Self Portrait in coloured pencil

Friday, 22 June 2018

Update on Jet


Update on Jet

This isn’t about art. It is an update on the story of the cat I rescued, Jet. But you can see him in the photo sitting on my painting table among my paintbrushes. 

I wrote last August about rescuing Jet and explained that he was a major inspiration for using my ability as a portraitist to combat prejudice. 
I want to update his story and tell the world how impressed I am with his kindness. 
I named him Jet in memory of a very generous dog. He was a black Labrador belonging to my parents and when we would visit them with our dog, Juno, he would always save some of his food for her. I remind you that Labradors are noted for being food orientated, which makes them trainable, so his generosity was notable. My mother had a strong belief in the power of names, so when I rescued a black cat it was obvious to name him after dear old Jet.
I haven’t had much experience of cats until 10 years ago when I rescued Pumpkin. I believe that he may have belonged to the people who lived in this house before me and he was such a territorial cat that when they moved he came back and lived semi-wild in the back gardens. Pumpkin is a stately cat and was never playful. He is very old now - probably 20 years old - and I moved him into my bedroom this year. He is too old to guard his outdoor territory any more. Living in my bedroom suits him. He is eating much better and isn’t so boney. 
The next cat, 4 years ago, was kitten Fliss which is short for Felicity. I got her as a present for my lurcher Bryn, who loves cats. Luckily Fliss loves Bryn too. Fliss is very shy. When I had visitors in the winter she disappeared into the cupboard under the kitchen sink. 
Jet was different. For one thing, when I rescued him over 2 years ago, he bit and scratched anyone who touched him below the head. He also attacked dogs and cats, and I had 2 dogs and 2 cats. But it was the end of November, turning cold, and I had a scullery with a cat flap in the back door. I made a bed for Jet under the scullery sink and made a movable barricade using a clothes horse wrapped with cat netting so that I could let the dogs out into the garden safely. I told Jet that it was to keep him safe, and he accepted it. I know little of cats and their ways, but I treated him with respect and gave him the space to let me know how to help him. 
I quickly realised that his problem was that he had been severely injured. I was so impressed with his intelligence and his understanding that I was doing my best to help him. 
He has repaid me amply. 
I have watched episodes of Jackson Galaxy’s My Cat From Hell and I was interested to watch episodes where one cat was acting like prey and being chased and bullied. 
Fliss acted like prey but Jet never bullied her. Instead he has been patiently teaching her to play. He runs after her but he stops short when she goes into hiding. He is a big cat but when I put their food out he waits until she chooses which bowl she wants. I scatter treats and he waits for her to start eating them first. 
With Jet’s influence, Fliss is a changed cat. She has stopped running and hiding and she shares Jet’s playtime. She comes and curls up next to me on the sofa purring which she never did before. There is something about Fliss that makes me want to cuddle her and I couldn’t before. She used to cry and run away. So thank you Jet for whatever magic spell you used.
Jet is kind and helpful to me as well. I used to let him out in the garden but I stopped in the Spring for 2 reasons. We had a blackbird’s nest in the garden and every time Jet went out he brought back fleas. Now he waits for me to let the dogs out. He gets paid in treats and playtime. 







Friday, 15 June 2018

Why I Embrace Cultural Diversity





Why I Embrace Cultural Diversity 

"The differences between people need not act as barriers that wound, harm and drive us apart. Rather, these very differences among cultures and civilizations should be valued as manifestations of the richness of our shared creativity" quote by Daisaku Ikeda.


I had some interesting discussions with the visitors to the "Gypsy Portraits, Changing Expectations" exhibition during the Appleby Horse Fair. Many of the visitors were aware of the caring aspect of Gypsy culture and believed that it was because of their close family ties. I told them that it didn’t just apply to family members and I told them what had happened when I was walking down to the church on Saturday morning. 
The short cut down the hill to Appleby town centre is a steep footpath (named LadyGarth) with a number of sloping steps near the top. I am so disabled that I have to use a walking frame with wheels at the front and sliders at the back, so I approach each step very cautiously. 
A lot of people were coming down the hill from the railway station and I was letting them pass me. 
Half way down the footpath is a seat and there was a family group of Gypsies sitting there. The man jumped up and ran to help me, though he had one shoe on. He had the other shoe in his hand. He helped me very efficiently. When we reached the seat I explained to him and his family about the exhibition and its purpose. 

Respect for older people is not confined to Gypsies of course. It is silly to think of a person’s culture as being anything to do with their genetics. I have lived in seven different counties in England and each area has its own attitudes to many aspects of life. As a child, I was aware of the difference in attitudes to certain aspects of life in areas just a few miles apart.
A person who influenced me powerfully was a girl who I met at Southampton University in 1969. Her family were Hindu, lived in Iraq and went to a Christian school. She had a broad understanding of the similarities underlying different cultures. She taught me a lot and I became fascinated, and wanted to learn more.
I lived in North London for 15 years and made friends with people who came from many different nationalities and cultures. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn from them. 

As religion is a major source of cultural attitudes, I was particularly fascinated to learn how different faiths affected people’s way of life. When it came to Buddhism, I knew about priests and monks spending much of their time in meditation to attain enlightenment but I wondered what was in it for ordinary people. That seeking spirit caused me to ask Japanese ladies whom I met in North London about their experience of Buddhism and I was lucky to learn about Nichiren Buddhism and the wise sayings of President Daisaku Ikeda who is the author of the quote above.

Respecting and cherishing people’s lives and experiences has taught me an empathy that gives me the skill to paint portraits that capture the individual’s essential self. It is something more than character but I would never claim that I capture the soul. Capturing a soul must be something like pinning a butterfly. 

To sum up I will quote President Daisaku Ikeda again: "It is the spirit of mutual respect and the willingness to learn from others that bonds hearts together. In the words of a wise person, when you bow respectfully to the mirror, the image in the mirror likewise bows to you."



Friday, 8 June 2018

Gypsy Portraits Changing Expectations Exhibition.



Gypsy Portraits Changing Expectations Exhibition 

Appleby is crowded with visitors to the Appleby Horse Fair, and horses of all shapes and sizes. If you drive this way be very careful. I heard today that a small child running from between caravans got run over, and has a broken leg. We don’t want any more injuries. Children will always get excited and not look where they are going. 

My exhibition is set up and attracting positive attention from locals and visitors. 
This is a visual post. Here are more photos of the portraits. 














Friday, 1 June 2018

Boots


Boots

Boots is a beautiful Deerhound. I am painting him in water mixable oils on canvas using Payne’s Grey and white, warmed with a hint of sepia. 
I am not sure about the shape of Boots’ eye. In my reference photo his eye is bleached out by reflected light. In fact at one time I was wondering if he had a visible eye at all. This is one of those times that I am very glad that I have dogs who often cooperate to help me work out canine anatomy. Bryn is a cross bred Wolfhound so I am going to ask her to hold her head in the right position.

This time next week my exhibition "Gypsy Portraits, Changing Expectations" will be on view at St Lawrence’s Church, Appleby-in-Westmorland during this year’s Appleby Horse Fair.  
I am still busy finishing portraits. So I will get back to the easel now. 




Friday, 25 May 2018

Waiting for Varnish


Waiting for Varnish

I have completed another three portraits in the last couple of days. 
I have taken them upstairs for them to dry sufficiently to varnish them. I am using Exhibition Varnish. They can have their permanent coat of varnish after six months on top of the exhibition varnish.
The photo shows the portraits upside down, because I painted the bottoms last and the paint may come off on the shelf. I know that is obvious, but when I was studying at University I was told that if you don’t write the obvious things you lose marks. 
When it is safe to put them in my scanner I will take quality scans of them. 
Meanwhile I have two more portraits that are very nearly finished. In fact I meant to finish the lady in sunglasses today but I was working on her rather late last night and when I saw what I had done, I scraped it off! I had given her a dirty face. 
I am not going to make the mistake of working on any faces tonight but I think it will be safe for me to paint some sky backgrounds. 


Friday, 18 May 2018

360 degree Rotating Canvas Attachment.


360 degree Rotating Canvas Attachment

I have bought a 360 degree rotating attachment for my easel which you can see above. It took me a while to work out how to attach my reference photos close to the portrait. I was looking in all those places that one puts one’s household bits and pieces for hooks and things, and I found some Command Strips for hanging pictures. That inspired me to use them to hold a piece of plywood in place. I can clip my reference photos to it. You can see it works well. 

I think Jet wanted to get into the photo. He likes sitting on my painting table. The challenge is to keep his tail out of the wet paint. 

I knew for some time about this attachment for an easel so a canvas can be rotated. But I didn’t know if it would fit my easel. I have a rotating drawing board cum table easel that I have set up in my bedroom and I have been using it for years for drawing and painting in acrylics. However it won’t hold a canvas and there’s nowhere to set it up downstairs. 
Once my exhibition is over I have an acrylic portrait of a dog to finish. It is particularly useful to have a rotating easel for painting an animal’s fur because of hair being linear. It will be nice to paint Bentley downstairs. 

Brighteyes is nearly finished. His clothes look blotchy because it is the undercoat, and I concentrated on covering the canvas quickly. Now he is going back onto the picture shelves to dry. I have a dehumidifier working to speed it up. 


Friday, 11 May 2018

Girl in Profile Update


Girl in Profile Update 

The Girl in Profile is waiting for another tube of red paint that I have ordered today. 
I went over her hair again today but I think I will want to improve it tomorrow. I am still trying to match the subtle colours in her hair. It changes with the light. 
It is very difficult to be satisfied with a portrait. It reminds me of Maurice Quentin de la Tour, who was a very popular portrait painter at the French Court back in the Eighteenth Century. He worked in pastel and he was my inspiration when I first started painting portraits. 
He would deliver the painting then he would take it back to improve it. That sounds dangerous. It is so easy to overwork pastel.
I used to work in pastel but my latest paintings are oil on canvas. The canvas can be worked over without tearing holes in it. It is nice not having to be afraid of mistakes.