Fred Ted and the military medals

Fred Ted's military medals
Fred Ted (watercolour)

Hayley Oats sent me a photo of Fred Ted and her grandfather’s military medals as part of the Everyday Treasures series.

Here’s Hayley’s story about Fred Ted and the Military Medals:

When I was asked by Vandy to provide something that should could paint that meant a lot to me, think what you would save in a fire,  was the description. Well I had a tough time.  I am the family historian for want of a better description, (although I think most of the family would say hoarder!)  as well as a wedding photographer…… so anyway after my initial reaction of photos and family history I sat and thought about it more.

Here’s my precious item.

Fred the big teddy bear is very special to me, he was given to me the day I was born by my grandfather, affectionately known as Big Poppa.  He was always the one who sat quietly in the corner of the kitchen whilst my grandma cooked and had a house full of people. The place was never empty, people popping in and out. If he wasn’t in the kitchen chair he was in his workshop with a car in bits to be mended or turning wood and making beautiful wooden, bowls, vases, fruit the list goes on. He was very creative. As a child I don’t remember him talking much, although I am assured he did, he was always there, just quietly observing. It was only when my grandma sadly passed away that I really started to have conversations with him and it was not long after that I got a job working with the Royal Engineers (Explosive Ordnance Regiment) that we started to learn about his time in the Second World War.

He started out in the Royal Artillery but was at some point yet to be defined, was recruited into the Special Operations Executive (SOE), the precursor to the SAS, for his explosives experience.  Up until this point we don’t think he had talked to anyone about his WWII experiences, and he was always a little guarded about the level of detail he would give, he said, “ I signed the official Secrets Act and some things should stay that way”  What we do know is that he was involved in Dieppe Raid of 1942 which was such a disaster, but that he made it into France to complete his mission, where the rest of his team were killed. He was also seriously injured: both his ankles were broken.  He told me he remembers leaning over a 5 bar gate, and then being carried on someone’s shoulders, but not really much else.  It appears he was found and carried back to safety by two , to this day unknown, Canadian soldiers. He recuperated in a military hospital in Kent.

We have many little anecdotes like this one:  After one SOE mission he asked the medical officer how he could relax and he said he should get blind drunk and everything would be fine!

After his time in Dieppe he was taken off active overseas service and became a military lorry driver in the UK.  Once the war was over he was discharged and had a successful career back at home in Yorkshire working for British Coal. In later years he was given a military pension because his hearing had been so damaged by his time in the Royal Artillery.

We hadn’t really heard any of these stories until I started my job with the Royal Engineers. Sadly, he died a short while after I started working there and so it makes those precious moments extra special. The military medals are his, they don’t look like many for a man whose service was so varied, (this is just a short highlight) but medals weren’t awarded to those in the SOE, as it was Clandestine operations they couldn’t give medals for things that didn’t ‘technically’ happen.

So Fred and the military medals, remind me of how precious it is to spend time with my family talking about our adventures so the stories can live on.  Fred and the medals, and this fabulous painting will one day pass to my nephew so he can carry on knowing the stories.

In the Bag – Painting a leather handbag

In the Bag (leather handbag watercolour 37 x 27)

When I asked my sister, Lori for a Precious Artifacts story, she presented me with a photograph of her leather handbag

The original photograph of the leather handbag

Here’s the story of Lori’s precious leather bag:

I have always been a fan of Carrol Boyes functional art. I own quite a few of her pieces. When I discovered she had expanded her range to include leather goods I was thrilled.

I am not a person who owns handbags to match every outfit. I have a good black Coach leather handbag which has been in use for about 15 years now, but I didn’t have a good quality brown leather handbag. I lusted after this one. The leather is soft and it has the Carrol Boyes trademark pewter details, but it was quite expensive so I added it to my “maybe someday” list.

Then I unexpectedly landed a commission to do the illustrations for a children’s book. I had not done any serious drawing for many years and the job terrified and excited me at the same time. Having completed the job to the author’s satisfaction, and having been paid, I decided to spend part of the money on the handbag. A useful, constant reminder that being terrified and leaping through that fear brings rewards, both tangible and intangible.

How do you paint a brown leather handbag and make it interesting? With a monochrome subject there is a danger of a boring painting.

My approach to painting Lori’s leather handbag

I started with blue underpainting to get my tonal values in the right places. The exciting aspect of painting this was capturing the folds and shadows, and the rich colours.

leather handbag watercolour WIP 1
Blue underwash defines tonal values

I had used masking fluid to save the white paper for all the metal fasteners. Fortunately I was using 640lb Arches smooth so the fact that the masking fluid stayed on for many days was OK. This isn’t something I would advocate, but this painting took a while. I had my fingers firmly crossed as I peeled off the latex at the end. Burnt Sienna and Burnt Umber started the process of adding the brown tones over the blue underwash.

leather handbag watercolour WIP 2
Masking fluid keeps metallic fasteners clear as the browns start to go on

I found I could only go so far with the depth of colour using only those two browns, despite the tonal underwash, and this is where things started to get interesting. What other colours can you see in a brown leather bag?

leather handbag watercolour WIP 3
Deepening the colour section by section

Adding purple and blue really brought out the richness of the colours. The contrast made the burnished reds in the brown sections come out much more strongly. I found that painting with my fingers gave me a much smoother texture for the leather.

leather handbag watercolour WIP 4
To get a rich burnished effect, the last stage of the browns were painted with my fingers.

The final stage was putting in the gold colours for the metal fasteners, the stitching details, and adding in the background. I wanted an earthy feel to this painting. Lori loves natural things – good quality leather, natural fibres, being in the bushveld. I also wanted the bag to feel rich and filled with value because of its significance to her. And above all – not just flat brown.

Oscilloscope: All The Fun Is Inside

Oscilloscope (watercolour and acrylic ink). Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
All The Fun Is Inside (watercolour and acrylic ink 21 x 13 cm)

I wasn’t expecting an oscilloscope.

The beauty of my Precious Artifacts series is that I never know quite what I’m going to get. It’s always a surprise when someone sends me their photograph and story. That’s all part of the fun, and the challenge.

Noel was the second person to come back to me with his Artifact for painting. An avid blogger and science enthusiast, Noel chose to blog about his subject. Here’s  the link to the post with photos of his 1970’s oscilloscope. When I first saw the post, I had a few thoughts:

– What??? Help???? How???

And then:
– Which one should I choose for the painting?
– How am I going to make this painting interesting?
– How do I deal with the complexity of all those wires?

Then I thought about Noel’s oscilloscope accompanying story. In his words:

“I love anything to do with science, I have since I was old enough to know what it was. First it was maths, and I ran out of maths books at school. They had to buy a new one for me and my mate. They cut it up and gave us different pages each, a few at a time – so they only needed to buy one book. Weird, perhaps they didn’t reckon on using it too often after we left.

A chemistry set arrived when I was nine – test-tubes of potassium permanganate and various other lovely chemicals, a meths fuelled burner and an asbestos mat. It is a wonder I survived long enough to be able to discover physics at thirteen.

Electronics, in particular fascinated me – this was the time of discrete components, and indeed valves were still around. I built an oscilloscope from a kit – surviving several 240 volt shocks in the process. (I still have the ‘scope, complete with two pentode valves, though the greater sense of self-preservation that comes with age prevents me from firing it up again!)

I have now dusted off the old ‘scope. Still totally fascinated by it, even after forty odd years.”

I realised that Noel’s fascination with science is all about working out the different elements. Then in how they work together and what they do in combination. It’s all about what’s inside:

So that’s what the painting had to reflect. The outside is a conservative, plain black box with the buttons all lined up in neat lines. If you just look at the outside, it all looks quite boring. To see the really good stuff – you have to look inside. That’s where the oscilloscope magic happens!

Creative Commons License
All The Fun Is Inside by Vandy Massey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Hagia Sophia – Finding watercolour treasure

Watercolour Painting of Hagia Sophia
Painting of Hagia Sophia (artist: ?)

This little watercolour of Hagia Sophia in Turkey is now one of my watercolour treasures. A bit like Doug’s Dad’s watch, it has a story attached to it.

One evening while I was visiting my family in South Africa a couple of weeks ago, my sister pulled four boxes out of the back of the cupboard. They had been stored there since my grandmother’s death 10 years ago. In amongst all the old photographs of family members, some of which we hadn’t ever seen before, was a little watercolour painting on a card. The image of Hagia Sophia is executed in vibrant colours. One of the things that surprised me is the clarity of the colours – considering that the painting is over seventy years old. This is probably in part, because it hasn’t been exposed to light.

Inside the card is a message to my grandmother (Stella) and mother (Rosemary) sent from Karabuk in 1937. I know my grandfather worked as an engineer on some projects in Turkey for a while when my mother was very young. We must assume that this is card was sent back home to the family in England when he was in Turkey and before they followed him out there.

I have no idea who the artist was. At first I wondered it was painted by my grandfather – he was known to paint in his spare time in his youth. But the signature isn’t the same as the one on his painting that hangs in my parents’ diningroom.  My grandparents owned a couple of paintings they bought while they were stationed in Turkey. Apparently they were all done by white Russians who had fled to Turkey after the 1917 revolution and presumably stayed. I can only guess that this little gem was painted by a local artist – perhaps even a Russian expat.

This is one of my very own precious artifacts now.

Message in side the card from 1937
Message in side the card from 1937

About Hagia Sophia:

Until I saw this painting, I knew nothing about Hagia Sophia.  Once my mother had identified the building, I had a look online and discovered that the building has a fascinating history. Originally built in 537, it has been a basilica, a mosque and then a museum (which is it function now).

John Sargent Singer famously painted it’s interior in 1891 – his painting can be seen here

Precious Artifacts Paintings : Doug’s Watch

Artifacts paintings: Doug's Watch (watercolour 10 x 10 cm)
Doug’s Watch (watercolour 10 x 10 cm)

When I put out an email to a few friends about the Precious Artifacts paintings series, Doug Shaw was the first to respond.

Doug chose a photo of a watch which had belonged to his father and then had a history of being unknown, discovered, then lost.  Doug has a great blog. I’ve followed his writing for some time and he always hits the mark on people and connections.

Read the story of the Doug’s Lost and Found watch in his words – he says it so much better than I can. Clue: The place name on the watch face is significant.

Precious Artifacts Paintings

If you’d like to be part of this, please email me a photograph of your Precious Artifact and a snippet about why you love it.

Japanese Mugs in Watercolour

Japanese Mugs in watercolour
Japanese Mugs  (watercolour 12.5 cm x 12.5 cm)

This pair of Japanese mugs mark the beginning of another painting series. I took this photograph for Tracey Fletcher King’s Cuppa With Friends project.

That action sparked two watercolour ideas:

– Firstly I decided to have a go at painting them myself,

– and secondly it spawned the idea for my new Precious Artifacts collection.

I have emailed a few friends (and may ask them to nominate a few other) asking them to send me a photograph of one item that is precious to them (not a person or a place – an item) along with a very short description of why they love the item. I really want to know the story behind the image. I will then paint that item (almost certainly in watercolour) and it will go into the collection. The style of painting may vary as will the size. All of these factors will be guided by the photograph and the item itself.

So if you’d like to join in, please feel free to email me a photograph of your item and it’s story. I’ve got a few to do already.

Now I need to give you the story of the mugs in the watercolour.

These mugs were bought for me on a trip to Japan. I saw them and fell in love with just about everything about them. They have no handle – just a dent for the thumb which you can see on the right hand side of the blue mug. Each one is a slightly different shape and they feel fantastic to hold.  There are iridescent coloured squares placed under the clear glaze so that they wrap around the mug, and there’s a wonderful black granulation effect from oxidisation during the firing process.

I am absolutely mad about the aesthetics of these mugs. The Asian melding of utility and style works perfectly. And they remind me of one of the best journeys I’ve ever taken. Everything about that trip was just right.

The next Perfect Artifacts watercolour will be done very soon. I’ve got two items in the pipeline.