Sunday, 30 March 2014

Painting the colour black

As I'm painting a portrait of a headmaster wearing his black gown I asked an artist friend of mine how to achieve a really 'colourful' black in oil paints. If I'm painting a black subject in watercolour I usually paint with the tip of my brush tiny strokes or dots. In this way I leave tiny little areas of white paper and surround them with mainly jet black colour, but interspersed with a variety of all sorts of colours from violet to ultramarine. This gives a real sparkle to the painting. But with oil it's completely different. I so rarely paint in oil so the advice I was given was really helpful. He suggested I mix Pythalo blue with purple lake. Which I tried. Interesting, but I needed to add some Vandyke brown to help out. Black straight from the tube is very dull on its own. So the painting is nearly finished. I can't show it yet as it has to be varnished and I will need to get permission from the client after it's unveiled.

No, not my new house under construction. At the end of Val's lane in Henley Pudding Lane, the place in London where the great fire started in 1666, is being re- created for a television film. I'm hoping to get a bit nearer the set when it's competed, and, - not that it's likely - be there when they actually set fire to it. Watch this space.
Last Sunday my young friend and I visited The Vyne, near Basingstoke. This 16th Century country house was built for Lord Sandys, King Henry VIII's Lord Chamberlain. It still retains its original Tudor chapel with stained glass.

And here is a bust of Mary, Queen of Scots.

The approach to the house is lined with willow trees - just showing their first flush of pale green as Spring approaches once more.

And wandering around the grounds we came across these interesting giant carvings of a butterfly and a swan.

Finally the sun is out, the river is almost back to normal and we can get back to sorting out the boat for the season. Last week we borrowed a really effective machine - a bit like a normal vacuum cleaner - but this one sucks up water. As the cabin was stilled filled with nearly two inches of water we soon had the machine going and nine or ten bucketfuls later, although the carpet was a bit squishy, we got rid of it. The engine and midships departments had about a foot of water in them but it wasn't long before they were clear too. And yesterday I spent a few hours cleaning the outside of the boat. It was filthy. I haven't scrubbed the upper deck yet as my young friend is away at present and won't let me clamber about on the deck without her being here to stop me falling in!

Yesterday evening I went to the Henley Bowling Club to meet all the members and to pay my dues for this year, and while there signed up for three matches - including the novices event. I really hope all is well this year as I only played two games last April before going into hospital for the operation. Which left me too weak to even lift the woods for the entire season.

Luckily I'm able to paint and draw in a number of styles, so my techniques range from watercolour, scraper board, oil and pencil. This morning one of my clients brought three of his grandchildren over for me to take a photographs to use as reference for pencil portraits. I gave him the framed pencil portraits of another two of his grandchildren - Bella and Zac - which were completed the other day and asked whether I could show them on this blog. He was very happy with the result so here they are. (The actual drawings are framed within oval mounts)

Now it's back to the drawing board, easel, desk. I forget which work I'm doing today!

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Primary School Days

This morning I drove to Caversham Primary School - not to learn anything, but to be part of a live 3 hour BBC Berkshire broadcast about primary schools in Berkshire. Anne Diamond was interviewing a number of us who attended primary schools in the county. I was one of three who went to the school itself where the BBC had set up an outside broadcast. Others phoned in. All in all she managed to talk to at least one person from each era. (I related schoolboy stories from the forties when I was at Wescott Road School in Wokingham.) Others talked about their experiences leading right up to the seventies. During the broadcast we all sat in tiny little chairs in the maths classroom. The whole set up was completely different to the classrooms I sat in during my time. This is a corner of the classroom at Caversham.

And another view (taken by Nellie who apparently went to the same primary school as Anne Diamond.)

We all had a very interesting morning. Subjects ranged from girls 'big knickers' to sirens and spiders, and on to all female teachers during the war, glue pots, embarrassing little accidents at school plays, and pupils being lifted up by their ears as punishment! I took along a wartime gas mask which all of us children at the time had to keep under our desks for when the sirens sounded. We then had to dive down to the floor, put the gas masks on and curl up in a ball till the sirens sounded the 'all clear.'

Today is Tuesday and still no news about the Malaysian Airlines MH370 aircraft which vanished from radar screens five days ago. Having experienced an emergency on a Singapore Airlines flight just a few weeks ago I can readily empathise with the fear everyone on board must have felt when whatever happened to their aircraft occurred. Incidentally I received our first missive from the Accident Investigation Bureau of Singapore Ministry of Transport just the other day. In it they confirmed the door seal was worn and defective but not considered within technical limits. However when the cabin depressurised at 37,000 feet and oxygen masks were deployed, our aircraft had to rapidly descend to 18,000 feet until we were clear of the mountainous area. Then, as soon as we reached 10,000 feet we were able to remove the masks. The report stated that when the flight crew declared MAYDAY to Kabul Air Traffic Control during the descent there was no response. Another aircraft which was flying in the vicinity heard the MAYDAY call and relayed the message to Kabul ATC but still no response. The flight crew then intended to divert to Ashgabat in Turkmenistan but were informed that Ashgabat airport was not able to accommodate the aircraft, so we were then diverted to Baku in Azerbaijan. Upon landing, the report stated, the upper edge of the door was found to be damaged and the door skin along this edge had folded outwards which allowed cabin air to leak. It seems the aircraft is still (two months later) in Azerbaijan awaiting a new door to arrive from Germany,

So what else has been going on since I last wrote a blog. At least the rain has stopped and the river has gone down a lot. My young friend and I spent nearly an hour today scrubbing layers of thick mud off the landing stage. We could the see the damage the floods had done to the boat. It still has water in it - about an inch in the carpeted cabin and about six inches in the engine and central compartments. We'll spend time on Saturday bailing and sponging it out. If the sun comes out we might be able to start the drying out process.
I played 'Colours' - a fun game with snooker balls - at Phyllis Court on Tuesday. Surprisingly I played well and even made a few tricky shots and won my first game - but not enough to win the trophy. One day I'll make it. But then pigs might fly!
I'm working on three assignments at the same time at the moment - a large watercolour portrait for my cousin Paul which has a background of a fantastic cascade of lilac wisterias, two pencil drawings of children, and a large oil portrait of the headmaster. Being oil, I have to put the headmaster aside from time to time to allow it to dry, hence I'm able to alternate paintings.

Last weekend my young friend and I went to Suffolk to spend a couple of days with her parents. The weather was absolutely perfect - especially on Sunday when we basked in warm sunshine, so together with her mother we visited Kentwell Hall in Long Meltford. Lucy Norton, the author, described Kentwell Hall as "A little great house of great beauty - paradise on earth" And so it was. A beautiful moated Tudor home set in really lovely gardens and parkland.

Here's a row of fascinating examples of topiary.

And nearby someone has spent a lot of time making a work of art by carving into this tree.

As the house itself was not open on the day we visited, we could only spend time in the gardens and the outhouses. But what a surprise these turned out to be. Here are a few views from inside the moat house.

We found a sunny courtyard where we had scones, cream and cake. Helped by this very tame peacock who devoured the crumbs we dropped.

He gave me a bit of a stare when I finished my cake and had no more crumbs to give him.

Spring really seems to have suddenly burst upon us and as we left Kentwell Hall daffodils and blossom trees were everywhere.

Before leaving Suffolk we visited one of my favourite villages - Lavenham. It's described as England's finest medieval village. I just adore half-timbering.

And on the way back home we passed by a number of typical Suffolk houses - some painted in typical pink.

Back to the paintbrushes.

Monday, 3 March 2014


When I was a small boy during the war we only had a few books at home. But I clearly remember my all time favourite. It was called 'Widgery Winks In The Wide World.' I followed Widgery's adventures avidly and remembered long passages from the book for many years. Of course it disappeared long ago but I never forgot the pleasure it gave me. From time to time I've tried to find a copy - with no joy. So imagine my joy when I opened a little package my young friend gave me, to discover this

Not only was it the authentic book, it could have been the actual book I once owned. Highly unlikely, I know, but this copy was printed during the war as I discovered by noting that the war time address of the printer had moved out of London to St. Hugh's School at Bickley in Kent where it was printed in 1943.

Clever girl. Thank you very much.

Today is Saturday and we've been doing a little DIY. Mainly fixing big hooks in MYF's garden shed to hang tools on. We're not that brilliant at DIY ( at least I'm not!) but we did manage to put up a couple of wooden shelves in said shed. I think next week will be the time to start work on the garden.

The Wentworth Wooden Jigsaw Company have just produced their latest puzzle. It's my painting called 'Spitfire over Henley'. The puzzle comes in a variety of sizes - starting with the 250 piece version. I've bought the 1,000 version. Should be a nice challenge.

Last Sunday my young friend and I went over to Welford Park near Great Shefford. It's the best place in England to see snowdrops. And we weren't disappointed. They were marvellous - in full bloom. We took a leisurely walk around the estate. Here are a few photographs.

Each Friday afternoon I drive over to Warborough for my sculpture lesson. Currently I'm working on the head of Brian Hill, a friend of mine. So far I've only had three sessions on this portrait so it's not worth showing you my progress at this time. But this is the venue at Shirley Collen's house where you can see Tom and his wife Eleanor who are both working on lovely heads of their children. Incidentally Shirley is inviting anyone interested in joining our class to contact her. I can put you in touch with her if you'd like.

Yesterday, Val, my young friend and I, drove over to Bampton to have lunch with our friend Joanne. (Our first turkey Christmas dinner of the year - and delicious as always). We hoped to visit Kelmscott Manor - not far from Bampton - but it was a really miserable rainy day. And it was closed anyway. Shame - we'll go back when it's open.

Kelmscott Manor was built around 1570 and was the home of William Morris - the famous artist, textile designer and prominent socialist.

He was associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and loved his house, calling it his "heaven on earth". Here's a photograph of Kelmscott Manor (on a lovely summer day) - and how we hope to see it next time we go there.

Last week BBC Berkshire were doing a programme about Huntley and Palmers biscuit factory and when they discovered I served a 5-year apprenticeship there in the fifties as a lithographic artist, they rang and asked me if I'd be interviewed about my experiences as a biscuit tin and tea caddie designer. Which I did, with Anne Diamond doing the interview.

On Saturday I called in to see my good friends, Alwen and Rolf. They were celebrating their 56th wedding anniversary. Such a loving couple. Many congratulations to both of you.