Monday, 30 July 2012

A View From Snowshill

Oil on Board, 14 x 20 inches

I painted this view from a photo I took in The Cotswolds in May, up on Snowshill above Broadway.  It was quite an interesting composition looking down over the valley, with the main interest for me being the counterchanged light on the green Sycamore tree just right of centre.  

Note the dark right side of the tree set against the light of the tree behind it, and the brilliantly lit left and top of the Sycamore set against the darker tree behind its left side.  The Hawthorn Tree in the left foreground in its full May blossom had a jaunty angle, leaning out of the picture plane, not perhaps a classical choice for a composition, but I liked the way it was kind of leaning out of the way so that the eye could see the magnificent Sycamore with its dramatic lighting, with the figure also pointing towards it.  

Close attention had to be paid to the paler and more bluish green tone of the distant field, to give it that recession and make it appear much further away than the foreground rich green Sheep meadow.  The far bank of trees were correspondingly quite blue in the hazy late afternoon light and I set them against a thin, simple strip of sky high up on the board so as not to compete with the rest of the painting.


At this rate I'm going to have to have a separate Wildlife Blog....this little guy was found in Stamford, looking a little lost in the street in the afternoon, when he should have been asleep, waiting for the cover of darkness.  He guzzled down some dog food and lapped up a saucer of water as you can see above, and I felt quite good for his prospects.  He curled up in the border and when I went out in the garden to look for him the following morning, he was only a yard from where he had curled up, but he was staggering, wobbling from side to side, his eyes shut, looking not the bright-eyed little Spike he did the night before.  I took him to the local Vet, and he thought he would be okay.  He thought it was a bacterial infection making him wobbly on his pins, so treated him first for fleas and ticks, of which he had quite a few, then went back a couple of hours later, but he had died.  So, sadly, the little chap didn't make it.

However, on a happier note, Ollie Beak, the Little Owl, is still doing very well, getting stronger day by day and the Falcon centre are very happy with him, but he still has a problem with one of his talons and isn't able to grip properly, so, depending on whether he regains full use of it, he may have to live the rest of his life in captivity. 

Curiously enough, on driving back home two days ago at dusk, I saw a bird I didn't immediately recognise in flight above me.  I slowed down, watched it alight in an Oak tree and saw it was.....a Little Owl!  Perhaps one of Ollie Beaks siblings, or one of his parents, who knows.

Also, on driving away from our local refuse tip yesterday, there was a large, juvenile Buzzard sitting on the side of the road, narrowly missing my car as it flew off over me.  I stopped and saw that it had been feeding from the carcase of a Rabbit, a road victim, so I picked it up and threw it over the gate opposite, so that the young Buzzard could return and feed in peace before it, too, became a road casualty.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Ollie Beak, the Gatekeeper and Songthrush

Firstly, the latest update on Ollie Beak, the Little Owl I rescued on Tuesday...he's doing very well, eating and getting stronger by the hour, so things are looking good for the little fella so far.  I'm hoping he will be able to be released back into his territory in time.

Today we had the heaviest, most sustained rainfall I've ever seen in my life.  The lane outside my house, which has quite a slope on it (the lane, not my house) became a brown torrent of a river.  I went outside with an umbrella to have a look at my guttering where Niagara Falls was cascading down onto my bedroom window-ledge, and noticed a Blackbird chick had been flushed from its nest and had succumbed to the deluge; then I saw a Gatekeeper butterfly (above) flapping as it, too, was swept along on the river.  I managed to pluck the hapless insect from the water as it swept past me, and had to repair its wings which were folded over in the wet, before they dried out malformed, rendering it unable to fly.  This required a delicate operation with tweezers.  After putting the bedraggled butterfly in a box for an hour to dry out, I released it back into the garden and it settled on the underside of a bramble leaf.  Second animal rescue of the week done.

I must pay tribute too, to a Songthrush (above) who sings relentlessly from dawn till dusk and well beyond, every single day, perched high on a variety of trees and bushes in my garden.  After the cloudburst was over, he found one of his vantage points and set forth again with his exultation.  The little minstrel sang his heart out until 9.45 this evening, and doubtless will resume his post before 5am tomorrow.

High Street, Burford

Oil on Board, 12 x 17 inches

I thought I would paint something out of my comfort zone for my upcoming Cotswold exhibition, so I thought this view of Burford would fit the bill. My intention was to paint it loosely, but I failed miserably!  There isn't much detail really from the middle distance backwards, just a lot of dabs of colour and tone, although I did try to make as much sense of the architecture in the sunlit cottages at the bottom of the street on the right.  I spent a lot more time on the painting than I wanted to, because cars, humans and buildings have a lot of parts in them!  You may have heard me rave about Peter Brown's work on here in a previous post, but I'm even more in awe of him now, his default subject being street scenes, hence his pseudonym 'Pete the Street' 

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Ollie Beak update

You'll all be sitting on the edge of your seats wondering if Ollie Beak survived......well, I went to the Horse Chestnut tree where I left him and he'd gone from the branch he was grasping last night, and after a good search, I assumed he had either recovered and flown off, or he had fallen off and been taken by a predator, a Fox or a Badger.  

However, just as I was about to leave, I spotted him on the ground about 10-12 yards from where he was, those big eyes watching me Owl!  After a couple of weak flights a few paces, I managed to catch him and put him in a box and drove off to the Rutland Falconry and Owl Centre.  They assessed the new patient and as I already knew having held him, he was very thin and in need of food, despite looking plump in the photos yesterday.  

He seemed very disinterested in grub and I wasn't too hopeful of a good outcome, but when I telephoned late this afternoon, they said he was feeding and looking a lot brighter, but he wasn't grasping with one of his talons, which probably explained why he was underweight and weak, being unable to catch prey.  They're going to feed him up over the next couple of days, then have a look at the leg when he's stronger, so fingers crossed everyone!

Those of you under 50 will wonder who Ollie Beak is/was.  Well, here he is with Fred Barker (no relation) the dog.
 Every Tuesday and Friday tea time from 1963 to 1966, children throughout Britain settled down in front of the telly to watch the antics of Ollie and Fred on The Five O'clock Club, hosted by Muriel Young (below, with Pussycay Willum)
Ollie and Fred, with assistance from Muriel and Howard Williams (later replaced by Wally Whyton), would introduce star turns of the day, while Fanny and Johnny Craddock taught the kids Happy Cooking, Graham Dangerfield talked about pets, and Jimmy Handley (father of future Magpie presenter Jenny) made models.
There were also guitar spots from show regular Bert Weedon.  Ah, innocent days...but nostalgia's a thing of the past....

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Little Owl

 I spotted this Little Owl sitting on the road, ready to be squashed by one of the cars coming behind me.  I stopped, ran back to scoop up the little guy and put him in a nearby tree after giving him a quick once-over.  He seemed uninjured apart from his right eye being orange instead of the bright greenish-yellow it should be, as can be seen in the blurred photo below. I came back just before dark to see if he was still there, but he had gone, but on searching in the grass beneath the tree, I spotted his two eyes staring at me.
 I picked him up again after he flew weakly a few feet and carried him well away from the roadside and put him in another tree. 
 He's not a happy owl and I fear he may not survive, but I shall go to find him in the morning to see if he's still there and take him to a vet if he's still weak.  What a gorgeous little chap though isn't he?

My Uncle Arthur

On Sunday my Uncle Arthur died in hospital in Taunton after falling over at home and breaking his hip and wrist.  He was my mum's brother and the last remaining member of the Hutchings dynasty of Banbury, a well known musical family.  
He was 96 years old, fiercely independent and still living at home in Minehead in Somerset.  He broke his other hip when he fell over in the snow and ice of the winter of 2010, and had a lengthy fight back to becoming ambulant again.  He only fell over that time because he walked into town every single day to have lunch at a cafe and was wearing smooth soled shoes on icey pavements.  
He was determined to reach 100 and get a telegram from the reigning monarch, but, alas, he didn't quite make it, this latest fall proving too much for his body to recover from, just three and a half years short of his ton.  He was always cheery, despite being on his own, surviving both his wives, his outlook on life always positive.  He'll be missed by all who knew him.  

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Cattle by Sherborne Brook

Oil on Board, 10 x 22 inches

I decided on a panoramic shape for this painting, focusing in on the expanse of trees and cattle by the Sherborne Brook in the Cotswolds.  The composition is a < shape, formed by the sloping far bank and field, and the foreground meadow following the river direction.  The composition would have been a little less appealing had the line of cattle not been there, but they help push the eye back and stop it flying straight out of the picture.

I'm always struggling with not putting too much detail in my paintings and here, if you click on the picture to enlarge it, I've tried to describe the cattle with minimum fuss, with just a few blobs of light and dark shapes.  

The painting is very green, but I had to observe the rich tapestry of subtle shades, especially in the two big Oaks dominating the far bank.  The left one was a more yellow ochrey colour compared to its close neighbour which had a more bluish-green hue.  It's painting what you see, ie., the subtle shifts of colour, albeit close-toned, that present in front of you that make a painting convincing, whether you paint loosely or in a more tight manner like me.

Friday, 13 July 2012

High Summer, Burnham Overy Staithe

Oil on Board, 12 x 17 inches

This is another composition looking straight into the sunlight, rather like my Pastel painting "Into the Light, Brancaster Staithe".  This time, I was looking down on the water from the embankment, so the pure sunlight was bouncing off the glassy surface, throwing all the figures into silhouette.  Again, the brightest light of the picture is the reflected sunlight on the water, which adds impact to the otherwise rather ordinary composition.  An intense period of concentration was required to get the postures, tones and colours of the figures pitched right, set against the slashes of Titanium White.

This is the last painting I'm entering for the RSMA Exhibition, just getting it in under the razor wire, the deadline for digital submission being 12 noon yesterday.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Sunlit Mud, Brancaster Staithe

Oil on Board, 13 x 12 inches
I've been wanting to paint this subject from a photo I took a while back at Brancaster Staithe in Norfolk.  I liked the composition, peering over the saltwater-weathered posts and along the little creek to the T-junction, with a triangle of boats and one of the local fishermen walking out to the mussel beds.  Strong sunlight, low in the winter sky, lit up the edges of the boats and posts and the mud in the left foreground.
I enjoyed describing the mud with a lot of palette-knife work over the top of tacky paint, which is where fast-drying Alkyd Oils come into their own.  Lovely effects can be achieved, gliding the very loosely held knife across the underlayer, sometimes dark over light and other times light over dark to get that gorgeous glistening mud look.
I'm also entering this one for the RSMA exhibition via the new digital pre-submission, where your work is judged to be suitable for inclusion in the final viewing for acceptance next month.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Into the Light, Brancaster Staithe

Last night I gave a two-hour demonstration in Pastels to Ashby Art Club, deciding to do a marine subject - Brancaster Staithe in Norfolk. Here I am posing with the painting as far I got in the allotted time (photo courtesy of David Park)

I was asked by one member of the audience if I use a paper stump when pastelling and I replied that I don't generally, although I do have a little stumpy're ahead of me aren't you.....sometimes you hear yourself say something and just know that it's too late.....

Pastel on Clairefontaine Pastelmat, 13 x 19 inches 

This is the finished painting, having done some work on it back in the studio.  Those of you who are familiar with my work will know that this is my favourite sort of challenge, painting directly into the light.  The wet mud, left by the receding tide, provided a wonderful, glistening bank to have fun with.  The larger red fishing vessel cast a lovely shadow over the mud, and pointed at the mooring post left of centre.  The bit I enjoyed most was depicting the intensely sunlit bench on the smaller blue boat on the left, which I was reliably informed on the night is called a thwart.  The damp, wooden surface positively glowed, catching the sun directly above it, and the real challenge was to give it that glow by diffusing the colours around it, almost making the eye of the viewer squint looking at it.  To complete the painting I dotted a few spots of light on the water.

The key to this sort of painting is to play very close attention to the tones.  When sunlight bounces off wet surfaces, those refections are the brightest part of the painting, so the sky must be toned down to make them appear convincing.  The sky is usually the brightest part of a painting, but when looking straight into the light, this isn't so when the sunlight catches objects on terra firma. 

I'm happy with the finished result and shall enter this into the pre-selection for the Royal Society of Marine Artists (RSMA) annual exhibition at The Mall Galleries in London, which has to be in by noon on Thursday this week.  I'm also working on two marine Oils to enter too, so I'd better stop typing and get back to the easel.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Article in 'The Artist' magazine

I can almost hear the shower of gravel on your driveways as you leap into your cars and speed down to your nearest discerning newsagent and buy your copy of the Summer edition of 'The Artist' magazine, in which yours truly is in conversation with Caroline Saunders. The article shows 6 examples of my work, with one error being the wrong title and medium for 'Swan Family', which should read 'Ugly Ducklings' and is a Pastel, not an Oil painting.

My village exhibition was a success and I would like to say a big thank you to all you lovely people who came from near and far to see and buy my work.  We managed to sneak away for a cream tea in the village hall during a lull, manned (or is it womanned) as ever by the stalwart ladies of the village who had made a superb variety of very low calorie sticky cakes, mmmmmmmmmmmm