Sunday, 30 September 2012

Miniaturising Masterpieces

I recently completed a very interesting commission. It was to paint a pair of miniatures exactly replicating very large oil paintings of my client’s ancestors. Quite a challenging undertaking but here are the results (with permission of the client).


Each year Henley hosts a Literary Festival. And each year it gets better and better. With the rain lashing down on Monday morning I looked forward to hearing the author Jilly Cooper talking about a real War Horse. ‘Twas not to be as I became so involved in solving a problem on my current painting that when I got ready to drive to the Kenton Theatre I realised I was already half an hour late! Pity because I wanted to ask her that when she lists the characters in the first few pages of her books in alphabetical order to do it by first names too. (There are so many characters in her blockbusters that as soon as I get into the stories everyone is referred to by their first names which means I have to wade through all the surnames to find out who is who!)

Never mind, I was well in time the following morning to board the ‘Hibernia’ for an hour-long trip down the river while listening to some of the finest poetry and prose read by very talented actors. Here they are sitting at the stern of the boat.

It was a lovely day as we cruised towards Marsh Lock, then down river tp Temple Island and finally back to Hobbs Boatyard in Henley. One of the actors – Rula Lenska – told me that the miniature I painted of her last year is now hanging on the wall in her brand new grandson’s room.

Between dashing home to spend more time on my Queen’s visit to Henley painting I’ve managed to go to at least half-a-dozen Literary Festival events, from Richard Ingrams (co-founder of ‘Private Eye’ and now editor of ‘The Oldie’) to the splendidly presented talk by Anne De Courcy about her new book ‘The Fishing Fleet – Husband Hunting in the Raj’.

In the India of the Raj, thousands of Britain’s best and brightest young men went out to India as administrators, soldiers or businessmen. With the lure of marriage and a lavish social life, countless young women followed in their wake. They were called ‘The Fishing Fleet’. I was amused by the author’s comments when she told us that the (very few) women who didn’t find husbands – either because they were too plain, argumentative, or in other ways not chosen as brides, and came back to England – were called ‘Returned Empties’. By the early 20th Century India offered dances, parties, picnics, gymkhanas and romance with men outnumbering women by roughly four to one. But after the honeymoon, life often changed drastically in remote outposts. The stories of these women were recalled dramatically by Anne De Courcy from unpublished memoirs, letters and diaries rescued from attics, and vividly recreating a forgotten era.

This morning, after a fleeting visit to Rolf Harris to see his latest animal paintings (He’s just finished a magnificent oil painting of a cheetah half in shadow. Superb.) I raced back to Henley to hear Gyles Brandreth at Christchurch. What a splendid raconteur! Easily the highlight of the Festival for me. He talked for 90 minutes, and the audience were in stitches all the time. I bought a couple of his books – both about how he turned Oscar Wilde into a detective.

Thursday evening signalled the launch of ‘The 100 Faces of Henley’ by Janet Hanton and Claire Smith at The Old Fire Station Gallery.

 A year in preparation, they had selected 100 characters living in Henley, chosen from celebrities like Philip Schofield, Lady McAlpine, Paul Daniels, Antony Worral Thompson, Rodney Bewes, etc. to Henley characters like George Roberts – ‘The Axe Man’ and bewiskered Norman Topson, 'The Stationmaster'. My picture was a bit unusual in that I was holding a magnifying glass in front of my eye to signify that I paint miniatures, but the format meant that my specially painted shirt (showing brushes and tubes of paint) wasn’t included. I never like my own face in photographs, anyway. It was a good evening with all the photographs framed and displayed around the gallery. I was intrigued to count how many of the ‘celebrities’ pictured I’d painted over the years (10). The book that accompanied the exhibition was very well produced so I bought a couple of copies.

Friday, 21 September 2012

More boats - and Ships

Once I get going on a large painting I find it very hard to put down. Sometimes I even take it to bed with me to stare at and decide on the next step, or to correct any errors I might have made. Such is the case with my current painting of the Queen’s Garden Party by the river at Henley recently. It’s taken nearly 200 hours so far and to date I’ve painted eleven of the intended fifteen boats I plan to include. The Queen is already painted but as she’s only about a quarter of an inch high don’t expect a likeness! Even the Royal Bargemaster and the Waterman are barely an inch high – resplendent as they are proudly standing to attention by a garlanded platform at the water’s edge. But the boats are big – especially my favourites, which include the fabulously blue and gold painted shallop – The Royal Thamesis, and of course the Gloriana and Molly (redesigned as a Viking ship), and my favourite of the Dunkirk Little Ships – L’Orage. Spending nearly nine hours every day, I’m having a day off today to write this and later go to sculpture class before going on the annual ‘Backwater Bash’ dinner at Phyllis Court this evening.

However I did escape Henley over the weekend (most of the roads were closed for over 18 hours due to the Annual Triathlon being held here) by going to the Southampton Boat Show and to pay a visit to Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard.

The Boat Show was vast with such a lot of climbing up and over bridges that it became really tiring. Especially as the day was one of the hottest of the year. There were some spectacular boats on display. This ‘Windy’ is the latest version of my own 20 year-old Windy, but at a price of over £100,000, stratospherically above my means.

I didn’t buy a boat – but I did buy a length of rope for my dinghy! All I have to do now is to learn how to splice it to make a secure loop at one end. Later in the afternoon we left the crowds to visit a much more tranquil place – Bucklers Hard – the 18th Century village where warships for Nelson’s navy were built.


No, this isn’t one of them, but can you guess what it is? In fact it’s the boat James Bond drove in the film ‘Quantum of Solace’. If you remember Daniel Craig landed a motorcycle on it in an attempt to rescue Bond girl Camille. It lies by the Beaulieu River. Bucklers Hard was once a thriving shipbuilding village and amongst others built Nelson’s favourite ship ‘Agamemnon’ there. Here are the timbered remains of one of the launchways.


Sections of the Mulberry Harbour were made there and hundreds of craft sailed from the Beaulieu River during the D-Day Landings. We took a cruise down the river on a little passenger boat, with the captain giving a very informative description of the many historical views we saw on the way. Here’s one of the boats we passed on our voyage.

It really was a seafaring weekend. I’d never been to Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard before, so was really looking forward to seeing Nelson’s Victory and The Mary Rose Exhibition. The top spars of HMS Victory have been removed temporarily but the ship is still a magnificent sight. Launched in May 1765 it was built at Chatham Dockyard in Kent and had a crew of 850.



We went on board, ducking our heads everywhere we went.

Either sailors in those days were very short, or they travelled round the lower decks at a crouch! I banged my head on one of the timbers – and saw stars for a while!

Everything was so well preserved in the ship. I decided the best way to progress from deck to deck (four of them) was to climb down the steep ladders backwards.


This famous painting of the death of Nelson was prominently displayed there too.

After a really fascinating tour of the ship we walked over to the Mary Rose Exhibition. However because the new and complete new exhibition scheduled to be open in 2013 there were not too many real retrieved articles from the Mary Rose on exhibition. However I did find a man who demonstrated how to splice a rope so hope to put his instructions to good use when I attempt to splice my new dinghy rope. We left The Mary Rose exhibition under the stare of the ship’s original owner – Henry VIII.

And on to HMS Warrior. This 19th Century Warship, when built, was the largest, fastest and most powerful warship in the world.

Warrior’s sails covered an area almost the size of a football pitch and on long voyages sheep were kept in pens on the deck for fresh meat, with chickens and ducks kept in the boats. To give you an idea of the size and weight of this ship, if one of its anchors were to be raised (they weigh 5.6 tons) it would take 4 to 5 hours and could involve 176 men on the capstan. Powered both by sail and steam HMS Warrior is 418 feet long. Here are couple of views on the upper deck. (I was too weary after climbing endless ladders in Victory to climb any more that day!).


To end the visit to the dockyard we took a 45 minute trip around the harbour, passing by many of the latest Royal Navy ships anchored there.




At journeys end we went under Portsmouth’s latest effigy – The Spinnaker.
The boating season has just about ended so I doubt whether boats will feature in my blogs for a while. Now I’d better get ready to fashion my hunk of clay, under the guidance of my very talented teacher – Shirley Collen. (Incidentally if anyone living in the Henley/Oxford area fancies making a sculpture head, why not join her class. You’ll be amazed at what you can do.).

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Preserved in Bronze



Well I finally finished it! It’s taken a while but this is the final result of my bronze head of Rolf Harris. As it was my first attempt at making a portrait bronze I’m quite pleased with the result. But it’s taken a while. I had no idea just how many stages and processes I needed to go through. Here are just a few of them.

I called in to see Rolf on Sunday morning, carrying the heavy bust as carefully I would a newborn baby. His family was there and there seemed to be unanimous approval of the likeness. I gave it a bit of a polish before I left home so the sheen of the bronze really shined through. Best of all Rolf liked it to. Here he is together with the sculpture.

Not sure Alwen’s cat approved though.


Last Saturday dawned very hot as I picked up Val, her friend Penny, and my cousin Jim, to take them to the Henley Show. Held once a year in vast fields at Hambleden, it’s one of the highlights of the year. The sun shone down mercilessly but as I had reserved a parking space right by ring one, apart from the loudspeaker right above us, we had a prime view of the goings on. You can see how baking hot the day was by this photo of cousin Jim.

I love seeing the parade of beautifully maintained carts with their very smart ponies prancing along in front.



And the vintage cars are also gleaming in the sunlight.



A number of little steam engines puffed their way round the arena. (I love the smell of the smoke).


Every year the huntsmen come on to the field with their hounds and all the children in the audience are invited to come out and join them. They have a lovely time talking to the hounds and stroking them.

On Sunday afternoon my young friend and I went out for a row down the river. It’s so easy now with the new rudder as I don’t have to keep looking round to see where I’m going. We sped along downstream at a cracking pace, which should have warned me that the coming back wouldn’t be quite so easy. And it wasn’t, as not only was the stream pretty strong but a really heavy wind was blowing. To start with I could hardly get the dinghy moving at all. However we got home OK – refreshed by a couple of stops to have a Pimms.

I finished the first of my two miniature portraits for my German client last week and am now part way through the second one. I’m finding them really interesting to do as there are to be perfect replicas of the original ancestral family oil paintings.

P.S. My insurance Company was brilliant over my lost camera. Just three days after I left it on the seat at Twyford Station I received a brand new replacement.