During lockdown, as part of the ‘exercise thing’, I began packing watercolours in my bike pannier and going into the countryside to paint postcard sized pictures. I really enjoyed it. In those difficult times it was a great tonic for both body and soul. I even recorded a video about it.
As time went on, I thought I may try the same thing with oil paints. The big challenge with outdoor oils, however, is bulk. I could be stuck with big, leggy easels, bottles of turps and tubes of paint being both awkward and heavy in numbers and I didn’t fancy going there..
As a solution I decided to do small oils. I set them at 15.5cm x 15.5cm or thereabouts – nice and portable. The easel and paints I were to be no bigger than a couple of paperback books and less than 750 grams.
After a bit of messing about, I built an easel from a wooden box, contained within a foldable palette, and a board to clip my paintings too. All held firm with sets off magnets.
The next challenge was the paint. I’d only get a few inside the box and they would be heavy too. I then hit on the idea of 5ml syringes. These are light and contain enough paint for a good few paintings. I could easily get nine colours in my modest box, along with everything else.
It all came in at 720gms. Finally, with the addition of a small tripod, I was ready to go. So off I went!
As the lockdown eased, I was able to travel back and forth to London again. Throughout the long, hot summer of 2022 I took my mini oil set with me, painting as and when I had the time.
Now we are approaching autumn, I thought I would write a blog post on four of my efforts, two in London and two in Somerset where I live. I hope you enjoy them.
Berwick Street, London
In July, I had a job in London and once that was done, I visited Soho to hook up with old friends and have a drink or two.
One of my favourite haunts is the Blue Posts on Berwick Street. This is an old, traditional Soho pub, still as I remember them from years back. It has the bonus that on hot summer evenings you can take your beer outside, lean on the windowsill and watch the world go by.
Having an hour or two before we met, I set up with my paint box among a few parked bicycles and got to work painting a pub called The Blue Posts. I got a fair bit done and managed to capture the evening heat.
You may recognise the same scene from the cover of the 1995 Oasis album, ‘(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?’.
A bit about Berwick Street
Berwick Street, in Soho, has been there since 1703 and it wasn’t long before local traders figured out that this small street would be a good spot to sell fruit, vegetables, and general goods. In spite of London life’s the ever-shifting tides, the market in Berwick Street is selling those very same things today. That’s for over 250 years.
Berwick Street and its adjoining streets have a very long history with the music business. A small example being that at the end of the street, where it joins Brewer Street and through an alley, is Madam Jo Jo’s. In 1964, David Bowie’s first band, Dave Jones and The King Bees, played here when it was called The Jack of Clubs. And it was that night David Bowie got his big break.
At the very same time, T-Rex front man, Marc Bolan, worked on his mother’s stall in the market in the 1960s. I wonder if he sold David an apple or two?
Statue of James Henry Greathead, in The City of London
One day in early August, I visited an exhibition or two and while between galleries the train I was riding came to a halt at Bank underground station. The driver announced that there was some delay or other and the train will be terminated.
Rather than wait for another train I decided to go ‘up top’ and get a bus or maybe walk. On exiting the underground I spotted this statue on Cornhill. I had no idea who it was and by the look of him it could have been Indiana Jones. I really liked the silhouette the statue created and how the light played on each side of Cornhill. Worth a painting, certainly. I produced the initial drawing in pencil but soon realised that in my enthusiasm, I had bitten off more than I could chew.
The statue itself was pretty simple, however, the background was incredibly complex leaving me scratching away for ages, marking it in.
I sometimes I wish I was one of those artists that can just happily mark in whole areas of tone and just leave it at that. Having said that, ultimately, I do really enjoy working the way I do.
By the time I got to the painting stage, time had moved on and I only managed to get the basics down and I had to finish it in the studio.
A bit about James Henry Greathead
James Henry Greathead was a South African. He was a civil engineer and did much to build the London Underground, which, ironically, was the very thing that delayed me long enough to paint his statue.
Greathead was the main engineer on the London (City) & Southwark Subway, later the City and South London Railway, now part of the Northern line.
A plaque on the statue plinth reads:”Inventor of the travelling shield that made possible the cutting of the tunnels of London’s deep level tube system”
Interestingly, His bronze plinth is full of holes as it’s become the top of a vent shaft from Bank Junction. The shaft was introduced to meet safety standards following the King’s Cross fire in 1987. Greathead would be very pleased, I’m sure.
West Pennard Church, Somerset
A painting of an evening view to West Pennard, Somerset, showing the Parish Church of St Nicholas. I spotted this scene on an evening cycle trip around the lanes.
Although it was pretty far off, I really liked the way the church was set against the foreshortened hills and the long shadows of the early evening.
I parked my bike in front of a cattle fence and got to work. I got in the lighter parts of the church down quickly, then it was a matter of chasing the evening light to mould the shapes of the trees, hedges, and fields. Overall, I was happy with the result.
The Church of St Nicholas dates back to the 15th Century but prior to that there was a 12th Century chapel. This too was dedicated to St Nicholas.
The churchyard cross was built between 1493 and 1524 by Abbot Richard Beere of Glastonbury.
A painting of cows in a field on Stoodly Lane at the top of Pilton, Somerset.
I’d had my eye on this typically bucolic Somerset scene for a while. It was so lovely, I thought it would be worth the effort to cycle up to the top of Totterdown lane in the summer heat.
So, one afternoon in early August, I arrived at the field with my paints and took it all in. It was a very hot day and the only shade available was in the field with the cows. As a city person, cows scare the life out of me so there was no way I was going to climb the gate and join them.
I set up by the gate and before getting to work, applied the factor 50. The trees and fields went in fine but the cows were tricky. They kept moving about. When I look at cows, they normally seem static and lethargic, so their friskiness came as a surprise.
I managed to get a few in by amalgamating three or four into one cow with the rest done in the studio. I really enjoyed this painting and managed to blag some water off a near neighbour before heading back down the road.