Thursday, 10 September 2015

Hong Kong Revisited!

About twenty years ago, I was lucky enough to work periodically in Hong Kong, doing portraits of racehorses, livery horses and many cherished four-legged friends for clients living there.

The opportunity came about after I was asked to do a portrait for two HK charities, RDA and KELY, to be auctioned at the ROA (Racehorse Owners Association) annual dinner, held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in October of 1994. It was decided that the subject would be the then last eight Derby winners entitled 'PRIDE OF THE DERBY' as eight is considered a lucky number in Hong Kong.

I worked on the portrait for several weeks but due to the time taken to finish the piece, there wasn't any guarantee that a photo of the work sent overland would arrive in time to be included in the brochure for the dinner. It has brought it home to me how far technology has advanced in the last 20 years, as there was no facility in 1994 to send a large image via email! Hard to believe nowadays!

I was very nervous, as I had no idea how much the portrait would raise, but my fears were totally unfounded as the bidding was fast and furious and the final bid was from Ronald Arculli for HK$350,000. Hence my enormous grin in the photo below!

The portrait was the horses listed below. I felt very privileged not only to have been commissioned, but to have met some of these amazing horses. On one of my subsequent visits to Beas River, where the ex racehorses are rehabilitated, I was honoured to be allowed to ride Clear City. It's not often one gets the chance to say one's ridden a Derby winner!

The portrait now hangs in the Clubhouse at Sha-Tin racecourse, generously donated to the HKJC by Ronald Arculli.

Some of my past racing commissions from HK included Roaring Success, Master Eagle, Leprachaun, Ufo, Motivation, Pinkie Long Legs, Sea Jade and Super Fit.

Unfortunately, the only one of those portraits I seem to have a record of is Master Eagle, so here he is at his peak in 1997. I do remember what a huge engine he had, and the portrait bears out the power of that!

So, the whole point of this blog is that through a couple of meetings with some friends, there appears to be an opportunity to return to Hong Kong and re-establish connections there, both old and new so please feel free to share with everyone who might be interested!

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Archie Goes Home, and the Perils of Inclement Weather.

Part way up the route northwards, I arranged for Archie's owner to collect him from where I stopped off to photograph some horses and stay over.
Archie is part of the family that have the very precious Princess Rosie (see the link at the end of the paragraph), and watched our antics photographing her in a car park with great bemusement.
He of course, was excellent to work with, and took no time at all to photograph, which nearly balanced out Rosie!

Because Archie's coat is so wiry, I worked mostly in line from the very start with very little solid colour, as sometimes pastels can be limiting when trying to work a lot of 'hair' strokes on top of fixed block colour. It's given the piece a slightly different feel, but I like it.
More importantly, so did Val, although she did cry again, she was quick to reassure people present it was because she liked the portrait.

Thankfully, I was also forgiven for getting so engrossed in photographing horses that I completely forgot to look out for her arrival and she had to wait in the pub up the road.

This is a picture of the finished framed up artwork, and I'm distraught that the wholesalers no longer supply this brilliant hockey stick veneer moulding, which was just the best for small dogs!

I then whizzed on up to Scotland to photograph more horses the next morning where we woke up to horrendous weather. One poor client had spent the early morning removing sheep from what was now a totally submerged field, and a local village, Alyth, was completely flooded with cars being swept away! I was very lucky as the rain stopped for the hour I needed, and the photos have all worked out really well.

I headed down south of Edinburgh, and by now the rain had turned to wind. It's not usually a problem with horses, and sometimes it helps to perk them up a bit, however I'll sign off with some photos of why Shetland ponies and wind don't mix well! :-D

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Mayhem, Madness and Moving Pictures.

Time for a quick update, I think.

The last week has been a whirlwind of travelling, photographing, delivering and collecting via ferries, trains, helpful clients and friends acting as my personal taxis and driving a left hand drive lorry van round the UK. Narrow English lanes with thick hedges and cats eyes made me scream, I can still hear the tortuous noise of continually driving over them.

I've driven 3,500 km, and still have over 1300 photos to go through, despite having already selected and deleted about 500 non starters!

I started the trip landing at Newhaven, to avoid the horrific queues and delays at Calais, but still had to have the truck checked out for unwanted passengers. Luckily, there were none.

My first stop was to longstanding clients who I hadn't met before, so it was great to put faces to names. Not only did I have their new horse to meet, I also got to see Monty, a previous victim of my pastels! 
His people had also had the lovely thought to bring along his portrait, so that I could see both the horse and the picture together. 

Well that was too good a photo opportunity to miss, so here's the result. Not entirely sure Monty was convinced by the whole faffing about, but he took it like a man!

I've collected some of my older work from Scotland, including the first head portrait I ever did. It's too awful to post, but suffice to say I'm very thankful to anyone who commissioned me on the basis of it, and allowed me to start my career!

The one below was also added to the trip, my first ever attempt at a jumping portrait. Fortunately I had a bit more of a clue what I was doing by then, although there's plenty in it makes me wince still. It wasn't a commission, it was just me and my horse of a lifetime, the fabulous Mutty.

I've had a wonderful time catching up with old friends, and meeting new clients, and just want to say a huge heartfelt thanks to everyone for their excellent hospitality, accommodating my hectic schedule and forgiving my overly optimistic journey times.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

The Cobbler's Child

Quick blog with the first of my animals I've done in a long time, hence the title!

The Pikester is very strikingly marked, so gave me the opportunity to play a bit with this.
I've deliberately restricted myself to working only the light areas, not the black paper. (I've also messed around with the exposure to black the black paper, and I seem to have darkened the white as well!)

It was quite strange not having to work to my 'format' for portraits, and was good to step outside the safe zone for a bit.

I need to leave it for a bit, as I'm not sure whether that's it or not!

Don't forget, anyone wanting to commission me, I'm in the UK second week in July ish!

Monday, 15 June 2015

Musical Pictures.

Two blogs in a week - I'm flying!

To follow on my theme of tricky portraits, I've recently finished a commission for a surprise birthday present from Emma and her sister, to their Mother. The portrait involved the very cute Jock and Jasper, two little dachshund boys.

A few years ago, I was commissioned to do a surprise portrait of Emma's fantastic event horse, Ninety Nine. It was a Christmas present that nearly didn't make the date due to the courier messing up the bar codes and sending both pieces of work picked up from me to the same address - and it wasn't theirs!!! There was a bit of a mad dash across Scotland to collect it in time!

Despite this being Emma's portrait, it was still hanging in her Mum's house in pride of place above the fireplace, so there was clearly an agenda behind this commission - Jock and Jasper could hang in the space where Ninety Nine was, and Emma could reclaim her present!

Before I started it, I thought it was going to be one of those ones that goes swimmingly and I was looking forward to doing it. I had excellent photos to work from, Jock and Jasper's colouring matched and the images sat well together. For some reason, however, I couldn't get into the swing of it. I have no idea why this sometimes happens, but it does, and it makes me twitchy when I have a deadline.

Because I can't really rub out mistakes with the way I work there is no real opportunity to correct errors, hence every mark I make on the paper has to be accurate. When the drawing flows, it's almost an instinctive process, but when every mark has to be a considered decision, my focus starts to fry a bit! Even when I can still see it's working and I do know it's going to be fine at the end, it is still quite stressful!

All I could do was just keep going, and when suddenly I turned the corner (admittedly near the end!) I was really pleased with it. I was really happy how the frame finished it off.

There's a bit more of the story - when I was following the courier tracker to make sure all was going well, there was a missed collection at the depot, the parcel didn't make the Friday pick up at the airport, and the Monday was a Bank Holiday. I though history was going to repeat itself, but luckily the parcel arrived with days to spare!

So I've had a bit of a double whammy of result with this, as Jock and Jasper went down a storm and have gone above the fireplace, and Emma has pinched her picture back!

All's well that ends well!

Friday, 12 June 2015

Delivering Prys

I'm a bit slow at this regular posting stuff. Must do better!

Anyway - two years ago, I offered a portrait to the organisers of the Campbell Gillies Memorial Ball, held to raise funds for the IJF - - who were a fantastic support to Campbell's family after his tragic death on holiday the previous year. The portrait raised £1500, and the subject of the photo was to be Jo Luton's stunning Prys, who sadly moved on to the pastures in the sky just before the ball.

I realise two years is a long time to come to fruition, but we had some difficulties finding good photos to work from, and then organising those photos to get to me. I ended up collecting them in person from Scotland last year. It wouldn't be one of the easiest portraits I've tackled, and I knew Prys (and Jo), so had to get him right.

There wasn't enough information on any of the photos to do one head portrait, and they were too far back in the photographer's records for him to find and to blow up from the negatives, so I worked from a jumping photo (with very kind permission from John Grossick, photographer extrordinaire!) and a snap Jo had of him, which to both of us summed his character up.

I then started the portrait the way I normally work on commission, with the paper colour that most of my clients prefer. For us artists, most times we start a piece of work there is the extreme self-doubt, the worry that it isn't working, and the dawning of relief that it is all coming together.

Only this time, it wasn't working, it didn't work, relief didn't dawn and and I had to scrap it. It looked heavy and clumsy and the colours were warring.

I then wanted to panic, of course. I had to walk away for a bit and decide what to do. ( I can't believe I've actually posted it, but I thought it might be interesting, even though I wince when I see it!)

Often when I do two different heads of two different horses together, it can be tricky getting the colour right (as an aside, black horses beside chestnut horses are REALLY awkward). In this instance, I think the lack of information combined with the amount of shadow in the photos, and the seasonal coat colour change, made it very hard to pull both images together.

I left it a few weeks, revisited, and thought that maybe working on a black paper where I could allow the shadow to disappear into the background might be a solution, so I ran with it, and I think it worked.

Once the portrait is finished, in an instance like this it can also be difficult to frame well. Finding one frame that highlights the same colours on both heads can be a challenge. Clever framing will lift certain areas of a piece of work, and bad framing will make the eye see only the frame. However gorgeous a frame may be, on a portrait it must enhance, not override.

Hopefully I've got the mix right. So far Jo likes the photos of the portrait, but I will be delivering Prys in person in July, so that will be the acid test.

On that note - I will be in the UK photographing horses for commissions in the first half of July.

So far, my journey is taking me from Portsmouth to Dundee, so if you live in the UK and want your horse(s) or dog(s), or anything else photographed for a future portrait I can pretty much sort out anywhere. Plenty of warning would be great, so that I can arrange the route accordingly.

Please contact me and let me know on

The contact page on here has my phone details, (tho please don't try the UK one until I'm in the UK!) if you'd prefer to phone me to arrange to photograph.

Look forward to seeing everyone!

Friday, 20 February 2015

Time Flies!

It's funny how the cold and miserable weather seems to drag on forever yet time flies because of everything to be done, hence I am excusing myself for my lapse in blogging below!

This winter's cunning plan was buying a wood-burning cooker to fuel my all my cooking and heating in the main part of the house by using up the glut of dead trees on my land. In November I was feeling very not only eco-friendly and smugly self-sufficient at the idea but also very chuffed with the new fire.
By mid January I was well over chainsawing tree trunks into slices and splitting them. Definitely a 'Be careful what you wish for' moment!

The horses take much more work too, so its wonderful to see a bit of sunshine and signs of spring growth, therefore back to the pictures!

The very lovely and handsome Fender was to be a surprise present for a 21st. Because his summer coat had disappeared when the piece was commissioned, all manner of people were roped in to try and find enough photos for me to work from, scouring FB pages and raiding computers.

The photo below was chosen as the main one to work from. With the finished size of the portrait using a full sheet of pastel paper, and the photo pixelating beyond A5 enlargement, it's was important to have further detail for the eyes, the coat and mud free feet.

Finally I had enough information to make a good fist of it, so I thought I'd show the easel with the additional chopped up photos to give me the extra information.

This is the finished piece, and I'm thankful to have been trusted with such a special present. In this instance, I was lucky because Fender was pretty much always Fender in all the photos.
I have taken shoots of horses where they appear completely different from either side, with their expressions switching the feel of their characters, meaning my client has to be the one to choose which is the 'sum of the parts' to portray. But I digress - working on the portrait I just always got the feel of a trusting gentle horse, who'd try his best.

I hope I've done you justice, Fender!