Saturday, 20 December 2014

Happy Christmas everyone

I spent Christmas Day with my niece Louisa and her family in Marlow, first picking up Val in Henley on the way. Lunch was delicious. Here's Louisa carving the turkey.

And this is Kate, my eight year old great niece. 

Kate is a really interesting and talented little girl. Her ambition is to become an author/illustrator. And by the twenty page story she wrote for her mother I'd say she's well on the way to achieving it. She wrote a few more pages in the evening. 

Guy took a photograph of me when I fell asleep later in the evening which I'm sure is too horrendous to ever be seen in public. Later, while we watched television, Kate and her teenage brother played together in the next room where peals of laughter kept erupting. "What sort of game are you two playing?" I asked. "It's a game where you mustn't laugh" said Kate. One of Val's presents was this fur-collared cape.

And here's Louisa with the budding author.

Today - Sunday - I'm in Suffolk, staying with my young friend's parents. The sunshine was sparkling today so we made a visit to Minsmere nature reserve. On the way we passed Saxtead Green post windmill. ("Post" meaning the whole top turns round - not just the sails. 

We were hoping to see a murmuration of starlings today at Minsmere. This usually happens just before dusk but today we were told that they moved away a couple of weeks ago to another location. Nevertheless we walked around the reserve with our binoculars and visited  three hides. There weren't too many birds around today. Here's a view from one of the hides.

We walked back through the woods until sunset appeared through the reeds.

I'm a garlic hater, so imagine my surprise when we went to lunch the other day at The Quince Tree near Henley. I had the most delicious Thai fishcakes which after we got in the car to go home my young friend remarked that I reeked of garlic! I still hate garlic - but it certainly cured my indigestion. 

Just before Christmas we went over to Woodley to pay a visit to my cousin, Jill. When I was thirteen, during my mother's illness, I lived with her family in Wokingham and it was Jill who taught me to dance (ballroom, that is). So it was a great surprise when she gave me a Christmas card she'd found that I'd painted and given to them at the time. Here it is. 

Contrast this with the 5 inch wide miniature I painted a month or so ago. I haven't posted on my blog till now as it was a Christmas present to the lady on the left of the painting from the man on the right who commissioned it. As I had to get perfect likenesses of all four people - and the face of the man in the middle measured less than half an inch high - it wasn't an easy task. The chandeliers and wine bottles in the background weren't that simple to paint either. 

Still on the subject of painting this was my Christmas card for 2014. It's a painting of "The New Orleans" riverboat majestically proceeding down the river in the snow. 

Finally, having spent the past couple of months painting two very large portraits in readiness for submission to the BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery in London I was horrified last night when rereading the entry regulations to discover that watercolour paintings are not eligible for some reason. Only oil, acrilics and tempera mediums will be accepted. This is the first time I've ever heard of this type of restriction in a major open exhibition. I'm very disappointed but with only a few days left before submission date, maybe I have time to at least try to get one of my portraits into the Royal Society of Portrait Painters annual exhibition. 

Sunday, 14 December 2014

The Inscrutable Smile

I'm getting ready to enter the BP Portrait of the Year competition. There's another few weeks before entries have to be submitted and I'm well on the way with my second painting. So far I've put in about 140 hours on this large almost life-size watercolour. I met this man in northern Thailand some years ago and  was attracted by his lilac robes.

I'm going to call it 'The Inscrutable Smile' and as I reckon it needs another 100 hours to go before it's completed I doubt whether it will be finished before Christmas. Here's a close up of the face.

So far I've used five size 1 best quality Kolinski sable brushes, and estimate I'll get through a further three before the picture is completed. You can appreciate why I wear out so many brushes as the whole painting is done using just the point of the brush - millions of little dots and tiny strokes. 

Last night my young friend's Company held its Christmas party in The Old Brew House in Henley. Originally the building housed Henley's police station so it was interesting to see that we were seated right opposite what must once have been the cells. Part of one wall had been bricked but a big iron gate was still visible. We learned how to make dogs and hats from balloons 

While I was visiting the wife of my artistic friend on Saturday morning he rang through so I had a chance to have brief chat with him. He was hoping to sing a solo in the prison choir at Christmas but was told he could only be part of the main choir. At least he is allowed to draw a bit (but no portraits) and was lent some watercolours the other day so made a lovely humorous Christmas card for his wife. 

Finally all my Christmas shopping is done and mostly wrapped now. We decorated my Christmas tree yesterday afternoon and will start on my young friend's shortly. Here's mine.

I was reading the other day about a council somewhere in the West Country making cuts in its budget.  One of the jobsworths there had the bright idea of a way to cut the cost of hearing aids prescribed to the deaf. In his wisdom he decided that as we all have two ears, he could cut the council's cost in half by only allowing deaf people to have a hearing aid for just one ear! How daft! Try crossing a busy road with just one hearing aid when you are stone deaf. And that's just one example of the problem. 

A few days ago as I was driving home I heard a programme on Radio 4 about people obtaining autographs in unusual situations. It brought back the memory of when, some years ago now, I sat next to Mother Teresa on a flight between Bangkok and New Delhi. We chatted about all sorts of things and collected a number of food items in our sick bags as she wanted to give them to the poor children in India. During the flight I asked her if she would let me make a drawing of her. She agreed and as she talked and smiled all her many wrinkles seemed to dance around her face. My hair was considerably darker then and a Thai man sitting across the isle took this picture of me sketching away. 

I only had the back of an exhibition catalogue to work on but was delighted when she agreed to sign the drawing. Here it is.

Such an incredible person - and so modest. She only talked about the poor children of India, especially those in Calcutta. I asked her if she was ever ill.  it seemed she'd had nearly everything including malaria and dengue fever. When I remarked that her many awards must amount to quite a collection she said she didn't even remember where her Nobel Prize was!  I did ask why Mother Teresa of Calcutta was getting off in Delhi. She replied that she had to meet someone there before going home to Calcutta. It was only when I arrived home in England and was watching television that evening that Mother Teresa appeared on the screen. She was at a ceremony in Delhi where the Queen of England was awarding her The Order of Merit. She hadn't mentioned that to me. What a privilege it was to meet her. 

Monday, 1 December 2014

The Artist's House

Yesterday afternoon my young friend, her mother, and I visited Thomas Gainsborough's house in Sudbury, Suffolk. This is a view of the house from the garden.

And from the front.

Thomas Gainsborough was the leading English portrait painter in the mid eighteenth century. His only real rival was Sir Joshua Reynolds. Equally at home with landscape painting, Gainsborough was the undisputed master of combining both landscape and portraits within a single painting. We really enjoyed our time in his house. This is his self-portrait. It was left to the Royal Academy by his daughter but now is on display at his house. It was originally painted for his great friend Abel. 

Here's another of the portraits we saw in his house.

However, later in his life, he wrote "I'm sick of portraits, and wish very much to take my viol-da-gam  and walk off to some sweet village, where I can paint landscapes and enjoy the fag-end of life in quietness and ease".

I often order presents from the catalogue 'The Owl Barn' so was keen to visit its actual sanctuary in Suffolk on Saturday. There were scores of all sorts of owl to be seen but as my photographs didn't come out too well I'll only show this picture of one of the many birds of prey we encountered. 

Further on in the extensive grounds was an open enclosure containing a large number of meerkats frolicking around. I'd really only been aware of their elongated shape when standing on their hind legs so was quite surprised when I saw them scuttling around looking much fatter. 

Just before we left the sanctuary we came across this rather frightening Santa Claus substitute leading a pair of polar bears over the snow. (i think Santa had been eaten by a lion!) Christmas must be approaching I think. 

Talking of Christmas I'm well on the way with present wrapping. This is a corner of my living room today.

We frequently visit Bletchley Park - famous for the code breakers during the Second World War who solved the secret of the German enigma machine. This is a beautiful full sized slate rendering of Alan Turing - the man mainly responsible for the ultimate decryption. 

I mention this because we went to see the film 'The Imitation Game' the other day which tells the story of Alan Turing. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Turing and I thoroughly recommend this film. One of the best I've seen for a very long time. 

I had a CT scan and comprehensive blood test at Dunedin Hospital in Reading about ten days ago - not my favourite activities. They were in preparation for my appointment with Doctor Gildersleve, my oncologist, to be given the results. I'd felt the Sword of Damocles had been hanging over me for a while... 

... so was mightily relieved when he gave me the results. It's been eighteen months since my last cancer operation and now there is no trace of cancer in either my lung, liver, or bowel. And my blood (which it seems can detect cancer in its infancy) showed nothing abnormal. I never really take in what the doctors say on these occasions, but my young friend, who always comes with me, remembers everything. And that evening she took me out for a lovely dinner at a very posh restaurant - my favourite - The French Horn at Sonning-on-Thames.