Thursday 25 October 2012

Colin Michael Simlett 1948 - 2012 RIP

My little brother, Colin, spent a lot of his life, risking his life, to save other people's lives. A Royal Navy Helicopter Crewman who hung from that cable in the worse  possible conditions and rescued countless people in despair.

He died today in Crete, Greece where he had been living for quite a few years.

I told him he should have joined the Air Force, "You've always wanted to fly, for goodness sake!"
He told me I should have joined the Navy, "You're a bloody Shipwright, for goodness sake!"

We both did the opposite.

They once landed in the field behind my house. First we knew was a knock on the back door. There was Colin in all his flying gear, Helmet with visor down, Immersion suit, Life Jacket etc... "Excuse me, we've lost our map, could you give us instructions on how to get to..." Great sense of humour.

Cheers Colin, Happy Landings Mate... leave a drop of Scotch for the others ... 

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Colour/Color Arrives in the World of Gatepost!

Buoyed up by a couple of stained glass windows in The Cloisters, I have began my Balloon Series using coloured inks (and a little black) only. This is my first venture into the world of colour - I'm strictly  mono-man, as a rule.

click on image
                                   Vincenzo Lunardi (Scotland, 28 July 1786)                  John Simlett
Pen & Ink on Cartridge Paper
12 inches x 8 inches

Allow me to present another of my Heroes, Vincenzo Lunardi, an Italian  who was born in Lucca in 1759. He found fame as the first person to fly in England. This gallant young man became the toast of Britain, the Johnny Depp of his day, the Cap'n Jack Sparrow of the Aeronauts... and darling of the ladies!  

He spent the most successful period of his aviation career in Scotland, from September 1785 to late 1786. During this time he wrote frequently to his Guardian, Chevalier Gerardo Compagni. 

400 copies of his letters were printed in a book form, by Lunardi, under the title, 
Five Aerial Voyages 
in a
Series of Letters
to his
Chevalier Gerardo Compagn
by Vincent Lunardi, Esq.

I am privileged  to posses copy 34, of the letters, and consequently. feel that I know him fairly well. His written English is impeccable. 

Although he was always an Italian, and returned there in April 1788, during his period in Britain he became totally British, writing:

...In my Aerial Voyages in Scotland, I was treated with great Favour. This I attributed to the Character of the Nation [...] I am a Child of Britain by Species of Adoption (May 2, 1786)

You can probably see why I want to write his biography, a real class act. The other half of the biography, however, concerns James Tyler, a Scot who was the first person to fly in Britain (Scotland) beating Lunardi by a month or so. 

Tyler is the antithesis of Lunardi - his balloon was a basket covered in canvas, for example, whilst Lunardi's was of the finest silk. He hero-worshipped Lunardi, writing, An Ode to Lunardi, which ran to many pages.

 But I've written enough, and risk becoming boring.

Wednesday 17 October 2012

The Cloisters and A Lot Of Hot Air!

        THE CLOISTERS, Gloucester Cathedral, England     John Simlett
Pen & Ink on Cartridge Paper    
21.5 inches x 15.5 inches
(550 mm  x 400 mm)

I finally got over to the printers in Sheffield to collect images of The Cloisters at Gloucester Cathedral. It's an awful 40 mile round trip into a busy city, so I only go if I'm taking new art work over.  I took my latest drawing  - which you haven't seen - it's of an old aircraft

 You will have to click on the above image to get a better effect. Even so, it is, as you can see, a big picture by pen & ink standards (15.5 inches x 21.5 inches). The size is important because the light flooding in from the left seems to increase and brighten as the picture size is increased.

Most customers don't want a picture that big, so besides full sized prints, I have produced two smaller sizes.

                                         10 inches x 14.5 inches
                                        7.5 inches x  10 inches

I spoke at length to the Printer concerning the packaging and shipping  of prints. He suggests that I mail prints without mounting them first. Simply roll them in brown-paper and send them in a tube. Now this brings prices right down as the customer doesn't pay for the mat and the backing board and a tube is cheaper than a large flat parcel, how much cheaper I'm not sure. Big re-pricing exercise in the next few days. 

I shall continue to sell them Mounted, Backed & Bagged at shows, where I actually hand them to the client.

I would like to thank  Zephyrinus over on
for his help in the research of The Cloisters, his very devote blog is full of the most breathtaking images.

Some of you will know that I am writing a self-illustrated biography of Vincenzo Lunardi and James Tytler the first people to fly in Britain. In the 1980's I was commissioned by a London Museum to design the Philatelic First Day Covers for the bi-centenary of flight, :

I got so interested in the year long project that I began to research the notion of a book.  Anyway, I've decided to kill two birds with one stone  fly two kites balloons at the same time.

 In short, I'm beginning a series of balloon scenes to sell as prints, and with which to populate the biography ... that's the plan ... but life is so full of so many fun plans that I shall continue to fly between them like an escaped balloon!  ... the bad news is I shall be using colour albeit still ink!

Wednesday 10 October 2012

NOW... I don't want to FriGHten you BUT!!!!!!!!

I should warn you that folk stay away from my house at HallOOOOOween. You see it's a very ooOOoold house, set back from the road. The garden wall is hidden behind large hoOOOOlly trees which shut out 'street light' with their prickly  fooOOOOoliage!. The front door looks welcoming in the sunlight .... but ... on a dark creepy night with the spotlights switched off, and only the little light over the door on, with the wind whistling around the hilltop we live on gets ... .....SsssssSSSSsPPPpppooooOOOOOOKKY!

Years agoOOOOoo, so the story goes, a group of brave young Trick or Treaters, took their courage in both hands, and, slowly, e  v  e   r       s  o         s   l   o   w   l    y, approached the front door. One tip-toed forward and banged with the brass door-knocker... BANG, BAN N N N G G g g .... it echoed around the hallway. There was a sound of footsteps .... a bolt was drawn back stood on end ....the dooOOOOor sssloooOOOOOwly OooOOOopened. The children ran screaming .... straight through the gate, their screams fading as they went down the hill... to this day the children will not speak about what they saw ... they just repeat the same mantra when questioned, "Hubble Bubble Toil and Trouble!" But today, and just for your ears you should understand, I can reveal the truth ... what the ccchhhildren saw....

Pat  & Giselle (1997) When will these witches meet again?
Pretty scary, hmm? Luckily the other two granddaughters weren't here at the time. But last week (below) they were preparing for the 31st!!  I hope they don't get into hot (bubble bubble toil and trouble) water!"

Tuesday 9 October 2012

FREE.. I WANT to BREAK FREE ... free From your Spell ..dah de dah dah!!!

OK so who do you think lived here? 

Clue he fought for the British Army in Afghanistan. 

He once led a charge against 100s of Afghans, unfortunately in his haste he left most of his men behind, and then realised that he only had 6 men with him. About the same time the Afghans realised it too... OOooooops! 
Plan 'B' (head between knees and kiss a** goodbye)

He was once taken a prisoner of war, in Africa, but escaped. He hid on a freight train, then escaped from it when it was being searched, and hid down a mine. Then escaped on another freight train ... got back to Britain ... and was amazed to be treated as a hero.  He became a lifelong friend of the man who had captured him.

Most of his fortune came from writing. He was shot at in Cuba when there as a newspaper reporter. 

His mother was an American and his father, English

He was a good painter ....
...............................Here's one of his, a Magnolia.

The last time I was in his studio I could see he had been busy....

He wasn't adverse to a drop of giggle-juice... ooops!

Now the reason for all this frivolity ... is I've finished ... assignment gone  ... I will never write another academic essay again. If I change my mind, lock me up.

Now the only thing I had in common with the mystery man above is that neither of us had a university education... no college. Me, because I came from the wrong side of the tracks; him because he wanted adventure and joined the army. We both became self taught and so gained ourselves positions through hard work, albeit he did a bit better than I did.

But we both had chips on our shoulders. As he said, he missed the tutoring that guided a well balanced  education. There we part company, for I decided to redress the situation, to rewrite history in my favour. I had been forced to retire through ill health and decided to start the new millennium studying subjects about which I knew absolutely nothing.

I have been taking degrees ever since, Criminology, Sociology, English up to masters ..... BUT... I've finished forever....YIPPEEHHoooTS!!    (collapses hysterically laughing)

YET!!!! he still beat me and was voted The Greatest Briton Ever ... I give you Winston Spencer Churchill .... my HERO!  

Thursday 4 October 2012

The First Five Pictures I Ever Drew... and Fairy Dust!

I won't be able to post any new artwork on here for 7 - 10 days as I have to get this final 'English assignment' completed. However, I've  now got the photograph of me 'at the beginning' of my plunge into art and I thought I would post that. (I look a right stupid Berk!!)

Not much point in posting the photograph without telling the crazy story behind it though. I feel as if it is someone else's story, as it is so long ago, which is good because otherwise it might feel  like boasting. At the risk of sounding boring, here it is.

After I was about 8 or 9 years of age I stopped drawing in an artistic manner. All my stuff became purely technical, although pen and ink had become the tools-of-my-trade. 

I was conscripted into the Royal Air Force for 2 years, at the age of 21 (3 weeks after our wedding!). We decided that, with the shipbuilding industry being in a slump we would stay in the Air Force, and that I should try to get a job as aircrew, because the pay was really good! The RAF must have been desperate as somehow I got through the selection process. I then flew on long range jet transport aircraft for 20 years. Home for a week - away for two, home for four days - away for three! So there was no time for hobbies - no art!

I was posted to Germany in 1979 as a 'Seagull' with the Phantom Jet Fighters for three years. This meant I would be home most nights with lots of time off. Hobbies beckoned.

 Pat had a paper-bag with a pen and ink drawing on it of an old house in Cornwall, England. I felt the need to draw it, and I did - I was surprised and pleased with the result. She sent it off to a magazine competition and ... they used it for their front cover (only ever happens to other people normally). Encouraged I drew pen & ink pictures of three castles on the banks of the river Rhine, and one of a Dutch Windmill. Followed by a fifth picture, the castle at Dalfsen (see last posting).

Pat had joined a Theatre Club, but it was about to be closed down because it was falling to pieces.  Amongst other things, the stage lighting and most of the technical stuff needed replacing they needed to raise about £7, 000 ($11,000). 

They had a fund-raising meeting at our house during which a young teacher, Rachel, said, "We could always sell prints of John's drawings." I laughed, thinking she was joking, I never even though of framing them - they were for fun. 

However ... the unstoppable force ... Pat, got behind the idea and the next thing we were getting prints done in Holland and buying complete frames from a warehouse in Germany.  We sat for hours putting the prints into the frames. The small shop on base said they would sell them for us (the woman in the photograph).

Then the impossible happened. They sold out in two weeks! 

We got lots printed, and spent days framing - they sold out. The USAF down in Ramstein wanted them, Berlin wanted them and so on ... and so on ... They kept selling out. We lost count of how many hundreds sold. They were the perfect product in the perfect market place at the perfect time. There was lots of demand and NO competition, They raised enough money to help equip the theatre (there were lots of other activities raising money at the same time).

The press were all over us, and commissions began to pour in ... at the end of the three years I was forced to leave the Royal Air Force and turn professional... where the adventures continued!!!