Monday, 31 December 2012

Last Post of 2012

Happy New Year folks!

In between dealing with the mince pie mountain and the even tougher job of testing various champagnes for my daughter's wedding I have (in a rather desultory way, ie without any great hope for a masterpiece) scribbled down some pastels based on the Venice trip.  It kept me sane and allowed me to try out a new way of keeping the support's surface from clogging so quickly.

I paint pastels on mountboard.  I prime it front, edges and back with acrylic primer and then use a mixture of pigment, marble dust and primer to put a darkish surface on it that will take pastel.  As I tend to overdo the pastel marks (I guess that I still think I am painting in oils) and I don't want to keep fixing the painting too much, the support surface clogs up quite quickly.  Recently I have been using a thin acrylic underpainting to provide a starting layer that does not affect the 'bite' of the surface.  I have even mixed marble dust with the colours in an attempt to keep everything 'rough'.  I am not sure about the technique but it has been fun to try when the chances of being allowed out to paint are nil and all is dark and wet out there anyway.

This one of the Salute is pretty extreme for me but helped to prove the concept:

Salute - Evening

I was starting another one of the Salute from the Accademia Bridge - actually I had 10 pastels on the go at that stage - when Maddy came in and shouted: 'Stop - leave it as it is - you have already overworked the first three'.  'But I am just getting started and there is hardly any pastel on it'.  'Leave it alone'.  Like any good Dalek I obeyed. I can see what she means but the temptation to keep developing it is irresistible. 

Salute from Accademia Bridge - First State

 Probably the most successful so far has been this one of the San Marco facade.  Maybe the 'architectural' views are more suitable for pastel but I shall persist with the watery ones as well and see what comes out.

San Marco Facade

The days are getting longer, my autumn-flowering snowdrop (galanthus reginae-olgae subsp. reginae-olgae) will soon be joined by Galanthus 'John Gray' and the other early snowdrops and I can't wait to get out there and paint once the rain stops!

Wednesday, 19 December 2012


On Monday night (17 Dec) I joined many painting pals at the annual Royal Institute of Oil Painters (ROI) 'Art Evening' in the Mall Galleries after an afternoon painting in Green Park with Michael Worthington.

I am in the ROI show with two paintings and many friends have managed to 'get one (or more) in' this year but I barely had time to check where mine had been hung or view any friends' work before the bun fight began.  This year it seemed more crowded than ever.  Because I was ill when I might have remembered to book I thought I would just be watching but as luck would have it some booked places were not filled so I paid my £10 and found a place among the easels.  There were three models: Yvonne, Sophie and Lewis.

Lewis is a lovely lad and although clearly not a professional model was brilliant at holding the pose.  I really enjoyed painting him and in the end the small format (13x10 inches) did not really affect the portrait.  In fact I seemed to have a lot more time this year and as the wine and mincepies were only available towards the end of the session my head was a lot clearer!

'Lewis'  13x10 Oil on board

It was a great evening, with some lovely work, nicely capped by Haidee-Jo Summers winning the first prize for the best non-member painting (of Yvonne) and Pauline Hazelwood winning the runner-up prize (for 'Sophie').  Pauline's son took the third prize (for another 'Yvonne') and I was particularly chuffed about that because I was able to lend him my spare dipper as he had mislaid his.

I felt very rusty on the afternoon session with Michael but as my recent chest X-Ray indicates 'all clear' I was just glad to be outdoors again after 2 weeks of inactivity.

Lansdowne House from Green Park 10x7 inches

I am now looking forward to many more 'en plein air' sessions and in the studio I am working on some pastels based on the Venice trip so will try to post some next time.  

Let us all remember the homeless at this time of the year and give what we can.  A very Happy Christmas to everyone.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Venice - The Last Hurrah

The 26th looked like being another misty day and while the girls set off for the Accademia Bridge David and I joined David Bachmann in the Piazetta for something small to get us going.  I chose the clock tower and the others the ever seductive St Mark's facade.  At one point David B got the giggles and when I asked him what was up he pointed to the 5 - yes 5 - men changing a light bulb on one of the Piazetta lamps: one (in suit) to direct proceedings and be on the phone all the time, one to steady the working platform, two to do the job and one who seemed to be truly spare.

Clock Tower from Piazetta. 10x6ins

The three of us then jumped on a '2' going to Accademia and each did two versions of the view from the bridge.  I had to cut my second version short because we wanted to get one more in and went to San Barnaba to find it but we had no luck with a good pitch before the light went and it was time to go home.

Grand Canal form Accademia Bridge 12x8ins
I will probably work on this a bit more because the building shadow on the left foreground is too pronounced.  It will still be essentially 'plein air' or whatever the correct term is for a painting that is 93.457% done on the spot rather than only 93.238% (which of course is not plein air - or is it?).

Salute From Accademia Bridge 10x13ins
Again, some work needed but there is also the potential for ruining it!  For the open air painter 'to touch or not to touch' is a constant dilemma.

On the final day (27th) it looked as though, at last, David and I would be rewarded with a chance to catch the San Giorgio from the point of the Dogana with a decent sky behind it.  We dashed off on the '1' from Rialto and sped quickly to the end of the Dogana from the Salute stop.  David finished his first one in double-quick time and i struggled to keep up, completing my two long after he had departed for our next plannned stop near the Gesuati.  
San Giorgio from Punta Dogana 1 - 8x10ins

San Giorgio from Punta Dogana 2 - 8x10ins

The green lighters are the Venice refuse disposal boats.  They spend all day taking away mountains of mostly tourist rubbish.  On my way to catch up David I was struck by how the water to the right of the Zitelle church on the Giudecca was catching the light.  I used up another 30 minutes on that before dashing off to meet David. As I finished the rain started.

The Zitelle from the Dogana 8.5insx6ins

I had only been at the next pitch for 30 minutes when David announced that he was off to St Mark's, so I decided just to relax and enjoy painting in the rain.  

 Rain in Dorsoduro 12x8ins

When I finished this view back towards the Giudecca I realised that there was still time for one last painting.  I caught a '1' from Accademia to the first San Marco stop and going along the Molo I noticed that there was a big gap between the boats, allowing me a good view of the San Giorgio Maggiore.  By then the lagoon was choppy and boats had started to wear navigation lights.  I spent most of the next hour hanging on to my kit with one hand while I tried to mix and apply paint with the other.  I was soaked, my palette was soaked but my painting was deliciously fresh.  I knew I had finished when my umbrella blew off it's stand and hit me just above my left eye! It was a lucky escape but at the time I was not amused and when it hit the deck some yards away I chased it and booted it into a crumpled mass.  Done with my cursing I looked up and saw two men in the Vaporetto ticket office staring at the psychopathic Brit outside.  Covered in embarrassment I slunk away into the Piazza to dry off as best I could.

San Giorgio from the Molo - Rain  8x12ins

On our final morning there was an aqua alta so we decided to join the tourists in flooded St Mark's.  The following photo of the A Team looking relaxed is copyright David Pilgrim (Mr Tall).

 Tim, Haidee, David and Valerie

Venice - The Misty Middle Days

The four of us were on our own for the first 2 days but after that the others began to appear.  At one point there were pochade boxes on tripods all round St Mark's square.  The weather was extremely foggy - a favourite situation for some but I can take only so much of it.  On 24 November we started in the Piazza:

Corner of St Mark's 12x8ins

San Marco Facade 12x10ins

The Haidee, Valerie and I went up to see what Campo Santa Maria Formosa offered: in the mist not much but it cleared a little at one point so we had a go:

Campo Santa Maria Formosa 10x13ins
I still regard this picture as 'unfinished business' and will maybe take it back next year for another try.

On 25 November the weather was till very foggy but, full of hope,  we still started early and pitched at the West end of the Rialto Bridge.  Each of us chose a different view.

Fondamenta Del Vin 10x7ins

We decided to go our separate ways for the rest of the day, to save time waiting for each other to finish.  I followed the girls into and excellent coffee shop near the fish market and then caught them in paint as they went across to Ca D'Oro on the traghetto gondola:

San Sofia Traghetto 10x6ins

I caught a vaporetto down to Ca Rezzonico and walked into St Barnaba square to paint two gondolieri waiting for custom:

'Gondola, Gondola', San Barnaba 10x6ins
For some reason the gondolieri are midgets - must correct them to their proper size!
I then walked to the Dorsoduro side of the Accademia Bridge and crossed into Campo San Stefano.  By this time the light was going but I thought I would have one last fling:

 Campo San Stefano 10x6ins
This took me 30 minutes and I suppose it shows but the lights were coming on and I had to break off or try a nocturne.  That would make me late for our first eating extravaganza with all the others so I sacked it and plodded off.  Someone more dedicated to their calling would have stuck it out but, hey ho, I am not that soldier and anyway I was hungry.

Now we enter the final, somewhat exhausting, two days...............................

Venice - The First 2 Days

What a great time we had in the A Team: a great apartment (thanks to Haidee), plenty of variable weather for painting, lovely meals in (thanks to Valerie and David), plenty of socialising with the 9 other plein air painters spread around the city (thanks to you guys who provided us with a slap-up dinner twice), some nicely weird experiences with tourists, an aqua alta (no trip to Venice should be without one) and 75 paintings done between the four of us in 6 days, plus some dashed off sketches. Others were even more prolific (nocturnes being a favourite form of self-flagellation) so among the 13 of us the total number of once blank panels now covered in paint must be around the 300 mark.

I coughed my way around but the warmer weather helped to keep the chest infection quiet and my obviously diseased state may have saved me from some of those Chinese tourists who just love to get too close.

I did 20 panels in all so I thought I would put up the first 2 days worth on this post and follow with two more posts.  I have 'tidied' some of them but (for all you purists out there) I still regard them as 'plein air'.  If you had seen me drenched and wind-battered on the Molo on our final day, fighting one-handed to get paint mixed and applied while the other hand kept everything from being blown away, you would understand why. Anyway I am with the famous French painter ( I am still trying to remember who it was - can anyone help?) who said 'nothing counts but the painting'.

Here goes then: Day 1 - 22 November 2012.

San Giorgio from the Straw Bridge 12x8ins

San Marco Facade 12x10ins

The next day we had our only fine day:

Salute, Early Morning 10x8ins

Palazzo Contarini Fazan 10x8ins

Palazzo Barbaro from Campo San Vio 10x12ins

Now we enter the misty period folks!............

Saturday, 1 December 2012

I Must Get This Off My Chest

The Infection I mean!  A cocktail of antibiotics and 9 days of almost continuous coughing has left me with half a chance to survive Venice.  I leave for the airport in half an hour.

It has not been all bad news.  I got off my sick bed to go to the Army Arts Soc private view in Salisbury and was surprised and pleased to win second prize in the Chemring Painting Competition for the little Venice picture I posted on the last blogand also sell some pieces.  A few days later I learnt that I had had two paintings accepted for this year's Royal Institute of Oil Painters show, which is a great privilege.  They are another, larger Old Harry and a painting of Irish Lady in Cornwall.

Old Harry

You can see and buy both pics on the Mall Galleries web site (under ROI)

Whilst being ill I have tried to keep going with some pastel studies based on work by Ken Howard, Tom Coates, Peter Kuhfeld, etc.  Here is one of them - I will post some more on return from Venice:

Salute, after Ken Howard RA.  Pastel

Salute, after Ken Howard RA. Pastel

San Toma, after Peter Kuhfeld NEAC.  Pastel

Sunset from the Molo, after David Sawyer. Pastel

Salute and Orange Wall, after Tom Coates PPNEAC.  Pastel

Salute, after Ken Howard RA.  Pastel
The red stripey poles are no more!  I guess they just rotted out

Monday, 22 October 2012

Studio Painting

Why is it so difficult?  You are warm and dry, the radio is playing your favourite music, the studio is just tidy enough to work in and every now and then someone opens the door and thrusts a cup of hot coffee in your hand.  The rain isn't pouring down your canvas and there is no wind.  Your fingers are not numb.  It should be easy but it isn't.  Somehow standing in front of the subject is so much more straightforward.

I have been ill and not doing a lot.  As Groucho Marx said 'the trouble with doing nothing is you never know when you are finished'.  I am still coughing and sneezing but that is no excuse for neglecting the blog for so long.  I had various sessions at Marlow in late September and I hope to post a separate blog on them.  More recently I met up with Haidee-Jo Summers in London prior to the RSMA PV and we painted together in Lower Regent Street. I had gone up to town early because that's the only way of parking near the coach stop, so did this little 8x6 of Trafalgar Square first:

Then it was time to meet Haidee and try the other view:

Hers had more feeling of light in it but I was just happy to be out painting again.  We had a great time at the RSMA show, meeting many old friends, admiring David Pilgrim's paintings and drinking more coffee before drifting away to our various homes.  I reckon the germ was on the coach home because I was down with the mother of all colds 3 days later - just as I was getting rid of the 'flu!.

Over the past 3 weeks I have struggled with studio paintings needed for two hand-ins in early November. I still don't know if I will make it but so far I have finished 'Surf School Sennen' (12x22ins):

and 'Dogana and Redentore', Venice (10x12ins):

I have also been experimenting with the format of a scaled up version of 'Against The Light Sennen';  the original 10x8 was painted on the spot in May, a little later in the day than 'Surf School'. It sold at the AFAS show.   I tried a squat pastel version and then an elongated pastel.  First the squat version:

I thought this elongated version might suit an oil better:

The great thing about pastels is that they take less than half the time of even the quickest oil painting and can be modified easily so are ideal for trials.  I then decided to go for a long version in oils:

Against The Light, Sennen 14x10

Sunday, 23 September 2012

The Venice Bag

I have been down to Marlow 3 times recently and will post some pics next week I hope.  Meanwhile the 10mm thick foamboard sheets arrived and I have started making wet-panel boxes again.  I needed a 10x14 carrier for the Venice trip although I may not take boards as big as that.  Also, I noted that BA would allow me two cabin bags, one of which would be for a laptop or similar.  I duly massacred an old laptop bag, reducing its weight to 1 Kg and made a box with the new foamboard, balsa wood spacers, sewing pins, glue and gaffer tape.  With 10 boards (4 of 14x10 and 6 of 12x10) in it the whole assembly weighs 3Kg.

Here is the box inside the laptop bag:

In this one you can see the slots for 10 panels, back to back in pairs:

All I have to do now is get it past those pesky bag inspectors at the airport.

On to the next box!

Monday, 3 September 2012

They Think It's All Over (It Is Now)

Handing out day finally arrived yesterday.  I returned with the 4 unsold pictures, 1 that had sold (must find out who bought the other one), a pastel by Michael Frost that Maddy had bought, an oil landscape by Liz Graydon that Anna my Sister-In-Law bought, the whole of my 'tomb' installation and a very heavy sculpture by Jill Sim.  Thank goodness for the capacity of a Berlingo.

I also returned with a wet painting.  Up at 4am, easy drive to central London, park in a pre-booked slot at the Mall Galleries, 20 minute walk to Buck Palace and viola!  I shared the session with a succession of cyclists waiting for a rally to start.  Mostly from the East End, very black, very fit and a delight to talk to while dawbing.  They almost persuaded me to get my old road bike out and start pedalling again.  I tried a 14x10 but ran out of time after 2 hours as I had to get back to help with handing out. 

Victoria Monument, London 14x10

I am trying very hard to stick to the 4-tone scheme used by people like Ken Howard and Bob Rohm (USA) as it seems so logical and helps you keep the big shapes distinct.  You can probably see from the bits of ground showing through that I cheated and raised the tone of the sky (my light half-tone) when it would have been better to stick to the original value.  That would have helped express the lights on the gilded figures.  Ah well, there is always the next time!

Saturday, 1 September 2012

The Figure 11 Concept

Since posting news of the AFAS contemporary show 'Out of Line', several friends have asked me about the conceptual basis of my piece 'Figure 11'. 

Briefly I have first tried to highlight the duality that exists in the modern use of anthropomorphic targets: they are both 'enemies' and 'friends'.  They represent real enemies but are also a means of ensuring safety through superior training.  I have also tried to underline the universality of this particular target form - used by so many forces throughout the world.  To enhance this aspect I have imagined that Figure 11 has a very ancient history (actually the image was first dsigned in about 1948).  To that end I have enjoyed making allusive references to elements of British myths and writings, particularly to Malory's Morte D'Arthur, the Gododdin, contemporary accounts of the Boudiccan (Iceni) revolt, the Mabinogion, etc.  I have also made use of various carved and written forms such as Etruscan, Early Roman Cursive and Ogham, to lend accuracy to some of the assertions. 

The term 'hostis humani generis' was originally established in the early days of the Roman empire to refer to pirates - effectively 'stateless persons' - and I believe the term is still used in legal circles today.  The other text (hic iacet instar undecim, hostis quondam hostisque futurus) is a straight lift from Malory but substituting 'hostis' for 'rex' and of course 'instar undecim' for 'Arthurus'. 

The 18 shot holes are 9mm in diameter - the calibre of a modern pistol and the thickness of a Roman auxiliary's arrow shaft.  Five of the shot holes are in the traditional position of Christ's wounds.  The Chi Rho symbol and other scratchings (eg Dux Brit) are all designed to add to the illusion.  I could not resist the quote from Aneirin (seinnyessit e gledyf vm penn mameu).  It appears on the title page of David Jones's In Parethesis, my favourite long prose poem and one of the greatest war poems ever written.  I also allude to Isaiah 53v5, not just to increase the sense of antiquity but also to heighten the importance of Figure 11's role in our lives.  'He was wounded for our transgressions' strikes a chord in the context of continuing strife around the world.  We should not need Figure 11 but we do. 

One thing I like about contemporary art is the use of words as 'signs' in many of the works.  This is discussed at length in the preface to David Jones's 'Anathemata' (1952).  Such signs are very personal but if one can find a common foreknowledge (the Germans have a special word for this but I can't remember what it is - vorausgesehen does not sound right) then there is the possibility of communicating through commonly recognised signs.  This is partly what I have tried to do but as Geoffrey Hill has pointed out in many of his poems, words are very  'slippery', whereas marks on the canvas are all too permanent.  Maybe the ambiguity inherent in language actually increases the chance of a meaningful relationship between the work of art and its public?

I hope that helps but part of the purpose of the piece was to invite thought - so I did not want anything to be too clearly said.

I have enjoyed the technical challenges immensely and was gratified at the PV night to be asked how such a large tomb brass could be cast.  I eventually admitted that these days one can do wonders with mdf, gilding wax, acrylic and marble dust!

Friday, 31 August 2012

Windrush and Westonbirt

Despite the huge burden of AFAS show preparations I have managed to get out a few times in the past month.  I went to Sandford Lock in late July and did this 8x10 with the light behind me:

Sandford Lock 8x10

Michael Worthington and I then had a day stooging around the Windrush Valley and Burford before returning via Minster Lovell.  The Windrush painting was not very happy but after a long lay-off it was nice to do something:

The River Windrush near Burford 8x10
Minster Lovell proved to have lots of potential with both the river and the ruins available but we were running out of time and light:

The Minster Ruins 10x8

Each year we take my severely disabled brother-in-law Charlie away on a house-party-type holiday to Westonbirt School, originally the seat of Robert Holford, founder of the Arboretum.  I love painting there.
This year I tried to avoid the pull of the Italian Garden and concentrate more on the house:

Late Afternoon, Westonbirt 10x8

Before Breakfast, Westonbirt 10x8

The window with the shutters closed was our bedroom.
The Orangery End, Westonbirt 10x8
 I went into Tebury once but wished I hadn't because while I was there I was the victim of a minor accident.  A very old lady wanted to park her car in front of me (I was in the gutter on some double yellow lines)  I carefully moved all my kit back 10 feet so that she could drive in easily and she promptly ran over it!  I now have a crushed digital camera covered in the contents of a large Titanium White tube! The joys of plein air painting - but I bet nobody does that to Peter Brown.

Tetbury 10x8

I finally succumbed to the Italian Garden, repeating an exercise I did last year:

Arch in the Italian Garden 10x8
On my last afternoon I just had time for a 6x8 and was half way through this when a wedding party arrived to liven things up:

Wedding Reception Westonbirt 6x8

On the trips up to London to hang the AFAS show I invariably started early so had time to do a couple of sketches.  The second one was in front of Buckingham Palace:

Victoria Monument 10x7
I hope that I shall be able to get out more in the next 2 months and then we will be running rapidly towards the Venice trip in November.  In between are the ROI submission target, the Woodstock Art Festival and the Army Arts Soc show in Salisbury.