15 Dec 2013

Still (life) December #stilldecember.

The Twitter theme for art was #stilldecember, as in still life. Amongst my contributions was a drawing based on the sad headline announcing the death of Nelson Mandela. Of lesser merit to me personally was a drawing of peanut butter on toast. (A weakness of mine). However, The Painters Online newsletter selected that one (bottom below) for their publication, asking me to write a few words about the process of drawing.

 All text, pros, photos, poetry & artwork, copyright Ian Gordon Craig.

28 Nov 2013

Bob. (Robert Thwaites).

I knew him as Bob. I leave it to the curious to search the web if they wish to identify the person the UK press would come to label the “Britain’s most notorious living art forger” who “conned Antiques Roadshow host”.

Bob was one of my flatmates during the years we attended Liverpool Art College. I made few friends in Liverpool, and kept in touch with none, but Bob was the one I spent most time with, and with whom I had the most in common.

A year younger than myself, Bob sported the post-hippie beard prevalent amongst students in the early 1970s. Tall, of stocky build without an ounce of fat, he peered short sightedly out at the world over the top of his round spectacles. On those rare occasions when he wasn't drawing, his hands would constantly tap his cord jean thighs in time to the tunes he muttered quietly through his bearded chin. More often than not a selection from Jethro Tull's “Stand Up”, which was always his album of choice on those evenings when it was his turn to use our shared portable record player. But almost all of the time, Bob drew. And drew. And drew. The pen in one hand, the bottle of ink in the other, and the sketchpad on his knees, all seemed like permanent fixtures with which he created black and white worlds of caricature and humour. It was this shared passion for drawing which brought us together, plus our early morning forays across Liverpool searching newsagents for the latest Marvel / DC comics containing the work of Jack Kirby, in a time before specialist comic shops could be found anywhere outside of London.

The college lecturers treated Bob with disdain, dismissing his large, slightly splattered sheets of animated figures, whilst advising us all that carefully executed diagrams for “how to tie knots” manuals, and similar mundane illustrations, were a more meaningful career path to follow. But his reputation as a “cartoonist” spread across the campus, gaining favour with fellow students because of its Pythonesque humour. Like Gerald Scarfe on Benzedrine.

One night a knock came at the door. It was a student from the nearby University. We could tell that from his purple corduroy jeans and grey trench coat. “Does the guy who draws cartoons live here?” The student wanted a poster drawn for an upcoming concert at the university hall, the payment for which could stretch to five pounds. Bob, delighted at this bit of recognition, agreed to the job and asked for the name of the band. The student fumbled in his coat pockets for the piece of paper on which he'd written it down. Refreshing his memory, he read aloud: “Supertramp”. Nobody had heard of them before, but we all laughed. Supertramp, what a cool name for a band. The following day the poster was delivered, featuring a suitably super tramp bedecked in ragged gabardine, wine bottle in hand, and a multitude of Monty Python style rats emerging from every fold and pocket.

The great irony is that, considering the criminal reputation Bob's skills would one day gain, at college he couldn't paint to save his life. Neither could his drawing skills adhere to what one might deem a more academic approach to proportion and form. I saw him try, but his patience would always run out. And yet, whilst others would give up art all together for other career paths, he was the one, albeit the lowest graded, who got to put “graphic designer” on his passport.

I don't condone what he did years later. Something about forging a piece of art when you're an artist yourself seems worse than basic theft on a morality scale. And I have even less regard for the so-called expert who purchased his forgery, expecting to sell it on for a huge profit. One has to smile. And I'll bet many a subsequent fellow prison inmate smiled at Bob's portraits of them.

I smile now at my memory of him. One of the few smiles I can muster when looking back on my days in Liverpool. And I smile in particular at the knowledge of what Bob would really have liked to become, as he sat of an evening reading his Thor comics, and dipping the knitting needle he'd pre-heated on the electric fire into his mug of beer, Nordic style. To paraphrase his favourite Monty Python sketch, Bob never wanted to be a graphic designer. He always wanted to be... a Viking.

Top: My 1973 sketch of Bob. Below: Bob's sketch of me (sadly unsigned). Bottom: Bob as I always remember him.

Edit: Robert "Bob" Thwaites died far too young in March 2019.

All text, pros, photos & artwork, copyright Ian Gordon Craig.

28 Oct 2013

string & card printing

 This month the Twitter challenge amongst my art followers was #printoctober. Printing has never been my thing. I think good equipment is necessary to get good prints. But wanting to take part, I stuck to a simple card and string technique.

  All text, pros, photos & artwork, copyright Ian Gordon Craig.

3 Oct 2013

Lady Manvers, Thoresby Estate artist.

 In September I was asked to write an article for Nottingham University’s Art History dept., to be used in conjunction with their organising an exhibition of Lady Manvers' works in Thoresby Gallery. Lady Manvers’ paintings would be the first artworks I ever saw after those of my great (great) grandfather William Catto, so I submitted the following with pleasure:

 If, as the early 1960s advertising slogan stated, Thoresby Hall was the Heart of Sherwood Forest, then Lady Marie-Louise Manvers was surely the Art. The Lady in the cream jacket, skirt and hat, that the residents of Thoresby Park would routinely come across seated amongst the trees, faithfully recording and cataloguing the life of the Estate in her water colour sketches much as one might do today on iPads and cell phones. As someone who lived the first thirteen years of his life on Thoresby Estate, formative childhood years during which I observed and encountered the Lady in question at work, I offer this article in response to Nottingham University’s 2013 “Wandering Thoresby” project. 

 Born in 1889 as Marie-Louise Roosevelt Butterfield, the future Lady Manvers exhibited a passion for art at an early age. So it was that her father Sir Frederick Butterfield of Cliffe Castle, Yorkshire, enrolled her in the Julienne School of Art when the family moved to Paris in her teens. This Art School placed particular emphasis on developing a high standard of drawing skill, the legacy of which is evident in the portrait and figure studies she would subsequently make of the servants and game keepers on Thoresby Estate. At the turn of the century, the young Marie-Louise’s style combined a high level of observational drawing skill with the colourful palette of Post Impressionism, and would continue in this manner for the rest of her life; capturing the vitality of a scene without sacrificing the accuracy of its detail. When one looks through her oil paintings, and the voluminous amount of water colour sketches, it is apparent this is not simply the work of a privileged girl spending her hours painting for leisure. This is a highly motivated, prolific artist with a clearly defined agenda: To record life as it goes on around her, paying equal regard to accuracy and artistic expression.

 Before recounting my own memories of Lady Manvers at Thoresby, might I direct the historians’ attention to one particular 1930s water colour of hers which will both illustrate my point and chill the soul. It is a small painting depicting a narrow street I assume to be situated in Germany. It is not a remarkable piece. One imagines Marie-Louise seated there in a fairly innocuous place documenting her travels in her sketchbook. But look closer. From one of the upper widows hangs a small flag, unfurled, but bearing the unmistakable insignia of the then rising Nazi party. The artist places no emphasis on the flag. It is simply and accurately recorded within the impression of the street as one might depict the doorsteps and paving stones. But oh, what that little flag would soon come to represent in that very place.

  Marie-Louise had married Gervas Evelyn Pierrepont in 1918. When he succeeded his cousin as the 6th Earl Manvers in 1940, she took on the title she would always be known as when moving into Thoresby Hall at the start of that era. I was born the son of one of the estate’s joiners at the very start of the 1950s. Like every other small child on the estate, I knew how to stand still at the side of the road when we saw Lady Manvers’ limousine approaching from the distance, to wave politely should she wave first, and to move on only after she had passed. Does that sound a bit servile? Not a bit of it. We loved her. She was the nice lady who stood by the piano in the grand hall, handing us our presents at the end of the annual Christmas parties organised for the children of the estate’s workers. We were looked after. The 3rd Earl Manvers was responsible for the building of Perlethorpe School, on the estate. The 4th Lady Manvers would organise the delivery of fresh milk, eggs and butter to any child too ill to attend Sunday School. Marie-Louise, the 6th Lady Manvers, carried on this close, caring relationship between Duke and estate employees. And, of course, she never stopped painting.

 One of my earliest memories of seeing Lady Manvers outside of her limousine or the Great Hall, was the day she came into Perlethorpe Primary School, situated close to the Hall, and now serving as an Environmental Education Centre. In the already silent classroom, there was of course a great hurrying to stand as teacher Mrs Bruce greeted such an important guest. It transpired Lady Manvers was looking for a model for that day’s sketching. It came as no surprise to us all she selected Verna Langstaff, one of the senior girls (c.11 years old) widely regarded by us all to be the prettiest. Lady Manvers then escorted an undoubtedly nervous Verna across the road, seated her on a low branch beside the church gate, and commenced to draw. That drawing became a must-see favourite with us all when visiting the Hall. But it did something else. It planted a seed in small minds that Art was something important to do. Combined with the endless nature walk specimens we drew, and even the little weaving frames we used in class, the fact that the Lady of the Estate spent time sitting and painting, gave such skills a position of importance to us. A skill to respect.

 A second encounter with the Art of Lady Manvers occurred much closer to home. By the mid 1950s my father’s work as a joiner had gained him the position of Foreman at Thoresby Estate’s Woodyard, requiring us to move from Perlethorpe Village Green to the Victorian house know as Three Gables, attached to his place of work. There was undoubtedly an element of friendship within my father’s relationship with Lady Manvers. Possibly because it was not uncommon to find him re-upholstering and repairing items of her antique furniture in our back kitchen before they were returned to Thoresby Hall in time for the weekend tourists. That amused us no end.

 Perhaps as a consequence of this relationship, when Lady Manvers turned up at the Woodyard one day in 1962, intent on depicting the activities therein, her choice of subject was to be my father, William “Jock” Craig, in the joiner’s workshop. Lady Manvers, with her chair and easel, was almost always chauffer driven to her painting sites. On this occasion the car’s engine had barely stopped before William was dashing all of a nervous fluster into our house calling out for a clean shirt! I’m sure a most understanding and patient Lady Manvers had probably tried to persuade him that wasn’t really necessary.

 The resultant large water colour sketch (above), a combination of relevant detailing and enhanced colour, accurately captures the atmosphere of that mid-Autumn workshop I remember so well. We certainly enjoyed seeing that picture hanging on the wall in Thoresby Hall, and I was even more delighted to obtain it upon the Hall’s closure as a stately home.

 We left Thoresby Estate in 1963. The last time I saw Lady Manvers was in 1979. She was once again engaged in conversation with my father as I, now a full time art teacher, kept the respectful distance I would have observed as a child. She was in the Great Hall, standing by the same piano where a lifetime before she had handed out Christmas presents to children like myself . It was the end of the Manvers line; the end of Thoresby Hall as a stately home open to the public. With her usual grace and smile she was greeting the Hall’s final visitors before its closure; selling souvenirs. I bought a souvenir pencil, and have it still.

UPDATE: Artist Lady Manvers, my dad, and Coquette. Click on the link..

Text copyright Ian G Craig. Painting by Lady Manvers private collection Ian G Craig.

30 Sept 2013

Exhibited, published, awarded.

After being included in an exhibition at Patchings Gallery, my painting “Along the A614” was published in Painters Online magazine as a result of winning the Clairefontaine Award. It was then also selected and shown in the Thoresby Gallery Open Exhibition.

 In search of new ideas this month I also painted two quick self-portraits, and three experimental paintings. The third of these was also a parody of a David Hockney's "Flight Into of Italy". I call mine Flight out of Liverpool..

Thoresby stepped back into my life to a small degree when I was invited to  attended a VIP buffet and lecture about the war years on the estate, as well as contribute my memories of Lady Manvers to the Nottingham Uni History Dept. A most enjoyable afternoon, and I was able to contribute / clarify some information the speaker was unsure of.

 All text, pros, poetry & artwork, copyright Ian Gordon Craig.

30 Aug 2013

Drawing August #drawingaugust

My entire journal for August comprised sketches of various locations in Nottingham. This was part of the Twitter collaboration, #drawingaugust, and raised my profile and Follower statistic considerably. The music I chose for this month's video was my cover of “Don't Get Around Much Any More”.

You can watch my journal for August on THIS LINK.

Below: The homeless guy is called Frank, the dog Sasha.

All text, pros, poetry & artwork, copyright Ian Gordon Craig.

30 Jul 2013

The white heat has gone from the iron.

Sat on the Grass. (poem).
Like Winston and Julia Underneath the tree,
That wasn't her, And it wasn't me.
Currently reading Scott Fitzgerald's The Beautiful and the Damned: “The white heat has gone from the iron and the glow from the coal”. This month's sketchbook diary reflected that mood:

In spite of the art award, in spite of being exhibited, I'm actually bored with painting now. I need something new. Is it too late to change my career options?

Below: Went to Skegness for my annual day trip.


Below: Sketching on Robin Hood’s Hill:

Below: Clumber Park:

All text, pros, poetry & artwork, copyright Ian Gordon Craig.

30 Jun 2013

On my selfie in june.

Summer failed to arrive on time. Inside, away from the rain, I painted a quick self-portrait instead of making the usual series of (almost) one-a-day sketches. Acrylics on stretched paper, not intended to be anything too permanent. However, I do like the result.

Whilst my painting “Along the A614” is hanging on a wall in Patchings Gallery I received news that I've been chosen for the Claire-Fontaine award. £100 of art materials.

Went to the cinema to see “Behind the Candelabra". Thoroughly enjoyed it. Also intending to read all Scott Fitzgerald novels in sequence. (Of course I’ve read several of them before back in student times).

 All text, pros, poetry & artwork, copyright Ian Gordon Craig.

30 May 2013

May be not.

The month saw the Forget-Me-Nots I first planted way back in 1985 return in full bloom. They never fail.

My thoughts have been turning once again to writing instead of painting. But I have spent time making pencil crayon sketches of various Nottingham places for the Twitter challenge and art theme #drawingugust.

Went to the cinema, to see DiCaprio’s “The Great Gatsby.” It doesn’t measure up to the Robert Redford version.

All text, pros, poetry & artwork, copyright Ian Gordon Craig.

30 Apr 2013

Accepted in April.

I have received an acceptance letter for Patchings Open 2013. The painting they chose was “Along the A614”. (THIS LINK).

This month’s sketchbook diary is about  places visited.

All text, pros, & artwork, copyright Ian Gordon Craig.

30 Mar 2013

March around Carrington.

This month’s sketchbook diary is about my morning regime, a brisk walk around my Carrington neighborhood to get the circulation going.

The snow is returning.

All text, pros, poetry & artwork, copyright Ian Gordon Craig.

25 Feb 2013

An empty seat.

This month’s sketchbook diary is about empty seats:

Above: The finished painting, Dukeries Childhood, which was to be part of a triptych, but looks better as a stand alone item. The person is from an old black and white photograph of my brother. The house is Three Gables, Thoresby Park, in which we lived as children.

 All text, pros, poetry & artwork, copyright Ian Gordon Craig.

30 Jan 2013

Selfies and snow.

Instead of a written diary, I intend making a sketchbook journal for every month this year, a practise I started last December. This month’s theme is self-portrait.

Outside the studio the snow is thawing.

All text, pros, poetry & artwork, copyright Ian Gordon Craig.