Friday, 22 July 2011

Then and Now

In 1974 when I was living in Singapore I placed a little silver cup on my table and painted what I saw in the reflections. Here it is.

I was 38 at the time and was only able to paint during the rare weekend when I wasn’t travelling in Asia. Recently I unearthed the painting – it’s less than 4 inches wide – and decided to update the image by painting a companion piece. Many years have gone by, my hair has turned white and I now paint full time. You might be interested in the result. The first was painted on watercolour board and the latest – completed just last week – is painted on vellum.

Much of what I’ve been doing over the past week or so has involved boats. The new cover I had made for my wooden dinghy was too big – rain collected in it, so it had to be altered. Yesterday it was retuned, but unfortunately was now too small! So back to the drawing board as it has to be made all over again.

Last weekend the rain pelted down all morning, but by afternoon the clouds cleared and I made my way to the Thames Traditional Boat Rally along Fawley meadows.

Amongst the many attractions along the river was a ‘boat jumble’ where I bought a really noisy hoooter. This is for my big boat as the fitted one doesn’t work any more.

Great to see Raymond Baxter’s Dunkirk boat L’Orage beautifully restored by its new owner, John Calvert. There were over a dozen Dunkirk boats moored there for the weekend. Here are some of them.

Later in the evening I returned to the site with a friend to see the illuminated procession of boats. Also there was a large collection of old bicycles. Amongst them were several ‘Penny-farthings’ Here they are getting ready for an illuminated cycle ride

They were a bit too fast for my camera, but I like the artistic effect of this shot.

Soon afterwards a small procession of boats glided past in the darkness. Again the images are distorted, but interesting for all that.

To complete this week’s boating activities, on Wednesday the Swanuppers reached Henley. Originating in the 12th Century, when the Crown declared ownership of all the swans on the Thames, representatives of the Crown and the Vintners and Dyers Livery Companies make their way upstream in traditional rowing skiffs to corral and mark the new signets. They started on Monday at Sunbury Lock and will reach Abingdon today (Friday). In the past, nicks were made in the signets' beaks to identify which family they belong to – Queens, Vintners or Dyers – but nowadays their feet are ringed with individual numbers. I joined Nigel, the lock keeper at Marsh Lock, his mother, Arthur and a few other friends for wine and Pimms to await their arrival. Here they are coming into the lock.

Only two pairs of swans with three signets each were found on the Henley reach this year. Sadly a total of 180 mute swans died on the Thames between Reading and Windsor last year from a common duck virus. However David Barber, the Queen’s Swan marker (below) said things would be rectified over time.

I took a little video of the Swanuppers as they left Marsh Lock. Hope this comes out.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Work and Play

I really enjoy drawing in pencil. The feel of the graphite as it glides across the paper is almost sensual. When I start a portrait in this medium I sharpen about seven or eight pencils with densities ranging from 2H right through to 7B. This enables me to capture the smallest detail with the harder ones, and to render the darker areas with the softer pencils. Sometimes I use sepia but they are not made in such a variety of grades as graphite. I wish I could get hold of a really hard sepia pencil as I just love the colour.
Last week a client came to collect my latest commission – three approximately A4 size drawings of her stepchildren – a present for their father. I had them framed beautifully with a double oval cream mount and silver/gilt rectangular outside frame. Here they are – Dan, Josh and Abby.

The social season in Henley is still going strong, and last Thursday, accompanied by my young friend and Felicity, we all togged up in our evening finery to go to the Henley Music Festival. Held on the banks of the Thames in the area vacated by the previous week’s regatta, all sorts of activities are taking place as well as the main attraction. Tom Jones was appearing on Wednesday but the tickets had been sold out for that day. Soon after we got to the Festival we were offered a trip on ‘Consuta’.

This lovely umpire’s launch was built in 1898 and is 52 feet long. It’s the only surviving steam powered umpire’s launch in existence and can reach a speed of over 27 mph. We had a great time gliding along part of the regatta course. I sat right next to the engine so could really appreciate the almost whispering sound it made and the lovely smell of steam.

We sat outside to have a meal in one of the many restaurants there, and afterwards toured the attractions. Rolf was represented by the Henley Lemongrove Gallery with a very impressive array of recent paintings and limited edition prints, some of which had featured in the BBC Arena programme.
Here are a few of the sights.

And as you can see the river was full of every sort of craft you can imagine – including Henley’s own Dragon Boat.

Later in the evening as it got dark – and a bit chilly – a gigantic balloon took to the sky. Attached to it was an acrobat who performed a number of hair-raising balletic manoeuvres high above us.

She was accompanied by a really good musical firework display. This is one of the views across the river with boats and their reflections adding to the ambiance of the scene.

Now that I’m just about fully recovered I’m able to play bowls at full strength and competed in what is called the ‘Yardstick’ competition last Sunday morning. Any bowls that are not within one yard of the jack are removed. It’s a twelve-end contest and I was leading right up until the eleventh end, when my opponent suddenly surged ahead and beat me by one point. I’m playing again tomorrow in the second leg of the championship so hope to advance a little more then.

I popped over to a boatyard at Bourne End the other day to buy another set of oars and rowlocks for my dinghy. So on Saturday afternoon with two of us rowing we speedily made our way up to Phyllis Court and tarried awhile eating the ice creams we bought by the slipway and listening to an Abba tribute band rehearsing on the far bank for the concert that evening.

On Sunday the weather sparkled and steadily got hotter as the day progressed, so we took the big boat out for a trip to Hambleden and back. Here I am lazing in the back of the boat, which we moored at Phyllis Court.

Later in the evening we drove over to Streatley to have dinner at the Swan at Streatley. Such a beautiful balmy evening – we sat outside on the verandah and had fish and chips. This hotel also caters for functions on this barge moored right outside the hotel.

Finally, this is the miniature I finished last week. It’s of ‘Shining Bear’, which I mentioned in my last blog. The clothes and symbols he’s wearing for this portrait represent different indigenous tribes, the shirt being a copy of a Sioux holy man’s shirt. The feathers of a golden eagle on his shoulder were given to him for building a medicine wheel over the bird’s body and are very rare. The medicine wheel on his chest represents the four colours of man that make up the human race, and the ring on his finger is a Navajo design.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

A Heinous Crime

My second cousin, Jane, arrived from London on Thursday morning ready for the Henley Regatta. I’d planned for eight of us to go to Phyllis Court for the day, We drove to Wargrave about 11 am to pick up Debbie and Paul. Here we are all dressed up in our finery.

Paul and Debbie, although members of Phyllis Court, hadn’t received their badges, nevertheless we bypassed security at the entrance and wandered through the grounds and over the humpback bridge spanning the creek.

The lawns looked immaculate and we soon established ourselves at a table by the verandah. Debbie and Jane procured a large jug of Pimms (what else at Henley Regatta?) and we waited till the rest of the party - Dee, Bill, Jane and Brian – arrived. Unlike many of the summer social occasions in England these days Phyllis Court at Regatta time retains a real air of almost Edwardian elegance. The men wear jackets and ties, and all the ladies wear beautiful colourful hats.
Way back in April I’d endeavoured to be first in line to buy the tickets (I was second as it so happened) so after a while we made our way to the best table in the dining room.

Not only was the meal sumptuous, but the company was great. Laughter echoed around the table with Paul, as usual, reeling off a host of amusing stories. Everyone had a very happy time. We eventually made our way to the riverside – after all there was a regatta going on

On the way I wondered why Jane and I were given a few stony looks by some of the more elderly ladies as we strolled towards the water's edge. We soon found out the reason as no sooner had we taken our places than a black clad, heavily muscled security guard came up to Jane and (too loudly I thought) asked her to accompany him to the exit as she was ‘inappropriately attired!’. It was only then that I realised Jane was wearing culottes – a terrible crime in Phyllis Court at Regatta time. ( I must admit I had no idea that the long black semi-transparent dress she was wearing was divided as I am aware of the dress code on these occasions - and fully agree with it).

Not wanting to appear to be a criminal by following the guard as if to an awaiting hangman’s noose, we waited till he had retreated a little and discussed the situation. Dee came up with the solution by getting a taxi to her home and fitting Jane out with one of her dresses. (It showed a lot more thigh than the original dress, but  was obviously more acceptable than a divided skirt).
Happily all’s well that ends well and here we are correctly dressed as we watched the races from our vantage point.

About 6pm I had to dash to off for half an hour or so as I’d been asked to officially open ‘The Heart of Henley Art Exhibition’ at St. Mary’s Church in the centre of the town. A number of the exhibits were by primary pupils of a local school and I was quite impressed with the imagination they showed in following the theme of ‘water’.

Back to Phyllis Court for drinks with a number of friends before calling it a day and going back home to watch the Murray/Nadal tennis match I’d recorded earlier.

On Friday I painted all morning - currently I’m working on an interesting miniature of a friend of mine called “Shining Bear”. Among his many talents Bear plays the didgeridoo with Rolf Harris at concerts. However the sunshine beckoned, so in mid-afternoon I downed brushes and tootled down to Phyllis Court once more, this time to meet Felicity and her father Martin.

Martin’s neighbour was there too, and she and Felicity had a great time trying on hats in a little stall set up by the river.

Earlier in the week I completed the remaining two miniatures of my great nieces. Here’s Annabel. She’s just seventeen…

And this is Genevieve, who’s almost sixteen…

Yesterday my young friend and I invited Val, and Sue and Tom Yonker over for supper prior to taking Marsh Mundy down the river to see the fireworks. Every year on the Saturday evening of the Regatta a firework display is put on by the town. The best vantage point is from the river itself. We started off just as the sun was setting

On the Berkshire side of the river the noise of all the many hospitality tents roared out at us all the way up to Temple Island. With the glare of lights and the thousands of people thronging the riverbank I was very pleased to be watching the revelry from my boat rather than being part of it. (Sign of age?) On our way back we saw Alan and Christina Tang gliding by in their very smart boat, so we invited them to tie up next to us when we found a place to moor. As the booms at the vantage point we chose were empty we endeavoured to throw the ropes around them – a very difficult task. But luckily a kind pair of Environment Agency boatmen in their launch stopped to help and we were soon safely attached to the booms to await the firework display. I’d brought a bottle of pink champagne but unfortunately it was corked, so reluctantly I had to pour the contents into the river. Never mind, we had plenty of Pimms and soft drinks and the Tangs offered us wine and cherries picked from their garden that morning. At  about 10pm the fireworks started.

On the way back home in the dark I often wonder why there are rarely collisions as so many small boats don’t have lights, but the ambiance of the river at night, with hundreds of boats of all sizes is really exciting. We got home safely just after eleven. The end of another lovely day.