Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Son Of Town Hall

We were excited and privileged to have Ben Parker from London and David Berkeley from Santa Fe who form Indie/folk duo ‘Son Of Town Hall’ play David Stead Gallery on Sunday, but before the gig we did a photo shoot in the studio and garden at Norton Conyers. The grounds formed the perfect backdrop for the band’s idiosyncratic characterisations and we even recorded a music video in the orangery which hopefully will appear on their website in the near future. To listen to their music go to : https://www.sonoftownhall.com or search for them on Facebook and Instagram.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Thunder Storm

Quite a storm passed over Norton Conyers yesterday.....

but it wasn't long before the sun came out and the garden was full of the buzzing of bees and flutter of butterflies again.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Open Days

The iris beds are looking magnificent at the moment and both house and gardens are open this weekend; why not pop along. Oh, and my studio is open too.

Garden girls hard at work on the borders:

Art Classes

A couple of my students not looking in the least eccentric, enjoying a day's painting by the river.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

A visit from the farrier

Walter, who lives in Coachman's cottage had four of his horses re-shod this week so it gave me the opportunity to make a little drawing! - 'Farrier' charcoal and ink on paper 1050mm x 950mm

Saturday, 8 April 2017


Work goes on apace on the tunnel at Norton. Probably built in the late 17th century to keep the peasant workers out of sight from the house (nothing like the sight of a rude peasant to put one off the  pheasant terrine), it runs under the drive. It was beginning to fall into disrepair and was in danger of swallowing a car or more likely, the tanker that delivers heating oil to Walter's cottage.

'Tunnelling' sketchbook page 30cm x 30cm

The top has been exposed, bricks removed and a former made in preparation for rebuilding:

Saturday, 1 April 2017

First of Many

The woods are carpeted with the fresh green leaves of young bluebells and one or two are in flower already. 

Tuesday, 21 March 2017


Giles has been busy whilst I was away in Devon and the new compost bins at the back of the studio are completed and filling up already.


Despite flurries of snow this morning, Spring has arrived at Norton Conyers and there are splashes of colour everywhere. Trees are bursting into leaf and birds beaks are stuffed full of nest building materials.
House and garden opening times here: http://www.nortonconyers.org.uk

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Fresh from the easel: Sound Of Mull

It has been a busy week in the studio; we're between teaching terms so I have more time for painting. New work has been started and others have been brought to completion, the largest of which is the one I'm working on above: 'Sound Of Mull' oil on canvas 100cm x 100cm. The picture was inspired by our recent return to that beautiful island. Below is the completed painting.


The daffodils are just starting at Norton Conyers heralding a new season. Check the web for details of opening times.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Clearing In Crow Wood

Here's a couple of pages taken from my sketchbook; they're drawings made in Crow Wood the other day when Giles and the girls were busy clearing and burning. In the first drawing a pan of sausages sizzles in the fire for our lunch.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Art Classes

A day of teaching today and a feeling of Spring in the air. Some students chose to work outside, brave souls.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Roe Deer

Beautiful to see the deer back in Wilderness Wood today; not seen them since the hunt came crashing through a couple of weeks ago.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Sir Humphrey's Return

Little did I think when I wrote ‘Making A Clean Breast Of It’, for Caught By The River in late 2015 that within the course of a year my life would become so powerfully linked to the scene of the ‘action’ -  Norton Conyers House, and to the paintings that dangle from its ancient walls.

A chance conversation between my wife. and Lady Graham (yes, we do a bit of hob-nobbing the Mrs and I) led to moving studio from above my gallery where I’ve worked for fifteen years, four miles out of town to the grandly titled ’North Pavilion’ in the late 18thC stable block of Norton Conyers. I think it was actually a grain store in former times and was pretty run down, but after a bit of a sweep out, the installation of electricity and water, a woodburner and secondary glazing, it has turned into the perfect studio with plenty of space for painting and teaching. It has meant too, a change in lifestyle from predominantly city based to a more bucolic way of living, the studio being surrounded by woodland and open countryside and the much painted (by me), river Ure flows but a dog’s flob from its door. Stout, rubber wellington boots now form an essential part of my wardrobe and I’ve even had a bash at chewing bits of straw; though I do prefer the tapas bar in town.

As resident artist, my inexpert opinion is inexplicably sought when matters pertaining to decorative design or art arise and so, on a balmy, bee-buzzy, bird-songy afternoon in late summer, I was summoned to the darkly shuttered and eerie house to witness and record a homecoming: in a strange reversal of accepted practice, one of Norton Conyers illustrious residents was carried in rather than out of the house in a wooden box.

The resident in question, a certain Humphrey Morice Bt, who in life was described as ‘sickly, high and a little touchy’, had died some 230 years previously in Naples 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 incessant noise - not, as you might imagine, the raucous shenanigans of carousing aristocracy, but rather the clamorous sexual exploits 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 this was the day of his homecoming: the box, (Sir Humph) is wheeled in. As caskets 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 darkish humour such as one might witness at an undertakers convention or at a below stairs meeting of Blandings butlers.

Once de-boxed the painting is laid on the dining table for inspection. Sir Humphrey’s stockinged and silken clad form lounges somewhat incongruously in a classical landscape, by his side an innocent gun and evidence of a jovial morning’s wildlife extermination in the form of a dead hare and a brace or two of wild partridge. At the same time and possibly hoping to avoid the same fate, a trio of nervous looking 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 wandering the streets of Napoli in search of silken fripperies or penning poetry to an Italian peasant boy, but whatever the case, the scene is adroitly painted and will look magnificent above the splendid marble fireplace.

The portrait 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 they’ve made a cracking job of it. Once scrutinised, 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 clothing. 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 (screws replacing the traditional crucifixion nails) and the brackets go up. Two of the National Gallery’s finest position themselves atop the ladders, one foot on the ladder, the other balletically 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 neo-baroque (or perhaps more Stanley Spencer) tableaux. 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. 

This piece was first published on the wonderful Caught By The River here:

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Spring? Not Quite.

Hardly a harbinger of Spring since we've barely had any winter yet but snowdrops are poking through the leaf litter at Norton Conyers and there are the first signs of bluebells in Wilderness Wood.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

On the easel

Just back from London; we visited Tate Modern, an exhibition space I've never much cared for and my feelings were confirmed: it seems all 'space' and shop and elevator and at the top of the elevator you might find some art. We did find art but it was relegated to a 'walk on' part in a thousand selfies - I watched people walk up to picassos, Kandinskys, Hirsts and Chapmans, take a photo and walk on! We left and went to the Clore to look at Turners. They were of course, dazzling and I was touched by his Self Portrait painted around 1799 when he would have been 24. On my return to Norton Conyers the portrait theme continues on my return thanks to some catalogues and exhibition invitations given to me by James and Halina and the discovery of an unfinished portrait of the photographer Michael Dunne. So that's the launch pad for the painting on the easel at the moment:


A brace of archaeologists came to Norton Conyers yesterday bringing a drone with them; for a change they weren't scrabbling around in the mud but instead had their eyes turned heavenward.
The drone was filming the walls surrounding the walled garden searching for evidence of flues: the theory being that fires were lit in alcoves in the brickwork in order to force fruit. Whilst they were at it they also filmed the south lawn looking for traces of the medieval village.