Saturday 31 March 2012

Friends In High Places

Well you asked me to continue the story, but I don't think it's going to go the way you think......

Pat and I had earned some serious fun time by the time we arrived in Germany. Life had been very hectic for us during the previous 20 years: I was always on the other side of the world, and she had four kids to bring up. 

We had made 20 home moves in my flying career and here, like manna-from-heaven, we were to have three straight years together. The boys had grown up and left home and we only had our daughter with us. 

My flying to this point had been mainly on two aircraft types, the 

de Havilland Comet

and the Vickers VC10

For the five years prior to Germany, we on the Comet fleet had been in a VIP role, flying the Royal Family and Government Ministers around the world.  For example, Prince Charles to Kathmandu, Nepal, Princess Alexander To Brazil, Princess Margaret to the Seychelles, the Queen Mother around Iran!! ...... 

My last two flights were, taking H.M. The Queen and Prince Philip on a two week tour of Africa, and, on the final trip of all, taking a brand new Prime Minister, Maggie Thatcher, to Washington DC.

From now on, the day job was to be with NATO, keeping the Russians on their side of the border. Two or three times a week they would sent helicopters over the German border - to test our reaction time. Similarly they flew the 'Bear' bomber into our airspace and we scrambled Battle Flight to 'escort' them back over the border - there was a certain camaraderie between the 'enemies' which thankfully was never tested.
"OOOOps which way did they go?" The RAF F4 Phantoms
I'd been called many things but never, until now, 'Seagull'!

But the serious work was the pictures. They were selling like mad and we were running out of charities.  We started selling them for ourselves, "Charity begins at home?" Past suggested. :0)

The USAF from Ramstein Air Base visited and a new market sprang up. As we were in North Germany and they were in the south - I drew for them, Bavarian and Austrian scenes ... a great team job, we kept the markets apart!  The printers in Roermond  didn't mind, they just kept churning out the prints.

Then a major event happened, although it wasn't obvious for some time. 12 Flight, Army Air Corps asked me if I would accept a commission to draw the six types of helicopters they had flown in their 25 year history. They wanted to send the pictures to the UK to be etched onto tableware and coasters - these were to be memorabilia for the Army Air Corps's 25th. Anniversary celebrations.

They were a great bunch of guys, and they had done me a few good turns and so I was pleased of an opportunity to return the favour. 

For example, they had provided a flight on their lovely Gazelle chopper, down the Mosel Valley for me to get photographs of a monastery.

I made such a mess of the monastery drawing that it never got seen, let alone sold. However, to be honest, the helicopter drawings for 12 Flight, were some of the best aircraft pictures I ever drew. They were delighted.

A few months later I received a letter from the company in the UK that was to producing the table-ware for 12 Flight. They wished to discuss a 'large' commission with me, when would I next be in the UK? We had a week off, and as Pat and I are never ones to hang about, we jumped into the car, drove out of Germany, across Holland and Belgium, onto the ferry, off at Dover 4 hours later and drove to Hastings!

It transpired that they wanted a whole series of World War 1 aircraft, a series of World War 2 aircraft and a set of Vintage Cars. I realised that this was going to take every moment of my free time, but it was well worth the effort. Although this was almost at the point of 'going professional', it was also, believe it or not, the beginning of the end - for now I was drawing what other people wanted and not what I wanted to draw...
                                                       ...Crystal Cook put it perfectly on her blog this week, "Paint what you love, or what excites you. Don't let yourself think that there's only one subject" ....
                                    ................I would add, particularly when you never get to choose the subject .

A month or so after I completed the commission, the UK Company exhibited my work At the UK's National Exhibition Centre (Center) Birmingham. Although I should add that it was not an Art exhibition, but rather a Trade exhibition. But ... what came out of it is going to make you painters Scream ... I got to paint!!! But that's another story, and I've rambled on too long already (all ready).

Thursday 29 March 2012

The Drawing Board Saga ...continued.

The move from the 'hutch' went to plan. Not easy though, down a steep staircase, and then a couple of hundred yards (metres). The board is now in its new home ... it weighs even more than I remembered!

The history of the drawing board (mostly for Judy who lived near Roermond in the 1970s), is almost the story of my artistic career... such that it is :0). Before I tell you though, I must mention the people of Roermond: 
                            Pat and I drove over the border from Germany to Holland and our first stop was the fish market in Roermond. All the fish was labelled in Dutch, and we struggled to pronounce the names of the fish. "Can I help you, my dear?" asked the fishmonger and proceeded to speak in perfect English. I soon realised that most Dutch folk speak better English than I do ... Pat says my mouth never keeps up with my thoughts = I mutter! We were made so welcome in Roermond it was always a joy to be there.

Pun Warning .... well, back to the drawing board, story!

When I was a little boy I grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, just south of London, among the bomb sites slums left by World War2. One day a Roman Catholic priest showed me, a scruffy little eight year old boy, how to go over the pencil lines of a simple drawing with a pen - the transformation of the drawing left an ever lasting impression on me. It was like discovering all your lovely paintings.

I served a five year apprenticeship as a Shipwright and a year as a draughtsman (draftsman). Here I used pen and ink, but never in an artistic way. Then I was conscripted into the Royal Air Force, but I ended up staying for most of 25 years, as aircrew on long range four-jet aircraft, during which time I never touched pen and ink.

For the last three years of my flying career I was posted to Germany, onto jet fighters. Here I got home most nights. 

When we first arrived in Germany and were unpacking, I found a large paper bag - bought from an old Stately Home that we had visited in Cornwall- the bag had a pen and ink drawing reproduced on it. It was awesome. "I must draw it," I said, and drew my first ever artistic drawing. I put it away in a draw, but, unbeknown to me, Pat sent it off to an Art Magazine competition.

Can you imagine my amazement when it won the competition and the magazine printed it as their front cover ... these things don't happen to me ... my first proper drawing ...but it did.

Encouraged I drew 3 pictures of Rhine Castles and a Dutch Windmill. I never framed or showed them. But they would change my life. 

I had been given a secondary duty as Officer Commanding (don't laugh) of the Theatre Club. It turned out the club was about to close down as the stage lighting and just about everything else needed replacing, and the club was broke... out of funds. The RAF didn't pay for such things, it was down to the club members to rescue their club. They needed to raise something like £12,000 (1980). 

At a fund raising meeting, Rachel, a young school teacher, asked if I could sell prints of my drawings - which Pat had shown her. In short, we drove 12 miles over the border into Holland, to the printers in Roermond. They were the nicest people you could ever  wish to meet, they did everything possible to encourage me and make life easier for us. They printed 100 copies of each picture. They all sold within weeks!! Albeit at only £5 profit each. We kept coming back to the printers ... and back ...and back  - the prints  kept selling. In six months we had raised all the money!

Pat bought the drawing board from the Roermond printers, for my birthday present. The first drawing that came off the drawing board was a Dutch Castle at Dalfsen. This was drawn four months after my first drawing and is the sixth I drawing I ever drew, hence the pen work is crude in places.

The 13th Century Castle Rechteren, Dalfsen, Holland  12" x 8" approx
Now I can quite understand if you think I'm exaggerating, it hardly sounds possible. However, the story gets even more and more bizarre and unbelievable after that ... but I fear I might be becoming a bore.  

Tuesday 27 March 2012

I Haven't Drawn For Ages ....sigh! ...and I ramble a lot...

People who know me will tell you that all I ever talk about is my granddaughters  - I have four (aged 27, 24, 21 and 3) - and that I talk in  particular about the third one, Giselle, who is 21 in 6 weeks time. Well that's not strictly true! When my kids left home, their kids moved in here!

Anyway, to get back to the subject of drawing, or the lack of it. The problem has become one of space. I share my art-room with my best friend, who just happens to be....... my granddaughter, Giselle. The art-room is an attic/loft conversion I built over my two workshops ... I've got a photo somewhere, oh yes there it is.

The greenhouse (glasshouse) to the left, then the two workshops and you can just see the art-room window on the roof on the right, through the leaves. We don't call it an art room, by the way, we call it the 'hutch!' Like most things I build, inside the 'hutch' things end up a bit boat-like.

We spent a lot of time in there, for, when Giselle was 15, she began to suffer badly with ill-health, and so we had to begin home education. I tutored her until she was accepted into the University of Gloucestershire. She completed the first year there, but ill health put her back in the hutch with me tutoring, on Open University Distance Learning courses - she should get her BA (Hons.) at the end of this year.

Over the years we wrote plays together - and saw them performed which is a heck of a buzz! These days she edits and  critiques my work ... she's a great writer.  But then came Max, Giselle's Australian boyfriend, a student, over here for a few years. Don't ask why, because I'm not sure why ... but I'm now tutoring Max in Maths and Physics.

 We were starting to get cramped in the hutch.

I mean to say, that isn't my desk to the right, it's my drawing board

I should add at this point that we are an unusually cosmopolitan family. Pat and I are both British, but she is English and I am Welsh - I can trace my family back to 1690 in West Wales. Yet one of my grandmothers was Irish and the other Italian ... can you see where this is going.....?
 ....... Besides the English/Welsh/Irish/Italian/ and Australian connections, there is Reiko, my Japanese daughter-in-law, then there's Djaffar, my French Algerian son-in-law. Not to mention Carl the all American boy from Denver, my daughter's boyfriend, who has gone back to Colorado after a long vacation here - who fitted in wonderfully.... then there's 87 year old Anti Daftknee (Auntie Daphne) who is a widow, we couldn't leave her on her own, 100s of miles away .... so you can see we are a cross between the United Nations and Noah's Ark. 

With all this going on, I haven't been drawing. Then Pat had a great idea and I am relocating to the conservatory (sun-room US wise?) I built a few years ago, which hardly gets used.

I told you everything I build ends up looking like a boat didn't I?

There is masses of light in there, as you can see.  I built it North facing so I won't get 'cooked in there'. All I need now is to move my stuff. The drawing board is on a hydraulic ram and weighs tons, that's going to be the biggest problem.

I bought the drawing board in Roermond, in Holland, in 1980 and it's part of me.

 Going to try the move tomorrow. the way did I tell you that my youngest granddaughter was born on my birthday?


Friday 23 March 2012

The Ups and Downs of an Artist's Life... or ... A lot of Hot Air

We left The Royal Air Force in 1983 for me to become a professional artist. 

We won the best new business in the County of Wiltshire, UK, within months of leaving the RAF, and as a part of the prize we 'won' an accountant and an agent; free for 12 months.

In this new crazy art world, the agent got me a twelve months contract with, of all people.......................the Royal Air Force Museum in London. 

I knew nothing about postal stamps when I went to meet the folks at the museum, other than I had collected them as a kid. I hadn't realised that Philatelic First Day Covers were BIG Business. Let me explain how it works. Postal and Mail services tend to bring out a new series of stamps every few months and it makes them a fortune as collectors from all over the world buy the new stamps. Big institutions and charities, such as the RAF museum, saw the potential and designed envelopes to suit the new stamps. They then attached the new stamps and sold the envelopes, on the first day the postal stamps were issued, as First Day Covers. Over the years the museum had developed, globally, a whole network of thousands and thousands of fanatical collectors, and made millions of pounds each year to help fund the museum..

So what did a museum want from me, I wondered? It seemed that the British Postal Services were to bring out a series of stamps to commemorate the Mail Coaches -US folk, think Stage Coaches & Wells Fargo :0)

The museum saw the potential, for 1983/4 was going to be the bicentenary of the first flights in Europe and Britain. As the Mail Coach stamps were to be in monochrome, they wanted the envelopes designed by a pen & ink artist ....[enter our hero, stage left].

There was an overlap between the British Postal Services and the Post Office of Jersey, and so my first few  envelope designs were of French balloonists for the Jersey Post Office - the Montgolfier brothers for example. 

Then I began on the British collection. I had a young RAF pilot - he was waiting for a flying training course - assigned to do my 'leg work'. He did the basic research for each cover. We then designed a potted history of the specific event, based on his materials (first flight in Britain - first flight across the channel etc..) and had the history printed on a postcard and inserted in each envelope. 

It was a bit scary at first, for there was no specification or direction, just a list of events they wanted covered - I had carte-blanche, and so just did my thing.I began selecting and then drawing the appropriate scenes. Next I designed the coloured picture, on silk, of the balloon:

 I then designed the rest of the artwork, right down to the rubber stamp to cancel the postal stamp:  

The reason that the museum's first day covers were so popular was because we got all our covers flown in an appropriate aircraft and signed by the pilot. So my next step was finding somewhere where there were hot air balloons ... I discovered 
the Bristol Balloon Fiesta

I've heard of flying commissions - but here I was each day, airborne, in a balloon assisting the pilot to sign thousands of envelopes.

Pat sold a lot of my own aircraft prints whilst we were at the fiesta, but that's by the bye!

The next move was to get the covers overprinted with the flight details - and then we were ready to ship to the collectors.

There were about twenty covers altogether (I think) and I became a bit of an expert on the balloonists of that period - how could I not?Did you know that balloons, like Lunardi's Hydrogen balloon (above), were used in the American Civil War? 

I have just started a self-illustrated biography of  the balloonists, James Tyler and Vincento Lunardi. I'll keep you posted as I go ...there is a university vaguely interested in publishing it (keep everything crossed for me.)

Tuesday 20 March 2012

The North Portal of Cologne Cathedral

This is really a follow up post to the Cologne Cathedral post of a few days ago, see 3 below. In that post I told how my wife, Pat, first came across Cologne Cathedral in 1962.

 We'd got married when we were both just  21 (I'm three days older) in 1959. To save you counting we've been married 53 years - she still introduces me as her first husband, she reckons it keeps me on my toes! OK, so we grew up in the Rock 'n Roll years when Elvis was still trying to get established. Both born before World War 2 .... ''strewth and we're still only kids !

The North Portal, Cologne Cathedral. -  Pen & Ink 20" x 11" John Simlett 1995
When we stood waiting for the tram outside the cathedral, in those far past days, we would often peer into the big 'Dom Hotel', next door, and watch the coming and goings of the rich and the rich. We read the menu outside the main door, and soon realised we couldn't afford a coffee in there, let alone a meal. Similarly we watched the Rhine steamers cruising up and down the Rhine full of tourists.... and couldn't afford them either....the steamers not the tourists :0)
... But!.....
         ... we came back twenty years later. I had spent the years in between as aircrew on long range jet aircraft. I was posted to Germany in 1979 onto the F4 Phantom: fighter aircraft ...Woo Hoo, home most nights and time to draw for the first time in my life and which led to me leaving the RAF three years later to turn professional....
                            ... we laid the ghosts....
                                                                   ...We dined, as a family, in the Dom Hotel! We cruised the Rhine on the steamers ... and much else in the adventure story of an Air Force family, which now included three sons and a daughter.

 Here's a drawing I made in 1995 to commemorate our return. It's a fairly large picture 15" x 12" and doesn't like computers very much.

The First Day of Spring

I worked in the garden this morning! The first day I have been able to since last August, when I fell off the roof ... don't ask. Just to remind me of the Summer to come here's one doorway into my garden

Monday 19 March 2012

On the Subject of Sketching

I was talking to Sandra ( about her sketches. I said that I don't really do 'arty' sketches at all, but I always sketch the things I intent to make (as opposed to things I intend to draw). I call these sketches, ideas in disguise. You will see from the sketches I'm putting up, that they are often very heavily disguised. So I'm including photographs of what the sketches turned into, or at least, were a part of. I've been making four poster beds for each bedroom. Because this is a large old Victorian shambles of bricks we live in, the rooms often feel empty because of the height of the rooms, and four poster beds fill that vertical space nicely. In the nursery we needed something smaller, a half-tester. 

Mahogany Half-Tester.

 Okay, I don't know why it's called a half-tester ...but it is :0). Lot's of people raise an eyebrow when we say nursery for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the former occupant, my best friend and granddaughter, Giselle, is now 21! There is a certain ring of snobbery to the term nursery- some think - but when I tell them it is originally referred  to on the deeds of the house as, 'The Maid's room', they all say, 'Oh! Right!' :0)

I had a lot of mahogany I had bought over the years, so I started off by making the base and headboard
The base and headboard dovetail jointed together.

I then made the head-posts and canopy frame before making and fitting the drapes for the canopy 

Friday 16 March 2012

Other People's Blogs

When I got back into business, selling my pictures, I thought I should surf the net to see what others were doing in the pen & ink world. To be honest, the standard didn't seem that high, but then I chanced on Now Melissa Tubbs pen and ink work is totally brilliant. I won't say any more, just use the link and judge for yourself.

I saw that Melissa had a number of followers and, as I have been away from blogging for years,I assumed they were all pen & ink artists. Wrong! I randomly selected one, Carrie Waller, and the world became technicolour.

Carrie is a fantastic painter just visit and wallow in the luxury of the colours.

Every Friday Carrie does a brilliant interview with an artist, where, besides discussing their artwork, she delves into their history, development etc's really well done and well worth marking in your diary.

This week Carrie interviewed  Sandra Busby who lives at .... and her work is fantastic..... can you see where this is going?

If I'm not careful I'm going to be a Groupie - is that the modern term? I'm 74 don't forget ... perhaps I should stick to being a fan.

Now you ought to go and see the 'Busby Bears' they really are wonderful.

Saturday 10 March 2012

Cologne Cathedral - Kölner Dom

When I drew Cologne Cathedral, for the very first time, it was the Fifth highest building in the world. 
    The cathedral is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe, has the second-tallest spires and the largest façade of any church in the world.

In German it is known as, Hohe Domkirche St. Peter und Maria.
In English: High Cathedral of Saints Peter and Mary

We'd only been married a little over a year when the Royal Air Force posted me to the RAF Station at Butzweilerhof. Being such a new and junior member of the RAF, there was no way I qualified for Married Accommodation and therefore I had to find a private apartment. After a few months of saving for a deposit and an agent's fee, I secured a top floor apartment in Pius Straße which was situated in the wonderful area of Cologne known as Ehrenfeld. 
    Pat had never been far outside our home town by the time she arrived in Cologne. She spoke no German at all - which was slightly better than me - and the locals in Ehrenfeld spoke no English. But she took all that in her stride and before long was on 'speaking' terms with the neighbours, shopkeepers and market stall-holders.
     When she went into hospital to have Steven - the market stall keepers gave me bunches of flowers and baskets of fruit for her and wouldn't take a pfennig for them. Wonderful people, the folk of Cologne.
      The first time she saw Cologne Cathedral, it took her breath away. We had approached it through streets flanked by high buildings and therefore she had no idea what to expect as we emerged into the open. "Hell's Bells!" she gasped - highly inappropriate, but her favourite phrase.
    For Pat to get out to Butzweilerhof, she had to catch a bus from Pius Straße to the Dom (cathedral). From here, a tram around the Kaiser Wilhelm Ring to Aachen Straße and a bus out to Butz. Therefore the Dom became a regular feature of her week. 
     It was over twenty years later that I drew the picture above. It's quite a big picture (17 inches 435mm high and 11 inches 285mm wide). Lots of framed prints were sold in the 1980s, but the problem was the glass, it made it difficult to send the pictures through the mail system. I therefore had the picture reproduced on copper as a sort of etching and they proved very popular.
     I have only resurrected the picture now by popular demand and sell signed and mounted copies for £20 (US$35) (24 Euro) plus package and postage.