Dylan Thomas, the poet, grew up in Swansea and he descbed it as “An ugly, lovely town … crawling, sprawling … by the side of a long and splendid curving shore”.
About 5 years ago I went through a phase of painting a number of intricate paintings of Swansea. I loved the layers of Victorian and Edwardian houses with their high pitched roofs. I went to great effort to walk out onto the quay and the beach to take photos with a zoom lens. The quay is no longer accessible, as part of the walkway has since collapsed.
I recently reworked a couple of these paintings that I still had.
The Old Observatory, Swansea
Over to Bernard Street, Swansea
I was recently commissioned to paint another painting from this series. The commissioned work would be similar, but the composition and the execution of the work would be slightly different. I had mixed feelings about the project because I knew how fiddly these paintings are. These paintings take a great deal of concentration! I use a small brush for all the work on the buildings and they take several days of very focused effort to complete. Still, I hadn’t painted one for many years so I decided to paint one again. Perhaps it’s like a transatlantic flight, something that you can endure once a year but no more often than that. So here it is.
Still, for all my wingeing I can’t help but say that I was really pleased with the final painting. My head hurts from all that focusing on the small houses with their white gables and red chimneys. However, I did like thinking about the different places in the painting as I painted them. The perspective squeezes the buildings together in a way and makes them look closer to each other in a way they are not in real life, by that I mean, on the ground.
On the far right of the painting, on the beach, is what used to be the 360 Café and is now called The Secret. Next to that is the green building know as the Patti Pavilion, the trees behind it belong to the beautiful Victoria Park. They look so close to each other but in reality, the Patti Pavilion is on the other side of the busy Oystermouth Road.
The square building that stretches across the rest of the painting is the Guildhall, which contains the beautiful panels painted by Frank Brangwyn. Rising up behind these buildings is are the parts of Swansea known as Sandfields, Brynmill, and Townhill.
Once upon a time, they were villages or rolling farmland, but now they are all merged into the sprawling City of Swansea. As Dylan Thomas aptly described it “The town of windows between hills and the sea.” On rainy days the clouds descend on Townhill and it can no longer see or be seen!
I am now working on a medium-sized much “looser” Donegal landscape painting, before making a start on two more commissions.
You can now buy a print of this painting here. Click on “reproductions” tab to see your options.
To follow in Dylan Thomas’s footsteps you can visit his favourite places around Swansea:-
Commissions are usually pretty interesting because they will challenge me in some way or another. This particular commission’s challenge was about scale. Now, I don’t usually paint large paintings because I just don’t have the space to store many of them. I have a few but I am not keen to paint many more as and I find it difficult to paint in a crowded attic studio, both on a practical level (if you look at my photos carefully you can see its crowded in my studio) and also psychologically (it starts to bug me). So if a commission requires me to go large I am quite excited by that prospect. Excited and a bit scared.
This commission was based on a relatively modest-sized painting I had recently painted of Gola Island, Donegal. This is 41x33cm, that’s 16 x 13 inches for non-metric people.
Up from the Pier (Gola)
As you can see from the studio photo, the original fits on the seat of a chair. It is a favourite of mine. I have many favourite paintings, this is my current one.
The commission canvas size was to be 120 x 80cm (47×32 inches). Which is pretty big for my little studio. The canvas I could cope with, but the cardboard box it was arrived in is annoying me as it’s ended up by the railings by the steps to the attic. It’s in my way.
So I pondered the issues with scaling up this painting. The joy of small paintings is that you can hint at all sorts of things with a brushstroke or two and the brain will do the rest of the work. There’s no hiding place when the canvas is over a metre in size.
So the first change in my approach was scale. I printed out my reference photo on a much larger piece of paper. My original photo wasn’t much bigger than 10cm (4 inches) square. Don’t ask me why. I like to print off a lot of images at one time and then ponder which one I want to actually paint. For the commission, the photo was closer to A4 size (7×11 inches) and amazingly, I could see much more detail! So I focused a lot of attention on the buildings and caravan on the horizon. I paint with a small brush get the details of the light on the houses and ruins.
I generally work from left to right when I am painting so as not to smudge work with my hand and the next part I worked on were the rocks and the grassy verge to the left of the track. The real joy of painting vegetation in Donegal is the many varied greens and yellows. I love picking out the different hues. I have to make sure that my colours match the colours in the reference photo as closely as possible. It sounds daft, but I hold up the paintbrush next to the photo to check I have the right tones.
The grass and bracken in the main part of the painting were carefully reconstructed. Saying that I use much larger brushes than I do for my smaller paintings. I make sure that blocks of yellow ochres and green grass or darker bracken are in the right place. There are both warm and cool greens here. There are splashes and smudges of oranges, pinks, jade and turquoise in there too. I am trying to convey not only colour but the shape of undulating land; where the grass has grown up and in some places, covered completely the old stone walls. The island is covered in lots of wooden fence posts, but I don’t want to paint in all the wires as the eye wouldn’t see them all in that much detail so I pick out just a few of them. I wanted to recreate the spirit of the smaller painting rather than create a new painting so I have to adjust a few patches of grass, on the left-hand side of the painting, so their bluish tones echo the first painting and balance the colours in the whole. The tiny golden yellow flowers that are gathered at the bend in the pinkish track are added.
The sky is painted last. Sometimes I paint skies first, especially if it is a cloudy or stormy sky, but in this case, it’s a blue powdery summer blue and it comes last. It has the effect of bringing the whole painting together.
The commission next to the study painting of Gola
So the final stage is to sit with the painting and check that it has the same “vibe” as the smaller study painting. I think it has. I regard it as a big beast, but one I like.
I wonder what it would be like to have a massive studio where you could store bigger paintings? Would I paint larger paintings? Well, in the winter when light is short I would still paint smaller works that could be completed relatively quickly, but in the summer months when I have acres of daylight? You bet.
How to commission a painting. This for all you collectors, decorators, and art enthusiasts who are intimidated by the thought of commissioning a painting, but thrilled at the prospect of working with an artist on a piece of your own. It’s easy.
Here are my 5 steps.
1. The Brief – send me an outline of what you are looking for in your commission; i.e. size, subject matter, and include as many good quality reference photos as you can. I can edit or combine images on request. Here’s an example of a projectwhere I did this last year. If its a pet portrait, what sort of background would you like?
2. Size of the Work – This has a bearing on the price. Here are some guidelines. These prices include free packing & shipping. Most canvas sizes can be ordered to suit commission requirements.
60×50 cm – £295 (Approx 19.68 x 23.6 inches – US $380)
70×50 cm – £345 (Approx 19.68 x 27.5 inches – US $445)
80×60 cm – £450 (Approx 31.49 x 23.6 inches – US $582)
100×80 cm – £650 (Approx 39.49 x 31.49 inches – US $840)
3. Logistics – Timescale, is this work a present for a special event? A custom painting can be a unique gift for a loved one. I will need to know special dates well in advance so there is plenty of time for the work to thoroughly dry before it is packed and shipped.
4. Deposit – I will need a deposit usually 25% of the final price, this is to cover the materials and any design work, such as sketches or other mockups.
5. Final review – You will be sent images of the final painting. I finish my work by painting a neutral colour around the edges so the painting is ready to hang. Your work will be shipped and a tracking number provided.
That’s it. Sit back and admire your painting for years to come.
Get in touch to discuss ideas. Email email@example.com
I paint commissions. Most commissions requests are pretty standard, say a beloved dog, a favourite landscape or the owner’s house. Some commissions, however, are different. I recently painted two commissions that quite different from the typical paintings of animals/landscapes. My client sent me two images, both were photographs cut out of the New York Times, with little or no explanation. They were both clearly political in nature. I was given free rein to interpret them as I liked.
I find these commission interesting as these are not my usual subject matter. I *usually* paint landscapes or observational people portraits. However, in painting these images I am forced to look at them carefully and consider the wider implications of what I am observing. I don’t research the image beforehand only afterwards, I just observe.
The first image I painted was of an internment camp. So with “Suffer the Children”, the tents reminded me of the 1970s medical comedy/satire M*A*S*H which was set during the Korean War. In its early years, M*A*S*H was clearly a commentary on the Vietnam War but later on the Cold War in general. It often questioned, mocked, and grappled with America’s role in the Cold War. It was funny and thought provoking.
I knew that the figures lined up in my source photograph were minors. Teenage boys, I guessed from their size. I didn’t know where they were, but I guessed that they were somewhere in the USA near the Mexican border.
It eventually dawned on me that the white squares on their colourful T-shirts were actually I.D. tags, a bit like those luggage labels evacuees wore during Britain in the Second World War. Turns out that these were teenage boys who had entered the USA illegally. This is, in fact, is a secret internment camp at Tornillo, outside El Paso, Texas. I call it secret because no reporters have been allowed to visit although the New York Times wrote an onion piece on its existence. The photos were presumably taken with a drone.
When I painted this image and shared it on social media there were the usual “likes” but little commentary. Few comments. No one said how terrible it was that children were held indefinitely in these camps, in the “free” west. Or that similar “immigration removal centres“ also exist in the UK, where people, men women and children, are locked up without time limit. Perhaps, they think “immigrants” and then lose interest. Perhaps people missed the satire of the title “Suffer the Children”?
I drew a very different reaction with the second commission. This was a photograph of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un standing on a bridge. I know plenty about the North Korean leader and I think that North Korea must be a dreadful place for its citizens to live in, as they are lied to, starved and any disent is swiftly punished with time in work camps. Also know that that we in the west are told a lot of nonsense about the Korean, such as North Koreans only being allowed a choice of 15 “official“ hair cuts. It all needs to be taken with a pinch-of-salt.
I initially thought this image had been photoshopped. The two figures either side of Kim didn’t look real. In fact they sort of reminded me of a Pink Floyd Album cover, “Wish you were Here”. If you are not familiar with it , it shows of two men in suits shaking hands. One of the men is one fire. As the image was made in 1975, those are real flames. Not photoshopped. Which makes the image especially mesmerising.
As I looked athe Kim Jong Un, photograph I realised that two suited men were his security detail. The image was as “real” as the Pink Floyd one, but also just as staged. All photography and images of Kim have to be officially sanctioned. North Koreans can’t draw or paint him unless they are official state artists.
This photograph, then is how Kim wants to be seen. As a relaxed and smiling leader on a modern railway bridge. There are no ordinary North Koreans in sight on the train platform in the distance. If I was a North Korean citizen, the act of making this painting, however, may lead to me and my family spending time in a prison camp, Hence the title “Wish You Were Here” (no question mark) is ironic.
Turns out that this was a new railway bridge in Gwangwon Province and photograph was taken less than a day after Donald Trump called off his planned meeting with Kim. North Korea had said that Kim was still willing to meet Trump “at any time”, so the title is doubly appropriate.
Wish You Were Here
When I posted this image on facebook and twitter, hashtagging it #statire, it was met with a storm of outraged comments from people who assumed that it was some sort of endorsement of the North Korean state. I was bemused. I wasn’t expecting this sort of reaction. Is it really very likely that a western artist would paint a fan portrait of a dictator?
There were many outraged comments on how Kim Jong Un killed people in work camps and was an evil man. These came mostly from American and Asian commentators. Interesting, in the light of the fact that Trump’s government imprisons children indefinitely and China also detains muslim uighur peoplein Xinjiang province. I could go on. Hypocrisy is rife. It’s also interesting, it was only British commentators who got the joke or just commented that it was “bizarre”. I’d be interested to see what sort of reaction I’d get if I painted a portrait of Donald Trump or Putin.
There is a long tradition of satire in Britain and Ireland. Although satire is usually meant to be humorous, its greater purpose is often constructive social criticism, using wit to draw attention to both particular and wider issues in society. Hence Jonathan Swift’s famous ‘A Modest Proposal’ which he published in 1729 in which he suggested that the people of Ireland sell their children as food. This outrageous idea was never meant to be taken as face value. Satire is never meant to be taken at face value yet in this social media era things often are, which is why we are all such suckers for fake news, no matter how outrageous it is.
We can scoff at Trump supporters who believed his lies about Clinton and the pizzagate conspiracy but just yesterday a lot of people on twitter in the UK got worked up about a supposed protest by the far right against the new vegan sausage rolls. These sausage rolls had been introduced by Greggs the Bakers. It’s a long story, but a right wing TV commentator Piers Morganhad started the “controversy” when he called the company out on Twitter calling them ‘PC-ravaged clowns’ writing: “Nobody was waiting for a vegan bloody sausage.”
This tweet appeared in my feed yesterday. So as you can see the tweet was “liked” thousands of times and there were many outraged and puzzled comments about how the far right were pathetic and stupid.
Five hours after the original tweet the person who posted it tweeted, backtracked, presumably after realising he’d got it wrong and another tweet claiming it was a “joke” or “banter”, as he called it.
This is a commission piece I have been working on this week. The brief was to paint this beautiful sunlit New York apartment. I was sent a number of photos to work from, the plates and dishes had to vanish, so the main focus of the work was the light and shadow on the patterned table cloth.
A number of New York water towers could be seen outside. I was quite intrigued by these water towers. I had no idea that they were a feature of the Manhattan skyline. I looked up some more photos of these urban water towers and was quite blown away by how many there are!
Sadly the water towers are not a big feature of the painting, but you can see two of them quite clearly from window on the right hand side of the painting.
I love the clean lines of the shadows cast by the window on the table and the parquet flooring and decided that clarity was essential in the composition. So I played around with the original image using an open source program called Gimp (which is a lot like Photoshop) and simplified the image. I “cleared” the table and removed the sleeping hound on the carpet. The resulting images was far from perfect but gave me a claener image to work from.
I further simplified the image by painting a plain rug. I also lighten certain parts of the painting, such as the wall behind the table. In this way I wanted to create a feeling of airiness and light.
I also lightened the red chair on the right hand side so that it could seen more easily seen and its beautiful curves more easily appreciated. This way it became an integral part of composition, with the red theme in the buildings on the left window, reddish shadows on the wooden flooring being balanced by the red carpet, chair and red in the painting above it.
The shadows have exciting dynamic to them; with the cool shad
ow across the table cloth contrasting with the hot shadows cutting across the floor. My favourite part of the painting was the slice of sunlight on the table leg.
The client, I am pleased to say, loved it. She was very generous in her praise, saying “it is more truthful, beautiful than real life!”
Want to commission your own unique piece of art? Click here.
Here’s Hudson the black poodle. He’s a handsome chap. I was asked to paint a picture of him. Pretty straight forward, eh?
Well, the challenge was that the commission required that Hudson was to be portrayed not in this rural idyll but in New York City, waiting outside Malecon coffee shop where his owner popped by every morning for her coffee. Hudson is one of those super cool dogs that will just wait. He does not need to be tied up.
I was provided with a couple of photographs of the said restaurant but there were a couple of issues that needed dealing with. Take a look.
Firstly, there were signs and bicycles in the way of the front of the shop. There was no clear view. So I googled the restaurant in the hope that I might find some more useful photographs online.
Several photos of Malecon restaurants in different locations in NYC. The second problem is that Hudson in the original photos was sitting in grass and I could not see what sort of tail he has and what happens to it when he sits down, whether he tucks it under or not. So I searched for some poodles images. Did he have a long or short tail?
So I spent a morning using a photo editing program called Gimp (an open source version of Photoshop) and adding poodle tails, taking out bicycles and playing around with compositions.
I finally decided that I lived the photo with the lit interior best. I thought the lights would make a more interesting image. I had a problem deciding where to place the dog as he was black and would not stand out against the dark background. Initially I placed him to one side in front of the plant container but finally settled on in the foreground so that he was the main focus of the picture.
So I send this final image to the customer to check that she’s happy with the composition and I have the right sort of tail for Hudson before I make a start painting. I also got her to agree to a rectangular canvas, rather than a square one, that way I could fit the dog and all of the shop front in easily.
My final problem is that I added a shadow to the dog to give the picture a more dynamism but there were few, if any shadows in the photos I had. I so searched the internet again for reference images.
So I did a lot of thinking about the likely direction of shadow that the awning would likely cast and the length of the shadow, drawing lines on the image I’d sent to the customer. So once, I decided on these things and also kept in mind the information I had in the original photos I got started. I began with the letters of the restaurant name as I this was the element that I was most concerned to get right. Once I had painted these in, I relaxed and enjoyed the work. As I was using a small canvas (41 x 33 cm) it was easy to turn and paint upside-down, side to side as well as right side up. Overall, allowing for dying times, the work was done over three days.
This is what I painted.
If you are interested in finding out more about a commission, click here
I am currently working on a commission piece at the moment and have two more in the pipeline. I really enjoy doing commissions for three reasons: Firstly, you’ve “sold” a piece of work before you’ve completed it. Secondly, it’s quite a compliment and boost to the fragile painters’ ego: someone likes your work enough to ask you to paint something especially for them. Finally, it’s a challenge – often you are asked to paint subjects you would not have normally chosen to paint but the results can be very pleasing. Subjects I have painted range from beloved pets (many more dogs than cats), a holiday scene, a family home, a golf course in Australia, a CD cover as well as revisiting subjects that I have painted before which as woodland scenes and Welsh landscapes.
My 6 Tips on Commissions
1.Price – make it clear how much it is likely to cost. I have a page on my website that sets out the sizes and prices. We can negotiate on details such as shipping, packaging (do they want it gift-wrapped, a card with a message included?). Generally, I charge according to how long the work is likely to take and how detailed it is.
2. Deal direct with the collector – I used to do commissions via online galleries but I have found that galleries have interfered with the negotiations too much, and that has discouraged me. Some online galleries even stipulate that if you do a commission through them then the customer retains the copyright to the work. I believe that the artist retains the copyright, whereas the collector has bought for the artwork
3. Turnaround time – make it clear how quickly you can paint the piece (including drying times which can be quite lengthy). It is important not to take on too many projects at the same time. I generally, limit myself to three at any one time.
4. Ideally, secure a deposit before you start working. If nothing else, it helps ensure that the customer is serious about this commission. This gives me peace of mind of knowing that my buyer is serious about commissioning without me being left empty handed.
5. Know your limits. If you are working from a photo, make sure it is of good quality and better still, make sure you have several images of the subject to chose from. The photos need to have been in good light. If the image is not good enough, don’t be afraid to ask for better ones. If none are available, be prepared to turn down the commission. You don’t want to produce a poor quality artwork. No one will be happy with that outcome.
6. Communication – let the customer see the finished painting before it’s dried and communicate about shipping details, when it’s sent, tracking number and check that it’s arrived safely and the customer is satisfied.
Just in case you didn’t know I also paint commissions of animals and places, e.g. houses, landscapes etc
Contact me with the high quality photographic image you would like me to paint and we can discuss details from there?
The rates for a commission are listed below and are rated both per size of the canvas and the complexity of the image to be painted. The prices per canvas size are normally:-
50×60 cm – £295 (Approx 19.68 x 23.6 inches – US $390)
50×70 cm – £345 (Approx 19.68 x 27.5 inches – US $455)
80×60 cm – £395 (Approx 31.49 x 23.6 inches – US $529)
In my last post I decribed visiting the abandoned fishing village of An Port tucked away in a remote corner of the Donegal shoreline (read it here). We were inspired to seek out this very remote spot by American artist Rockwell Kent, who visited and painted the area in the 1920s. I was waiting for […]
An Port has loomed large in my imagination for a long time. It’s very remote and quite difficult to get to. To reach it, you have to drive down a very, very long single track road (it’s about three miles but it feels longer) on the way to Glencolmcille. There are plenty of sheep and […]
Rossbeg (sometimes spelt Rosbeg) is a tiny townland on the west coast of Donegal, just south of Portnua and Nairn. There is a pier and a scattering of houses, some are modern, but many are old cottages, probably used as holiday lets. The day we visited the weather was calm and sunny. It was just perfect.