Archive | March, 2014

My Heroes in Art – Hercules Brabazon Brabazon

Mountain Landscape by Hercules Brabazon Brabazon

Hercules Brabazon Brabazon Mountain Landscape.


One of my ‘Heroes’ in art is the Victorian artist, Hercules Brabazon Brabazon.

Today he is almost forgotten, except by the academics. He was born to an aristocratic family in 1821 and after graduation went to Rome to study Art and Music. He inherited estates in Ireland and Sussex and from then on, he divided his time between London, Sussex and foreign travels. He made three tours to Egypt and the Sudan, many trips to India and many more to europe and beyond. Art and Music were his passion and everywhere he went, he sketched and painted. His friends were invited to join him on his travels, painting and sketching every day. “I live for Art and Sunshine – they nourish and sustain me in body and mind” were his sentiments. Those friends included John Ruskin, DG Rosetti, Arthur Ditchfield and John Singer Sargent.

Some of his ‘entourage’ learned to paint in his style and even signed their work in his manner, with the initials HBB in pencil. (this has since caused many problems in local auction houses, – I once bought one of these copies.) In 1891 he was elected a member of the New English Art Club and in 1892, he was persuaded to exhibit his work for the first time, at the age of 71. During his lifetime, he produced many thousands of works in all media, and the above was painted in Gouache on grey paper. From then on, until his death in 1906, he had annual exhibitions in London. I think he deserves to be better known and since 1982, Chris Beetles Limited, a London dealer, have held numerous catalogued exhibitions of his work.

If you have an Art Hero who is not well known, I’d like to hear your story!

Fields and Farms near Wingham, Kent

Fields and Farms near Wingham, Kent

By way of a contrast, here is one of my own watercolours, painted ‘en plein air’ in my own style. This is a view of the fields and farms near Wingham in Kent, which is located to the east of Canterbury. Whilst I painted this, a friend whizzed past on his bicycle, and asked later, what was there to paint at that spot? It just shows that as artists, we develop a different way of seeing things, ie: not just looking – but seeing.   


Have you ever spent hours, searching for a perfect place to paint?


Invite an Artist into your home! It may change your life!

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to invite an artist into your home?

I grew up from a very young age in a large old Victorian house of four floors, mostly undecorated since the war, and with holes in the plasterwork, which we covered over with posters of art exhibitions and the occasional map from National Geographic. My parents were artistic, father was an architect and mother was head of art at a large secondary school.

Peter Midgley Artist Self Portrait.

Peter Midgley 1921 – 1991 Self Portrait in oils.

To make use of the unused ground floor rooms, we had a professional artist, Peter Midgley, a prix de Rome finalist, Royal Academy Exhibitor and tutor at Ravensbourne College of Art & Design, set up his studio in the front North facing room and my parents established a pottery in the other rooms, where regular classes were held with a professional pottery teacher at the helm. Our upstairs studio, the largest room in the house, was used for drawing and painting classes and on saturday mornings was filled with all the local children for an hour or two, while their parents went shopping.

So Yes, I know all about having artists in my home! But I didn’t really mean in the literal sense! I was thinking more in terms of choosing an artwork to hang in your home.  Beyond knowing the name of the artist, what else do you know about them? Because to get the most enjoyment from a painting, it helps to know or understand the artist. If you are lucky, you may meet them in the gallery, and exchange a few words or even get their ideas behind your chosen work, but normally, the name is all you see, on the signature or on the label. So what are they like? What makes them tick? What could it be about their life experiences and background, that is displaying itself subconsciously in your chosen artwork?

Artworks by their very nature, are incredibly individual. They don’t have to perform a function like a machine or piece of furniture, neither do they have to conform to any rules of design. They are as varied and as unique as their creators, with all their complexities and since each artist has his own individual and unique story to tell, the variety is almost limitless.

Jazz Band Live on stage!

A Jazz Band in full flow! Another in my Musicians series

Maybe, as limitless as the improvised music of this Jazz Band.

So when choosing an artwork, if you can’t meet the artist, try to find out about them through a website or blog such as this, or from an Art Gallery which may have represented them, or perhaps from a Facebook Fan Page. If you are happy to bring one of their creations into your home and your family life, it could be so much more rewarding to get to know them, like a friend or a regular visitor. – Click on the photo to visit my gallery!

It might even change your life!


Sketching – Why drawing skills are important!

A house built on firm foundations, will last longer and be safer than one with no foundations. Likewise, “drawing is the basis of art. A bad painter cannot draw. But one who draws well can always paint”. A quote from A Gorky.

When I got back into the art world from a career in Finance in the City, I was fifty years of age! and I just wanted to take up painting after a gap of about thirty years, so I was in a hurry! After all, “how hard can it be”? to quote a favourite Jeremy Clarkson phrase.

Portrait of Lucien Freud in pencil, from his self portrait.

Lucien Freud from his self portrait drawn in pencil.

I really didn’t want to bother with all that drawing stuff, I just wanted to get on and paint. So that’s what I did, for a few months. I thought – I’m getting on a bit and need to learn fast, if I’m to reach a decent standard. Years before, I had been very involved in musical performance and knew that instrumentalists take about five years, of regular lessons and daily practise to reach a standard acceptable to play with an orchestra. So five years was my target. Oh Boy! How misguided was that. After those first few months, I realised that my lack of drawing skills was letting me down, so I bought some sketch books and started filling them up. I started to enjoy sketching, it wasn’t as boring as I had imagined and soon I was sketching regularly, more than I was painting. In fact, when I look back through the ‘learning pile’, do you have one of those? I realise that I’ve made approx. three sketches for every painting. So my first five year target, came and went and I was still alive and enjoying sketching and painting regularly. It took me a further five years and growing enthusiasm to reach a decent standard of work, which started to sell at exhibitions. Along the way, I’ve met so many people who gave up or changed to a simpler medium, and that only made me more determined to carry on and to attempt difficult subjects. Nowadays my attitude is: If it’s easy – I’ll let someone else do it! If it’s difficult, It’s worth me persevering at it.

A Victorian Conservatory in pen and White Ink

A drawing in pen and white ink – Victorian Conservatory c 1894

After many years that stubborn determination is starting to pay rewards and I am enjoying making art, even more than I ever imagined.

Salvador Dali said about drawing. “Drawing is the honesty of the art. There is no possibility of cheating. It is either good or bad”

Shown here, is a pencil sketch of Lucien Freud, the artist, from a photograph of his own self portrait in oils. I found it helpful to work from photos of old master drawings, found in old auction house catalogues and the antiques trade newspaper. Nowadays, the internet has almost endless quantities of copyright free images to work from. My other sketch here, was drawn in white ink on dark green paper, all freehand, from photos I had taken at Forest Hill in South London. Unlike my sketch book sketches, this is a finished work, and is now in my shop / gallery. Click on the photo if you would like to see more details.

If you’ve enjoyed this article, please add your comments below or sign up for my newsletter in your inbox, Till next time! Keep sketching.


Someone’s whole life in a box! How sad can it be?

A corner of my former gallery, showing some original watercolours.

A corner of my previous gallery, showing original watercolours and drawings.

Many years ago, almost in a different life it seems, I used to buy and sell English paintings of the late Victorian and Edwardian era, including many watercolours. I used to buy at auctions, up and down the country and sell them in my shop in West Malling High Street, at Art and Antique fairs at country house venues and the NEC Birmingham, where there were 600 + exhibitors and also later, on the internet.

Viewing auctions often meant rummaging in ramshackle barns and cold warehouses, looking for a gem amongst the dross and detritus on view. Often, I would look underneath the heavily laden tables and find a cardboard box, from someone’s attic and spot a collection of drawings or watercolours, many of them badly marked by damp or foxed, (rust marks from acidic papers). I used to go through these wondering whose they were and if they had passed away, and was this indeed the sum total of their life’s drawing and painting efforts.

That seemed so sad to me, but I kept looking, because I knew someone who had found a folio of Augustus John drawings in a box at the very same auction room, for less than £5 some years earlier. (they now sell for about £2,000 each). So I was being hopeful, but at the same time I was determined that my own scribblings and attempts at painting shouldn’t end up the same way, when I’m gone.

Sir William Orpen - portrait of Augustus John c 1899

Augustus John, RA Artist by Sir William Orpen c 1899

Some useful lessons were learned! If you want your art works to end up on peoples walls, and not languish in those old dusty boxes, or attics, you have to get a little commercial, and create paintings people want to keep, enjoy and cherish for many years to come.

Many of those old drawings and watercolours were created in a ‘black and white age’ when tastes were very different, but by the end of the millennium, they were looking rather tired and dated. I did manage to find a few gems which sold rather well in London and Paris, but that’s another story.

While we are talking colour, here’s a recent painting of mine, showing some London Traffic trying to get about, the busy streets, with typical red London double decker buses, black cabs, vans etc, all very colourful, and in a modern manner. It is an Original Acrylic Painting on stretched canvas and is now in my online gallery. See my website or click the picture for full details.

London Traffic - an original acrylic painting on canvas

London Traffic – an original acrylic painting on stretched canvas.


Leave a Painting face to the wall and it will paint itself! – What ?

Titian - Self Portrait painted abt 1550 - 1562

Titian – Self Portrait c 1550 – 1562

Yes! You did read it correctly. It was Titian who is supposed to have said that if you leave a painting, face to the wall for long enough, it will paint itself!  Now I know what he meant and I’m happy to let you into the secret. The most difficult part of any painting is knowing exactly when it’s finished.

The danger is that if you carry on working it until you think it is finished, then look at it a week later, you start to notice all the faults. Very often, it has been ‘over worked’ and has lost much of its initial vitality and excitement. The act of leaving it for a while, won’t prevent the overworking, but will tell you what areas need attention and how to resolve the issues.

This is what Titian had noticed, so he would leave works to stand, while he gathered more thoughts on how to proceed to their conclusion. In a similar way, I have in the past, been tempted to take photos too soon, publish them on my Facebook Page and a few days later, all the faults and problems begin to emerge. How annoying can that be? So here’s the moral of the story:

When a painting is nearing its conclusion – leave it for a few days or longer – When you return to it you ‘should’ know exactly how to finish it.

Portrait of Oscar Peterson, the renowned Jazz pianist.

Oscar Peterson, the renowned american jazz pianist.

Not quite up to Titian’s standard, here is one of my own acrylic paintings, a portrait of the american Jazz Pianist, Oscar Peterson.

I painted this in my studio using old black and white photographs as reference material. I hope you like it.

Click photo for more details!


If you could choose a portrait of an interesting or well known person, Q who would you choose?

I’d like to know your thoughts.