Study: Kevin and the Blackbird’s Nest
Sketch for the study of Kevin and the Blackbird’s Nest.
… in his Spring livery. He’s sporting little tufts of feathers above his eyes that I don’t recall seeing before now, rather like horns. In the photograph they’re sloping backwards, but sometimes they seem to stand upright. I wonder whether these are anything to do with the fact that he’s very puffed up these days, rounding up the ‘girls’ like a chap who has important matters on his mind. The lonely and bedraggled juvenile bird that turned up here eighteen months ago bears no resemblance to this vibrantly plumaged cock pheasant strutting around his wives and displaying his manly chest by impressively plumping out his feathers.
Meanwhile Henrietta and Agnes have taken to keeping an eye on all comings and goings from the high vantage point of the rose terrace. As soon as they spot me heading down across the orchard with supplies for the bird-feeders, they’re off like a shot. They pick their way delicately down the steps, hastily negotiate what will one day be the ‘parterre’ but currently is the dumping ground for vast stacks of pruning from shrubs and hedges, emerging at speed and greeting me with excited chirrupings and nods and courtly bows to elicit their breakfast. Agnes has lost some of her timidity though still holds back from the sociable Henrietta who is invariably first in the queue.
This year I imagine there will be eggs and young. I hope these charmers will escape the attentions of any passing foxes and manage to rear their young in peace. Philip roosts in trees, but the females are ground nesters and will be vulnerable. Fingers crossed that they’ll survive to colonise the woods behind Ty Isaf with a couple of successful broods.
Henrietta in the snow back in January.
A while ago I wrote here about the importance to me of Carn Euny in Cornwall, where during a holiday in 1999 I had a breakthrough moment with regard to looking at and drawing landscape. Every morning I walked the lane from our rented cottage a bare five minutes away from this beautiful site of an iron age village, sketchbook under my arm and pockets rattling with my pencil tins. Here are some pages from that sketchbook, including drawing made at other Cornish sites during the holiday. The un-captioned drawings are all of Carn Euny.
Basil had found himself with no home, and so he’s come to Ty Isaf as a companion to Lacey, who has always lived with other horses. He was so shy when he arrived that he had to be half carried out of the horse-box. That however has changed in the past forty-eight hours. His confidence has grown by the minute. Today I took him for what I’d hoped might be a gentle stroll to visit a neighbouring farm… thinking that he’d be more like a large dog on a lead than a horse. But once out of his paddock he was off like a rat out of a trap, me at a brisk trot keeping pace with him. He may be small but gosh he’s strong in the neck. I shall post more about him as he settles in. But for now, you can admire his startlingly blue eyes!
I have no photograph with which to illustrate today’s work on the Annunciation. My dealer Martin Tinney came for a studio visit this afternoon, which while a pleasure meant that I started late at the easel and the light had gone by the time I’d laid down my brushes. But here in preparation for tomorrow’s Annunciation Diary is the Virgin as she originally appeared in the under-drawing.
With Gabriel now painted in, I found that the placing of the Virgin Mary within the composition had become unsatisfactory. I decided that I’d cramped her unnecessarily, resulting in a pointlessly empty space along the bottom of the picture plane that I probably would have filled with plants. I’ve now re-worked the whole figure and the above drawing has vanished under the new image. I’ve radically altered the angle of the figure, curving her spine and settling her hips back as though she’s putting more weight into her resistance. The leg closer to the viewer has been both turned into profile and lowered so that her knee comes further down. The drapery that she clutches now fans across to the bottom left of the composition, filling it more snugly. Her head and neck have been moved slightly to the left and her face has been re-worked. The angle of the arm against her breast has been changed, the elbow lifted higher and her hand turned so that the palm holding the wrap is facing her.
The overall effect is to give the Virgin more weight within the composition. While Gabriel may have the upper hand, in the new version the two figures share the space more equally. Looking at the drawing as it was in the light of what’s been achieved today, I feel that I’ve eliminated my increasing unease about how Gabriel had dominated the composition. While Mary is no larger in the re-working, by re-distributing her weight and adding bulk to her draperies, she holds her own against the annunciating angel.
It can be worrying when such a significant re-working takes place once a good third of the painting has reached completion. I didn’t want to unpick any of the work on Gabriel… though I would have done so had it proved unavoidable… and yet I wasn’t sure whether I could make the changes to the Virgin without having to start again on him. Right now I think all is well and I shall sleep soundly tonight. Tomorrow first thing I’ll take a snapshot to illustrate how things have changed. Then I can get busy painting, binding the composition with colour, tone and pattern.
From the archive a group of small still-life works featuring a ceramic vessel made by either Peter’s mother or his father. (They both had the initials R.W. and so it’s sometimes difficult to work out who made what.) I’ve made countless drawings, pastels and paintings of this piece, usually with the word ‘chalice’ in the title. Because I’ve painted it so frequently I think that it could probably be considered to be another object of obsession. It has lines inscribed vertically and spots too, both lovely to paint. There’s something very pleasing about the stem being so wide at the foot, tapering toward the cup like the trunk of a tree rising to the canopy. I once made a whole sketch book full of versions of the vessel, playing with its perspective , colour and form.
Two of the three works shown here also have a toy theatre included in the compositions, another object… this time one I made myself… that I’ve painted more times than I can recall. You can see another version of it here.
Pip the horse has left Ty Isaf for pastures new. Stephanie… Pip’s owner… has put her on extended loan with a friend who’s been on the lookout for a bit of a ‘plodder’ so that she can accompany her grandchildren when they go out on their ponies. Pip fits that bill perfectly. Very trustworthy, gentle even when my terrier Jack has been at his most incautious taking liberties chasing around her feet. On the occasions that he’s being very cheeky indeed, this gentle soul has never kicked out at him. Quite recently Jack vaulted a stile on the far side of which he hadn’t noticed Pip was standing. Finding himself in mid flight at the top of it with nowhere to go other than up onto her back, he did just that, using her as a launch pad en route to the paddock beyond to retrieve his beloved frisbee. She looked startled for a moment, but having briefly assessed the situation returned to her grazing. There can’t be many horses, other than those trained for the circus ring, that in the same circumstances would behave so impeccably!
At her new home she’ll have a couple stable-mates to lord it over. In the company of her own species she won’t rest until she’s established herself as the alpha mare. And as at Ty Isaf, she’ll be next to the house. That horse does like to keep an eye on everything.
Pippa has been my model, muse and good companion here for the past three years. I shall greatly miss her.
But before Pippa left, the new girl on the block arrived. I give you Lacey, half Appaloosa and four years old.
She has no manners at all and has already chased Jack out of her paddock. I think you can see something of her character here. She has a very direct and curious stare.
There’s much work to be done to get Lacey properly civilised, but Stephanie is already on her case. And unlike Pippa, this horse is not a plodder. I shall post more as she progresses.
I think I should probably face up to the fact that these falling oak leaves have well and truly become an obsession. A few more have floated down since yesterday. The angel’s face has been completed, and I must apologise to Zoe who wrote today to say how much she liked the red side of it as posted yesterday. Sorry Zoe. It had to go!
I bet you though I’d forgotten all about this one. Well, not so. It’s just that it’s been staring at me, propped up against a wall in the studio. I’m afraid I missed photographing the second day of work on it, but here’s how things are looking at the end of day three. A very long way to go with this one yet, and there’s no saying whether what I show you today will survive into tomorrow. But for whatever it’s worth at this early stage, here’s my blue angel.