“The Walker at Lymebridge” (2023)
Oil paint over vintage digital print (oil on paper).
Total size: 55cm x 45cm
Painting size: 29cm x 28.5cm
Currently Available Via Ebay – Click HERE
It’s May 2023 and I’m the Barnardo’s charity shop at Parc Tawe in Swansea. I wasn’t there for any specific reason other than to kill some time. It was the first time I’d been in the store and was perusing the general items that are in there. A mix of new and previously owned/donated items.
When I go in to charity shops I’m usually looking for one thing: decent frames. I like to reuse as much as possible to cut down on waste and pollution so if there’s a quality frame to be had then I get it. In general, it is a bit of a needle in a haystack event as the majority of pictures that end up in charity shops are low value mass market items which, when it comes to pictures, means a lot of plastic, resin, or mdf (medium density fibreboard) frames.
The main issue with those types of frames is if there is any damage it requires a lot of work to correct it, and unless the frame is particularly spectacular I’m not going to buy it.
On this visit I was looking at the frames with the pictures in and there was nothing really interesting there but there was this one image in a fairly standard frame. The image was faded, but had a nice composition and it was well matted (matting is the card enclosure (mountboard) for pictures in frames, matting is a skill in itself and I always look at the quality of the matting – thanks to Roger Tiley and Angelo Conti for giving me that specific curse).
When I took the picture off the hook I could feel by the weight that this was a quality frame, on the back was a little sticker with the framer information – local to Swansea – and also at the top left was a pencil inscription that sealed the deal for me.
It appears that the framers were in operation from 1964 until about 2002. Although I’ve lived in Swansea for most of my life I don’t remember the business.
The dedication is written in pencil on the masking tape used to seal the frame and has faded over time. The name is a little hard to make out so my original guess was: “4/4/1990 from Faith Llewellyn” but the more I look at it the less I’m sure.
It could be Faith Llewellyn, Gail Llewellyn… but now that I’m having a good look at the letter shapes and the pencil lines I’m no longer convinced it’s a person’s name. It could say “From Saith Plentyn” which means Seven Children. If that’s the case it could be from a class, but if it was a Welsh school it would be unlikely use “From”.
Regardless, the personal dedication and the local framer made me want to take this and give it another 33 years of life.
It had obviously been a special gift. The framing would not have been cheap and although it had a couple of dings in the wood, it was wood, so I could work with all these components and revitalise the whole. To get this started, I paid the sticker price of £3.50.
The Original Artist
I went on a bit of a journey finding more about the original picture. In the bottom left hand corner there was a signature that said “Michael Lees” who (at the time of writing this) I believe can be found here.
At the time of writing the website is available but not fully functional so I can’t find the original picture on there.
When I did google search for the image I found a previous auction for a print that had the title as “Cottage Scene”.
It was only when deconstructing the frame that I noticed in the bottom right hand corner there was another word. Due to the image being a bit faded and it being dark paint (possibly burnt umber) over a dark area it was hard to read.
Initially I thought it said Lyrebridge which, when I searched for that term, came up with no real world information but could have been related to perhaps some fantasy fiction.
A day and some better lighting later I realised it wasn’t Lyrebridge, but Lymebridge. I searched that and found it’s a place in Devon. More than that, there’s a very interesting photo of the location.
It’s almost the exact view in the original image. The cottage to the left is 100% correct, the building to the right has been sprinkled with artistic license in order to draw the viewer in by rotating it slightly in order to make a better composition. So we’ve found the artist and we’ve found the location.
I didn’t just buy this picture because of the local connection and to preserve it. When I stood and looked at the composition before picking it up considered how I could add to it.
The composition leads the eye through the picture and is a nice peaceful rural scene. It is not the kind of thing that I would paint. I aim for a different market while this is about harking back to the “good old days”. Absolutely no shade to Michael Lees here, just putting some context in to my inspiration and process.
The hiraeth/”good old days” genre of art evokes internal story telling and this is arguably why it’s popular.
When looking at pictures in this genre you’re wondering where the people are going, what they’re talking about, and usually allude to a “simpler time” with a slower pace of life many times removed from our current realities (or are they?).
In the picture there’s what appears to be a shepherd boy. I think it’s a boy based on the height compared to the door frame of the cottage on the left. The boy is driving two sheep along a path. Is he driving them home, or to market? Are they even his sheep? (Based on the genre, they must be his sheep). The boy and one of the sheep seem to have had their attention diverted by something to their left. The sheep appears to be moving in that direction. Although we can’t see anything, as a prey animal, it can’t be anything threatening so could it be more of the flock?
The path is the focus and the trees kind of create a framing for it as it runs through the centre of the picture.
When I was looking at the picture before buying it I decided it was going to be a War of the Worlds inspired work, specifically the Jeff Wayne version. The inspiration was that the image would be set after the Martian invasion was over, but before everything was completely back to normal.
This is set in a rural area so it’s not going to be cleaned up as quickly as more populous areas. My vision is that a walker has crashed in to the houses, sprawled across the track, at least one leg arching over the path, with the other blocking it. Without the means to remove such a huge lump of machinery, the local population would have worked around the issue.
To be honest, as this was the first time I’d done something like this there are a few things that I will avoid in future. The most important one being that as I’m an oil painter, I’m going to be more discerning about the source material. You’ll understand why shortly.
The first step was to remove the picture from the frame. I carefully cut the backing tape all around the back of the frame and then removed the framing staples that held the back board in place. It was important to me not to damage the dedication as I want that to be preserved.
As the framing was well done I was hopeful that the print had been mounted using an archival process. This was not the case. The whole print was glued to the mountboard. It was also quite a lot more warped than I initially realised.
Warping can occur for a number of reasons, but in this case it was probably due to changes in humidity over the years. It can sometimes be reversed. How did we get on? You’ll see.
As the print was glued to the mountboard, the options were limited. The paper the image was printed on is about 300gsm so it can take a bit of bashing, but without knowing what type of adhesive was used I’d probably end up destroying the entire project if I tried to release the glue using solvents.
The only other option was to cut the print out of the mount from the front. So I got my trusty steel rule and craft knife and carefully cut the print out of the mount.
It was at this point that I realised that buying a print was probably not the best idea for an oil painter.
Technically you can use oil paint on any surface that the paint will “stick” to and that includes paper. Unfortunately the composition of oil paints means that porous substances, such as paper, will eventually be destroyed by the oils itself. They way around this is to seal your substrate (the thing you’re painting on), and this is traditionally done using gesso. Traditional gesso is marble or chalk dust mixed with rabbit glue. It’s messy, smelly, and opaque. Modern gessos are acrylic based and while not smelly, they are usually as messy as you are, and opaque. Luckily I had already been using transparent gesso prior to this project so that was partially the solution.
Before I could get to the gesso step I needed to stabilise the print to prevent it warping when I painted on it. In order to do this I taped some watercolour paper to a board to keep it stretched then used acid free adhesive to glue the print to the paper.
At this point I was concerned about whether the project was going to work at all as the warping of the print became even more pronounced due to the moisture of the glue. Thankfully, as it dried the warping became less pronounced and ultimately was less than when it was in the original mount.
Now we’re on to the second issue that changed the direction of the project. After drawing out the areas I was going to repaint I realised that I wasn’t going to be able to easily paint only those areas without the risk of the oil paint infiltrating unsealed areas. If that happened there would be oil staining around those areas. To combat that I decided to use transparent gesso over the whole surface and touch up the faded painting where necessary.
That sounded like a good plan. Until I started painting the gesso on to the surface.
So it turned out that in the 1990s the pigments used in this print weren’t UV stable (hence the fading) nor permanent. Due to this, when brushing the gesso on the inks further separated which ended up causing the entire surface to end up with a pink cast.
The good news was that at least the surface was now sealed and once dry I could get on with the painting phase.
Whooooosh! Painting done. While it “dries” it’s time to work on the frame.
The original frame was sanded down. The dings weren’t very deep and easily sanded out. Once fully sanded down the entire frame was primed ready for painting. You can’t go wrong with a classic black and gold scheme, but you’ve got to have some really special paint. The frame was finished with Black 3.0 (Blackest Black) and Goldest Gold both from CultureHustle. This gave the frame a classic look and the paint has never let me down on previous frames.
Once everything was dry it was time to put it altogether. Normally my paintings are varnished to protect the surface, but as this one was going in a glazed frame it’s the only finished piece that I’ve created to date that is unvarnished.
Once the glass, mount, and frame was all put together it was time to seal the back again, all except the section with the original dedication. The original hanging cord was removed, washed, dried and retied. On the bottom left portion I put my standard title sheet that includes the materials used, title, and care instructions. On the right I attached the original concept sketch and finished it off with my David Nicol Art circular holographic sticker.
And that’s where we’re at. At the time of writing this piece is available, and when it’s sold the profits will be donated back to Barnardo’s.