Sunday, 18 December 2011


I had a very enjoyable Thursday painting at the Mall Galleries during the ROI 'art event' evening.  I was still catching up on sleep from the Venice trip but thought I would give it a go anyway.  One of the 3 models was Olivia Wileman, Peter's daughter.  Her father was also a model that evening - as well as running the event - but I chose to sandwich myself between Lucy McKie and David Curtis in front of Olivia, so I could see how it should be done whilst painting my version.  I made her narrowish shoulders a little too narrow and had my usual problem with over-stated shadows (as noticed by David, inevitably) but at the end of the session felt that I had made a reasonable stab at it.  Actually one of the best things about the evening is the chance to meet up with members and non-member friends over wine and mincepies before we all become buried in the Christmas extravaganzas.

Friday, 16 December 2011


We had a fantastic time.  Eleven of us went and most of us stayed 5 nights, so we had 4 full days and one morning before the journey home.  As we had nothing to do but eat, drink, sleep and paint each of us seemed to get through quite a few painting panels!  I did 17 small plein air paintings, which was probably just above average.  Fanatics like Roy Connelly and Karl Terry did many more.  Others such as David Pilgrim hit the happy mean of about 14 and probably benefited from the less frantic pace.  The trouble is there are things to paint everywhere you look so you just keep going!

I was quite pleased with some of my efforts and there were no complete duds, so I went home happy.  The others all seemed to produce lovely work, which was displayed temporarily on racks in Ken Howard's studio where 4 of them were staying.  They were a great gang and it was a privilege to be with them.  The abiding memory for David and me is of Roger Dellar painting on the Accademia Bridge with Lynn (the world's only plein air knitter?) sitting beneath him making a jumper.  We also caught a 'brain worm' (a tune you can't get out of your head) from some old guy playing an accordion in Campo SS Giovanni e Paolo.  He played it for most of the 4 hours we were there, each having two gos at the Colleoni Monument.

I want to leave most of the sketches completely alone to retain their freshness.  I might risk adjusting some of the remainder but one often loses more than one gains.  Here are a few of them:

My first effort:

Later that day:

More Accademia-Salute the next day!

Into St Mark's the same day:

Finally we reached the Riva, looking at the San Giorgio Maggiore:

Two more in Dorsoduro that day and then it started to rain, so on the third day I tried Campo Santo Stefano:

Even heavier rain in the Piazetta:

The traghetto stop at San Samuele allowed me to get in the obligatory palazzo across the Grand Canal:

Finally that day (still on my own), the Redentore from the Zatterre:

On the fourth day we did the Colleoni but I became rather tired of it!

Then down to the Molo for this view of the Dogana with Redentore behind:

A final go at the Salute from the Molo finished off the last full day and on the morning we left I had another wet 6x8 session in the Piazetta:

By this time I was 'painted out' and David and I spent the rest of the day Christmas shopping.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

With The Wappers

Michael Richardson, who is a member of the prestigious Wapping Group, invited me to join in the 'Brass Monkey' sessions that they have in Winter.  Last Wednesday the venue was Green Park.  I set off from Oxford at 6am on a cold and overcast-but-dry day and for 3 hours appeared to be the only painter in the park.  Then John Killens came by and reassured me that I was indeed painting with the Wappers, even if only he and Rob Adams had turned up for the morning session.  I guess others came later as the weather brightened but I had to head off after a particularly enjoyable pub lunch in Ye Grapes, Shepherd Market.  The Market used to be the red light district of Mayfair but now has an air of respectability - at least in the daytime.

I managed two small panels.  This was the first one:

And this the second one:

I could have done with another inch on the bottom of the second one as the foreground figure is too near the lower edge.  I tend to add the figures after the rest of the composition has been developed (and so risk this sort of problem) whereas one ought to include them from the start.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011


That's what I call them anyway: they hold a panel (like an easel) and have a built-in palette.  I started making them when I needed a 6x8 pochade box.  Eventually Maddy (who had bought me my first pochade box) got me a proper box for Christmas but not before I had made good use of my lashed-up version.  I wanted something really light that would take two boards and mount on a standard photo tripod.  This is it - still in regular use.  Of course it doesn't have anywhere to store stuff but sometimes that is actually an advantage.

Now I think of it, this is not the very first palette-easel I made.  Eight years ago we had a short stay in Barcelona.  I made a very crude palette-easel out of two pieces of marine ply, hinged using piano hinge and kept rigidly open by a piece of coat-hanger wire.  I used it for several small acrylic sketches when we weren't being Gaudi-ed to death or rambling the Ramblas.  I now keep it set up for very lightweight acrylics work - with formica sheet taped to the palette part:

My next effort was early this year.  I built it so that I could use up all those odd-sized panels that don't fit in pochade box slots.  With the two panel carriers of similar design I can return from painting with three, wet, odd-sized panels stored safely.

The impending Venice trip has set me off again on the quest for a very light, 'high-capacity' palette-easel: one that can take panels up to 14 inches high and 15 inches long.  Here is my latest effort with a 16x12" board in place.  I bought the marine ply in Lydney 37 years ago!  The worst technical problem is making the screw-set that bears on the top panel gripper.  The gripper slides in a channel at the back and has to be locked by pressure from the screw. 

I reckon I could do better but I think I am getting close to the limits of what is achievable with a schoolboy carpentry set!  The alternative is to buy a commercial pochade box - expensive but labour-saving and the good ones are very good indeed: the two that Maddy bought me 11 years ago are still going strong.

Monday, 14 November 2011


Yesterday, as I tried unscrewing the tops of my paint tubes in the middle of Bernwood Forest, I realised how long it has been since I have used them - over two weeks.  Apart from sketchbook work the only painting I have managed in all that time has been a quick portrait of Bob Bixby at our village art group last Friday.  Bob is Liz's husband and she founded the group.  He kindly agreed to sit for us and was so good at it that he could easily get a job as a professional model.  Otherwise it has been a lot of necessary socialising and going to other people's shows - good fun but does not 'feed the rat'!

I did Bob's portrait in acrylics, which I have not used for a while.  It took just over 2 hours.  I still find the marked tonal shift when acrylics dry a serious disadvantage.  It was painted contre jour and has a distinct blue cast to it:

Monday, 7 November 2011

Royal Institute of Oil Painters

To my surprise and delight I had a painting selected for this year's Open Show in December.  I was equally delighted that David Pilgrim got 4 in - the maximum for a non-member.  I also had another small oil through the initial trawl (ie a 'doubtful') that was cut out of the final selections.  Both paintings were the ones that David P and Maddy my wife had tipped for selection.  Having betted Maddy that I wouldn't get any selected this time, I am now ten quid the poorer!

The one that got in (8x10 inches) was dashed off on a cold afternoon early this year:

The 'doubtful but not selected one was Clearing Snow (6x8 inches):

I thought this little one with the bronze hare was good fun (about 7x8 inches I think) but I can understand why it was not selected:

I also submitted one of the recent Punts paintings, a Radcliffe Camera scene and this 8x10 of swans nesting in front of the new hide on Otmoor:

I have not submitted for 3 years so think myself lucky to have got another one in at this attempt.  The standard is phenomenally high and the only way to have the slightest chance is to submit one's very best work.  In the past I have overworked paintings in an attempt to make them more selectable but of course that just has the opposite effect.  It was also interesting to look at the ROI blog and discover that the selection panel consisted almost entirely of my 'heroes' in the Society - their approval, and that of my painting pals, means more to me than anything else. 

Friday, 28 October 2011

This and That

I have been so busy with submitting to shows and with helping at the Affordable Art Fair (AAF) and Art In Woodstock  that October has almost slipped by.  First I submitted to the Bath Prize.  Then an Oxford Hospital decided that they liked a pastel of mine enough to buy it and wanted to look at more.  Then we had the AAF, closely followed by Art In Woodstock (where I have been the resident street painter).  I am submitting to the ROI open show tomorrow.  In between all those I have actually managed to get some painting done - 19 new small panels and about 20 'revisions'.  Mid-month I had a day's painting with Michael Worthington at Boars Hill (where he showed me the monument to the last wild boar killed in England) and Bernwood Forest.  Then I managed to slip out during the AAF to sketch in Battersea Park. Finally I have managed 7 panels in Woodstock.  I don't think there is a work of staggering genius among these but it was important to keep painting.

Maddy liked this 30-minute sketch of birch trees in the final light of an Autumn day:

I was quite pleased with the Battersea Park Pagoda:

Woodstock was a difficult location - Half Term - cars and people all over the place.  Michael W painted with me the first day.  First we tried the town:

Then we escaped to Blenheim Park:

I had to 'invigilate' in the Methodist Church where there was a very striking installation by Diana Forster and string hats by Sharon ('Hattie') Hayes.  As I had 2 hours to kill I amused myself with the string-top-hat lady:

These roofers were interesting too:

On my last morning I caught 'Man and Dog' in a tiny panel:

Edges a bit hard maybe but I was in a hurry as usual!  I only got really wet once - on the final afternoon.  I seemed to be an object of curiosity - a outdoor painter painting outdoors.  How does one begin to explain to people who suggest taking photographs?  When I was painting in the rain a passer-by said 'it must be difficult'.  I replied that the suffering was important.  He seemed satisfied!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Wet Panel Carriers

The Venice trip in December made me think again about the need for wet panel carriers because all oils would have to be carried back to UK still wet.  In Cornwall, I remembered liking the one that Mike Richardson had made from foamboard and Gaytor (Duct, Duck, Gaffa, etc) tape.  Two boards in each slot, back-to-back and, say, 3 or 4 slots. 
I decided to make some small prototypes and, once I had got things more or less right go into production for myself and David (Pilgrim), making carriers for the sizes we were likely to use on the trip.  I have reached prototype 4 (P4). 
I started with foamboard, wood strips as spacers (glued with PVA glue) and brown gummed tape - I have a huge stock of gummed tape that my framer used to dump on me every time he made me some frames.  P1 was made this way and takes 8x5.5 inch boards.  P2 is 8 inches wide and will take boards up to 15 inches deep.  Same design but I put Gaffer Tape over the gummed tape to make it weatherproof. 

I then realised that I was running out of wood strips (for corners and for spacers) and it would cost ten times what I had originally paid for them to replace them.  For P3 I decided to try plastic square channel – still expensive but half the price of wood.  I used superglue to bond the channel to the foamboard.  I also used peel-and-stick plastic angle for the outside corners but decided that this is an expensive luxury that just adds weight without making the carrier much stronger. 

P4 is nearing ‘production’ status and will take 8-inch-wide boards up to 11 inches in length.

David needs 11-inch-wide slots (among other sizes) but I think that 5mm foamboard will not be sufficiently rigid for this span so I am going to try 10mm foamboard or make the wide sides from double-skinned
5mm foamboard.  So, on to P5!

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Momentum - Or The Lack Of It

What happened to September?  Suddenly it is October and I find that I have slowed down considerably on new work.  I have been consolidating, which means chucking anything that is never going to be of interest, trying to rescue half-decent paintings and keeping only really useful reference material.  Because most of my work in the past 10 years has been done with Alkyd oils on board, I can reprime boards with an Alkyd oil-based primer.  So far I have destroyed 242 paintings, recycled over 200 boards and 'rescued' 20 paintings.  I think it was worth it, if only to rid myself of the weight of so many past failures!

I have done a little new work.  I did make it to Bath once on my own and the PAS meet at Henley last weekend with Rita Vul.  A couple of trips to Oxford and Thrupp and that is about it.  Here are some of the results:

First Bath:


Then Henley:


And maybe just one of the Oxford ones:

Yes, the dear old Radcliffe Camera again!  I did two that morning, both 8x6 inches, and by the time I finished the second one I really had had enough of Chineses and Japanese tourists and their cameras.  They are always very polite and complimentary but there are just too many of them.

Looking forward to tackling the turning leaves once again and those pinks and purples of Winter.


Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Plein Air Brotherhood In The Artist

My pals who formed the Brotherhood are featured in The Artist this month and Roy Connelly kindly mentioned in the article that the name fell from my lips at the Bath Prize show last year - he was quick to pick up on that one as it was just a throwaway remark as we were all gazing at the Plein Air section.  They are having an inaugural exhibition at the A&K Wilson Gallery this month - the PV was last Thursday.  Adebanji Alade, Antony Bridge, Roy Connelly, John Dobbs, David Pilgrim and Karl Terry.  Definitely worth a look if you are going anywhere near Harpenden in the next month.  David is on the cover.  I think that I must have taken the photo (with his camera) because I was painting alongside him that day at Sennen (or maybe Valerie took it as she was painting nearby too?  Whatever!):

USA Plein Air Magazine - Our Cornish Trip

Antony Bridge very kindly sent round a screengrab of the two-page spread on us in the magazine.  I don't think my little piece on the hazards of working with seagulls is in there - the humour was rather lavatorial!  Anyway, here is an idea of what it looks like but best to go to the magazine's web site to read it properly (

Saturday, 27 August 2011


Each year we take Charlie, my schizophrenic brother-in-law, to the Summer houseparty of our Christian Union - the Armed Forces Christian Union.  This year it was at Westonbirt School, once the seat of the Holford family, who have built three great houses on the site, the last one being a magnificent Victorian pile of 81 bedrooms.  Robert Holford and his son Roger were responsible for the plant collecting and establishment of our National Arboretum at Westonbirt.  That is now a separate entity but even the school grounds are paradise for tree lovers, with many rare species from around the world.

I was drawn to the Italianate Garden, with its arches and pavilions and as usual worked 'plein air' on small panels.  I also did some less successful gouache sketches.  It seems to me that gouache requires a particularly disciplined technique to avoid allowing lower layers to disturb those put on later.  With acrylics you never have that problem.  I did 11 sketches in the 5 whole days we had at Westonbirt: 8 oils and 3 gouaches.  Here is a selection.

I found these pavilions irresistible.  I tried this one on the first morning and then followed it with a sketch one of one of the arches that look out on the fields from the Italianate Garden.

I had a go at various aspects of the house but was drawn back to the garden and those pavilions:

The views were equally good looking into the garden:

The only gouache I felt was 'getting there' was this one but I did not bother to take it very far:

I also tried an interior but from rather an awkward spot and all the humans kept moving!

On the last evening, with 30 minutes to go before our 'final night bash' (men in suits, ladies looking like fashionistas, children scrubbed well) I managed to knock off this tiny sketch of the sundial outside the dining room.  Thank goodness for all those Change Parades at Sandhurst in the 60's - I ran to the billet and was shaved, shampooed and back just in time for the first jug of Pimms to arrive.

What a great week.  We did everything from tennis tournaments to swimming galas, 'pub' quizzes, tree walks, card-making, murder mystery plays, fancy dress meals, concerts, and all sorts - and the pub is only a 20 minute walk across the fields.  We got back exhausted only to find that our very large and very full freezer had decided to go to the freezer Happy Hunting Ground and as a farewell gesture had spread its, by now liquid, contents all over our utility room floor.  I never realised how far blackcurrant juice could spread if given two or three days to mix with all the other unfreezing liquids.  That completed a truly British holiday experience!

Punts Again

Yet again I returned to the punts - this time from a slightly different angle.  I don't think I will ever tire of coming back here - it is so entertaining watching people making a complete hash of 'messing about in boats'.  I think I did this one on Friday 19th.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Punts and Punters

Last week I decided to have another go at the Magdalen Bridge boathouse.  David Pilgrim and I had already painted it but it is such an attractive view that I thought it would bear another shot.  Unfortunately on 8 Aug I lost the light so decided to do a Monet and come back at the same time on a sunny day to finish it.  This is how far I got.  Note the Camembert parked on the palette.  Dangerous business, eating while painting.  The chances of absent-mindedly dipping my oily brush into the camembert are quite high but accidentally catching some Cadmium Yellow on my baguette would be worse and of course a dose of Genuine Naples Yellow (if I used it) would probably finish me off!

I returned yesterday but this time forgot my tripod.  What to do?  I ended up buying a slide-projector stand in a charity shop nearby for a fiver and strapping my palette-easel to it with some bits of old wire I found by the river bank.  It worked:

I even had a tray to put my pochade box on.

I was relieved to get this one more or less finished but it is a bit busy and needs a more obvious focal point on which the eye can finally rest so one of the umbrellas might have to go.

I suspect that it will be the left-hand one.