Saturday, 30 August 2014

A Glut of Garden Parties

This afternoon my young friend hosted her first garden party to introduce her new garden. About twenty friends, neighbours and colleagues came. We'd spent the morning sweeping, raking, weeding, fixing shelves in the shed, putting up bunting, and then preparing the drinks and nibbles. Here are a few of the guests at the end of the garden.
Lots more planting to do, but it's going well so far with a little 'jungle area' started next to the pergola. And keeping guard nearby is a lone soldier from the Chinese army of terracotta warriors.
To keep him company he has a comrade guarding the corner by the pergola. After the torrents of rain during the week we were blessed with a nice dry and mainly sunny afternoon. 

Last Saturday we were invited to Gloria and Tony's house by the backwater for their annual garden party. They must have spent weeks planning the event because every where you looked there were little tableaux seemingly art- directed. From the carefully moored dinghy 

To the artfully positioned oar casually leaning against the genuine Edwardian changing room.
As we arrived at the party this was the scene that greeted us
As you can see there was a variety of garden games laid out - from uphill quoits, bowling and hoopla. Together with half a dozen old friends we savoured a sumptuous lunch in this very smart pagoda. 
Everywhere we looked we saw something different. The bridge at the end of the garden
To this lovely old caravan. Looked for a little Hobbit there but couldn't find one. No doubt having a snooze somewhere in the sunshine.
What a lovely day it was.

So what else have I been doing? Many hours painting my large portrait of the boatman - about ten a day. But I reluctantly put down my big brushes (size one and zero) to pick up my treble zero's to earn a living by painting three miniature portrait commissions. The second is nearly finished but I can't show either on my blog till the clients give permission. It's also time to get a dozen or so entries ready for the upcoming Royal Society of Miniature Painters October exhibition. And for the big  Florida exhibition a couple of months later. 

Last Sunday we picked up Val and drove over to Bampton to have lunch with old friend Joanne. My young friend and I had a little walk around the town in the afternoon hoping to see a bit of Downtown Abbey filming - they often use the old church and surrounding roads as locations. But they were having a rest day so I photographed this pretty Red Admiral butterfly on a buddleia bush.

We've just returned from a delightful lunch at the Olde Bell at Hurley with old friends from my Singapore days. 
Singapore is my second home as I've spent three completely different lives there. First, from 1956 to 1957 when I was doing my National Service drawing maps for the Malayan Emergency. Second, from 1960 to 1964 when I joined Papineau Adverting as their Art Director. And third, from 1970 to 1978 when I became Regional and Far East Director for the American Grant International Advertising Agency. 
Now this leads on to today's lunch. A couple of weeks ago we were invited for lunch at the Olde Bell by Gerry and Marie Browne. We were friends in my sixties era. Coincidentally I also have friends from my seventies era - another Gerry who is married to Marietta. Their surname is Brownlie. I think both Gerry's read my blog.
When we arrived at the restaurant today I had explained to my young friend that Gerry was about her height and came from Yorkshire. So when we met I must admit I was surprised to see that Gerry was now over 6 ft tall. And had changed his accent! By this time, as Gerry Browne reads this, he'll probably be laughing his head off because having not seen him and Marie for 50 years I had mistaken him for my other friend, Gerry Brownlie! It was only a little later when they showed me some old photographs that it dawned on me that I was a complete idiot and had mixed the two Gerry's up! I didn't confess my senior moment at the time so he and Marie will be chortling mightily now I expect. In 1964 we met up frequently, and I even painted an oil portrait of Marie at the time. Being in advertising at the time I was very much an amateur, but here it is anyway. 

And here is a photograph of Marie and Gerry in 1964 together with myself and a friend called Susan. I'm second from the left, by the way.
And to bring you right up-to-date, here are Marie and Gerry today. 

Sorry, Gerry and Marie. But thank you for such a nice lunch. It was great to meet up again after so many years. So to try and replenish a few of my obviously lost brain cells, when we got home this afternoon my young friend and I took the boat down the river to Hambleden and back. She drove while I snoozed a bit in the hot sunshine. 

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Painting a Pergola

I normally paint very small, but over the past couple of weekends I've been helping my young friend paint 8 twenty-foot long wooden posts which make up the new pergola in her garden. We finally finished yesterday - apart from a bit of touching up here and there. Also the furniture arrived for the newly made sun deck.
All we need now is a hand rail on the other side of the steps so I don't fall down, and for the blue painted trellis at the back to be neatly fixed between the uprights. Neither of us are expert gardeners so we've been scouring gardening books and watching gardening TV programmes lately to give us ideas and tips. My young friend knows a lot more than I do - especially when it comes to the names of flowers. I'm OK with daisies, roses, bluebells, ivy, fuchsias, etc. but when it comes to those long Latin-type names I'm lost. She's planning a small 'jungle' area and yesterday spent a backbreaking hour or so digging a deep trench to surround the six foot high bamboo she bought. Apparently bamboo grows at a remarkable speed so a 15 inch thick membrane needs to be laid to restrict the lateral growth of the roots. While she did that I gave the top post on her patio a second coat of blue and did a bit of gentle watering. And managed to empty half a large watering can of water all over myself which needed a change of shirt. Maybe I should stick to painting!

Talking of which I'm so absorbed with my latest picture that I'm spending about ten hours a day on it. Quite large for a portrait it's bigger than life size and is of a boatman friend of mine wearing a leather jacket. There's a little story to tell about the jacket. A few years ago just after I'd painted Ade Edmonson on the BBC television show "Star Portraits" I mentioned to my friend that I wanted to paint another portrait of Ade, but this time with him wearing something more interesting than the simple tee shirt he was wearing during the programme. I asked my friend to pose and did he have a leather jacket? He assured me he had, but as I became very busy with commissions I eventually abandoned the idea. However, after my trip to the National Portrait Gallery in London recently I decided to enter the BP Portrait of the Year competition next spring, and mentioned this to my friend, but this time suggested that I'd like to paint him in his leather jacket. It was only then that he revealed he'd specially bought a jacket for me to paint the first time! Oh dear. I felt quite bad. Still he came to pose the other day and brought the jacket. Here's the progress to date - about 80 hours work.

In fact although his black leather jacket was nice it was not as interesting as one I had made (in a day) when I visited Bali about 15 years ago. So this is the one I'm painting.

The other day a surprise parcel arrived. It was an autobiography written by an old friend who I hadn't seen for over forty years. When Sir John Madjeski announced that a Thai consortium led by Khunying Sasima Srivikorn has become partners in Reading Football Club I knew that it must be the Sasima I knew from my advertising days, as Sasima is a very unusual name. I hadn't realised that Sir John had given Khunying Sasima a copy of my autobiography 'A Brush With Life' so imagine my surprise when this book came through the post.
I designed much of the creative work for her when in Bangkok - especially when she owned one of the major international hotels there. All the function rooms - restaurants, nightclubs, and function rooms needed logos. My favourite was the entrance to the Cats Eye nightclub where I had the name constructed in wrought iron with the eye winking and made of jade coloured green glass. Pity I can't find my picture of it. All the girls who worked there wore black silk cat suits and had bright green eye shadow and nail polish. I was very much looking forward to reading her book, but alas, it was written completely in Thai!

The Rewind Festival is currently taking place on the banks of the river by Temple Island in Henley. As I was driving over to Bix earlier today to have lunch with friends it was fascinating to see some of the people on their way to the festival. Dressed like Red Indians, Lego pieces, hippies, checkerboards, you name it, they wore incredible outfits. As the festival is all about the eighties music a lot of the people I saw were middle aged - going to see the Boomtown Rats I expect. 

My sister-in-law Val, together with my neighbour Guy Hart came over for Sunday roast last week. It's so good to see how well Val has recovered from her hip replacement operation. She's walking so much better now and should be back driving very soon. Here she is - second from right together with a bevy of ladies from the Women's Institute.
And as she knows so much about gardening my young friend and I have been picking up quite a few tips from her recently. She bought MYF a very nice grapevine which has now been planted right next to the pergola. It already has a couple of bunches of grapes on it. And very nice they are too.

 I listened to the gardening hour on Radio Berkshire this morning and was reminded to plant bulbs three times their height in the ground for best results. Radio Berkshire rings me from time to time - don't know why, but this week it was for me to talk about influences of teachers at both my primary and grammar schools. The week before they wanted me to give my opinion of Boris Johnson as they knew I'd painted him a couple of times and had appeared with him on Henley's version of 'Have I Got News For You' a while ago when he was mayor of Henley. I remember telling him one time that I was sure he would emulate Sir Winston Churchill and become prime minister one day. Why? Because I noticed as I was drawing him that the furrow above his eyes bore a striking resemblance to the furrow over Churchill's eyes. 

Saturday, 2 August 2014

A little trip to heaven

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.