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 We stayed in the past with outdated plant and methods.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

The Ostrich Family

Ostrich Family

One lockdown task that I have been getting to grips with, has been sorting out and rationalising my burgeoning collection of reference pictures

About seven or eight years ago, we made a trip to South Africa which was amazing. About a week was spent on safari, followed by a long weekend in Cape Town

This shot, just one of many, shows an ostrich family just ahead of our truck, and being totally disinclined to move out of the way. I think the mother bird was deliberately preventing our vehicle from running over her young. Nobody was worried of course, as this was such a fantastic photo opportunity and went on for quite a long time

A long time ago, I thought I would paint this but never did. Now I have been reminded and have made a start with the drawing. Problems would be with colours, I think. Weather was not particularly good when we were there, with dull skies and proportionately subdued colour. I will have to try and inject a little sunshine somehow, although not sure how

I have done the initial sketch and will come back later

Initial Sketch

Sketching Birds in Ball Point Pen

The Ostrich Family

We had a competition recently inter family based on the work of Alberto Rosso and his drawings using ballpoint pen. The theme was birds

I hadn’t drawn in ballpoint for some while and had forgotten what a satisfying medium it was for sketching. Likewise drawing birds wasn’t something I had attempted. I did several versions, and the first ones were measured and precise which didn’t fit the project at all.

In the end I treated the drawings as doodles, so only doing them by eye and doing without measurements. That seemed to work better. My favourite is the one that I am showing which dates back some years when we had a holiday in South Africa.

We were out in a game reserve, in a truck, and met a family of ostrich going the same way. They just kept walking in front of us and made no attempt to speed up or move out of the way. We took loads of pictures, and I thought one day I might paint them, which I never did do

So I used them as a model for my biro drawing instead and am fairly pleased with the way it turned out. Ballpoint works well with watercolour so I may well paint it another time

On the easel I have just started painting an old favourite Wisley Gardens, a scene through wisteria which looked inviting in the photograph. I will deal with that another time

David Hockney Exhibition at the Lightbox, Woking

David Hockney’s WinterRoad near Kilham

There is a very good exhibition on at the Lightbox in Woking at the moment, entitled David Hockney:His Ways of Working. I hope that I’ve remembered that correctly as I didn’t make a note, although I did manage one or two pictures, shot from the hip, in case I was seen by a wily attendant.

As we know, Hockney throughout his career was fascinated with different media. A superb painter in the traditional sense, not that I liked all of his work, he also embraced new methods of recording art such as ipad drawing, print, fax machine, photography and collage

The exhibition at Woking is not large but it is representative, and as always skillfully displayed. I know the Lightbox is my local art gallery, and it is easy to become partisan, but the Lightbox has come on in leaps and bounds since it was founded both in quality and quantity of local exhibitions

The print shown above for example, is where Hockney utilised his own digital photography and Photoshop, drawing with a stylus on an iPad in front of a computer monitor. As Hockney himself explains “you are drawing directly onto a printing machine. One draws with the colours that a printing machine has, and the printing machine is one that anyone can have.”

Parc des Sources

This is the other painting that intrigued me. Very large for a start and changing the perspective so that the lines of trees met like a triangle. The seated figures are Peter Schlesinger, his lover at the time and Ossie Clark the fashion designer. I think they were having a boy’s weekend in Paris. The empty chair is for him, Hockney. He was standing whilst sketching.

Alongside the painting is Hockney’s drawing showing that he used the grid system for enlarging an image, which is how he produced such a large painting as the one I have shown. Many well-known artists use this system. I do too, but I am not well-known

I am currently using this system to enlarge a small photograph, to twice its size as a drawing, in preparation hopefully for something worth painting. The subject is the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. I was there a few years ago and took some reference shots, but haven’t got round to doing a painting yet.

That will probably be the subject of my next blog

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