Monday, 29 July 2013

What's next then? ... Painting in the USA!!

Whilst showcasing our work from Year of the Boat throughout the UK in 2013 we have also been planning and implementing our next major project. Throughout July and August we shall be based in San Francisco, Las Vegas and New York producing on-location or plein air paintings.

We have started a seperate blog for this project so please follow us over ...

Saturday, 18 May 2013

HRH Prince of Wales visit to Burslem - 16th May 2013

I was honoured to meet and share some words with HRH Prince of Wales during his visit to Burslem on the 16th May 2013. One of the six towns of Stoke-on-Trent, Burslem is the town where we keep a studio and where we were based and established our businesses before embarking on the Year of the Boat.

The Prince was in Burslem to visit The Wedgwood Institute, a superb but derelict building in the heart of the town, as part of a Prince's Charities Summit. All the 12 Prince's Charities (such as the Prince's Trust, The Prince's School for the Traditional Arts, The Prince's Regeneration Trust) are beginning to work together in highlighted communities to try and drive forward regeneration.

The Wedgwood Institute is my favourite building in the city, I used to rent a flat opposite and have painted it numerous times...

The building has a spectacular facade of ceramic friezes and Minton mosaic tiles. It was Wedgwood's statement to the world that whatever could be achieved in stone building and decoration could also be achieved in ceramics thus advertising the local industries of 'The Potteries'.

To provide some interest to the Prince's tour of the town with his charity delegates I set up and painted a painting of the crowd gathering in Queen Street through out the day, starting early in the morning and finishing with the chat with HRH at about midday.

The Prince stopped and I gave him a book of all the Year of the Boat paintings to highlight the work we have been doing in partnership with the Canal and River Trust, which he is patron of, and talked through my time studying at The Princes Drawing School in London.

The Prince was wonderful to meet, a genuinely interested and approachable man that requested the removal of barriers and did not hesitate to walk amongst the crowds and even make an unplanned visit into a model railway shop 2 doors up the street from our studio!

After the tour of the centre of Burslem the Prince went on to a reception and debate at Middleport Pottery, which was purchased by the Princes Regeneration Trust in 2011. The alignment of the Prince's charities with Burslem gives me great hope for the future of the town which has suffered since the growth of the Asian market in the mass production of pottery, the collapse of the mining industry and the recent recessions. Prior to the Year of the Boat we had spent 5 years working hard at developing the arts scene in the area, the scene is a strong one locally and we hope it will play its part in a regeneration of the town and wider city but to have this recognition and for the town to be highlighted on an international level by the wonderful charities fills us with pride and hope for the future.

You can see more videos and content from the day on 6towns Radio's website  -

Birmingham - Year of the Boat preview evening

Birmingham Exhibition
26th April - 18th May 2013

Some more wonderful photography by Page Seven Photography...

Portrait at Gas Street Basin, at the spot where I painted Oil Painting 38, the photographers were keen to test a comparison of the photograph vs the actual painting (see below)

The painting in the window at Number Nine the Gallery, Brindley Place
Clive Henderson, former Chairman of IWA and influential in the establishment of the Canal and River Trust, alongside his now completed portrait
Tony Hales, Chairman of Canal and River Trust opening the Birmingham show
The presentation of Clive Henderson's portrait. Left to right; Rob Pointon, Clive Henderson, Tony Hales

Well attended launch party

Manchester - Year of the Boat Launch

The April Year of the Boat launch in Manchester was a great success, below are some images taken by the superb photographers Page Seven Photography

Poet Laurette for the Canals - Jo Bell, chatting with Andrew Denny at the launch
The Year of the Boat team - Karen Sayle, Rob Pointon and Carolyn Powell

Look at all that space! The wonderful Artzu Gallery in Spinningfields, Manchester

The launch

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Oil Painting 64 - Sunlit Castlefield

This painting was begun in harsh wind and cold when I was still limited to the boat. I lashed the painting to the stern and weighted the easel down to combat the wind. The painting transformed completely when I finally get to revisit it over a week later. No wind and glorious sunshine made the process easier and more enjoyable. I couldn't get the boat to the same spot though; so I had to readjust the painting to a new vantage point. I really enjoyed this adjustment and the movement within the piece's history.

Oil Painting 63 - Castlefield Reflection

A view from the back of the boat chosen because it was a stunning view of the famous mixed arches and bridges of Castlefield and also because the wispy snow and bitterly cold and strong wind meant I was not straying too far from the warmth of the wood burner. The wind meant the water was not as still as previous reflection studies I have attempted in this project, and it is this distortion of the reflection by the undulating water surface that is the main subject of the piece.

This photograph was taken by the superb Page Seven Photography. Image use can be arranged by emailing

Oil Painting 62 - Above Deansgate Locks

The breach on the Trent and Mersey by Middlewich meant our return to Manchester was via the Macclesfield, Peak Forest and Ashton canals.

After a winter of animations and harsh weather I was eager to get the paints flying again in Manchester, and on the home stretch into Castlefield, I was already spying possible subject matter and left the boat dropping in a lock to run up these stairs to check the view from this metro station.

The shear drop down to the bar terraces and the canal even further below, in contrast to straining your neck to catch the full height of the Beetham Tower was an interesting spacial challenge. I also wanted to depict the dog-legging staircase up to where I was standing as a device to describe the different levels and the banister railings to help reiterate the vertical. It got to the interesting stage where I was having to look through myself to describe the platform.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Oil Painting 61 - Portrait of Clive Henderson

I am delighted to have had the support of the Canal and River Trust throughout this project. A percentage of all proceeds from the Year of the Boat exhibitions (see exhibitions page) and the supporting merchandise shall be donated to the trust.

When I was asked to paint the portrait of former IWA Chairman Clive Henderson as a thank you from the Trust for playing an instrumental role in its establishment, I jumped at the opportunity.

I have spent a few days with Clive sat on the lock gate outside his house producing the oil-painted portrait. The painting shall be presented to him by Canal and River Trust at the launch of the Birmingham Year of the Boat Exhibition, and as I don't want to spoil the surprise you only get to see the pencil sketch at this stage!

Oil Painting 60 - Winter Scene on the Trent and Mersey

The unusual tan colour of the Trent and Mersey at this point is heightened by the pure white of the fresh snow which is enough to make even the regal resident swans look dirty against this backdrop. The 'tan' of the canal is caused by it passing through a geological area of iron ore which I am guessing occurs somewhere in the Harecastle tunnel as it flows in a murky green and comes out almost a golden brown. There is a strange point with the Macclesfield Canal aqueduct over the Trent and Mersey just after the tunnel where you have a green canal flowing over a tan brown.

I have had a few snow painting experiences in the past, some have been white outs where the snow landing thickly on the palette has meant I've given up, but although it was snowing whilst producing this piece it was thin enough not to obstruct the process.

Snow and canal boats! Not too many outdoor paintings over the winter you may have noticed, we have been producing animations to help fund the Year of the Boat, but I assure you we didn't shy away from fully experiencing the freeze from the boat.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Darwin Day Celebration Exhibition - Shrewsbury 2013

The Birthplace of Charles Darwin - 'The Mount', Shrewsbury 2013
I was asked to return to Shrewsbury to produce a body of work retracing the steps of Charles Darwin and his connection with the town in time for the Darwin Day celebrations and exhibition at Millard and Lancaster, starting 12th February 2013.

Darwin's Birthplace is in Shrewsbury in a Georgian property called 'The Mount' which you can reach heading out of town over the Welsh bridge.

Now the building houses the District Valuer and Valuation Office for Shrewsbury. This meant, as can be expected for a functioning office, there was plenty of cars in front of building throughout the midweek whilst I was there painting somewhat killing the nostalgia and appeal of the image. Fortunately I was able to return to finish at the weekend and the low winter sun was casting harsh long shadows across the drive and providing some necessary foreground interest.

I guess I couldn't have expected anything other for late January, but the weather was proving challenging, mainly wind and rain, and so an indoor option was required, which led to the discovery of the spectacular interior of St Mary's.  'Spectacular' mainly for its collection of stained glass, it is said that "no other church in the country has a collection to equal it". The main treasure being the Jesse Window, the main subject of my painting.

The Jesse Window, St Mary's, Shrewsbury 2013

A church interior is not an obvious choice to link to Charles Darwin - whose seems to be the figurehead of scientific discovery ahead of religion, but the building does hold some interesting connections. As part of his education at the nearby Shrewsbury School, Charles Darwin would have been taught in the Trinity School section of this church seen just through the arches on the right of my painting. Also when the top of the spire of St Mary's collapsed in 1894 (the third highest spire in England) a local vicar suggested that the collapse was divine retribution for the decision to erect a statue to Charles Darwin in the town!

Mountford's Charles Darwin Sculpture sat in front of the former Shrewsbury School (painting incomplete when photographed)

The statue the vicar was describing was my next and probably the most obvious subject for the trip, the image of Charles Darwin sat in front of the Shrewsbury boarding school where he was taught, now the Library for the town.

Drizzle and wind made this piece difficult but I am pleased with the image, the drama of looking past his head to the clock tower and the two balancing passages to the left and up the stairs to the castle on the right.

My last painting of the week was a quick study of the church where Darwin was christened - St Chad's in Shrewsbury, again strong winds were playing there part and there was a point where it left the easel and I was chasing it around The Quarry.

Despite this I am pleased with the direction of this piece. Extremely loose and iconic with some bold colour use. The composition is quite interesting, a photographic approach with harsh cropping and a dramatic vantage of the balustrade.

All of the paintings are now on display at Millard and Lancaster, they were complete in time for The Darwin Day celebrations and were featured in a wonderful piece by the Shropshire Star that took comparative photographs of each of the locations ...

Before this body of work I have encountered Charles Darwin once before in my painting career when painting a triptych for The Upper House Hotel in Barlaston, the connection to Darwin is explained in my rather lengthy explanation video ...

Friday, 15 February 2013

Edgmond House Commission

A private commission produced this winter as a surprise 50th birthday present for the owner of this wonderful property near Newport, Shropshire. He had previously seen and expressed interest in the Weston Park interior paintings, so his wife knew it would be something of interest.

I wanted a composition that would combine a view out to the garden, in particular capturing the height of the tall tree, with an unusual depiction of the lounge. The enormous windows flood this room with natural light and give an enjoyable comparison to the artificial wall lights and chandelier which is sending out shafts of colour across the white ceiling.

I enjoyed depicting the mass of the material of the large curtains in the foreground, trying to really reflect their weight. This reminded me of one of Lucian Freud's earlier paintings which is primarily a study of gravity with a dense coat hanging alongside a gravity defying plant delicately meandering upwards.

Large Interior, Paddington, Lucian Freud

The painting was presented on the birthday with the room still empty on the understanding I could return to paint in family figures if required.

After some deliberation this was agreed and I painted in three of the family's children. We were all keen to keep the depiction of the family informal and almost incidental. I am pleased with the results.

Altogether this piece was 6 days work spread over a few weeks.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Oil Painting 59 - Still life with oil lamp

A gift from mother this oil lamp has proved surprisingly useful when abandoning the world of mains electricity. It can also be mesmerising to watch, although writing this makes me question our decision to live without a television.

Trying to sum up this years experience in a series of paintings has guided me towards wanting to paint some of the few objects that occupied our limited space and have made the journey with us, and in turn have me tackle a few still life paintings which I haven't explored much at all in the last few years. 

The ceramic piece behind the lamp is a hand thrown faceted bottle vase with a celadon blue glaze by a talented potter and good friend Alex Shimwell.

As this is my first venture into still life for some time I do not feel I can talk with any real authority. I spent a lot of time at college looking at Paul Cezanne's still lifes ...

Still life with bottles and apples - Paul Cezanne

... and the obvious Van Gogh is never far away...

Still Life Glass with Wild Flowers - Vincent Van Gogh

Outside of brushwork and colour use I have not really abstracted the subject a great deal. I have enjoyed the dark band of the edge of the table mat the lamp is sat on bouncing around the frame forming strong diagonals but in honesty this was not premeditated and just something I began to exaggerate as the painting developed. What is interesting for me is that when you 'zoom in' to a relatively small scale inanimate subject and leave the composition quite sparse it exposes / lays bare your treatment of the paint, your handwriting, or 'style' for want of a better word.

I often liken an artists gesture to that of a singer's voice, Van Gogh's mark-making is so very individual and distinctive. I can only hope through work and love of the craft that a similar iconic visual language comes through in my work.

Oil Painting 58 - Winter Scene from the bow

Quite a small canvas I wanted to reflect the warmth of being inside looking out to the cold snow covered landscape. I dipped in and out of this one over about four sessions whilst also working on Oil Painting 59 - Still life with oil lamp. A snowy landscape is such a fleeting sensation and the view and reflecting light had altered dramatically with each visit but I feel there is enough visually for the subject to work, the warmth of the varnished oak inside contrasts nicely. This interior exterior contrast painting reminded me of a previous called 'Kitchen Window at night' painted outside looking in, on a trip to Provence after a night unable to sleep because of excess beer and bread.

Other artists that spring to mind that I am sure have had an influence in this manner of work are Edward Hopper voyeuristic painting looking into domestic scenes from outside,

or Henri Matisse's views through balcony windows.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Oil Painting 57 - Narrowboat Interior

Living inside a narrow floating tube and being interested in dramatic perspectives I had to try and sum up this unusual space that has occupied so much of my time and thought. I say 'thought' because of the year we spent designing and fitting out this interior after buying it as a shell and being so limited on space every decision needs thought and has consequences.

This space of our design has now moved with us around the country, and now coming to the end of the project it will soon be time to put it on the market for the next owner to enjoy, a difficult decision and all the more reason to get it recorded in paint.

As a painting this piece was really enjoyable to produce, the natural light in abundance coming in from all angles and reflecting of all the varnished wood was releasing all sorts of unusual colour combinations, and cast and reflected light patches. Karen is featured working on the laptop. Hopefully the angle I have given the composition isn't too much to be distracting, especially in a floating subject you would wish to be level. I seem to be introducing an angle into a large percentage of my works which seems a natural process and true to how I see or experience the spaces as I am painting.

Somebody on social media likened this piece to Pierre Bonnard's work who is an influence, I shall attach an example -

The Dining Room in the Country, Pierre Bonnard, 1913