Transylvania: the home of Dracula

A View of Peles Castle in Transylvania

Just by way of a break from the painting of Grand Canal, on which I haven’t worked for a while because of Christmas and the New Year Break. Happy New Year everybody by the way

We spent the New Year in Romania, in Transylvania to be precise, looking at sites associated with the Dracula legend, amongst other things. The topography looks like the sort of backdrop that you would expect, mountains, forests, snow, but I didn’t hear any wolves. I was brought up on the Hammer Films from the 1960s starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. The dialogue was very serious. Nothing was done for laughs unlike some modern adaptations. You did not mess with these guys

In the background of the photograph is Peles castle, which had nothing to do with Dracula although it looks as though it should have. It was built as a summer residence under the direction of King Carol I and his wife Queen Elizabeth, and was finished in 1914

The castle associated with the legend of Dracula, is Bran. We went there later that day. Two of our party went awol and wasted more than an hour whilst we looked for them. We were late getting to Bran, and it was getting dark. Our coach driver didn’t say “This is as far as I will take you”, but I was waiting for him to do so. It was a very steep climb up to the castle and I attach a picture to give you an idea

Bran Castle

Romanians are always mystified by the legend of Dracula, who to them is Vlad, and known as the Impaler because of the way he put his enemies to death. To them he was a hero, because he gave them years of stability and good rule. he also protected them from the Turks. As far as I can see, there is no cult of the vampire coming from Transylvania. That was fiction from the pen of Bram Stoker, although they were grateful for the flood of American tourists that came looking for Dracula

We ended our tour in Bucharest, with an excellent city tour. It is 30 years since their revolution when the two dictators Ceausescu were executed by firing squad, after the fall of the Communist regime in Europe. We saw their newly completed palace, bigger than any building I have ever seen. It was a symbol of their greed and power which they had now had taken from them. Small wonder that Romanians said “Enough is enough”

A really enjoyable trip, although tiring towards the end, and both of us have heavy colds

Grand Canal Venice Painting-Partway

Grand Canal Part Finished

Photography poor. I have had to use my phone as after upgrading, I am having difficulties loading from my camera, as everything is different and I don’t know why. I shall fathom in the end but for the minute I don’t have time

Suffice to say, I have painted the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie and put in detail as well as the houses on the opposite side in deep gloom. In reality they are much gloomier. The sunlit rooftops look orange which works, otherwise the detail on the house fronts disappears into the shadows.

Two coats of Phthalo Blue and Cobalt Blue mix on the water gives depth although the original is not quite as deep as this photograph

Still a long way to go as I will put the gondolas in with shadow colour and probably the vaporetto too

looking forward to tackling the bright colours on the foreground buildings and the flags

Grand Canal Venice– an old favourite, a different view

Grand Canal, Venice

This is the picture that I am going to work from. I have done this view before, but it is so magnificent that I come back to it every now and then. Incidentally, this is a different take to the one that I did last time, and also I am going to rearrange this photograph. I am going to push back the buildings on the left so that we can see the mouth of the Grand Canal and the horizon beyond. This should hopefully give us a feeling of distance as we look out to sea.

So far I have done the drawing which I will use for painting, and you will be able to see the changes for yourself, and I will show that now, although the lines are faint so may not stand out well

Grand Canal Drawing

Perhaps not too bad, and perhaps you can see where I have moved the buildings to the left. We can see the mouth of the canal, and the building I believe to be the Customs House, and then out to sea, but that won’t be apparent until after painting

For sky and water I will start with my mix of Cobalt and Phthalo Blue, which I know I have said before is a good Mediterranean colour. I will need to mask off the buildings to the left, including the balconies and awnings which stick out over the water.

They will need to be in yellow and pink, so important to paint on white paper.

The buildings on the right will need a cover of raw sienna as a base coat, before building up with other colours, and before covering with deep shadow.

Coming back to writing this blog, I have now done just that and have detailed the domes, and all I can say is so far so good.

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

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

Rex Whistler at Plas Newydd in Anglesey

Rex Whistler includes himself in his painting

Last week we were in North Wales, staying in Caernarfon, never sure about the spelling, and spending the week looking at some very good National Trust properties

The house I had wanted to see for a long time was Plas Newydd on Anglesey, the ancestral home of the Marquess of Anglesey. This houses the magnificent mural painted by Rex Whistler, unfinished due to his untimely death in 1944 in France.

The mural, painted on canvas and at 56 feet reputed to be the longest in the country, is such a wonderful work that it needs to be seen to be appreciated. I took some pictures, but because of the understandable light level in the viewing chamber, these are poor, and I am still debating whether to include them or not.

Whistler had fallen madly in love with Lady Caroline, daughter of the then Marquess, and there are references in the painting. His self portrait I have included above. There is also a painting of Lady Caroline in the picture too

At the far right of the painting are two trees intertwined, one of which is dying. That one represents Whistler who is dying of unrequited love.

The whole thing is of a fantastical scene of a classical harbour with magnificent buildings and ships with an atmospheric backdrop of mountains based on Snowdonia with dramatic cloud formations

At the time he was in great demand for stage sets and murals in great houses. Many times I have admired his work at Mottisfont in Hampshire, and of course in the restaurant at the Tate

The Plas Newydd mural is staggering and just holds you for hours if necessary. My pictures disappoint so I will not include them. There are websites or go and see the real thing

The Royal Crescent Hotel in Bath, finished painting

The Royal Crescent Hotel

This commissioned painting is finished and approved, and once I have cut a mount and signed and dated, then this will be going off to its new owner

Testing in many ways, classical architecture doesn’t leave a lot of room for error, nonetheless enjoyable to do, and I am happy with the way it has turned out

I shall be otherwise engaged for a few days, but as soon as I can, I need to start on another commission, which is a really interesting looking house portrait. That will need a shetch for approval before getting started.

Added to that I have an important exhibition coming up mid October at one of the local hospitals. This is one where I usually sell. I pray that I sell something as I am bulging with framed pictures. It’s lovely to sell on the internet, but I get left with frames. However, a happy problem

So quite busy for a while

I don’t know what made me do it, but I started going through boxes of slides which I took in the 1970s. Some of us can remember that colour photographs were made into slides at one time, for projecting onto a screen, for amusement of family and friends with our holiday pics, or not as the case may be.

I found amongst the many, a lovely shot of a fishing harbour in Brittany where we stayed in 1972. I have had it printed so that I can work from it, and that will be up after the commissioned work.

Much to do