Monday 30 April 2012

I was talking working in wood with Linda

I've stopped drawing my dock scene because I came across some old photographs of Mississippi Paddle Steamers. The Shipwright-me and the artist-me, ganged up on simple-me ... mes' took a vote on it, and I am to draw a series of  the 'old gals'  (walks off whistling tunes from "Showboat")

Linda (from L.W. Roth, Out On a Limb) and I, both love furniture making, and as I am now some way off posting my next picture I thought I would show you  'another side of me' (multi-faceted  John). This will allow me to chat with Linda at the same time!

OK, so I'm called Gatepost Pictures because Pat drove the car through the gate whilst she was learning to drive in the 1960s - I should add the gate was shut at the time. I carved the remains of a gatepost into Maka Tiki, the Polynesian Tiki who looks after families - we called it a Gatepost Production, then later we became Gatepost Pictures.

It's the only thing I ever carved, but I am a fully trained boat builder (Shipwright), so working in wood is second nature.

But I'm also a writer, whilst Pat is an avid reader ... as we have miles of books I decided we needed a library. I turned the round facings on my lathe, and churned out bookcases. (There are a lot more bookcases since these picture were taken... these photos were WIP.
                                                 Click on Pictures for Best Result

I also made the panelled ceiling to make it all very light for reading. I'd started panelled ceilings in 1998 in response to being written off by the medics. Here are a few:

This one is Brazilian mahogany and Sapelle in the sitting room. (above)

An American White Oak ceiling in a bedroom. With a glimpse of a four poster bed, below, which I made in Hemlock (the tree not the poison)

Below is the hall in Californian Black Walnut

Here's a Welsh Dresser I made for the dining room. Notice the shaped pelmet on it, which is my signature (you can see it replicated on the bookcases)

These custom built units also have my signature, I made them to fit the breakfast room that I have built; it faces east for the rising sun)

I have just completed the master bedroom ceiling and made period shutters at the same time

You can see the shutters below

My current project is a four poster bed for the master bedroom - below are the posts I turned on my lathe, and then varnished. Each post has to be made in two parts and the glued together. The wood is my favourite - mahogany. 

Friday 27 April 2012

Monschau - and marketing prints

Nicola over on Pointy Pix, started a discussion on how to price your work. Well being a jobbing artist who will never grow rich on the sale of originals, I can only relate how I made a living on the margins by selling cheap prints of my work. I don't pretend to be the expert nor do I want to teach my grandmother to suck eggs ...
                                       ... My most successful pictures, commercially, not necessarily artistically, were the two scenes of Monschau. I confess these were drawn to fit what I considered to be a niche market, albeit I loved the subjects.


Stone Bridge in Monschau, Eifel, Germany
 Pen & Ink  10" x 6"  John Simlett  1981
Let me explain. Monschau is a delightful village in the Eifel mountains in Northwest Germany. In the summer it was full of hikers, canoeists and tourists. In the winter it was a ski resort. 

I noticed that the rich tourists crossed the Stone bridge to use the hotel. The less affluent, ate their picnics down by the Metal bridge in the area to the front right (see picture below).

I drew the pictures in pen and ink and had 100 prints of each  made, across the border in Roermond, Holland (Judy's neck of the woods). Pat and I then bought really nice but very cheap frames in Germany and framed the lot. They sold like hotcakes! We only took £5 ($8) profit off each. 

We then repeated the exercise, over and over again.  

Metal Bridge in Monschau, Eifel, Germany
Original Pen and Ink etched onto metal plate
10" x  6" John Simlett 1981
The only reservation customers had was that the glass could get broken when flying home. I therefore had them reproduced as metal etchings by an English company that employed physically disabled people, and that made Pat and I really happy. I still only asked £5 profit off each ....and they sold and sold.

The other idea I had was to display both pictures alongside each other, amongst all the other pictures. People didn't want to spend a lot and so they would ask how much the metal bridge was - they were so pleasantly surprised at how cheap it was that they bought both pictures - spending far more than they had intended - and went  away delighted. I was told by all the experts that I was underpricing. But if the customer was happy and we were happy, who could ask for a better outcome?

Now I'm not going to lecture here. That's the story take from it what you want. There are lots of ways making a living from art, but don't wait for the markets to come to you.

Tuesday 24 April 2012

Be It Ever So Humble, There's No Place Like Home.

When I was drawing this picture, two sayings came to mind. The first saying you can see in the title to this post - you can imagine the Baron safe and snug in his castle and the peasant snug in his hovel. Secondly, "An Englishman's home is his castle," which equally fits the scene. I'm Welsh, by the way, but heck who's counting?

When William the Conqueror came over from Normandy, France, in 1066, and conquered Britain, Alan Rufus came with him (aka Alan le Roux or Alan the Red). William gave Richmond to Alan as a reward for his part in defeating the people of Yorkshire. Alan became the Earl of Richmond and started building the Castle there in 1067, as a defence at the entrance to Swaledale.

Richmond Castle, Yorkshire, England   John Simlett 2012
Pen & Ink   16" x 9"

The castle is quite a large fortification, my picture shows only the keep, which is typically Norman. In fact if I stand in my garden and look South, I can see an identical Norman keep, Conisbrough Castle, which is almost the same distance and elevation as the keep in my picture. Incidentally, Sir Walter Scott used Conisbrough Castle as the setting of his book, "Ivanhoe". Consequently everything in our village is connected to the story: Ivanhoe School, Ivanhoe Community Centre etc..

Conibrough Castle, Yorkshire

Richmond castle has been drawn/painted/photographed so many times that I wouldn't have bothered with it until, however, I discovered a photograph of it that was taken in 1893 and I used that as my reference photograph.

The first recorded market to be held in Richmond was in 1155, and, by 1440 it was a market town trading in dairy produce, wine, fish, coal, lead-ore, copper and silk.

Here's how a Victorian Guidebook describes it:

The situation of Richmond is one of singular beauty, and the ruins are of exceptional interest. The town is perched on the summit of a plateau ... The river takes a bold curving sweep, so that nature has carved out of the plateau a bastion-like headland...From the market place a narrow and crooked street leads to the entrance to the castle ...

I think I've managed to capture that, 'narrow and crooked street,' winding its way up to the castle.

I've learnt about the shortfalls of photographing my work: some of the lines are only a tenth of a millimetre wide, so when I reduce the picture these lines are lost and the image appears much lighter than the original - clicking on the picture may help to darken it for you.

Friday 20 April 2012

The Entrance to Poets' Corner -Westminster Abbey

Entrance to Poets' Corner - Westminster Abbey  18" x 10" Pen & Ink  John Simlett
After all that work, the photograph is awful, out of focus and it's far too light (half the shading is missing). I might try again later.

If you are wondering, the actual entrance is along the footpath, under the arches to that little white doorway in the distance.


Tuesday 17 April 2012

"Poets' Corner" and Footseps in the Sands of Time

I am now forty hours drawing time into, "The Entrance to Poets' Corner"  - past the point of no return :0). It's quality/fate still  hang in the balance.

Poets' Corner itself is a chapel within Westminster Abbey (the Main London Cathedral where William & Kate got married).The chapel is stuffed with statues and plaques dedicated to famous poets The statue of Dryden dominates.

If you or I were to visit, we would be enthralled and be reading all the epitaphs of people such as Chaucer and Charles Dickens who lie here. This is historically and culturally specific to our times, as we venerate them as great historic  and literary figures. To Axel Haig (my hero), they were only recently departed and their statues were a pain in the proverbial!  He was recording the architecture of the Abbey in seven etchings.

It seems that in installing statues and plaques etc. a lot of the original architecture was destroyed. To Haig, this was vandalism. He saw his seven etchings of the original architecture as , "... a few footsteps in the sands of time, that might soon be obliterated by the feet of others [...] the recklessness with inharmonious mutilations."

So I'm trying to reinforce Axel's footsteps in the sand by drawing the entrance to Poets' Corner - seeing it through hie eyes... and somehow hoping his magic might rub off on me. :0)

Here is his "Altar of the Visitation", Palencia, Spain (1884) 22" x 16"- a print from the original etching plate.

Axel H Haig (1884)

It was through this picture that I discovered Haig. I bought a signed copy for only £25 - $40 from a philistine. Here is my copy hanging in my hallway in its original frame. This photograph was meant to display the spinning wheel I had just made, so the view of the picture isn't very clear.

Thursday 12 April 2012

Painters! ... Look Away Now! :0))

In an earlier post I explained how, in 1983, I was given a large commission to design in Pen & Ink, three sets of aircraft drawings and one of vintage cars. The drawings were then (industrially mass produced) etched onto metal plates and framed  by the company who were then going to retail copies across the country.

The Company who had commissioned me, displayed my work in the National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham, UK, where they were approached by a Northern Irish company who asked who their artist was. They explained I was freelance. In due course the NI company contacted me concerning a commission.

 Pat went to discuss the commission with them (no good being married to an actress and not using her skills), as I was designing philatelic stuff in a London Museum (see earlier post).

I should explain at this stage that I was no famous artist who could live off the sales of originals, rather I was/am a jobbing artist who lived off the margins. I opted for 1000 copies sold at £5 profit each, rather than one original at £1000 - like everything else I do, I discovered all this by accident, and in hindsight! Further, at that time I would take any work offered - we had to live!

When I got home Pat explained that she had won the commission! 25 + designs at a price that made me sit down and have a stiff drink.
'We've really fallen on our feet," I declared punching the air.
'There is one problem though.'
'You're only allowed to use five colours!'
'Colours ... but I don't do colours ...I'm strictly mono!' 
It was true I had never painted in my life.
'At these fees ... you're going to have to learn to paint quickly.'

I don't know if Tea Towels are international - however, a tea towel is a rectangle of linen, approximately 24" x 18". It was designed to dry cups and saucers, but over time it became an object of memorabilia - a souvenir of places visited, collectable ... alas, rather down market artistically. I had to design 25, for different locations in the UK. They were to be manufactured in their 1000s. 

Pat went to an art suppliers where she acted the part of a mum who was supposed to buy a whole lot of stuff for her son. "He's got a school project to design tea towels, but I've lost the list of what materials he needs."
The old gentleman said, "Leave it all to me madam." And so Pat left the shop laden with 'poster' paints, brushes, boards etc.

I started by drawing in pen and ink, and filling in the spaces with poster paints! The first one was, London

I followed that with one of Royal Homes:

and so on and so on. Finally I was finished the 25 +.... but the Duke of Wellington's Estate asked me to do one for them

But it didn't stop there - the Red Arrows - the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team commissioned me for one.

Then one from the USA, for the Confederate Air Force !!!(

There were others ... but ... I have never painted since!!

Sunday 8 April 2012

The Moorish Archway (1884) - Toledo, Spain.

For better or worse here is the Archway. 

I think I'm moving in the right direction if I'm to get back into drawing. I've opted for something outside of my comfort zone by drawing this wonderful 'shambles' of a building, instead of the more formal architecture I normally draw.

The Moorish Archway - Toledo, Spain.  (12" x 7") Pen & Ink   John Simlett, 2012
I drew professionally through most the 1980s, but in the final two years I only had one day off, a Christmas Day (I worked through the other one). I was starting 'work' at 4-30 each morning and finishing at midnight. The commissions were fast and furious, but never of subjects I wanted to draw. Finally, Pat and I decided there was no quality in the life we were leading and I put away the pens.

I have decided - in hindsight - that there were only three ways to make a living. Drawing the odd original and selling prints - Pat did the marketing. Secondly, I began to write software - same principle:  write the original and sell copies. Then (via Academia) writing books and, once again, trying  to sell copies.  The same formula. ... Then I fell off the roof ... I know, what was an old fool like me doing on the roof? That's me though ... :0))

Because I was grounded for sometime, my best friend, Granddaughter, got me all fired up to start drawing again, occupational therapy I guess, and here I am.

That's the short  simplified version of the story behind this drawing. 

The only other thing to mention is that my hero, Axel Herman Haig, drew this archway in 1884. He was a printmaker, and therefore there was no original drawing, beyond the etching plate from which 300 prints were made. He sold the prints at 2 guineas each.  I just needed to see things through his eyes, albeit our styles are totally different.

I'm thinking about drawing 'Poets Corner' at Westminster Abbey, London, as the next step in my revival-plan.

Thursday 5 April 2012

Funny Old Week!

When I was a kid we had a weather 'thingy': when it was sunny, a lady moved out of the left hand door. When it rained, the lady moved back indoors and a sad little old man emerged...

                               ...that's the sort of week I've had.
If I were to replace the little lady/ old man, then I would replace them with replicas of the first two people to fly in Britain. Vincento Lunardi and James Tytler. 
Vincento Lunardi

James Tytler

I mentioned that I'm preparing a self-illustrated biography of the pair. They are almost laterally inverted (mirror images)...  total opposites of each other.

That's the sort of week I've had - extremes.

TYTLER MOMENT:I've had trouble writing very much (the muse is still in hibernation)

LUNARDI MOMENT ... and then I found out that I had been 'long listed' in a memoir competition. I was really pleased because I only found out about the competition, 24 hours before the deadline (last November). It was international with over 10,000 entries, so coming in the top 100 after just cobbling a piece together is rewarding.

TYTLER: I'm trying to get back into 'proper' drawing after a lay-off of a few years. I have taken on an incredible challenge, drawing the 'Moorish Archway  - Toledo'. 
      At the moment, I am doing the drawing - when the pen takes over (the same in writing) from me then I know I'm 'back'. 
      The Archway is a jumble of rocks, bricks, steps, shadows with hardly a straight line in sight. I generally go for more elegant subjects like this Adams Fireplace

LUNARDI: The final half an hour today ... I suddenly realised that the pen was working independently ... can it rescue a pretty below average start? Let's hope the pen gets airborne tomorrow.

Monday 2 April 2012

Cross Pollination ...!

When Sandra showed her lightening sketches of faces on her blog (see ) the other day, I commented that I never draw people or faces. But of course I do ... but not as 'art,' not as part of drawing!   I draw them as part of Writing!

For example, I wrote a short story, "Coat Tales" (pun intended) for a Literary magazine, about an event that happened to me and a friend when we were in Kabul, Afghanistan, in the 1970s

Basically we went off the beaten track in search of cheap Afghan coats for our wives. We came across two Afghan men, they looked like father and son, and they were sewing the coats by hand. Now their English was as non-existent as our Pashtu. We tried writing numbers (as prices) in English and then in Arabic ... but we got nowhere, they understood neither. 

Then I spotted a young lad carrying schoolbooks, I grabbed him before he ran away from the fiendish white men. Soon we were all friends, they were smoking our cigarettes and crying with laughter as we coughed ourselves to death over their local weed... those far off days when everyone smoked.

 We all sat scrunched together on this rickety wooden platform: that kept them out of the dust in the summer and mud in the winter. The old man sat on a pile of blankets, and the schoolboy knelt between them his arm on the old man's shoulder. 

I wrote my opening bid on the schoolboy's book in Arabic, and he translated the number verbally to the Tailors. They laughed and told the lad how much they wanted, he wrote their figure down and I translated. Finally, after a thoroughly entertaining half-an-hour of too-ing and fro-ing, with much laughter we parted company with arm breaking handshakes and slaps on the back. 

From the glint in their eyes it was obvious that they thought they had made a killing, and made it fairly ... this wasn't a rip off.

My pal sold the coat he had bought, when we got back to the UK - he got £500 ($1,200 at that time). They had only cost us £25 ($60) each!

I wrote the short story as fiction, and told it from the Afghan tailor's  son's Point-of-View. But I had to sketch the three of them  before I started writing ... just to be inside the group and understand the how they all saw it.

Susan (over on ) wrote about how her ballet characters take over and develop the situation, she is never sure where they will take it (fantastic pictures she paints btw).  And so it is with writing: these three Afghans were not content with a role in a  short story they now play a significant role in my thriller, 'The Othila Paradigm,' which agent's and publisher's permitting should be out by the end of the year.

But this cross-pollination across the 'arts' doesn't end there. When I write a poem, full of deep philosophical stanzas - nobody takes ant notice. But when I cross a 'silly' poem with boatbuilding and drawing and convert poetry into boatry.... it gets published and there are demands for more ... 



                                                                    I like flags.
                                                           fore  Sails
                                                     sail  is     Flapping
                                               not for sale   In the wind.
                                           you  may find   Makes one think
                                       that you need it    Of  flying far off like
                                    rather badly in a     Some Albatross set free
                                 wind or in a gale        From land and those grassy ties
         I                   and  without it  find       That shore can bring, although I do
            do      others quickly up your tail    Like being a landlocked Shipwright it's part
                  like                                                   of
                        boatbuilding it's                       my                                                     
                                 such a  large part of my life. I love the smell of the wood as I cut and I plane it.
                                     listen to the music of the parts that go to make a boat, each word such poetry:
                ~~~~~~~~~~ tumblehome and transom; hog and hogson; apron and the thwart~~~             
                                                gutter and garboard strakes of planking: clinker & hard chine
                                                       but alas without a keel
                                                              where would we be
                                                                   capsized and upside
                                                                       down, swimming
                                                                                far beneath
                                                                                          the sea.