It is 10pm and I am sitting in a Tibetan restaurant off Bergmanstrausse in Kruezberg, sharpening my already sophisticated eavesdropping skills. The nerdy expat students are hanging out eating goat milk dumplings and talking about where the cool kids hang out (warehouse parties on the outskirts of Leipzig) – boring – Oh wait – conspiracy theories… Apparently high doses of fluoride in water causes docility – this is why Hitler was adamant about dental health for the people. It was really to do with mind control.*

Prior to coming to Berlin, I organized a masterclass with a locally based teacher and painter, Eoin Llewellyn. We met this morning at the National Gallerie and looked at many paintings, deconstructing the technique. A great deal of the artists we looked at are German and I had little knowledge of most of them but so glad to have discovered some gutsy painters.

Menzel and Blechen stood out for me but there was a lesson to be learned from Casper David Friedrich and it was about quiet and ‘breath’ in the handling rather than concepts of the sublime.  In Menzel, though his handling is energetic and loose, there are always areas that are barely touched beyond the imprimatura. This gives the painting air and space and serves to bring attention to the areas of great energy without overwhelming the viewer.

We also discussed processes for home made mediums (which are pure and do not have any of the additives that factories add). Eoin was also advocating the reduction of solvent use in my practice. I don’t use much as it is but he made me realize that I really don’t need to use any.

The side of the National Gallerie is undergoing a refurbishment and Eoin explained that a great deal of historic buildings are still being repaired from WWII. He then pointed out the bullet holes in the walls that we were passing. I was shocked to see this. Had I been looking at the wall without this explanation - it probably would not have occurred to me that that the texture was this - I'm so unused to seeing such a thing. I have attached a picture below - many of the walls in Berlin look like this.

For lunch we had crepes in a food market in Kreuzberg, which were completely and utterly divine and went to Eoin’s studio to put into practice some of the things that I had observed in the gallery.

At this stage in my development as a painter, it is very insightful to have someone watch me paint and point out habits that I have that I barely notice. After discussing with Eoin the things that I wanted to achieve in my work, he was able to observe my technique and highlight why these things are eluding me. At times this was frustrating because, as with all change, our tendency is to resist. We worked right through into the evening. It was an exhausting and exhilarating day and I have learned many valuable lessons. I am excited to get back to my own studio to put them into practice.

*I googled this when I got home and there are actually plenty of websites that suggest that fluoride consumption can lead to lowered IQ together with a list of other health side effects such as bone cancer - interesting. 


Starry Starry Night,

Paint your palette blue and gray
Look out on a summer's day
With eyes that know the darkness in my soul
Shadows on the hills
Sketch the trees and the daffodils
Catch the breeze and the winter chills

In colors on the snowy linen land.

Its 10.50am and I am on a bus to the airport and I feel a bit proud of this morning’s achievements. I got up early and went for my run (walk) around Vondelpark and the canals, came back to the hotel and ate breakfast, showered, packed up my bags and checked out. I was waiting at the Van Gogh Museum when they opened at 9am – spent one hour in there (wish I’d had more), ran across town to the apple shop to buy a replacement charger as I left mine in London. Made it back to the hotel to pick my suitcases up and haul them to the bus stop to catch a 10.30 bus. I managed to make three sketches on the bus as I have been asked to bring some to show my tutor tomorrow. Awesome if I may say so myself.

The Van Gogh Museum was wonderful. I didn’t realize that VanGogh only painted for 10 years, and further to that; all of the highly saturated impasto work we know him for he created in the last 3 years of his life. There seemed to be a distinct shift in his work once he moved to Paris in 1888 and then he died in 1890. What a beautiful, fragile, insightful soul.

This is a little bit random but there is a Dr Who episode where the Tardis lands in Arles in 1890 and the Doctor and Amy befriend Vincent just before his death. I love it and I will forever more think of his character like the one in that episode. 

Artists are always looking for ways to make the optical experience of a painting more sophisticated. I was amazed to see that Vincent crushed glass into a fine dust and sprinkled it over the surface of his painting. This is not visible to the naked eye but the gallery will allow you to observe it through a microscope. I can only imagine that the way the light refracts as it hits the pieces of glass would intensify the luminosity of the painting. I have not known any other artist to do this although I know marble dust is sometimes mixed in with the paint.

Arriving in Berlin is exciting. Eva is my host and she met me at the apartment to run through the quirks. It’s gorgeous but I am exhausted. A quick trip to the supermarket to grab some dinner – fresh roggenbrot, liverwurst, blueberries and beer – that’ll do. In a state of delirium I devour my purchases and fall asleep as I hit the pillow.

Photos: The door way to the apartment block and the view from my window.

 Lyrics Credit: Don McLean, Vincent, 1971