Windsor Castle–preparing the painting

Windsor Castle-the preparatory drawing

Windsor Castle, a royal residence since Saxon times, was developed by William the Conqueror in 1070, on the south side of the River Thames. Henry II built the central round tower, Edward III added the royal apartments, Charles II and George IV both made alterations. It dominates the town of Windsor, is surrounded by Windsor Great Park and is frequently used by Queen Elizabeth II

It is a wonderful architectural study. It is a long castle covering different periods of architecture. At one end a fortress and royal apartments, at the other St.George’s Chapel. Monarchs have been buried there since Henry VIII. There have been no less than 17 royal weddings in the chapel, one of the most recent being that of Princess Eugenie to Mr. Jack Brookbank in 2018.

So far I have drawn the skyline which I found enjoyable with so many details. I wanted to put in the shadows but these would be disturbed by the first wash. I remembered an exercise that I did many years ago, from a book by the late Rowland Hilder. When I first started painting in watercolour, I was lent a battered copy of a book by Hilder, and was literally bowled over. His skies were like something by an old master, and he explained them step by step for the benefit of students. Later I managed to find a copy online and bought it and I refer to it still today

The exercise I was referring to, was his painting of Knole House in Kent. Before anything else, he put in the shadows of the building, in ink, sepia I think. That is what I have done, with my first step when painting Windsor Castle. The structure of the drawing is now immediate. Also I can paint across the drawing without these shadows being disturbed. Another advantage of ink, is that when dry, the colour is the same as when wet. How often have I put down a dark watercolour, and when I came back later, the colour had disappeared into the paper.

I shall leave that for a while to go hard before painting. There are some deep shadows under the trees where I might use ink again. I used to do quite a lot of ink and wash work, but haven’t for a while now. Refreshing to come back to it.

The Cartwheeling Dean–an old friend returns

The Cartwheeling Dean

I did this painting in 2011, the year of the Royal Wedding, when William married Kate in Westminster Abbey. You may remember after the ceremony, that the Dean of Westminster did a cartwheel down the aisle, after the royal party had left, of course. Just something he did out of pure joy I imagine

The village of Pirbright, not far from where I live, and where I paint from time to time, used to put on an annual scarecrow festival, and the skill and artistry that went into making these scarecrows had to be seen. Tableaux usually of different things, book titles, events etc. In the parish church, a complete tableau of the wedding was created. It was amazing. I didn’t take a picture. I wish I had

Included in the scene, was the cartwheeling dean. I did photograph him and painted him later. I took him to local exhibitions, thinking someone would want him but nobody did. Eventually I sold him online and he went to someone in the north-east, and how strange is that. The man who bought him, wrote to me, and told me that he looked at this painting every morning and it made him smile. It was worth painting him just for that.

However, years later someone in the village is writing a book entitled ” Pirbright in Art”, and artists have been asked to submit paintings of, and around the village. I have sent in a selection, including the cartwheeling dean. It would be nice if he was included. We shall have to see.

Portsmouth Harbour — the finished painting

Portsmouth Harbour with Spinnaker Tower

A view I have seen a few times, having sailed out of this port on several occasions. Years ago ferries ran to the Isle of Wight and that was about it. Ferry crossings to France and the Channel islands followed, and subsequently cruise ships use Portsmouth frequently, or did until they were mothballed due to the virus. I think the last time I sailed from Portsmouth was on a cruise ship, which circled the British Isles

Behind the Spinnaker Tower is the historic dockyard, preserving three old men-at-war. The Mary Rose the remains of which was lifted from the seabed off Southsea in 1982, Nelson’s famous flagship Victory, and the Victorian warship Warrior, which combined sail with steam. The Mary Rose sailed out to meet the French, watched by Henry VIII from Southsea castle. She was equipped with broadside of cannon, a new innovation. As she turned into the wind, she took in water through the cannon hatches, which should have been closed, and sank quickly. That was in 1545. Henry died in 1547. Had she engaged the French, it would have been the first engagement using broadside of cannon. Ah well. The French camped on the Isle of Wight should have invaded but were decimated by disease. The same was the case with the English troops. Eventually both sides went home.

The Victory is well known and so is the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Nelson lost his life and was brought home in a barrel of brandy aboard the Victory. The barrel containing the admiral’s body had to be guarded by marines, to stop sailors siphoning off the brandy!

The Warrior, as far as I know, never fired a shot in anger. She commanded the Home Fleet and was on patrol in the English Channel. Portsmouth itself was heavily fortified with forts on Portsdown Hill and forts in the Solent. We feared an invasion from our old friends the French, which mercifully never materialised

So a lot of maritime history in and around Portsmouth as you might expect. A town I knew well, having grown up in the area

The area to the right, is still referred to as Old Portsmouth. We used to go there a lot, for fascinating old pubs and spectacular views across the harbour of an evening, sitting out with a drink enjoying the sunset over the water. Some of those are shown but the old names seem to be gone. Sic transit gloria mundi.

The Spinnaker Tower and the shopping centre, Gunwharf Quays just below, is comparatively new to me. I never did make it to the top, as there was always a queue to go in whenever I was there. Not that I am a great lover of heights anyway. I found it tricky to draw, that I do know, and probably it is far from perfect

It is a painting that I always wanted to do, so finally done. Now I have to move on, as I have been given a commission, which is always nice, although again not going to be the easiest to make a composition of, but I think I have arranged it in my head

Planning Painting of Portsmouth Harbour

Portsmouth Harbour and Spinnaker Tower

A view I know well, having sailed out of Portsmouth at one time or another over the years, either to the Isle of Wight or to Cherbourg or to Jersey

I knew the Harbour before the Spinnaker Tower was erected and before the great shopping centre of Gunwharf Quays was built underneath. On the immediate right hand side is Old Portsmouth, as the name suggests the historic part which is associated with great names and with great events. Admiral Lord Nelson sailed from here on numerous occasions, including the last fateful expedition when he engaged the French fleet under Admiral Villeneuve off Cape Trafalgar in 1805. Most people know what happened and both admirals were killed.

The masts of Nelson’s flagship Victory is visible in this picture on the left hand side in the distance. Victory is in dry dock in Portsmouth dockyard, and has been for many years, certainly since I was a schoolboy.

Samuel Pepys the diarist was here often in his role as First Sea Lord. The Duke of Buckingham, George Villiers, favourite of King James 1, was assassinated in 1628 in the local hotel. Catherine of Braganza from Portugal disembarked here to be betrothed to Charles II, and there are many more famous instances.

So far I have only just finished the drawing, which may be too faint to show up, but I will try later. The big problem will be showing the Spinnaker Tower to its best advantage. It has the sun on it, so needs to be bright white against the sky. I think it will have to be masked out, despite its size, which I am not looking forward to. All that before I start to paint

This is a busy time anyway, but I have had to finalise the book illustrations as these are being called for, so I have had to leave this painting for quite a while unfortunately. I have really enjoyed the illustrating work which has taken me to fresh fields, which is always satisfying. Sadly the one and only real exhibition that I would have done this year, due to have started on the 21st, was cancelled as our area moved into Tier 4. Great shame as this would have been at Denbies Winery, the large vineyard near Dorking, where I haven’t shown before. But I must not lose sight of the fact that this year has been amazing for me, as far as online sales are concerned. Eleven sales this year, of which three are international, perhaps unimpressive for many artists, is for me a record. Due to the Covid factor I know, with people locked down at home.

Sketch of Portsmouth Harbour

Not brilliant but perhaps will show where I am at.

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