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Manchester day trip

My son Lewis has been studying Mathematics for some years now , most recently at Manchester University. He completed his thesis nearly a year ago  and has held a fellowship at UEA in Norwich since that time.

The actual awarding of his Doctorate took place last Thursday so his mother and I joined him there for the ceremony. I felt that I should mark the occasion so I packed my day bag with my smaller Pochade and a few things for the day. I set out from London in fairly overcast conditions and was a bit apprehensive as the weather is often warmer in the South East and Manchester is in the North West. My fears were groundless as when I got there it turned out to be  a beautiful day. We had time to get a bowl of noodles in a Chinese restaurant beforehand. Manchester has a large Chinese population and it was a truly authentic place, food, customers, decor, the lot.

Then off to hire the gown and book the photograph and queue up to get in. Anticipating that I would get covered in paint, I wore a very cheap suit so I felt somewhat under dressed compared to my neighbours queuing behind me wearing in the most exquisite African robes

Once we had made it into the hall it was all pretty quick and the ceremony was all over in an hour. We arranged to meet up on a grassy area in front of the building where there was an ice cream van doing hardly any business so with no queuing Lewis and I had a cornet served by very a friendly ice cream man. The ice cream itself was definitely one of those that had been made of surplus lard from the meat industry, but what could one expect from one of the last bastions of the 50‘s?

Lewis Ice cream

Doctor of Cool

Next up was a small reception at the Alan Turing building where Lewis had had his office. They had laid on cream cakes and tea in the lobby and there were a couple of dozen people standing about in small groups, mostly degree graduates. I then went back to the grassy area in front of the old Victorian University building where the award ceremony had taken place and got out my paints. As I was just making the first few marks a couple of  old dears came up and said “we’ve come to see if you are any good.”.

I would like to start a list of unanswerable remarks people have made as I work. The other people who came up were quite nice. The light was going behind the building and was catching my eyes so it was lucky I has a cap with me. I spend a disproportionate amount of time planing what to take painting as forgetting something like that can mess up the whole day.


The finished Sketch, oil on primed paper 5.5“ x 6“


I have mounted the painting on ply and I’ll send it to Lewis. We are really proud of what he has achieved and I’m only sad that of his four grandparents only one is still alive and he was too infirm to attend. They would have been thrilled.




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If paintings were plants…

If paintings were plants then drawing would be the root system.

Usually I draw something out on paper with a pencil before starting a painting. It may be to establish the composition or to understand what is happening in front of me but even if the drawing takes a couple of days it saves time in the end. I also like to sketch when I go out, the desire to do this can become something like a need and I find it enhances many things. I love doing portraits and drawing people as they go about their business is a great challenge. You never quite know where the pose will settle as they move from one action to another. Concerts are great places to draw, the players move from one position to another and back again and you can usually fine a pose that they return to.

Faultless web

Here is Maggie Faultless playing Purcell last year. She is a top class violinist who plays in old Churches under the title Music for a While

Last night we went to see Donazetti’s La Fille du Regiment.
The performance was in English and directed by Jeff Clarke. The action was set in California and characters were transformed from being soldiers in an army regiment into bikers from a gang called “The Regiment”. In the first half I drew a scene from the Opera trying to catch the auditorium which is wonderfully intimate with a capacity of less than 100. The performances take place in an old Italian Cloister in Iford Manor gardens, a famously beautiful garden in a wonderful location in the Wiltshire countryside.

Donazetti La Fille du Regiment web

Act 1 La Fille du Regiment
I draw in a leather notebook filled with loose pages and was using an ebook reader light called a Kandle. At the start of the second half someone in the row behind and 2 seats along told me she found the light distracting so I just watched the performance without doing any more drawing. I had wanted to draw some details of the action, particularly the bit when the bikers come on with motorbike chromed handlebars attached to forks and front wheels – what a sight! I’ll have to give the light idea more thought but I hope to find a way to keep the light from shing out at people. It could of course be that she was just jealous.

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Barbados in February

February is a great time to get away from the short, cold and wet days we have in the UK at that time. Winter has gone on long enough but there seems no end in sight. This year we were lucky enough to go to Barbados for 3 weeks where I was planning to paint. I usually do some drawings and watercolours or perhaps some oil paintings but my oil painting take me a really long time and I wanted to make a change in t he way I work. I had read something of the recent interest in Pleine Aire. This is something I have done a bit of but the last series of quick open air paintings I had done was some years ago when I went to stay with my mother for a few weeks at the house we had in Haute Vienne There I got in to the way of painting a picture a day, and  somehow the ideas kept coming, I never had to move very far to get another idea but as can often happen, I found that when I got home the spell was broken. My children were very young and there never seemed a decent stretch of time to get fully involved in painting – perhaps I should have been stronger willed – but the magical moment seemed to have gone.

One of the few examples I still have from that time;
Red Ladder Moulin de Bret w
Red Ladder, Moulin de Bret
So excited was I by the imminent trip to Barbados, 3 weeks with no chores and no excuses, that I started organising my kit well in advance.
I was going to have to take a large amount of clothing, it is about 30 degrees there in the day and never cool enough for a sweater but as it is hot you can find yourself having to change 3 times a day, particularly when the social life heats up. This meant being careful not to take too much heavy art kit. I bought this 8 x 6 inch pochade box from amazon

Realising that there was only a small amount of room for paints, I bought a 100 20ml syringes to transfer paint to. They then take up less space and weight allowance. I had thought of buying some empty tubes and decanting small amounts of paint into them but then I thought of using syringes and the idea works really well. I also took my Herring easel, an aluminium fishing stool and a memory foam cushion. You would think that you could always borrow a stool in any house but experience has taught me otherwise.The Herring easel is not really the same system as the pochade which is supposed to replace the easel but I knew I could rely on my trusty Herring and it weighs very little.The first place we stayed in was Callaloo, a house on the Sandy Lane Old Nine golf course that gets less use now-a-days. There I sketched the guest house. It is based on the local Chattel House design.
Callaloo Chatel House w
Chattel House
We then went on to Heron Bay which is possibly the nicest place on the Island. There I did 2 more paintings of a Chattel House.
Here is the setup for the Chattel House pictures. This one was being used as the office.
Liz and Betty at the Chattel House

Betty Rayside is the power behind Heron Bay and helps make everything run smoothly.  Liz works at Heron Bay, she has been there a few years now and she often has a great hair style, something that girls in the Caribbean excel at.

I also did a few drawings.

The third stop was Leigh House. We went for the last hurrah as the house was in the process of being sold and we were part of the final party of guests. The owner, David Bernstein, had inherited the house from his father, it was one of the earlier designs of houses typical of Barbados, built with large doors that open onto the outside space so that you are cooled by the sea breeze as opposed to the more contemporary styled hermetically sealed, air conditioned boxes that some people have built in recent years.

I did one picture of the guests at lunch
Lunch Leigh House w

One of the outdoor shower
Outdoor Shower w
and one of the sea gate.
Beach Gate w
The painting are all 6 x 8 inches or smaller and I didn’t get up to the one a day rate I aspired to but I feel that I made some real progress.One other thing I tried with some success was painting on a specialised oil painting paper. On this occasion I used Arches oil paper. It’s quite good but the brush drags along it a little too drily for my taste. Using oil paper does mean you can take alot with you as it weighs next to nothing and the paintings can be transported quite easily. Two of mine were still wet when I packed for the flight home so I masking taped them to the inside of a chocolate box and put them in my suitcase. They can then be glued to a board when you get home. I bought Lineco ph neutral pva for the purpose.

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21st in France

A trip to France

We had quite a busy Ascot week this year. It started off with a lunch on the Sunday at Paul Cole’s Yard at Whatcombe and was followed by 3 days of racing at Ascot. From Ascot we had to go to Poole harbour to take the Ferry to France where our friends the Pilkingtons were having a party for their daughter Silvy’s 21st. It was obviously an occasion for the motor home, and we had badges for Her Majesty’s Representatives car park so we parked there on the Friday and drive to Poole after racing to sleep the night at the port. Typically the car park was full of new lux cars attended by rather bored chauffeurs and busy car park attendants so the motor home brightened their lives a bit.

Soph Ascot Authority w

Sophy and motor home parked in the HMR Car Park


When we got to the house in France we parked in the orchard overlooking the house. From here I painted a quick sketch of the house to give Silvy.

La Boissais w

La Boissais


La Boissais for Silvy w

Painting for Silvy


The party was theme was The French Revolution but we only heard that at the last minute. I could have kept my Ascot clothes on for it but didn’t want to wreck my top hat so took a selection of red white and blue stuff. We went to bed at about 1am, the party went on all night. I slept fitfully and in the morning the music had changed to a sort of Dub step sound. After coffee and a light breakfast I went down with my Pocharde kit to see what was going on. A hard core of about 30 were still at it. Beer instead of wine but much the same. I started painting. Every now and again someone got up and moved somewhere else. Occasionally someone would  leave to sleep in a field. I saw one girl lying still on her side in a beautiful lemon yellow ball gown and started to put her in but decided she would have been better in her own picture so with some regret I painted her out. Instead I concentrated on figures round the bonfire that had been lit in front of the barn where supper was held the night before.

paint aftermath w

Aftermath of party


La Boisais Silvy 21, Morning after 7x9 web

The painting of it


The paintings didn’t take much more than a couple of hours each and I found that slapping the paint on quite thick and adjusting it as I went was really liberating. I shall start back on one of my larger more studied interiors this week and I hope to bring some re found freshness to the work.


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Sir Patrick Michael Leigh Fermor, DSO, OBE 11 February 1915 – 10 June 2011

Patrick Leigh Fermor, or Paddy as we knew him, was a great friend of my parents in law both of whom he was very close to and because of that we saw a bit of him. He was often very amusing and could think in almost any language, he could do a great turn singing songs in unexpected languages, such as nursery rhymes in Latin which would always bring a laugh as we sat around after dinner.

Paddy and Pat TR web

Paddy with Pat Trevor-Roper Christmas 2002

 He was a cult figure in travel writing circles. I had read and very much enjoyed A Time of Gifts which was the first book of three describing his journey on foot from The Hook of Holland to Constantinople in 1933/34.

One weekend I sat and drew him as he worked at some writing. When you are staying somewhere at the same time as someone who is already very good friends with the assembled cast of characters it can be a little hard to get going with them. They have so much common ground in their years of jokes and experiences with the other people there that it’s easy to get left out. Spending a couple of hours together me drawing while he sat at the desk I felt that I at last got to know him a bit. I kept thinking of Dirk Bogarde playing him in Ill Met by Moonlight. This was a film of a book based on Paddy’s wartime exploits in Greece where he was a war hero. ?Disguised as a shepherd and going by the name Michalis he lived for two years in the mountains of occupied Crete and famously capturing the German commander General Heinrich Kreipe. .

I was very engrossed in teaching myself more about etching at the time and struck on the idea of a series of etchings of writers. I etched a version of the drawing onto a zinc plate in an edition of 40.


Patrick Leigh Fermor, etching with aquatint

There has been quite a bit about him recently as Artimis Cooper has just finished posthumously putting together the third and final volume of his travels titled The Broken Road available here

He had never finished the third volume but she has managed to piece it together from the unfinished manuscript and some notes and diaries.

It seems a good time to take a couple of the prints of my Paddy Leigh Fermor etching to the Ramsay gallery which I did the other day.


Ramsay Gallery in Ebury St London SW1

I went on to do etchings of the biographer Victoria Glendenning and also the historian, Robert Key. I shall do more authors as and when. They are a great subject and there is much to be done.

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Painting Game

About 4 or 5 times a year I have been kindly invited to shoot with various friends . People who shoot will know that it’s a great day out, sometimes even a weekend. At the end of the day we see the game keeper and he  generally offers each gun a brace of birds (a cock and a hen strung together at the neck).

Grouse for David 20cm by 10.5cmBrace of grouse, oil on gesso

Each shoot will have its own rules as to what is to be shot that day but vermin are included in the bag, pigeon are great for making pate, jays and magpies probably not so good but if I see something unusal or that catches my eye then I will ask for it to paint. Pheasant need to be hung for up to a week in a shed depending on how cold it is out so if I can manage a quick sketch we can still eat it afterwards.

crow webRook, oil on panel
I have painted detailed pictures of game in the past but I tried to get these done quickly, I wanted them to be fresh and lively and also I didn’t want to spend too much time doing them, they are small momentos of the day
The other great thing is having something interesting to cook. Plucking the birds is a hell of a job so often I just remove the breast and make a game pate, a pie or perhaps even a Thai pheasant curry. Families that shoot alot sometimes say that they get tired of pheasant done up 100 different ways but I never seem to get bored of it.
There is of course a long tradition of painting game. It is a seasonal sport so it depicts a time of year*. It also depicts a time of feasting. There are some wonderful still lifes that depict all sorts of game including duck, hare and venison.  This still life attrributed to Jan Fyt is in the National Gallery in London is a nice example of a 17th century Dutchpainting of the gendre.

A Still Life with Fruit, Dead Game and a Parrot
late 1640s, Attributed to Jan Fyt

Its quite funny, when I come home in the evening carrying my shooting kit and a brace of birds,  I come into the kitchen where our African Grey parrot lives and I generally try to hide the birds from her. I don’t know why, it’s stupid really as she is as keen on a roast pheasant leg as any of us. To see her standing on her perch holding a drumstick in her claw and chomping through it is hilarious. I’m struggling to think of any contempory artists who paint pictures of dead game. Some years ago I was at the Slade with Melissa Scott Miller, she was my girlfriend at the time, her father shot with a syndicate and she painted many a brace of pheasant, often quite large paintings but she mostly paints London Scenes now and she is a well respected Artist, a member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and The New English Art Club.
Archibald Thorburn, a Victorian artist who specialised in sporting pictures usually painted pheasant or grouse in flight, A number of living artists paint game alive, flying or running about, just not shot game as still life.

Archibald Thorburn – Swerving from the Guns, Red Grouse watercolour and bodycolour 74 by 130cm 1913

Tastes change and less people want paintings of dead birds. I could be like that too if I had always lived in town but when you are out in the field with a bag of cartridges and your gun in your hands and the first flush of birds start to come through the excitment is almost unbearable. You are in contact with an element of your being that was asleep, the hunter is in all of us and has been since we were cavemen. The birds have a good life in the wild, unlike their distant cousins chickens which are brought up in disgraceful conditions laying eggs for us and of course the conditions many pigs are raised in for pork and bacon is a scandal. The people who buy these supermarket products really should get out more and have roast pheasant sometimes and being lean its also better for you so ideal for today’s figure conscious urbanite.

Pigeon web

Pigoeon, oil on panel

*In the UK the game season opens in August with grouse on the Glorious 12th, partidge on the 1st of September and the 1st October for pheasant. The season ends on the 2nd February.

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Dog Art

As I find it a shame when blogs I have followed fizzle out so I’m going to try again with a post of my Christmas card showing our whippets Tara and Millie shopping in Oxford Street on a new “Boris Bus” driven by our African Grey Parrot Anna. This picture made the Christmas edition of Dog Art Today.

My elation at being there has an irony attached to it. When I was about 15 or 16 and still at school I had decided to become an Artist, a somewhat rash and questionable decision for my age. but there you go. I quite admired my Art teacher so when he derided Artists who painted dogs as one of the lowest forms of Sunday painter we all agreed like mad.

Here I am some years later, I am an Artist but what would my then self say if he heard that I had included dogs in my last 4 or 5 pictures?

There are indeed some Dog Artists whose paintings lack style or substance but equally there are many who paint marvellous dog pictures, My wife Sophy’s family have a number of truly good Dog paintings including some by Landseer. Her interest persuaded me to look again. 
I think you could make an argument for Lucian Freud’s paintings of Whippets and other dogs to be some of his absolute best work.

 Girl With A White Dog – Lucian Freud – To be seen at The Tate Britain

One of my best friends was the Artist Craigie Aitchison. He painted his Bedlington Terriers repeatedly. We have his painting of Sugarbush going to heaven hanging in our house right now.

Sugarbush Going to Heaven – Craigie Aitchison

My friend Sally Muir has been doing a picture of a dog every day for a while now.
It’s worth a look for sure.

I hope I have, over time become more open minded about paintings, certainly I view paintings of dogs very differently today. In fact Dog Art is now one of my favourite genres.

Happy Christmas!

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RIP Ned Ryan

I was looking out some photos of my paintings and came across the photo of a sketch I did of Ned Ryan in Barbados. It was a hot day and after lunch I painted him for an hour or so while we sat in the shade. I would liked to have spent longer on it but in some ways there is a freshness you get working alla prima which is better than improving the likeness. He was happy with it anyway.

It was great to have a chance to talk to him for a bit, he was such a nice man. I never heard him say a bad thing about anybody, the strongest he ever went was; not one of my favourites. I would like to be more like him in that respect.

His memorial was on the 28th April and I was sad that I couldn’t go that day. I sent one up for him instead.

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A west country exhibition

It seems that blogs are like news year resolutions when it comes to keeping them updated. I thought I ought to mention this exhibition that I have some work in. Perhaps it will encourage me to post more regularly in future.

I haven’t done many still lifes in the last couple of years so Have enjoyed doing one or two for this. Each Artist was represented in the invitations thay were sent out by a postcard of their work. Mine was this cigar and ashtray painting done in egg tempera on gesso.

This bring me to another point. I have always believed that the plural of Still Life was Still Lifes. Lives being the plural of a persons life and Still Life being another word with it’s own rules. Any thoughts?
The show is in a gallery I last showed at 20 years ago called the Summerleaze Gallery at East Knoyle. It is owned by Tim and Trish Scott Bolton who also run Art classes there as well as in India. They have been joined by John Stoller, an American Art dealer from Minnesota now living in the area.
I went along to the Saturday night opening to see how it looked and enjoyed myself catching up with the Scott Boltons, their guests as well as some of the fellow Artists. There can be a nasty atmosphere when Artists meet at a group show. Jealousies over who brought who, who then went on to buy work from another etc.
I’m glad to say I didn’t witness any ugly scenes on this occasion though.
The show runs until the 6th December
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This new eye sore of a corkscrew and cork is off to London tomorrow to try its luck at The Ramsay Gallery in Pimlico Green. It’s in oil on gesso and I did on days in between my present main project. I’m working on an interior at the moment but I always like to have something else on the go. Some people only like to work on one piece at a time, but I find that the anticlimax after finishing a painting somehow leaves me unable to start something new straight away. I need to have something I can pick up where I left off. I imagine that computer gamers probably feel the same thing. A build up of adrenaline and then it’s suddenly all over.