Saturday 11 April 2020

The Road to Emmaus

Welcome on this Easter Sunday morning to people of faith, people of no faith and all those in between. I'd just like to write briefly about one episode from the Gospel of Mark with a short explanation of why it means so much to me.

There have been many great paintings of the story of the Road to Emmaus (the story follows below) but I particularly like this one by Michael Torevell because it is so fresh and descriptive. 

I like the way that the second disciple who is not named in the story is depicted as a woman (OK, so it was probably two men, but the original language does not say that specifically). I also like that the artist has left the crosses prominent in the painting because despite everything that has happened since, the cross will always be the defining image of the Christsian faith. I just love this painting - you can even buy a copy of it at Fine Art America - I regret that I have not had time to get permission to post Michael’s painting here but at least I can promote his work in return and if he contacts me to complain I will immediately take it down. Let's just recap the story. On that first Easter Day, two of Jesus’s disciples are leaving Jerusalem feeling perplexed and disappointed. They had expected Jesus of Nazareth to liberate Israel from Roman rule (wasn’t that always what the Messiah was supposed to do?) and instead of that the Jewish rulers had handed him over to the Romans to be crucified. And now, three days after that dreadful event, some women followers claimed that the tomb was empty and that they had actually seen Jesus alive!
As they walked together on their way to an outlying village, a stranger had joined them on their journey. They had no idea who he was but as they walked he began to explain to them that of course the Messiah had to suffer and die - after all, hadn’t Jesus tried to tell them that all along? Anyway, the day was drawing to a close and they turned aside to an inn to get a meal and some rest. The stranger went as though he was going to travel on but they urged him to join them in the inn as it was now evening. When the meal was served, the mysterious man took the bread and blessed it and broke it and suddenly “their eyes were opened” and they recognised that it had been Jesus all along. They said, "of course, didn’t our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road?" Jesus vanished from their sight and the two disciples got up and returned to Jerusalem to hear that yes, Jesus was being seen by more and more of his followers.

If you want to you can read the full version here. I can say that this is a story which has beguiled me for many years. It has a sort of “ring of truth” about it, the haphazard way it happens, the randomness of just these two people (only one of them is significant enough to be named) and the way that their sudden understanding of who it was who sat with them happened in the breaking of bread - such a typical action of their Master. But more than that, as a regular walker in hills and quiet country, this is an experience I have known frequently myself. My good friend John from Guildford and myself have had many walks where we have started out just chatting and before long we find ourselves turning to a parable or some event in the life of Christ and finding ourselves engrossed and heart-warmed as we explore what these things mean to us. John and I have walked on Welsh mountains and on rural country paths and wherever we are that mysterious stranger has drawn alongside us made us glad to be with him. it happens on my own too. I am not good at prayer - the keeping lists of who I should remember and the working through them is not something I am good at, but once I’ve left bus, train or car and head off into the hills on a solitary walk I find myself not alone but with am unexpected companion who begins to remind me of people and things he wants to talk to me about.

Many, many followers of Jesus have this experience. Some years ago there was a TV series in which the late Malcom Muggeridge explored the Holy Land with historian Alex Vidler and he described how, “we too were joined by a third presence, and I tell you, wherever the walk, whoever the wayfarers, there is always this third presence ready to emerge from the shadows and fall into step along the dusty, stony way”. I love paintings of people walking - here is one I did myself of two women out for a walk on the hills of Sussex near Alfriston which I've called "Friendship". 

Friday 10 April 2020

Costly mercy

I have entered a period of possibly serious ill-health (NOT coronavirus) and will not be posting much of my own artwork here for a while (although I hope to continue to draw and paint as much as I can).  So, I'm going to also write some posts about some of my favourite works of art and why they mean so much to me. Here is the first.  

Some of my comments may have a Christian flavour too them but not all, so if you don't want to read about my faith then skip that post and read another one.  Obviously with it being Easter this weekend, this post and the next one do feature some Christian content.  

My good friend John sent me this beautiful painting of The Good Samaritan by Vincent Van Gogh. This painting is so REAL compared with the many other "old master" paintings of the same thing. 

I found this on :-

"On May 8, 1889, exhausted, ill, and out of control, Vincent Van Gogh committed himself to St. Paul's psychiatric asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, a small hamlet in the south of France. A former monastery, the sanatorium was located in an area of cornfields, vineyards and olive trees. There Van Gogh was allowed two small adjoining cells with barred windows. One room he used as his bedroom, and the other was his tiny studio. While there, Van Gogh not only painted the surrounding area and the interior of the asylum, he also copied paintings and drawings by other artists, making those paintings his own through modifications he made to the painting's composition, the colors and, of course, the brush strokes." 

My friend John wrote to me, "Look at the effort he has to put in to help the man. His back is bent, his arm and leg muscles are stretched to their limit. There is nothing he won't do to help the man. Is the parable more about Jesus' crucifixion than anything else?". In fact this makes me think of brave Joseph of Arimathea who went to Pilate and asked permission to take Jesus's body away - how hard that must have been for him, with the risk that he also could be accused of being one of Jesus's followers.  On the other hand it reminds me of Jesus himself who carries us through immense trials and difficulties.

Look at how in the painting, the priests who passed by on the other side are not even turning to look at what's going on behind them. Yet this Samaritan, who the Judahites of the time despised, gave his all to help this poor man who had been beaten by robbers and left to die.

Poor Vincent was a deeply troubled man but what a gift he was to us all, bringing out the beauty of the world around us and yet showing such deep feeling for the human condition in his work

Sunday 19 January 2020

Trois Crayons

My artist's journey into portraiture has continued with more pencil and graphite work and then into the classical "trois crayons" (three pencil) method used by many renaissance artists.  I learned this first from a video by Gunhild Hope on sktchy art school (in the class 30 Faces / 30 Days) and have taken it forward in half a dozen drawing since and am really enjoying adding the touch of colour from the sanguine pencil and the toned paper.

The idea of trois crayons is that you do the main part of the sketching in sanguine pencil (sangine is the colour of dried blood) and then darken it where necessary with a black pencil and then add final highlight with a white pencil.

I obtained my materials from the Faber Castell Pitt Monochrome set of 12 items (available at great discounts from various art outlets). and I found that a good paper to use is the Strathmore Toned Tan.  I also tried Daler Rowney Ingres paper but founds it had too much "tooth" (it was too rough) and wouldn't give me the smooth drawing effect I was looking for - a shame, as its very high quality paper. 

This set has an interesting selection of materials.  The black and sanguine pencils are like pastel pencils but are oil-based - this means that they don't smudge as easily as an ordinary pastel pencil. The white pencil used for highlights is a normal pastel pencil.  In addition there is a brown pastel pencil , a charcoal pencil and a graphite 2B pencil (perfect for doing an initial sketch as its so easy to erase mistakes).  A putty eraser is include and also 4 square block chalk crayons - like Conté crayons, which are useful for large areas like backgrounds. Also, a 6B Graphite stick.

The only thing you need in addition to this is a couple of blending stumps (made of rolled paper and available cheaply on ebay).

Anyway, here are some drawings I've done with trois crayons.  These are all drawn from sktchy photographs.

I've really enjoyed doing these and I'd like to develop the technique further so I can do more detail in the drawings and get a more artistically refined result.

Tuesday 3 December 2019


Winter is well underway in England at the moment although being on the south coast we get quite a bit of warmer damp weather to break up those lovely frosty mornings.  For me, I find myself quite pleased to get to December.  It always seems quite a short month and near the end we have Christmas - with all its many reasons for enjoying it. 

This is a pencil portrait I did which I've called "Waiting", suggesting the season of Advent when we wait for the festival of Christmas. It comes from a photograph I found on Pexels - a resource of royalty-free photographs which I've only just discovered.  This photograph was taken by Engin Akyurt who is a brilliant photographer with many images contributed to Pexels.  Thank you Engin! 

Google Photos never ceases to amaze me.  I was down at the beach last week and took a photo with my phone of the waves crashing on the cliffs.  A couple of days later, Google Photos gave me a notification that it had done something with the photo and when I looked at it I saw that they'd transformed it into something really nice by bringing out the colours in it and making it really sing. 

And finally, here's one more drawing I did last week - the model was Rick from sktchy. 

Tuesday 29 October 2019

sktchy Art School

For the last three or four months I've been working through some pencil drawing course on sktchy Art School with tutor France Van Stone.  France is a highly accomplished drawer as anyone who's got her book Sketch will know.

France has courses on pencil and iPad sketching with modules on beards, eyes, wrinkles, cross-hatching and even one where she uses both drawing on paper and on iPad as a useful comparison.

I've learned so much from these course about simplification of materials (just a couple of pencils and a sheet of copier paper is enough!), building volume, proportions within the face, and so much more.  These courses are a reasonable price and of course you can come back to the video lessons over and over again.

There is also a useful community aspect to the school in that you can post your drawings and receive feedback from the tutor and other students.

OK, so the subject matter is a bit limited (portraits) but if that's what you want to learn about then sktchy Art School is a terrific resource.  Anyway here are four of my fifty or so drawings which I've done in the last few weeks.  They're all A4 size (about 8"x11") and are all done with just two pencils on mixed media paper. I'm reasonably happy with them but still have some way to go to.   

A lot of pencil artists try to draw in a photo-realistic style, with incredibly smooth textures and a considerable amount of blending.  I am pleased to say that France Van Stone likes to see the pencil marks and so do I. I see very little point in slavishly copying a photograph so that it looks like a photograph.  Surely a work of art should bring something else to the table than "wow, that's just like a photo!".  

Friday 2 August 2019

The sktchy app

Well, having had a major birthday last month (one ending in zero) I finally got hold of an iPad - I've resisted all things Apple for a long time now, but I've had to admit that when it comes to art apps, its hard to beat.  In particular I wanted the sktchy app which presents you with a portrait photograph every morning for you to draw or paint.  I also wanted ProCreate - perhaps the best digital drawing app.  Neither of these apps are available on Android tablets or phones. 

I've loved using sktchy and have done a number of drawings from it in the last couple of weeks.  We went away last weekend for a couple of nights in the seaside town of Hastings, just up the coast from where we live. I enjoyed getting up early in the mornings and immediately looking up the portrait photograph of the day and trying to produce something on paper to do it justice.  Here are a few of my efforts.

Hastings itself is an interesting place with quite a few artists working in the town and a prestigious gallery called the Hastings Contemporary.  We didn't have time to visit but I would have liked to have seen the current exhibition by illustrator and cartoonist Quentin Blake.  

We stayed in a really nice apartment on the edge of the Country Park.  We saw a green woodpecker and a greater spotted woodpecker in the tree outside our apartment and a pair of badgers came around at night looking for food.   

The weekend was finished off by us replacing our elderly Vauxhall with a new(ish) car - a Citroen this time which is a treat to drive with all its various gizmos.  It makes me realise quite how old our Vauxhall was and how cars have moved on in recent years.  

Saturday 18 May 2019

Thérese of Lisieux

I love the Normandy region of France and have been there many times.  I live near the ferry port of Newhaven and ships from there take us straight across the English Channel to the Normandy port of Dieppe.  From there it is only a short drive to some very beautiful parts of Normandy, not least the lovely Calvados country with its apple orchards and farm-based Calvados distilleries where the farmers let you sample their apple brandy.

The ancient town of Lisieux is interesting and contains a huge church - the Basilica dedicated to the Catholic saint of Thérese of Lisieux.  While I am not a Catholic, I have to say, there is something quite special about the story of Thérese and I can see why she inspires to much devotion, particularly among Normandy residents who now have their very own saint.  When you go to the Basilica and descend to the crypt you are confroned with a beautiful chapel dedicated to St Thérese, rich with colour and decoration.

Anyway, hear is a painting I did yesterday of Thérese's childhood home in Alençon (also in Normandy).

The house is open to the public and the website says (English translation), 
 . . .the family home of Saints Martin Spouse, also birthplace of St. Therese, opens its doors to get closer to them and find the authenticity of the time they lived. The visit accompanied by the house introduces the life of the Martin family - Saints Louis and Zélie, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and his sisters - to Alençon, thanks to five spaces: the reception hall with the historic gallery, the exhibition of personal objects, the auditorium, the house and the chapel. A film from the family correspondences presents the life of the family in Alençon, the only city where she lived in full, from 1871 to 1877.  
The staging allows to recreate the atmosphere and atmosphere of the family life of the Martin, and the youth of the little Saint. The chapel with its sculptures and frescoes evokes Saint Therese and opens on the conjugal chamber of Saints Martin Spouse, also birthplace of Saint Therese and place of the death of Saint Zélie. 

Whatever you think of this sort of thing, this is a fascinating place and very picturesque.  Well worth a visit to either Lisieux or Alencon.