Saturday, 31 January 2015

A Step Back in Time

Last Sunday we took a trip down memory lane and visited a really fascinating recreation of life as it was during my childhood. Val, my young friend and I were paying a visit to Milestones - a collection of shops, buildings and vintage vehicles all under one roof near Basingstoke. As we entered the museum we bought ration coupons and an old penny to spend in the sweet shop there. This was the ironmongery shop. 

The tin bath hanging on the wall reminded me of our tin bath which hung outside our kitchen wall in the forties, (and was brought in every Friday evening for the whole family to have our weekly bath - filled with hot water from the copper). And round the corner we spied a mangle. (My job as a small boy was to wind the big handle to squeeze out as much water as possible from the freshly washed clothes). Of course most of the things we saw at the museum were completely alien to my young friend - the gramophones, trams, old buses, horse-drawn carriages, etc.

So many interesting vehicles there - all in immaculate condition - from steam engines, trams to bicycles. 

The bicycle shop was great. Apart from a couple of penny farthings I saw a bike almost the same as my old Rudge. And amongst the collection of vintage lights and bells was a three colour lamp. Mine was not only three coloured (big white at the front with smaller side lights of red and green) but it was fuelled by paraffin! Sounds almost prehistoric doesn't it? Anyway this is the shop.

Some of the wax figures were so realistic I was quite taken in from time to time. And was even waiting for one of these men to finish loading so I could look into the vehicle - until the penny dropped. 

These two scenes were just outside the railway station.

When I opened a door in one of the alcoves I was afraid I'd disturbed a man in his privacy. 

This scene from the watchmakers workshop could be the inspiration for a new painting. The watchmaker who inserted a real watch into one of my paintings often asks to be included into a painting so maybe the time has come. I told him I'm waiting for him to get older, craggier, and for his hair to grow longer before I include him into a painting. 

The train's getting going so we'll say goodbye too. 

Our local theatre in Wargrave produce some wonderful performances. This winter the Wargrave Theatre Workshop put on yet another memorable pantomime - Jack and the Beanstalk.

If you don't book your seats within the first two days of the box office opening you miss out. Luckily my young friend and I got second row seats for last Saturday's performance. They were the only two left. Directed by Emmajane Hughes we really enjoyed another outstanding production. When Rancid the Rat mimed to Elvis Presley's 'Devil in Disguise' his pelvic thrusts and grinds made the audience squeal with delight. And as his long thin legs were encased in a tight fitting pair of black trousers/tights my young friend remarked there was no mistaking which way he dressed! The doddering, dithering King Hubert and his long suffering Queen Hyacinth were great as a pair of Royal relics. Seven performances, and every one a sellout. A great show. 

I'm busily painting away at a few miniatures for exhibition at the Hilliard show in Wells in late spring,  and for the Royal Society of Miniature Painters in the autumn. I always endeavour to have a few non-commissioned miniatures ready for these exhibitions. This is one I've just finished of my cousin Paul Carter. 

When I woke up this morning the world was white with snow. My car slid around on the slope and I nearly slid back to where I started, but finally with a lot of gear manipulation arrived at the top. I was on my way to pay my Saturday morning visit to my friend in Bray. Her husband, my artistic friend, rang through as I was there. He's working in the prison workshop and is making a pencil box. Hope he has a chance to use the pencils soon. 

Sunday, 18 January 2015


Children don't seem to write thank you letters as much as they used to, but I thought I'd reproduce one that I received the other day from my great niece Kate. She's eight and has ambitions to be an author/illustrator. This came in the post the other day. 

She's also a very polite little girl and even wrote a thank you for the postman on the envelope.


Louisa, Kate's mother, had no idea what she had written till I showed her the letter.

On Sunday morning my young friend and I went to the studios of BBC Berkshire in Reading where we were due to appear on the gardening programme. We'd been asked to talk about how we'd gone about designing and making her new garden. I took along the model I'd made together with the book showing the progress.

 Debbie McGee hosted the programme and Colin Evans is the professional gardener. We had a really good time and came away with numerous tips on winter planting, care of the garden, and climbers. We'd had a lot of trouble with, assumedly, squirrels digging up and eating most of the hundred or so bulbs we'd planted just before Christmas. With Colin's advice hopefully we won't have the same problem next year. Here I am, compete with headphones, with Debbie and Colin. The picture was taken by my young friend. 

Having spent almost 500 hours on my last two large portraits, as I said before, just a few days prior to the submission date I discovered that watercolour paintings are not allowed in the BP Portrait of the Year National Portrait Gallery Award. So I quickly switched my allegiance to the Royal Society of Portrait Painters annual exhibition at the Mall Galleries where there was just time to submit the paintings.  However on Friday we found out that they failed to be selected in the first round (where entries are pre-selected based on digital images). I must say that to judge paintings on anything other than the original work is not to my liking. So there's just one more chance to get at least one of my two paintings in a major London exhibition. And that is the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. The deadline for entries is the first week of February so, although I doubt whether the RA goes for my style of painting these days (even though I twice won 'Exhibit of the Year' at the Summer Exhibition in previous years) I'll keep you posted. 

What have I been working on lately. Yesterday I spent over 10 hours and managed to finish a pencil portrait for a friend. It was of her husband who died last year. However she only had a few holiday snaps for me to work from, so I had to make an A4 size portrait from a tiny face less than half an inch high. Today I completed a miniature of my friend the boatman. It's a different pose to the large portrait I made in November. 

Now I'll be starting a commission of a handsome little boy - the son of a client who lives in Indonesia. Thank goodness for the Internet. 

Thursday, 8 January 2015

The Winter Walk

We visited Anglesey Abbey near Cambridge the other day. It was the coldest day of the year and everything was encrusted with a hard white frost. 

Lord Fairhaven bought Anglesey unseen at an auction when he was thirty years old. The son of a wealthy oil family. A community of Augustinian canons built a priory here sometime in the reign of Henry I but were expelled in 1535 during the dissolution of the monasteries. Lord Fairhaven used his vast wealth to indulge his interests in history, art and garden design. As the house is closed to visitors during the winter we wandered through the wonderful winter gardens. Colour was everywhere, sparkling in the morning sunlight. 

But what intrigued me most were these Himalayan silver birches shimmering and shining as if they were part of a Disney film set

As I was remarking to my young friend how incredibly white they were a passing lady (obviously a regular visitor) told us that the trees were regularly pressure washed.  No wonder - we carried on as if we were walking through a magical forest. Finally we arrived at the Lode Mill.

Unfortunately it was closed so we walked by the river passing this view of the extensive grounds.

We'd been told earlier that a small tour of the Abbey was about to start which would demonstrate the methods used to conserve the contents during the winter when the Abbey was closed to the public. 

Entering by this door we learnt a great deal about every aspect of the preservation. Even to handing round a heavy bag of dust collected in one day. All the furniture was covered in dust-sheets and one of the conservators showed us a collection of different size brushes made of the hair from a variety of animals. Each had its own use - for cleaning brass, paintings, silver, glass, wood etc. To keep the floor clean each of us had to put overshoes on as we walked around the house. Here are two large thingermebobs - I've no idea what they are.

One of the rooms was adorned with a great collection of paintings. This one by George Stubbs is a bit difficult to see as the light streaming in from the windows patterns it. But good to see a work by the master of animal painting. 

A last look around the gardens before we left. A really nice day. I hope to go back to Anglesey in the summer and have a tour of all the rooms without the bevy of cleaners at work.

We arrived back in Henley in the late afternoon on New Years Eve. Jilly Adams had invited us, together with a few other friends, to celebrate the new year at her warm and homely cottage in Wharfe Lane. As 2015 approached we watched Big Ben count down the seconds in London.

And so we welcomed the New Year. What will it bring? Happiness, good health, and prosperity I hope. 

The following day I got back to my current painting, and yesterday finally finished it. Life size, it took nearly 250 hours to paint and as I was only using the point of a size 1 Kolinsky sable brush, I wore out six of them. It's entitled 'The Inscrutable Smile' 

I had intended to submit it for the BP Portrait of the Year exhibition at The National Portrait Gallery but the other day, when reading the submission rules, I discovered that watercolour paintings are not allowed. Oil, tempera and acrylics are eligible but inexplicably not watercolours. (A witty friend of mine suggested that BP the oil company, has an aversion to water). So I'll be entering it in the annual Royal Society of Portrait Painters Exhibition instead.