The Arrow

I have gradually accumulated on my iMac around 25,000 photographs. They go back to the early 1950s when ‘I were nobbut a lad’. As I have said before I generally do not have time to sketch a scene that catches my eye so a photograph has to do. I guess around 60-70 percent, or more, of my photos have been taken with the intention of possibly using them for a painting. I came across a print of this picture last week and couldn’t remember when or where the photo was taken or even why.


An appealing scene doesn’t always carry its mood over to the camera and I didn’t look the most interesting of subjects but I could feel a hint of why the picture was taken and I was caught by the arrow on the fence so I set to with my easel and acrylics.

The photo has quite flat lighting and lacks a meaningful focal point. After thought I decided to give the picture a dramatic sky and from that came the full frontal lighting on the cottages and distant house. This was OK but still lacking a ‘path’ through the image. This is when I added the shadow from the barn on the left which when cast on the leftmost cottage pointed a way to the right. Then I swung the rightmost fence panelling to close off the right side. I still had an unimpressive chunk of road to the lower left so I began with the frontal shadow from a tree ‘behind’ me which partly forced the eye into the mid-ground. Finally I added the posts and wire (a favourite cliché of mine) with the intention of turning the interest round the corner, up the shadowed bit of road and then to be guided across the fronts of the cottages by sunlight, up the pole and to rest at the distant mansion. Thus ‘The Arrow’ was born.

I hope this works reasonably well but whether exhibition judges will agree is another matter.


Later, I did some research and found that I took the photo in May 2006 in Hambledon, near the Thames. A village once owned by W H Smith. Not his company but the man himself who was later lampooned in ‘HMS Pinafore’.


When a painting has a story to tell , it adds another dimension to a painting. A prime example is a picture I painted some years ago, called “What Else Can I Do?”. I entered it for the EAC Awards, but it didn’t win – although it sold, apparently to someone in Italy. Bankside Gallery refused to tell me who had bought it, citing the Data Protection Act.. I think that is wrong. An artist should know what happens to his paintings in case of a future retrospective exhibition. But there you go…. This was the story behind the painting: 
In 1992, when the United Nations, Red Cross, aid agencies and the international press pulled out of Sarajevo because of unacceptable casualties, one man – the New York Times Chief Foreign Correspondent, John F. Burns – decided that he ought to go back because he thought it would be wrong to leave the lawless and dangerous city without an independent witness.
When Burns arrived back at his office, a small boy came up to him and insisted that he follow. At first Burns protested that he was too busy but the boy was adamant, so Burns followed him. They eventually came to a street scarred by bomb and mortar shell damage in which, sitting on a chair, was a man in full evening dress playing Albinoni’s Adagio in G. 
When the cellist had finished playing, Burns asked him who he was. “And why are you playing here?”
The cellist explained that he was Vedran Smajlovic and that he was the lead cellist for the Sarajevo Symphony Orchestra. He added: “Last week, 22 of my fellow countrymen were queuing for bread here and were killed by a mortar shell – and I don’t know what else I can do!”
Born in 1956, Smajlovic was extraordinarily brave.  In honour of the twenty-two men, women and children who died as he watched helplessly, he played in the ruins for 22 days, eventually with army snipers protecting him. Today, he lives a quieter life in Warrenpoint, Ireland.
I thought the image of that was so powerful that I decided to paint it. But instead of using a Sarajevo background, of which I had no knowledge and would therefore have been dependent on other people’s photographs, I used a background from my own experience – covering the Israeli Siege of Beirut in 1984. I remembered the street well – and had one very grainy snapshot. Using that as a rough guide, I painted this picture. It is quite detailed, as you can see – and it took about three weeks of six hour days to paint it.
'What Else Can I Do?'

‘What Else Can I Do?’

The second example of a good story is a painting I have just finished: “Caroline’s Oak Tree”. Caroline commissioned it because she said that when she was two years old, she planted an acorn. This was the same age as her daughter ,Emelia. As Caroline’s mother may have to sell the house (and garden), Caroline wanted me to paint the oak tree, which I did with the figures of her and her daughter in it.

I constructed the picture from 17 different reference photographs. Consequently, it would be impossible to take a photograph of the garden as depicted. I planned carefully that all the diagonals would automatically lead the viewers’ eye to the two figures and the oak tree. Thus the perspective of the fence and wall at the left of the picture lead to the little girl’s feet. The line of the purple Berberis tree leads down to her as well. The hanging basket of red fuchsias and the tree line to the right of the oak tree also leads down to them, whilst the lines of the shed at the extreme right of the painting lead to the junction of branches in the oak tree. The pink flowers lead upwards to the two figures – and they, in turn, help pull the eye away from the path to the bird bath.

The shed, incidentally, is at the side of the house and would not be visible at all, but a little artistic license helped ‘frame”‘ the right hand edge of the picture. The painting, (acrylic, pen and ink on MDF (Masonite) panel measuring 22 x 13.5 inches)  took 21 days of painting four-five hours a day.

'Caroline's Oak Tree'

‘Caroline’s Oak Tree’

by Sam Hall


En plein air on Hampstead Heath

John Jarratt encouraged us to paint en plein air this summer – and what a wonderful summer it has been for doing so! I needed my wide-brimmed sunhat as well as easel and paints, brushes, canvas, palette, water, and rubbish bag. Evelyn and I parked a car near the Highgate ponds on Hampstead Heath so we didn’t have to carry all our clobber too far, and found a comfortable wooden bench to sit on.

I love the copper beeches on the Heath in late spring when the foliage is Alizarin crimson mixed with raw Brown Umber. Later in high summer the foliage turns greener. In the first version I put in a vermillion life buoy and the notice board, completing that version in 2 ½ hours. The weather wasn’t too good that day. I showed it at the Hampstead School of Art “Paint the Heath” contribution to the Hampstead Festival at the end of June. When I took it home, unsold, I thought the red was too distracting at the bottom of the painting. I was also aware of poor painting of the reeds.

FirstpaintingHighgate Pond1

So I painted out the red and black and when the paint was dry, I returned to the same spot in late July, on a baking hot day, and worked mainly on the reed bed in the foreground. The reflections in the water were so difficult to capture because they changed when the breeze ruffled the water, or when a cloud passed by and changed the lighting. I photographed the scene, and painted in the people walking along the path at home. I think it may be finished now but I am not sure that I made the right decision to remove the red buoy. What do you think?

second painting of Highgate pond 8

by Lynn Bindman

Guest Blog by Tom Hawkes

 I’m a Blog Virgin, this is my first outing but I feel compelled  to write something after all the excitement of the past couple of months.

Well it’s all over for another year except for the presentations to the winners in the House of Lords. We also ran’s are looking forward to that event and to meeting other painters.
My journey started in 2009, I think, when one of my pictures was selected to be shown in photographic form at the Bankside Gallery exhibition. This was subsequently sold during the Dulwich Open Studio festival.
Atelier 2009

Atelier 2009

 In 2011, a picture was selected for the Birmingham exhibition, which delighted me enormously.


And so on to this year entering five pictures three of which made it to the top 20 peoples choice awards. Congratulations to the two winners who must have had hundreds of friends voting for them. My family and friends did me proud and what is more other unknown to me voters left comments on my work. I found the whole process of voting very exciting especially when my watercolour ‘Autumn’ made it up to No. 8, it subsequently slipped back to No. 10. But I was especially thrilled that my teacher at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, the amazing Liz Butler, left a flattering comment. As Linda Snell once said in The Archers, ‘As you know, I don’t have a competitive bone in my body, but….’ So it is with me!
I do miss the Gallery exhibitions but at least with this on-line competition many more artists have the chance to show their work and that can only be a good thing. It was sad that some very beautiful pictures were not voted for, but perhaps their supporters did not have on line access.
So on to the future and who knows with hard work and inspiration one might be a winner next time! As Linda said….!
Latest picture: 'Open Gate, Bandouille' - watercolour

Latest picture: ‘Open Gate, Bandouille’ – watercolour

 by Tom Hawkes

Doing it outside

Sorry but this is yet another plug for getting out, if you can, and painting en plain air (that’s french and it means ‘in plain air’ – oh the wonders of a modern education). One of the art clubs I belong to go out on Tuesday evenings through the summer to get a quick piece of art made. Afterwards there is a meeting in a local pub or inn but I’m usually painting or drawing until the light goes.

I find this work done in front of reality (rather than a photograph of reality) is an excellent way of clearing out clogged creative pathways and reminding oneself of how to see quickly and  accurately. I used pencil and watercolour for a couple of early sessions but the last three I have tried bashing in a 12x16ins. oil sketch on each occasion.  One has to be prepared for some disappointment as what looks like a beautifully lit scene when you sit down can be radically different in 30 minutes and a ‘nocturne’ only another half hour away. One of our members with a lifetime of living by his art can do a tiny work which will eventually appear in a gallery with a multi-hundred£ tag but the majority of us are just content with doing the best we can, chatting to others and feeling good about the whole thing.

Lake in Lea Valley Park. Oil Sketch     Near Welwyn Oil Sketch

I was looking at the Pintar Rapido film in an another blog. Now there is en plain air painting done in a big way. Now I know Pintar Rapido exists I will be trying to take part if it happens again. Like my two days sketching in Walberswick (see previous blog) I would find painting in some part of London, with other artists, just heaven.

Across the Meads, Bengeo. Oil Sketch