Saturday, 28 February 2015

A Sticky Encounter

I bought a few new tips for my billiard cue the other day together with the relevant superglue gel to fix them on. Apart from when I paint I'm really fumble fisted - which became apparent when after several attempts my thumb and forefinger stuck together! It became worse when I tried to stick the tip on with paper round my fingers. This didn't work either and as the tip was dark blue my fingers soon turned a horrible shade of black. To prise my thumb apart I used a sharp knife. Then I tried to sandpaper the glue off all the fingers with no joy. Turps, soap and lighter fuel didn't help either. I sent a text to my young friend telling her my fingers were a bit of a mess - and that the tip didn't stay on anyway! Her reply consisted of one word - "Idiot!". The only problem was that as my mobile phone is activated by my thumb print I wasn't able to turn it on this way for over three days. Needless to say my young friend stuck the tip on within a few minutes. I still lost my match on Thursday evening. 

Yesterday - being the warmest day of the year so far - we decided to visit Savill Garden. These beautiful gardens are part of Windsor Great Park and cover about 35 acres. At this time of the year there's not too much colour around but as we wandered around, large groups of crocuses were everywhere heralding the spring awakening. 

In one corner of the garden is a large Temperate glass building where we sat for a while savouring the scent of some of the plants and flowers grown there. 

Wandering around the gardens it seemed that so much was just waiting to burst into life. All the rose bushes in the many rose gardens were neatly pruned with tiny buds just appearing. The rhododendrons and azaleas towering everywhere with great big buds threatening to open as we walked past. The sun shone brightly on this colourful flower.

A really lovely afternoon.

Lately I've been having trouble with my SkyHD box. Every few days the picture 'freezes' and the only way to get the TV working again is to unplug the box from the mains, wait a short while, then plug it back in. It then takes about 15 minutes to reboot completely. Apparently this is happening to a lot of boxes - a software problem. Other friends are experiencing the same fault. Anyway, after taking out a 6-month insurance policy with Sky a friendly engineer came out and supplied a new, more up-to-date SkyHD box - free ( apart from the cost of insurance that is). It was worth it. 

I'm currently working on a large, full-size pencil portrait of Alan, the boatman. Really enjoy pencil drawing. It should be finished by next week. In the meantime here's a miniature I finished the other day of my friend Joceline. 

Last Sunday we took a walk for a mile or so along the towpath at Sonning. This is a view of Sonning bridge through the trees. 

George Clooney and his new wife have just bought a house in Sonning but we didn't see them around that day. 

The other day as we were driving somewhere I had a call on my mobile from Singapore. (I wasn't doing the driving, by the way). It was from an old friend who many years ago had lived and worked in Singapore. He had just arrived there and wanted to know if I knew a tax lawyer in Singapore. It seemed that when he arrived at the airport he was taken into a private room and confronted with the fact that he had left the country 27 years ago owing US$7,000. Although eventually allowed out of the airport he wouldn't have been able to leave Singapore without settling his tax affairs. Not really his fault as his company had gone into liquidation and had closed. Anyway I rang a trusted friend in Singapore and gave him her telephone number. She was extremely helpful and put him on to her cousin - who happens to be a tax expert. It all ended happily and his problem was resolved. But it does go to show you mustn't mess with the Singapore government. They keep perfect records and any miscreant will be flagged at immigration as soon as they set foot in the country.

Talking of Singapore, this old photograph was sent to me recently.

It shows me receiving my prize in 1963 of  $S4,000 for designing two of the mosaic murals for the new Payable Lebar International airport. My friend and colleague won a prize for the third mural. The Deputy Prime Minister Dr Toh Cin Chye gave us our cheques. Mine was enough to buy a brand new TR 4 car which was waiting for me on my first leave in England a few weeks later. 

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Spike Milligan

I watched a documentary yesterday evening about the life of the comedian Spike Milligan. It gave me  an idea. Several years ago I painted a large portrait of Spike and thought it might be of interest to the many artists who read my blog to regularly post portraits of the more interesting or famous people I've painted, together with short anecdotes. 


This is the portrait.
 In the 50's when we all were fans of the Goon Show I went to a live Goon Show broadcast in London, never imagining that one day I'd actually meet Spike Milligan. However in 1988 he agreed to sit for a portrait. The day came and I travelled to his home in London. Arriving about twenty minutes early I rang the bell. When he opened the door, instead of the fun-filled goon I expected to meet he coldly said "It's just as rude to be early as it is to be late. Sit there!" I felt quite demoralised. But exactly twenty minutes later he came down the stairs with a beaming smile.  A real chameleon of a man. That day passed memorably as I sketched and photographed him. At one stage he casually announced that he'd just sold his house to a Japanese family. "They don't know it yet, but on the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour this coming December, the house will blow up!" Everywhere in the house were large placards written in his black, spidery lettering reading 'This is a no smoking zone'. What a fascinating, zany and talented man he was. 
I also made a small portrait of him which adorns the cover of one of my books on miniature portrait painting. And on this drawing he signed it underneath with the words 'With my face you need a medal for bravery. Spike Milligan.'

Next blog I'll describe some of my encounters with the Sultan of Johor in Malaysia. 

Last weekend I donned waders and waterproofs to prepare for power washing my young friend's sun deck and to clean up some of the mess left by the birds on the covers of the garden furniture. (The last time I power washed her patio I became covered in dirt and was soaked through. Now learned my lesson).

A marauding herd of neighbouring squirrels seemed to have eaten all the tulip and crocus bulbs we so carefully planted at the beginning of the year. At least the daffodils are unscathed - apparently they are poisonous. 

Each year I send to four miniature societies for exhibition at their annual shows. They are The Royal Society of Miniature Painters, The Hilliard Society, the Society of Limners and the Miniature Art Society of Florida in the USA. Usually I submit a combination of commissioned work (borrowed back from my clients) and new work. This year I decided to prepare all seven miniatures for the RMS as early as possible. Here are three of them. Farmer George, Tony Hobbs - Waterman to the Queen, and a sepia painting of my grandad. 

Still on artistic subjects the sculpture I'm working on of my cousin Paul is nearly reading for the bronze stage. Still a little way to go with the clay to get more of a likeness. 

My watercolour paint boxes have become so encrusted and dirty over the years that I decided to find out whether It was possible to buy a new, big box. Cornelissen - the best art suppliers in England - helped out. Spent a lot of today cleaning all the pans and fixing them much more logically in the new box. These were the old boxes.

And this is the new.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

The Mary Rose - Henry VIII's Flagship

Yesterday we visited the Mary Rose Museum at the Naval Dockyard in Portsmouth.

in the late afternoon of July 19th, 1545, The Mary Rose, one of the largest of Henry VIII's great ships, heeled to starboard and sank. As the King watched from his encampment on Southsea Common, about a mile away, he could hardly have imagined what this catastrophe would lead to some 500 years later. Built in Portsmouth, this 34 year old veteran sank whilst engaging a French invasion fleet larger than the Spanish Armarda some 43 years later. 
Just over thirty years ago Prince Charles, President of the Mary Rose Trust, watched as she rose from the seabed. King Henry dined with her captain the day before she sank, and The Prince of Wales dived on her the day before she was raised. Thousands of objects were found on the wreck and brought to the surface over the past few years and can all be seen in this incredible maritime museum. In 1978 the decision was made to raise the ship and the following year the Mary Rose Trust was formally inaugurated. The ship had come to rest in a depth of 14 metres of water and tides moving across the hull deposited silt through the open gun ports and hatches rapidly sealing the contents of the ship. This silt had preserved over 19,000 objects. Each was carefully excavated, surveyed and lifted to the surface. Among these objects were chests belonging to some of the 500 men who lost their lives. Many contained their possessions - all of which we saw displayed in the museum. I was amazed to see so many thousand items there. Here are a few (dim light - so my photographs are not that sharp).

And here's the scull of one of the unfortunate sailors who drowned on that fateful July day in 1545.

Four hundred shoes belonging to the crew were recovered from the wreck 

Many of the key crew members have been identified by where they were found - such as the cook, found in his galley - or by the objects found with them - the Master Gunner, three of the Archers, the Purser, Officer and Gentleman. The Surgeon is represented by his cabin chest and the objects within. Personal possessions give us some ideas to the nature of the man and it was great to see that these characters have been given their own cases where their objects are displayed and their lives explored. The most complete skeleton - an archer found in the hold - is displayed in full. 

This illustration shows in detail how the Mary Rose would have looked when it was built.

At the moment the ship's timbers are still being treated to remove the last of the salt so the large tubes you can see running the length of the vessel are completing this task.

However within another two years we should be able to see the Mary Rose without these tubes.

What a fascinating day we had. Still we couldn't leave the dockyard without another look around Lord Nelson's flagship - The Victory. 

We were there a couple of years ago, and my young friend warned me to be careful as she remembered that I bumped my head badly on one of the low beams inside the ship. If you were a sailor in the days of Nelson and happened to be over five foot six you'd either have to scramble around the ship with a permanent stoop or risk constant head bumping. Here are some of the canons in the ship. 

And hammocks in the sick bay.

Getting ready for dinner.

And just before we left The Victory - yes. I bumped my head on one of the low beams yet again! 

We decided it would be fun to have a tour on a submarine so stood in the queue for departure by water boat to the site of the submarine in Gosport. Luckily my young friend had the foresight to ask whether the boat would be returning to the dockyard. It wasn't, so we couldn't have got back to our car. We'll have to see that another time. (Our tickets last a year).

Last Tuesday we went to The Mill at Sonning to see a performance of Educating Rita.

The Mill is being completely redecorated - at least the bar area is. All the workings of the Mill will soon be exposed there so it should be really good when completed. There were only two actors in Willy Russell's comedy, but they were incredible. Fast moving and word perfect I could only marvel at their performances. 

As far as work is concerned I completed a second miniature portrait commission for a client in Indonesia but also painted a sepia miniature of my grandmother. A lovely lady, I intend to exhibit it at the Royal Society of Miniature Painters show in the Mall Galleries in the autumn. I've already started on one of my grandad to accompany it.