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

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

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

Camargue Horses: the Sketch

Horses in the Camargue

As I said in my last post, I am looking for another horse painting, ideally of horses on the move, to replace Horses in the Snow which sold last week

This one should work hopefully. You can’t tell from this sketch but horses are cantering through water, so a lot of splashing going on which will give the idea of movement hopefully to the picture. A good excuse to do a lot of flicking and splashing during the painting as well. One of those defining moments when you throw paint at the picture or spray with an old toothbrush and hope it lands in the right places

I have painted Camargue horses before. We were there a few years ago, and they are magnificent to watch. I don’t trouble much with background for these shots, just paint the horses and sky the same blue/pink/grey combination, and then build up the horses with dark shadow

It worked last time, which is no guarantee of future success of course

Time for another horse painting perhaps

Horses in the Snow

Horses in the Snow, you may remember was the subject of a recent post. It sold extremely quickly from my Artfinder site, which is most gratifying. In fact I don’t remember a painting selling so fast. It is on its way now to its new owner, who I hope will get years of pleasure from it

It leaves me with a happy problem, but a problem no less, of a gap in my collection that I am putting together for my first and only bricks and mortar exhibition this year, which will take place through the Christmas break. This will be at Denbies the winery near Dorking, which has an art gallery, which is let out to groups throughout the year. This will be the first time that I have shown there, and I am very much looking forward to it

Horses on the move are a popular subject, and are fun to do, so I shall be looking through my photo stock for inspiration. There are several to choose from as kind persons have been sending ideas through to me. Mostly excellent screen shots of wild horses galloping through water which do look dramatic, but for the moment I am going for an image I brought back from my visit to the Camargue three years ago, and which I attach

I like the way that the lead horse looks at the camera

Horses in the Snow — the finished painting

Horses in the Snow

For some reason, I couldn’t access my blog until now, so a gap of about 10 days. Something seems to have changed in the format and probably I missed the update. However having taken advice, I have tried something different, and bingo, it seems to work

As you can see, I have finished the painting. I quite like it. The pallette was limited which I like. I used transparent brown with violet blend for the dark horses and cobalt blue with vermillion, which made a sort of pinky brown for the pale ones. The same mix only verging towards grey, worked well for shadows on the snow

The snow on the horses’ backs wasn’t so easy. I used the same blue mix with white gouache stroked across the backs of the horses. I am looking at the original now, and I think it looks convincing. I shall be taking the painting down soon, as I shall soon need the easel for something else

An interesting development this week. It would appear that some exhibitions are starting up again, after some months of lockdown. I have been invited to take part in an exhibition over the Christmas period to be held at Denbies Art Gallery near Dorking. Denbies is a well known wine estate with probaly the largest vineyard in the UK. They also have their own art gallery there. I’ve not shown there before so am quite looking forward to it

I shall need to do some pieces specially for it, and will no doubt show them here as I do them

Horses in the Snow : the drawing

I am creating an assemblage or collection of images hopefully to create one long painting which will have movement, and with a bit of luck, some drama and excitement. That is the plan and we shall see how it unfolds

For the moment, I have just completed the tonal drawing to give myself a guide for the finished painting. The challenge too will be giving the impression of snow on white paper

I did do an impression of a cat in deep snow which seemed to work ok. This horse painting will be a lot more involved, but should be entertaining.

I’ll come back when I’ve done more

The Ostrich Family finished painting

Family of Ostrich

Some years ago we were in South Africa on a game reserve, and met these birds walking unhurriedly along the track. They stayed on the track just in front of our vehicle for quite a long time and refused to budge. I think the female was holding us back so that we didn’t mow down her chicks!

We didn’t mind as this was a splendid photo opportunity, and we took full advantage.

I said that I would paint them one day and now finally I have. The subject seemed simple enough and yet I found this painting to be one of the trickiest i have done for a long time. I think the colours may have had something to do with it. There was such a lot of green, and not very exciting green either. There was no other colour to give relief

Ostrich are magnificent birds, and interesting to draw. When it comes to painting them, then it is a different matter, especially when painting the female. I consulted references about the right colour to use for the female’s plumage, and the consensus was taupe. Taupe you will know, is beige running into grey. Not exciting but not something I could change

Added to that the light was flat and no shadows to speak of. Still not to worry, the painting is complete, and I have done what I set out to do. But an object lesson learned, which is to avoid subjects with little colour interest as they will disappoint

Cat in the Snow

The cat in the snow

This was pure self-indulgence for me. I needed a break from more involved paintings. No planning with this one needed. Just do it, and do it quickly.

The subject appealed to me, as it was so amusing. I don’t usually paint cats. This one was simple as only half a face and no legs to paint. Eyes I had to be careful with and look up how to do them. The white spot on the eye should be more pronounced, but not too bad.

I can’t offer this painting for sale as I copied a photograph, and can’t trace the photographer, so this one is for internal consumption only. Still, nothing wrong with that

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