Willpaint Blog

What a difference a year makes

I wrote a blog post in March 2014 about my trip to Barbados and my plan to try and speed up my painting rate by doing some pochades.

Although I haven’t moved over entirely to the one day or en premier coup style, I have done a number of one day sketches since then. I feel that a lot that has come out of this newer way of working was already in me or informed by the work I have done in the past decades. Some of my new work however has been just that; new and also has more energy and vitality.

This year, like last and a number before, we spent a couple of weeks of February in Barbados. The climate is wonderful, especially after the long dark and cold winter of the UK. Ok the US got it very bad this year but it was grim all the same and I do feel very motivated when I arrive in the Caribbean and am greeted by a blast of heat and the suddenly intense light. A couple of years ago I went for some whistle lessons on the tin whistle and my teacher, Bill Guilding. He is a Bristol based artist and musician and he told me that when he goes to a hot country his fingers move more freely and that he can play whistle with more fluidity, a definite advantage when playing the irish whistle or penny whistle as it is also known. This ease of movement is a real advantage in sketching.

Front aspect of Heron Bay
Front aspect of Heron Bay through trees

During my trip I managed about a painting a day which I feel is close to my limit at the moment. I can do two but feel somewhat drained if I persist. On this trip I did what I consider to be one of my most successful sketches to date over two afternoons. It is of the front of Heron Bay through some trees. Painting pictures of houses is great and Heron Bay is very beautiful so should make a good subject anyway but very straight lines carry the eye too fast and don’t give enough detail to sustain interest. Breaking the shapes up with trees is a solution to this dilemma but reminds me of the row that erupted when the artist Tim Gibbs who was my uncle by marriage some time ago was painting the house of the writer Anthony Powell, a literary hero of mine. Tim claimed that the house was hideous and said that the only way to solve the problem for the painting was to paint it from behind some trees and a pond. Anthony Powell, however was quite proud of the house and had commissioned the painting of it, so felt somewhat justifiably that Tim had not carried out the commission he has given him. I don’t quite remember how this was resolved financially but I think a deposit was involved. I slightly see both sides of the argument, the difference between the artistic needs of the painting and the fact that it was supposed to be primarily about the house. Which trumps which?

I managed three portraits while I was there. I find that painting people gives me a rush of adrenalin in a way that I imagine similar to a young man taking a bungee jump. The danger awakens my senses so that I begin to feel really alive. On this occasion I managed to remain fairly relaxed because I intended them really to be quick sketches.

Capt Peto 8x9
Capt Peto 8×9

The first is of the very charming Nick Peto. We were staying in the same house party together so I suggested that he sat for me. His very lovely wife Zoe died not long ago and I think that sort of thing makes you feel it a good thing to leave behind a record of your existence so he kindly agreed and we did a sketch taking three or four hours it total over 3 mornings. He is that thing that some people find surprising; every bit a gent, Eton then Sandhurst, achieving the rank of captain in the 9th and 12th Lancers and a regular in the field’s top shot list, combined with a wild sense of humour. It was a very enjoyable time that we spent together. Incidently, he wrote a book a couple of years ago which contains some of his very funny stories and although out of print it can still be got.


The following week I painted a picture of Bongo, the foot massage man who was on the beach at Sandy Lane. Bongo is a Rasta and something of a legend having sat for the Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood a few times. I am not in competition with Ronnie Wood, he is a somewhat different Artist so I was free to paint Bongo as I found him, A peaceful gentle soul who twisted my arm for quite a large sitting fee. We were in the middle of negotiations while I was painting and a lady we both knew came up and said “I hope that he is paying you well for sitting there”. Of course at this point I lost all bargaining power.

Here is my picture of Bongo

Bongo Man by WT
Bongo Man by WT

and then one of Ronnie Woods.

bongo-man - Ronnie Wood
Painting of Bongo Man by Ronnie Wood

I was going to paint a second one of Bongo but he had a lump of cash now and didn’t turn up for a couple of days so I turned to one of the golf caddies at the Sandy Lane Golf Club. He is called Elvis but also known as Spicer. The Art dealer Guy Morrison had been using Elvis as his caddy that week and he arranged things for me thus saving me any awkwardness over modeling fees. We had a very peaceable time together. I believe he is an excellent player. For the past couple of years I had wanted to paint a picture of the Seventh hole on the “Old Nine”, the name of the original Sandy Lane course. It was Robert Sangster’s favourite and a bench was placed above the tee there in memory of him. There is also a tournament held annually in his memory there. He was a very kind and generous man with a wicked sense of fun and I was fortunate enough to know him a bit.
So I used this as an opportunity to paint this view in the background. Elvis sat on a ledge of rock at the edge of the tournament or pro tee. I did get permission from Stefan Soroka, the Sandy Lane pro.

Incidentally, I had a lesson with him a couple of years ago and in just one lesson he pointed out a fault in my swing that no pro had been able to help me with before in spite of the the rather large number of lessons I had had with them.

Elvis aka Spicer 12x10
Elvis aka Spicer 12×10

I have seen a drawing of Elvis by Matthew Carr but can’t find any image of it. Here is a link to his page at Marlborough Fine Art, his dealers until his death in February 2011.

http://www.marlboroughfineart.com/artist-Matthew-Carr-103.html
What a difference a year makes? I think my work has come on since the same time last year. My one day pictures feel more confident and are coming together more easily. My slower more detailed work has had a bit of vigor breathed into it.

Royal We

Rds logo

For nearly 15 years now, I have been teaching drawing and painting at the Princes Drawing School – or, as it should now be called, the Royal Drawing School, since the Queen recently awarded the school Royal status.

 This didn’t get all that much coverage, but that may be a good thing given British press’s have a habit of finding fault rather that looking for the good. They do after all have to make money and it seems that the public have a taste for bad news with salacious details. Prince Charles receives a great deal of unfair criticism from the British papers but he has in fact created more jobs for young people in this country than anyone else. His critics achievements are often fairly questionable..

The Royal Academy was given royal status in 1768, followed by The Royal College of Music, The Royal College of Art, The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) and the last arts establishment to be granted Royal status was The Royal Ballet and that was over 50 years ago so we are in the most prestigious company.

The Prince’s Drawing School was founded by Prince Charles and Catherine Goodman in 2000 in response to the decline of the teaching of drawing in British art schools.

The Prince is a great boss and he hasn’t micromanaged the school, he just provided the impetus and support.

When I was teaching Art in a secondary school some years ago I went on an A Level exam marking course. We, that is, a few hundred Art teachers, met in a large hall, and the atmosphere was charged. Partly because putting an empirical value on a students body of work is a contentious issue but mainly it was the battling of egos. To paraphrase “Little Britain”, everyone thought that they were the only artist in the village,

 Many teachers of art feel that art should be done their way and take it personally if anyone wants to do something else. There are a number of small Independent art schools around the world, – some have been started recently, others have been about in one guise or another for some time – and students of these schools seem to produce work very similar in style to that of their fellow students. I have to say that the Drawing school does not seem to have a house style. There are over 75 teaching members of faculty and probably as many styles of work. I think that the Director of the school, Catherine Goodman is largely responsible for this, she has been great at picking and orchestrating the large team of tutors to give a dynamic yet balanced approach.

One statement that I read of a small teaching atelier opined that art took a wrong turn a little before 1900 and that they would like to go back to the golden age before that wrong turn. I personally don’t think it is viable to dismiss all that has been created since the turn of the 19th century and find that idea somewhat boring. I really enjoy the work of many 20th century artists, particularly those who have worked outside the mainstream, for instance Edward Burra whom it would be hard to better for imaginative quality and insight..

Burra - Izzy Orts 1937
Burra – Izzy Orts 1937

It is in the philosophy of Drawing School to see drawing as a part of contemporary art as opposed to in opposition to it. We are all adding stuff to the big pond that is art today.

Tetbury Poster
Tetbury Poster

Recently, I was asked to give a talk about the Drawing School to the Tetbury Art Society. I was to do this in conjunction with Michelle Cioccoloni who has been a student at the Drawing School. The talk would be at Highgrove, Prince Charles’ home in Wiltshire, and I was to talk about my work and my experience of being a teacher at the drawing school while Michelle would talk about her own work and the school from a students perspective.

The drawing school have a power point slide show they use for talks but as I was talking about myself at the drawing school I needed to redo the slides with examples of my own work (enough of do this me talking about myself, what do you think of me?)

Trying to make sense of the events in your life is not just an indulgence, it is essential step in moving forward and I found the act of remembering how I had got to where I am now caused me to think about a lot of things I wouldn’t otherwise be thinking about.

I ran through a series of images of my paintings showing examples from the last 35 years and used them to describe my career and some of my thoughts on the importance of drawing.

Slade Photo WT
Slade Photo WT

I was greatly saddened to hear that the my old art School; The Slade had given up the use of models to teach drawing and that drawing from life was not really taking place there any more. It had had a grand reputation in the past and a tradition of drawing that was famed world wide. In the last 30 years they have abandoned all that but apart from business management I don’t see what they have to teach. 

Fees at British Universities get higher every year and of course you wonder what the students are paying for. It doesn’t take much to start up a private art school and give better value for money. You don’t get a degree but you can learn something. Drawing is something tangible you can teach. It is also of value. Drawing is the way we make sense of the world when we first try to understand. May people stop drawing but it would be of value to anyone and you would never be without something to do. With a pencil and paper you can feel that you are communing with the world about you and resolve many a problem of form and design. An art student who can draw can always do a portrait, design a card or a logo, draw a house or illustrate a text or book, paint a mural. Most of these things are not that well paid but they are practical use. Being visually literate is of course useful in industry and enhances our lives. In the world of conceptual art; many are called but very few are chosen. Those not chosen are not really suited to as much. They may become art teachers in schools but of course would not be capable of teaching anyone to draw or even look. How depressing is that​? A whole generation of art teachers would teach the next generation that drawing is unimportant, mainly because they wouldn’t have it in them to demonstrate otherwise.

Of course one of the major points of the drawing school is to teach the next generation. So to Michelle. I hadn’t met Michelle before the talk but we had plenty of interests in common, one of which was the use of silver-point and she had brought some examples of her drawings to the talk. Here is a link to her site

http://cioccoloni.blogspot.co.uk/

She spoke very well on the subject of coming to the drawing school to learn to draw She had previously studied for a degree at Chelsea School of Art and told us all how much more she had actually learnt on the drawing year compared tor her years of study at art school up to that point. As you can see Michelle draws beautifully and she is one of an ever growing number of good draftsmen who are emerging from the Drawing School and who will carry the torch for drawing into the future. They have great deal of ability and an infectious enthusiasm for what they are doing.

The problem is they may want teaching jobs at the drawing school and I’m not ready to leave just yet!

Michelle and I had a very enjoyable day hosted by the Chairman of the Tetbury Arts Society, Gill Ashley and her husband Roger. Photos are not allowed at Highgrove but this is a shot of Michelle and me after lunch at the nearby Hare and Hounds Hotel

WT and Michelle Cioccoloni
WT and Michelle Cioccoloni

I don’t drink alcohol, the red flush in my face is a bit of left over bronzing from our recent trip to Barbados. More of which anon.

Royal We

Rds logo

For nearly 15 years now, I have been teaching drawing and painting at the Princes Drawing School – or, as it should now be called, the Royal Drawing School, since the Queen recently awarded the school Royal status.

 This didn’t get all that much coverage, but that may be a good thing given British press’s have a habit of finding fault rather that looking for the good. They do after all have to make money and it seems that the public have a taste for bad news with salacious details. Prince Charles receives a great deal of unfair criticism from the British papers but he has in fact created more jobs for young people in this country than anyone else. His critics achievements are often fairly questionable..

The Royal Academy was given royal status in 1768, followed by The Royal College of Music, The Royal College of Art, The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) and the last arts establishment to be granted Royal status was The Royal Ballet and that was over 50 years ago so we are in the most prestigious company.

The Prince’s Drawing School was founded by Prince Charles and Catherine Goodman in 2000 in response to the decline of the teaching of drawing in British art schools.

The Prince is a great boss and he hasn’t micromanaged the school, he just provided the impetus and support.

When I was teaching Art in a secondary school some years ago I went on an A Level exam marking course. We, that is, a few hundred Art teachers, met in a large hall, and the atmosphere was charged. Partly because putting an empirical value on a students body of work is a contentious issue but mainly it was the battling of egos. To paraphrase “Little Britain”, everyone thought that they were the only artist in the village,

 Many teachers of art feel that art should be done their way and take it personally if anyone wants to do something else. There are a number of small Independent art schools around the world, – some have been started recently, others have been about in one guise or another for some time – and students of these schools seem to produce work very similar in style to that of their fellow students. I have to say that the Drawing school does not seem to have a house style. There are over 75 teaching members of faculty and probably as many styles of work. I think that the Director of the school, Catherine Goodman is largely responsible for this, she has been great at picking and orchestrating the large team of tutors to give a dynamic yet balanced approach.

One statement that I read of a small teaching atelier opined that art took a wrong turn a little before 1900 and that they would like to go back to the golden age before that wrong turn. I personally don’t think it is viable to dismiss all that has been created since the turn of the 19th century and find that idea somewhat boring. I really enjoy the work of many 20th century artists, particularly those who have worked outside the mainstream, for instance Edward Burra whom it would be hard to better for imaginative quality and insight..

Burra - Izzy Orts 1937
Burra – Izzy Orts 1937

It is in the philosophy of Drawing School to see drawing as a part of contemporary art as opposed to in opposition to it. We are all adding stuff to the big pond that is art today.

Tetbury Poster
Tetbury Poster

Recently, I was asked to give a talk about the Drawing School to the Tetbury Art Society. I was to do this in conjunction with Michelle Cioccoloni who has been a student at the Drawing School. The talk would be at Highgrove, Prince Charles’ home in Wiltshire, and I was to talk about my work and my experience of being a teacher at the drawing school while Michelle would talk about her own work and the school from a students perspective.

The drawing school have a power point slide show they use for talks but as I was talking about myself at the drawing school I needed to redo the slides with examples of my own work (enough of do this me talking about myself, what do you think of me?)

Trying to make sense of the events in your life is not just an indulgence, it is essential step in moving forward and I found the act of remembering how I had got to where I am now caused me to think about a lot of things I wouldn’t otherwise be thinking about.

I ran through a series of images of my paintings showing examples from the last 35 years and used them to describe my career and some of my thoughts on the importance of drawing.

Slade Photo WT
Slade Photo WT

I was greatly saddened to hear that the my old art School; The Slade had given up the use of models to teach drawing and that drawing from life was not really taking place there any more. It had had a grand reputation in the past and a tradition of drawing that was famed world wide. In the last 30 years they have abandoned all that but apart from business management I don’t see what they have to teach. 

Fees at British Universities get higher every year and of course you wonder what the students are paying for. It doesn’t take much to start up a private art school and give better value for money. You don’t get a degree but you can learn something. Drawing is something tangible you can teach. It is also of value. Drawing is the way we make sense of the world when we first try to understand. May people stop drawing but it would be of value to anyone and you would never be without something to do. With a pencil and paper you can feel that you are communing with the world about you and resolve many a problem of form and design. An art student who can draw can always do a portrait, design a card or a logo, draw a house or illustrate a text or book, paint a mural. Most of these things are not that well paid but they are practical use. Being visually literate is of course useful in industry and enhances our lives. In the world of conceptual art; many are called but very few are chosen. Those not chosen are not really suited to as much. They may become art teachers in schools but of course would not be capable of teaching anyone to draw or even look. How depressing is that​? A whole generation of art teachers would teach the next generation that drawing is unimportant, mainly because they wouldn’t have it in them to demonstrate otherwise.

Of course one of the major points of the drawing school is to teach the next generation. So to Michelle. I hadn’t met Michelle before the talk but we had plenty of interests in common, one of which was the use of silver-point and she had brought some examples of her drawings to the talk. Here is a link to her site

http://cioccoloni.blogspot.co.uk/

She spoke very well on the subject of coming to the drawing school to learn to draw She had previously studied for a degree at Chelsea School of Art and told us all how much more she had actually learnt on the drawing year compared tor her years of study at art school up to that point. As you can see Michelle draws beautifully and she is one of an ever growing number of good draftsmen who are emerging from the Drawing School and who will carry the torch for drawing into the future. They have great deal of ability and an infectious enthusiasm for what they are doing.

The problem is they may want teaching jobs at the drawing school and I’m not ready to leave just yet!

Michelle and I had a very enjoyable day hosted by the Chairman of the Tetbury Arts Society, Gill Ashley and her husband Roger. Photos are not allowed at Highgrove but this is a shot of Michelle and me after lunch at the nearby Hare and Hounds Hotel

WT and Michelle Cioccoloni
WT and Michelle Cioccoloni

I don’t drink alcohol, the red flush in my face is a bit of left over bronzing from our recent trip to Barbados. More of which anon.

Seasons Greetings

Party Blower
New Year Party Blower

This is the last painting for 2014, a small party blower sketch in oil on primed paper. If you suddenly have an impulse to do an oil sketch primed paper is wonderful; you can cut it to any size and proportion with just the snap of some scissors.

I posted it on Instagram and If you feel like following me my username is Willpaint.

I usually do a Christmas card to send out to our friends. I like to do our dogs and parrot in various Christmas situations but this year I had a cough at the critical moment when I should have been finishing the drawing and printing the card. Forgive my self pity but it made doing anything feel 10 times harder and I only got half way through drawing it before it became too late to send.

We had friends and children coming and I managed a couple of sketches of Shapes as gifts.

This one was for Joss, our friend Jonathon Bond’s black Labrador

These were for Iris, a blue, almost whippet, lurcher

Shapes for Iris
Shapes for Iris

For those unfamiliar with Shapes they are a kind of dog treat.

According to Pliny the Elder in 5th century BC Greece, the two artists Zeuxis and Parrhasius staged a contest to determine who was the greater. When Zeuxis unveiled his painting of grapes, they appeared so real that birds flew down to peck at them. But when Zeuxis asked Parrhasius to pull aside the curtain from his painting, the curtain itself turned out to be a painted illusion. Parrhasius won, and Zeuxis said, “I have deceived the birds, but Parrhasius has deceived Zeuxis.”

Allegory of Painting by Antonio Leonelli
Allegory of Painting by Antonio Leonelli

I tried my sketches on our dogs but sadly, as it turns out I have some way to go.

Seasons Greetings

Merry Christmas

Happy New Year

Seasons Greetings

Party Blower
New Year Party Blower

This is the last painting for 2014, a small party blower sketch in oil on primed paper. If you suddenly have an impulse to do an oil sketch primed paper is wonderful; you can cut it to any size and proportion with just the snap of some scissors.

I posted it on Instagram and If you feel like following me my username is Willpaint.

I usually do a Christmas card to send out to our friends. I like to do our dogs and parrot in various Christmas situations but this year I had a cough at the critical moment when I should have been finishing the drawing and printing the card. Forgive my self pity but it made doing anything feel 10 times harder and I only got half way through drawing it before it became too late to send.

We had friends and children coming and I managed a couple of sketches of Shapes as gifts.

This one was for Joss, our friend Jonathon Bond’s black Labrador

These were for Iris, a blue, almost whippet, lurcher

Shapes for Iris
Shapes for Iris

For those unfamiliar with Shapes they are a kind of dog treat.

According to Pliny the Elder in 5th century BC Greece, the two artists Zeuxis and Parrhasius staged a contest to determine who was the greater. When Zeuxis unveiled his painting of grapes, they appeared so real that birds flew down to peck at them. But when Zeuxis asked Parrhasius to pull aside the curtain from his painting, the curtain itself turned out to be a painted illusion. Parrhasius won, and Zeuxis said, “I have deceived the birds, but Parrhasius has deceived Zeuxis.”

Allegory of Painting by Antonio Leonelli
Allegory of Painting by Antonio Leonelli

I tried my sketches on our dogs but sadly, as it turns out I have some way to go.

Seasons Greetings

Merry Christmas

Happy New Year

The Rapt Quiz and an Art lesson

Four of the Team
Four of the Team

RAPT stands for the Rehabilitation of Addicted Prisoners Trust. It is a truly worthy cause. Many people find themselves in prison each year having committed crimes while being addicts. The answer has been to lock them up for a period of time and then let them out. At this point, having had no help to deal with the root cause of the problem, their addict ion, they most likely go back to commit further crimes. RAPT is a non government funded, independent charity, and the only group working in prisons offering help to people trapped in this destructive cycle.

http://www.rapt.org.uk/

My wife Sophy and I have been supporters of RAPT for a few years now. Sophy is a great reader and loves quizzes and Rapt hold a quiz once a year at the Tabernacle in Nottinghill Gate to raise vitally needed funds. The fellow contestants are generally made up of the West London intellectual cool elite so I’m not sure where I come in but the evening is great fun and as we have a secret weapon on our team in the form of a human Google, we usually do quite well or even win. In fact he is so brilliant that the rest of us just sit in awe. This freed me up to do a little drawing on my note taking paper which I have put at the top of the page. Rick is second from the left.

Jeremy Vine on-stage
Jeremy Vine on-stage

The Radio 2 DJ and talk show host Jeremy Vine was the quiz master and the questions were set by Judith Kepple, the first person to win on Who Wants to be a Millionaire. They were brilliant. We had a brief talk about the good RAPT has done given by a former prisoner 

who had been through the program and could speak with genuine authority on the subject.

This year I offered a days art lesson as a lot in the auction. Here is the description from the catalogue.

Rapt Auction Lot
Rapt Auction Lot

I got quite a good pitch from Jeremy Vine. Once I gave a painting to be auctioned for a racing charity and the auctioneer was the TV presenter Clair Balding. She started the auction off, what do I hear for a painting by artist Will Topley.

£2000 someone shouted.

£2000?!!! Are you sure? She answered.

Not exactly encouraging.

My lot went well and raised £350 for the cause which pleased me greatly.

Here is a video clip I discretely shot over my shoulder during the bidding. The Camera shake is me getting excited.

The evening was a great success and we came in second place, two points behind the winners. Most of the answers that I knew were also known by Rick (the fore-mentioned human Google) but I did know the name Marcel Duchamp signed on the infamous urinal – R Mutt.

A Berkshire drawing room with two Labradors

Drawing of a Berkshire Drawing Room
Drawing of a Berkshire Drawing Room

Earlier this year I was asked to paint an interior of a house in Berkshire. It is a very beautiful house that has quite recently been decorated to the highest standard. Each morning I was let in by William the butler and was fed with coffee and biscuits throughout the day by him, Janet or Anna. Luxe.

I selected a good spot with a clear view into the middle of the room  that took in the fireplace and just getting in the three walls with windows. When I paint an interior my aim is to try to express the feel of the room in one view. This isn’t wholly possible but I like to try and get as many of the important aspects in as possible. Usually, I would say the fireplace is the focus of most English houses. A view if there is one is certainly something to try to include. Usually the chairs and sofas face the fire so they often obscure the view. One way I have found to avoid this problem is to get as high as I reasonably can without loosing the human scale.

Painting Kit
Painting Kit

To this end I have a folding aluminium platform with a wooden surface made up of wood from pallets. This all sits on a rug to catch any paint that may try to make a jump for it. On the platform I have a tall stool and folding table. Many artists paint standing up and in an ideal world this is probably best as it encourages you to regularly get back from the painting, something that you get lazy about when sitting. However stepping backwards off a platform is not good. I also find that the relationships between the shapes in the furniture is so complex that keeping still is the only way not to get totally confused and sitting makes this easier.

I started off with a drawing done in pencil on paper. In order to get the feel for the whole room I like to get a view of up to120 degrees and at this wide an angle get the big relationships right, something which it is important to achieve. If this goes wrong, any detail, however beautifully executed, could end up in the wrong place and therefore have to be redone. Hours can be spent and lost this way.

Spike
Spike

I was to include the Labrador Spike in the painting so I did some roughs from life. However he is very boisterous and although obedient, he can only keep still for a couple of minutes so I did an oil sketch using my roughs and a few photos I took.

Next I did a quick version including Spike,  and at this point it was decided that it was unfair on Rollo, the other Labrador, so he was to go in the main painting too. I now felt I could start so I scanned my drawing and when I had worked out the best size and proportions I printed it on paper to 14 x 18 inches and transferred to to a gesso panel that I prepared using rabbit skin glue size and whiting. I take a lot of trouble to decide on the best proportions for a painting of an interior and the panels are made up by me accurately to the last millimetre.

Sketch of room
First oil sketch of room

Just to keep me on my toes a fender was added in front of the fire. Extra bits of furniture arriving from time to time is something you have to learn to contend with if you are a painter of interiors and working slowly.

Towards the end of the painting we had a bit of a heatwave; it was now that I decided to light the fire and put some flames into the fireplace. I should have done this earlier when it was cooler but I had kept the fire until last as one may save the cherry off a cake to eat because it’s your favourite.

Drawing room with two Labradors
Drawing room with two Labradors

You get to know the people who work in a house quite well when you paint there over a period of time and in the same way that when a portrait is over you miss seeing your sitter, I miss the staff who looked after me so well.

Newbury Races

Newbury Races, Haynes Hanson and Clark Conditions Stakes
Newbury Races, Haynes Hanson and Clark Conditions Stakes, 2014. Oil on panel 8 x 9 inches

In spite of being born in Hong Kong (a great racing nation) and my parents being members of the Jockey Club’s country club at Beas River, I had never even stepped foot on a racecourse before I met my wife Sophy in 1996. That was the year that Helissio won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. We watched it on television and that was the first race I ever watched. Sophy’s family were always involved in racing. Her father, was member of the Jockey Club and had horses in training with Bernard Van Cutsem and then with James Toller. Sophy has always had something in training with James too.

James Toller Racing’s Facebook page

She has always been very supportive of my painting and I think she would even like it if I were an equine Artist. The problem is that the difference between a yearling that makes £4 million at the sales and one that is led out unsold at £1000 are not that great to the untrained eye and no one would thank you for painting their Group One winner a bit offset on the near fore.

One of the greatest living racehorse painters is Susan Crawford. She trained at studio Simi where she and Julian Barrow were students together. While he specialised in houses she specialised in racehorses. There is a queue a mile long to have your horse painted by her and she is the Artist of choice for many of the owners of Group one and classic winners. This would take some getting your head round if you were at a London Art school any time after about 1960, as conventional subjects painted in this kind of realistic way was looked down on by the cognoscenti. Witness Munnings’ great popularity amongst all racegoers and the public generally and the profound lack of his pictures in public collections. If you want to annoy a highbrow in the Art world, tell them that you love Munnings. Then cover yourself up well as the spit flies with their rage. However, in the great words of Liberace, Susan Crawford is probably “crying all the way to the bank”.

Danehill painted by  Susan Crawford
Danehill painted by Susan Crawford

It is strange that this attitude should exist today as the worship of money and success has reached such great heights in the Art world that it seems sometimes to be the only way Art is judged.

When you try and draw a horse it is VERY difficult, it requires a great level of skill and knowledge. When I put a horse in one of my paintings and show it to my wife she says; very nice darling in such a way that I know I have to try again.

Sophy has a quarter share or what is known as a leg in a horse called Loving Spirit that was running at Newbury last week and as I am friendly with one of the directors of the course I rang him up for permission to paint there. I asked if he minded if I took my white umbrella, I was slightly worried that someone would say it could spook one of the horses but he said I wouldn’t need it – “it won’t rain” he assured me.

We got to the racecourse with plenty of time to spare. I wanted to set up on the National Hunt course which runs inside the flat course so that I could get a good view of the stands and the racing and also not be in the way.  It was a rotten day and as I stepped onto the course who should I pass but my friend, the director of the racecourse, Eric Penser. He was holding up an umbrella against the drizzling rain, this really appealed to my sense of humour and being both intelligent and Swedish he saw the joke immediately.

Jullian Umbrella
Jullian Umbrella

I had already got an idea of what view I wanted. This was good as it saved time, it was also bad because I was not so open to discovering an exciting composition should it suddenly loom into view. I used a viewfinder with a red filter to reduce what I saw to it’s tonal values and help me to select the composition. Being a dull day it was even more important to make a good shape to the painting.

Just after I had got started the rain came down in a deluge. Luckily I had  my Jullian umbrella and I found a good place to attach it to on the lid of my French easel. I hadn’t used this easel for a number of years but my setup worked very well. The wind blew some water onto  me and my palette but I survived and by about 3.30 the sun vaguely made a break through the cloud cover and I slapped a touch of blue into the sky.

Although I was standing away from any route that anyone would take to get anywhere I met a number of people. About half a dozen race-going friends came up to say hello. Then there were stall handlers, someone who may have been the clerk of the course, the course photographers, who took lots of pictures and came to check my progress before every race and document it with more photos. There was also a security guard who asked lots of questions and gave a great deal of advice such as;

guard “I see you are using muted colours, is that your style?”

me; not really, it is a very dull day today

guard; “There are lots of strong colours you could pull out if you wanted”

guard; “I suppose you have permission to be here?”

me “yes”

guard; “So are you going to cut the bottom half off the painting?

me; “I quite like it like that”

guard; “no, you’ve left far to much room at the bottom. A bit would be alright but that’s far too much”

and so on.

Loving Spirit ran a good race to come 5th. I didn’t put him in the painting. It is considered bad luck to have a horse painted until it has won at least a listed race, preferably a group race or even a classic. Instead I painted Snoano beating Acaster Malbis in the Haynes Hanson and Clark Conditions Stakes. You can only tell by the clock and the jockeys colours that it is that race. The whole thing was over so fast that I sort of made it up afterwards if I’m honest.

Newbury-Races--detail
Snoano winning the Haynes Hanson and Clark Conditions Stakes, Newbury Races, detail

 

After Loving’s race Sophy went and waited for me in the car and I carried on until about 5.30 or 6pm. Then I said goodbye to my new friend the security guard and called it a day. Wet and tired but with a sense of achievement and a warm glow of happiness.

 

Buy the painting at Tara Press

Newbury Races

Newbury Races, Haynes Hanson and Clark Conditions Stakes
Newbury Races, Haynes Hanson and Clark Conditions Stakes, 2014. Oil on panel 8 x 9 inches

In spite of being born in Hong Kong (a great racing nation) and my parents being members of the Jockey Club’s country club at Beas River, I had never even stepped foot on a racecourse before I met my wife Sophy in 1996. That was the year that Helissio won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. We watched it on television and that was the first race I ever watched. Sophy’s family were always involved in racing. Her father, was member of the Jockey Club and had horses in training with Bernard Van Cutsem and then with James Toller. Sophy has always had something in training with James too.

James Toller Racing’s Facebook page

She has always been very supportive of my painting and I think she would even like it if I were an equine Artist. The problem is that the difference between a yearling that makes £4 million at the sales and one that is led out unsold at £1000 are not that great to the untrained eye and no one would thank you for painting their Group One winner a bit offset on the near fore.

One of the greatest living racehorse painters is Susan Crawford. She trained at studio Simi where she and Julian Barrow were students together. While he specialised in houses she specialised in racehorses. There is a queue a mile long to have your horse painted by her and she is the Artist of choice for many of the owners of Group one and classic winners. This would take some getting your head round if you were at a London Art school any time after about 1960, as conventional subjects painted in this kind of realistic way was looked down on by the cognoscenti. Witness Munnings’ great popularity amongst all racegoers and the public generally and the profound lack of his pictures in public collections. If you want to annoy a highbrow in the Art world, tell them that you love Munnings. Then cover yourself up well as the spit flies with their rage. However, in the great words of Liberace, Susan Crawford is probably “crying all the way to the bank”.

Danehill painted by  Susan Crawford
Danehill painted by Susan Crawford

It is strange that this attitude should exist today as the worship of money and success has reached such great heights in the Art world that it seems sometimes to be the only way Art is judged.

When you try and draw a horse it is VERY difficult, it requires a great level of skill and knowledge. When I put a horse in one of my paintings and show it to my wife she says; very nice darling in such a way that I know I have to try again.

Sophy has a quarter share or what is known as a leg in a horse called Loving Spirit that was running at Newbury last week and as I am friendly with one of the directors of the course I rang him up for permission to paint there. I asked if he minded if I took my white umbrella, I was slightly worried that someone would say it could spook one of the horses but he said I wouldn’t need it – “it won’t rain” he assured me.

We got to the racecourse with plenty of time to spare. I wanted to set up on the National Hunt course which runs inside the flat course so that I could get a good view of the stands and the racing and also not be in the way.  It was a rotten day and as I stepped onto the course who should I pass but my friend, the director of the racecourse, Eric Penser. He was holding up an umbrella against the drizzling rain, this really appealed to my sense of humour and being both intelligent and Swedish he saw the joke immediately.

Jullian Umbrella
Jullian Umbrella

I had already got an idea of what view I wanted. This was good as it saved time, it was also bad because I was not so open to discovering an exciting composition should it suddenly loom into view. I used a viewfinder with a red filter to reduce what I saw to it’s tonal values and help me to select the composition. Being a dull day it was even more important to make a good shape to the painting.

Just after I had got started the rain came down in a deluge. Luckily I had  my Jullian umbrella and I found a good place to attach it to on the lid of my French easel. I hadn’t used this easel for a number of years but my setup worked very well. The wind blew some water onto  me and my palette but I survived and by about 3.30 the sun vaguely made a break through the cloud cover and I slapped a touch of blue into the sky.

Although I was standing away from any route that anyone would take to get anywhere I met a number of people. About half a dozen race-going friends came up to say hello. Then there were stall handlers, someone who may have been the clerk of the course, the course photographers, who took lots of pictures and came to check my progress before every race and document it with more photos. There was also a security guard who asked lots of questions and gave a great deal of advice such as;

guard “I see you are using muted colours, is that your style?”

me; not really, it is a very dull day today

guard; “There are lots of strong colours you could pull out if you wanted”

guard; “I suppose you have permission to be here?”

me “yes”

guard; “So are you going to cut the bottom half off the painting?

me; “I quite like it like that”

guard; “no, you’ve left far to much room at the bottom. A bit would be alright but that’s far too much”

and so on.

Loving Spirit ran a good race to come 5th. I didn’t put him in the painting. It is considered bad luck to have a horse painted until it has won at least a listed race, preferably a group race or even a classic. Instead I painted Snoano beating Acaster Malbis in the Haynes Hanson and Clark Conditions Stakes. You can only tell by the clock and the jockeys colours that it is that race. The whole thing was over so fast that I sort of made it up afterwards if I’m honest.

Newbury-Races--detail
Snoano winning the Haynes Hanson and Clark Conditions Stakes, Newbury Races, detail

 

After Loving’s race Sophy went and waited for me in the car and I carried on until about 5.30 or 6pm. Then I said goodbye to my new friend the security guard and called it a day. Wet and tired but with a sense of achievement and a warm glow of happiness.

 

Buy the painting at Tara Press

Carnival Weekend

A Weekend at Fonthill

I have never been to an Indian wedding but have heard that the party goes on for 3 days and nights and that they are both spectacular and great fun. Last weekend we went to the party for my stepson Declan’s 21st at his father’s house Fonthill. It turned out to be an event to rival any Indian celebration.

We spent Thursday night at Splendens, a pair of studio cottages in Fonthill Park that are managed by the Beckford Arms. I would highly recomend staying there.

Lodges

That night we had dinner at The Lamb at Hindon with Declan and a number of his friends.

On Friday, Declan and his friends spent the day enjoying the superb shooting at Fonthill. There are a large number of people involved in a day’s shooting, The keepers need to raise all the birds and protect them from disease and predators; The land needs to be looked after; special crops planted for cover; woods swept, but some areas made for more cover. The drives must be planned and the day organised to suit the prevailing conditions – wind direction and speed, rain, cloud cover and temperature are all factors to be taken into account.

Some hours before it starts the beaters go out with sticks and bring the birds to where they are needed to start the drive. When the drive starts it is all beautifully timed. The keeper directs everyone so that the birds fly out at regular intervals over the guns. They need to fly high as shooting at low flying birds is both unsporting and dangerous.

I have always wanted to paint a shoot, but when I go shooting I am generally invited as one of the guns, and to put ones gun down and pick up a brush in its place would be unforgivable. This however was a great chance. I found a really good place to stand for the last drive before lunch where i was out of the way of the guns, but with a good view of the pegs where they would stand.

wt painting the shoot at Fonthill
wt painting the shoot at Fonthill

At 9.30am I started on the landscape. Everyone turned up at about 12.30pm by which time I had the landscape more or less done. The action is fast and doesn’t last more than about 15 or 20 minutes but I managed to get Declan in as the main figure, some other guns standing further down the line, a few partridges flying past and a shot bird falling.

Last Drive Before Lunch 8x10
Last Drive Before Lunch 8×10

In the afternoon I loaded for a couple of people. Then, in the evening there was the Estate Party in the Tithe Barn. I thought of having a rest but instead I went across the road and found a view of Fonthill House from the park.

Fonthill House 8-x-10
Fonthill House 8-x-10

The party started at 6pm but my stepdaughter said she would take my wife to it in her car which gave me until just before 7pm to do something. I got down to painting and the time flashed by. In the end, I only just got to the party in time to hear Declans speech thanking everyone. I was a good speech and he got in a fair number of jokes to cheer it all along. We were pretty tired after all that and as I had taken full advantage of the canapes, I was ready for bed.

Horsebox at Fonthill Stud 9x7
Horsebox at Fonthill Stud 9×7

On Saturday I got up early and went to the stable yard to paint. The day’s work there starts early so it was all fairly peaceful by 9am. I found a good spot looking into the yard by one of the two entrances and asked for the horsebox to be put on the left. I had until 12 to get that done as my stepdaughter’s filly which is named Kitten was going to a show and would be travelling in the box. I love painting yards, there is tranquility with bursts of great excitment. Kitten came back at about 3pm. She won second prize and a blue rosette.

Sophy and I dressed up for Carnival
Sophy and I dressed up for Carnival

By 3.30pm it was time to leave for the station collect my son Lewis, drop him off at his hotel on the way, come back and change and then rock-on to the party. It was a great evening. Everyone made a real effort to dress up in the Carnival theme and we danced until 2.30am. Lewis and his girlfriend Andreea danced on until 9am and said that Declan was still going when they left!

The next morning I was up early again and, looking at my painting of the yard, I decided to go up there and change the values of the stables, I had done them fractionally too light. That didn’t take too long so I then turned the other way to a view of an old black barn where hay and bedding for the horses is kept. There was a nice red tractor which had caught my eye so I got an 8 by 6 inch sketch done of that. I finished it in perfect time to get back to our billet and change to go for lunch.

Red Tractor at Fonthill Stud 9 x 7
Red Tractor at Fonthill Stud 9 x 7

3 days of great fun and four paintings to show for it. However I’m not getting any younger and I felt somewhat jaded most of Monday. A truly memorable time.