Sunday, 16 July 2017

The Sandbag Soldier Takes Shape

Making some sort of progress but the whole thing is going to need a long time to dry and cure.  I am thinking of drilling some holes to help the drying process but it is a balance between that and structural integrity.

I don't really want too much anatomical correctness as I think it often detracts from the power of a piece by destroying its enigmatic qualities but once one has reached this stage some things look really odd otherwise.  If I could have halted earlier it might have been more successful but I am having to retrain myself to imagine in 3D and resist the pressure to keep refining.

I will still have to anchor it more firmly to the base and increase the depth of the chest area before adding his tunic.  I am not sure about the helmet - I might make that separately so I can see where it is best placed: on his head or in his left hand.

I must also get some drawings of a SMLE rifle - the forerunner of our No 4 rifle that we used until the SLR (based on the Belgian FN FAN rifle) came in when I was at Sandhurst.  The No 4 was an excellent weapon and so was the SLR.  My myopia did not stop me becoming a marksman but I had to use my own weapon all the time because it was carefully zeroed to match my astigmatism and my glasses.  (I cheated on the entry medical but lots of us did that)

I will give him a rest now and a chance to dry out while I get on with other things.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Do Not Go Gentle

After 15 years of not making sculpture I am returning to it with a piece whose working title is 'Do Not Go Gentle'.

Do not go gentle into that good night
Rage, rage against the dying of the light

Dylan Thomas

The piece is for 'Articles Of War', a show that the Armed Forces Art Society is putting on in the Glasgow Lighthouse in November.  It will be my last one as the Chairman (we don't have presidents) before Eve Montgomerie takes over from me fully.

I thought of the humble sandbag, millions of which were used and are still being used in wars around the globe.  That really is an 'article of war'.  (Of course articles of war are usually thought of as rules or concepts rather than things) Could I use sandbags for an art piece? The poem of course is about death - the'good night' - but also on the Western Front in WW1 a 'good night' was one without barrages, star shells or rain, when the night sky was visible in all its glory and a man could look up in wonder and perhaps forget for a moment the horror of his circumstances.

So I decided on a 'sandbag soldier' looking up into the night sky.  I have cast in plaster polymer before, using top quality materials from Tiranti, but never modelled in it.  This piece is more home-made, using sandbag material and plaster of paris that I am mixing with diluted acrylic gel as the polymerising agent.  It seems to work.  I am also using finer bandage material from First Field Dressings and triangular bandages that come in army medical kits - all 'articles of war'.

The starting point was an armature fixed to a plywood base.  Even the base comes from an old army box!

Armature with baseboard attached
I then started applying the material soaked in the polymer plaster mix.

Starting to add sandbag material and bandages
That is where I am today.  Over the next few days I hope to build on this to provide a WW1 infantryman's body holding a Short Model Lee Enfield rifle.  Then I hope to clothe it, add accoutrements and then add a final layer of pigmented plaster.  These are early days but I am hopeful and will keep posting my progress.  Even if it is a failure I will learn something and perhaps try again.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Portugal April 2017

It is a week since we returned from a wonderful time as the guests of David Bachmann in Portugal, at the Cama da Vaca villa on the Algarve, near Lagos.  It was very productive, hugely enjoyable socially and finally got me back to painting en plein air after months of being stuck indoors for one reason or another.  There were 12 of us altogether.  Coordinating that many plein air painters was quite a challenge for David B but he managed it brilliantly.

I did 26 small paintings over 6 days.  I started the evening we landed because I knew that if I went out and just made a hash of everything on a small panel I would be in much better shape the following day, both in terms of organisation and in how much I had 'tuned in'.  Sure enough, half the kit was jettisoned and from then on I felt more confident and travelled light.

The Starter, Cama da Vaca 6x9

 Our first sortie the next day was to Plaia da Cordoama, where we painted the beach and cliffs from either side of the beach.
Praia da Cordoama 1 10x14
Praia da Cordoama 2  9x12

We then moved South again, to the Sagres area and David Pilgrim, Haidee-Jo Summers and I painted the old fort from a point between Praia do Beliche and the headland on which the fort stands.

Fortaleza de Sagres 6x13
The next day (24 April) we went to Praia Donna Ana and painted the stacks, then journeyed on to Praia do Camillo.  At Ponte do Piedade, later, it was interesting to see 14 sentry boxes each with a Station of the Cross lining the route to the seaside chapel there at which services are held for sailors drowned at sea.

Sea Stacks, Praia Donna Ana 12x9

Arch Below the Cliffs, Praia do Camillo 9x6
Sea Stacks and Ochre Water at Ponte do Piedade 12x9
When we got back to the villa several of us painted the courtyard with the archway.

Courtyard, Cama da Vaca 12x9
ValériePirlot flew in on the 25th and we met her off the Faro-Lagos bus and all painted together in Lagos, Haidee and I choosing the yellow umbrellas.  We then moved to Luz and after a splendid seafood lunch retired to the villa again where I painted from the undeveloped part of the huge garden, looking up at the villa.

Main Street, Old Lagos 6x13
Luz 9x13
The Villa 6x13
The last two full days were very busy.  On the 26th I woke early and went down to the cliffs at the bottom of the villa garden to paint the sunrise.  I was 15 minutes too late!

Sunrise Cama da Vaca 6x9
I went back after breakfast and did another small sketch of the clifftops.

Clifftops, Cama da Vaca 9x6
We then set off on a long but very scenic drive north to Praia da Arrifana.  After a good look round I settles on a view down at the beach, standing just above beach level on the slipway and watched a father and daughter trying to launch her kite..

Flying the Kite, Arrifana 9x12
I staggered back up the hill to find some of the others painting the harbour from above.  I had run out of small panels so Mo Teeuw very kindly gave me one of her 6x8s.  Mike Richardson was painting at the end of the breakwater but appeared so small that you could hardly see him and he is tiny in this painting.

Harbour, Arrifana 6x8
We then headed off to Monte Clerigo where Valérie, David Pilgrim and I painted the beach and hills beyond from a relatively high viewpoint.
Monte Clerigo 14x10
It rained on the 27th, just after I had started a tiny panel on the clifftops, with a lovely agave in the foreground.  I struggled to keep rain off my board and the palette swam in emulsified paint but I managed to finish.
Agave and Clifftops 5x9
The weather cleared for a post-breakfast trip to Lagos, where I tried a 10x14 inch panel of the old fort.  I did not manage to finish it and switched to two very small panels, exh a different version of the port side harbour lead (the starboard one is of course opposite it and painted green and white).

Unfinished Fort and harbour, Lagos 10x14
Port Side Lead 1, Lagos Harbour 9x5

Port Side Lead 2, Lagos Harbour 9x5
After another restaurant lunch, I did a small charcoal sketch that I then worked up from memory the next day as a way of using up paint in the very last hour before leaving for the airport.

Figures in a Lagos Cove 9x5
 Back at the clifftops at Cama da Vaca I was again hit by rain - this time even more seriously and the experience made me think about devising a new way of protecting my boards when using my lightweight kit (which is too flimsy for a clamp-on umbrella).
Clearing Rain, Cama da Vaca 10x13
I then had a final go at the courtyard - protected from the rain by David pilgrim's huge umbrella set up on his tripod before a shower and another fabulous supper cooked by the lovely Elouisa ('Li').

The Courtyard After Rain 9x12
On the 28th we all departed but in stages so that by 6pm only David Pilgrim, Valérie and I were left to do the final locking up and put out the last bits of rubbish.  That day we had longer to paint than anyone and I managed 3 sketches:
Early Light, Cama da Vaca
Sunlit Cliffs, Cama da Vaca
For my last painting I went up to the top cottage and pinted from behind the roof, looking over the main villa.

Cama da Vaca 14x10
By 7pm the three of us were in Francisco's taxi heading for Faro airport and home.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Days Out with Michael

In the late summer and early autumn Michael Worthington and I snatched some days out from our busy schedules.  I think I was on my own for this one in the Oxford Botanic Garden.

Michael wanted to try it so we started before it opened one morning, at the edge of Christchurch meadow.

Magdalen Tower from the meadows 12x8

We then moved into the garden and had two goes at this scene before hunger
forced us to seek sustenance and broke the spell..

Botanic Garden Archway 1 12x8

Botanic Garden Archway 2 12x8

We also went further afield - to Wooton-by-Woodstock and Stonesfield.

Above Fawler 8x12

Ford and Bridge Stonesfield 12x9
Then there was the Abingdon day - a lot of walking and not much painting but at least the weather was good. 

The Old Anchor, Abingdon 9x12

Boy Fishing, Abingdon 12x8
On all these occasions we felt rusty and could have done with 3 or 4 consecutive days to start painting well again but it was not to be.  Maybe the Winter will be more productive and successful.


Just a little note on our trip to see the Italian relations in Puglia - the paternal family of our daughter-in-law Georgie.  I took painting kit so that I could  paint one picture of Torre Giulia, a large wedding venue in the countryside near San Ferdinando and Cerignola.  I gave it framed to Tonino Caputo the head of the family into which Georgi's father married when he returned to Italy.  I used alkyd oils, which were dry within 2 days

The old villa at Torre Giulia
The web site of Torre Giulia is at  Not cheap!

Venice 2016

As usual I am well behind.  Another great trip thanks to David Bachmann - him, me, David Pilgrim, Herme Bachmann and Wyllis Heaton all staying in Ken and Dora Howard's apartment in Venice.

Four nights for me and 5 for the others.  Weather good apart from the last day.  We started on Monday 26 September after settling in at Ken's and having lunch.  Too hot in the SS Giovanni e Paolo and Santa Maria Formosa squares so retreated to Palazzo Soranzo and managed an 8x6 of the door there.

Palazzo Soranzo 8x6

Then started a 10x6 of John Cabot's house on the Riva but switched to catch the sun setting behind the Salute.

Sunset and Salute 9x12
On Tuesday we started rather late and hit crowds at the Rialto.  We ended up in the Campo  Santa Margherita but gave that up and started the day with a view of the Carmini church and Ponte dei Pugni from the San Barnaba square.
Carmini from San Barnaba 12x8
David and I then walked round half of Dorsoduro looking for spots that were new to us, going far up the Zatterre to the West end and in again, ending up on the Fondamente Soccorso with a view of the Yellow House.
Yellow House, Dorsoduro 12x9
We then wasted some time by having a lazy lunch and walking all the way back to the Fondamente Nove where we caught a boat to Murano with David and Herme.  The idea was to paint the church on the Isola di San Michele from the Murano quay but when we got there the light was not quite right, so we legged it back to the Colleoni square for a desperate hour working on sketches of the Ospedale facade before heading home in the dark.
Evening Sun, Ospedale Civile 12x9
By Wednesday (28th) we were beginning to get into our stride.  I skipped breakfast and set off at 6 am on a 5.1 boat to San Zaccharia then back on a 2 to Redentore.  Managed two small panels from here:

Before Sunrise From The Redentore 6x13

Gesuati from the Redentore 6x8
Back to San Zaccharia on a 2 and then took a 1 to San Toma, walking through the area to find DB and DP painting the front side of the Scuola di San Rocco.  I joined them and then they left while I finished off my sketch:
Scuola di San Rocco 12x9
Back to Bar Niki for refreshment and out again to the other side of the Scuola to paint a view that Paul Rafferty painted so brilliantly on our last Venice trip.

Scuola di San Rocco Portico 12x9
David Pilgrim and I then headed back to Ken's at high speed while DB painted the Ca Rezzonico turn from the San Toma stop just as the light was coming onto the water.  We had a very leisurely lunch then walked out to the F. Nove and caught a 4.1 to Madonna del Orto - an area we had not explored before.  We ended up standing on the Punta di Calle dei Mori, painting the lit side of the Fondamemte Gasparo Contarini.  David made a particularly fine job of this.
Evening on the F G Contarini 9x13
Out again on my own the next day (29th) at 6am to the Zatterre, via a 5.1 waterbus,  then walked to the Punta Dogana in time to catch the sunrise over the San Giorgio Maggiore.  10 minutes after this the whole scene was just a silhouette and the water too bright to look at.

Sunrise From Punta Dogana 8x12
Left at 8.20 and took a '2' to San Tomá for a coffee and brioche in Niki Bar, now my fave watering hole in Venice.  Saw Wyllis painting near the Sant Angelo stop so hopped off to ask where the others were.  He did not know!  After a fruitless search around the Rialto area and Ca D'Oro I went back to the Rialto Mercato stop, settled in at the fish market and painted from a pitch I used for a pastel last year.
By The Fish Market 12x8
Back to Niki Bar for lunch then stood at the San Tomá stop and painted up the canal: on a small, wide panel:
Grand Canal from San Tomá 6x13
Walked through the city to the SS Geovanni e Paolo square and painted the door of the church from beneath the Colleoni statue.
San Zanipolo West Door 12x9
Went home for some more solvent and found DB and Herme in but then forgot to take the solvent with me!  After catching a lucky 4.1 to the Madonna del Orto stop I was able to finish the day looking along the Fondamenta Contarini as the sun went down. The lack of solvent was a pain but I managed this view looking the other way from the previous evening's effort.

Wyllis had done an absolute cracker of the fish market from the Ca D'Oro vaporetto stop and I was determined to try it so we set off  together very early the next morning.  W got a bit lost trying to go directly to Ca D'Oro but found some potentially good spots to paint as a result.  He left me at the Ca D'Oro pitch - just enough room for one painter at a time - and I did what I could before the moment when the sun hits the red awnings, working at high speed once it had arrived.  Hendrik Kralle, conducting maestro and oboist was getting onto a vaporetto, saw the painting and offered to buy it on the spot.  It is now on its way to Germany.

Fish Market from Ca D'Oro 9x12
Stupidly decided to brave the Rialto crowds and it was some time before I had wandered all the way down to the Accademia.  I was looking for Herme who needed more kitchen towel (we use tons of the stuff) and knew that the others were heading for San Rocco again so hopped on a 2 to San Toma and found DP painting the Scuola front door again.  Decided to try for the church front door instead:
Chiesa di San Rocco 12x9
Time was now running out, so I took a 1 to San Marco and painted a little sketch of the P Dogana.

Punta Dogana 8x6
Waited ages for a 4.1 to take me home round the East side of Venice and jumped off at Ospedale, almost ran to the famous pitch from where you can paint the Ospedale facade and did my last painting of the trip.
Ospedale (Scuola di San Marco) 12x8