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Srilanka, a holiday with paints

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.

WT Painting in the vegetable market in Galle
WT Painting in the vegetable market in Galle

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.

Two fruit market stalls in Galle
Two fruit market stalls in Galle

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.

The fish market in Galle
The fish market in Galle

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.

Bohdi tree at Gatagoda Temple, Srilanka
Bohdi tree at Gatagoda Temple, Srilanka

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.

Fishermen, Srilanka 18x24cm
Fishermen, Srilanka 18x24cm

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.

Tuk-tu -repair shop
Tuk-tu -repair shop

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

Phoebe Dickinson Painting in Srilanka
Phoebe Dickinson Painting in Srilanka
Phoebe Dickinson and WT painting at the nature reserve
Phoebe Dickinson and WT painting at the nature reserve

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.

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What a difference a year makes

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.

Front aspect of Heron Bay
Front aspect of Heron Bay through trees

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.

Capt Peto 8x9
Capt Peto 8×9

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

Bongo Man by WT
Bongo Man by WT

and then one of Ronnie Woods.

bongo-man - Ronnie Wood
Painting of Bongo Man by Ronnie Wood

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.

Elvis aka Spicer 12x10
Elvis aka Spicer 12×10

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.

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Royal We

Rds logo

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..

Burra - Izzy Orts 1937
Burra – Izzy Orts 1937

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.

Tetbury Poster
Tetbury Poster

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.

Slade Photo WT
Slade Photo WT

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

WT and Michelle Cioccoloni
WT and Michelle Cioccoloni

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.

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Seasons Greetings

Party Blower
New Year Party Blower

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

Shapes for Iris
Shapes for Iris

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.”

Allegory of Painting by Antonio Leonelli
Allegory of Painting by Antonio Leonelli

I tried my sketches on our dogs but sadly, as it turns out I have some way to go.

Seasons Greetings

Merry Christmas

Happy New Year

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Painting a country house and Julian Barrow

Views of Thornton Manor, The Wirral, Liverpool

Thronton Manor by Julian Barrow.jpg

I had heard of Julian Barrow and seen his paintings long before I met him. I had heard that he would travel the world, arriving somewhere with perhaps two letters of introduction. He would paint a collection of pictures, have an exhibition, then sell all the paintings to the large number of new friends he had made since arriving. He would then move on to another country and do the same again. Actually I didn’t just admire him; if I’m honest I was also a little jealous.
One day I was painting an interior of the dining room in a very grand London house and I went downstairs and found him painting a view of the hall. He was completely charming and I liked him right away.
We painted together like this for about three days during which time we stopped now and again to look at each others work and to chat. His picture was then finished and he went off to paint a house in St John’s Wood. My painting took a further two months and although he was very nice about it and said that I was doing something really much greater and that his was rather slight in comparison, I couldn’t help feeling that somehow he had the best of it all.
A few years later I bumped into him and he took me to see his studio in Tite Street, Chelsea,. It had once belonged to Augustus John and the living and working areas were situated on various different floors. The rooms were tastefully decorated in a Bohemian and rather opulent way and the walls were covered in his paintings, all beautifully framed. Here he held annual parties that were renowned throughout London and the home counties. All pictures were for sale and sell they did. As I left we swore undying friendship and promised to meet up in Wiltshire very soon.
Sadly he died last year and his memorial service was crowed out with his friends, more friends than most people would make in ten lifetimes. The address captured him so well and you can read it on line here and also see some of his work

He was famously known as one of the pin-stripe painters, after the sort of clothes worn around the St James’ area of London, where all the gentleman’s clubs are. Certainly, I noticed a number of pictures by him when I was painting a portrait interior at White’s a few of years ago. He told me he trained at Signorina Simi’s, an atelier in Florence where young people went to study painting 30 or more years ago. I think there was a large emphasis on tonal value there and this may have helped him see compositions in a simplified way which enabled him to paint so quickly and yet convincingly. I have read that he studied under Annigoni so I may have mis-remembered what he told me but the end result is the same. Many people who train in the Ateliers in Florence now seem to come out as clones, it can be hard to tell their work one from another but Julian Barrow’s work is easily recognised even before seeing his hand written style signature in the bottom corner.


I still think of him and his paintings, particularly when I am trying to capture something quickly. In fact I have been painting in a house recently where I counted 6 of his pictures so far – there may well be more – and as I go past them I have a look to see how they were done.

Julian Barrow1

I love paintings of country houses and I thought I would try and do one. I painted this at Fosbury in Wiltshire a couple of weeks ago and I have to say it probably owes more than a little to Julian.


Fosbury w

Fosbury, oil on canvas laid in board

Easel Fosbury

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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.