Paintings: oil, watercolour and egg tempera
Paintings oil and watercolour
oil on linen 2008 2m x 2m
watercolour 2006 400 x 600mm
I've been painting buildings and landscapes for over forty years. I have realised that I've been a documentary artist for most of this time, and ultimately my paintings have become memories in paint. Inevitably many of the buildings I've painted have changed in character or have been demolished; unwittingly I've made a documentary record of much-loved buildings. Many wonderful buildings in Britain have been listed for posterity but as many again have been destroyed out of ignorance or greed.
I first began to use oil paints when I lived in Holland in the early 1980s. My first attempts were modest in the extreme but I soon hit my stride with increasing confidence. In 1981 I entered my oil painting Woolwich Foot Tunnel in the 1982 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition: it was selected and hung in a very good eyeline position. Despite this, the painting remained unsold. The Museum of London was interesting in buying it but didn't have the funds to purchase it at the time.
The following year I entered Winalot in the RA's 1983 Summer exhibition; it was selected but not hung.
I painted two panoramas in the early 1980s, Preston Sea Front, a painting of my home patch for my parents, and Duisburg Ruhrort Haven, Germany, which was commissioned by Intraha GmbH, a shipping company in Duisburg.
The largest piece I was comissioned to paint was for the ballroom in Royal Abjar Hotel in Dubai in 1989: a panorama of Dubai Creek in two sections totalling 1m x 9m. It was not my finest piece but at least it merited a site visit to the city. It's now an historic document of a time before the huge developments that have taken place in the emirate since my visit.
oil on canvas 1981 450 x 600mm
Mysteries of Atlantis (crimson)
oil on linen 2017 250 x 500mm
(Ch)eapskates watercolour 1998
Trencrom in snow
Pendeen Lighthouse and Carn Euny
oil on canvas 1997
Andrew at Fort Agra
oil on linen 2019
Caro at San Gimigniano
oil on canvas 1989
I used to paint in gouache and acrylics at college as I was easily seduced by the texture and colour of the new paints from the USA which were far superior to anything equivalent in Britain in the 1960’s (Cryla colour anyone?!!). Eventually I learnt to use oil paint, and from the 1980’s I used this and watercolour and egg tempera. I find each of these media very sensuous in their own ways and despite my very objective way of painting, I enjoy the nuances I can achieve with oil on linen, watercolour on NOT surfaced paper, or egg tempera on gesso prepared board. I’ve always thought that as the great masters’ works could last centuries, my own work ought to be worth the effort of using long established materials with good technique.
Surfaces I now use good quality ready made fine to medium grade linen on (usually) tulip wood stretchers, primed in gesso. To prepare the surface for oil paint I use egg tempera as an undercoat which dries quickly and makes a good tonal foundation. I tend to use oil paint richly in particular colours and tones, blocking in areas before finally adding detail. I rarely use glazes as I like the richness and density of straight oil paint.
I obviously love bright primary colours but I love too the subtleties of colour greys which I find in distant landscapes for instance.
For watercolours I use watercolour paper stretched on a board. I sometimes paint egg tempera paintings on gesso-primed plywood or blockboard, an age-old technique.
Image proportions I’ve never been sure what proportion canvases or watercolour paper to choose. As much as I find 4: 5 an equable proportion, I find I often gravitate towards either a square format - 1:1 - or a double square landscape format - 1:2. My big paintings for our exhibition in The Hague in 2008 were just these two formats. Mystery of Atlantis and Demoiselles de Matanuska are both ideally suited to the 1m x 2m landscape proportion I chose, and Max’s Post is 2m square. They were the largest canvases I could fit in my house, but they looked lost in the huge gallery at Pulchri Studios.
Paint I use various brands of paint, as each company’s range, balance and viscosity of colours differs considerably. I discovered the wonderful Oude Scheveningse Olieverf - Old Scheveningen Oil Paints - and watercolours In the late 1970s when I was living Holland. They produce a huge range of colours with many subtle colours; their very individual earth colours are ideal for the pink sandy coloured forts and landscapes of Oman, and their light blues are excellent, especially their dazzling turquoise which is beyond compare. I decided to teach myself how to paint in both these mediums as I had never been really happy with acrylic paint. As an undercoat I use the old medium of egg tempera which gives a good solid ground to oil paint.
Oude Scheveningse colours have suited my palette ever since, though I use other fine brands like Rembrandt and Lukas. I discovered the German brand Schminke when I worked in Munich, which another fine make with a wide range of lovely pigments in oil, watercolour and gouache. Using the different makes of paint enables me to have a reliable palette of colours which I can trust for consistent quality, chromatics, and pigment.
I use painting medium very sparingly to preserve the richness of paint. For my watercolours I use sometimes use Aerocolor airbrush white to paint in details that I then tint in a colour light against dark. The first painting I employed this technique on was Fairlight Hall 1985 which has autumnal trees in browns and greens, pale branches against a darker background.
Brushes I rarely use natural hair brushes these days as I don’t trust how animal hair is collected. I use man-made filament brushes instead; their quality is generally excellent though they don’t surpass Kolinskys sables.
Paper I use either Saunders Waterford or Arches NOT papers for my watercolours. I find HP, hot-pressed paper, too smooth and ‘naked’ whereas Rough paper is just that: too rough for my detailed work. The largest watercolours I painted were a commission of three panoramas of Muscat, Oman for the Royal Yacht. These were approx 36” x 60” painted on whole sheets of the largest watercolour paper Arches made.
I've only very rarely painted portraits; I've always been more interested in machines and buildings as subjects. As a rather shy person I realise now that the process of scrutinising a person is a very intense and personal process, almost invasive, and I've never been inclined to intrude on a person's private space. My interests elsewhere haven't lead me to me gravitate towards the human figure or viasges as natural subjects for me to paint.
When I have painted the human form, unconciously perhaps I've painted them from the back, like Caro at San Gimigniano, 1989, or Andrew at Agra Fort, 2019. My one frontal portrait was Chrissie from 1981.