A Completed Commission

The Final Version

This is the last commission of the year, and it is finished, I am pleased to say. I have had to keep in touch with the client, at every stage of the painting, which I don’t usually do, as it does make a lot of work . Having said that I have enjoyed this commission more than I thought, and maybe stage by stage consultation is not a bad idea, certainly after my last bad experience

However, they were nice people to deal with, and although they made a few changes here and there, basically they were onside.The painting was collected today and I am pleased to say that they were thrilled with the result

The subject of the painting was a Victorian cottage deep in the Surrey woods. Probably it had originally been an estate worker’s cottage, built around 1840 with a later addition.

I went to look at the cottage quite early one morning. The sun had risen. At this time of year, the shadows are long. The woods behind the house were brightly lit, most of the leaves had gone, and the light filtering through the branches gave them a translucent feel. To get that effect on paper needed thinking about. I used a colour that I don’t use often, quinacradone gold. It was perfect for the job and just gave the effect of sun-bathed trees that I was looking for

Most of the house was in shadow. I removed some as I wanted the effect of bright sun hitting the brickwork here and there. The combination of light and dark should be dramatic

When I was on site, the client brought their little dog, a Labrador bitch puppy. She was a beautiful colour, gold. Would I include her in the painting. I like to please, so I said yes, but I was anxious. I have painted dogs before but never done a dog portrait, especially one so tiny. She would be the size of a fingernail

I had taken some pictures. I have to say that for a lively puppy, she was very well behaved and posed beautifully. I picked one of the photographs and did a full sized drawing, which I was pleased with. I then reduced it in size to a thumbnail and put it in the sketch, and went on from there. When the time came to paint, I used the same gold as the trees in the background, and used more of the same for shadows on the dog. It worked better then I thought possible

Mostly straightforward otherwise, except that I could not get definition to stay in the cottage features. Overnight the colour would dry and disappear, which is not that unusual in watercolour. Eventually I reddened the brick colour with vermilion, which darkened the building and somehow improved the brick texture. Again something I have learned for another time

Commissions can certainly be testing, and very occasionally go awry, like my last unhappy experience, but they can also be broadening and make you attempt something you wouldn’t normally tackle. Will I start doing animal portraits? Hmm perhaps not, but animals in landscape are a possibility

A Hidden Gem near London: The Dorich House Museum

Dorich House, Kingston

We went here a few days ago. An amazing gallery which I didn’t know existed, which had fallen into disrepair, was rescued by Kingston University, and stands a few feet from the wall around Richmond Park. A distance known as a “deer’s leap”

The house was designed by Dora Gordine, a Latvian sculptor, and completed in 1936. She lived there with her husband the Hon.Richard Hare, a scholar of Russian literature and art.

The house is a splendid example of a studio house of the period. The ground and first floor levels were designed for the production and display of her work. A more modest top floor apartment with a roof terrace overlooking Richmond Park, served the couple’s domestic needs

Richard Hare died in 1966. Dora lived until 1991, after which time the house was acquired and renovated by Kingston University. The house now holds the world’s largest collection of Gordine’s work as well as an important collection of Russian art acquired by Hare and Gordine.

There are some wonderful architectural features in the house. My favourite is the Moon Door

Moon Door, Dorich House

The house is on Kingston Vale next to Richmond Park, and is worth a visit if you are able

Tate Britain : William Blake Exhibition, on until 2 February 2020

The Ancient of Days 1827

Just by way of a change from house portraits, which can become monotonous, not for the painter, as each painting is a trip into the unknown, but for the reader of this blog

There is a wonderful exhibition of William Blake’s work at Tate Britain at the moment which runs until 2nd February next year. The painting above, possibly one of his most well known, was on display, and I took this photograph from the hip, whilst dodging other people who were trying to do the same. You were allowed to photograph, provided you didn’t use flash, but I still felt guilty nonetheless

I knew something about Blake, most of us do, but I still learned a lot. I think I will have to go back again, and do the last two rooms again. There was so much detailed stuff, prints, letters etc that the eyes become very tired. Not just his drawings but also his writings were on display. I managed to miss his manuscript of “Tiger, tiger burning bright” which I was cross with myself about.

He was a London lad, growing up in Soho. he enrolled at the Royal Academy, but like others before him, reacted against its rigid teaching. He was a visionary who shared the ideals of medieval Gothic artists

I had never realised that as a print maker he was way ahead of his time. His innovations allowed him to print in colour, and combine texts and images, a technique which enabled him to create a succession of visionary books. In them, he engaged with the most pressing questions of the day, the slave trade, sexual freedom and revolution.

His radical sentiments could have got him arrested, if only the authorities could have understood his obscure message

Through changing fortunes, he realised a burst of creativity near the end of his life, with such great works as illustrating Dante’s Divine Comedy. I found his vision of Purgatory, somewhat uplifting and comforting. Whether one believes in the concept or not,( and even some catholics, myself included, tend to kick this belief into the long grass), then Blake’s illustrations are helpful. I shall probably attract criticism for that remark

See the exhibition if you can

House Portrait Completed

The Finished Portrait

There was quite a lot of detailing in this one. Different things were asked to be included, which I have done, but because of the scale, they have ended up as rather tiny. I was worried about that. Things like different coloured pots and also some blooms slightly out of season. Let’s hope they don’t disappoint

The car port and furniture store relationship on the left hand side, took some working out so that each was distinguishable. I did wonder afterwards whether I should have recommended leaving the furniture store out completely. The car port is a nice building, almost barn-like with its hipped roof, and it would have stood alone quite easily. However I didn’t. I painted what was there, which is the honest thing to do.

I reduced the enormous expanse of gravel with shadows coming in from trees which were off stage. I think that improves. Not really a follower of feng shui, I have left, nevertheless, an uninterrupted view of the path leading to the front door.

Some of the colours I have changed as well as scaling down the sizes of some of the shrubs. Generally a mix of reds and greens , I think the colour scheme works well, although some might disagree.

I now have another commission, another house portrait, which I went to see a couple of days ago. This is a rather charming cottage out in the woods, built around 1830, so lots of character, which I am shortly to start.

Just when it looked straightforward, I was asked to include the dog. Oh well, another challenge

House Portrait : the painting commenced

The house portrait so far

Still in early stages, the painting appears to be coming out of the mist

The drawing is done and some colour has been applied. Cobalt blue sky and raw sienna as a base for nearly everything else. Some very pale and distant trees, and guidelines for shadows I have put in along the side to the left.

As far as the house is concerned I have put in shadows in blue which has managed to build up the general form of the building. The house at the back I have formed in brown and blue.

The car port, I have done more work on, with the final roof colour and the skylights. The furniture store in front of the car port makes the grouping ambiguous. I wish now I had insisted on just the car port but I didn’t so I am stuck with it. This will require some thought

Before strengthening the brick colour, I have put in the wisteria and the virginia creeper, as I shall have to paint round them

Very easy to lose heart in this stage of the painting, but the painting must be finished so I carry on. In fact since writing this I have put a coat of Burnt Sienna on the brickwork and already the house is starting to move towards me

That’s all I can say at the moment

House Portrait: the Preliminary Sketch

The Preliminary Sketch

I’ve just done this from the photograph. This is,of course, a commissioned work and I have to visit the site next week. Seasons have changed so may well look different, but this will do for now to work from. I will take some photographs of my own which I prefer, so that I can clear up some details which are ambiguous at the moment.

For now, there is little more that I can do before I see the actual building, and as I say, the colours have changed. The original photograph that I had was from the summer, and now everything is autumnal. As far as colour schemes are concerned, I prefer that. There should be some bare branches as well.

I just have to hope that the sun will be out, so that we get some lights and darks. For weeks now, the weather has been wet and the skies have been heavy. This is quite hopeless for painting, but as always we must work with what we have got.

Some news from the exhibition at the hospital. I have sold one painting entitled Canals of Venice, so not out for a duck, which is something

I shall be able to add more next week

Erquy in Brittany: the Finished Painting

Erquy in Brittany

The painting is now finished, in that I have started to fiddle, which is a good time to stop

Getting the sand/mud to look waterlogged has been a problem, and I have settled for what I’ve got, rather than end up with a surface which looks dark and unconvincing. I did mask out some tyre tracks which had filled with water, and then touched them in afterwards. They seemed to work well enough.

I have taken the mask off the lighthouse, and painted that in, with its red domed top, that attracts the eye. Two tricolor flags on the boats give another opportunity for small dabs of red too. I tend to use vermilion now rather than cadmium red, which seems to work.

Some of the figures and dinghies have bled into the wet, which I have allowed, as I think that gives a hint of reflection.

I think I have taken it as far as I dare without spoiling, so will leave it now as complete.

I have a new commission arrived, a house portrait, which is highly convenient so will start on that soon

Erquy: the Drawing

Erquy in Brittany

I have done some drawing and also started to paint as you can see. Nothing startling, just the background. The lighthouse has been masked out, so it can stand out stark white with red at the very end

I have also masked out some of the tyre marks in the sand which are full of water, hopefully to recreate that image. The composition itself I have altered slightly, but only slightly, as really not much improvement is necessary. The fishing boats have been beached at low tide, which immediately offers an interesting picture for watercolour. There is light coming from the left, offering shadows as well as possible reflections.Some boats were left out, and one different one added. Otherwise the scene is much the same as it was in 1972

I needed some human activity so added the two figures in the foreground. They are actually copied from the figure in the distance. I had to guess the perspective, so I hope it looks convincing. Both figures are bent over as though hauling on some imaginary chain, so a little bit of narrative

I have added shadow to the boats just to give them form, and to guide me when I go to paint them in. One or two extra dinghies as well. I may well have to add somehting small in the centre, but I am not sure yet.

That is as far as I have got. So far so good I think

Erquy in Brittany, using one of my old photographs

Erquy Harbour and Lighthouse

I took this photograph in 1972 when we were on holiday in Brittany. We had hired a villa in the fishing village of Erquy, which was delightful, and I daresay it still is. I was reminded of our visit whilst going through my Pinterest boards and seeing any number of shots of the harbour at Erquy. In fact the same view as mine. I went through my old pictures, which were colour slides in those days, so inconvenient to look at, and found this one, which I decided to paint, and I have made a start on the drawing.

We stayed there for two weeks, and it was delightful,but not everything went smoothly, quite the reverse.

Our little boy, James who was eighteen months old, became ill. Everything he ate came up immediately, and in the middle of one night he became acutely distressed. On examination we found a lump in his groin about the size of a pigeon’s egg. Worrying at the best of times, but on holiday, doubly so.

In the villa, we had a list of useful addresses. A doctor was listed. I had no idea how to get to his house. It was pitch black outside. I looked up the words I might need, and rehearsed what I would say in French. Then I drove off into the night.

I drove into Erquy village, praying all the time. In those days people went to bed at a reasonable hour. Not a street lamp, no moon, nothing. The village was in inky blackness. I picked out a street plan in my headlights. I positioned the car across the road so that the map was illuminated, and thanks be to God, the road where the doctor lived was shown. I copied the map as best as I could and got back into the car, and drove to the address

The doctor’s house was a fine old building, three storeys high. I rang the bell and continued to pray. A window opened on the top floor, and a head appeared. I will always remember that he was wearing a nightcap which was quaint even by the standards of the day.

I launched into my prepared speech in bad French.

“Monsieur le docteur, je suis desolee de vous reveiller. C’est mon petit fils qui est malade. Il a dix-huit mois…………… That’s enough. I went on to describe the symptoms.

That wonderful man told me to wait whilst he got dressed. In a very short time he was down with his bag, and followed me in his car.

My wife, and her elderly aunt who was holidaying with us, seemed amazed to see me come back with the doctor. They thought I would never find anyone. The doctor examined our child and immediately diagnosed a hernia. We were pretty green in those days, and didn’t fully understand the ramifications. It was serious. He needed surgery. The doctor wrote us a letter of introduction to a clinic in St.Brieuc, about two hours drive away. We were to go immediately.

As we left Erquy, the sun was coming up and the daylight helped. We found the clinic as though again by divine guidance. The surgeon greeted us. The good doctor had telephoned ahead. Our little boy was put on the table and the surgeon examined him, and started manipulating the lump. All the time, he was telling us about the operation. He would need immediate surgery and about a week in hospital. We were going home in about three days. Where would we stay? How much would it cost? No credit cards in those days. No EHIC cards then

As he manipulated the lump, came another divine intervention. The lump popped back in. He was strapped up, and we were told the danger was over. The reflux stopped and we could continue with our stay. We were given a prescription for a truss which we bought from a nearby pharmacy. Marvellous marvellous people

We returned to Erquy, and saw the doctor again. Thanked him again profusely and paid him of course.

Three days later we set off for Cherbourg during a violent rainstorm. We had an Austin 1800 in those days, which was a robust enough car, but like all the Leyland cars in those days, including the Mini, it had a design fault. Because of the transverse engine, the HT leads were positioned just inside the grille. If the wind blew the rain head on, water reached the leads and the engine cut out. Halfway to Cherbourg, the engine started to cough, and continued to cough until finally stopping. We were in the middle of the countryside

Maybe we could have bump started the car but there was only me and I had to drive. My wife was pregnant and her aunt had heart trouble! maybe we should have stayed at home.

Again the good Lord smiled on us benignly. Wonderful people from a nearby cottage came out and took my wife, cild and aunt indoors out of the rain. One of the teenage sons of he family went on his moped to the hearest garage, and came back with a mechanic, who stripped down the motor and dried it all off. The car started and the rain had stopped. I just had enough money to pay the mechanic. As I said, no credit cards then They really were good Samaritans

We were on our way to Cherbourg and met no further problems. Phew

So a holiday to remember. I shall enjoy painting Erquy harbour and have already started the drawing

Lightbox Woking Exhibition:the Scottish Colourists

Ben More in Mull by FCB Cadell

Yet another excellent exhibition at the Lightbox in Woking which runs until the 12th of January, entitled Burning Bright : The Scottish Colourists. This brings together the work of Scottish Colourists S.J.Peploe, J.D.Fergusson, G.L.Hunter and F.C.B. Cadell

Not a group I know anything about and apparently not a group that painted together as I understand it, but artists who were placed together in exhibitions by organisers and dealers, possibly because styles and colours went well together. They were never formally a movement and exhibited together only three times

They were drawn together by a love of travel, and by their attraction to the French Post Impressionists especially Matisse and the group known as Les Fauves, the wild beasts, who used colour in an arbitrary and passionate way.

The Colourists grew up in a climate dominated by the Glasgow Boys, whose love of colour had already liberated Scottish art from the strait jacket of academicism

I was drawn especially to the work of Cadell. His Ben More in Mull I have included. I felt I could walk out onto the sands, I love it. Incidentally the painting is not hung crookedly. That was me photographing from the hip

I am also going to include The Black Hat which is a magnificent example of his portrait work, with more than a nod to Singer Sargent, another of my great favourites

Wonderful exhibition too by the Institute of Painters in Watercolour which really needs its own post

The Black Hat by FCB Cadell
The Black Hat Inscription

I will end there