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

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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

Goathland Interim

Goathland Interim

I have made a start as you can see

There was rather a lot of woodland. Usually the background is pale, sky, perhaps a few distant trees, and that makes a clear backdrop for the foreground to stand out against

This time we have trees and lots of them, and so the foreground has to stand out against this darker background. For the moment, I have just started to detail some of the buildings, and for me there is insufficient definition. They need to come forward otherwise they will just go back into the trees

Looking back at the reference photograph, there is a tremendous amount of red in the picture. The ironwork is red. The trucks are red. Paintwork is red. The brickwork could do with a coat of something, as it appears anemic . I think a coat of Permanent Rose or Light Red would help, and that is probably what I will do

The buildings and rolling stock should when completed come towards the viewer and throw the trees back, which I think might prove a relief to the eyes

I haven’t had time to work on it today so will try tomorrow to get something moving

Until then

Schooldays in the 1950s: Part Two

One of the most important aspects of grammar school life was sport and sporting achievement. Sporting heroes were venerated, whilst scholars were not. I haven’t given this piece a title, quite deliberately, but if I did it could be Sport and Entertainment, which sounds like a quiz round. We had a lot of sport, but very little entertainment. Our antidote to work was sport. There was no place for the frivolous

I have not named my old school yet, I don’t know why, there is no need for me to be coy about it. The college was founded in the c18, by an East India merchant named Richard Churcher, to train boys in mathematics and navigation, before entering the service of the East India Company. The school is Churcher’s College, still very much there, but independent since the introduction of the comprehensive system. It stands alongside the old Portsmouth Road, built of local sandstone, it boasts clocktower, quadrangle,refectory and all those other ingredients of a traditional boy’s college from a distant past. It could be Greyfriar’s or Hogwarts

Sport was very well catered for. Rugby in the autumn term, cross-country running in the spring term and cricket in the summer, were obligatory, and enjoyed by many. I hated all three. My extreme odium was reserved for cross-country running, always on a Tuesday afternoon for juniors, straight after a lunch of corned beef, lumpy mash potato and some mixed salad leaves, with a boiled suet pudding to follow. Running three miles over rough farmland straight after that, was not good for the digestion. Several boys lost their lunch on the way.

I said this took place in the spring term. This ran from early January to Easter more or less so took in the worst two months of the year. Today,  thanks to global warming, we have comparatively mild winters, and rarely have snow in the south. In the 1950s snow was more or less guaranteed straight after Christmas, and would hang around for weeks

We changed in the pavilion, which doubled as a gym. One afternoon sticks in my mind, as our games master opened the doors to start us off. The sky was black, and large flakes of snow fell in blizzard conditions. Surely the run would be cancelled, and we could spend the afternoon in the library.  Dream on.  Smiling, if not laughing, our games master dressed in duffle coat, scarf and gloves waved us on our way. We had rugger shirts and shorts and Plimsoll shoes to protect us against the elements. Today, I think, people would be horrified to run in those conditions. Most runners in the winter seem to wear leggings, hood and anorak today, something about keeping muscles warm.

Across the playing fields and out into Love Lane, we ran en masse. Gradually the good runners pulled ahead, with the boys not built for speed lagging further and further behind. I was usually somewhere in the middle , I have to say

After a mile or so of road running, we approached that terrible first obstacle, the “muddy bridge” which really did sort out the good from the awful. This was an old railway bridge, one of many, which carried the Petersfield to Midhurst railway. The railway was in use then, but later would be axed by Doctor Beeching.  Beneath the bridge never saw the light of day, was very deep mud. It never dried out, not even in good weather. The local farmer drove his cattle through it. The cattle sank above their knees in this ooze, creating holes that filled with water with a crust of ice on top. We forged through this lot, likewise well over our knees, so that it took a very great effort to extricate our feet from this sticky morass of mud and excrement. Plimsolls were lost,  sometimes for ever.

After this we were on to open farmland, which we took in our stride, quite literally. It was expected, and we had to do it, so we did. No one was in touch with their feminine side in those days, if we had one to be in touch with. We were told it was good for us, as we arrived back at the pavilion, our characters built, glad to be alive, glad the ordeal was over for yet another week but yet strangely satisfied as we took our hot shower, forged anew by this arduous test. I felt sorry for the tail-enders, as they trickled in, sometimes in the dark, suffering derisive comments from the games master. I don’t remember any concern being shown for boys late back, only irritation. They could have been face down in a ditch for all that anyone knew.

Reading this back, it looks as though I had a miserable time at school, but not so.  I enjoyed my studies, and also enjoyed my time in the CCF or Combined Cadet Force, which once must have been an Officers Training Corps. You could join either of the three services. I chose the army. Everything was still WW2 issue,  uniform, weapons etc. Give a boy of 14 a .303 rifle and a magazine of blanks, and have him charging round the countryside shooting at the”enemy”, this had to be enjoyable. Health and Safety today would be horrified. This deserves, one day, a chapter of its own, so I will talk about what served as our only light relief in those days.

We read a great deal, it is fair to say. We read the classics without being told to. I read H.Rider Haggard, Robert Louis Stephenson, Herman Melville, Joseph Conrad, and H.G.Wells. These authors wrote wonderful adventure stories which appealed to boys, then. Stories of exploration and of empire, which remember we were only just leaving behind us. The humiliation of the Suez Crisis in 1956 taught us that our days as a world power had come to an end, and that America was taking over.

In our wonderful library, we had, amongst many other things, leather-bound copies of Strand Magazine, a Victorian publication which serialised stories that we know well today. Conan Doyle published his adventures of Sherlock Holmes in this magazine in serialised form, and I remember especially reading Hound of the Baskervilles. I can say truthfully that I read it in the original.

We had comics. I bought the Eagle from W.H.Smith on Havant Station. One of the first comics to run stories of space travel, it was a runaway success. Dan Dare was the great hero with his sidekick Digby from Wigan. Together they thwarted the plans of the Mekon and his reptilian band of Treens

Recently I researched and gave a talk on H.G.Wells and his time in Woking, his most prolific time, from 1895-6, where he wrote works that made him famous like War of the Worlds. He also wrote something called The Man from the Year Million, where humans had developed massive brains with massive heads to match, and atrophied bodies and limbs which had shrunk because they were no longer being used. Interestingly, the illustrators of the Dan Dare stories borrowed from Wells when they created the Mekon character, and somewhere I have a picture.

Mekon_Big

and there is the rascal himself

Dan Dare stories were also broadcast on Radio Luxembourg , which I was not allowed to listen to, in our authoritarian household.

There was very little in the way of titillation. Censorship was strong and minors had to be protected. Nevertheless we sometimes bought a paper called Reveille, which might contain a picture of Diana Dors in a one piece bathing costume! She was Britain’s answer to Marilyn Monroe, a blond bombshell and a very popular model. She died quite young in 1982, married to a gangster as I remember, and living an orgiastic lifestyle. On a more serious note, she was also RADA trained and a very competent straight actress. I can remember seeing her in character parts in TV dramatisations of different works by DIckens, in which she was excellent.

I became very interested in photography in my mid teens, an interest way out of my meagre budget. I did buy each week, the Amateur Photographer magazine, which cost me 1/6d in old money, out of my pocket money of 3/6d, which left me strapped for the rest of the week. My father liked to read it too, but never thought to cough up a bit more money to cover the outlay. Maybe this propagated in me a latent interest in art, who knows

Bits and pieces come back as I write. I started learning German when I was 14. You were only allowed to do this, if you were already proficient in French. We were encouraged to have pen friends in Germany, and I started to write to Brigitte who lived in Wilhelmshaven, a naval port on the Baltic coast, a place better known for U-boat pens than anything else, but enough of that. We were the same age. She wrote in English and I wrote in German. Her stuff was very girly, as one might expect, and I wasn’t mature enough to say anything interesting either, so the arrangement foundered fairly quickly. She was very good-looking though.  Who knows what became of her.

I think I will stop