Monday, 6 March 2017

Email contact

As users of any email server linked to EE /Orange will know, the email service they provide is being closed down - without any consultation, obviously: it's far too much to expect EE to consider the interests of its clients - on May 31st.

A number of people choose to contact me through my Freeserve email account, but it'll be defunct in a couple of months, so I would ask those with arty inquiries, including purchase inquiries, to use the email at the top of this blog - i.e.

Anyone wanting to send me any other kind of communication could use that address, or if they prefer write to:

Over the next few weeks, while I work on the much neglected website at, I'll be showing a number of unsold paintings here - if interested in any of them, either of the above email addresses will do!  One of my favourites, of woodland on Niton Undercliff, with the cliff behind, painted last Spring, is shown below.  Not a large painting, it's just 10" by 8", in acrylic - on offer at the moment at just £85.00 plus post and packing.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Eyes front.

Got my new lenses this morning - a big shock .... The improvement in my vision is dramatic,  I can see colour better, especially when it comes to differentiating the darks, so I've no excuse for not painting.

Now, I'm relying on you, here and on Facebook, to hold me to this.   Self-discipline has never really been our watchword...

Thursday, 26 January 2017

On the road again.....

At last the heaving chest has subsided; I've been able to get to the hospital for my eye checkup, following my problematic cataract operation - very thorough tests today reveal there's a cataract in the other eye, but it's in its infancy and neither the surgeon nor I need worry about it for a good few years if we're lucky.  I've had checks on the retina, the macula, eye pressure, and the next step is to go back to my optician for a new prescription to take account of the improved sight in my right eye and balance the spectacle lenses.

I've painted nothing for around a month now - either couldn't see properly, or felt too ill to approach a canvas in anger.  I shall be making up for this very soon, and intend to flood the blog with new work - even though, if you neglect them, skills deteriorate; but working on them anew brings them back.  You don't forget the veriest basics, but a fallow period invariably means that you have to work hard to regain the level of ability you had before.  I wish I knew why this was, but I don't - however, it's been observed by many others; hence Constable's advice to paint a sky a day (which I wish I'd taken) - it does help to keep your hand in; And it hurts you if you don't - I wish that weren't true, but all the experience I've gained over 50 odd years of doing this suggests that it is.

But never mind: fish and chip day tomorrow!  I told the fish and chip van proprietor that this was the highlight of my week - he looked at me oddly, and shook his head - "if that's true," he said, "I feel sorry for you."

But - if you live for the satisfaction of your stomach, as I fear I do, it IS a highlight.  And anyway - I like fish.  And batter.  Crunchy batter.  And chips..... come on, you've got to love SOMETHING!

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

The sold painting

This is the painting I sold to Australia - from a walk along the old Blackgang Road, painted in 2015 in watercolour.


What a few weeks this has been....

First my eye operation goes wrong, and I have to have a second procedure - though not painful.

Then, my landlady's family - three grandsons, daughter, sort-of-son-in-law - arrive from Australia; very nice to see them all, and they bought a painting too.

But either I caught an infection from one of the boys, which he had picked up on the 'plane, or (and quite possibly) he had nothing to do with it and I caught it from Chris the landlord who nursed it lovingly at the hospital and brought it back just for me.

Wherever it came from, I've had to postpone my scheduled eye inspection, could hardly eat anything - thank goodness for my neighbour who brought me a tray of cooked meats: I couldn't have swallowed anything else - and for a week now I've been unable to go to bed at all, because the moment I lay down, my chest banged and wheezed and heaved - it was like listening to a couple of elderly cats having a row.  So I've slept in my office chair - oddly enough, not uncomfortably.

I can't imagine that uncontrollable coughing is exactly good for you when you've had a cataract replaced and pressure in the eye, but I'll find out about that at the end of the month now.

So no painting has been possible - I was having trouble with a picture anyway: it's gone so wrong I've had to gesso over it and start again; I'm not at all sure I can save it - the  Ampersand board, which worked so well for an oil painting, has been disastrous for my sort of acrylic painting; but in any event I haven't the strength to stand up to it just now.

On the plus side, Pat, my landlady, has come home at last after 16 weeks in the stroke unit, with more drugs to take than she's ever taken in her life before.  Of course this is good in nearly every respect, except that the real tasks now begin - of managing at home, accessing full and continuing support, providing some relief for Chris my landlord; things that are generally beyond my power, although perhaps I can help with Charley, the small but ubiquitous and lively dog.

Fed totally up would summarize the mood here at the Batcave right now.....!

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Christmas Greetings

Getting slowly back to normal following my eye operation, and in the meantime, here's a festive Guinea pig.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016


Long gap in my posting progress - don't really know why, but I do sometimes feel I'm the only one looking at this blog: and as I probably am, I'll just say Hallo to myself, and offer a cheery wave!

Robert, I think you're just lovely.  A little inclined to talk to yourself, perhaps, but other than that you're just a little bundle of charm and talent, all wrapped into a peculiarly appealing exterior.

Right then, having got that out of my system, I am going to show a painting of an old friend of mine, as best I can remember him.   We first met when I was around 8, that is some 58 years ago.  He used to charge his bars in annoyance - appalling really: Bristol Zoo, where he lived and where I stayed from time to time in my distant youth since my Uncle Vic was a keeper there, confined this animal from the American  plains (he was I think an American rather than European Bison, or Wisent) in a concrete compound with thick iron bars.  Poor old Ferdinand was kept there alone, and must have been quietly mad after so many years of false imprisonment.

But he rather liked me, for reasons I do not understand, and permitted me to gaze at him and approach him, without throwing a tantrum.  I always felt sorry for him, and in this very small oil study I've released him from his bars and liberated him from his confinement.  This is just a study, I don't know if I'll ever work it up into a bigger painting - bisons have rather complicated anatomies, every one different from the other depending partly on age, but always massive.  Ferdinand was seriously massive, because he must have been fairly elderly when I got to know him, and didn't get to run in the open pasture lands, as he would naturally have done.

I hope no Zoo anywhere in the world would treat an animal like this again, but it was commonplace over half a century ago.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

On the March

I suppose this is an oil study, more than anything else.  It's based on a photograph on Tennyson Down, Freshwater Bay, Isle of Wight, by my younger brother Brian.  An area I know very well, although I'm not on first name terms with the cow.

For those interested in these things, I used only lead whites, no Titanium (which I very rarely do, but it made for a very different painting experience) plus Mars Red, Naples Yellow, Chrome Yellow Hue, Yellow Ochre, Cobalt Blue Hue, French Ultramarine, and a bit of Cobalt Violet.

The last of these colours is extremely expensive, and I wouldn't normally use it - but I have a very old tube, and indeed apart from the white just about all the paint used in this was decades old.  In oil, you can do that - in the tube, the paint rarely deteriorates.

I don't think I've ever painted a cow before - and they're not especially easy.

Determined Cow, oil on board, 8" by 10"

Friday, 7 October 2016

Struck down

This has been a fraught and difficult couple of weeks, and painting has had to take a back seat.  My landlady suffered a stroke and is still in hospital around two weeks later: it's amazing how one loses track of time.

I do have a painting planned, but am not sure how it's going to work out, or even what medium I should be doing it in.  Perhaps the weekend will see a start made.

In the meantime, I at last have an appointment to get my cataract measured, and I hope an operation isn't too far away.  We are approaching our 66th birthday here at the Batcave - I don't suppose I'll get the operation before then, but we can live in hope.

In the meantime, best wishes to Pat, my landlady.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

From St Catherine's Down - final, definitive, last, completed, done, version.

Right - I've finished it.  This is the final product - it needed a little dark in the mid-distance, and a little warming up in places; I shouldn't have used stark white - perhaps a little red, orange or Naples Yellow mixed with it would have helped.

But anyway, I have now adjusted it, glazed it, and it now looks as it did to me on the day I was up there.

Thanks to me for my photograph and sketch, and to Barry Fitzgerald for his photograph.  I would paint on the spot, but I just can't lug equipment about; hard enough lugging myself about.

Thanks also to Michael Harding, the paint-maker, without whose Cobalt Blue this would have been a lot more difficult.

By the way, I do know the picture is somewhat skew-whiff: it's my lack of camera skills that is to blame.

Oil on canvas board, 16" by 12"
From St Catherine's Down

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Latest work in progress

Actually, I'm not sure how much farther I want to take this, assuming I take it any farther at all - it could probably do with a few glazes, to warm it up a bit but if it does look a bit chalky, it is a painting of a chalk landscape, so there's something rather fitting about that.  I could perhaps have mixed a little Naples Yellow or even Buff Titanium with some of the whites - but there it is, I didn't.

I confess that - while one's never satisfied - I'm not entirely displeased with this.

I watched a couple of painting demos on YouTube this evening - well, three.  The first one was Bob Ross, quite an early film - from 1984, I think, when his technique was much less developed than it later became.  I don't listen to Bob for painting advice - he had his technique, to fit into less than half an hour of TV time (which I certainly couldn't do, by the way), and mine is very different.  But I do find him extremely calming - I get very wound up sometimes, and listening to him, and watching him, is oddly satisfying.

The other couple of demos were of paintings in Alkyd oils by one Michael James Smith - again, a totally different technique to mine, and I don't use Griffin Alkyds (by Winsor and Newton: when used with Liquin, especially, it's an extremely fast-drying paint).  I was fascinated by his approach to painting trees - he lays down a dark substrate, a mix of Ivory Black, Ultramarine, Burnt Umber and so far as I can tell - the demos are somewhat snippety, and not helped by the music he uses to accompany them: I'm a bit too deaf to mask it out and hear all of the commentary; and I don't like the music, either, which doesn't help - a touch of Yellow Ochre and/or Winsor Lemon.

When he comes back the next day or for the next session, he applies a glaze of Liquin over the now more or less dry paint, and then with a quite small brush applies the leaves in a series of dancing strokes with lighter paint, and a quite small brush.  I don't think I'd have the patience for that, although he has acquired a speedy technique; and the results look (on screen at least) very realistic.  It approaches hyper-realism perhaps - not everyone's cup of tea; and I'm not keen on using black for the darks, even mixed with ultramarine.  But if it works, it works....  later on, he introduces the likes of Cerulean Blue (Hue), Sap Green, and more Titanium White.  Worth a look.

But in oil particularly, I prefer a more textured approach and am not overly-concerned with realism - I'm after the impression and the feel of a place; no reason why you can't get that with a very realistic approach, but it's something I find a little too painstaking  - I'd be afraid of working a painting to death.

Anyway, here's my WIP (Work in Progress), an oil of a spot on St Catherine's Down, composed from my own sketches and a photograph by Barry Fitzgerald, my friend and professional photographer based in Tralee, Co. Kerry, in Ireland.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Things to avoid in oil painting: and my landlady's 86th Birthday card

I offer these reflections for what they're worth, and I'm not sure how much that really is.  Technical caution concerning oil paint, though, is probably a word to the wise.

There is concern over the use of Zinc White in oil, particularly in the lower layers or priming of a painting.  In fact, it's always been obvious that Zinc White in the underpainting is a bad idea, because it's an extremely slow drier - and the last thing you want in paint over which you're planning to add layers is slow drying; not only does it hold you back, it also increases the risk of the paint film cracking later.

The new concern - or relatively new - is to do with the formulation of metallic soaps, areas of instability in the paint which can cause delamination: in other words, can lead to the paint just lifting from the canvas and falling off.  Zinc White is far more likely to form these soaps than other whites, like the traditional lead white, or at least forms them much more quickly.   But Zinc has been mixed with actual painting grounds, the so-called "gesso" surface on which one paints; it was also mixed with some lead whites, and it was assumed that this was a sound enough practice (its intention was to make the paint more workable and less prone to yellowing) since the negative characteristics of Zinc would be overcome by, eg, Titanium, or lead.

There are now question marks over this, which have come to the fore over the priming of artists' canvas.  That priming is usually acrylic these days - but there are those who suggest that this is still a potential problem.   I simply don't know if they're right or wrong.

 Unless you make your own sizing and prime your own canvases with the material of your choice, and none is without drawbacks, any canvas or canvas board you buy is likely to be primed with an acrylic paint containing  Zinc; it won't be pure Zinc, but will be mixed in proportion to Titanium White; the latter should be the major constituent, but looking at my own Daler-Rowny container of acrylic gesso, there's no information on it to give any sort of clue as to its composition.  So - this is not likely to cause any problem with acrylics.  I don't think it's very likely to cause any problem with oils either - but to achieve the longest life possible for your paintings, oils should be painted on rigid panels rather than flexible canvas: one of the best would be canvas glued to wood or other rigid boards.   Canvas, which is easily damaged anyway, is very prone to being affected by climatic conditions, temperature, humidity: these factors can hasten the deterioration of oil paintings, cause cracking, promote the creation of metallic soaps.

Acrylic on canvas seems a much safer bet.

Is this worrying too much?  Perhaps it is - but even so, in any work I'm offering for sale, I now avoid Zinc White, which I would never have used in priming products (knowingly) or early layers anyway; and on the whole I use rigid panels rather than stretched canvas for oil painting.  Keeping an eye on these technical questions can make one extremely neurotic - and the lack of certainty makes it worse.  But at least if you know there are potential issues, you can make up your mind how to respond to them, or whether to respond at all.

And in the meantime, here's my landlady's 86th birthday card, from an oil sketch; and it's true, you wouldn't know she was 86 (if she'd only wear her hearing aids...).

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Opening a Branch Office

Well it took a while, but I've finished the picture whose early stages I showed below.  The old tree with its huge branch (hence title) is off the Old Blackgang Road in Niton Undercliff - the road leads to an area of managed countryside known as Knowles Farm, and used to take traffic on to Blackgang and beyond - until the cliff fell on it in the 1920s.

Well worth going up it to reach the landscape beyond though - there's a lot of open space, and a path down to the usually deserted beach, if you can penetrate dense undergrowth, and then scramble down to the beach below, which I can't do.  Well, I could get down, not necessarily in one piece, but I couldn't get back up again.

It would be good if we could turn back the clock and regain our lost youth - I'd know what to DO with it now: I didn't, when I had it.

Acrylic, on canvas board, 16" by 12"

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Work in Progress

Working on an acrylic, after too long not working on anything at all - I suppose I feared I wouldn't be able to see properly and so didn't want to take the risk of mucking things up: but I can see well enough to work on this sort of scale (16" by 12").

I can foresee a problem with the large triangular are at bottom right - ie, what to fill it with?  The scene itself is largely composed of nondescript, straggly shrub - perhaps I should just reflect that.  There's nearly always an area in a sketch which looks OK in pencil or charcoal on paper, but gives you a problem when you try to paint from it - well, we'll see.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Salt Water Inlet

And here's one I did earlier - forgot to post it here. Acrylic, 8" by 10".  I'm forgetting a lot of things: I've also forgotten to post my membership subscription to the National Association of Painters in Acrylic, and must pull my finger out before they cast me into the chilly void...