Travels With My Art

A compilation of Chris's humorous and entertaining travelogues, revealing some of the pitfalls and frustrations, as well as the joy of being a professional artist. Hoping that his efforts abroad will continue to bring in a daily crust to continue supporting his family at home!

10 Aug 2012

"Radcliffe Camera and St. Mary's, Oxford"

       The Radcliffe Camera in Oxford is an irresistible subject for me. One of the finest buildings in the world, and a challenging perspective to attempt freehand. This angle is from Catte Street, and shows the church of St Mary the Virgin behind. I have tried to leave the painting understated and in doing so have deliberately lost the ground level so that the buildings float upwards like castles in the air. Perhaps that's how I see them, I'm always looking upwards in Oxford, away from the human activities at ground level towards the timeless and abstract.

       As always I did a little 'atmospheric' sketch in my small pocket moleskin, as I wanted to explore the colours I might use, and perhaps as importantly, to fire myself up with a mini-preview of my own work! I still like my little exploratory sketches as much as anything.

23 Jul 2012

House Painting of the Week!

This was a commissioned painting of a nice Cotswold Cottage. It is very pretty but presented a few problems, firstly of the plain gravel frontage which was saved by the little wall and small tree in the foreground which also gave depth to an otherwise flat frontage. The other tricky aspect was the repeating windows across the facade, which were broken up by emphasising the reflections of trees behind the viewer. Showing the sunshine from the left drew shadows across which helped again give depth, and the flowering shrubs and climbers all softened the edges. By request the neighbouring property was faded out which helped remove the harsh roof ridge to the right. The owner was pleased with the result! But it shows that it can demand interpretation to make a photo of a property into a 'painting.'

Below is the 'rough' compositional sketch that I almost always provide before doing the actual painting. This is to try to sort out all the above points and make my mistakes in the thumbnail sketch, not the finished artwork!

To see more house portraits visit my website via the link below:

26 Jun 2012

"After the Rain, St. Mark's Square Venice"

I promised myself this year that I would submit some paintings into public exhibitions, not just my own. This was partly to make myself try to paint to a higher standard, or at least try harder! So I painted this view of St.Mark's Square and entered it for the RBSA (Royal Birmingham Society of Artists) Open Summer Exhibition. To my surprise and delight it was accepted!
But why this view? It is one I have tackled before on several occasions, but this interpretation is to capture a flash of sunlight after rain, hence some reflections and a rather abstract feeling of wetness. The figures are shadowy and vague, all is suggested but I am trying to be less literal than usual and concentrate on atmosphere through half-closed eyes. I was quite pleased with the painting. My test before submitting to open exhibitions is "Does it excite me? Have I succeeded technically? Does it tell a story?" If these answers are positive then I have fulfilled my brief. So even if it is not accepted I have pushed myself forwards which is worthwhile. The RBSA exhibition is now over, but I will try others this year.

15 Jun 2012

Painting of the Week! Campo San Barnaba, Venice

I wanted to paint something really bright and sunny again this week as our summer is a long time coming. So I've revisited an old favourite haunt in Venice, the square dominated by the Church of Saint Barnabas,  which has found fame in popular culture by being used in the film Indiana Jones and the SomethingorOther, you know, the one with Sean Connery as his Dad. Anyway I found enough photos and drawings from old sketchbooks to put this picture together. But before I start I always do a 'compositional' pencil sketch to think a few things out in advance.

In this case it helped me sort out the sunshine and shadows and where to perhaps put figures and maybe a gondola on the canal. After finishing the sketch I liked the rythm of the composition, even though the gondolier is too big. (The pencil sketch is only about 4" wide).

Unusually I have used masking fluid, a sort of rubber solution, to keep the paint off the white facade of the church whilst doing a nice loose wash of blue across the sky.

Masking tends to give a crisp edge which in this case  helps the atmosphere in the painting which is clear and bright.

I started by painting the (slightly leaning) campanile to give me a benchmark of tone which which to compare the strength of tones and shadows to come. Then I continued area by area ensuring the shadows were related in colour and strength, all the time bearing in mind the feeling I was after of midday light in Venice at this time of year which is SUNGLASSES BRIGHT but don't we love it!

And here I am having just cut a rather indulgent mount with a small gold fillet inserted within. But Venice is indulgent and this painting is one that may make you hum 'Just one Cornetto' afterwards.

Am I pleased with it? Well perhaps the drawing and some of the figures are rather 'static', but then the atmosphere is supposed to be that time of day where you just feel like wandering slowly and maybe stopping for a cold beer under a cafe umbrella and watching the world go by. So it gives me back the feeling I wanted and that's the most important thing for me.

1 Jun 2012

Painting Workshop Days at Chedworth Roman Villa

Sat 14th July  & Sat 18th August 2012 10.00am – 5.00pm

Would you like a relaxing day in the  countryside brushing up your painting and drawing skills? Then why not come along to our  painting workshop days at the newly  refurbished National Trust  CHEDWORTH ROMAN VILLA ……in the heart of the Cotswolds!

£60 per Day or £110 for Both! Price includes entrance to the museum and grounds, individual help from  tutors Chris & David, morning coffee and a light lunch.

For more information call 01608 730666 or follow this link: Painting Workshop Days

Find out more about Chedworth Roman Villa

28 May 2012

Fishing Boats at St. Ives, Cornwall

          With all the beautiful sunny weather this week I just wanted to paint something really sunny and summery. Looking through an old sketch book I found a pen and ink drawing of some boats from when we were on holiday as a family in Cornwall in August 1998. I had never got around to producing a painting from it despite also keeping a reference photo, but here we are 14 years on and I finally found the moment!

      I often like to paint from a combination of sketches done on the spot, and reference photos. The rest is interpretation. So what was my ‘take’ on the picture? Well, I wanted it to be as sunny and bright as possible. The way to do this in painting is not only to make the shadows dark and often hard-edged but also to make the shadow colourful, ie blue and mauve rather than grey or brown. Also bring out the bright colours big time on those red and yellow balloon thingies with shine on, and don’t touch the white, just leave as blank paper. I’m pleased with the result as summer has been a long time coming and may disappear again in another day or two, so I feel as though I’ve spent the day back in St. Ives!

And here's a link to the painting on  my website: Fishing Boats at St Ives in Watercolour

11 May 2012

Volunteer Taster Evening at Chedworth Roman Villa: Wednesday 6 June 18:30-19:30

Due to a major renovation project at the National Trust’s oldest property, Chedworth Roman Villa in the Cotswolds are now looking to recruit for a range of newly created volunteer posts from site guide, to conservation and visitor services.

If you have a passion for heritage, gardening or just working with people and would like to join a diverse team of volunteer staff here then come to our open evening on Wednesday 6 June from 18:30 – 19:30.

You will get the unique opportunity to have a tour of our site from our Curator, Rupert Goulding, as well as chat to other volunteers already employed at the site whilst enjoying some treats from our newly built café.

We hope to see you here in June.

If you have any questions or would like to register your interest in volunteering for the National Trust then call David Callaghan, Volunteer and Community Officer on 01242 890256

Chedworth Roman Villa
GL54 3LJ

See the new Mural at Chedworth Roman Villa

19 Apr 2012

Nearly finished!

The Shard nearly finished, April 2012

Yes the painting is nearly finished, but it was the subject I was referring to, known as The Shard.

This is the most exciting architectural accomplishment of the decade in the City of London, and now the tallest building in Europe.

I was very struck by the photos I'd seen of its construction recently and couldn't resist depicting it just as it's almost completed. Who would be the crane driver up there? I'm not even good up stepladders, it makes me ill to think of it. But the sight of the crane is so dramatic and the image fills me with wonder and questions. Once it's finished how do they then get the crane down again? At the moment it looks as though it's nailed to the side of the skyscraper.

Fortunately I had other things to worry about, like how to paint it? Well, it's watercolour on smooth Arches watercolour paper, which produces that very silky look to the clouds at the bottom. If you look at the close-up image below you will see that I started by drawing the crane in with a fine masking fluid dispenser in a freehand sort of way, and then washed in the sky and building colour over the top. When all was dry I rubbed off the masking fluid to leave the crane white on the page.

I deliberately painted in the rest of the building with nothing smaller than a number 8 sable and quite freehand to (hopefully) stop it from being a fussy and tight architectural illustration. The colours are a bit 'London grey' but it's saved to my mind by the red on the crane and the building details.

Love it or loathe it (the painting as well as the Shard) it is truly a 'contemporary' view, from earlier this month and the City of London's leviathan will soon be complete.

28 Mar 2012

CHEDWORTH ROMAN VILLA – an unusual commission.

When a letter came through my door last Autumn inviting me to consider painting a wall in one of the most important Roman Villas in the country I was somewhat taken aback. What did I know about Roman Wall Painting?
A major transformation project has been carried out at the Chedworth Roman Villa by the National Trust during the winter and as a part of the refurbishments a purpose built educational facility has been added on behind the café area. This will be known as the ‘Salway’ room and will provide schools and community groups with a dedicated and inspiring area in which to explore Roman life and culture at the Villa. It is having a recreation of a Roman Kitchen at one end, and an ‘eye-mat’ is being fitted on the floor digitally recreating some of the mosaics from the dining-room. That just leaves the walls and that’s where I came in.

It was with some trepidation that I agreed to meet up with eminent Roman historian Professor Peter Salway and Dr. Rupert Goulding (National Trust curator at the Sherborne Park Estate), both consultants to the improvements on the site, along with Jane Lewis, the learning officer at the Villa. I had already bought a wonderful book I’d found on the internet ‘The Splendor of Roman Wall Painting’ by Umberto Pappalardo so I had done some homework, but the meeting was a steep learning curve. However they were all very encouraging and the exchange of ideas was stimulating, not to say a bit mind-boggling! I knew at this point that I had my work cut out.

Examples of actual Roman wall painting:

Unlike my preconceptions the Romans loved bright colour and bling. Never mind less is more, they loved reds and golds, intricate borders, mixtures of styles, fake marbled panels, friezes and painted scenes from ceiling to floor. I could see the styles and colour schemes in the houses of Pompeii from my book, but how was I to translate these as relevant to Chedworth, and how to do it in the time allotted?

When I arrived the room had no doors windows or heating, but the wall was as shown above, divided into three by two timber supports. After consultation we decided to have three central panels surrounded by borders, edged by columns, a dado rail below and a frieze along the top. The left hand panel would depict a hunter returning with his catch, the central panel would show the Chi-rho, a Christian symbol found at the Villa and the right hand panel would be a painting of the Villa itself. My mock-up drawing of it was as follows:

Painting Workshop Days at the Villa during July & August... out more!
Once I had bought some tester pots of Farrow and Ball paints and had done some experimenting on the walls of my studio, I began the more straightforward task of measuring up, masking off and blocking out the areas of colour on the wall. At least it should have been straightforward. Due to technical problems with the building work the doors and windows failed to arrive at the room during the week I had allotted to making ‘a good start’.  Arriving on the first day the temperature outside was minus 4 degrees! Not much warmer inside I nevertheless drew out the initial designs on the walls but coming back the next morning some of my paints were frozen solid! So I had to adjourn for 10 days or so, during which time I decided to paint the inner panels in my studio on 4mm mdf to save time and hopefully get a better result.

The hunter panel was inspired by a small stone carving which can be seen in the Villa’s museum of artefacts showing a hunter-god with a hare, dog and stag.

He also features on part of the dining-room mosaic clutching the hare. I worked up my sketch showing the hunter wearing a hooded cloak or ‘Byruss Britannicus’ and a blue tunic with embroidered stripes or ‘roundels’, striped leggings and simple shoes. Also some Roman snails as they liked filling up empty spaces in their pictures!

The central panel depicts the principal Christian symbol in use at the time of the Villa, the Chi-rho incorporating the two letters X and P, the first two letters of the word ‘Christ’ in Greek. My initial sketch for the panel also shows other symbols around including the fish, peacock, pomegranate, dove and two-handled urn. Along with the laurel wreath these are all interpretive symbols, against a background of a garden setting.

The finished Chi-Rho panel with a distinctly Roman border, taken from one of the mosaics.

The third panel depicting the Villa as it may have looked in c.360 AD was more or less copied from the publicity painting supplied by the National Trust as I had no other reference from which to work. I have simplified it rather and just shown a small hunting party making their way home into the Villa.

But then back to the room itself, and when the doors and windows were fitted and the room was finally warm I had the task of painting all the rest of the wall. I got through an awful lot of masking tape to achieve the clean edges of the borders, although I deliberately painted some of them freehand to give the design some ‘liveliness’ here and there.

The borders took the most time, particularly the ‘egg and dart’ one, the inspiration which came from a house in Pompeii, along with the colours surrounding it.

A natural sponge was useful in giving texture to the panels – I know that ‘marbling’ is a skill unto itself but economies of time dictated certain of my methods. I didn’t worry too much about the authenticity of the columns with their ‘Corinthian’ capitals as it was the spirit of the Roman wall painting I was trying to capture. The wall painters of ancient Rome and Pompeii mixed whatever styles they liked and often lapsed into complete fantasy with their columns!
The ‘frieze’ saw me up a ladder painting with the barest of stencilling with a signwriter’s brush. The design was inspired by yet more of the mosaic in the Triclinium, or dining room of the villa. It was almost the last day of what by now had become something of marathon paint. I rather liked the colour which was ‘duck egg’.

I couldn’t resist signing the wall and dating it by ‘carving’ on the podium below the furthest column.

And thus I put the last brushstrokes to the ‘Salway Room’ of the Chedworth Roman Villa.

Here is a photo of me having just finished, but the eye-mat with its digital mosaic surface was not yet in place. If you wish to see Chedworth Roman Villa and its amazing mosaics, and have a coffee in its newly refurbished café, visit the website here for details: 

The Salway Room is used by schools on weekday mornings but is available at other times. You can find more details on the website or by phoning Chedworth Roman Villa on 01242 890256

Painting Workshop Days at the Villa during July & August...find out more!

29 Feb 2012

Travels With My Art - An Exhibition of Paintings

Friday 2nd - Wednesday 21st March 2012 at Chipping Norton Theatre

11.00am - 3.00pm Weds, Fridays & Saturdays.
Also Open during performances at the Theatre.

One of an ongoing series of exhibitions of paintings in watercolours and oils based upon Chris’ travels at home and abroad with his sketchbooks.

After running Fothergills Gallery in Northleach for more than 15 years, Chris recently moved with wife and family to Great Rollright, near Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire. Chris works from his studio full-time on various projects and commissions in addition to his creation of beautiful watercolour landscapes. Tutoring a painting holiday in Tuscany last September inspired an outpouring of new work as did earlier trips to Andalucia and Venice, the result of which can be seen at this latest exhibition.
Exhibition visitors will also have a rare chance to see Chris’s much loved sketch books, full of enchanting illustrations and workbook notes.
 ...........All paintings on view will be for sale.

Tickets: FREE, no need to book - just turn up and enjoy! The Gallery is open during performances and films and Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 11am-3pm

Chipping Norton Theatre is at the heart of a lively cultural area bristling with talented artists, writers, creatives and performers. Chipping Norton itself offers a selection of high quality specialist independent shops, a plentiful choice of country pubs & restaurants, real ale from the local brewery at Hook Norton and beautiful surrounding Oxfordshire countryside.

Parking in Chipping Norton is plentiful, mostly free or low cost and within easy walking distance of The Theatre. For a Map and Directions......follow this link


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