Growing up in Menheniot, a small village in Cornwall, England, his first motives were wild birds and sailing ships.
– I attended a small village school in a farming and fishing community. There wasn’t much to do in the village, especially when it rained, so as kids we just had to do our own thing. I had a natural talent for sketching, and I loved to draw. With my family and school being very encouraging, I started entering competitions, winning country, and region wide prizes at that time. So, it just started like that.
Chris’s interest in painting naturally progressed through high school.
– I had a very good art teacher that helped me a lot. He told me I had an eye for perspective. I didn’t really need to learn it, I just drew something, and I could directly see if I had drawn wrong, and then correct it before painting.
At 15 ½ Chris had decided that he didn’t want to work in a farm, tourism, or the fishing industry in Cornwall, so he joined the British Royal Air Force.
– I became a radar engineer at 17 ½, one of the youngest in Britain. Whilst in the military I continued painting a lot which also really helped me later on in my career.
In his civilian career in computer design after he had left the military, Chris got use of his talent for visualising and sketching, doing a lot of technical drawing, graphic design and manuals of equipment being developed. But painting was always his way to relax.
In his earlier works Chris used pastel, then he progressed into acrylic and now oil. He will consider the best medium he feels ‘right’ for the subject and situation and then use that.
– I prepare my own canvases, even making the canvas pattern a little less course by using a mixture of gesso and paste. For landscapes I tend to use a layered approach as per the old Dutch landscape artists – sketch, then Indian ink, then imprimatura layer, then an umber and grey scale layers, then finally the colour layers. I also use a clear acrylic tool with specific lines and a Fibonacci arc to check that my composition feels right. I often work with the golden ratio, 1: 1,61, which has a natural comfort feeling for the human brain, so depending on the subject, when I decide a canvas size, instead of using, for example, 40x50 cm it could be a 40 x 68 canvas. The finished painting often more pleasant to look at.
Chris lives in Sweden, and spends a lot of time in Spain, where he and his wife have a 2nd home. There he finds a lot of his motives.
– I don’t think there is a certain theme to what subjects I choose. I can go walking around the village here in Spain and there is an old Moorish part of the village where there are a lot of nice subjects. I’ve always got a lot of subjects and ideas backed up that I’m going to paint. If I see something I like I just know I can paint it; that is a nice feeling.
– I always start on location if I can, working ‘plein air’. Then I take a photo for light reference, but I like to get a good feeling of what I’m painting because the camera misses out on a lot of things. The difference between a realism painting and a photograph is that all cameras have a limited dynamic range from dark to light. If you look at the deepest shadow in a painting, you can see things in the shadow, but the photo doesn’t show that. In “Ana’s Casa” above you can still make out leaf and petal details even in the darkest areas, in a photo you would not see as much.
Another benefit from being on location, according to Chris, is the encounters with onlookers and the possibility to interact with people.
– I love people and always talk to the people where I go to paint. Once, I was sitting in front of Buckfast Abbey’s monastery entrance in England where I was asked to paint a commission piece. I had just finished painting the white wisteria over the entrance, I then painted the bench and the fountain, but I could not get it right. The fountain and the whitish flowers behind it were all together, it just didn’t look right. Then later, the gardener came over to look at the painting. “You know the white flowers on top of the entrance” he said. “They are not white; they are very slightly pink.” I looked again, and I realized he was right. So, I put a little pink in them and the flowers behind the fountain, making them a little off white, and suddenly it all fell into place. The fountain came forward and the flowers stayed behind.
In his commission pieces Chris likes to add something personal for whom it is for.
– I always try to add something extra in the painting. I like to get a little background of the people so I can personalize it. In the painting “Sjöhult at Midsommer”, below, which I made for a friend of mine, I tried to put a few details in. Maybe you can’t see it at first but behind a tree I put a silhouette of their favourite cat. I also knew that my friend use to brew his own beer, called ‘Osprey’, so I put a six pack of that particular beer on the pier and also painted an Osprey bird in line above the beer. It’s all small hidden messages that are very personal for them. Even if I make the painting from a photograph, I try to turn it into something unique.
– For the Monastic community at Buckfast Abbey I would add a religious link for them to find in the painting. In “The Wier at Buckfast Abbey” below there is one – can you find it?
Chris is an engineer at heart and despite his 70 years he is still working, helping design high tech systems and equipment.
– Whilst I get a lot of job and creative satisfaction from my work, art gives me another environment, another facet to my lifestyle. I tend to paint in sessions, and when I sit and paint, I can focus on it for quite a while. When the painting is finished It gives me a great sense of achievement.