Venice: a different treatment of a favourite view

Venice, Early Morning

This is what I meant by an old favourite. The lagoon viewed looking out onto the magnificent church of San Giorgio Maggiore, which I have painted several times before in different lights. I don’t seem to have kept many, so must have been some time ago that I last painted this view, before I started keeping a file of all my pictures. Anyway, this one I was pleased with. The light seemed to work. A misty still morning before the sun broke through, there is very little in the way of colour as yet

I have used mostly just two colours, Cobalt Blue and Cadmium Orange. Here and there they have mixed and produced an interesting grey/green which I rather like and use from time to time. Burnt sienna for the brick buildings in the background, but not much of it

I put this one on social media to get some comments. Someone bought it which is always the ultimate accolade

I am doing a real exhibition this coming Saturday, and it would have been nice to have taken it, but you can only sell a painting once. I am happy with that

A Favourite View of Venice

Gondolas with San Giorgio Maggiore in the background

Probably my favourite view of Venice which I have painted several times before, but not with this lovely misty light, which I shall assume to be morning but could be evening. This photograph I owe to Pixabay and am grateful

This is my finished watercolour painting, or my version of the photograph I should say

Painting of Venice in early light

This was a challenging photograph to work from. San Giorgio Maggiore in the background, shrouded in mist. I knew it well and had painted it a few times. This is a lovely building set on an island and reminds you where you are, almost into the mouth of the Grand canal. Gondolas line up like taxis in the foreground. Drawing them is always fun. They seem to have a twist along the length or maybe that is my imagination. An interesting point about gondolas is that they have to be black according to regulations and yet because they are so highly polished, they very often don’t look black, because of the highlights and the reflections

This fills a spot in my collection. I have two exhibitions planned for December, and I never feel complete without a painting of Venice. Unfortunately having been through my own collection of photographic references more than once, I am sometimes puzzled as to what to paint for a change. This view I have painted before but in bright sunshine, so a misty start to the day is a nice change. Initial response to the painting has been encouraging, so I think it could do well, but I have said that before

We shall see. At the moment I am in different stages of two works, not something I like doing but needs must

Roman Sunrise– a recent painting

Roman Sunrise

A well known view although on this occasion I have to thank Pixabay for the reference photo

I was intrigued by this picture, not entirely by the subject matter, although of course the Basilica of St Peter’s in Rome is an inspiring piece of architecture. It was the early morning light that had been captured in the photograph that I liked which gave a misty effect to the background buildings. The trick would be how to capture that light effect in paint.

I used two colours as a base coat, cobalt blue for sky followed by orange for the middle ground covering the buildings especially and then cobalt blue again. The orange running down into the blue created a greenish colour which worked well as the colour of the river water

For detailing I used some burnt sienna for brickwork and a violet/ transparent brown mix for deep shadow. Did I capture the feeling of a city waking up and starting to get ready for the day ahead? Well, I like to think so, but I will let others judge.

This one was fun to do, and relied on a good reference picture which I found on Pixabay. The photographer was David Cattini

My next exhibition is local in the village of Pirbright, and six pictures of mine have been chosen including this one, so the feedback will be interesting.

Painting again as means to recovery — finished painting of Bosham Church viewed from the sailing club

Bosham Church from the sailing club

It is now some time since I have posted anything, and it is good to be back. It is also extremely good to be painting again. My life for the past ten weeks, has centred round hospital visits and more recently consultations with the physiotherapist. Today I was discharged from hospital so trying to get back to normal after my accident

I started this painting about two weeks ago. It was to replace a gap in my range. I sold two Bosham paintings at my last exhibition in June, which was held in the gallery at Denbies Wine Estate near Dorking. I had a telephone call from a gentleman asking if by chance I had a painting available of Bosham which he wanted as a gift for a friend.. How fortunate. He was prepared to wait and is collecting the finished item tomorrow, so that is good

I have used sunset colours which always work with any subject involving water. The deep reflections are perfect for this size of painting. There are just four colours in the picture, red and cobalt blue, violet and transparent brown

There are more finished paintings to come. Roman Sunrise, which is a splendid early morning view of St Peter’s Basilica, and also the Bridges of Prague, which I am just finishing

Two exhibitions in December coming up so will need plenty. Fingers crossed that strict Covid restrictions aren’t reintroduced of course as they were last year at the last minute. Our infection rate is rising worryingly, with the government trying to avoid taking any action. It is as though they are taking some desperate gamble that herd immunity will kick in which will save them putting any curbs on the economy

Anyway sorry about my long absence. Hopefully I can get back into the swing again.

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

School Days in the 1950s : Part 3

It is about three years since I wrote Part 2 of School Days, and this edition is long overdue.My school was Churcher’s College in Petersfield, Hants, a school founded in the c18 by one Richard Churcher, an East India Company man. The original intent was to train 10 boys in mathematics and navigation before they entered the company. The original building is in the town, and is still there with the name over the door. The present building on Rams Hill dates from the c19, and is still there, although much changed as you might imagine. They have a sixth form college now for example, which of course takes girls. Just imagine

But to go back to the benighted times of the fifties, and 1958 in particular, by which time I was fifteen, one could choose to enlist in the school CCF, the combined cadet force. The three services were represented, and I chose to go into the army section. Just deviating slightly, I wondered if schools still had CCFs today and it appears they do, something like 500 around the country. Much more sophisticated now though with what is available such as specialised training for different regiments, such as REME for example. The Royal Marines are represented now too alongside the other three services.

Anyway, I went into the army, and we were issued with uniforms. One set of battle dress, WW2 style, and this we kept for special occasions when we were on parade, and one set of denims for everyday use which was most of the time. The shirt made from some coarse material which itched like the proverbial hair shirt, was common to both BD and denims. We had to provide our own boots. My parsimonious parents bought me a secondhand pair, of which I was bitterly ashamed. As some waggish NCO put it, they looked as though they had once belonged to a Malayan bandit. Embarrassment like that marks you for life, or maybe hardens you against all that was to come.

My weekends were spent cleaning my kit. We had webbing belts and gaiters, which had to be blancoed. Ours was a sort of khaki green colour and had to be applied with a small stiff brush. I should have said that the old stuff from the previous week had to be scrubbed off first, so an unenviable task. Complaints from my parents about the mess and smell were not helpful. Considering my father had been a regular for sixteen years, I would have expected more encouragement, but I noticed from his photographs that, in the Artillery, he had a polished brown leather belt which must have been a doddle to clean, compared with what I had to work with. That was not all. Brass buckles and other fittings had to be removed and polished with duraglit. Reassembly invariably meant getting some brass polish on to the webbing or vice versa. Something of a nightmare, and yet I stuck at it for two years, until I left school.

However there was an upside, in fact several. We were issued on the day with Lee Enfield 303 Rifles, real ones which fired real bullets, still standard WW2 issue. Naturally they were collected afterwards. My mother would have freaked if I kept one of those in the wardrobe. Drill sergeants came down from the nearby camp at Longmoor to inspect us and to drill us ad nauseam. By the time they had finished with us we were reasonably proficient in rifle drill, and could march quite smartly. i found drill quite satisfying for some strange reason. We also had that lovely gun,the Bren at our disposal. I never did fire it, although some of my colleagues did. We all had to strip it down and reassemble in seconds as I remember. You hoped it didn’t jam when firing as it then had to have the barrel removed whilst hot. You needed a nearby water supply for cooling and sometimes had to improvise.

The RAF section had their own glider. Watching them trying to get it airborne was always amusing. Attached to the glider were two elasticated tow ropes, and each one was pulled by a large number of air force cadets. The spectacle looked like something out of Biblical Egypt. When the ropes were stretched to their limit, the plane was released. Sadly it never even cleared the next hedge. It must have been a heartbreaking exercise, and when you see gliders today being launched by tow truck or even another plane, you can understand that these poor lads never had a prayer. Still, they kept at it, to their eternal credit.

The highlight of each term was to go on a field day. We went to nearby Longmoor Camp for a day of manoeuvres, which meant charging around the pine forests with our rifles together with a handful of blank cartridges each. Today Health and Safety would be horrified. We were, in fairness, given a demonstration of how much damage a blank cartridge can do, which is more than you think. Nevertheless, it was glorified warfare all day long. The army resisted the temptation of firing live rounds over our heads, but there was one officer, who I always felt was unhinged, who threw firecrackers at us for amusement. Firecrackers, if you don’t know, are the size of a stick of dynamite with a fuse which is lit. If they go off near your feet, they make your ears ring. They certainly got us going, but it was fun nonetheless

I omitted to mention that the Army had their own railway with saddle tank steam engines, which ran into a side line at Petersfield station. We all piled into that to be transported to Longmoor Camp. Petersfield is on the old A3, the London to Portsmouth road, and Longmoor is a few miles north of that. I sometimes pass the camp or what is left of it, in the car. There are still some buildings standing but largely inactive. Longmoor was the start of Army country, stretching up to Aldershot, the well known garrison town, with little or nothing going on any more. The infamous Deepcut Camp nearby was completely razed to the ground and a housing estate built over it

I had quite a feeling for the military at the time, but was persuaded to go into the family business when I was 16, which turned out to be a big mistake. After several more bad decisions, I returned to college to study international sales and marketing, which became my lifetime career. I missed conscription by a few years, or call-up as it was known. I remember being annoyed at the time, as it would have meant compulsory release from the family firm. The fact that it was dangerous, was lost on me. This wasn’t too long after the Korean War. Many years later, when I was older and wiser, I read about the Glorious Gloucesters and the Battle of Imjin River. They were national servicemen or conscripts, and heroically resisted superior Chinese forces until they were overrun. The survivors, I remember were very badly treated. Perhaps missing call-up hadn’t been such a bad thing

I think I will stop here

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

Painting of Abinger Hammer part finished

Abinger Hammer part finished

This where we are at the moment from the reference photograph published last time. The centre of attraction is the jack or striking clock installed in the c19. The figure of a blacksmith strikes the hour with his hammer, from his perch over the main road between Guildford and Dorking

Abinger Hammer is an idyllic village in the Surrey Hills. It was not always so. The River Tillingbourne runs nearby and was an industrial power source. It drove mills and in the case of Abinger powered a hammer which pounded hot iron into pigs or ingots. The hammer ponds are still there although the iron is gone. Today they grow watercress or have become trout farms. The iron industry moved north and stayed there, when Abraham Darby discovered how to smelt iron using coke instead of charcoal.

So far I have concentrated on the background and underpainting. It looks very soft which is not unattractive although needs to be sharpened up, especially the houses in the foreground. They are tile hung. Terracotta tiles are very much part of the Surrey vernacular, mostly square edged but a good many in beaver tail design. The golden coloured building stone is local sandstone, which is used frequently with bricks on the corners for protection. Always attractive to paint,, good old raw sienna does nicely and burnt sienna works well for terracotta. For additional poke a dilute glaze of permanent rose over the burnt sienna does make it pop as the saying goes.

The background is in shade except for the gaps where the trees can be seen in the background. I used quinacridone gold with some violet on the trees, by way of a change and it gave a nice effect

Still some work but mostly detailing. Hoping to use the finished result in my next real exhibition later this month which will be at Denbies Winery near Dorking, but gotta finish this first

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