I have been a friend of Carole Racionzer for some time now and several years ago she also bought my 2012 portrait of my cousin Anna Rendall playing the cello.
I was delighted to learn that she was getting married to Stan in 2017, and when she asked if I could paint a picture as her main wedding present I was happy to help. The idea was that instead of her guests buying wine glasses or kitchen paraphernalia as presents, as a unique and personal alternative they could all chip in for a custom painting. I have long thought that many wedding photographs end up being quite formal, posed and lacking in soul. A party painting like the ones I am known for could provide a lasting memento of the day and it would also reflect the life and joy of their wedding celebration.
I decided to paint portraits of all the wedding guests as well as the main wedding party. Carole and Stan hosted their ceremony at Archerfield House in East Lothian, with a handfasting ceremony led by a Humanist minister and their guests arranged around them. It was decided that I would make a picture of that scene and build it on a circular canvas that reflected the shape of the ceremony. I gathered reference photos of the happy couple during the ceremony and then took pictures of as many wedding guests as I could get to pose at the time. I then went down to the reception venue and started the painting in full view of the guests. Throughout the day this painting process provided unique on-site entertainment for the wedding guests; I painted the main wedding party first, starting with the bride and groom before painting Carole’s daughters, the best man, the matron of honour, and the parents of the happy couple. People of all ages are fascinated by the process and the openness of how I do it, and wedding guests were constantly hovering around the easel, watching my progress.
To add to the ambience of my workspace, I brought four large boards of crowd scenes from my 2013 Hogmanay painting. This gave the guests an idea of the direction in which the wedding painting was going.
After the event the picture was taken back to the studio in Leith and the longer process of painting all the guests in began.
Once finished it was popped in a custom-made frame to be presented to Carole and Stan and hung in their Perth home. Job done!
Echline Primary School – Queensferry Crossing Mural
South Queensferry, a town ten miles west of Edinburgh and already world famous for its Forth Road and Forth Rail Bridges, entered a new phase in its history in 2017 when a third bridge was built on the Firth of Forth.
Local school Echline Primary already had an interior bridge mural which had been on site for more than twenty years. It was very well executed, much loved and had stood the test of time, but it was now a bridge short and it was deemed time for a new version. The old mural was careful taken down and hopefully it will be preserved in some form for the school’s archives.
The school wanted a crowd mural as they were really inspired by some of my past work, but with the added feature of having the kids helping to build it.
South Queensferry has a famous annual town ‘Ferry Fair’ so I decided to base the mural on that for crowd vibrancy, and have the three bridges in the background. I produced a drawing that would steer the whole project, which was approved by the school ahead of the project launch.
On the Friday before the mural started, I presented at a school assembly where I introduced myself and my work, and showed the children some of my videos.
During the week of the project I worked with all the children from primary one through primary seven. The idea was that some of the children would paint themselves into the painting while others worked on the buildings and background. The mural evolved throughout the week and I painted alongside the children to help continually steer the picture towards its vision. It was all done and dusted in a week. I heard reports from the teachers that the kids were delighted to work with “Mr Hat”. Many of them learnt top hat spinning as a byproduct of my residency.
The mural was also featured in an article in the Edinburgh Evening News as part of the school’s celebration of the new bridge.
Last year I spent time painting various spots in The Three Sisters, a famous pub on Edinburgh’s Cowgate. The venue was named after the three Mackinnon sisters Cath, Kitty, and Maggie, famous in the 1740s for gracing Edinburgh stages with their singing, dancing and beauty. It is a large complex of bars, and inside this network of rooms is housed Edinburgh’s Student Union Bar.
The Three Sisters asked me back this year to further improve the Student Union. This time I took on a tired and bedraggled looking corridor which before I arrived, wouldn’t have looked out of place in a 1970s office block. They wanted some new artwork that was very Edinburgh-themed, would energise the space, and had some relevance to the diverse university students who frequent the space.
The main wall in the corridor now has an impressionist vista of Edinburgh with the castle illuminated by the world famous bi-annual fireworks display.
I took the artwork onto the ceiling as well as the walls in order to give the area an immersive feel. As the scene moved further away from the firework end of the corridor, the idea was to give it a ‘starry night’ / Van Gogh inspired look. The ThreeSisters also had me paint the walls at the far end with notable university buildings from around the city.
On a completely different theme, The Three Sisters asked me to reflect the Cowgate location of the bar in another mural. The venue is surrounded by a maze of vaulted arches that hold the buildings of the area up, and so I painted a map to the vaults under George IV Bridge with a pop art/brightly coloured feel.
The whole job was done to deadline in under a week, just after the Edinburgh Festival finished but before the onslaught of students for Freshers Week.
Fingers crossed it will keep the students happy and ultimately lead to increased footfall through the door – always the mark of a successful project for me!
After six years at my previous studio at St Margaret’s House in Edinburgh, I recently moved to Custom House in Leith; a stunning neoclassical pillared building that is a central landmark on the Leith landscape. After a prolonged period as the National Museums of Scotland’s storage facility, this A-List Georgian building is now being managed by the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust who are encouraging a wide variety of creative people to build a new hive of activity in the heart of Leith.
There are two distinct buildings on the site: a the larger, more grand building situated on the corner of the Commercial Street and the Water of Leith, and the “cruiser” store, located behind the main building on a narrow cobbled lane that has been hidden from view for years. My new studio backs directly onto this lane via an extremely handy loading bay and this provides me with much better access for loading my often bulky murals.
Even more exciting however is the nascent creative community that is burgeoning within the space. The Christmas event on 17th and 18th December was the first open studio day that I’d been involved in at the Custom House since the move and therefore I thought I’d celebrate by undertaking my first live painting event in the new space.
The large loading bay was an extremely bland and tired-looking area so with the blessing of SBHT Director Una Richards, we set out to give it a seasonal makeover. As our new studio opens directly onto this space, I felt it was extremely important it project the creativity and joy that the new building and its new tenants aspire to. I enlisted my studio manager Sheila Masson – a talented artist (as well as a powerful brain) and we started work on the Wednesday afternoon, priming the space in preparation for our plan.
We decided to paint a Narnia themed mural as although there is a Christmas element to the story, it does not define it, so therefore the mural will remain relevant till spring. We spray painted a snowy landscape with a large scale Aslan and the ubiquitous lamp post front and centre. Sheila made a number of beautiful snow stencils that really set the tone and we quickly built an atmospheric frosted landscape.
Come the main event on the Saturday however it was important that we kept spray paints to a minimum due to the health and safety issues (and the pong!). The alley was filled food stalls and visitors to the building as well as regular Leith Farmers Market shoppers who wandered into the newly revealed space.
Moving on from the spray painted walls I changed my focus to shaped life size characters from the book, cut from large sheets of wooden board. I snared a few tenants and SHBT friends to pose for the The White Witch, her dwarf, Mr. Tumnus and a large scale Santa.
To keep the characters on theme and to compliment the visuals in the loading bay, I reused Sheila’s stencils to add surface detailing. The end result had a vibrancy reminiscent of textile design or a Rauschenberg painting.
The joy for me in collaboration is that every new partner brings fresh tools to the army and in this way Sheila’s stencils and application to the cause really enriched the product and added a further depth and subtlety to my directness and drive.
The loading bay mural is now established and the plan is to periodically adapt the visuals over the coming months and years. The hope is the magic will be infectious and over the coming years the building will permanently acquire some of the magic of Narnia.
I am currently painting a new mural for the William Street restaurant ‘A Room in the West End’, an Edinburgh establishment downstairs from Teuchters pub. I have dined there a number of times, most recently on my 40th birthday and I know the owner Peter Knight through my long affiliation to Boroughmuir Rugby Club.
They already had a mural in their cosy subterranean location, but the last time that I dined there I mentioned to Peter that I thought it was looking a little tired and dated. I suggested that they could do with a rethink as it wasn’t adding value to the restaurant. It took a year or so but Peter came around to my line of thinking and agreed to have me fix it for them.
The brief as was to reflect the West End/Central Edinburgh location, to visually push the wall back with added depth, but also make the room look exciting, populous and atmospheric. Ideally the mural would become a talking point and would make the restaurant a destination venue. I decided to combine my signature crowd mural concept with a 12m landscape depiction of Edinburgh’s Old Town, sweeping across the skyline from North Bridge to Edinburgh Castle.
Originally the discussion as to who would be painted into the crowd revolved around the use of regulars, locals and restaurant staff, but also with a strong rugby element as the pub is a haunt of the Six Nations Championship revellers. However the mural has quickly become a nostalgia piece to innumerable Scottish celebrities and the crowd is now a 50/50 mix of celebs and punters, which should result in visitors looking more closely at the painting in order to identify the well-kent faces amongst the lesser-known crowd.
My crowd scenes frequently feature one or two celebrities but largely my focus has been on the general public. In my twenties I worked for as a magazine illustrator, painting for over 30 different magazines and they would often ask me to paint celebrity portraits within the context of editorial illustrations. So working on this mural has in many ways felt like a blast from the past for me.
The extra muscle memory from painting around 6000 portraits in the last five years has meant that I have found this task considerably easier than I used to. The internet has improved celebrity photo reference immeasurable – laying hands on good celebrity photo reference is so much easier and allying that with my ubiquitous iPad has allowed the mural to build relatively easily.
The only real issue has been negotiating painting time around the comings-and-goings of a successful restaurant. In order to not disrupt the customers’ meals, I’ve had to work in and around the Christmas rush which has meant arriving at 7am and leaving around 2pm. After the initial painting of the Edinburgh skyline, each day by lunchtime I have typically managed to produce around ten portraits.
My plan is to finish the mural by mid January and launch the mural publicly in time for the Six Nations tournament – hopefully with some more famous rugby faces identifiable in the crowd scenes.
In October 2016 I was asked by Edinburgh-based Double Take Projections (who specialise in large-scale projections nationwide) if I would produce some paintings specifically to create some time lapse footage for the city of Norwich’s 2016 Christmas celebrations. As Double Take Projections are top professionals in the field with a track history of success, the Norwich Business Improvement District (BID) approached them to “paint” a number of local landmark buildings with projected animations and time-lapse footage.
Painting in front of time-lapse cameras has become an intrinsic part of my working practice over the past few years. Working in collaboration with editor Mettje Hunneman, I have now produced more than 20 short films which document my work process in this way. In addition to being a great publicity device and adding to my social media profile, I also find that the presence of time-lapse cameras provides me with added creative focus. The performance element of producing paintings on film keeps me engaged with the canvas and it forces me to be braver in my output. Furthermore, filming encourages me to keep working regardless of physical discomfort or tiredness, thereby increasing my productivity.
For three days at the end of October I painted in the studio while dressed as Santa (complete with a partially moulting fake white beard) while cameraman Adam Robertson kept a watchful eye on proceedings.
The images grew exponentially in size as the days rolled on; I began with an A0-size evolving painted Norwich BID logo, followed by a Norwich street scene measuring four feet by five feet, before finishing with an eight foot by twelve foot mini mural designed as a massive Norwich-themed Christmas card. I painted Santa himself in the the background and local celebrities Delia Smith and Stephen Fry pulling a cracker in the foreground. The conceptual idea was that the live action Santa ‘character’ (me) would begin as just a hand in the frame while painting the logo, but then would become increasingly dwarfed by the painting as the film unfolded.
All the years of event painting proved to be very useful in this venture as I now know that the camera likes me to act decisively, and ideally I need to make big decisions as I go. It was also nice to find a different format for that experience with this project.
In late November I visited Norwich for a day while en route to London, in order to see the projection installed in the city. It was most bizarre to see myself on such a large scale, even if I was in my Santa disguise. I have friends in Norwich who will have to look at Santa’s bottom for the whole seven week run and know that it’s me, which can only increase their festive cheer.
The main thing is that the footage and the animations that Double Take Productions created alongside the mural looked fantastic, and it came together to help create exhilarating and atmospheric new Christmas festivities in Norwich. For me personally, it’s really exciting that my time-lapse experiences can combine so seamlessly with my illustration skills. The footage that we generated was almost instantly created in conjunction with the computer animations and it really increased the quality of the product and the feeling of joy in the whole city.
The Greater Grassmarket Business Improvement District is a five-year project (starting February 2013) where all businesses within the defined area have come together to invest collectively to benefit business and local economy growth through local improvements, activities and business support in addition to those delivered by City of Edinburgh Council and Scottish Government. Their objectives include creating a sense of place, attracting more footfall to the area and raising the profile and improving the perception of the area, and I am delighted to be involved in these ambitions.
In 2014 I created my Half Hangit Maggie Dickson mural within this Greater Grassmarket BID area, live painting onsite the notorious story of the one of the areas most famous residents – a fishwife from Musselburgh who was hanged in the Grassmarket on the 2nd of September 1724 for murdering her illegitimate newborn baby. Miraculously she survived the hanging and as she could not be executed for a second time for the same crime, she received a full pardon and went on to live a long life, garnering the nickname ‘Half Hangit’ Maggie.’
In September of this year, the Greater Grassmarket BID events team led by Callum Ross wanted some extra colour in their proposed ‘Mobility Week’. Designed to celebrate mobility in all forms and set it within the historic context of the Grassmarket, they commissioned a diverse group of performers which included musicians, actors and even penny farthing demonstrations running up and down the square.
I was asked to provide some pictorial colour and I produced a two metre by two metre Victorian-era painting of two men on penny farthings racing a donkey-riding man through the Grassmarket. I took inspiration from the classic beachside postcards produced by Donald McGill in the early to mid 20th century, and built a painting that was fun and light humoured, very much in keeping with the spirit of the day
As always I asked visitors at the event to participate as characters in the picture, and they really entered the spirit of the piece. In addition to the new painting, I took my Maggie Dickson mural along and it was used as an evocative backdrop for the performers on the stage beside me. If possible it’s always nice to have some visual context from one of my previous artworks and visitors seem to enjoy seeing other finished pieces.
The event was held on my birthday and was a splendid way to spend the day, which was topped off by the best pastry ever delivered by Sheila, my studio manager.
Continuing my live painting adventures in collaboration with the fearsome Clanranald Trust for Scotland, in July I painted at their pirate themed weekend.
The setting was the glorious Culross Palace, a beautiful 16th century merchant’s house in Fife which has featured prominently as a location in the television programme Outlander.
This is the second time that I’ve painted at a pirate event with the Clan, so I brought last year’s Boarding Party mural as an additional backdrop, which really helped set the scene and brought an added feel of the sea to the occasion.
The Clan put on a fantastic and professional show as usual. Culross Palace was filled with a motley crew of pirates and red coats, and the public revelled in the theatrical antics of the professional rogues.
Clanranald’s engaging and educational all-action living history re-enactments were scattered throughout the historic rooms, gardens and courtyards of the Palace.
Dressed as a pirate throughout the event, I spent the weekend attempting to capture the atmosphere of the event and tell the tale of what I saw.
Special thanks to Clanranald and Lorna McLean for the use of some of their photos.