the spitbite diaries: preface

From the age of about 7 I drew and painted constantly and was encouraged by everyone. I saved up to buy art books and it was all a big part of my life. By the time I was 14, my inspiring teacher had left, suggesting that I study art after doing a languages degree. I came from a family of linguists and art was seen as a very dodgy option in those days, so of course, I ended up studying French. I drifted into teaching. I won’t say it was time wasted, but I do wish I could have the choice over again.


an early work

I did actually escape into art at 40 and became a full-time printmaker, concentrating on landscape etchings. I had discovered Adult Education, made some rather “organic” coil pots and some frankly peculiar linocuts and was love at first bite, as we say in the trade. Etching seemed to suit my linear style with moody overtones. I joined Greenwich Printmakers, my life changed and I made a modest living for about 20 years.

Inside, I felt a phoney. I had fallen into it by accident with no real training, no life drawing and no perspective other than what I could pick up. I had never painted and hadn’t done any serious drawing since I was at school. I learned to do etching for its own sake and according to its own rules. I looked closely at landscape, translated it into open bite and coarse aquatint and then worked from photos and notes in my studio. I picked up a lot from other generous printmakers. Planning, etching, printing, packaging and dealing with galleries took up most of my days. I had no other financial backing and not much time to diversify.

I had always had the idea in the back of my mind that I would finally do an art degree. Eventually, when the time came and I looked around, the goalposts had changed completely. Firstly, I couldn’t begin to afford tuition fees and secondly, conceptual art was everywhere. I talked to a few friends who had gone down the official path and decided that I didn’t want to buy into this one. Did I want to engage yet again with the concepts of 19 year-old blokes? I'd given them enough air time first time around and could write their script. I wanted to do something within my area of interest. Something to redress the balance and make me happy to put pencil to paper. I had unfinished business and I wasn’t getting any younger.

So I set off on my search for an etching substitute and some feedback from really good tutors. My plan was to spread things over 3 years, starting with drawing in various media, progressing to colour and painting and finishing with a year of chosen specialisations. I was already a regular visitor to West Dean College and went to a few local Adult Education classes. It has always been my experience that some of the best, most creative teachers are lurking in Adult Ed. (and who can blame them ?) Evening classes had led me to a career in etching. Time to draw up my three year plan.....

This is the story of how it went.