When I was a child my mother used to take me to Bredon’s Bookshop in Brighton. It had a small art department that for me was heaven. The lowest shelves held clay, plaster of Paris, Plasticine and modelling tools. I wanted them all but even more alluring than this were the upper ones displaying row upon row of soft pastels and paints and a spectacular array of coloured pencils, Derwent if I remember rightly, which of course I do. It seemed to me that every imaginable shade of every possible colour was there. I longed for them. Mum always bought me something – a small packet of crayons or pencils but that didn’t do it for me.
What I really wanted – and I might say – I haven’t changed at all – was the entire display. I wanted the biggest boxed set available. Not long ago I found out that my friend Mary had been given just this when she was a child and I felt engulfed by a curious retrospective envy. Ridiculous really – I have long since bought many complete ranges of pencils, pastels, gouache and inks and since this hunger is one that will never truly be satisfied a few weeks back I bought the largest boxed set of Rembrandt oil paints that they make.
I hadn’t really intended to use these oils for my Filthy Beast work – gouache is still this illustrator’s medium of choice but on this occasion I could not resist and the result is The Old Boar above. I have just seen that Sennelier do a box of their entire water colour range – 98 tubes in all – Mmm… Oh dear.
The arrival of hot weather necessitates a trip to Eastbourne – somewhat less stylish than nearby Brighton – to say the least, so I don’t know why I bother to go there really, it’s hardly the most thrilling of places to visit. Then again, from time to time there are some special sights to be seen that you get nowhere else and there’s a load of gold lame, dangling cossies and spindly legs on the beach. Which the filthy beast in me especially enjoys.
Yes, I can spend a happy hour or two just roaming up and down that seafront. Something is sure to catch my eye. Also, I understand that Eastbourne boasts one of the country’s first playgrounds for the elderly. I guess it has roundabouts and probably swings and slides and all that stuff. Absolutely no children allowed. Whatever goes on there then? Is something stashed away in all those Zimmer frames? How exciting. I must go and check it out.
Last week end saw the launch of Filthy Beasts which I have to say I did enjoy. Unfortunately, I forgot to charge my camera battery before leaving home and was only able to get in a couple of shots before it packed up, but here’s one old badger who definitely had a good time. Thank heavens he’s not wearing my old pink dressing gown.
Last weekend www.filthybeasts.com won the coveted Fine Art Trade Guild’s Art Business Website award. It was rather fitting as it was a year to the day that we decided to make good on a long going notion that we unleash our disreputable assortment of wicked wildlife on the world.
We had a splendid time in Stratford-upon-Avon courtesy of the lovely people at the Fine Art Trade Guild, with an exquisite supper, followed by the award ceremony and more than a few celebratory stiff G&Ts at the bar.
It was wonderful to meet fellow artists and companies who inhabit the world of art creation and selling. Thank you to the Guild team for a truly wonderful evening. Cheers!
Today is Pa’s birthday, was he still with us he would be 102 and no doubt, still receiving his fans, showing them round his hangar and regaling them with his many stories. In return they filled the collection boxes for his beloved museum at Flixton and the RAF Benevolent Fund. Well, sadly he is not with us any longer but he has left us many wonderful memories.
Pa’s attitude to his birthdays was always rather negative. He didn’t like them, or at least he said he didn’t. His seventieth was no exception. He was very miserable at breakfast. He didn’t want any fuss he said, and he would rather forget all about it. This did not bode well. Ma had arranged a surprise party (always an extremely dangerous thing to do). A large number of friends had been invited and with his persistent and all pervasive gloom she was getting nervous.
At 7.30 he was still in his oily old work clothes and very reluctant to change into something cleaner. Why bother? What he really wanted was a glass of wine and his dinner and just as he sat down, glass in hand, a car came up the drive. “Visitors.”, he grumbled. Ma shot to answer the door before he could but then another car came up and another. “Ma!”, he said. “There’s more of them. What the hell’s going on?” He strode to the front door most put out, then the truth dawned, it was a PARTY. He turned round, his face like thunder and without another word disappeared upstairs.
Ma was really worried, what if he was so annoyed he stayed in his room all evening? But to our relief moments later he was back, dressed in full mess kit, the very life and soul. He had a wonderful time and was still enjoying himself the next morning. I caught sight of him, still in his mess kit, waltzing the Great Dane round the lawn. Happy birthday, Pa.
I had a bit of a shock early this morning when I caught sight of a large pink and beardy thing moving around in the garden. It took me a moment or two to register that what I was looking at was in fact Jerry, aka The Badger, wearing my old rose dressing gown and an ancient, battered, flattened-rimmed stetson. He was refilling the feeders. I rushed for my camera but with that unerring instinct all wildlife seems to possess, he instantly looked up and the moment was gone. Such a shame, I would have loved to share the spectacle.
However, one wonderful sight was soon replaced by another when a sudden eruption of raucous squawking announced the arrival of a band of hopeful youngsters all looking to pair up. The jays are back – no more skulking around keeping a low profile or hiding away in the woods for them. It’s March and they’re out and proud, raising crests and bossing each other about, spreading their gorgeous wings and flashing their super white underpants at each other in enthusiastic group courtship displays. They’re dynamic birds and they have such presence, I love, love, love them. They are lovely subjects to illustrate and what’s more, rather unexpectedly, they lend themselves very readily to caricature. So how could I resist? Welcome back you beautiful birds.
Cats top the list of animals that I have found most enjoyable to portray. They really suit the anthropomorphic treatment. They dress up most satisfactorily and can strike a lovely pose too, which helps. Take Master Wiffy for instance, or his real life companion Butmunch, whose owners specifically requested him to be portrayed as Quentin Crisp, they suit their attire and roles.
Not all animals are quite so adaptable though. I would not attempt to paint a hedgehog as Quentin Crisp, it just wouldn’t work. Judging by the heavy breathing and grunts they make when shuffling along beneath the bushes I’d say they are more dirty raincoat types and the girls, though there is little immediately visible to distinguish them from their old boys, remind me of more of bag ladies than cosy Mrs Tiggywinkles.
Despite the garden being all tangled, rotting and winter worn I notice that the birds are already getting rather frisky. The woodpeckers are drilling, doves pursuing each other, bobbing up and down in their courtship dance along next door’s roof ridge and the blackbirds fighting on the lawn. Scuffles are breaking out all over the place. Things are hotting up out there.
The sun has come out too, brightening up the studio no end. My spirits are lifting and the paints are calling me. Having just finished a portrait of Rubble, a fine Brighton Bulldog (a charming chap he is too but with a great penchant for ankles – we all know his sort). Well, now that I’ve shaken him off, no easy task I can tell you, there’s nothing to stop me. It’s gotta be something colourful – more inebriated parrots or some dodgy little chameleons maybe?
I have almost finished another painting for the Rogues Gallery.
It is of Master Scuttlebuck, he is a decidedly disreputable coney and definitely one of the notorious Cock Lorel’s band of villains and scoundrels. Cock Lorel himself enjoyed mythical status in Tudor England and he too will be a worthy subject for the Filthy Beast treatment in the near future, I’m sure.
In the meantime, in an excuse to paint their wonderful green plumage of course, I have been at work on some drawings of drunken parakeets. The parks of London are quite full of them I hear, along with those dodgy squirrels who will mug you as soon as look at you. I’ve seen this with my own eyes. They are brazen in their naughtiness.
In fact, we had a few squirrels overwintering in the attic of the house in Cambridge. I could swear they were running a crack den up there, coming and going at all hours of day or night, slamming doors, fighting and hanging off the gutters, yelling obscenities at us. It was really quite disgraceful. I am no prude, in fact I consider myself rather tolerant really, but squirrels can get extreme in their riotous behaviour. It may be a little too much to live with but it makes them very desirable subjects to draw.
Yes, I know they eat the lettuces but I love them. It’s the form of their shells that appeals to me and I approve of their sexual arrangements too. How sensible to be able switch gender at the drop of a hat and take advantage of every opportunity that comes their way. It’s called sequential hermaphroditism. But enough of the technical stuff.
Several years back I was commissioned to do a little painting of a snail with a frog messenger riding on its back. Now, I do like to get things right so I went hunting for an unoccupied shell to use as a reference. Oddly, I couldn’t find one so I made do with a wrecked old timer, hibernating behind a thick and dried operculum. It clearly wasn’t going to go anywhere very fast, or so I thought. Back in the studio I made a nice little frog out of plasticine and placed it on top of the snail before nipping out to make a cup of tea, prior to drawing. I was really only gone for a few moments and just got back in time. Old Rip Van Winkle was off at a lick and disappearing over the edge of the table with its jockey still firmly in place. They’re livelier than we think.
Snails are fun. Here are a few that have been out on a hen night in Brighton. Well, they may have started out as hens and some may have turned into stags before the night was through – or vice versa if their reputation is anything to go by. Whatever, they have clearly had a wonderful time. Babs took off her shell and was mistaken for a slug. Gloria took something she shouldn’t have and had an epiphany on the beach. Yep, snails are fun.
Welcome to Wallis World. Not only is this my first blog but it is also the day our website goes live. Anyone looking at Filthy Beasts could not help but notice that foxes appear quite frequently in my work, so I thought this might be a suitable moment to introduce a couple of them to you properly.
Fox number one was my father. Pa loved the early Disney cartoons and I think it gave him a feeling for exaggerating the facial expressions and mannerisms of animals. Dogs, I suppose, were actually his particular favourites to impersonate (for example, if my mother scratched his back for him he’d start kicking out a hind leg just like a dog would) but when he arched an eyebrow in a scheming, cunning manner he became all fox. I loved to watch him do that. I can promise you many funny little stories about him to come.
My second fox is my good friend Rufus of Cambridge and by coincidence, today is his birthday. Owing to his inspirationally disreputable urban nature he makes a marvellous subject. I once gave him a handsome, tooled leather fox mask for Christmas. He was most appreciative of his present and told me later that it was great for going through bushes as it protected his face from scratches and kept water off his nose. A neighbour soon reported to me that they had been walking along the tow path, late one foggy afternoon and probably in a slightly foggy state too, when they were startled by someone emerging from the mist wearing a purple velvet frock coat and a fox mask. Well, I think I know who that was. Happy Birthday, Rufus.