Medieval Undercroft in Guildford High Street

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Not so much art this time, but architecture. I do say in my profile too, that I am a history freak.

Together with other volunteers, my wife and I take turns to open this gem to the public on certain hours throughout the season. It is one of those local treasures that even local people are largely unaware of. I use the words gem and treasures without wishing to sound melodramatic as English Heritage tell us that this undercroft is one of the best preserved in the country

It is in fact a c13 shop, probably selling wine. That is an assumption but a safe one. We have records of wine merchants in the High Street during the c13 but we cannot make a direct link to this building . But that is what informed opinion believes.

The wine would have come from Gascony in SW France, which was English then, hence the trade connection. Wine would have come through Southampton and then by bullock cart overland to towns like Guildford

Guildford was wealthy in the c13. Wealth was derived from the wool trade and especially the trade in woollen cloth, the Guildford Blue for which the town was well known. The population of Guildford was probably less than 1000 in those days, and most would have been employed either directly or indirectly from the wool trade. Guildford controlled every aspect of manufacture. Sheep were raised on the Downs by the monks at Waverley. Weaving, fulling, dyeing, spinning, carding all were done locally

The processes are remembered in local place names. Racks Close was where the cloth was hung out to dry on “tenterhooks” after dyeing. Unscrupulous traders would stretch the damp cloth and make another metre or two. There are records in the Guildhall of such merchants being brought to book and fined. Finally a lead seal of approval was to be affixed to every roll of cloth that left the town to ensure that standards had been met.

Most went to export, especially to Antwerp which was the staple market, and from there across the then world, Europe and the Near East. The word staple is interesting. From the French word “etaple” meaning “main”. The main market or one of them. That is clear. So that buyers could see what they were buying, a small sample of wool was fixed to the label with a metal pin. The metal pin came to be known as a staple.

To come back to the undercroft, the reason that we are so proud of ours is that it was never restored in any way. What we look at is pure c13. The building is of chalk blocks or clunch which is the hard chalk dug deep from the earth. Guildford is on chalk. It was the only building material at the time. The stones are cut with a precision only possible from a master mason. Expensive to employ so the owner was indubitably a wealthy man. Another pointer to the merchant being a dealer in expensive goods.

To this day the c13 vaults take the weight of buildings above

On Saturday from 12 until 2 we had nearly 40 visitors, mostly shoppers who were passing and had never seen us before. Always their jaw drops as they come in, and they are fascinated with the story. Considering we were competing with the tennis, we didn’t think that was bad

Exhibition at Tate Art Gallery: Painting With Light

We went to see this exhibition recently. Painting with light explored the relationship between painting and photography, and was a thought-provoking exhibition. Purists still tend to be critical of painters who use photographs, and yet at the time, artists saw great merit in the use of the camera

John Ruskin was never easy to please, being most exacting in his standards. He drew meticulous architectural studies which would have taken him hours. I cannot remember the quote verbatim, but words to this effect he said that if he could have been saved many hours of detailed drawing with a device that did the job in half a minute, then there would have been no doubt in his mind as to which he would use.

Photography was invented in 1839, and was to lead to a development in new techniques and materials which were to influence painters

Edinburgh was home to a progressive movement amongst scientist and artists. In 1843 the young Robert Adamson was to establish one of the first photographic studios where he was joined by the painter David Octavius Hill and Jessie Mann. Together they took something like two thousand photographs during their four year partnership

Their photographic portraits were admired during their lifetime and their views of Edinburgh were an influence on Hill’s landscapes. These works came to be recognised as some of the earliest collaborations between photographer and artist

Holman Hunt painting of Nazareth

Holman Hunt’s painting of Nazareth

Photography was a gift to the Pre-Raphaelites  of which Holman Hunt was one of the founder members. They looked for inspiration to the medieval period, and their works are known for sharp detail and vivid colours. This was almost a quasi-religious movement, and partly because of the medieval influence and partly because of his deep Christian conviction, many of Holman Hunt’s pictures are of Biblical or religious subjects.

Together with his friend Thomas Seddon, he stayed in Jerusalem for two years at the home of James Graham, a pioneer photographer. Together they took many landscape photographs. The reference material that photographs gave artists certainly helped painters like Holman Hunt in their chosen philosophy of sharper detailing.

Many photographers had trained as painters, and had set up studios. They used models whose posing time was cut dramatically with the use of the camera, especially when complex or spontaneous poses were called for. Photographs were used for preparatory references, which meant that props, costumes and models could be dispensed with.

Thus began the successful collaboration between photography and painting, the former even becoming an art form in its own right.

For me the camera has become the sketch book, enjoyable as sketching might be. I shall never again feel bad about that

Exhibition at Royal Surrey County Hospital

Brewery Dray

Brewery Dray in Guildford

When we were breaking down the exhibition on Friday morning, I sold this painting at the last minute. A young woman arrived breathless with the money and bought it. I was very pleased with this as it raised my score for the whole exhibition to four paintings sold. Not the best that I have ever done but not the worst either, and certainly quite respectable.

The other three were Strolling through Montmartre, Grand Canal Venice and Painshill Park

Paris and Venice are always popular, especially the well-known landmarks. I have almost lost count of how many of each that I have sold. Painshill Park is a new subject for me and I was heartened to sell this picture, as I now feel encouraged to paint some other views, of which there are many to choose from

Painshill is a local estate near Cobham in Surrey. It was laid out in the c18 by a man called Charles Hamilton. It was in the style of a natural landscape made popular at the time by garden architects like Capability Brown and Humphrey Repton. The views were sculpted, whole forests were planted, fake ruins were built and rivers were dammed to form lakes.

Hamilton worked a lot with American species of trees. It was interesting to note that you could import a “box” of plants from American nurserymen, suitably packed to withstand the rough and long sea voyage. Many did survive and are still flourishing in the park today.

Over the years, the place deteriorated and became overgrown. In the 1950s it was rediscovered and lovingly brought back to life. Every year there is a new project. Recently the old boat house was rebuilt using old photographs. The previous year one of the bridges was replaced using an old painting as a reference. I attach my painting

PainshilL Park, Surrey

This was an unwary group of people feeding the Canada Geese by the lake at Painshill. There are literally flocks of geese of different species, as well as ducks and swans. Always a lot of activity on the water. In the background is one of the strategically placed follies, which I think is the Gothic Chapel

I am starting to whet my own appetite for painting here again!

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A different view of the lake with a different ruin which could make a good subject. Wants something in the foreground though. I have umpteen swan pictures from which to choose.

I have a commission to do and then I might tackle this one

Schlee Collection at Mottisfont Abbey

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Mottisfont Abbey near Romsey in Hampshire, UK, owned by the National Trust

We were at Mottisfont yesterday to see the roses which are magnificent now. These are grown inside the old walled kitchen garden, which give them a superb backdrop against old brickwork. I took some pictures of specimens, especially blooms which are about to fall, hopefully to do a rose study again. I haven’t done one for a long time. Not just the roses though. We had come to see the art, in the form of the Schlee Collection which is on loan from Southampton Art Gallery until July 3rd

There is an exhibition of the Schlee Collection of drawings and sketches, on loan from Southampton Art Gallery, which lasts until July 3rd. A private collection which was bequeathed to Southampton Art gallery in 2013, which includes work or should I say squiggles, by David Hockney, Henry Moore and Franz Auerbach, plus many others. I would like to say that I was thrilled by them, but I wasn’t. Heavily worked and corrected jottings are not very impressive, even if by one of the great names in British art. I was more pleased to see a drawing by Barbara Hepworth of an operating theatre, placed next to her mentor Henry Moore’s work. The Barbara Hepworth was borrowed from the Derek Hill collection which is in permanent residence at Mottisfont.

Derek Hill was a portrait and landscape painter of note, who became sought-after during the 1960s. From the south of England he moved to the west coast of Ireland and founded the Tory Island School of painting, where he taught the fishermen to paint the wild Irish landscape. He was also an avid collector of modern art, including the post-Impressionists. He was a friend of Maud Russell the last owner of Mottisfont, and bequeathed a portion of his collection there. These are always worth seeing, including many of his own works, time and again.

For me, however, the gem is still the Whistler room. Here we see Rex Whistler’s unfinished murals. Unfinished because he was killed in Normandy in 1944. His trompe l’oeil paint pot and brush high up on the coving below the ceiling, still makes me feel that I want to get a ladder and climb up and get it. I believe several have in the past

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Thames Estuary Sea Forts: Finished Painting

Sea Forts Thames Estuary

This is the finished painting

I had intended to post another work in progress shot, but as I got into the rhythm of the painting, it was as easy to finish, and more interesting to look at anyway

I had one false start, which normally I wouldn’t admit to. I decided the sea looked too pale and insipid, so I scrubbed back the bottom half of the platform legs, so that I could paint over the sea again and deepen the colour. Especially the area around the platforms needed to be darker even though it wasn’t in the photograph. I used Viridian mixed with a little Lamp Black for the sea colour, which works well I always think, with a nod of thanks to Rowland Hilder.

This alteration did leave me with two hard lines which normally I would have been able to blend. I have disguised them a bit with white caps, so not too bad

As for the structures themselves, I used Burnt Sienna with a little Crimson to get close to the colour of rust, and drybrushed as much as possible to look like rusty paintwork. The very deep shadows on the platforms I did with Ultramarine Violet, neat straight out of the tube with as little water as possible and straight over the rust colour. The barnacles at the bottom were painted with Olive Green, but still not dark enough, so I overlaid with the Violet.

There were some red marks where brackets had been fitted, which was probably red oxide base coat in its day. Again some Crimson, with a little free expression, seemed to get that effect.

This turned out better than expected, I am pleased to say. I have learned from it, and it was a welcome change from the usual scenes. Not a painting anyone is likely to buy, so pure self-indulgence really.

Sea Forts Work in Progress

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So far, I have put down a base coat of Cobalt Blue/Phthalo Blue mix right across. I fixed the horizon with a vague idea of coastline. One or two small details were masked out. There is a small buoy next to one leg of the first fort, which will be white eventually. One or two girders or rails facing the light will be pale blue when the mask is removed.

It may not appear so in the photograph but I have washed over the sea, with a dilute Cobalt green, and then rubbed in Raw Sienna at the base of the towers, as the sandbank is visible through the water

With the shadows on the metalwork, I have allowed myself to experiment and used a mix of Cerulean Blue and Ultramarine Violet, a combination I have not used before, but only read about. This makes a pleasant shadow colour, although whether it suits old ironwork is another matter. Some people put shadows in afterwards, and it is a personal choice. I find putting in shadows first gives me a dimensional image to start with, which I find helpful

I couldn’t get near the pale green colour of the paintwork on the towers. I used the Cobalt Green over the original blue wash, and will hope for the best. Time now to work on those delicious rust shades, which I hope will bring a touch of reality

I have absolutely no idea how this painting will end up

Estuary Sea Forts: Sketch

Estuary Sea Forts

This is the preliminary sketch from the photograph. Very quickly done, as I have dropped behind with this particular picture, probably because there is no deadline on this one. As I said before, I am just painting these forts for my own amusement

There is very little detail drawn in so far. This is just a basic framework put in with the grid ready to transfer onto watercolour paper, which hopefully will ensure that the perspective is correct, and that everything goes into the right place. I quite like finishing the drawing straight onto the surface that is going to be painted. It just feels more immediate that way

I have started to have a few thoughts on colour. I think I will go right across with a mix of cobalt and pthalo blue. Let that dry hard and glaze the sea with another coat of pthalo blue. The horizon line is quite low, so there won’t be too much of that

When that is hard, I could put in the shadows perhaps this time with a mix of cerulean blue and violet, just to show where they are. When that,too, is hard, give the metal work a glaze of pthalo green as a base colour. That should set me up for having a crack at all that rust and dirt and seaweed. The shadows can be deepened up with a dark brown

Once I get those base colours in, then things will get more interesting, I am sure

Thames Estuary Sea Forts

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I have just finished the work for my second exhibition which I set up tomorrow in the Royal Surrey Hospital in Guildford, for anyone living close enough to go, this will be on for a month. All new work, so hopefully enjoyable

With that said and with a couple of weeks spare before I start my next commission, I am going to indulge myself and tackle something totally different, namely the Maunsell Sea Forts in the picture above. These are in the North Sea about nine miles out from the Thames Estuary, and loom like ghosts in the mist as you approach them

They were designed by a civil engineer called Guy Maunsell, and had a short but intense life during WW2. Built in 1942, they were erected on sandbanks, and commanded the estuary of the Thames, so they protected London and the Kent coastline from low-flying attacks by the Luftwaffe.

After a spell as a pirate radio station in the 1960s, they relapsed into disuse and as far as I know nothing is being done with them, probably because they are out of sight and so out of mind. There were seven of them, but one was hit by a Norwegian vessel and had to be taken down

We went to see them some years ago on a one-off trip organised out of London. This was on a paddle steamer called the Waverley, which originated from the Clyde as I remember, but would sail round the British coast and would organise excursions from various ports. This one was from London. We started in the Pool of London, sailed through Tower Bridge which was novel at the time, although I think cruise ships do this quite often now, and then chugged down the Thames, stopping only at the end of Southend Pier to pick up some more passengers. The voyage continued out into the North Sea , passing a surprising number of ferry boats at anchor, mothballed until they were needed. The forts slowly came into view through the sea mist. Very atmospheric indeed

I thought I would paint them one day, and have finally got round to it. Not something that is commercial, although I may get a surprise, but that doesn’t matter. This will be an interesting project in itself, tackling all those rusty surfaces, and hopefully capturing something of the mood which the photograph has missed somehowPirbright 091

 

Finished Painting entitled Christmas Shopping:Guildford High Street

Signed revised Christmas Shopping Guildford High Street

Christmas Shopping: Guildford High Street

The historic High Street of Guildford is always a joy to paint. This street is actually Saxon in origin, although nothing that early remains above ground. The plan of the street though goes back that far, and the dimensions of the actual plots are still the same

There are still buildings from the c13. The iconic clock which I have mentioned before is dated 1683, when the facade of the old Guildhall was restored. A relative newcomer, the classical arch in the centre was built in 1819, and was the last corn market in the town. Known as the Tunsgate Arch this was built on the site of the old Tun Inn, one of the many coaching inns in the town. The Tun Inn went bankrupt and was demolished in 1818. The columns used to be equidistant until the middle two were moved to accommodate motor traffic in the 1930’s. In the 1990’s the arch was closed to motor traffic, and paved over. To celebrate the twinning of Guildford with Freiburg in Germany at the time, the coats of arms of both towns were let into the floor in mosaic.

This painting was commissioned by a charity called Cards for Good Causes, and I am pleased to say has been approved, and will go forward for reproduction as a Christmas card.  They will be on sale in pop-up shops in every town in the UK from 18th October onwards.  Details on their web site. The proceeds are distributed amongst 25 well-known charities and should you wish to support, thank you.

An extremely detailed painting which has taken me some time to complete, but enjoyable nonetheless. The framed original will also go on sale in support of the above

 

Winter Street Scene Current Progress

Winter Street Scene Interim

Well, I have made a start with the painting, after staring at the drawing for ages.

The blue sky is in. As a bright winter sky, I am happy with that. There will be shadows, quite long ones for that time of the year. The shady side of the street has had one wash of blue but is still quite pallid. Those shadows will have to be deepened considerably, if we are to get the effect of bright sunshine over the rooftops. I think I will put a little red in with the blue next time, which I prefer as a shadow colour, when I glaze over the existing

The large white space in the sky is, of course, the large clock. This I will have to redraw and paint as accurately as I can. I have done the clock a few times now. I tend to do it freehand, and I have always been lucky. Watch it go wrong this time, as I have a lot riding on it.

This clock, if I haven’t mentioned it before, has become the iconic image of Guildford. It dates from 1683, and was the gift from a London clockmaker called Thomas Aylward, who wanted to set up in Guildford, so presented this as a gift to the town to accompany his application. Today we would call it a bribe. It hangs from the old Guildhall, just off the picture to the left, a building which served amongst other things as the town law courts until well into the twentieth century. The clock works perfectly today, and is lovingly maintained.

Back to the picture, quite a lot of laborious masking out, to preserve the snow on window sills etc.That took a lot of time with little to show, but happily we are on with the actual painting now, so starting to see something taking shape.

Quite a lot of detail in this picture, and I am taking my time, just doing a little, letting it dry, so that I get the true colour, and then going on from there. It is hard to say when I will finish, but I have promised it for the end of the month, which once looked a long way off, but now doesn’t. Oh well, crack on.