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

Venice, the Old Fish Market Panorama

The Old Fish Market along the Grand Canal, Preparatory Drawing

I was hoping to add one more painting to my exhibition at the Guildford Institute, but owing to a series of accidents the start date had to be brought forward, so there was no time to finish it. The exhibition starts tomorrow but I am continuing with the painting anyway.

A few months back, I bought some long frames which I quite like using. It means I can paint a panoramic scene like coastline or as in this case, what will be hopefully a long stretch of the Grand Canal. I went back through my old photographs, and found a selection running from the Old Fish Market, which is a wonderful building in itself, and one that I have painted before

This is just part of the total shot but will give a better idea of where I am going with it. I took this picture whilst walking round the villa opposite, and I’m afraid I have forgotten the name, other than it was splendid. In the bottom left hand corner is what looks like an heraldic lion or similar, perched on the balcony. I have included him as a useful bit of foreground to aid the perspective.

I am about to paint and for the moment will just put on the first wash, with my usual Mediterranean sky colour and a neutral base for the buildings and sky for the water. I have masked the lion as you can see.

The buildings opposite are in deep shade which is a pity, although I may be able to relieve that here and there. Otherwise I shall just have to work with what I have got.

We will see where this takes us. The free advertising for Jackson’s is accidental, by the way

The Original before cutting down

The Original Sea Gazers

The comment was made, quite fairly, that I didn’t include the original painting, before it was reduced.

This is it. As I said, I felt the eye ran off the page to the right, and was possibly rather boring anyway. By removing the right hand side, I effectively made more of a central group with the figures and the distant headland.

I found the breakers rather strange here, as they rolled in, roughly the same size each time, so rather monotonous, really

Please feel free to comment, should you want to. Your opinions are important to me

Cutting Down an Old Painting

Sea Gazers in Nice

Sometimes a painting creates no interest whatsoever, even though I might have been pleased with it at the time. Occasionally, and only when I think appropriate, I remove a section of the painting, which perhaps detracts from the overall composition, and reduce the image to a smaller painting. Hopefully an improvement.

So it was with this picture, Sea Gazers in Nice. We were in Nice for New Year, a few years ago. The weather was mild compared with the rest of Europe, which was deep-frozen. We walked along the famous Promenade des Anglais, and watched the sea and watched people watching the sea. This couple were alone with their thoughts and almost mesmerised by the breakers rolling in.

They kindly kept motionless, unaware of me sketching them and taking photographs. Not often that sitters are so obliging. I did the painting some years later, but then I included a long expanse of sea and breakers to the right of the couple. It was a mistake, looking back, as the eye of the viewer went right off the page.

I showed the painting a few times, but it impressed no-one. I prefer this version, so will see if others do

I have used this method only a few times. Occasionally only a central detail from a larger painting, seems to work. The last time I rescued a painting in that way, was to cut a small scene about the size of a postcard, and this worked on its own. The rest wasn’t worth keeping. The reduced painting, of the London Embankment, with a small section of London Eye, I sold, so that was worth doing.

We’ll see what happens to Sea Gazers!

Istanbul Painting: Initial Stages

Crossing the Bosphorus by ferry

This is very much work in progress. I have got as far as putting in the shadows with a mix of Cobalt and Phthalo Blue, the mix I like using in any scene that is southern European or nearby

I have done the sky in the same, and the sea also but over an orange wash which gives it a greenish hue, and as always I hope this works. I have put some more orange here and there into some of the buildings as highlights as the shoreline was getting monotonous. There will be some more shadows yet going in to the buildings and also the boats that are still tied up

The boat mid channel I hope to do in much more detail, as much as my shaky hand will allow, and I want to introduce some red into this boat to bring it forward from the shore. That is the theory anyway.

Annoyingly the camera has picked up the texture of the paper so that it looks as though I am painting on onion skin. I seem to get a better result with the camera on my phone these days so might use that for the finished image.

Since this photograph was taken I have done some more work on the painting. Nothing startling, just deepening the shadows, and deepening the sea colour in the foreground. The shoreline is starting to take on a cubist look, unintentionally but interesting nonetheless.

Fountain of Love about halfway

The Story so far

Not a very good photograph of where I am at the moment. The camera as usual has diluted the colours. I think next time I will use the camera on my phone, which I have found reproduces colour much more faithfully

However for now we have a record. The mask has been removed from the trees and from the figures. I have started to work some dark colour around the sharp edges of the statuary, in order to give them some definition.  Details are tricky with a brush on this size of picture. I bought recently a fine detail brush which I can thoroughly recommend. It is one of a range designed by Matthew Palmer and available from SAA. It comes to a fine point, as fine as a pen nib, but is backed by a large bole, which holds a quantity of water. Unlike other fine detail brushes which run out of water, this one will run on and on, giving very fine detail lines so ideal for painting statues. 

Nevertheless fingers, nipples and feathers are still difficult and need care.

The pinky orange colour of the marble shell made me think, and in the end, I have gone for very dilute Burnt Sienna, and have just trialed this around the top of the large shell, picking out the smaller shell and what looks like two large flowers

Over the years it looks like some sort of mineral, possibly iron, has been deposited by the water onto the flutes of the shell, as it runs down and off into the water. It looks unsightly but what to do. I can’t leave it out but at the same time it does look ugly. I suppose some sort of compromise and reduce the amount and depth of this almost black residue would be the only solution.

Something to think about between now and next time

Out of the blue, a sale from my Artfinder site. That makes two this year. Things are looking up

The Fountain of Love Commission continued

original photograph of fountain at Cliveden House

I am starting with a photograph which has been published before, as events forced me to abandon the blog on this particular commission, other paintings being needed more urgently. I thought therefore that repetition of the original reference made sense, to remind us all where this story starts.

This is the very ornate fountain in the grounds of Cliveden House in Buckinghamshire. The style is Baroque so the statues are extremely Mannered in their style. As an architect once said to me, “If statues on a building wave to you, then it’s Baroque”. Very detailed therefore and consequently tricky to paint

The drawing is done, and I have started to paint, just to get some form of definition into my head. I see that I haven’t filed my photograph of Work in Progress  yet, so I will do that and then come back later

Well, this where I have got to, and it is a bit of a mess at the moment. The drawing was done a few weeks back, and as I said earlier, I have started to paint. I have masked out three trees in the background so that the trunks could be white as silver birch or pale green, whichever I think works best

I have also masked out the edges of some statues so that I get a really crisp edge and don’t lose any detail, having fought to keep it so far. No doubt this painting will be difficult. May even be my nemesis! Again I ask myself why I accept some of these commissions, except perhaps for the sheer challenge. Also the client is a regular who keeps coming back, so one wants to help

Since taking this photograph, I have sprayed masking fluid in certain areas to serve as spray from the fountain’s various jets. I kicked myself for not remembering right at the beginning, before I put colour into background foliage. Well, too late for that now. I will have to fall back on white gouache instead.

For now, that is all I can say. I shall remove the masking on the tree trunks and on the statues, so that I can define those edges. We will see how we get on

St.Katherine Docks Commission : The Finished Painting

The finished boat portrait

This took me about three weeks, working on it every now and then. I have come to prefer working that way, doing a little and then letting it dry right out, looking at it in different lights and revising my plan as I go along. All this wet weather has meant that even during the day, the natural light has been poor. Flat light is fine but all these dark skies have not been helpful.

I don’t think that I have included the original photograph, so I will do that at the very end. Apologies for that. I have kept to the photograph as much as possible, certainly for the boat which is what it is really all about.

The main difference is that I have removed completely the row of houses at the back, which cluttered the scene and made the composition very gloomy. Now we can see the evening light catching the stern ends of the boats and reflecting on the water. This was useful, too, introducing a little orange into what has become a very blue painting.

Also the masts and sails now stand out against the sky whereas in the photograph they are lost amongst the buildings.

Never before attempted a boat portrait, so I am pleased with the way it turned out, whether I should be or not. The client likewise pleased which is the main thing. I will end with the original photograph, and any different ideas on how to tackle this one would be gratefully received.

The boat subject in St.Katherine’s Dock

This is the image that I should have started with, so hopefully still makes sense

London Docklands Commission Base Coat

Docklands Commission Base Coat

Almost too faint to record on the camera unfortunately, but I haven’t written anything for a while, so I shall just have to record where I am with the Docklands commission, which has become extremely time consuming as really we are talking about five pictures where normally there would be one

But, the five vignettes I managed to fit on the page, which in itself was no mean feat. Also I have managed to fit them in the order the client wanted. Along the top runs the iconic Canary Wharf skyline. I have gone for sunset colours, so I have built up coats of dilute orange followed by very dilute Vermilion. This vignette is still at an early stage. I have been mixing vermilion with Cobalt Blue to get a soft grey for some of the darker areas. I am doing this bit by bit as I don’t want to cover the red glow which I have at the moment. Just not apparent with the jpeg alas

Next down, Westferry Circus which has only had a coat of Raw Sienna so far and then Churchill Place, which has had shadows put in and a unifying wash of Phthalo Blue to give that effect of glass reflecting sky.

Below that the ferry with Docklands skyline, which I haven’t touched yet. Finally the Ledger Building, which is the pub. So far I have given the facade a coat of blue/violet to put the building in shadow. The flowers and the umbrellas are caught by the sun, so they escaped the shadow treatment. Again this is only base coat stuff, with more wet on dry as the days go by

We have time. The presentation won’t be until early September, although I would like to see this one gone by July

I have grossly undercharged this one, but that is my fault. I could not tell how much work this commission would entail, so I must just get on and finish it, and not grumble.

I am starting to have grounds for optimism with this one now, and think it will turn out ok.  Certainly I have learned from it and how. Thinking of adding the Canary Wharf skyline to my list of potential paintings for forthcoming exhibitions