Last Sunday we took Marsh Midget up the Hennerton Backwater. Instead of rowing, this time we fixed the electric motor to the stern of the boat. As it's completely silent we could just glide along in perfect peace. None of the water birds took the slightest bit of interest in us so we could easily appreciate all the buzzing, chirping and other river sounds. I could have sworn at one stage I heard a pair of preying mantises romanticising with each other. About a mile upstream we moored under a willow tree to have a picnic. And later on some boys with colourful kayaks made their way past us. Here is my young friend steering the dinghy along the backwater.
The Hennerton Backwater winds its way towards Wargrave past a number of secluded houses, most of which have immaculate gardens. This one, belonging to Gloria and Tony Mays, is very special. I love the little Japanese style green bridge.
And tucked away at the bottom of the garden is an authentic Edwardian changing room.
At the far end of the backwater there is a really low bridge which we would have to navigate under if we wanted to regain our voyage into the main river. It's so low the only way to get through is to lie flat at the bottom of the boat and push our way through with our hands above us.
We decided not to go under it this time, so turned round to go back the way we'd come. But we got stuck in a big patch of gravel in very shallow water. It took a while, but without damaging the propellor we finally broke free. And as we navigated the first bend we saw a friend of mine - Nick Goldring and his party coming our way. My young friend commented that if she owned a boat his was the sort she'd like to have. Here they are.
So we wended our way back home, stopping from time to time to reverse the engine to extricate weed from the propellor. Look closely and you'll spy a damsel fly amongst the reeds by the riverbank.
Every Tuesday afternoon I drive over to Warborough for my sculpture class. About six of us learn to make sculpture heads under the tutelage of Shirley Collen. I've made three bronzes in the last couple of years. Here we all are, hard at work and at different stages of completion.
Normally we work from a series of photographs, but when possible the model comes along as well. I had nearly completed the initial clay moulding of the head of my friend Brian Hill. So it was fortuitous that he came over for an hour last week. It makes such a difference to work from life before you reach the bronzing stage. Together with Shirley's fresh eye we could see a few proportional areas that needed to be changed. And quite a number of drastic measures were carried out - including removing an ear that was about half an inch out. Maybe Brian fancied emulating Vincent Van Gogh.
I'll make a new ear next Tuesday.
In view of the style of painting I do it's very important that I make use of the very best of materials. Over the years I've found that the quality of sable brushes and watercolour boards has definitely deteriorated. So it was great to visit the most famous and best art suppliers in England recently - Cornelissen's in London. All the staff there really know all about their products. I now have a new collection of beautiful da Vinci sable brushes that hold their shape for thousands of strokes and never lose their springiness - even when they have worn down to just a few hairs. The other day, when I rang them and spoke to Helen, I complained about the watercolour board I've been using lately not being right. Colour dries too quick which makes it impossible to make a controlled wash. Also, although styled as hot pressed (the smoothest possible) I couldn't paint in the intricate detail I like to achieve. She explained theses days the manufacturers of watercolour board use much thinner paper than in the past which therefore dries instantaneously. She went into great detail about the merits of various types of watercolour paper and board. And promised to send me a collection of samples. These arrived the following morning and were just what I need. I tested them all, chose three types and bought twenty full size sheets. These arrived the following afternoon. So I'm now happily working on my sixth autobiographical painting. I scrapped the version I was working on.
I also finished a miniature I've just made of my young friend and heard that my portrait of Kevin Giddings, the Royal Flueologist, has one the best portrait award at the annual Socirty of Limners Exhibition.