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.

Bath in Mid August

I had a great time at the ROI show PV in Gallery Le Fort on Saturday evening (13th).  David Pilgrim is in it and we had taken his paintings down on 30 July.  Needless to say we both painted - by the river that evening.  This is my effort.

It was good to see some of the ROI stalwarts, including Peter (Il Presidente!) and Jo Wileman.  (I am sure he has a very large chain of office somewhere but had eschewed it in favour of smart-but-unadorned mufti).  David, Valerie Pirlot (looking very glamorous) and I had a good look round and then sloped off to the pub but not before we knew that David had already sold two works, Lucie McKie one and Il Presidente one.  David stayed at the Uni and I had a sleepless night in Newton Mill camp site - great site, pity about the foul-mouthed chavs returning from Bath at 1, 2 and 3 in the morning!

I had painted that morning in George Street - the location chosen for me by the Bath Prize organisers.  David had already done a great job of looking down the street but there were so many people at that spot I had to find somewhere else so I parked myself at the Slug and Lettuce.  Working with artist's oils again (rather than alkyd) oils and they are taking some getting used to!

Up early the next day and crouched in a corner shop doorway at 6am to do this little gouache out past Campden Crescent:

David phoned and we met to stooge around the Landsdown Crescent Area, eventually discovering the allotments at Sion Hill.  He reckoned that Peter Brown had painted them and so they would be worth trying.  Valerie joined us and we spent a happy couple of hours daubing.  They both worked in closer tones and a lower key than me and I think they made the right choice but for what it's worth here are my runner beans:

After a late lunch in the Slug and Lettuce, George St, we explored the river.  Valerie stuck with the crowds but David and I escaped to the quieter region of Victoria Park.  By then it was 4pm and blustery so we decided to make it quick.  Again I chose a high key and again David's choice of working in the mid range paid off.  I also used a violent Cadmium Lemon that I just had to overpaint when I got home and of course lost the freshness in the process:

We had had a good weekend.  I decided to sack my second night at the camp site - just couldn't face the prospect of another sleepless night.  Bach and Handel kept me from nodding off on the journey home.