Book Illustration… the continuing story

The Three Mice Witches

I referred to the illustrations I have been doing in a previous post. I have enjoyed doing these, and as always when you try something different, you tend to surprise yourself.

John the author, a professional actor, whose tour has been interrupted by lockdown, which as everyone knows has closed theatres throughout the land, produced delightful sketches and memories on social media. Such was the response, that he collected them together into an anthology. I was asked to provide illustrations for the various chapters, just as visual footnotes, which I hope has done justice to the book.

The works of Shakespeare, as with many other well known pieces, crop up often. The Scottish play is no exception. Why is it unlucky to mention that play by name? Theatre folk are notoriously superstitious. Who else would say “break a leg” to someone just going on? I don’t know but must check it out before going further

One view put forward is that Shakespeare used actual spells during the witch’s incantations, by which I mean spells that witches used. I am not able to say whether they worked or not. It has also been pointed out that MacBeth, being a short play, was put on, at times of emergency, such as sickness amongst the cast. It came to be associated with misfortune. That sounds more feasible, but we don’t really know

As you can see the three witch mice are in full incantation. They are wearing their masks or their ‘blinds’, and they are looking convincing. If they are not convincing, they certainly look frightening. I wonder if we shall see them in print. I believe there is interest from two publishers, but of course it will depend on the deal. We shall have to see

Changing tack for the moment, I sold Horses in the Wetlands yesterday to a buyer in America. Always an extra buzz when the sale is international, I’m not sure why. Anyway the picture was picked up at lunchtime, and is probably going through Heathrow as I write this. In a year when real exhibitions were not possible, online sales have proved a godsend . I will leave with a reminder of the image

Horses in the Wetlands

Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire, completed painting

Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire

I have completed this painting and very much enjoyed doing it. It seemed to come together without too many mishaps which is why I pushed on and completed it before publishing

We came here some years ago. It is a very tranquil spot. The painting only shows part of the ruined abbey church, which would be the chancel, I think, and the tower which was on the crossing. The rest of it, the long nave would be way to the right. Although ruined the abbey nonetheless is very impressive, and is indicative of its importance and wealth in its heyday

Strange to think that but for the greed of Henry VIII it might still be there today, functioning in some form or other. Henry VIII, always short of money, seized the monasteries in about 1536, and dissolved them. The properties were seized and sold off. This was a Cistercian monastery, and they had become wealthy through sheep rearing especially. Wool was the basis of national wealth at the time. Hence this monastery must have been a prize for the taking

Monks were dispersed. Not all were treated brutally although some were, especially if they protested about the Act of Supremacy which put the king at the head of the church. Some received pensions, some became parish priests and some became teachers in the new grammar schools

A lovely spot to stop and reflect on what might have been

As far as painting is concerned, the weir was tricky and you need to stand back for that to come together. The greens seemed to work . They are often my main worry, and can take some sorting out. Anyway as usual I will let others judge

Book Illustrating-a fresh departure

Three Blind Mice

A good friend of ours, a professional actor and director, asked me if I would do some illustrations for a book he was writing. Only once before had I done that sort of work, so I was apprehensive, but still said yes

Covid 19 hit the acting community hard, as theatres were closed. John was on tour for the second year of the Mouse Trap, which had had a very successful first year. The decision to cancel the tour was quick. This all happened as we moved into Lock Down 1, which seems a long time ago now, March/April I think

A gloomy time. We, my wife and I were classed as vulnerable and had to stay in. Food was brought to us by family and friends and where possible in food boxes from businesses that sprang up to cater for the need. Queues at supermarkets became normal, as did senseless shortages caused by panic buying. Our health service was overrun, and staff close to breaking

During this miserable time, social media inter alia provided light relief. People wrote poetry, some painted and so on, and put their offering on Facebook or similar, just for us all to read something light

John was one of those who posted regularly. Poetry, quotations, charming anecdotes from his boyhood in Swansea, and with his gift for characterisation, the people he wrote about came to life. We started to look forward to his readings, as by now he was delivering them in person. As time went on friends suggested that he compiled these readings into a book and so he began to do just that

This is about the time that I started to get involved. We none of us knew where to start. I read his first posting again. It dealt with the cruel blow of the tour closing abruptly. Theatre lights were turned off, technicians and actors said an emotional farewell, or else did what actors always do and went down the pub. The idea came up of Three Blind Mice running through the book as a themed image. If you remember the play, this haunting tune is played from time to time and runs through the background. It was so very apt

I did some sketches and put them up for the team to comment. We had a team by now of talented people all making contributions. I refined the sketches until we were all happy. Thus started a very happy and productive collaboration.

My first finished drawing appears above. This was a bleak time. The theatres are closed and the tour is cancelled. The mice are on the streets and forced to beg. Later on we learn that the mice aren’t really blind, as the glasses and blindfolds slip off, but for now times are hard

Later as we go through lock down, things become more hopeful, and some optimism returns, but anxiety is never far away, as we all know. Now we go into a second lockdown, not as severe as the first, as we learn all the time, but nevertheless worrying. The manuscript is with publishers, and who knows but certainly this charming book will delight many if it is given the chance

Planning a Painting of Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire

Fountains Abbey, Yorkshire

I have been busy of late, preparing drawings for a book illustration amongst other things, so have neglected painting for my own pleasure. This will be my next subject, Fountains, a lovely spot and very paintable. I have wanted to paint it for years literally, and now finally got round to it. This is my own photograph, following our visit about seven years ago, so I am a bit slow off the mark with this one.

Fountains Abbey, near Ripon in Yorkshire was one of the most important Cistercian monasteries in England. The photograph shows the tower and part of the nave from the abbey church. Monks from Citeaux in france founded the first monastery which was near Farnham in Surrey, founded in the twelfth century. Gradually they spread up the country, Fountains and nearby Rievaulx becoming two of the most important. The monasteries were dissolved by Henry VIII in 1539, monks were dispelled, sometimes given alternative employment or sometimes pensioned off. The buildings and land were usually sold off to Henry’s cronies, sometimes referred to as the biggest privatisation in history. The king kept the money as you might expect.

I have just finished the pencil drawing. I like the building and I like the reflections in the water. I have drawn the dark trees out further and I may scale the colour down, as they are a bit overpowering. I need a few human figures to give some life and also some proportion

I like the colours generally, although may put some pink in the sky which will also appear in the water. That will also soften the stonework which is a tad grey at the moment. Could be an interesting painting if I get it right. As always we shall see

Langstone Mill Completed

Langstone Mill

I think I have managed to disguise the hard line between the blue and the pink near the bottom of the picture, mostly by putting in some extra boats, which was not the composition that I set out to do, but the best I could do in the circumstances

I have also put in some white foam along the water’s edge, and converted part of the hard line, to shore line and again I have convinced myself that this was successful

This was to have been the last of the collection going on show in December at Denbies gallery near Dorking. This still may happen if the lockdown finishes in early December, but the gloomy side of my nature fears that it will continue, in which case the exhibition will be cancelled. Rather sad as I was looking forward to doing a real exhibition this year finally, although online sales have helped balance things out, I must admit

As always there are other interesting things going on. The book illustrations are going on apace, although the author thinks of something new, every time I think I’ve finished. I had a call from the University of Creative Arts in Farnham, from students who are producing a documentary on art. They interviewed me on the telephone for about an hour, so quite intensive almost philosophical. They want to film me working, but that will have to be shelved now for a while. To be looked forward to, one day

Langstone Painting Emerging

The painting emerging

This is the moment when the painting starts to emerge from the mist, quite literally for a painting by the sea.

My big problem was the hard line between blue and pink at the bottom of the painting. It was impossible to eradicate. I tried a small section and it was worse if anything

One of the marks fortuitously formed the shape of a stern of a small boat. That was something of a gift and I painted in the bottom right hand boat with canvas cover. Ok, what next? I think I have already said that I painted in the two dinghies in tow from the sailing boat, and the last one does help to cover that hard line.

That still leaves the left hand side of the picture. I scoured my files for images, and found one that would work. The boat is not afloat, rather propped up in the shallows, so the bottom length of painting will now be shallow water, about ankle deep. That will be amusing, trying to give that illusion. The propped up boat will help and I have made a start. A ladder is alongside and so are props. You will be able to see the keel standing out of the water. After that, I haven’t worked out

I have started to deepen the colours of the mill buildings. They look quite brightly lit now by a low sun. The photograph doesn’t do it justice, but then does it ever.

Still plenty to do

Partway through the Langstone Painting

This painting has given me some problems, even though it should have been straightforward. Never be complacent, and think you will dash something off. I needed a Langstone picture for a forthcoming exhibition, and thought I would fall back on an old favourite, namely Langstone Mill. This lovely spot is on the edge of Chichester Harbour and just before you cross the road bridge to Hayling Island. You may know it. If not, enough to know that it was once a bustling medieval port which died in the twentieth century, and now is a quiet creek. The old mill, wind and tide, is a very paintable subject.

I thought I would give it a sunset look. Again straightforward. For some reason, beyond my comprehension, the lower half did not work. The transition line from red to blue which should have blended seamlessly, just did not do so. In fact I had one of the roughest edges that I can remember. Not just hard but erratic looking like nothing I could understand

I have tried washing in carefully with clean water, but that was not a success and left an even more unseemly mess. Watercolour, as all will know, is difficult. Mistakes are hard to correct. I should know that. I have painted in nothing else for about twenty five years

The last resort is always to paint something over the blemish, if you can. I painted an extra boat in the bottom right to cover the very worst mark, and was lucky enough to use the lines of the blemish as part of the composition. So far so good, but there is a long way to go. In the centre I added a dinghy to the same purpose, and then another to make a small convoy to the sailing boat. I have seen two dinghies in tow to a larger boat before , so not too fanciful

And now what am I going to do. Well, when I know I will let you know. There will either be a finished painting or nothing at all. We shall see after I have done a lot of thinking and a lot of playing around

Starting a Painting of Langstone Mill

Langstone Mill

Still proceeding as though real exhibitions are going to take place, I am looking for one more painting for the Denbies Exhibition in December. Langstone Mill is or was a favourite, although I haven’t painted it for a while now, so thought I would try it albeit in different colours and moods

So far I have got as far as a basic drawing on tracing paper which I will transfer to watercolour paper, and then see where I go with it

I think I might try a deep sunset which has worked with paintings of Bosham. Langstone is quite well known. It used to be a port from Medieval times until the early part of the 20th century, and was very important in its day. It was known as a haunt for smuggling as so many of those little creeks on the Hampshire coast were. I always thought that they would bring ashore brandy and tobacco, and possibly they did, but the big earner was tea. Tea was wrapped in a waterproof cover and stowed in barrels, which were roped together to make a raft. Small boats from Langstone went out and met foreign luggers mid Channel, and towed these rafts back to port. Plenty of local people happy to make storage available in return for a cut. There is even one instance of the local rector storing contraband in the church cellars

So quite a romantic place, which is quiet now. The old mill is still very paintable. The tower is all that’s left of the old windmill. The sails were removed in the late 19th century, and the place left to rot. The building far left was the old tide mill, and I remember as a boy watching the water from the mill pond thunder through. Rescued in the 1930s by local artist Flora Twort, the old mill was fully restored for residential use, and has been inhabited ever since. The architect was a Freud, son of Sigmund Freud. I have sadly never been invited inside but from what I can judge, the restoration has been very successful.

The mill has been associated with artists and writers ever since. Let’s hope they approve

Boats on the Beach at Beer in Devon

Boats on the Beach at Beer

I went to Beer some years ago when staying with friends. The fishermen there pull their boats up onto the beach, and arrange them in a row. I’m not sure whether deliberate or coincidental, but the result is very colourful, and for years photographers and painters alike come here to record them

I have painted them before but from a different angle, and I don’t have a photographic reference for this painting, so I have had to imagine the perspective. I have always found it difficult to get the colour right for a brightly coloured painted finish cast in shadow. I generally put shadow in first, so a coat of blue or violet left to dry, and then the local colour glazed over, usually works. It doesn’t work with these strong colours, so I have had to experiment with different blues and reds to get the result. It took a long time and even now I am looking back and wondering

The result is sunny and bright, however, in these worrying times. I have simplified a lot of the detail, so would class this painting as more impressionistic than realistic. I find it cheerful to look at, so hope others do too

Horses in the Wetlands: the finished painting

Horses in the Wetlands

This is the finished painting

I changed some of the colouring on some of the horses as I wasn’t pleased with the way that they were turning out.I used some very dilute rose in a glaze over some as well as a very dilute gold over the lead horse, just to see what that did for the effect

I found I quite liked it. That is why I have changed the name to Horses in the Wetlands as they don’t look like Camargue horses any more, although arguably the rose colour could come from a low sun. Anyway, I am quite pleased with the overall effect

I am not going to feature this one on the internet just yet as I am starting to build up a collection for my show in December, and this one I think will work well. Strange to think my first bricks and mortar exhibition of 2020 will be in December, unless cancelled of course. Life is getting restricted again

For the moment we can only plan and hope