Art Musings

Hi, and welcome to articles regarding my art and my life.

These articles will fall into four areas with each area discussing various aspects of my art work and history. The four categories are:

  1. In My Life. In which I have articles and events regarding how I started in this career.
  2. My Paintings. Where I show you a particular favourite of mine and the process of how I painted it.
  3. Artist’s Support. Where I can maybe give advice or help to anyone who may learn from my experiences (mistakes).
  4. Childhood Stories. Little sketches and tales from my life growing up in a railway town in the 1950s, and yes I am that old.
  • Early Days

    The current Idols exhibition in the gallery has taken me back to my first paintings in the 1960s.

    I don’t recall the exact age when I first discovered my talent for drawing and painting, but one particular memory stands out from when I was around fifteen. It was during that time that I gained popularity among the girls in my school due to my ability to create striking watercolour portraits of popular singers of the era.

    My art teacher, recognising my potential, came up with the idea that I could offer portrait services during lunch breaks, charging a shilling per portrait and using the earnings to invest in better art materials. However, much to his surprise, the demand was solely for free paintings of The Beatles, and his plans to fund art class supplies fell through.

    I then decided I would buy a sketch book and paint portraits on each page, Lulu, Nancy Sinatra, Roy Orbison plus The Beatles etc. The plan was to fill the book, but then I left school and started an apprenticeship at Bakelite Plastics. Then I turn 18 and found other interests, girls and pubs. I forgot all about the book until years later after my parents had died I found it again in a drawer in my mam’s council bungalow where she had kept it. That book is now on display in our gallery and Lynn has created some great prints from it.

    Reflecting on my early days, I remember an incident when I painted an enormous 8ft mural of The Beatles on a wall in our house. My wife to be couldn’t believe that my Mam had let me do this on the living room wall.

    During my childhood, I had enjoyed watching my Uncle Arthur as he skillfully brought World War Two scenes to life through his pencil drawings. It was he that inspired me to take up drawing, and encouraged me to start painting.

    I won my first art show when the local cinema (The Hippodrome) had an Easter Art Competition. The prize was an Easter egg which I unwillingly had to share with some older lads who met me on the way home. I never bothered entering any more competitions just to give it away to someone else.


  • Being an artist is sort of like being a writer, except writers don’t have to stand there while the general public and their spouses discuss your work.

    “I know that building  in Durham and it doesn’t have a window on that side”

    “I don’t quite think he’s captured that elephant’s ear right”

    “Our Grandson can do better than that”

    Or comments heard in our gallery.

    “How long did it take you to paint that”  “Really, our daughter could do that without trying, she’s a wonderful painter you know”

    “Why does he put mounts round his paintings, I want a big picture with a big gold frame, after all I wouldn’t buy a television with big sides and a small picture”

    “Who painted all these”. Me “I did”  “Oh I thought they had been done by a real artist”

    “If I buy two can I have one at half price”

    “Is this your best price”

    To be an artist you need to live alone, no one to comment on that blue patch of oil on your shirt. “I only bought you that last week”

    No one to get mad when you step out of your studio and walk bright red pastel dust down the stair carpet  “My God, it was only laid yesterday”

    No one following you around with a damp cloth and a bottle of Flash wiping door handles and bathroom taps muttering away to themselves.

    And no one saying “If you think I’m going out with you looking like that you have another think coming”  Actually that has nothing to do with paint.

    Being an artist is also expensive. When I used to visit the art shop I used to be overcome with the sight of all those display cases with tubes of paint, brushes of every size, and racks of specialist paper and canvases. I always came out with more than I went in for.

    Then came the internet and you could visit sites in the USA that had wondrous paints and brushes that other artists said would take you to another level in painting.

    So I have lots of beautiful pastels, acrylics, and oils that look much too nice to disturb in their smart cases. It would take great will power to tear the paper wrapper from a stick of pastel or squeeze a tube of oil paint and spoil its immaculate lines.

    As I sit in my studio and stare at the blank canvas on the easel I contemplate what masterpiece I am going to paint, but first I need to sort my oil paints out into levels of loveliness and arrange my brushes in alphabetical order. Then I need to turn on Youtube to listen to old 60s pop groups while I work, Oh I wonder what that is about a film star from the eighties and how she looks nowadays.

    Oh, look at the time, too late to start painting now, tell you what, I’ll start again in the morning, just after I’ve checked my emails and see who’s on Facebook.

    It is a struggle but at least I’m not starving in a garret, I couldn’t afford a garret.

    My studio is actually my son’s old bedroom, a box room above the staircase. I have so much equipment (Rubbish according to Joan) in there I have to shimmy in sideways.

    Two desks, a large easel, book shelves (actually with books), two computer screens, a turntable with two speakers, another set of speakers just in case, lots of LPs, old computers and printers on the floor, a chair, more shelves, and a cupboard which I clean out periodically while I’m waiting to start on the blank canvas.

    Oh, and a model railway that runs along two walls.

    I did ask my wife if I could move into one of the larger bedrooms but she hasn’t answered yet. I’ll let you know when she stops laughing.


  • Uncles and Their Uses

    As I mentioned earlier Shildon tunnel, at nearly a mile long joined Shildon to Bishop Auckland. The tunnel went under Shildon and at one time trains ran through both ways but later it was deemed unsafe so now there is only one line through. The line comes out into a deep cutting with a deep bankside running along it.

    In the winter days this bank would be a magnet for kids with their sledges when the snow was down. It was quite steep but luckily there was a fence to stop you from flying over the tunnel top. But if you wanted to get enveloped in the smoke as a train came out you could climb the fence and slide on your backside down to the top of the tunnel entrance and wait to get lost in a cloud of steam and smoke.

    We didn’t buy sledges as such because our dads made them for us, and they were great sledges. Because they worked at Shildon Wagon Works, or Shildon Shops as it was known locally, all the materials and skills were available to make or repair sleds or even bikes. My dad was a welder so he would fashion the irons and my Uncle Fred and Uncle Tom would sort out the woods. All this was done on nightshift and brought out under jackets or in bait bags, then assembled at home ready for the snow.

    Uncles played a big part in my education, well not so much in school education but in surviving life’s little ways. As I said anything could be made by those who worked at the railways, but Uncle Tom also had an extra rare skill on the side. He could put a pan on your head and cut round it until there was only short hairs left on the top of your head. Every now and then we were required to line up outside his washhouse while he cut all our heads/hairs in turn. This would be that short that you could go for months before you were sent again, the army couldn’t have done a better job. Actually Uncle Tom did one more thing for which I will be grateful. One day I was sucking a large gobstopper and it slipped down my throat choking me, my friends didn’t know what to do and I was struggling for breath when Tom walked round the corner. He took the situation in and belted me on the back forcing the sweet out. I never bought another gobstopper again.

    We owe a lot to our uncles and aunties who helped us grow into decent adults and I remember them all with affection, but my Uncle Arthur on my mam’s side encouraged my creative side. He was a brilliant artist who showed me how to draw and paint from being very young, I would stand and watch him draw superb detailed pictures with just a pencil. He had a proper full time job as well which was a dream job in my kid’s eyes. He worked for a plastic model company called Kleemans who made beautiful model kits for people to build, not like Airfix aimed at youngsters, but large Mississippi river boats and highly detailed WW2 aircraft. His job was to take home 20 or 30 of these kits and build and paint them for displaying in store windows. They would give him a spare kit to practice on but he didn’t need it, and so who do you think would take home at night a large box containing everything needed to build a large Sunderland Flying Boat or a Tiger Tank, Moi.


  • How I learned to love Watercolours

    For the first couple of years after turning professional I was painting portraits etc, in oils and doing commissions, which generally were copies of Constable paintings for peoples’ walls. I entered the odd craft exhibition here and there and hired a table to show my work.

    It’s odd how sometimes a break can come from out of the blue. I was at a craft exhibition near Whitworth Hall (the ancestral home of Bonnie Bobby Shafto) with some of my oils when this gentleman asked to buy a couple. Quite chuffed I started to wrap them up when he introduced himself as Derek Parnaby and he was the millionaire owner of Whitworth Hall. He said he would like a couple of paintings done of the Hall but he wanted watercolours and asked if I did watercolours. Of course I do was my response but as I had never painted any large scene in watercolours I had to buy some materials and practice very fast. I found that I liked them and seemed to paint stronger watercolours probably because of my oils techniques coming across.

    Anyway I presented Derek with two large watercolours of the Hall and the church which he loved. Then he gave me free rein to wander around the grounds and paint some more for him. After chatting with him over a cup of tea he asked if I would like to have a one man exhibition in the main hall at Whitworth. I thought about it for a nano second then cuddled him (not really but I wanted to) and said that would be wonderful. He sorted it all and arranged press coverage before and during, and let all his friends and family know, so a few weeks later after I had painted watercolours from local scenes and Durham we had a preview evening in the hall with invited guests. There was food and drink laid on and an enormous fire in the room and my paintings were hanging in the room alongside paintings of Bobby Shafto and other ancestral portraits.

    The exhibition was a great success and set me on my way to receive more commissions from new contacts made that week. It also turned me onto watercolour painting for the next 40 years as I learned more and more about this wonderful medium.

    And through a lot of those years Derek kept popping back into my life with more work for me, including painting all of his lorries (He had a great collection that he exhibited at shows) onto the sides of the other lorries. This was done over a period sitting on a tall stool in a freezing factory storage unit using enamel model paints.I’ve forgotten how many there were because I think I must have passed out a couple of times with the cold.

    So that meeting set me on my way with watercolours and the next break was coming along with a man called Anthony James, but that is another story.