I have let my blog fall fallow this last year and although I have regularly uploaded paintings and drawings to my Instagram feed at willpaint, there are a number of things I want to get out there that are more suited to a blog and so I will attempt to put that right starting now.
I have been painting in various places around the world this year and it is something I love to do. Travel and painting seem to be made for each other (the problems encountered getting solvents in unfamiliar country’s aside). I intend to write a post soon on my various set-ups and my travel kit both bought and home made, but for now I want to write about something I am so excited about;
October in Kenya.
This October I shall rearrange my teaching days at The Royal Drawing School to fit in a week of teaching at Kilifi, a beautiful spot on the coast of Kenya.
From Saturday 8th to Sunday 16th October you are invited to Mdoroni on the Kenya coast to enjoy a week of painting in one of the most beautiful places in Kenya.
The idea is for accomplished and not so accomplished artists to paint without pressure under my guidance – We might paint interiors, exteriors, markets, landscapes, views, Arab ruins, boats, beach and trees. We will enjoy delicious healthy cooking, culture and the beauty of Kilifi Creek . This is a painting trip and holiday which can be enjoyed by artists and non-painting partners alike.
A beautiful tranquil fully staffed villa on the beach at the mouth of Kilifi Creek with views 360 degree views of the Indian Ocean. Furnished with Swahili antiques and surrounded by rambling coral gardens, bougainvillea and baobab trees.
If you are not signed up for Instagram I can highly recommend it. It’s a great place for following Artists who interest you, or anyone else for that matter and as its basically just a picture per post it really is suited to art works.
If you prefer not to install the Instagram app my feed can be viewed here
It was a beautiful English summer day but hotter. There were blue sky’s and lovely cotton wool clouds floating by. I checked in at the town hall with a lot of other artists. It was good fun chatting in the queue before hand. I took the bus up to Knightsbridge to paint Harrods as I had planned but as got off the bus at the top of Sloan Street I noticed Harvey Nicks and thought of an evening I had a few years ago that started from there on the top floor where all the smartest of young London Arabs meet up in the early evening. I looked at Harrods and found the shape wasn’t great for the canvas I had so I went back and found a spot on the traffic island opposite Knightsbridge tube and set up there.
Every time a car stopped at the lights the driver would lean out of their window for a chat. After a few hours a police car came by, did a quick u turn and stopped behind me. The policemen got out and I thought; oh, O! They said “don’t worry, we’re just being nosey, mind if we have a look? We chatted for a bit, I gave them a flier with free tickets for the show, they shook my paint encrusted hand and promised to come to the show before they went on duty. In fact they arranged to meet each other at Sloan square tube said to each other it’s a date then. They then went off in their patrol car, blue lights flashing and executed a rather dodgy u-turn. I saw them go by a few times in the day and we waved at each other as they passed.
A lady with purple hennaed hair and her pretty young assistant who was wearing very heavy make up came over and gave me a chocolate bar and a bottle of water. They were working at the Rolex shop and so I said I would come over and buy one one day.
My son Lewis and his girlfriend, Andreea came and brought me 2 cokes. It was great to see them. Lewis was going the next day back to Padua where he is working and I don’t see him much now-a-days
Lastly, a couple of women came over and said. “Cor, that’s brilliant! It’s just like it!… It’s Harrods ain’t it. I was a little embarrassed to disagree that it was actually Harvey Nichols.
I got back just in time and there was lots of queuing but we were all in the wrong queue. Mr Rapido was there being very jolly. He has only one arm and that seemed suddenly normal as I had only the day before listened to a very good podcast story involving a lady with one arm.
I was photographed holding my painting and then handed it in.
I then had to go and move my car from the Parking space I had booked for the day.and I was just unpacking a few things when I saw a family getting into their car on the other side of the street. A lady came over and said that her daughter wanted to know what my rosette was for. We were issued with rosettes to identify that we were artists doing Pintar Rapido and I was still wearing mine. I said that I had just won best pony in show and they looked really excited. I felt a bit bad disabusing them to explain about the 500 artists painting London in a day but I gave them a flyer and they went off laughing and little girl waved as they sped by in their open top Audi.
The next day, when I arrived at the opening event the first painting I came to was by my friend from the Royal Drawing School, Alex Cree. Here is the mug shot of him and his painting
We hung about a bit and then the prizes were announced.Neither of us were winners but they were all reasonable and deserving choices none-the-less. Youcan see that Chelsea Town Hall is a very splendid place. The panels that the paintings are hung on give the exhibition a feel somewhat reminiscentof an amateur art show in a village hall but I’m not sure how the organisers could ever get round that.
I watched a demo beinng given by Ann Witheridge from Lavender Hill Studios.
I have various friends and students who have been there and was very interested to see what sge would say. I enjoyed her talk but she was slightly up against it with a couple of the audience who were verging on being hecklers. You can see two guys in the front who were part of a large Dutch contingent at the competition..Anne Witheridge passed around some sample painting panels sold at Lavender Hill and one asked why it was warped, if that served a purpose. She said that it would straighten when it was framed. He said Oh I see, it straightens when it is framed, I see, um, yes. He was plainly mocking her as he did the same sort of thing over the subject of paint drying as you work. This would have been a bit annoying for her but worse came in the form a slightly crazy guy in a leather coat and hat.(it was a hot day) As luck would have it sat in a recently vacated seat in the middle of the front row and started a stream of random interruptionssuch as “What’s the most you ever sell a picture for?”
Anne was a bit too polite and looking rather embarrassed tried to answer patiently so I called out that we wanted to hear the talk which silenced him for a very short time.
After the talk I met up with Alex at the Chelsea Arts Club and we passed the afternoon pleasantly putting the world to rights.
When I got back to the town hall I spent half an hour chatting to a few fellow artists. Out of the corner of my eye I glanced my two friendly Policemen in Mufti having a serious look at all the work.
The verdict is that it was tiring but great fun and I am pleases to say that my interest in the plein air phenomenon remains undiminished. In fact I shall be taking part in the event; Paint Out Wells-next-the-sea in Norlfolk between the 9th and 13th September. Norfolk is one of the most beautiful and remote counties in Britain, if you don’t know it already, I recommend a visit ASAP.
Maybe see you at the mass Sunrise Paint out taking place on the beach at Wells and Holkham on Friday 11th?
Just a quick mention that I will be taking part in Pintar Rapido, London this year. It takes place over two days; on Saturday 11th July we go out and paint our pictures and on Sunday they are put up for sale in an exhibition at Chelsea Town Hall in the Kings Road. The show opens at 12pm and closes at 5.30.
There are going to be a lot of artists painting views of London, up to about 500 and I think it will be great fun. It is actually a competition but I haven’t as much experience in one day painting as many of my fellow painters so will be painting one of the smaller pictures there in the hope of finishing in time to hand in my canvas before the end of the day.
If you are artist and you see this in time, why not join me on the Saturday?
My wife went through a period of illness a couple of years ago. She is feeling much better now and to celebrate this she took me and her children on a holiday to Srilanka. We all went to stay in a villa near Galle which is on the south west coast
In 2004 Srilanka was devastated by a Tsunami. That was over ten years ago and things have Improved a great deal. There are signs of poverty but it doesnt appear to be to the terrible degree that can be found in India for instance. We were occassionally asked for money but not often and not persistently. Some say that as a tourist destination, Srilanka is the soft option alternative to India.
I loved Srilanka. It is very near the equator and so very hot, It is also very humid, even in March. The arrival time of 5.30am was 12.30 am in the UK. We had not really slept so we all spent most of the first day flat out on our beds in our rooms with the aircon on. Cooling off in ones bedroom soon became known as going to mini Devizes, refering to the cold temperatures we had just left behind at home. Nealantha, one of the staff at the villa had a tuk-tuk and he became our driver, alternating his brother and his father into the convoy with their tuk-tuks. I would be hard put to say who was the best driver.
I was keen to paint but the others all had agendas of their own so I settled into a pattern of going out fairly early in the morning. The friut market was something I spotted early on and Nelanther’s father took me there and stood next to me with his hand onthe corner of my easle to give support. When people came past he would talk them through what I was doing and small crowds gathered round to watch. I don’t speak Srilankan and he didn’t speak English so I never found out what he said but everone was very kind and the shop keeper brought me a glass of mango juice to sustain me.
My step-son is a madly keen and a most talented fisherman and one of the first things we did was to go out and buy some fishing tackle. I went on to the fish market to paint and Declan had a look to see what people had caught. It was very exciting at the market, everybody moving about, coming and going,. stall keepers spahing water about to keep the fish wet and fresh looking before wandering off to the other end of the market to chat. I managed to slap down a quick oil sketch, hoping that he looser style would help to put accross the bustle and movement of the market.
One morning I asked Nelanther to recomend somewhere to me and he suggested the budhist temple at. A sign at the bottom of the flight of stone steps asked us to remove our shoes before going to the temple. The soles of my feet burnt like a pair of beef burgers on the grill in a short order diner, the stone steps were so hot. Ouch, ouch, ouch! All the way to the top. When I got there I took my time looking around and settled down to a painting of what was reputed to be a 3000 year old ban yan tree, grown from a cutting from the tree in India that the buddah himself sat under. In Srilanka all festivals are observed reguarless of which religion the festival or celebrants are affiliated to. The day I painted was, I think, Good Friday.
I had nearly finished when someone approached me and asked me kindly to remove the hat I was wearing to keep the sun from my eyes. I had tried so hard to behave repectfully at the temple… and failed, so I upped the amount of my tip to the monks.
There was a great view of the sea from where we were staying and it included a couple of the poles that locals fish from. Early one morning I saw some boys fishing there and I did a quick painting. I had always wondered how people paint moving sea and I think I got a bit better at it while trying to do this view. The light was good and the water was clear so it was a great day to try it.
Once we had arrived at the villa we made all our outings by Tuk-tuk. It is hard to find a jollier way to travel. I long for a tuk-tuk at home, but Devizes in the winter in a tuk-tuk may be a bit tough. I asked to be taken to a tuk-tuk repair shop. Somehow I had a vision of it being a good subject for a painting. The Tuk-tuks are the drivers only source of income and they can’t afford to leave them standing idle. The repair men worked quicky, the tuk-tuks were in one minute and out the next. It was quite a challenge, the heat was a real challenge too.I was lucky that I had my guerilla painter umbrella with the silver top with me. I don’t think I could have survived without it. I had also asked for a large bottle of mineral water to be frozen for me to take on my painting trips. My feet, which were not quite in the shade of the umbrella were burning inspite of the liberal coating of sun cream I had applied so occassionally I poured a few drops of freezing water onto them. The mechanics would sometimes come and look and they seemed to like the picture which pleased me very much. There was one particularly dirty mechanic who was literally covered from head to toe in motor oil and grease and he was a real character. If he has a wife, either she must get desperate trying to clean him up or perhaps she dosn’t mind getting filthy when they kiss.
I went to visit some old friends who had moved to Srilanka about 15 years ago. There I saw my old student, Phoebe Dickinson. I had taught her when she was at St Mary’s Calne and also at the Royal Drawing School We spent a morning painting together which I greatly enjoyed. Here I the sketch I did of Phoebe painting a cow by a lake.
You can see more of her work at http://www.phoebedickinson.com/.
Srilanka was a wonderful place to paint. There are so many varied things to see, I do hope to return someday soon. The people are particularly kind and hospitable but the Chinese tourists were a something was was not prepared for. On our second day at Galle fort I was painting away when a very large groups of tourists started tio descend on me. At one point I was standing infront of an audience of 50 plus, perhaps as many as 100, watching as I worked. I would like to think that they had never seen such a great artist at work before but I think they were just a bit bored and in search of free entertainment. This ended with me being jostled out of the way of my painting by a the tourists so they could take selfies.
“Nought as queer as folk” as they say in Yorkshire.
I wrote a blog post in March 2014 about my trip to Barbados and my plan to try and speed up my painting rate by doing some pochades.
Although I haven’t moved over entirely to the one day or en premier coup style, I have done a number of one day sketches since then. I feel that a lot that has come out of this newer way of working was already in me or informed by the work I have done in the past decades. Some of my new work however has been just that; new and also has more energy and vitality.
This year, like last and a number before, we spent a couple of weeks of February in Barbados. The climate is wonderful, especially after the long dark and cold winter of the UK. Ok the US got it very bad this year but it was grim all the same and I do feel very motivated when I arrive in the Caribbean and am greeted by a blast of heat and the suddenly intense light. A couple of years ago I went for some whistle lessons on the tin whistle and my teacher, Bill Guilding. He is a Bristol based artist and musician and he told me that when he goes to a hot country his fingers move more freely and that he can play whistle with more fluidity, a definite advantage when playing the irish whistle or penny whistle as it is also known. This ease of movement is a real advantage in sketching.
During my trip I managed about a painting a day which I feel is close to my limit at the moment. I can do two but feel somewhat drained if I persist. On this trip I did what I consider to be one of my most successful sketches to date over two afternoons. It is of the front of Heron Bay through some trees. Painting pictures of houses is great and Heron Bay is very beautiful so should make a good subject anyway but very straight lines carry the eye too fast and don’t give enough detail to sustain interest. Breaking the shapes up with trees is a solution to this dilemma but reminds me of the row that erupted when the artist Tim Gibbs who was my uncle by marriage some time ago was painting the house of the writer Anthony Powell, a literary hero of mine. Tim claimed that the house was hideous and said that the only way to solve the problem for the painting was to paint it from behind some trees and a pond. Anthony Powell, however was quite proud of the house and had commissioned the painting of it, so felt somewhat justifiably that Tim had not carried out the commission he has given him. I don’t quite remember how this was resolved financially but I think a deposit was involved. I slightly see both sides of the argument, the difference between the artistic needs of the painting and the fact that it was supposed to be primarily about the house. Which trumps which?
I managed three portraits while I was there. I find that painting people gives me a rush of adrenalin in a way that I imagine similar to a young man taking a bungee jump. The danger awakens my senses so that I begin to feel really alive. On this occasion I managed to remain fairly relaxed because I intended them really to be quick sketches.
The first is of the very charming Nick Peto. We were staying in the same house party together so I suggested that he sat for me. His very lovely wife Zoe died not long ago and I think that sort of thing makes you feel it a good thing to leave behind a record of your existence so he kindly agreed and we did a sketch taking three or four hours it total over 3 mornings. He is that thing that some people find surprising; every bit a gent, Eton then Sandhurst, achieving the rank of captain in the 9th and 12th Lancers and a regular in the field’s top shot list, combined with a wild sense of humour. It was a very enjoyable time that we spent together. Incidently, he wrote a book a couple of years ago which contains some of his very funny stories and although out of print it can still be got.
The following week I painted a picture of Bongo, the foot massage man who was on the beach at Sandy Lane. Bongo is a Rasta and something of a legend having sat for the Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood a few times. I am not in competition with Ronnie Wood, he is a somewhat different Artist so I was free to paint Bongo as I found him, A peaceful gentle soul who twisted my arm for quite a large sitting fee. We were in the middle of negotiations while I was painting and a lady we both knew came up and said “I hope that he is paying you well for sitting there”. Of course at this point I lost all bargaining power.
Here is my picture of Bongo
and then one of Ronnie Woods.
I was going to paint a second one of Bongo but he had a lump of cash now and didn’t turn up for a couple of days so I turned to one of the golf caddies at the Sandy Lane Golf Club. He is called Elvis but also known as Spicer. The Art dealer Guy Morrison had been using Elvis as his caddy that week and he arranged things for me thus saving me any awkwardness over modeling fees. We had a very peaceable time together. I believe he is an excellent player. For the past couple of years I had wanted to paint a picture of the Seventh hole on the “Old Nine”, the name of the original Sandy Lane course. It was Robert Sangster’s favourite and a bench was placed above the tee there in memory of him. There is also a tournament held annually in his memory there. He was a very kind and generous man with a wicked sense of fun and I was fortunate enough to know him a bit.
So I used this as an opportunity to paint this view in the background. Elvis sat on a ledge of rock at the edge of the tournament or pro tee. I did get permission from Stefan Soroka, the Sandy Lane pro.
Incidentally, I had a lesson with him a couple of years ago and in just one lesson he pointed out a fault in my swing that no pro had been able to help me with before in spite of the the rather large number of lessons I had had with them.
I have seen a drawing of Elvis by Matthew Carr but can’t find any image of it. Here is a link to his page at Marlborough Fine Art, his dealers until his death in February 2011.
What a difference a year makes? I think my work has come on since the same time last year. My one day pictures feel more confident and are coming together more easily. My slower more detailed work has had a bit of vigor breathed into it.
For nearly 15 years now, I have been teaching drawing and painting at the Princes Drawing School – or, as it should now be called, the Royal Drawing School, since the Queen recently awarded the school Royal status.
This didn’t get all that much coverage, but that may be a good thing given British press’s have a habit of finding fault rather that looking for the good. They do after all have to make money and it seems that the public have a taste for bad news with salacious details. Prince Charles receives a great deal of unfair criticism from the British papers but he has in fact created more jobs for young people in this country than anyone else. His critics achievements are often fairly questionable..
The Royal Academy was given royal status in 1768, followed by The Royal College of Music, The Royal College of Art, The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) and the last arts establishment to be granted Royal status was The Royal Ballet and that was over 50 years ago so we are in the most prestigious company.
The Prince’s Drawing School was founded by Prince Charles and Catherine Goodman in 2000 in response to the decline of the teaching of drawing in British art schools.
The Prince is a great boss and he hasn’t micromanaged the school, he just provided the impetus and support.
When I was teaching Art in a secondary school some years ago I went on an A Level exam marking course. We, that is, a few hundred Art teachers, met in a large hall, and the atmosphere was charged. Partly because putting an empirical value on a students body of work is a contentious issue but mainly it was the battling of egos. To paraphrase “Little Britain”, everyone thought that they were the only artist in the village,
Many teachers of art feel that art should be done their way and take it personally if anyone wants to do something else. There are a number of small Independent art schools around the world, – some have been started recently, others have been about in one guise or another for some time – and students of these schools seem to produce work very similar in style to that of their fellow students. I have to say that the Drawing school does not seem to have a house style. There are over 75 teaching members of faculty and probably as many styles of work. I think that the Director of the school, Catherine Goodman is largely responsible for this, she has been great at picking and orchestrating the large team of tutors to give a dynamic yet balanced approach.
One statement that I read of a small teaching atelier opined that art took a wrong turn a little before 1900 and that they would like to go back to the golden age before that wrong turn. I personally don’t think it is viable to dismiss all that has been created since the turn of the 19th century and find that idea somewhat boring. I really enjoy the work of many 20th century artists, particularly those who have worked outside the mainstream, for instance Edward Burra whom it would be hard to better for imaginative quality and insight..
It is in the philosophy of Drawing School to see drawing as a part of contemporary art as opposed to in opposition to it. We are all adding stuff to the big pond that is art today.
Recently, I was asked to give a talk about the Drawing School to the Tetbury Art Society. I was to do this in conjunction with Michelle Cioccoloni who has been a student at the Drawing School. The talk would be at Highgrove, Prince Charles’ home in Wiltshire, and I was to talk about my work and my experience of being a teacher at the drawing school while Michelle would talk about her own work and the school from a students perspective.
The drawing school have a power point slide show they use for talks but as I was talking about myself at the drawing school I needed to redo the slides with examples of my own work (enough of do this me talking about myself, what do you think of me?)
Trying to make sense of the events in your life is not just an indulgence, it is essential step in moving forward and I found the act of remembering how I had got to where I am now caused me to think about a lot of things I wouldn’t otherwise be thinking about.
I ran through a series of images of my paintings showing examples from the last 35 years and used them to describe my career and some of my thoughts on the importance of drawing.
I was greatly saddened to hear that the my old art School; The Slade had given up the use of models to teach drawing and that drawing from life was not really taking place there any more. It had had a grand reputation in the past and a tradition of drawing that was famed world wide. In the last 30 years they have abandoned all that but apart from business management I don’t see what they have to teach.
Fees at British Universities get higher every year and of course you wonder what the students are paying for. It doesn’t take much to start up a private art school and give better value for money. You don’t get a degree but you can learn something. Drawing is something tangible you can teach. It is also of value. Drawing is the way we make sense of the world when we first try to understand. May people stop drawing but it would be of value to anyone and you would never be without something to do. With a pencil and paper you can feel that you are communing with the world about you and resolve many a problem of form and design. An art student who can draw can always do a portrait, design a card or a logo, draw a house or illustrate a text or book, paint a mural. Most of these things are not that well paid but they are practical use. Being visually literate is of course useful in industry and enhances our lives. In the world of conceptual art; many are called but very few are chosen. Those not chosen are not really suited to as much. They may become art teachers in schools but of course would not be capable of teaching anyone to draw or even look. How depressing is that? A whole generation of art teachers would teach the next generation that drawing is unimportant, mainly because they wouldn’t have it in them to demonstrate otherwise.
Of course one of the major points of the drawing school is to teach the next generation. So to Michelle. I hadn’t met Michelle before the talk but we had plenty of interests in common, one of which was the use of silver-point and she had brought some examples of her drawings to the talk. Here is a link to her site
She spoke very well on the subject of coming to the drawing school to learn to draw She had previously studied for a degree at Chelsea School of Art and told us all how much more she had actually learnt on the drawing year compared tor her years of study at art school up to that point. As you can see Michelle draws beautifully and she is one of an ever growing number of good draftsmen who are emerging from the Drawing School and who will carry the torch for drawing into the future. They have great deal of ability and an infectious enthusiasm for what they are doing.
The problem is they may want teaching jobs at the drawing school and I’m not ready to leave just yet!
Michelle and I had a very enjoyable day hosted by the Chairman of the Tetbury Arts Society, Gill Ashley and her husband Roger. Photos are not allowed at Highgrove but this is a shot of Michelle and me after lunch at the nearby Hare and Hounds Hotel
I don’t drink alcohol, the red flush in my face is a bit of left over bronzing from our recent trip to Barbados. More of which anon.
This is the last painting for 2014, a small party blower sketch in oil on primed paper. If you suddenly have an impulse to do an oil sketch primed paper is wonderful; you can cut it to any size and proportion with just the snap of some scissors.
I posted it on Instagram and If you feel like following me my username is Willpaint.
I usually do a Christmas card to send out to our friends. I like to do our dogs and parrot in various Christmas situations but this year I had a cough at the critical moment when I should have been finishing the drawing and printing the card. Forgive my self pity but it made doing anything feel 10 times harder and I only got half way through drawing it before it became too late to send.
We had friends and children coming and I managed a couple of sketches of Shapes as gifts.
This one was for Joss, our friend Jonathon Bond’s black Labrador
These were for Iris, a blue, almost whippet, lurcher
For those unfamiliar with Shapes they are a kind of dog treat.
According to Pliny the Elder in 5th century BC Greece, the two artists Zeuxis and Parrhasius staged a contest to determine who was the greater. When Zeuxis unveiled his painting of grapes, they appeared so real that birds flew down to peck at them. But when Zeuxis asked Parrhasius to pull aside the curtain from his painting, the curtain itself turned out to be a painted illusion. Parrhasius won, and Zeuxis said, “I have deceived the birds, but Parrhasius has deceived Zeuxis.”
I tried my sketches on our dogs but sadly, as it turns out I have some way to go.
RAPT stands for the Rehabilitation of Addicted Prisoners Trust. It is a truly worthy cause. Many people find themselves in prison each year having committed crimes while being addicts. The answer has been to lock them up for a period of time and then let them out. At this point, having had no help to deal with the root cause of the problem, their addict ion, they most likely go back to commit further crimes. RAPT is anon government funded, independent charity,and the only groupworking in prisons offering help to people trapped in this destructive cycle.
My wife Sophy and I have been supporters of RAPT for a few years now. Sophy is a great reader and loves quizzes and Rapt hold a quiz once a year at the Tabernacle in Nottinghill Gate to raise vitally needed funds. The fellow contestants are generally made up of the West London intellectual cool elite so I’m not sure where I come in but the evening is great fun and as we have a secret weapon on our team in the form of a human Google, we usually do quite well or even win. In fact he is so brilliant that the rest of us just sit in awe. This freed me up to do a little drawing on my note taking paper which I have put at the top of the page. Rick is second from the left.
The Radio 2 DJ and talk show host Jeremy Vine was the quiz master and the questions were set by Judith Kepple, the first person to win on Who Wants to be a Millionaire. They were brilliant. We had a brief talk about the good RAPT has done given by a former prisoner
who had been through the program and could speak with genuine authority on the subject.
This year I offered a days art lesson as a lot in the auction. Here is the description from the catalogue.
I got quite a good pitch from Jeremy Vine. Once I gave a painting to be auctioned for a racing charity and the auctioneer was the TV presenter Clair Balding. She started the auction off, what do I hear for a painting by artist Will Topley.
£2000 someone shouted.
£2000?!!! Are you sure? She answered.
Not exactly encouraging.
My lot went well and raised £350 for the cause which pleased me greatly.
Here is a video clip I discretely shot over my shoulder during the bidding. The Camera shake is me getting excited.
The evening was a great success and we came in second place, two points behind the winners. Most of the answers that I knew were also known by Rick (the fore-mentioned human Google) but I did know the name Marcel Duchamp signed on the infamous urinal – R Mutt.
Earlier this year I was asked to paint an interior of a house in Berkshire. It is a very beautiful house that has quite recently been decorated to the highest standard. Each morning I was let in by William the butler and was fed with coffee and biscuits throughout the day by him, Janet or Anna. Luxe.
I selected a good spot with a clear view into the middle of the room that took in the fireplace and just getting in the three walls with windows. When I paint an interior my aim is to try to express the feel of the room in one view. This isn’t wholly possible but I like to try and get as many of the important aspects in as possible. Usually, I would say the fireplace is the focus of most English houses. A view if there is one is certainly something to try to include. Usually the chairs and sofas face the fire so they often obscure the view. One way I have found to avoid this problem is to get as high as I reasonably can without loosing the human scale.
To this end I have a folding aluminium platform with a wooden surface made up of wood from pallets. This all sits on a rug to catch any paint that may try to make a jump for it. On the platform I have a tall stool and folding table. Many artists paint standing up and in an ideal world this is probably best as it encourages you to regularly get back from the painting, something that you get lazy about when sitting. However stepping backwards off a platform is not good. I also find that the relationships between the shapes in the furniture is so complex that keeping still is the only way not to get totally confused and sitting makes this easier.
I started off with a drawing done in pencil on paper. In order to get the feel for the whole room I like to get a view of up to120 degrees and at this wide an angle get the big relationships right, something which it is important to achieve. If this goes wrong, any detail, however beautifully executed, could end up in the wrong place and therefore have to be redone. Hours can be spent and lost this way.
I was to include the Labrador Spike in the painting so I did some roughs from life. However he is very boisterous and although obedient, he can only keep still for a couple of minutes so I did an oil sketch using my roughs and a few photos I took.
Next I did a quick version including Spike, and at this point it was decided that it was unfair on Rollo, the other Labrador, so he was to go in the main painting too. I now felt I could start so I scanned my drawing and when I had worked out the best size and proportions I printed it on paper to 14 x 18 inches and transferred to to a gesso panel that I prepared using rabbit skin glue size and whiting. I take a lot of trouble to decide on the best proportions for a painting of an interior and the panels are made up by me accurately to the last millimetre.
Just to keep me on my toes a fender was added in front of the fire. Extra bits of furniture arriving from time to time is something you have to learn to contend with if you are a painter of interiors and working slowly.
Towards the end of the painting we had a bit of a heatwave; it was now that I decided to light the fire and put some flames into the fireplace. I should have done this earlier when it was cooler but I had kept the fire until last as one may save the cherry off a cake to eat because it’s your favourite.
You get to know the people who work in a house quite well when you paint there over a period of time and in the same way that when a portrait is over you miss seeing your sitter, I miss the staff who looked after me so well.
In spite of being born in Hong Kong (a great racing nation) and my parents being members of the Jockey Club’s country club at Beas River, I had never even stepped foot on a racecourse before I met my wife Sophy in 1996. That was the year that Helissio won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. We watched it on television and that was the first race I ever watched. Sophy’s family were always involved in racing. Her father, was member of the Jockey Club and had horses in training with Bernard Van Cutsem and then with James Toller. Sophy has always had something in training with James too.
She has always been very supportive of my painting and I think she would even like it if I were an equine Artist. The problem is that the difference between a yearling that makes £4 million at the sales and one that is led out unsold at £1000 are not that great to the untrained eye and no one would thank you for painting their Group One winner a bit offset on the near fore.
One of the greatest living racehorse painters is Susan Crawford. She trained at studio Simi where she and Julian Barrow were students together. While he specialised in houses she specialised in racehorses. There is a queue a mile long to have your horse painted by her and she is the Artist of choice for many of the owners of Group one and classic winners. This would take some getting your head round if you were at a London Art school any time after about 1960, as conventional subjects painted in this kind of realistic way was looked down on by the cognoscenti. Witness Munnings’ great popularity amongst all racegoers and the public generally and the profound lack of his pictures in public collections. If you want to annoy a highbrow in the Art world, tell them that you love Munnings. Then cover yourself up well as the spit flies with their rage. However, in the great words of Liberace, Susan Crawford is probably “crying all the way to the bank”.
It is strange that this attitude should exist today as the worship of money and success has reached such great heights in the Art world that it seems sometimes to be the only way Art is judged.
When you try and draw a horse it is VERY difficult, it requires a great level of skill and knowledge. When I put a horse in one of my paintings and show it to my wife she says; very nice darling in such a way that I know I have to try again.
Sophy has a quarter share or what is known as a leg in a horse called Loving Spirit that was running at Newbury last week and as I am friendly with one of the directors of the course I rang him up for permission to paint there. I asked if he minded if I took my white umbrella, I was slightly worried that someone would say it could spook one of the horses but he said I wouldn’t need it – “it won’t rain” he assured me.
We got to the racecourse with plenty of time to spare. I wanted to set up on the National Hunt course which runs inside the flat course so that I could get a good view of the stands and the racing and also not be in the way. It was a rotten day and as I stepped onto the course who should I pass but my friend, the director of the racecourse, Eric Penser. He was holding up an umbrella against the drizzling rain, this really appealed to my sense of humour and being both intelligent and Swedish he saw the joke immediately.
I had already got an idea of what view I wanted. This was good as it saved time, it was also bad because I was not so open to discovering an exciting composition should it suddenly loom into view. I used a viewfinder with a red filter to reduce what I saw to it’s tonal values and help me to select the composition. Being a dull day it was even more important to make a good shape to the painting.
Just after I had got started the rain came down in a deluge. Luckily I had my Jullian umbrella and I found a good place to attach it to on the lid of my French easel. I hadn’t used this easel for a number of years but my setup worked very well. The wind blew some water onto me and my palette but I survived and by about 3.30 the sun vaguely made a break through the cloud cover and I slapped a touch of blue into the sky.
Although I was standing away from any route that anyone would take to get anywhere I met a number of people. About half a dozen race-going friends came up to say hello. Then there were stall handlers, someone who may have been the clerk of the course, the course photographers, who took lots of pictures and came to check my progress before every race and document it with more photos. There was also a security guard who asked lots of questions and gave a great deal of advice such as;
guard “I see you are using muted colours, is that your style?”
me; not really, it is a very dull day today
guard; “There are lots of strong colours you could pull out if you wanted”
guard; “I suppose you have permission to be here?”
guard; “So are you going to cut the bottom half off the painting?
me; “I quite like it like that”
guard; “no, you’ve left far to much room at the bottom. A bit would be alright but that’s far too much”
and so on.
Loving Spirit ran a good race to come 5th. I didn’t put him in the painting. It is considered bad luck to have a horse painted until it has won at least a listed race, preferably a group race or even a classic. Instead I painted Snoano beating Acaster Malbis in the Haynes Hanson and Clark Conditions Stakes. You can only tell by the clock and the jockeys colours that it is that race. The whole thing was over so fast that I sort of made it up afterwards if I’m honest.
After Loving’s race Sophy went and waited for me in the car and I carried on until about 5.30 or 6pm. Then I said goodbye to my new friend the security guard and called it a day. Wet and tired but with a sense of achievement and a warm glow of happiness.