Friday, 31 August 2012

Up Before The Beak

Today we went to see a certain Master Oliver Beak at the Rutland Owl & Falconry Centre.  Regular readers of my Blog will remember that Ollie, the Little Owl, has been at the Centre for 6 weeks after I found him sitting in the road near just outside my village, very weak and underweight.  

He was not able to grasp properly with one of his talons and that was most likely why he was in such a weakened state when I came upon him, because he couldn't catch his prey with a non-functioning foot. The staff were not sure if he would ever be fit, and wild enough, to be set free.  Owls can imprint themselves on to humans very quickly, especially when young, which Ollie was.  However he has been growing in strength since with the expert care he's been receiving, and has recovered full use of his poorly talon.

I was hoping to get some photos of him today, but, wouldn't you know it, two days ago, he was starting to go crazy in his enclosure, and the decision was made (largely by himself) to release him, so we missed him!  The photo above is not of Ollie, but another of the tame Little Owls at the Centre.  

So, great news of our little fella, and he can still be seen around having not gone far yet, despite his freedom.  He had become a firm favourite with the visitors and staff alike, and he had been affectionately named Tiny Tim.  A happy end to the story!

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Fresh River Snowfall

Oil on Linen Canvas, 18 x 26 inches

I wanted to do another snowy one for my exhibition, and this one fitted the bill.  It's from the snowfall of 2010 down by the River Welland at Duddington, not far from my studio.  The remains of the umbelliforous Angelica plants in the foreground were heavily snowcapped, like white lollipops, and added a charm to the scene I thought, so I gave them a starring role in the composition.
Snow is, as we all know, white, but it only appears white when sunlit, as in the far bank on the upper right, the lightest part of the painting.  All the rest of the snow is in comparative shadow and thus various shades of blue and mauve.  Actually, the white lollipops themselves were the most difficult to paint, with so many subtle tones in them, and it was quite a relief to finish them.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Harvest Hare

Oil on Linen Canvas, 16 x 22 inches

Well, it's that time of year, so I had to do a harvest painting didn't I?  This is a view just a couple of hundred yards from my studio over the Chater Valley.  I'm far too young to remember the old corn stooks, but I do like the modern machine-made roly-polys and the patterns they make.  I always think of Jam Swiss Rolls when I see them, like we had when we were kids.

I arranged the composition into a sort of rhomboid shape formed by the setting sun at the top, the bale on the left, the two in the foreground and the ones on the right.  I popped in the Hare for a bit of life, which I did see earlier in the day - wondering where his cover had gone.  Hares of course, though closely related to rabbits, don't live in burrows, but rest in 'forms' made by fidgeting long grass into a Hare shape, and relying on their unbelievable 0-60mph getaway speed if a Fox or human disturbs them.

To make this convincing, it necessitated a prolonged period of concentration (or focus as we're in Olympic times) to get the progression of tones of the banks of trees right, adding more white and blue to the mixes for the more distant layers.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Packing Up By The Cherwell

Oil on Board, 16.75 x 22.75 inches

This is a scene from a bridge on a bend near the village of Kirtlington in Oxfordshire, looking towards Bunkers Hill.  It was one of those fleeting light effects when the sky turned dark, but the sun shone brightly like a spotlight on the proceedings.  The foliage of the Ash tree leaning just off centre sparkled in the sunlight and the top canopy gleamed lighter than the sky - quite a rare light effect.  The two lads were packing up their tackle after a day's fishing, while a herd of cattle were mostly lying down, chewing the cud in the distance.

The River Cherwell (pronounced Charwell by the posh folks of Oxford and Churwell in Banbury) is a tributary of the Thames.  I spent a great deal of my childhood by and in the Cherwell in Banbury, watching wildlife and catching Tadpoles, Sticklebacks and Bullheads with my bare hands and studying them in jamjars before returning them to the water.  I also used to catch Perch and Roach with a line and worm on a hook (no rod), when I would lie down over the edge of the galvanised steel man-made bank on one stretch of the river and drop my bait down through gaps between the Yellow Water Lily pads into the crystal-clear water and actually see the small fish take the bait.  

I vividly remember one occasion when, aged 9, I dropped down my bait with my fingers holding the line, watching the 4oz-sized fish eyeing my worm as usual, when they all suddenly scattered in a flash and the largest Perch I am ever likely to see appeared and was about to take my bait.  Knowing there wasn't a chance that I could land the monster without a rod, I quickly yanked the worm out of the water and couldn't believe what I had seen.  I knew every rod-caught record of all British fresh-water fish at the time - in fact I can still reel them off now, nearly 50 years later - and the record for Perch was 5lbs, 15oz, 6dr.  That fish that so nearly took my bait was easily bigger than that and I estimate it was around 8lbs.  After that, I got my first rod and fished for that giant of the deep....needless to say, I never caught it or saw it again - just think how famous I would have been if I had.......

For those of you who don't know what a Perch looks like, it is one of our most handsome predatory fish, and here is an oil painting of Perch by the finest fish painter around, David Miller.  David portrays fish in their natural habitat and creates incredibly real and believable paintings.  David has a one-man show of his fish and bird work at Birdscapes Gallery in Norfolk coming up in October - well worth a look if you're into that genre. 

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Reclaimed Pine

Oil on Linen Canvas, 16 x 22 inches

Yes, I know, I've painted a snow scene on one of the warmest days of the year, but I want to do some wintry paintings for my forthcoming exhibition in November, and the catalogue deadline is looming large.

The focal point for this composition is the magnificent Scots Pine, the top half of its trunk a sunlit orange against the blue sky.  The brightest part of the painting is the pure Titanium white of the sunlit snow in the field over the far bank of the river, but it's interesting to note how dark the shadowed banks of snow appear in comparison.

This isn't a painting, but it is another wildlife photo.  I met Mike Challoner from Picture Post at 7 o'clock this morning on the A1 at Stamford, to give him 5 paintings to take to the Mall Galleries for the Royal Society of Marine Artists (RSMA) Exhibition selection committee.  The paintings have already gone through the digital pre-selection process, so fingers crossed 4 might be accepted finally (a maximum of 4 are allowed from non-members).  

Anyway, I digress.....having dropped off the pictures, I went down to the millstream of the river Welland for an early morning look at what was going on.  The geese and ducks were busy preening and waking up and a few were having a dabble in the very shallow water, disturbing the mud on the bottom.  Then, I noticed a large fish mooching about beneath the ducks.  Thinking it was a big Chub of about 8 lbs, I then spotted the dorsal fin was set back near the tail fin and realised it was a Pike!  I took this snap of the great fish before it disappeared in the murk and you can just make out its characteristic form.  I was really surprised to see such a big predator in such shallow water, less than a foot deep.  For that reason, I felt he deserved a mention and a profile on my blog.

Friday, 10 August 2012

A view of Barrowden

 Oil on Board, 8 x 10 inches

I spent an hour and a half yesterday, looking for a suitable view to paint on site by my local river.  Usually at this time of year, the river is a joy, with lush vegetation, tons of Willowherb and Himalayan Balsam, but this year is very different.  After the wettest drought in living memory, the river has been in spate for so long, that the usual vegetation has been effectively drowned and now the river is finally at its usual height again, the banks are left muddied and virtually bare and a lot of the weed and Water Crowfoot in the river has gone.

So, I tried looking for a more land-locked subject and stumbled across this view from a gateway as I drove slowly alongside a high hedgerow near Barrowden.  I was determined to get something down, so I quickly got set-up and scrubbed in the composition.  After an hour and three-quarters in searing heat the light had changed so that the church was lit-up, but I preferred the slightly more silhouetted  look against the blue backdrop of distant woodland.  Also, my big household brush had got split-ends and needed a trim, and it was a little frustrating not being able to paint the middle distance trees the way I wanted, so I packed up and finished it off at home. I also got sunburnt on my shoulders and chest, not used to this African sun.

Here's a view of the scene with my gear just before packing up:

I've long felt aware that to be considered a good painter, I have to paint more and more plein air work and that's what I'm endeavouring to do. The challenge of getting down the gist of the subject quickly, forces a looser approach, although I ended up getting my usual sort of finish to the piece.  The great thing is, there is no distortion of colour and tone and you paint what's in front of you.

During my walk looking for a riverine scene to paint, there was lots of insect activity in the heat and sunshine.  There were loads of huge predatory Brown Hawker Dragonflies the size of Chinook Helicopters, then this little orange Comma butterfly settled on some nettles in front of me:

Last but not least, I noticed these two Large Whites on the path, the larger female with the dark spots on her forewings, trying to tell the male dancing around her that she had already been mated and was not interested in his advances.  She does this by pulling her forewings back and raising her abdomen up in the air as can be seen in the second two photos.  Bad luck mate, you need to look for pastures new...the lady's not for turning........

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Willows By The Welland

Oil on board, 10 x 14 inches

I did this painting as a demo for Horncastle Art Group, not quite finishing it in the allotted 2-hour slot, but finished off today back in the studio.

Being a typical summery painting of my local river in one of its more quiet stretches, it was really another exercise in observing the multitude of greens in such a scene, and to replicate them to give the painting variety and a sense of reality. All the vegetation and tree work was executed with my big 1" Windsor Household paintbrush, making headway quickly with the minimum of fuss and creating the illusion of far more detail than was actually applied.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Swans By The River Coln

Oil on Linen Canvas, 18 x 26 inches

A larger painting this one, on my favourite Belgian linen canvas.  The river Coln is in the Cotswolds and is a beautiful chalk stream favoured by fly fisherman, hoping to lure the Brown Trout in these waters. 

It's always a little tricky to make such green paintings have enough variety of colour in them, but the dappled sunlight through the trees onto the vegetation on the right helped provide sufficient tonal changes.

A quote on BBC Radio Four's brilliant 'I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue' from dead-pan host Jack Dee:
"Kingston Borough Council are rightly proud of their waste disposal and landfill service, boasting they have the second biggest pile of rubbish in London.....the biggest is in the Tate Modern".