A Commission; 'From The Eye'

I don’t paint commissions…

I don’t paint commissions generally, because in painting by request you accept responsibility for the clients expectations, risk ‘not connecting ‘ with the subject and being unsure of the outcome. All stressful.

This commission was to paint the view from The London Eye to include on the right, the Treasury where the clients met, with Westminster Bridge and the sweep of the Thames on the left. Having painted this subject many times, in many sizes and formats, I could see that this would extend what I have previously achieved and would therefore be a challenge.

I said yes.

Painting a watercolour on this scale is not something I can dive straight into. I have to get my head around the many considerations of size, composition, lighting, process, the ‘order of events’, that I suppose can be called ‘having a plan’. Planning takes time, largely in my head, working mainly on the ‘order of events’. With a certain amount of familiarity of subject it soon became clear that while I had to work up to painting on my 3ft x 4ft board once again, the biggest challenge by far would be the added streets and buildings to include the Treasury. I had to let go of the importance of the Treasury for the clients in order to depict it naturally without feature, nestled among the other buildings in Whitehall. I see painting buildings as a bit like painting portraits, in that they have to be ‘right’…..because if they’re wrong, they’re soooo wrong.

I think of the quote: ‘ A portrait is a painting with something wrong with the mouth’, by John Singer Sargent. In painting Big Ben and his friends, its important to me to not paint the mouth wrong, because if you do, it just screams at you that you failed to get it right! The painted form may just be a collection of drawn and painted marks, dashes and splashes with lost and found edges, but they have to have landed in the right place.


Onto practical considerations, first comes the stretching of the paper. Handling a 3ft x 4ft piece of wet watercolour paper and turning it over on the board to tape it down, is a bit daunting and again has to be ‘worked up to’! It demands space, time and coffee.

Commission From The Eye.jpg

The process begins with the background cityscape, placing and balancing marks and tonal blocks that suggest buildings without detail, laid out in their patterns that form believable streets. I don’t draw on the paper with pencil, I use dilute watercolour and a dip pen to gradually map out my composition, working from the background to the foreground, using a sheet of plastic to cover and protect the unpainted paper while I work. Once what I consider to be the whole of the background is in and is totally dry I then paint the sky over the top, which involves re-wetting the whole area and dropping in colour, managing the white light of the sun and lifting the shafts of sunlight as the wash dries. Again this demands more space, more time and more coffee.

Once I am in the foreground it becomes a matter of painting portraits, before at last diving into the water and pulling the whole thing together. When you get up close to these large paintings, as a whole they exceed the visual field, so I like to make them give again, by including small passages written by hand in watercolour paint of poetic phrases and factual detail particular to the subject, in this case almost hidden amongst the buildings and ripples on the water.

“Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!

The river glideth at his own sweet will:

Dear God! The very houses seem asleep;

And all that mighty heart is lying still!”

William Wordsworth: Poems, in Two Volumes: Sonnet 14

‘From The Eye’, watercolour, H103cm x W137cm

‘From The Eye’, watercolour, H103cm x W137cm

“I thought of London spread out in the sun,

Its postal districts packed like squares of wheat.”

Philip Larkin: The Whitsun Weddings, 1964

The ArtsBox Solo Prize

I’m honoured to have been awarded The ArtsBox Solo Prize for my collection at the 207th exhibition of the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours


The prize is a solo exhibition in Vicenza, at The ArtsBox.  The innovative directors of this forward-thinking association include the cost of framing in Italy, a return flight from the UK, accommodation and the opportunity to give a demonstration or workshop.

Vicenza, Italy

Vicenza, Italy

Vicenza is a beautiful city, famous for its stunning basilica and Palladian architecture, with all the bustle of cafe culture, live music and all things Italian.
This is an exciting prize and a fantastic opportunity that I am looking forward to working towards.


Contrasting Spaces

In this year's RI exhibition I have  painted a collection of contrasting spaces.

Guillemots, Sea beet and Tree Mallow   watercolour H96cm x W136cm

Guillemots, Sea beet and Tree Mallow watercolour H96cm x W136cm

A huge subject such as this, that incorporates both the far distance and relatively close up detail, often presents itself months or sometimes years before I work out how to paint it. Some subjects just have to be big  and this is one of them. With the need for size come all the specific  technical watercolour  problems of finding and developing my visual language of mark making; handling very large areas of wet paper and wet paint...then handling the drying of both without untoward happenings. Step by step planning gradually starts to take place in my head, planning an order of events that will be essential. In order to avoid 'untoward happenings' , both the subject and the technical process have to be handled confidently and without hesitation.  A tentative approach would be disastrous.

Wild Swimmers   watercolour H40cm x W39.5cm ;  Liquid Gold II   watercolour H40.5cm x W40.5cm ; and  Liquid Gold I   watercolour H39.5cm x W4o.5cm

Wild Swimmers watercolour H40cm x W39.5cm; Liquid Gold II watercolour H40.5cm x W40.5cm; and Liquid Gold I watercolour H39.5cm x W4o.5cm

In contrast, these three small paintings are executed more intuitively and offer an intimate glimpse of a brief moment in time. Unlike the large seascape that invites the viewer to breathe in the whole vista over time, these three are transient flashes of light on water that grab your attention. They stop you in your tracks for just a few seconds before being gone forever.

The sun at my feet   watercolour H49cm x W49cm

The sun at my feet watercolour H49cm x W49cm

While relating to the large seascape in its spatial contrast  of far distance and close up detail, the feeling is very different here. Instead of walking on cliffs I am at sea level. Here I'm aware of a deafening silence created by wind and surf all around me. On the perceived horizon, at the seas edge, the waves roar in to claim the rocks once more, but at my feet a rock pool warmed by the sun presents a calm haven or resting place.

Sunlight and Shadows   watercolour H42.5cm x42.5cm

Sunlight and Shadows watercolour H42.5cm x42.5cm

The third seascape relates to the other two, but again is different in concept. Here I try to represent the sheer scale of the chalk cliffs, with tiny figures that give some indication of size. While the sea stretches far over the horizon, the cliff throws an arm around the water below. It is only the side light casting shadow that defines the structure of the white land mass.

My approach to landscape in watercolour is to find ways to present the widest range of tones possible that are inherent in the subject, the way I see it. Not only am I constantly striving to master the technical demands of the medium,  I'm also drawn like a magpie to contre-jour; painting into the light.

The RI exhibition at the Mall Galleries, London, is open from 3 – 18 April (10am – 5pm). Please follow the link to view all the paintings in the show: https://www.mallgalleries.org.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/royal-institute-painters-water-colours-207th-exhibition

Then and Now is the first long awaited book about the RI is being launched at the show this year. Including a foreword by HRH The Prince of Wales and a history of the RI since its inception in 1831, it features all its current members. With 700 beautifully illustrated pages, this hardback book will be available to buy from the Mall Galleries Bookshop, priced at £34.99

RI Then & Now.jpg

Watercolors and words for a planet under siege

10 November 2018 - 27 January 2019  

Under the patronage of the Municipality of Vicenza

 I will be taking part in this exhibition of invited water-colourists from around the world:

The watercolour is by its nature light and precarious, sensitive to changes in temperature, light and humidity, showing that what an artist produces with this technique exists as in a microcosm. The watercolour pigments, originally derived from rocks and other natural elements, are directly related to the elements of the Earth. Water, as the central element of this pictorial technique, flows on the artist's paper as a stream or a drop of water would do, or as a tide rises between shores, rocks and beaches. This microcosm requires special attention from the artist and, like the Earth itself, possesses a particular fragility.

The 28 works on show highlight not only the close connection of the watercolour with its constituent elements, but also the importance of the artistic gesture when it reflects the subtle functioning of our cosmos. Seen from this metaphorical perspective, the watercolour asks us to reflect on the destruction of the harmony of our planet, and asks artists to consider their aesthetic and moral vision on the preservation of terrestrial habitats and on the heritage of our planet Earth.
Opening hours of the exhibition :
Saturday: 10.30-12.30 / 16.30-19.30
Sunday: 16.30-19.30 

TheArtsBox  - Contrà San Paolo 23, 36100 Vicenza