Still Life with Conkers: Finished Painting


This is the finished painting. Rather laborious but we got there in the end! Every now and then I quite enjoy tackling something like this, not botanical painting exactly, but painting a specimen of fruit or flowers, with some expression thrown in. Textures are tantalising, and making an object look solid on a two-dimensional plane likewise.

I hope I have succeeded. One or two conkers, I feel, I can pick up, but I will let others judge

I talked about the story of conker-playing when I last posted, and how sadly, the gentle art has disappeared amongst schoolchildren, thanks to the interference of the health and safety police. No need for me to dwell on that anymore, only to lament the passing of part of our heritage, which had continued effortlessly from generation to generation. Too easy to blame the iPad! Children that I know like traditional games and playing with their iPads

But enough ranting. Let’s get back to the painting and how it takes shape. I remembered to take a picture of an interim stage, so let’s have a look at that


This is the stage following on from where I left the last post. I have completed a couple more of the conkers, this time with their husks, just to make sure the recipe is actually working. It seems to be!

As a base coat, I painted all the conkers with a bright orange, leaving a soft white spot on each, where the bright light is being reflected. I had already used a pale green for the husks, and had they been fresh from the tree. I could have continued with more green, but they had already gone a yellowy-brown colour, so true to nature, that is what I am doing.

The finished conker colour, I achieved using a succession of reds and browns. I did this wet-into-wet, so it is hard to give a blow by blow account. It is rather like sculpting. Do a bit, stand back and do a bit more

I can tell you, that I used light red, burnt sienna and burnt umber. At the very end, I gave nut and husk a unifying wash of light red, which I think gave them the colour I was looking for. And there it is

Thinking ahead, I have two projects taking shape in my head. One is to carry on with the painting of Bosham Harbour which I drew up and went no farther with. The other is to look back at Notre Dame with Pigeons, and redo the whole thing, removing that ghastly marquee on the left, and also improve the weather, and make the whole thing brighter and sunnier, albeit still winter time

I could also be going to Germany soon for the Christmas markets, so may be able to bring some interesting subject matter back with me

All for the future………….

Conkers:producing the painting


I managed to dig back into one of my old reference books and remind myself how I painted my first conkers still-life originally. As you can see, I have just drawn the nuts with their husks from the photograph. I have also put a base coat of yellow/green over the husks, and for this I have mixed sap green with raw sienna, which I find produces quite a natural green, for want of a better word

They look unassuming, and quite uninteresting, do they not. So I thought, what I would do, would be to finish off one conker, one nut, completely just to see if I could still do it.

This was the method I used.

I gave the nut, a base coat of bright orange, in this case Cadmium Orange with a touch only of Cadmium Red, and then let it dry hard. I should have said that I left a soft spot of white paper, working from the photograph, to simulate the point where strong light bounces off a glossy surface.

I then worked a succession of reds and browns wet-in-wet, almost sculpting the shape of the conker, finishing with Burnt Umber for the very dark surfaces. I also put in the shadow and darkened up the right-hand side. I let that dry hard, and put a unifying wash of Burnt Sienna across the whole of the conker, and left it until the following day

The next day, I felt quite pleased with the result. This was probably the nearest that I had come to trompe-l’oeil, where something painted in two dimensions looks solid enough to be picked up. I am not saying that every artist would be pleased with this, but I was, and confident enough to go on

The paper I am using is worth a mention. It is made from pressed rag, and I believe comes from Pakistan. It is similar to hot pressed paper, so that the surface is smoother than the cold-pressed paper that I normally use. It was sent to me as a sample some time ago, and I never used it, but it has proved perfect for this type of work

I shall probably finish the painting completely now and post again when it is done



I painted “conkers” a few years back, and the painting sold fairly quickly, and can be seen on my website I thought I would do another version, so assembled this little still life from a neighbouring tree, a few weeks ago, and photographed it, to do later at my leisure. It is very important that the conkers are fresh from their husks so that the finish is nice and glossy in order to reflect the light. These are beautiful like polished mahogany

If you were a schoolboy in the 1950s like me, these were highly prized as they would be used every autumn in the game of yes,…conkers. They are, of course, the nut from the horse chestnut tree, the non-edible version. We would drill each one with a skewer, and thread them with string, tying one end off with a large knot. Then let combat commence. Players would take it in turns to bash each other’s conker until one split and fell off the string. The one left intact was the winner. Players would count the number of “kills” and accord them to their own champion, so it would be a “sixer” or “tenner” or whatever.

Competition was fierce and led to devious practices, like baking your conker in the oven to make it rock hard, or soaking it in vinegar so that it pickled. I was never sure that helped, but people did it nonetheless

Sadly, in this millenium, the game was banned by several schools, thanks to a jaundiced view of people’s safety. Headmasters thought a piece of nut could fly off and hit someone in the face! Anything is possible, but in my long experience of the game, nothing like this ever happened. Someone even suggested that players were at risk from “nut-allergy”!! Absolutely no evidence for that whatsoever. Incredible when one thinks of the disabling injuries from playing rugby or from boxing, which young people are encouraged to play

I haven’t seen anyone playing conkers now for years, probably because a generation have never known what it is, so the tradition hasn’t been handed down. I believe that the game of conkers has resurfaced in the United States, so maybe it will come back to us from across the pond. ¬†Comments appreciated if you have any information on that

In the event, my interest for now is in the aesthetic as much as the nostalgic. I have made a drawing from this grouping, which is rather too faint to show, so I will get some colours together, and post another time about the painting exercise