Thursday, 28 March 2013

Brrrr! and Brrrrr! again.

Hey! This is supposed to be spring. Hard to tell, as it’s still freezing cold and every night the temperature goes below zero. There are compensations. Just look at this beautiful scene as we drove through the woods in Nettlebed last Sunday on the way to the Cotswolds.

It almost looks like a black and white photograph – probably hoar frost settling on top of snow.  I was on the way to Bampton with my sister-in-law Val and my young friend to have lunch with my old friend Joanne. She had just been given a new Mini iPad as a birthday present, so with three of us all tapping away on our iPads the scene resembled a modern version of a knitting bee! The curry lunch was delicious.
On Saturday morning we went to the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading to have my pelvic and chest scan. Won’t know the results until I see the surgeon – probably next week.. It was snowing hard when we left the hospital to make our way to London. We had to go that day because I had to pick up my painting, which had not been selected for the RP exhibition. When paintings are rejected by the Royal Academy at least artists get a nice letter expressing regret that the work had not been selected that year. But with the Portrait Society we merely get a pink slip warning us that if we don’t collect the rejected work on a particular day it will be placed in storage and a hefty daily charge will be made. As one of my paintings was selected last year – and I secured a very nice commission as a result  - I don’t think the RP selectors wanted the commission cake to be divided by too many artists other than the members. But then, that’s probably sour grapes on my part!.

It’s nice when things pop up from the past, isn’t it? The other week an old school friend wrote to me, enclosing a cheque and requesting a copy of my autobiography. He’s now a n eminent Professor at Sussex University. It was he, when we were both about 15 years old, who posed for me when I painted his portrait in oils. It was my first commission, and he reminded me that his father paid me the princely sum of £10 for the large portrait. I painted him holding his violin, and can’t ever hear the ‘Czardas’ these days without thinking of that time. He was being taught by  the famous violist, Godowski, I recall. £10 wasn’t a bad sum in those days – especially for a first commission. I remember not having the funds to buy an easel, but what I had forgotten, until Peter reminded me, was that, being an impecunious youth, I’d bought an old painting from the saleroom and used this to paint on! Wonder what lies underneath? It might be an old master. Peter also sent me an image of the original sketch I made all those years ago. 

It’s a little wrinkled – a bit like me. However Peter also sent me a photograph he must have taken around that time. I remember my hair went through a 'frizzy' stage at the time. Here it is

I’ve just finished my latest painting, but can’t show it yet until it goes on exhibition in May. The past Master of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries came over to pose for me yesterday. He has commissioned me to paint his miniature portrait for permanent exhibition in the Apothecaries Hall in London. A unique tradition. Apparently past Masters also donate a stained glass window of their coat of arms to be permanently placed in the hall.

This stained-glass window is positioned above the screen at the south end of the Great Hall of the Society. Here’s a little historical note: The Society of Apothecaries traces its origins back to one of the earliest fraternities, the Gild of Pepperes of Sopers lane, which was fined 16 marks in 1180 for being adulterine, so it must have been established before that date. The Pepperes dealt mainly in spices and peppers, and were responsible for importing, inspecting, cleansing and compounding these items. They had charge of the Great or Kings’ Beam in the City, by which they regulated the weighing of heavy imported goods. The Company gained its first charter in 1429.

I’ll finish the pencil drawing I’ve been working on next week, but  here’s a preview of part of it.

That’s about it for now. Have a happy Easter, my loyal readers.

Sunday, 17 March 2013


My old dad told me that a bad workman always blamed his tools if the work wasn’t done right. He was a carpenter. However, over the past few years I’ve found that the quality of the best kolinsky sable watercolour paintbrushes, especially the smaller sizes, have deteriorated. About 50% of them either split in two, bend over, or have an unworkable whispery point. But my biggest gripe of all is about hot-pressed (the smoothest) watercolour paper and board. I’ve just finished a pair of portraits on the so-called very best watercolour board. Very difficult to work on as the paint dried immediately it touched the paper, giving me no chance to move the colour around or to achieve an even wash. I did a bit of research the other day and now believe the reason is that just about all watercolour paper and board sold in England originates in India. Nothing wrong with that country, but maybe the water they use in the manufacture is not pure. I don’t know if that really is the reason, but wish I could get the hot-pressed paper I knew and loved in past years. So I guess I am, after all, blaming my tools!

No such problems with sculpture. Yesterday I worked on the final stages of my great nephew, Max’s, head. It’s quite tiring mixing the bronze, resin, and all the other ingredients. I’m staggered as to how many different materials go to make a bronze head. Here are a couple of photographs of the inside of the shed we work in, so you will have some idea of the materials involved.

Yesterday was ‘handing-in’ day at the Mall Galleries in London for the Royal Society of Portrait Painters Exhibition. It rained all day long and was quite a problem to carry a large painting (Over 30 inches square) on the train and up to the gallery. My young friend did most of the carrying. I’ve entered this large painting of Kevin Giddings – The Royal ‘Flueologist’ against a background of Hampton Court Palace – one of the Royal residences he looks after. I really do hope it gets accepted – and will know by next Wednesday as they will publish the results on line that day. 

After depositing the painting (kept dry under a big and tough plastic sleeve) we walked up to Piccadilly for lunch in the Richeaux restaurant and a look around my favourite London bookshop – Hatchards. (I'll tell you a little story about Hatchards. When I lived in Bangkok in the 60’s books there were very expensive, so when on home leave, or on a business trip to England, I would browse around that marvellous and friendly bookshop and then order a number of books to be sent out to Bangkok. One autumn I chose about twenty books to be sent to me to arrive before Christmas - sea-mail in those days. As Christmas approached and no parcel of books arrived, I wrote to Hatchards asking if they’d been despatched. In response I received a beautifully hand-written airmail letter apologising profusely and saying that all the books had been despatched, but must have got lost in the post. So they had sent another complete set by airmail! The letter concluded “I do hope these arrive safely and your Christmas has not been spoiled.”)

 I don’t think this sort of service is offered these days, but I may be wrong, as the assistant that came up to us as we were browsing around the art and photographic section, couldn’t have been more helpful.

Next stop was the Apollo Theatre in Victoria where we’d booked to see the musical ‘Wicked’. What a lively show. Marvellous costumes and stupendous sets. Author  Gregory Maguire wrote his novel ‘Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West’ whilst living in London in 1990. As the original film ‘The Wizard of Oz’ is one of my all time favourites, I was very much looking forward to this show. So was my young friend, especially as she’s more in to modern music than I am.

Even the boxes at the sides of the theatre had been completely taken over by the fantastic and intricate design, as you can see here.

The only thing I could complain about was the tiny size of the seats – almost ‘Munchkin’ size. But we were lucky, as the two seats in front of us were vacant, giving us a wonderful uninterrupted view of the stage, and, after the interval, the people in the two seats to our left didn’t come back. I think they thought the show was over at half time! 

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Getting Blood out of a Stone

I won a few small prizes on the Camelot lottery last week. Two on Saturday and three on Wednesday – mostly HotPicks with three or four numbers. Anyway the total came to £600. This meant that I needed to get my winnings from the Post Office as the shop where I bought my tickets from couldn’t pay out more than about £50. No problem. So I trotted off to the Henley Post Office the other day. The lottery counter could only pay me £30 as the rest had to come from the main counter. “You need proof of identity,” the counter clerk said. So I proffered my driving licence - complete with photograph. Apparently that wasn’t good enough. I must show them my latest utility bill. As I pay all my gas, electric, telephone etc on line I don’t possess a paper bill of any sort. That didn’t satisfy them. But they had no choice – apart from me bringing in my computer as proof of utility bill payments. (Don’t know why they wanted identification anyway as I held the ticket and had already filled my name and address in on the back.) If and when I was paid out I was then told it couldn’t be all in cash. I said I didn’t care how it was paid out – cash, cheque, postal order, anything, or a combination of all three. The next problem was that apparently the computer could only deal with one week of purchase at a time, and as my single ticket for two days straddled two weeks it wouldn’t respond. To cut a long story short it took two out of the three counter clerks almost half an hour to finally sort it out (much to the frustration of the queue behind me building up rapidly). I ended up with part cash and part cheque. And I was late for my dental appointment in Oxford to boot!

This is the home of Jacqui and Paul (Paul is a very talented sculptor and goldsmith. We last met in Florida in January where he won first prize for sculpture in the MASF exhibition. He was also elected a member of the prestigious Miniature Artists of America at the same time). My young friend and I had been invited to a traditional roast beef Sunday lunch at their home in Surrey. We had a little walk around their garden first to see Paul’s owls and hawk. Paul keeps owls and Jacqui has a lovely old cat – hence this plaque on the wall which Paul made.

And here’s the cat,

The meal was lovely – nothing I like better than a good olde roast beef slap up lunch. Especially followed by meringue and fruit. Thanks Jacqui. The house is 14th Century and contains all sorts of surprises in the many nooks and crannies. Here, for example, is a little collection of Polish figures in the corner of an old fireplace.


And these monks seem to be enjoying a nice game of cards.

Paul made this barbecue mountain out of old pieces of stone and wood. Really fits in with the surroundings I thought.


Late in the afternoon as the sun was setting we left this talented couple for the long drive home.
On Saturday evening we went for a curry dinner in Henley. I had sizzling prawns (with no garlic as the head waiter remembered) and my young friend ordered a chicken curry. Mine was delicious, but they brought beef for myf, so she had to send it back to be changed for the correct order. After the meal, when we paid the bill, our change was £10 short. It must have been an off day in the restaurant as the hot scented towels were cold!

My week has been mainly spent on painting the Queen. Everyone thinks they know exactly what the Queen looks like so I have to be 100% accurate or all the art ‘experts’ will be having their say. Just heard that Wentworth Wooden Jigsaw Puzzle Company will be producing a jigsaw of this painting.

The only thing is they have to cut of a portion of the sides to conform to their standard sizes. So someone, or parts of a couple of the boats will have to be sacrificed. Decisions, decisions. And tomorrow I’ll be receiving the final Limited Edition prints of the painting.