Sunday, 27 May 2012

Oil Painting 20 - Chirk Aqueduct

You can see the Welsh mountains starting to have an affect on the landscape as you are getting closer to Chirk, then you round a corner and are suddenly faced with this impressive aqueduct accompanied by a railway viaduct. The canal immediately goes into a tunnel at the other end of the aqueduct. This is the view as you round the corner, I wanted to get the drama of the multiple levels, looking down to the river and up to the passing trains as well as seeing the water of the canal. It was a tight angle to achieve the water and the arches of the Aqueduct. There are sheep in the flat flood plain fields below. This span marks the border with a sign at the end - 'Welcome to Wales'.

Oil Painting 19 - Llangollen Canal skirting Blake Mere

 On the way into Elesmere the Llangollen Canal has a beautiful stretch winding between the tree covered meres of Cole Mere and Blake Mere. This painting was rapidly produced in glorious sunshine, there wasn't much time to waste with a rendevous arranged with Karen and the car much further down the canal. As a result it is the bare minimum of an oil painting trying to sum up the scene in broad strokes of a wide brush. On the Mere surface I was enjoying the difference between the light blue of the wind rippled water and the dark greens of the undisturbed water reflecting the foliage on the banks. This reminded me of one of my favourites in the National Gallery, London  ...

Lake Keitele

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Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Oil Painting 18 - Wrenbury Mill

After getting our beautiful Morso Squirrel Stove installed by the Stove Specialists at The King’s Lock Chandlery in Middlewich (just in time for summer!) we set off for Llangollen.

The Llangollen Canal is probably the most scenically spectacular of all the the British Canals and certainly one of the most popular. The two great aqueducts at Chirk and Pontcysyllte are well known wonders of the waterways and our reward for traversing the full 44 miles along this branch.

This painting is of Wrenbury Mill, and the hire fleet that is based there alongside the lift road bridge. Wrenbury was a gorgeous place to spend some time, so enjoyable that the process of having to move on becomes regrettable. Mark, a chap who kindly got me a beer whilst I was painting, clearly thought the same. He hasn’t moved for 14 months, largely because his engine had blown up, but I got the feeling that he wasn’t in that much of a rush! Here is a photo Mark took and sent through with his boat in the background –

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Private Commission - St Ambrose College Old School - IN PROGESS

On our first circuit around the Cheshire Ring, I met with Michael Thompson, the head teacher at St Ambose College in Hale Barns, near Altrincham, whilst moored in Stockton Heath.

St Ambose College, a Catholic Grammar all boys school, is relocating to a £25 million new building in the same grounds. A fascinating new build that has the exterior appearance of a Celtic cross from the air and has the grandeur and drama of a theatre in the round from the inside. The move is due to happen at the end of this academic year, leaving the current school buildings redundant and due to be bulldozed. Michael had discovered my work and thought I could produce a fitting tribute to the old school before it was demolished. He had seen some of the regeneration work I had produced with BIGred Studio  and Staffordshire Housing Association, and thought I could provide a more alternative take on the building rather than standard photography or a traditional watercolour.

The buildings didn't have an obvious iconic aspect, apart from the entrance. From the tour I was given of both the old and new buildings it became obvious just how sports related the school is and in particuar, what hallowed ground the rugby pitch is. I wanted to arrive at a composition that incorporated a welcoming entrance and the rugby pitch in full swing.

Initial Sketch Book Study

Work in progress

Oil Painting 17 - Sunset on the approach to Middlewich

Our first time round the Cheshire ring I saw this sunset subject on the stretch between Sandbach and Middlewich. Before buying the narrowboat, whenever I have driven this stretch I always enjoyed seeing the boaters operating the locks higher than the road and so it was doubly enjoyable to actual be one of the boaters looking down on the traffic. This stretch also marks the start of the enormous salt and chemical works which line the canal up to Northwich.

This is the start of the Cheshire plain, and (for a canal) we are still at quite a high vantage point dropping down onto the flat landscape which makes you especially aware of the last sunlight and dramatic weather.  The down side to this being you are quite exposed and I had a battering by the wind getting this piece together. I also witnessed fork lightning from here as a storm swept in calling a end to the second session. 3 sessions in total.

Oil Paintings 15 and 16 - Water study at Etruria Industrial Museum

These paintings were produced at the same time, flitting between the two small studies whilst both on the same easel. I was at Etruria Industrial Museum leading a workshop with the Orme Group of Artists, a group of artists who meet from Staffordshire and Cheshire. This is the second workshop I have ran with them, last year I met with about 12 of the artists and we painted on the platform at Crewe Railway Station, after I had given a small talk on the themes of movement and transport in my work.

Crewe Station 2011

This year Etruria Industrial Museum was chosen as it offered various subjects which I have explored and could encourage with confidence, the obvious being the canals and this current Year of the Boat project. The museum sits on the junction between The Cauldon Canal and the Trent and Mersey, it is a British Waterways office, hosts a fantastic canal festival and is surrounded by deep dramatic locks and some beautiful victorian Industrial architecture. I painted this subject when I had first started self employment as an artist -

Etruria Industrial Museum 2007
The other exciting subject at this location was the opportunity to paint a female blacksmith, a good friend Charis Jones, at work in her atmospheric Victorian forge. Charis is more an artist working with the medium of steel rather than a commercial blacksmith producing horeshoes and swords etc. You can see her website 'Sculpted Steel' here.

Last October I exhibited a body of work of small local North Staffordshire creative industries, painted at work, entitled 'Vis Unita Fortior' the motto of the city of Stoke on Trent. This included a painting of Charis. You can see all the work from the show here

The Female Blacksmith 2011

After a brief introduction talk about these bodies of work I left half the group with Charis pelting metal and ventured outside for some more water study in the sunshine. I knew I would be limited on time to produce refined oil paintings but fancied attempting bashing out some expressive studies. I am pleased with the results and the comparison with the work painted from exactly the same location nearly 5 years previously (see Etruria Industrial Museum 2007 above). When we all met at the end of the day,the Orme Group had produced some startling results, the entire group seems to flit between different mediums easily, rapidly exploring all forms of representing the canals and the moving subject of Charis.

Oil Painting 14 - Waking up to the ceiling light show

The low early morning sun bouncing off the canal gives a magical light show across the wood grain ceiling of the boat, which is a wonderful first sight when we first open eyes in the morning. I thought this unusual side to boat life would be an interesting subject and reminded me of the personal experience subjects of Jeffrey Camp RA after buying his book 'Almanac'.

This subject being so personal, waking up alongside Karen, I was torn between representing myself in bed in the painting, to paint a vision of us as a couple in bed, or to carry on painting 'through my eyes' as I do with the majority of my works, directly conveying what I actually see. The artist who springs to mind when I consider the alternative approach of representing the scene 'outer body' from an imaginary viewpoint looking in at a representation of myself, is the superb London artist, and my tutor at The Princes Drawing School, Timothy Hyman. Hyman often represents himself as a caricature within his works and seems to give us the illusion of looking past him, reflecting his view, but affirming his place and connection with that scene.

tim hyman, 
Tim hyman, 
 See how Hyman represents himself compressed to the edge of the frame, almost like we are seeing from the vantage point of his mind

 Tim Hyman, 

I guess this is exactly the issue that has arose with wanted to represent a scene as personal as waking next to my fiance. Trying to affirm to the viewer that it is me in the bed with her and not them!

'Une Petite Exposition' Opened by infamous forger John Myatt

John Myatt (right) at the opening
John Myatt, who was involved in the biggest art con in the UK, kindly opened the
Newcastle-Under-Lyme Show ‘Une Petite Exposition’ with a wonderful speech that
commended the artistry but also the commitment to paint the whole show entirely on
location, in front of the motif, an approach which he described as ‘sadly in decline’.
John had become aware of my work through also using the framing service at the Art
Studio, where the exhibition was held.

John went to Brixton prison for being involved in “the biggest art fraud of the 20th
century” and is now one of the UK’s fastest selling artists. I thoroughly appreciated
his time and kind words.

The exhibition was a success, with a large turn-out, including other local artists I admire Jiri Borsky and Peter Ecclestone.

Find more information about John Myatt’s fascinating story on his website - http://

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Newspaper article about 'Une Petite Exposition'

Above is a newspaper article from the North Staffordshire paper 'The Sentinel' promoting my upcoming show this week, called 'Une Petite Exposition'. The exhibition is a showcase of work produced whilst on recent dedicated painting trips to France and Scotland. It runs from the 12th May to the 2nd June. I shall post catalogue on here shortly. Hope you can make it!