The actual scene didn’t exist – it was all in the mind – so it was going to be a composition of two men and a heap of objects somehow arranged to tell a story. It must tell of my two protagonists and their interests, and of the Livery, its age, customs and purpose. And I wanted a happy picture, too.
Martin and Brian entered into the spirit of things, furnishing me with details and photos of their interest and enthusiasms, and with the official photos of them in their robes of Office. One showed them standing together, facing the camera, their hands lightly clasped in front of them. That worked in the immediacy of a photo. But a more formal portrait would require a bit of variety. Another photo showed Martin seated sideways and turning to face the camera. Using this as a start, and echoing the pose of the left hand figure on “The Ambassadors”, I drew in Martin holding, not a dagger, but the traditional nosegay in one hand and resting his other hand on the dresser, thereby giving myself immense anguish – and of that, more later.
Thanks to Holbein, I had my two figures of good size posed on the canvas. Now I needed the story to unfold. They have a common interest in wine so we meet them sharing a convivial bottle of claret – doubtless Brian is telling a fishy story or two and Martin doesn’t believe a word of it!
As you see, I have introduced my first washes, taking my colouring from those used in wax crayons. I like the two textures together, and can see where more of the same will enhance the image. It is helping me to move away from a strict representation of the scene, something I have been battling with for years.
However, I think the wax crayons are too emphatic, so I need to intensify the washes, and do more crayoning so that the marks don’t look like currants in a bun.
The foreground is rather interesting. If you remember I had stuck down some crumpled tissue paper. I then sprinkled that area with “Brusho” – how I wish they had thought of a better name – then sprayed with water. I used only purple and yellow at first as being more appropriate for pansies then added green and brown to suggest foliage and shadow. There was no variation in tone so that part stood up like a wall. White gouache was floated over the upper edge penetrating into the garden a little which dulled the colour and made it lie down again. I need to introduce Viridian into the tree. It looks strident just careering around among the purples and yellows.
The next stage is adding colour – this is the bit I like. I continued to work with a palette knife. In this way the painting moves quickly, energetically even. The colours are muted, red-browns, greys, and dark greens. Some of the textures are created by paint catching the lumps and bumps of the underpainting, some by using the edge or tip of the knife. All the time I am trying to match the tone of the underpainting so that the colour washes over the picture, enhancing not changing.
As you can see I got a bit too enthusiastic when working on the central tree! It’s altogether too clumsy, not at all the airy leafless branches I envisaged and the trunk looks like a telegraph pole. The colouring is fine, though. So I painted out the tree and started again with more success this time. I also added a suggestion of light twigs to the distant tree behind the church, Then I reverted to a rigger to lighten the appearance of the middle tree, and to add detail to the gate and church.
I think this will work now but I feel I should abandon the palette knife. I have had a crisis of confidence which happens to me at times, that is largely related to how much painting I am doing at any time. A brush will be more comfortable, more controllable, though I don’t want to lose the energy in the painting.
Mixed media is not something I have been successful with – it feels vaguely like cheating! – one should be able to achieve the desired effect in the medium of choice. However, I did overcome many of my personal prejudices when painting for my book, “The Bridges of Dee” so it’s about time I dealt with this one.
The first necessity was to change the way I viewed painting in this way. It’s not a cheat, it’s using things to express a different interpretation not in competition with a single medium but beside it. It’s using the strengths and delights of all to show a new way of looking. In truth, I’m only half convinced, but enough to give it a go.
I chose one of the City Gates of Chester. The Walls enclose the entire old city, based on the original walls of the Roman Fort, though most of what you now see is medieval. The Gates through the Walls have all been re-built or created since then except of this one and maybe the Kaleyard Gate, the most famous being the Eastgate with its ornate Victorian Clock.
Dipping my toe gently into this new pool, I chose to work first with wax crayon emphasising some of the stones of the arch and the wrought iron gate. the brighter reds and yellow are to the right hand side while the purples and blues predominate in the increasing shadow on the left. It’s all a bit tentative, but I’ll be able to do more on top of the watercolour wash.
Near the bottom of the paper (Bockingford) I have stuck down crinkled tissue paper to create the bed of pansies. I have used this on a whole painting before and do like the textured finish it achieves. Integrating it as part of a painting will be interesting as the “join” has to be managed. I’m sure I will need to do more in wax, but I am getting nervous of all that white paper. Usually, the paper/canvas has an initial wash of colour within the first half hour.