Preparations for an art fair

painting the gleaners, a work in progress
The Gleaners, unfinished

The unveiling of The Gleaners

I will be showing my most recent paintings at the Cluster Contemporary Art Fair in London, early November. One of the paintings that I am keen to show is The Gleaners – a work in progress, shown above. I hope I can finish it in time. You can learn more about it here.
The other two paintings that I will have on display will be “Alleged Assault on Pax by Mars” and “Men Wrestling”. Both very topical during this time of increased tension, and war in Ukraine.

detail from alleged assault on pax by mars, with trump and biden
detail from Alleged Assault on Pax by Mars, with preparatory sketches.

The photo above shows  sketches for the three figures behind the sofa, who each represent an archetypal modern woman (two of them are based on Madonna and Marilyn Monroe). It might give an idea of just how much preparatory work goes into these compositions, with each figure requiring a separate sitting and preparatory drawings.

detail of painting with putin naked, on golden throne
detail from Men Wrestling

It’s always nice to talk to people about my work, and to see people’s reactions. The fair runs from 4th-6th November. I’ll try to get along on most days, but if you’re planning a visit, send me a message, and I will make sure I am there.

Working methods – composing a painting and looking for a model

the gleaners, work in progress. A painting about social exclusion and inequality
Work in progress – The Gleaners

The Gleaners, a work in progress

I’m having some problems with my painting The Gleaners, and am looking for a suitable life model to help me finish it – someone with a slightly haunted look would be ideal.
The Gleaners is a composition loosely based on Millet’s painting of the same name, and also borrows a lot from Mr and Mrs Andrews by Gainsborough. It is a painting about social exclusion and inequality. It is a painting for our times.

I’m happy with how I’m assembling the cast in the background…..

prince william and kate and liz truss in detail from my painting the Gleaners - a painting about social exclusion and inequality

prince andrew and rees-mog in detail from the gleaners, a work in progress

… but I am having a few problems with the foreground figures –
the “Gleaners”.

the gleaners

I have adapted my working methods for my latest paintings.  In the past I would have a model pose for every single figure in a composition. It was a frustratingly slow and very expensive process – every time I wanted to adjust one of the figures, I would have to find someone to pose for me again.
Because my recent paintings have included a growing cast of public figures, including politicians and royalty, I have obviously been unable to arrange personal sittings with them, and have instead had to search for reference material in the public domain. That has gone surprisingly well. Public figures are clearly fond of having their photos taken, so there is a wealth of material to draw from.
No, the problem has been with my foreground figures.

figures of figures from the gleaners by millet, and film still from the film the shout

I had the idea of using a creepy old film still from the film “The Shout” as the reference for one of the gleaners. I wanted my gleaners to be emaciated figures desperately scavenging for scraps in an arid landscape.  Try as I may, I can’t get it to work. I can’t “glean” enough information from the old B&W shot, and I’m thinking that the emaciated look is unnecessary and a bit clumsy. So I decided to rework the poses, and I am now looking for someone to pose for the front three figures in my painting.
This problem got me thinking about my working methods, and how they have changed over the years, as my studios shrunk along with my savings.
I shudder to think of how many sittings I arranged when I started the Feast of Venus.

preparatory life drawrings for the painting the feast of venus
preparatory drawings for Feast of Venus

That particular painting was an epic fail on my part. It was painted in response to an invite to participate in an exhibition. Sadly I missed the deadline by about six months, and haven’t had any good opportunities to show the painting since. Sadly this experience has discouraged me from developing some of my more ambitious projects.
I learned a lot about the technical challenges in creating a larger composition with multiple figures, but the main lesson was that I have to complete paintings within a reasonable timescale, especially when I have a deadline to meet.

Ramsgate Artists Portrait

portrait painting of ramsgate composer Emily Peasgood

This is a photo of my latest work in progress. When I moved to Ramsgate I had the idea of painting a series of portraits of Ramsgate artists. I thought it would be a good way of introducing myself to the local artistic community, I could promote my portrait work, and I might find some interesting subjects. So what happened?
I had a run of four commissions which seem to have taken as many months to finish. Good for the bank balance, but not so good for this particular project. And then I got covid, which seemed to linger forever. I lost my studio, and then I sold my boat and moved away from Ramsgate. Oh well.

portrait sitting with Emily Peasgood

The sitting took place in November last year. Fingers crossed that I can finish it soon 🙂 The sitter was Ramsgate composer and sound artist Emily Peasgood. She is an amazing artist and I was so pleased that she found the time to sit for me. You can check out her work here:

The Rite of Spring – a proposal for a painting

preliminary sketches for painting inspired by The Rite of Spring

The Concord Art Prize.

A few months ago I prepared a proposal for a really interesting art competition/bursary – The Concord Art Prize. Artists were invited to propose an artwork inspired by one from a list of ten pieces of music (I chose The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky). Shortlisted artists would be paid to produce their work. Definitely one to look out for next year.


In my proposal, I broke the composition into three sections. I was considering painting it as a triptych.
In the first section I tried to capture something of the first tentative signs of spring, signalled by that wonderful bassoon in the original music, suggesting a new beginning. The end of winter; a time of joy and restored hope. I found this quite poignant, because this was when we were finally emerging from lockdowns, looking forward to a return to normality. – the birth of a new hope for the future.
I chose to depict three “maidens”, dressed in contemporary summer dresses; with a bouncing stride emerging from over the horizon on the left of the painting. More “The Sound of Music” than pagan Russia. 

preparatory drawing for a painting - the three graces


The next section is about the pounding, primal rhythm; the overt sexuality that pervades most of the work. Dancing and cavorting; all passion, desire and curiosity. In my preliminary sketch I featured a statue of Pan, with one woman touching the statue, while another couple, totally self absorbed, are cavorting at the foot. Other figures would be added in the area around the statue. This sketch was just of the central characters. I wanted this section to look busy, chaotic and full of energy.

statue of pan - a preparatory drawing for a painting


I wanted to end with a growing sense of menace. This time the pounding rhythm shouts danger. This final section has a woman in obvious distress, trying to avoid the clutches of sweaty, pot-bellied older men. I envisaged the men in grubby t-shirts and Y-fronts. There is nothing playful or innocent about this scene. I want there to be a stark contrast, a jarring change of tone, with the frivolities of the middle section. There would be a small but menacing crowd gathering behind.

preparatory drawing for the finale to rite of spring painting


It’s been two months since I learned that my proposal wasn’t accepted. With hindsight I should have developed my ideas further to have a better chance of convincing the judges. My initial reaction was to shelve everything. A large painting like this would take a considerable investment in time and money. Aside from the considerable cost of materials, there is the difficult task of finding models and arranging sittings; and that’s before you even put brush to canvas.
However, it is a project I would love to work on and develop further, The sketches above are just initial ideas. Once you start working through different poses with models, you get new ideas. That is why I enjoy the collaborative process with models, and see it as an important step in the creative process.

In the studio – working methods

work in progress detail from Alleged Assault on Pax by Mars, with Trump and Biden in the background
detail from work in progress

I am always amazed with how a painting evolves from just a vague idea into something with a life of its own. I’ve been working on this particular painting for a few months. It has been constantly changing, but I think I may have arrived at the final layout.
The section above has seen the most changes. Originally it just had the settee with the two figures on it, but that left the composition unbalanced. So then I had the idea of adding the Three Graces; or a contemporary equivalent: three archetypal women. I already had an idea for a couple of the faces (Marilyn Monroe and Madonna), but I still had to find a model to pose. This provided me with the sketches at the top for my reference.
But still this little corner of the painting looked a bit empty. And then these two male figures in the background almost inserted themselves. As well as balancing the composition, they also tied up a few loose ends in the narrative – archetypal alpha males (Presidents Trump and Biden), either waving their arms about trying to get everyone’s attention, or invading some poor woman’s space (or rather nuzzling their neck and giving an unwelcome “shoulder-squeeze).

Below is a timelapse video of the painting at an earlier stage, with a since removed figure in the bottom right.