't need to have the iron hot to do what you want, but it does need anealing if you do too much work on it.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Not quite one of those days when one feels so much a part of the everything we live in that the air itself is there to be enjoyed, but on this first morning of November I was tempted to steer my walk with the pup up the mountain ridges to try out my still complaining ankle. These paths with stairs formed by tree roots are not much traveled by the taller creatures, so the stick held ahead is essential if you don't want the Ena Sharples web hair net application en route. There do seem to be more spiders about than normal this year.
I am still only just getting used to the drawing routine, so trying out anything I can find in the range of stuff my kids used to use when they were younger. Some kind of water based pens here.
I am sure I will find my balance in the end. And find it easier to take risks with real media that can't be taken back with an undo button.