A Week in Sicily

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The Rooftops of Ragusa

We have just returned from a wonderful week in Sicily. I am exhausted as we packed a lot in, and did more walking than I am used to. The city of Ragusa is beautiful built on the sides of gorges, so dramatic in themselves. However everything is steep, and the climb we did to get this picture was no exception. I am not sure how many steps as I lost count at 150.

We were about ten minutes too early for the lovely baroque church in the background, so our guide took us to the top for the view, one picture and straight back down. Bit of a killer in the hot sun

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This is the way down, only more of it, as the steps wind on round the houses.

Sicily has been hit by several earthquakes in its history, but the big one in the c17 destroyed nearly everything. Consequently all the churches seem to be in the Baroque style following a massive rebuilding programme, in whichever town you visit.

Syracuse was fascinating with its wonderful archaeological park. Sicily was Greek from 750BC, and the park shows where slaves quarried massive stone blocks from the hillside for their building programme. Greek theatres followed by Roman amphitheatres abound. The Romans took Syracuse from Greek hands in the early third century, and also drove out the last of the Carthaginians

Sicily changed hands so many times throughout its long history. Goths and Vandals after the Romans, Arabs and then the Norman Conquest in the c11, creating the Kingdom of Sicily, curiously matching England which became Norman in 1066 just before Sicily

You often see images of St Thomas a Becket in churches in Sicily. Henry II of England’s daughter, Joan married King William II of Sicily. You may remember that Henry had Becket murdered in Canterbury Cathedral, an act that horrified the rest of Europe. William venerated Becket in Sicily in order to distance himself from Henry’s crime, which later Henry was to do penance for

Of more recent interest, were the location shots for the Montalbano  detective series shown on TV. These were in Raguso, Scipli and Punta Secca. Lost on me as I never watched the series however

Some superb shots for paintings, including the roof top view which I have shown, and also the beautiful Medieval windmills on the west side of the island. Still, for now, I shall be getting back to the drawing of the Camargue horses which I left before I went away

A nice message waiting for me when I got back. Someone is buying the painting of Langstone Harbour, which is shown in the archive of this blog somewhere

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The Medieval windmills and saltpans near Trapani

From Sketch to Finished Painting

Lavant Cottage

The finished house portrait

Just a pity that the camera leeches out some of the colour, try as I might to avoid it happening. The original has a much softer tone

This was an interesting commission, and of course follows on from the last post about the value of the preliminary sketch. The lights and darks from the tonal sketch were invaluable as a reference. What was so delightful about this subject was the strong light coming from the left and low at that.

After transferring the drawing onto watercolour paper, I bathed the whole thing in a mix of Naples Yellow and Raw Sienna. There was very little sky in the frame, so I saw little point in trying to introduce a sky colour. I have used this neutral sky on several occasions before and it works well, when you need to soften the subject, and also focus on a subject, so pertinent  when you are doing a house portrait.

I usually paint roof tops with Burnt Sienna over the Raw Sienna. This time, as it was a commission, and therefore being more careful, I did some research. Some people use Light Red and some too use Indian Red, I was told. After a couple of trials, I elected to use Light Red, which I found rather pleasing and closer to the reference photograph.

The dark shadow was a mix of Violet and Transparent Brown, always successful. Some orange brickwork and one or two red roses to lead the eye

I was pleased with the result. A nice soft portrait of a period house, which was not unlike a sepia photograph, evocative of the period and somehow timeless.

From here, I can rest from commissions. I love doing them as they challenge me with something new, but I have exhibition commitments from March, which seems a long way off but not really. I have stock enough to do an exhibition now, but most have been seen this year, those that I have left unsold that is.

That means a new collection, so best get started

Sketch Painting

Lavant Tonal Sketch

This is a house portrait that I am working on at the moment, which just serves to illustrate the value of the preliminary sketch. The drawing is very loose, which I often think adds to the effect. Unnecessary detail has been removed. The power is in the tone. The dimensions are to scale. All I that I need is there for producing the final painting. Any changes that I want to make or mistakes that I want to correct, I can do now so that hopefully I won’t be rubbing out on sensitive watercolour paper.

What is it about black and white that captures atmosphere so well, perhaps better than colour?  Something in the drama of light and dark perhaps. In this sketch, I haven’t used black, which tends to flatten a painting as it drains all the light. Ink is even worse in my opinion, and although I like black ink for line drawing, I use watercolour for large blocks of dark. Instead of black, I have used Payne’s Grey, which is grossly undervalued in my opinion. It produces a beautiful blue/grey and the end result is a painting in its own right.

Purists tell us that we should mix our own greys, depending on the grey we want for a particular purpose. I agree and I do that too, but Payne’s Grey has its place. It makes superb skies giving pale greys through to black clouds, and I believe was the reason for William Payne inventing it. It also works superbly well as an alternative to ink for sketching.

William Payne, 1760-1830, Devonshire born, lived in Plymouth, until moving to London in 1790. He was a watercolourist and etcher, and above all, an innovator. His style, we are told, could be easily learnt and he became the most fashionable drawing master in London. His innovations include” splitting the brush to give forms of foliage, dragging the tints to give texture to his foreground, and taking out forms of light by wetting the surface and rubbing with rag and bread”

And of course Payne’s Grey.

Later in life he was surpassed by other artists, and sadly forgotten before his death in 1830

Van Gogh and Arles

I have been away for the past week. We cruised down the River Rhone from Lyon to Arles which was lovely, and took three places off my bucket list. One was the Pont du Gard, that amazing section of Roman aqueduct still remaining crossing the River Gard. Very hot that day but still summoned the energy to go down to the water’s edge and look up at this amazing structure whilst envying the people in the water. The second place was the Camargue National Park to see the famous white horses and the black bulls, as well as of course the flamingos who breed there, the only breeding ground of this bird in Europe. Curiously they are not very pink. The third place, as an artist that I wanted to visit was Arles made famous by Van Gogh, and those of us who wanted, were treated to a fascinating walking tour taking in some of the places made famous by the artist.

Van Gogh arrived in Arles in 1888, and took a room in a house near the railway station. he called it the Yellow House and it is depicted in one of his paintings. The house isn’t there anymore. It was destroyed by bombing in WW2. The house next door is still there, not yellow but a sort of buttermilk colour, and curiously enough still a cafe.

The light in Arles is extremely attractive for artists. The sun shines and the sky is blue nearly every day. More importantly, the famous wind, the Mistral blows down the Rhone like a corridor and clears the air of water vapour, dust etc, and produces a clarity of colour that would be hard to find elsewhere. The Mistral in summer is like a cooling breeze, like an electric fan in the heat of the city. In winter, I am told, it is something of a tyrant, getting inside your head, making you ill, and in some cases inducing madness. It goes in three-day cycles. If it doesn’t stop after three days, it will go on for another three, and so on

Vincent’s time in Arles was highly productive, producing something like 300 paintings.He was bi polar so was capable of great energy at times.  On our walk we visited some of the sites made famous by van Gogh. One of them was the Night Cafe or Le Cafe la Nuit. The exterior of the cafe is depicted in Cafe Terrace at Night painted in September 1888. My picture follows.

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Another shot with the van Gogh painting as a reference

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He wanted to set up a society of artists in Arles, and to this end, persuaded his brother Theo, who was already financing him, to persuade Gauguin with financial inducements, to come to Arles, which he did. The two of them had a turbulent relationship which turned violent and Gauguin left.

Van Gogh’s despair and self recrimination led to the famous self mutilation incident, when he took a razor to his ear and sliced off a lobe. He wrapped it in newspaper and gave it to a prostitute whom he knew. She reported him to the police, who thought he had killed Gauguin. He was admitted to a hospital in Arles for treatment, where he continued to work, and produced the following painting of the hospital garden

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The garden which he painted is not dissimilar today. Later his condition was to worsen and he was admitted to a nearby asylum in St.Remy.He was estranged from Theo who was about to marry. As we know he was to shoot himself in a nearby field, amidst some controversy. He shot himself in the chest and did not die immediately. People usually shoot themselves in the head and then death is instant. How did he come by a gun. He was unpopular in the town, because of his strange behaviour. Had someone else shot him? All unanswerable questions

I have tried to condense the walk down to as few words as possible. Not easy to convey so much information, but hope you find it interesting nonetheless

Shere Village and Church: the Finished Painting

Shere Village and Church

Well, the painting is finished, and turned out better than I thought. I dulled down the roof of the lychgate as one critic advised. It had come far too forward, so I scraped it back, and added grey violet which has pushed the image back into the middle distance.

I lifted the paint off the foreground figures and let that dry. I painted shadows in first with dark grey violet, and let that dry hard. I finished them with their local colour, and they turned out well enough. It is possible to correct mistakes in watercolour sometimes

I added shadows cast by the figures, and deepened shadows under eaves and around windows. As soon as you do that,  it is like the sun coming out. Pure illusion but it always works

I might still tackle this subject again but from a different angle. As someone pointed out, it would have been nice to show more of the old church, and I accept that argument. I do have references taken closer to the church, and may well do that later, but not just yet. I need a change from this subject

Perhaps something from France would be nice to do, and perhaps experiment with some different skies, just to make life interesting

Shere Village and Church Painting which is not going too well

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Usually I like to say that the painting is proceeding nicely. In this case it just isn’t. It is one of those paintings that is popular at exhibitions, or should be. A local scene which people recognise and identify with. The sort of scene I have painted so many times, and yet seem to have made mistake after mistake. Oh well, suitably chastened, perhaps I will be more careful as I continue

Just above the church spire, and out of the camera frame, the sky went awry, and left a large blue patch right in the centre, just where I didn’t want it. This type of cloudy blue sky has to be done wet-in-wet, as we know, and apart from lots of frenetic board tilting, there is only so much control you can exert over the finished item.

The roof over the lychgate came up much too bright, so I have scrubbed that back, and will add less colour next time

Likewise the figures in the foreground were disappointing, and these I have scrubbed back with a lifting out brush. When they are really bone dry, I will attempt them again. I don’t know why but I seemed to lose all sense of colour control. I applied paint too thickly and the shadow areas which I had already put in, just did not show through

The brick colour of the cottage on the left-hand side which usually works well, is almost acidic with the green foliage, or am I being paranoid. Perhaps I have been looking at it for too long

On both sides I have painted more of each building. The camera frame would only take the image shown, which looking at, I prefer. There is certainly a case for cropping top and bottom, and maybe quite a bit from each side, and making a smaller picture of it

I will see what I can salvage. I have some ideas now. Being humbled occasionally, never hurt anyone

Have you ever had a bad picture day? Always pleased to hear about it if you have

Art and Empire: Following on from my post in February

Moslem Burial Ground

The Muslim Burial Ground near Woking built by the War Office in 1917 and restored beautifully in 2014 in time for the Centenary

If you read my post in February about the exhibition at the Tate Art Gallery, London, entitled Art and Empire, much of which had to do with India including the contribution of the Indian Army during World War 1, then you will remember that I finished with the story of the Muslim Burial Ground where Muslim soldiers who died of wounds in local hospitals, were interred.

There were 28 service personnel buried there from both world wars. Their remains were moved to the Brookwood War Graves in 1968, since when, the area within the walls was left barren. With the restoration, this area has now been turned into a Garden Of Remembrance, and includes a stone tablet with the names of the 28 fallen, inscribed on it.

Finally I have been again to look at it, and have taken some pictures so that I can conclude this post. It really is a very tranquil and, I think, sacred place

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The new plaque by the main entrance of the Muslim War Cemetery-Peace Garden. Let us hope the sentiment comes true

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This is the tablet commemorating the 28 service personnel who lost their lives in both world wars. You will need your zoom to read the names, I am afraid. This was as close as I could get

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Looking back towards the main gate, with the pool, landscaping and new trees. The water is being pumped round continuously, giving that delightful trickling sound. Certainly a place for meditation, and perhaps a prayer for peace. Not easy when there is an atrocity every day

I am still working on the painting of Shere Village and Church, which I would hope to finish within the next week or so

Preparing a Painting of Shere Village in the Surrey Hills

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This is a view of Shere Village with its medieval church

Shere stands amongst the Surrey Hills and on the River Tillingbourne. Hard to imagine that in the c13-c15 it was industrial, producing woollen cloth. Today it is idyllic, like a postcard, attracting visitors from far and wide

I have been given an exhibition slot at the Royal Surrey Hospital, for July 2017, which does sound a long way off, but now starts the long slow build-up of exhibits. I need at least twelve that I haven’t shown before, so although I have some, I still want some more in reserve

I haven’t painted Shere for many years and then not from this angle. I think I can make something from this photograph, but for starters all these cars must go. I do sometimes put cars in, but in this case they are just hiding anything attractive. I shall probably broaden the composition by taking in more of the building on the left. I do also want some figures in the foreground looking towards the church, which will be a focal point.

The figures will be from my sketch book. I have drawn them free-hand from the screen, and will transpose them onto the drawing of the village street later. I will leave some pictures of the drawing and will post again when I have done some painting

Sketches of Figures

This is the page from my sketchbook. Figures kindly modelled by members of my family, although they didn’t know it, as we walked up to the old church.  What I do now, is to trace my sketch, and then slide the tracing around the drawing of the street, until the perspective looks right

Figures transposed to Shere Village scene

and so this is the sketch drawing which in turn will be transposed onto watercolour paper, after which it will be enhanced with more freehand drawing. When I have done that I will post the result

Gravetye Manor Hotel: the finished picture

Gravetye Manor Hotel

This is the finished picture of the hotel

The lights and darks helped this painting enormously, which was why I was so grateful for the sun shining just long enough for me to get a shot telling me where they were

The chimneys were hexagonal so each side had a different tonal value. They were fiddly and not sure now whether they were completely accurate, but from the point of view of giving an illusion of their shape, they seemed to work

I used raw sienna mixed with Naples yellow for the sunlit building and also for the path, which is my favourite mix for giving the appearance of sun on stone. The path was a gift for the composition, that bright open gateway surrounded by dark shadow.

Another problem was the plethora of green in the foreground. I used three different mixes which seemed to work, as well as some different plant shapes. The violet flower clump broke some of it up, and that good old favourite, red spots dotted here and there helped to take the eye

I have started to use the odd bit of pastel to get myself out of trouble where I might need a bright light colour over a dark background. I find that is a useful device and a nice change from gouache which isn’t always successful anyway

Will I have to call myself a mixed media artist? I don’t think so

Gravetye Manor Hotel in Sussex, UK

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This is Gravetye Manor Hotel which is near East Grinstead in Sussex, UK.

A beautiful old building dating from the c16 set in acres of woodland, which has been converted some years ago to a very luxurious country house hotel. The grounds are awe inspiring. This view is from the Flower Garden, which is one only of 11 separate garden spaces

The hotel has numerous accolades. Hotel of the Year England 2013/2014, Best Countryside Hotel 2014, Rural Hotel of the Year 2014 and more besides

So I was very pleased and indeed flattered to be commissioned to paint this view of the hotel, on behalf of a delightful couple for whom this hotel has become a special place during a significant time in their lives.

I went there about a month ago, hoping to get a sunny day. I say hoping, because our weather has been so very changeable lately , with sun going in and out of clouds all the time. That is even if one was lucky enough to pick a dry day to start with. I wanted sun and I wanted shadows to make the building look more interesting

This photograph is one of many that I took on the day. The sun came out reluctantly and I got a few shots with shadows cast on the building yet with a few highlights left, on the porch, on the chimneys which were a bit of a nightmare to draw, and also lit the front of the building brilliantly

The interesting part of the composition was the path to the right with the garden gate itself in shadow yet giving onto bright light beyond. Where was that going to? Well, the car park but in artistic terms it could be leading somewhere more romantic

I made some sketches and transferred them onto watercolour paper as a finished drawing, ready to paint which can be the subject of another post

Gravetye Transferred Drawing

A little bit pale as I tried to avoid dark pencil lines, but the gist of the composition is there