For about ten successive years I was commissioned to produce paintings of David Stevens’ Gold Medal Winning garden designs. Photography was not chosen because forward publicity demanded images of the gardens well before they existed. Using David’s plans and planting schedules I composed a pigeon’s eye view of the garden with the help of a library of botanical encyclopaedias. The pictures usually appeared in magazines such as ‘Home and Garden’ and the weekend Colour Supplements.
For several years The National Trust sold boxes of envelopes and cards bearing my pen and ink drawings of some of their houses and gardens. Occasionally I developed sketches into watercolour paintings. It was a pleasurable way of spending some of the summers in the 1980s.
When I was young I admired the pen and ink drawings of Geoffrey Fletcher which often appeared in the Peterborough column of the Daily Telegraph, and years later I felt honoured when some of my own drawings also were printed in that column – one in particular was of the Congregational Church in Buckingham which was being restored and reopened as a lecture theatre for the University of Buckingham in 1982. In 1988 my book ‘A Country Town’ was published and included quite a few new drawings of mine, showing other elderly buildings which were also being restored. Then in 2009 the University commissioned me to produce a few more drawings, and part of the collection was used to illustrate their prospectus for that year. At about the same time they published the prospectus for ‘The University of Buckingham in London’ – Please see my drawing of the European School of Economics, Grosvenor Square on this website – Nº X-1211.
Most of my paintings of individual boats & ships at sea have been commissioned. Details of the vessels concerned come to me in a variety of forms: some ships have long since been broken up, so I am given photographic references obtained from museums or company records; some references are little more than a collection of old holiday snaps; some boats are still available for me to see, often resting idly, tied to a harbour buoy somewhere and I must take them to a sea of my own imagination. I have never seen the ‘Glasgow Clipper’, but I was shown a DVD of her in action, then on my drawing board, I took her round Cape Horn.
THE ROYAL COURTS OF JUSTICE, LONDON
The building was begun in 1873 and opened by Queen Victoria in 1882. I was commissioned to paint this picture solely to provide prints. I started my sketches by positioning myself outside (what was) the Wig & Pen Club where it was necessary to remain both vigilant & nimble throughout to avoid being trampled by lawyers eager to quench their thirst. One of the conditions of my task was to omit the sturdy bollards & railings around the entrance to the subterranean lavatories which sprawl across the foreground.
This style of gothic is known by some as ‘monastic’ – in which one can expect symmetry either side of the main doorway & it was soon noticeable to me that something was amiss; for the two pinnacles high up on the roof were not the mirror images they should have been. One was conical, the other was truncated. The ‘Authorities’ were asked if it was to become a permanent feature. At first there was an indignant denial that anything at all was missing from the roof of The Royal Courts of Justice. Later, however, there was an explanation – in the interests of maintenance the top on one had been removed some years earlier to a masons’ yard in Essex for a copy to be made; but it had been forgotten. It was replaced sometime later.
An exhibition of my work was staged at the National Library of Wales, first in 1996, when I was commissioned to produce a painting of the main entrance and façade of the building. As many artists are likely to have experienced, the chosen view of a subject or obscure corners, naturally arousing the curiosity of other people. Security men especially will have their suspicions and they will settle in an obscure nook of their own choosing to keep you under observation. So in recognition of their work I usually include them in my paintings. This was the case at the Royal Courts of Justice, also at the National Library of Wales. Kindly I was invited back to the National Library, for a ‘retrospective’, calling it ‘A Detailed Look’ in 2009-10.
During the 1980s I had exhibitions, sometimes twice a year at the Bear Steps Gallery in Shrewsbury. Late one evening in February 1984, as the public drifted away, one man remained; clearly he wanted to talk. Half-an-hour later I was commissioned to produce, over the next twelve months, 13 paintings for a ‘Landscape Calendar’ to be published two years hence. 1984 became an enjoyable year, for we traveled a lot: Sussex, Kent, Pembrokeshire, Somerset, Shropshire, Gwynedd, Norfolk, Herefordshire, Yorkshire, Northants…all over the place. The cover painting was of Llanymynech, close to the Wales / England border. The next year I had another 13 paintings to do, and off we went again. The cover that year was especially interesting, for we had been visiting friends in Norfolk and had driven to see King’s Lynn for the first time. I ambled alone into an old part of the town and suddenly found myself in the sixteenth century. I had wandered into what had been a film set, until the previous day. There was not a sign of the crew, or any filming equipment, and likewise there was not a sign of anything modern, no yellow lines on the roads, no traffic signs, no advertising anywhere. It turned out that I had strolled into what had been ‘made’ to resemble part of our American Colony at the time of the Boston Tea Party in 1773. I painted the Dania of Salem, an old wreck of a ship stuck in the mud by the quay side close to what might have been the old troublesome Customs House.
THE ROYAL MARINES SCHOOL OF MUSIC
It was a sad day for many people when in 1996, The Royal Marines School of Music departed from Walmer, near Deal in Kent. The Royal Marines had been there since 1794 and they had become the very heart and fabric of the town. I had been asked to paint a picture of the Senior NCO’s Mess with about sixty senior NCOs standing outside on the grass witnessing an evening ceremony of ‘Mess Beatings’. There is nothing flagellant about; it was the Corps of Drums plus one bugler who would provide a short musical entertainment for these about to dine. They would assemble dressed in mess uniform, in small informal groups, their glasses in hand ready to drink the health of those providing the entertainment. When the music finished the Mess President, would be approached by the bugler. A steward would be present with a chalice. A short discourse would ensue and the bugler would depart with the chalice. In the past it would have been filled with Royal Naval Grog. In modern times it contains an appropriate collection of cash from the Members of the Mess. The Corps of Drums and the bugler, their duties completed would then adjourn and spend a pleasant well-funded evening, probably in the NAAFI.
When the Royal Marines left Walmer for their new home in Portsmouth they took the painting with them, and each mess member received a print. Part of my brief, however, had been to include not only those who were present when I was there to see them, but quite a few who were not, and whereas possible represent a likeness – which was not easy when even the largest figures in the painting were only 1 1/4 metres high. I also had to show their actual differences in height in uniform, insignia and rank. So very often I was working from photographs which were arriving from distant climes.
THE VIKING PRINCESS
The painting Folkestone Harbour (I) became a popular print & on one occasion resulted in my receiving a commission from Salt Lake City. The telephone caller from Utah explained that her husband had swum the English Channel & she wanted a watercolour of the fishing boat which had accompanied him from France. A few weeks later I discovered the Viking Princess tied to a buoy in the oily calm of the fishing harbour. The painting I subsequently sent off to the States showed her ploughing through cold choppy water, some 5 miles off the White Cliffs of Dover.
CHURCH OF ENGLAND –
COUNTRY LIFE MAGAZINE
St. Lawrence Parish Church, Towcester & The Tomb of Archdeacon William Sponne
Both paintings were reproduced as prints, this one commissioned by the Rector to raise money for the Church and restoration work. The requirement of the commission was that the painting should show the three buildings: the Church, the Rectory and the Chantry Chapel – a view which did not exist in reality. The solution was a contrived and false perspective based on three separate views from the roof of the bank opposite. The commission was co-ordinated by Gervase Jackson-Stops, architectural advisor to the National Trust, who was preparing an article for Country Life magazine. This painting, plus two others, including the tomb of Archdeacon Sponne were reproduced in the magazine – August 1989. Now the property of Sponne School.
MINISTRY OF FINANCE, MALAYSIA – WISMA MAHMUD COMMEMORATIVE PUBLICATION 1995
One of three paintings of the new Wisma Mahmud building in 1995 seen from across the Sungai Sarawak in Kuching, Sarawak. Several of these traditional hand paddle sampans are still seen on the waters of the wide Sarawak River.