How I learned to love Watercolours

Whitworth Hall with lake and deer park.

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.