Sunday, 29 November 2009

The Magic of Camelot

The other day, after a marathon tidy–up of my studio with Tracey, I came across an exercise I did some time ago. It was a small portrait of David Hemmings, and showed him in his role of Mordred from the film Camelot. The three portraits you see below were executed in pencil, watercolour and scraperboard. (You can enlarge them by clicking on the images).


Pencil drawing
Scraperboard drawing
Watercolour painting
I was living in Bangkok with my girlfriend – Jeanne - when the film came out in 1967. We played the record constantly. It contained some wonderful songs – “The lusty month of May”, “Camelot” of course, “The simple joys of maidenhood” and “If ever I would leave you”, to name just a few. In those days life for an expatriate woman in Thailand was very difficult. They couldn’t obtain work and police permits, hardly anyone spoke English, the city was full of beautiful young Thai girls, and we men worked extremely long hours. So sadly, after just six months of living together, Jeanne reluctantly departed Bangkok and moved to Hong Kong. The reason I mention this is that after she left I must have played “If ever I would leave you” every day for months.

This week has been mostly taken up with painting between 8 and 10 hours a day on my large watercolour of my two friends. It will eventually take over 300 hours to complete – so far I’ve done about 70 – but I’m very excited about it, Paul and Debbie came over for a simple supper on Wednesday evening. It wasn’t my best culinat0ry effort – mainly because I forgot to put the onions in the crock-pot! And I added some strange green vegetables, which seemed to dominate the flavour. But the chicken satay first course went down well. Debbie told me of a great shop to buy ‘girlie’ presents in Reading, so as I was having lunch with my watch-maker friend David Card and taking a couple of paintings to be framed in Caversham on Thursday, I called into the shop. It’s in the Oracle and is called ‘Octopus’. As you enter the shop you are confronted with the most spectacular blaze of colour. I bought half a dozen lovely presents there. And now I think I’ll have to go back sometime before Christmas to buy a couple more, having had time to think about it.

It’s good when artists get together and discuss each others work. Yesterday a friend and I took a trip over to Timmy Mallett’s studio in Cookham. Timmy has a great little studio in his garden, and paints in Acrylics. When we got there Timmy was working on a very nice painting of a snowball fight. My friend immediately sat down in front of the easel and added a few touches to the painting (with Timmy’s approval, I might add) then brought out his magic toothbrush and demonstrated by flicking white paint over the painting how to instantly add snowflakes to the scene. Very effective. I remember being taught how to do this when as an apprentice lithographic artist I needed to achieve the effect of a Cotswold stone cottage wall when painting a country scene. My friend paints in oil, Timmy paints in Acrylic, and I paint in watercolour, so we chatted about the merits or otherwise of each technique. While at Timmy’s I gave him a framed copy of the miniature I painted of him last year when he took part in the TV show “I’m a Celebrity – Get Me Out of Here!” filmed in the Australian ‘jungle’.

Miniature portrait of Timmy Mallett

The other day I arrived home in the late afternoon to find that a squad of workmen were digging a great big hole in our courtyard. It was dark, raining, and there was mess and rubble everywhere. Without even informing anyone here they – subcontracted by Thames Water - assumed there was a leak in our courtyard, and just started digging merrily away. The first my neighbour knew about it was the sound of a drill just outside his bedroom. When I asked them what on earth they were doing they said there must be a leak because they had detected running water under the courtyard. I pointed to the adjacent building and said, “Do you know what that building contains?” They didn’t. “It’s our dedicated sewerage plant" I replied, "and after doing its job, the purified water is released under the courtyard towards the river. So that’s your running water”. “Oh, that’s what it is” the chap in charge said. They left soon afterwards, leaving a terrible mess of mud and concrete for us to clear up. Now we have a horrible nasty scar in the courtyard- and not a word of apology!

It’s now lashing down with rain, so I’m going to work on my PowerPoint presentation for a talk I’m giving to the Women’s Institute next month. It will trace the origins of miniature portrait painting leading up to a visual demonstration of how I go about painting a miniature.

5 comments:

Mona said...

Stunning portraits of David Hemming Bill, all three of them! I think my favorite is the scratchboard (or scraperboard), but they are all so beautifully done.

Just curious, but did you ever approach him with these to see if he was interested in purchasing one of them?

Wes and Rachelle Siegrist said...

Hi Bill! I agree with Mona - these are all great and a wonderful side by side comparison of technique.

Sure wish we could be there to listen in on your miniature portrait history presentation!

Pootle said...

I can't decide which of the three I like best... maybe the wonderful colours of the watercolour. But perhaps the dark broodiness and sharpness of the scraperboard... Or maybe the slightly softer pencil. They're just all so good!

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Elliott Broidy said...

This is a great part of history.