Johnny and Sara

Jonny and Sara

Jonny Grimshaw

Jonny was an influential person in my youth. The father of two friends from school, he was a colourful and unique dad. He loved to paint and write poetry and went to every gig his son and daughter played. (They’re still musicians.)His paintings were all over the family home and he had an amazing record collection. He made nettle tea for us and taught me to smoke a pipe. So many stories, scrapes and adventures. Much loved, he passed away during lockdown.

This is the beginning, an under painting in Indian Red of Jonny in a typical pose for him. He loved to take photos and be photographed and documented life in that way.

Sara is a friend, mother , teacher, wife and maker of beautiful socks. Her husband commissioned me to paint her portrait as a gift. Brave man. Thankfully it worked out fine and she likes it. The image I worked from was meant to be for a a passport photo . The landscape is imagined but has a Wiltshire flavour. I like the honesty of the expression, there’s no artifice.

I love the challenge of a portrait. It’s what I began my journey into art with. No one told me it was supposed to be difficult so I had ignorance and naivety on my side. I became a little obsessed and couldn’t look at a face without imagining in detail how I would render it in paint. Disconcerting for the person who’s face I was scrutinising no doubt, but it made me aware of the process of learning to look and see that I was undergoing. More marked perhaps in the case of portrait painting as there is a part of the brain dedicated to facial recognition. Apparently in portrait painters this brain area is larger, presumably made so by the act of painting faces.

Great Bustard

Oil on Board

Every now and then I get a commission, sometimes a portrait of a pet or person but never before such an extraordinary bird as the great bustard. If you’re not familiar; and why should you be, they’ve been extinct in the uk since 1832, these charismatic birds are to be found on Salisbury Plain where there is a breeding and conservation project dedicated to rebuilding a strong population for reintroduction.

I live in Wiltshire with Salisbury Plain on the doorstep so upon agreeing to the commission I felt it was only fitting to go and visit the great bustard project. Anyone can visit via booking online. Meeting our very knowledgeable, intrepid and well travelled guid in a car park, only a slightly clandestine experience , you’ll be transferred into a land rover and driven through restricted areas of MOD land and farmland, in pursuit of these not so elusive birds. They’re too big to hide. Furnished with binoculars and telescope we bounced happily around the tracks until we spotted our quarry in the distance. The males and females stay in separate groups and we had planned our visit coincide with mating season. The females looked very relaxed, busy feeding and preening, occasionally raising their heads to check out the male group and casting their disdainful eye they would then return to foraging. Males were taking it in turns to put on a magnificent display in the hope of attracting a mate. They have an inflatable pouch on the breast which shows flashes of bright blue flesh and the most extraordinary moustache which, when the pouch is inflated turns upwards giving them a comical sergeant major kind of expression. Their wings, in the meantime look as if they have been turned inside out and then the whole affair is gently vibrated to finish the effect. You couldn’t make it up and my overall impression was of how unlikely this amazing bird is.

These are ground nesting birds which leave them and their eggs quite vulnerable to predators. They have three forward facing toes and none facing back so they cannot perch in trees. They are the heaviest flying birds in the world and their wingspan reaches up to 8 feet. Female birds have a protected enclosure where they can nest naturally in safety. The first of their eggs is taken to be incubated in safety and the second egg is left for them to hatch on their own. The males only contribution to the next generation is his fancy pants dance and deeply impressive if somewhat comical plumage. (Yet again the next generations genes are decided by the aesthetic choices of the female. ) He plays no further role in the rearing of the chicks.

The painting took a few months to complete and I had to build up some courage to make a start. All those feathers felt quite daunting. I worked from a photo by taken by Steve Colwill who works for the project and kindly sent me some images of their birds. My plan is to give the digital image of the painting to the great bustard group to use for raising funds for the project.

Welcome Jerry, Sterlingwood Designs

I made a decision to share my shop at the Tithe Barn Workshops. I put the word out locally and Jerry of Sterling wood Designs responded by popping in to the shop and now he’s here, making jewellery using recycled silver, freshwater pearls and sustainable wood. He also turns wood , producing amazing pens, vessels, and many other beautiful items.

His work sits very comfortably alongside mine as well as the other natural products I stock.

Sharing my space has many benefits; a better work life balance for me (Felix and I have just converted a 10 year old van into a camper. A long held dream for me. ) and of course lowering my outgoings, but also it makes the shop/gallery a more interesting and rich experience for you. Plus’s the ultimate bonus, Freddy the Welsh terrier! I love dogs, and so do you apparently judging by the response to Freddy so far.

Britains native mountain hare (quick biology lesson)

I have Karen Miller to thank for this image of a mountain hare. She was out on the mountain in the snow with her camera, and I was in the relative (mostly not that relative) warmth of my studio with paper and pastels. Karen has inspired me. She has captured some wonderful and characterful shots of mountain hares and other wildlife and I will be attempting to do some of them justice, with her gracious permission.
I have been moved to learn more about these secretive yet ubiquitously depicted creatures. Most people who come to my studio mistake them for “bunnies”. I guess you could be forgiven if you have never seen a hare, but they are a very different beastie indeed. Their physiology for a start; much larger and more powerful as you would expect, but a thing like their nasal cavity has evolved quite differently to that of a rabbit in order to accommodate the volume of air needed to fuel their flight and gymnastics; the way their heart is anchored extra securely to their skeleton in order not to be dislodged in sharp turns and tumbles while racing from predators (or suitors). The leverets are borne fully formed with eyes open. They live entirely above ground and do not make a burrow. They are among a very small group of animals that have the ability to conceive while in the last stage of pregnancy, thought to be an adaptation to shorten the time between litters.
We live in an age where raising grouse to shoot commercially takes precedence over mountain hares and many are killed so that grouse hunting can remain lucrative. Not in some far off place, but in Scotland. Maybe the more we learn about an animal, an ecosystem, our planet, the safer it becomes because hopefully with knowledge comes respect. Thats how it works for me anyway.
This is a 30 x 30 cm drawing I did a couple of years ago as one of a pair of commissions from Jenny herself. She is an extraordinary woman in her eighties now, and she wanted something for her family to remember her by. The drawing is from a strongly lit black and white photo of her in her early twenties looking quite pensive and uncertain. I don’t often do portraits but this image was sufficiently odd and engaging and Jenny is such a fun and engaging character that I could not refuse.

Great Chalfield Oak

This is one of my latest drawings of what I can only assume is an oak, in a delightful field in Great Chalfield. It stands as part of an avenue of sturdy mature oaks that punctuate the grass in a strait line from one gate to the next. It’s a 25 minuet walk from my home. I discovered it in high summer when the air was full of insects and the cool shade of the trees made a dappled, fairy tail tunnel into another world. I went back in late Autumn to catch the trees without their clothes on. A Tree Creeper, seemingly oblivious to me was industriously hunting the crevices for a meal. On another walk there, just before the gate to the field, I came face to face with a muntjac deer crossing the road, he and I both pedestrians for a moment, both heading into different fields. Other walks in that direction have resulted in encounters with a young grass snake, a beautiful brown hare and a kingfisher. All practically on my door step and there for all to see if you know how to look.

Graphite on wood £195

Cloth Road Arts Week

Who Me ?

This fellow is on the cover of the brochure for this years Cloth Road Art Trail.  The Corner Gallery where I make and sell my work is participating from the 5th to the 13th of May. We hope to get lots of visitors through the door and it’s a great opportunity to see and purchase fresh work made especially for the event.  There are three artists at two venues down at the Tithe Barn Workshops so it really is worth a visit if you find yourself on the Art Trail.