The Write Escape–an actor’s response to Covid

This charming book will one day be one of those works, which will define a place in history

Three Blind Mice ( but only temporarily)

I was pleased to be asked to provide illustrations for this delightful book, which was recently published. The author, John Griffiths, a well-known stage actor, was playing in the second run of the stage play Three Blind Mice. The first year’s tour had been a great success, and the second tour was well underway. On that fateful night, the audience arrived with their tickets and so did the cast, expecting to perform. They all had to be told that there would be no performance that night or any night. Theatres were closed, the tour was cancelled. Lockdown 1 had begun

The book goes on from there. Actors like John were suddenly unemployed. He was at home, doing all those things he had never had time for, and then what? He did what he had always done and performed. Social media was his platform. There were songs and hymns delivered in a stentorian Welsh voice, boyhood memories and anecdotes from Swansea, poetry readings and many more. They became a regular feature, and people started to expect them. The audience grew. It became viral. Peole suggested that he write these episodes down and so he did. After many months work, sixteen I think, this collection has now been published

I said at the beginning that this book will one day define a place in history. I believe it will. Historians will read it when researching life during the Great Pandemic and how we adapted in order to cope.

Since I started this post in July just before going away, much has happened which has delayed me finishing this properly. In Holyhead Docks we went ashore by tender. Coming down the ramp on to the Quayside, my knee went and I fell on the quayside screaming in an undignified manner but the pain was indescribable. The local hospital told me I had torn the tendons from my kneecap and fractured the patella. Our cruise was cut short and good old Saga sent us home in a taxi. I attended our local hospital and was admitted for an operation to have the tendons refixed.

The operation was more than three weeks ago now and I have had the clips removed . The wound is healing well. My next assessment is on September 9th. I am looking at another 4-6 weeks for full mobility

I can’t even paint which is a pity as I cannot balance

I will finish Write Escape another time

Thanks for your patience

Lucca in Tuscany, looking at the Town Square

The town square in Lucca, Tuscany

I have just started looking at this picture with a view to producing a painting from it. We were here some years ago now. Lucca was one stop on a railway tour that we did of Tuscany. We were staying in Montecatini at the time which was lovely. All the towns we wanted to visit were on the same railway line which was very convenient

Florence, Pisa, Siena and Lucca were all very accessible. We combined a short visit to Lucca with a visit to Pisa. I would have liked more time in Lucca but as you can imagine Pisa with its cathedral and leaning tower was more demanding. This photograph of the old square reminded me that I wanted to paint it one day. Some years back I did paint another view of the square, and sold it last year to someone in Portugal, which sounds strange, but not really as so many buy my pictures as a souvenir of a happy visit.

I have started sketching in some of the larger features of the picture. The trees dominate. They are amazingly tall, dwarfing the buildings let alone the people. I am not sure what type of tree it is, maybe lime or plane. The bark colouring is distinctive, a sort of greenish gold which will be interesting to replicate. An empty restaurant doesn’t inspire, and cries out for a few diners and maybe a waiter.

It will be interesting to see what I can make of it

Abinger Hammer: the finished painting

The village of Abinger Hammer with its striking clock

As I said in a previous post, this is the village of Abinger Hammer, what used to be one of the iron villages in the Surrey Hills area. The blacksmith on the striking clock strikes the bell with a hammer, but the name refers to the giant hammer which was powered by the nearby river Tillingbourne up to the c18, which pounded the hot iron into shape.

Today Abinger is a tranquil place on the road from Guildford to Dorking. The buildings are attractive, in what is named the Surrey vernacular, using terracotta tiles and the local sandstone. They are very paintable, hence my choice, especially as I wanted the painting for a local exhibition starting on Freedom Day! The last start date over Christmas was cancelled so we hold our breath for this one.

The pallette was a simple one which is nice. raw Sienna and Burnt Sienna do most things. Cobalt blue for the shadows. i did experiment with the trees though. I have used quinacritone gold with violet for shadows and green gold for the hedge in the background, just for a change really.

We will see how we get on

Villages of Surrey–Abinger Hammer

Abinger Hammer in Surrey

Next month unless emergency restrictions are reimposed, I expect to be exhibiting at a real exhibition locally. This is due to start on June 21st at Denbies Winery near Dorking. Denbies is the largest vineyard in England, and has been developing its reputation for some years now. Amongst the other buildings in the Denbies complex is a well-known art gallery which is open for group exhibitions. This will be the first time that i have shown here so will be interesting to see how I get on

Looking through the pictures that I have earmarked to show, I see I am short of local pictures, so I thought I would do something like the photograph shown, which is the village of Abinger Hammer on the River Tillingbourne. The Tillingbourne flows from east to west and runs into the River Wey near Guildford, which in turn flows north to join the mighty Thames with access to London. Today the Tillingbourne is idyllic and pastoral. A few hundred years ago, it was an industrial river, powering mills at frequent intervals, mills that ground corn, mills that ground gunpowder and mills that produced paper.

Abinger takes the word Hammer into its name, as it was at the centre of the iron industry until the late 17c. The Tillingbourne was enchannelled into “ponds”to drive the huge hammer which pounded the hot iron in the forge. Forges had been fuelled from charcoal produced from timber from the vast forests in the district known as the Weald, parts of Sussex and Surrey today. Finally the timber gave out, and the industry moved north to Coalbrookdale where Abraham Darby had discovered how to smelt iron from coke. The clock in the photograph was installed in the late 19c to commemorate the village’s connection with the iron industry.

Today the hammer ponds still exist, and are used for growing watercress. There are also trout farms using these old ponds as well, and once they have been relined, are very suitable

The gunpowder mill is at nearby Chilworth, ruined now and standing in woodland, with many tales of terrible accidents and loss of life and limb. There is a heritage trail around the mill buildings which is well worth doing. The strange thing about Chilworth Gunpowder Mill is that during World War I, it was owned by a German company ! If you have ever read any of William Cobbett’s rural rides, you will know that he undertook one along the Tillingbourne, and did a serious rant about the Chilworth Gunpowder mill as well as the paper mill nearby which produced the bank notes. Both he maintained did the devil’s work.

I am partway through the drawing of Abinger. I won’t be able to work on it for a while but will continue as soon as I can

Prince Philip : a personal recollection

High Wycombe College 1967

In 1967 I was studying at High Wycombe College of Technology, as it was then. It will have university status by now along with all the other ‘techs’ in the land. The course was a new one, and groundbreaking at the time. we were being trained in export marketing, and the course was a combination of business studies and languages, three to be precise. I say groundbreaking because this country was waking up to the need for a renewed effort in marketing our goods overseas. Other countries had rebuilt their industry since the war, notably Germany and Japan, whose economies were racing ahead of ours. We stayed in the past with outdated plant and methods. Our industrial relations record was lamentable, and held us back. Our balance of payments situation was dire in the extreme

Training was seen as part of the answer. This course was one of those that provided the means. It was an exciting start

Prince Philip, whom we all know was very interested in opportunities for the young, and in rebuilding this country. he paid us a flying visit, literally by helicopter, and spent some hours talking to us individually and informally so that he could learn about what we were doing. In the photograph, one of my colleagues is explaining the project we were involved in. Two students seated, and one is me, are waiting their turn.

I remember he spoke to us in German for a little while, which put us on our mettle. I am happy to say that we acquitted ourselves well. We were greatly impressed by his visit. It was a tremendous boost

Many of us went on to take up overseas sales post in industry. Today in our global economy and instantaneous communication worldwide, selling overseas is a natural function, but at that time it seemed intrepid and trailblazing

We know how much Prince Philip did in encouraging all our efforts and are grateful

RIP Prince Philip

Horses in the Mist Painting Amended

Horses out of the Mist

When I posted this painting previously I thought the horses were floating which was not an effect that I had been trying to get. It was suggested that I add spatter so that it would appear the horses were kicking up mud. So that is what I have done, and I prefer the result. They do now look as though they have feet on the ground

That really finishes this painting, and I can move on to other things

I came across a photograph of Tower Bridge in London, which looks like early morning with very deep orange in the sky and reflected in the water. It is the sort of colouring that I like doing in watercolour. The bridge itself is silhouetted against this bright sky, so not too much detail in the architecture. There are a couple of large boats but little more. It will be very much an exercise in tonal values, which should be enjoyable

I will post some images on my next post

Horses in the Mist — the finished painting

My version

This is my finished version of the photograph for which I am grateful to Pixabay

I am not sure about the marbling, not that I have tried to emulate the original exactly. I have used more orange and more blue, which has made the painting brighter, rightly or wrongly. My eye at the moment, is going from one image to the other. I don’t think I have captured the same feeling of movement as the original . When I look at the original I can almost hear the hoofbeats. My horses seem to float on a cloud, which is weird or ethereal depending on your preference.

Still it has been an interesting exercise and one of the most taxing that I have tried for a long time. Certainly a change from architecture

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.

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

Aubrey Beardsley Exhibition at Tate Britain

Tate reopened

Just as an interim, I will mention that we went to this exhibition today. I am still working on Horses in the Snow slowly. It is coming along just fine but taking longer than I thought

It was lovely to go to a gallery again after all these weeks of closure. Social distancing worked well, if anything I preferred it as you could see the pictures. We drove in and traffic was light both ways and parking was easy.

Unbeknown to me, the London Congestion Charge had been extended to cover the week-end as well. It used to be Monday to Friday only which was one of the reasons that we drove up on a Saturday. Thanks to someone tipping me off, I had time to open an account Also you can still park for free outside the gallery at the weekend. No doubt that will alter in due course

The exhibition is excellent for anyone near enough to go. Aubrey Beardsley is an amazing character. He contracted TB at the age of 7, so he knew he would have a short life, and worked to compensate. He left behind something like 1000 drawings

He worked for Oscar Wilde illustrating Wilde’s opera Salome, and also later edited the prestigious Yellow Book. His connection with Wilde proved his undoing sadly. Public anger as Wilde’s court case shocked the nation, spilled over onto Beardsley. His office was broken into by the mob, and he was reluctantly sacked. He moved to Dieppe, and continued his life in France. He died in Menton on the Riviera. at the age of 25, with his mother and sister at his side

He had also produced pornographic work which he later regretted. He did ask his publisher to destroy this work, but it never was, sadly as so often he is associated with pornography. Some of this work is displayed in a separate room, so viewing is optional

The Yellow Book

Wonderful draftsmanship, however you view the man

Whilst writing, my revised website still under the domain name of davidharmerwatercolour.co.uk, has now gone live. It is a tremendous improvement or so I believe, and also meets these new requirements from the likes of Google and others. We hope for great things