11. Two for Joy

Oil on canvas – 51 x 75 cm


This picture was painted in tandem with ‘One for Sorrow’ which was featured in my previous blog. In this painting the old plane tree is the main subject and I decided to paint it as twilight is setting in. It is painted onto a brown ground as opposed to the blue/grey ground used in ‘One for Sorrow’. In both pictures I had wondered whether or this subject was interesting enough to make a picture. However as I wanted to do some observational painting I decided to go ahead. Both pictures use the space outside of the picture plane, in this painting both of the magpies are floating out of the foreground. These birds are quite common where I live and they are more interesting to look at than birds such as pigeons which I had tried to use in earlier versions.

In some cultures magpie’s are birds of ill omen. There is an old nursery rhyme – One for sorrow, two for mirth, three for a funeral, and four for birth, five for heaven, six for hell, seven for the devil, his own self.

A more recent version goes – One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy, five for silver, six for gold, seven for a secret, never to be told, eight for a wish, nine for a kiss, ten for a bird, you must not miss.

Detailed paintings such as this picture and its companion piece ‘One for Sorrow’ look good reproduced larger than life. I can’t help thinking that a blown up image of this painting would go well in the offices of Hackney Council.




10. One for Sorrow

Rathbone Point on Nightingale Estate seen from my flat in Fulke House – oil on canvas – 51 x 80 cm


My idea of painting from life usually involves a very in depth observation of the subject. I like to see how the light changes throughout the day before I decide on what will be the final effect.

I have often considered painting the view from the back windows of my flat. For a long time I thought this view was too mundane to make a picture from asides from that the architectural details are very complicated. Despite these reservations early last year I began work on this picture and another painting called ‘Two for Joy’ which I’ll be discussing in my next blog.

The view consists of a plane tree with some street buildings and the distant tower of Rathbone Point on the Nightingale Estate. The plane tree is quite amazing, it must be at least a hundred years old and it’s gone feral set as it is in an out of the way place its branches have never been trimmed, asides from that it is much taller than the four-storey block of flats where I live. As I worked on the painting I couldn’t help but become aware of the activities of the local wild life. Squirrels run up and down the twisty boughs of the old plane tree and use them as a springboard to gain access to the roof. The occasional cat patrols the wall below and sometimes a fox will be seen slinking towards the rubbish bins. But mostly it’s the birds, there are pigeons, seagulls, magpies, crows, sparrows, blackbirds and yellow tits which are my favourites, last year they had a nest in the branches of a tall tree near my window on the fourth floor.

As this is a looking down painting the eye level is very high and as usual I’ve included more space than I can see without moving my head up and down. This makes for an interesting composition with the trunk of the plane tree outside of the picture and a long drop from the top of the distant tower to the overgrown gardens below. The rather drab buildings are framed by a pattern of branches and shadows that seem to want to burst out of the picture. And just to exaggerate the space further I’ve painted in a magpie hovering just outside the picture plane.

By the way there are four squirrels in this picture can you spot them?





9. The West Wall of All Saints

Oil on canvas – 75 x 100 cm

West wall lighter

This painting carries on my fascination with the curious stones and flints on the west wall of this amazing church. This picture is much larger than the previous version it measures 30” x 40”. The increase in size allows me to paint the stones in more detail. This painting is unusual because there is no foreground and no background and as the stones are quite detailed this creates the impression that there is some space in front of them. Whereas in my earlier picture the stones are painted entirely from life in this painting I’m using photographic references. I did consider booking into the room in the Blue Boar Hotel that overlooks this part of the wall, however the space in the room was not really suitable to set up a painting.

There is something uncanny about this wall, it seems that each individual stone whilst being part of the whole has nonetheless retained its own identity. In this picture subject matter and the painting technique go hand in hand. As the picture progressed the details and the colours started to create a mesmerizing psychedelic effect. This picture has something in common with the works of Outsider artists and I’ll be discussing my relationship with such art in future blogs.

I think this picture would look good as a blow up wall effect or perhaps as wallpaper hung above the dado rail in a certain kind of room.

There is of course a mystery about the construction of this wall. It forms one side of an equilateral triangular tower that was built in the early part of the 13th century. No other church in England has a three-sided tower. Some think it represents the fundamental belief of the builders in the Holy Trinity, or perhaps the landscape dictated this design. But for me the real mystery is the nature of the materials. On no other church have I seen flints and blocks of masonry as large as these. What was in the minds of the workers when they set these stones? The narrow window is surrounded by stones and flints seemingly selected at random yet this wall was constructed during the 13th century at a time when the architectural style was English Gothic with soaring arches and pointed windows, compared to such buildings this wall looks like folk art. It is known that some of the materials were part of a previous monument and perhaps they had some special significance for the denizens of mediaeval Maldon.

The name Maldon derives from two Saxon words which translate as ‘cross on the hill’ and ‘meeting’. The word Maldon was first recorded as ‘Maeldun’ in an ancient Anglo Saxon chronicle dated 913. It’s highly likely that a Christian community existed in this area as far back as the 7th or 8th century and they built a cross that was later dismantled.

All Saints work inprogress 2

All Saints work in progress 3

All Saints work in progress 4

All Saints work in progress 5






8. A Bird’s eye view of Maldon High St

Oil on canvas – 59 x 99 cm


This picture was begun at the same time as my painting of All Saints Church when I was staying at The Blue Boar Hotel in Maldon. I had booked an apartment for the months of April and May hoping to paint some trees in blossom, however because it was cold and wet the spring was delayed by a month. In the meantime I’d started work on this composition sketching in the basic structure of the tree and the buildings behind. I was hoping to create a space so that when the tree did begin to produce blossoms I could paint them in. But nothing ever turns out the way you expect, for some reason painting in the blossoms in this way didn’t work and I considered abandoning the picture.

At the end of May I had four paintings in various stages of completion. Fortunately I was able to book the same space for November. Once I was back in London I decided to cut off some of the dead space on the left of this picture. In reality all one could see was a confusion of branches. I took the canvas off the stretcher cut it down and stuck it to a piece of MDF.

I returned to Maldon later in the year with the intention of turning this painting into an autumn picture. I thought a few leaves left hanging on the branches with the remainder lying on the damp pavement would make a good scene. But this didn’t work either, for some reason the excessive amount of yellow in the picture seemed to jar. As more and more leaves fell away the architecture of the buildings behind began to appear through the gaps in the branches. But the perspective of the buildings in reality didn’t look right so I made the incline of the road less steep. In the central part of the painting the tangled mass of twigs and branches needed to be simplified.

At the end of November the picture was still unfinished and I resolved to complete it using the photographs I had taken the previous spring. The picture had come full circle. It was now going to be a painting of a tree just coming into bud with the first rays of the rising sun illuminating the buildings behind. The high eye level helps to create a feeling of vertigo as one looks down at the cat looking up. Now I needed some more living creatures. I wasn’t keen on painting in too many people so I settled for a dog walker in the middle distance. After that I added various kinds of birds and we have starlings, pigeons, sparrows, yellow tits, finches, a blackbird, a thrush and a seagull. I like painting these kinds of details. I’m hoping to make it look as if the starling and the pigeons are flying into the space on the edge of the picture. The observer of this scene could easily be a bird hence the painting’s title.

Although this painting may look real and it’s certainly my intention to create the illusion of space – this painting isn’t real at all. The reality upon which it is based has been doctored, idealized, a great amount of tidying up has been done and scale has not been strictly adhered to. Also the colours have been exaggerated as I often like to use saturated glowing colour. The following three images shoe the picture under development.

Bird's eye work in progress 1.low res

Bird's eye work in progress 2 low res

Bird's eye view cropped



7. All Saints Church in Maldon

allsaintsLORES copy

Oil on Canvas – 52 x 63 cm

A couple of years ago I spent several months living and painting in Maldon in Essex. I rented a self-contained apartment on the second floor of a building attached to the Blue Boar Hotel. I was hoping to do some paintings of the trees around All Saints Church coming into blossom so I booked the apartment for the months of April and May.

The Blue Boar Hotel used to be very old fashioned and quirky at the same time, parts of its interior date back to the Tudor period and everywhere there were antiques and paintings. In the bar huge logs burned in a large hearth and on the walls beside the old oak beams there were swords and muskets and sporting prints, between these the mute stuffed heads of stags and foxes looked down at the customers with unseeing eyes. In short the place had atmosphere so my staying at the hotel was a bit like being on holiday. It’s worth mentioning the eccentric hotelier, some of his exchanges with the guests were reminiscent of Fawlty Towers. Since then I’ve heard that it’s being revamped but hopefully the place will retain is other worldly charm.

Unfortunately during my stay the weather was abysmal. It rained profusely and it was cold. I was fairly snug in my makeshift studio so I started working on some pictures. It was my intention to paint from life as much as possible. However the trees were very slow coming into blossom so I started a couple of pictures thinking that if I brought in the basic structure with some of the branches and the surrounding buildings then I would be ready to paint in the blossom when it finally arrived. Meanwhile I often found myself staring at the unusual flint wall opposite my window. This wall was constructed during the 13th century and although flints are often used on churches I have never seen any as large as these. Asides from that the tower is triangular which is very unusual.

With the poor weather continuing I started to paint a section of the flint wall with the nave behind. The good thing about painting buildings is their consistency, they don’t move, so you soon get used to how the light will be at different times of the day. As it wasn’t possible to do much work on the pictures I had originally intended to paint I spent more and more time working on this picture of the church painting in the stones as faithfully as I could. Sometimes I like to expand the space in a picture so that if you was view this scene in real life you would have to move your head up and down in order to see all of it. So in this painting I’m looking down at the side door of the church then up to the cross on top of the nave. To the right of the gothic windows the scrubby tree was rapidly coming into leaf but sadly there were no blossoms. Because the mess of twiggy branches was not very interesting I’ve painted a pigeon flying out into the space outside of the picture plane. However I’ve never been entirely happy with this addition and I may paint it out. With the spring delayed by a month I thought that perhaps the autumn effect was what I should go for. Luckily I was able to book the same space for November. So I returned to rural Essex to soak up some of the autumnal atmosphere and by the end of the month this painting of All Saints Church was almost complete.

All Saints work in progress low res

All saints expanded


All Saints-Colin in Maldon-high res


6. After the Floods

Oil on canvas – 76 x 102 cm


Many of my paintings are very detailed and this one is no exception. It was painted over a period of three years or more and perhaps the end result is over worked, there is always a risk of that when it comes to composing pictures like this. In order to create this image I have referred to hundreds of photographs seeking suitable images with the right eye level and lighting. I don’t have a problem with using photographic images, in any case I would never have had the time to make all of the drawings that would have been required.

The abbey in the background is part based on the ruins of Athassel Abbey situated just outside the town of Golden in Ireland. Most of the gravestones and statuary come from Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington near to where I live. The trees and wildlife have been sourced from various places including the Lea Valley which is also close to my home. If you interested in seeing the work in progress then there are a number of images in the blog section on my website.

So why did I paint this picture? I have always been drawn to the gothic imagination. I like ruins and overgrown cemeteries, twisted trees and cobwebbed staircases, places with atmosphere. In some ways this picture is a homage to Arnold Bocklin’s ‘The Isle of the Dead’, a painting I have admired since my childhood.

My painting depicts a scene overgrown and abandoned, buffeted by the forces of nature and currently flooded. There is no sign of any human presence instead it is home to various kinds of wildfowl while a swan searches for a mate. The rosy light of early dawn is creeping in from the right and mist is rising from the surface of the water. We could be looking at a scene set in the future when much of the land is flooded, hence its title ‘After the Floods’.

This is a picture which invites contemplation, the subtle colours pulse with light and if one lets the eye meander then there is much to see. I have tried to make this picture as perfect as possible whilst accepting that although perfection is something to aspire towards it will never be attained. But how many artists would go to the lengths that I have gone to in order to create their image and how many would have the technical skill or the patience to produce a work such as this?







This is a different photograph of the finished painting.

After the floods lodres-remastered.2 jpghttp://www.colinmurrayart.co.uk

6. The Ruined Abbey

Oil on canvas – 56 x 64 cm


This is another early picture. The style is looser and more expressionistic than my later work and this is something I may well go back to. I have always had a fascination for ruins and these subjects are often most atmospheric at dawn and dusk. I will be featuring some more pictures in a similar vein in future blogs.


4. Friday Woods

0il on panel – 91.5 x 122 cm


This picture is based on a real place called Friday Woods just outside of Colchester in Essex.  I painted it to recall the time I spent living in the country at Blackheath near to Fingrinhoe in Essex.

As a print this picture has been popular and I’ve sold a few. I have two AO prints left, Fine Art quality on  hahnemule paper 150 GDP each.


3. Still Life with a pint of Guinness.

Still life with a pint of guinness – oil on panel – 53.5 x 74 cm


I haven’t painted that many still life subjects. This picture was painted entirely from life in a series of sittings. I wanted to do something reminiscent of the golden age of still life painting, this was back in the 17th century especially in Holland. Superficially my picture resembles these old-style paintings except that Guinness didn’t exist in the 17th century. Also I’ve painted a blue rose into the top left corner and as we all know there is no such thing. Some of the fruits and vegetables would not have been available in Europe during the 17th century. The wine glass contains a reflection of myself painting the picture.

When this painting was completed I did wonder if Guinness PLC might be interested in purchasing the item but I found it very difficult to get in touch with them. Then I thought, well they already have their own excellent marketing department, why would they need my contribution.

At present I have one excellent stretcher framed, signed, Fine Art quality canvas print of this picture for sale at 150 GDP, the print size is 50 x 72 cm.















2. The Green Man

Oil on canvas 50 x 60 cm


I like to work in various styles, sometimes I want to closely observe a subject from life and at other times I’ll using all kinds of photographic references to give me the visual information I need to proceed with the picture. Some of my subjects may appear at first glance mundane whilst others are in the realm of the imagination.

The Green Man represents the spirit of nature and rebirth. He represents the renewal and freedom felt by living beings when spring arrives. He’s mischievous and we find him associated with Jack in the Green, John Barleycorn, Robin Goodfellow and Puck. The Green Knight from Arthurian legend and Robin Hood also share aspects of the Green Man’s nature. So does Father Christmas, originally intended to represent the tree spirits his robes were always green. The Jack in the Green is part of the May Day parade and relates to customs practiced by the Celts and Druids. The Green Man is often seen in those discrete carvings called misericords that decorated many Christian churches and cathedrals built in medieval times. It seems that the builders and craftsmen had no problem mixing Christian faith with the old ways.

I came to paint this picture in a roundabout way. At first I was going to paint myself a Green Man t-shirt using fabric paint. However fabric paint is very different to painting with oils. Fabric paint is very stiff as it cannot be thinned so it is slow to work in and once it is on it can’t be washed out. This means that a strong sense of the final design is needed from the word go. Despite fabric paint being almost the opposite of oil paint in its application similar realistic effects can be produced. Quite a few of my t-shirts designs can be viewed on Facebook and I’ll quite likely do some blogs on fabric painting in the future.

So in order to make a T-shirt I would need to make a picture first using oils. One can take several approaches when it comes to composing a picture. Sometimes sketches are made and the entire picture is planned out in advance. I rarely work in this way. Most of my paintings are put together on the canvas. I draw with thin paint until I have a good idea of the composition. I can always wipe oil paint off and redraw something if I choose. The medium I use stays fresh all day so I can alter and develop the section of the picture I am working on throughout the day. If I decide to repaint a part of the picture that has dried then I will need to paint that area back to the ground colour.

A painting like this is put together from many sources. I’ve used photographs that I have taken myself, images from books and from the internet. Putting together the source material is much easier than it used to be. Thanks to digital technology I just plug my camera into my computer upload the images I wish to use and doctor using programs such as Photoshop or Affinity. I can put images into reverse if need be. I can create my own enlargements and print off onto A4 paper.

My Green Man is made of oak leaves. I looked at botanical drawings in order to construct the head. As human heads are more or less symmetrical I’ve used an arrangement of leaves that is similar on each side. Once the head was established I started to paint in more leaves using some photographs I had taken. Then I began to think of adding insects. I love painting butterflies so they were the first to go in followed by a ladybird and some bees. I then put a nightingale into the top right corner to represent the birdsong that one associate with the woods. When using photographic images it’s important to use an image that will work with the eye level of the picture. So you appear to be looking down at the leaves and insects in the lower half of the picture and up at what is in the upper part of the painting. If possible I like to make use of the space that is outside of the picture. This is a tricky thing to do because it involves creating a sufficient illusion of reality amongst the foliage so that the butterflies appear to float in space.

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