Thursday, 8 December 2016

Painting Classes at Norton Conyers

Our new season of classes begin on WED' 25th JANUARY 2017  for a 'term' of six weeks, starting at 10 a.m. and running through 'til 4pm.

We will be focussing on the use of acrylic and oil paints with particular focus on the landscape.

Courses follow an 'atelier style' format of mentorship so that all standards and age ranges can be accommodated, from complete novice through to degree level, from student to retiree.

The course costs £30 per day. You will need to bring materials of your choice (Acrylic or oil and a drawing medium), warm clothing (we may be doing some work outside) and a packed lunch. We have tea and coffee making facilities & microwave.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016


Winter draws on: December and the temperature drops to minus 3. We have a burst pipe outside the studio so no water inside; this I can cope with but on teaching days I must have water so as soon as the pipe is fixed I build an insulated box to cover the exposed pipes; it's a temporary fix but hey!

Giles delivers more logs and the Jotul gobbles them like Mr Creosote with a 'waffer thin' after dinner mint so even in freezing temperatures I can still work relatively comfortably in the studio.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016


James and Halina have been away in London for a few days and brought us back this beauty which we are sharing with friends. Fabulous, thanks both.

Morning and Evening

Minus three outside the studio this morning and the pipes were frozen but I soon had the Jotul blazing away and an early morning stroll had me spellbound by a couple of roe deer standing on the edge of the wood and for a moment, staring straight at me; then, levitating over the fence they bounded off over the South Lawn to the distant wood.

Evening Light

Sunday, 20 November 2016

New Painting

New painting - 'Evening Cathedral, Ripon', mixed media on canvas 5ft x 5ft

And here I am working on it when it was to be a summer painting:

Uncovering the past

The delightful Peter Ryder shows us some of the architectural features of Norton Conyers House and gives a clue to its age.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Friday, 18 November 2016

Norton Conyers Apple Chutney

The apple harvest at Norton Conyers has been huge this year and despite large quantities going into the making of Norton Conyers apple juice, they are still abundant so in order to help out a bit and despite not having a clue what I'm doing, I've decided to make some apple and sultana chutney. This, I discover, entails an inordinate amount of peeling and chopping; not only of apples but onions too and my......don't you need a big pot! My enthusiasm to get started means that I had failed to consider the subject of containers for all this chutney and half-way through the process I realise I'm going to need some jam-jars; but where to get them; and the recipe says 'cover as usual', what does that mean? I'm going to have to do some unexpected Googling and no doubt, another trip to the shops. This could turn out to be very expensive chutney!

The finished product.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

New Painting

New Painting: 'After The Harvest', oil on canvas 100cm x 100cm. The painting is part of the 'A Summer's Lease' project which charts my summer at Norton Conyers - a kind of visual diary from May to October.

It will soon be made into a full size, limited edition canvas print and is also the image I'm using for the exhibition invitation:
If there's anybody out there reading this, do come along.

Art Classes

The first students of the winter term arrived yesterday morning. It was nice to get back into teaching again though I have to remind myself every time that I DO enjoy it - every morning of a class, nerves kick in and I wonder why I’m there but as soon as I start, all is fine. Even the weather held out for us so we could start with some drawing outside. One brave soul even spent the whole day in the walled garden painting.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Winter Cometh

On the day that Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States, winter comes to Norton Conyers, both arrive on the scene with an unexpected bang - the former somewhat less welcome than the latter. Snow has fallen throughout the morning and in an effort to keep the studio at a workable temperature, I spend most of the time feeding logs into the wood-burner. By lunch-time, though the snow continues to fall, it’s clear that a thaw has set in: clumps of soft, wet snow flop from the trees and the sound of trickling water seeps music into the day. I pull on my wellies and head for the woods - I’ve been thinking of making an autumn woodland picture so I had a wander round with the camera yesterday to gather some ideas. The woods were full of spectacular colour from canopy to leaf littered floor and now I re-visit and see what overnight changes have occurred.  The changes wrought are subtle and delicate - a powdering of snow has filtered through the canopy and dusted the woodland floor and the sky has a steelier look to it but still the autumn holds on. Pheasants call throughout the wood, sometimes flushing from beneath my feet and a woodcock zips between the elephant’s legs of beech. On the way back to the studio I stop to watch the sun go down and as I stand a dog fox slides onto the track and stares me in the eyes. 

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Autumn's Bounty

Autumn has arrived in a blaze of glory. The world looks and smells different, and strangely, it sounds different too: even though most of the leaves are still on the trees, somehow the acoustic has changed. Someone was shooting in the woods this morning and the echo reverberated for longer, but was softer. Perhaps it's just my imagination.
There are two cottages in the stable courtyard; one occupied by Walter, a horseman and milker of cows who sadly lost his wife a couple of months ago and the other by Stuart who I met for the first time today. He seemed shy and friendly; perhaps because of his news - his wife, coming out of hospital today has given birth to a baby boy. Stuart is strong, he works outside and his joy was gently evident. I spent the day working on two harvest paintings; one in oil, the other the big (5' x 5') mixed media of Ripon cathedral from Studley. I may post a picture tomorrow.

Thursday, 20 October 2016


I saw it first in Giles's workshop: squat, bulldog legs and growling empty amongst tired tools.
A cast iron fire-dog fed on trees, it had coaxed fruit ripe in the greenhouses of Norton Conyers until supermarkets dazzled us with shinier, shapelier, taste-free options like fruity page three girls.
It is a Jotul 118; built in Norway and designed in the late 1930s by the artist ├śrnulf Bast. It reminded me of the Bankdam-Crowther in J.L.Carr's 'A Month In The Country and like Carr's hero Tom Birkin, I'm looking forward to cajoling it to life and learning of its caprice and foible.

Perfectly timed for the recent drop in temperature (can't have an arctic artist), Dougie the sweep and son Paul arrived to infuse life back into the Norse fire-breather on Monday. In an effort to have as little impact on the fabric of the building as possible we'd intended to put the flue out through an already broken pane in the window. It soon became apparent however that we would have to make extensive alterations to the frame and louvres which appear to be original to the building so we ended up going straight up through the roof which has clearly been replaced in recent years and would, we felt, be the better option. The experts did the clever stuff, I replaced the broken glass in the window and all was finished in an afternoon.

So - here we go: for the first time in many years the Jotul 118 gets fire up:

It made for a lovely environment to work in Yesterday and we'll see how it copes as the autumn turns to winter.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Latest Painting:

'Fishing Boats, Scarborough', mixed media on canvas 100cm x 100cm.

Oft' maligned, Scarborough is one of my favourite seaside places: Mrs S. and I visit often and it always has something new to give. Yes it has something of the 'kiss me quick' culture, but the harbour that gave rise to this painting is as lovely as any in northern Europe and high above the harbour crouches the magnificent Scarborough castle with stupendous views of both the north and south bays, out to sea and inland to the moors. Just outside the castle walls is St Mary's church which is the final resting place of Anne Bronte who died at the tender age of 29. It seems she'd come to Scarborough for it's health giving air......Hmm!

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Indian Summer

A beautiful autumn day with warm sunshine and a chill in the shade; Mrs S. and I wandered the garden and sat watching insect industry:

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Apple Harvest

Giles and the girls have been busy with the apple harvest; they are making apple juice to sell in a pop-up shop in the spring; it means fewer apples for the wasps to enjoy but such is life.

The masher:

Shandy feigns interest

Monday, 12 September 2016

Hedge Cutting

I spent the day with Giles, cutting the huge yew hedges in the garden. I grew up part of a farming family and spent my early, and teenage years involved in agriculture so I'd been looking forward to a day of physical work but my.....these are big hedges and somehow I ended up doing the upper storey. It was a full day, up and down the ladder brandishing my, not so light, sabre and as the blisters on my hands ballooned the last few meters seemed to go on forever but it was finally finished (in record time according to Giles) and I did get an enormous sense of satisfaction from the day.

 Lunch with Giles and the garden girls in the orangery.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Life and Death in the Countryside

On many warm, sunny mornings I have cycled out of Ripon, along four miles of country lanes and re-engaged with the countryside in a way I'd almost forgotten: the green fields of May turn slowly to gold as wheat and barley ripen, and as I write, are harvested. Cockerels spill onto the road at Nunwick, a pair of gunmetal crows seem to have accustomed themselves to my passing and a flock of white doves scattering at my approach have not. I have watched swallows arrive, produce and nurture their young and now gather in preparation for their miraculous journey south. The garden has filled our senses with colour, scent and the constant sound of bees and is now going over; both house and garden are open for the last time this weekend and as the season draws to a close, Walter, who lives in a courtyard cottage opposite my studio, lost his wife Jacqueline. She was 38.

Alice prepares the funeral flowers
A sombreness is draped over all of us and yet at the same time, life goes on - the garden goes into its Autumn colours but the bees, butterflies and birds seem almost busier than ever in their haste to stock up for the coming winter.

"Now Autumn's fire burns slowly along the woods and day by day the dead leaves fall and melt".

William Allingham

Thursday, 21 July 2016


In a strange reversal of accepted practice, one of Norton Conyers illustrious residents was carried in to the house in a wooden box today. The resident in question, a certain Humphrey Morice Bt had died some 230 years previously in Italy and so far as I can tell, had never even visited Norton Conyers, much less lived here. His handsome portrait by the well regarded Italian painter Pompeo Batoni however, had been resident in the dining room for many years and would probably have remained there had it not been for the noise - not, as you might think, the raucous shenanigans of carousing aristocracy, but rather the mating habits of those uninvited, and rarely welcome guests - the death watch beetle.

The arrival of Xestobium rufovillosum meant the removal of most of the house’s fixtures and fittings including the portrait of Sir Humphrey, who’s exile was to last seven years; time spent in the tender care of the National Gallery. But today is the day of his homecoming: the box (Sir Humph) is wheeled in. As boxes go this one is impressive - 6’ high, 8’ long and 2’ wide and it is borne or rather pushed as it’s on casters by four porters, men who spend their lives moving incredibly valuable (or as in this case, not quite so valuable) works of art around the world. Their work is carried out with a kind of deft reverence laced with humour such as one might witness at an undertakers convention or at a below stairs meeting of Blandings butlers.

Sir James & Lady Halina examine the Batoni

Once de-boxed the painting is laid on the dining table for inspection. Sir Humphrey’s silken clad form lounges somewhat incongruously in a classical landscape, by his side a gun and evidence of a jovial morning’s wildlife slaughter in the form of a dead hare and a brace or two of wild birds. At the same time and possibly hoping to avoid the same fate, a trio of hounds fawn at his feet. I feel I should say of Sir Humphrey: he doesn’t look like a man who’s spent the past few hours crashing through the undergrowth in pursuit of his lunch; he looks more like he’d been shopping for silver shoe buckles or penning poetry to an Italian peasant boy, but whatever the case, the scene is adroitly painted and will look magnificent above the fireplace.

The painting had hung for many years, dirty and all but forgotten in a dark, library corridor and it was only after cleaning that its quality was recognised; it has also undergone a certain amount of restoration whilst at the National and this is examined in minute detail by Sir James, Lady Halina and indeed myself. Spotting the restoration without expert help may have taken some time as it has been beautifully carried out and when this is done Lady Graham indulges in a little light house work which takes the form of dusting the gilt frame with a paint brush and then all that’s left to do is the re-hanging.

I say ‘all’ but I’m glad I’m not in charge - this is a substantial painting and I’m happy to leave its elevation to others and as it turns out ‘elevation’ seems fitting as there is a Rubensian beauty to the unfolding scene which reminds me of his ‘Elevation Of The Cross’ only mercifully with more clothes. Step-ladders are erected either side of the fireplace and a good deal of time is spent measuring and marking before the drill is brought into play and the brackets go up. Two of the National Gallery’s finest position themselves atop the ladders, one foot on the ladder, the other precariously tip-toe’d on the mantle whilst the others gather up Sir Humph and his attendant fauna. Together they hoist the painted peer into place, forming as they do the baroque tableaux and we all stand back and adopt the tics that help decide whether it’s straight or not: stroking our chins, cocking our heads on one side and puffing out our cheeks; is it straight? Of course it is - these lads know what they’re about.

Before long we’re stretching out on the lawn in the walled garden, or more properly: ‘lounging in a classical landscape’, only that’s where the comparison ends as we have a beer in our hands and the wildlife is still vigorously sentient around us. It’s tempting to make a drawing of the scene but Batoni has rather cornered the market in lounging baronets so I let it go.

Rubensian Baroque

Wednesday, 29 June 2016


Finally I have a studio big enough to use as a teaching space as well as for painting so each Wednesday students (poor buggers) come as part of a six week course. The course is open to all levels and is run on an 'atelier' style of mentorship and demonstrations. I will be running more courses later in the year.