Monday, 23 February 2015

The legendary Stephen Ferris

Stephen Ferris I guess has always been a rugby hero of mine. He didn't come through the Ulster Schools system but was encouraged to pursue rugby after he left school by Dungannon born Ulster rugby scrum coach Allen Clarke. He was an absolute giant for Ulster when he played – which wasn't as many times as we would have liked thanks to his habit of picking up long term injuries. He had to retire early which meant he didn't win as many Irish or British Lion caps that his talent deserved.

He will be forever remembered by me for his Lions try in a pre-Test game when he showed a surprising turn of speed to plonk the ball down under the posts;

the way he manhandled Australian scrum half Will Genia in a World Cup rugby match in New Zealand

and finally for how he lifted Ravenhill in his long awaited return from an ankle injury by bashing an unsuspecting Scarlets back and knocking him back more yards than he'd like to remember. I still get goosebumps watching this.

Well all this is a preamble to how Stephen met me last weekend in Marks & Spencers. He was standing alongside me in the check out queue and I was surprised how he wasn't as big as I had imagined, well compared to Paddy Johns the ex-Irish rugby captain who simply towers over me. He was probably too shy to ask me how my painting of him was coming on, but more likely he probably didn't want to bother me on a Saturday morning, thinking quite wrongly, that I'd more pressing things on my mind. We both walked out of the superstore towards the car park together. I saw people nod at me in recognition and as always I smile back in acknowledgement. Amazingly we were both walking in the same direction and as soon as I saw the little Honda Jazz beside the Porsche I hoped it wasn't his. Sod's law determined it was, so I walked on past my pride and joy towards McDonalds just so he wouldn't be embarrassed by the size of his car. Out of the corner of my eye I watched him toddle off in the direction of Dublin where he would be a guest analyst for a Six Nations rugby game that afternoon. It was now safe to double back to my little baby Honda!

After Rory McIlroy I was more determined to get Stephen's portrait right. The task here was not so much a likeness but the numerous creases on his green international rugby shirt. I spent a lot of time trialling my fingers over soft pastel and getting my blending smooth and graduated before I tackled the main painting. I didn't want it to look airbrushed, I wanted a measure of rough, male macho-ness in there that befitted a tough guy like Stephen and I hope the painting did him justice. I was pleased with the outcome, the jersey and scrum cap look authenticate enough, the creases work and don't look awkward. He's bulked up around the shoulders as he is wearing padding beneath the shirt.

THERE'S ONLY ONE STEPHEN FERRIS  [shot through glass]  2015
While I was in Dawn's Monday night pastel class finishing off Stephen one of Matthew's helpers noticed my painting. Impressed he took a photograph with his iPhone and sent it off to the great man while telling me he had been Stephen's rugby captain at Friends School in Lisburn and knew him very well. So the legend that is Stephen Ferris definitely knows this painting exists.

I can only guess he's still too much in awe of me...        

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Rory (Me and golf have a history!)

Put a football at my feet or a rugby ball/cricket bat/tennis racket in my hand and I'll do all right – I'll not embarrass myself. But please don't let me swing a golf club. Don't even mention that perhaps I might perchance make up a foursome ever again.

Just as I'm picking the ball out of the hole after another inglorious triple bogie, I hear a suited gentlemen with a business-like English accent questioning if I was using Nike golf balls – the type Rory McIlroy uses. I obviously answer incorrectly as instead of getting a year's free supply of golf balls he issues me with a petition signed by fifty irate residents fed up with my wayward Nike balls smashing into their conservatory windows, taking slates off their roof, leaving pimpled dents in their top of the range cars and in one instance killing Thumper* a much loved pet rabbit. I am lost for words as he serves me with an injunction banning me from using their company's brand of ball and from setting foot in Balmoral Golf Club again. Yes, me and golf have had a history! 

I also have a history of getting soaked at Ulster rugby games and Boxing Day 2014 was no exception. Ulster were beating Connacht at half time when Rory McIlroy appeared out of the wet, misty night air at Ravenhill to be interviewed during the break by the BBC. The unwitting person in charge of music at the ground deserves a blooper medal for playing the very inappropriate 'Sweet Caroline' at the very time the interview starts and with us all joining in the chorus (as we always do). Our World Number One golfer, who had split with top ranking Danish tennis player Caroline Wozniacki earlier in the year, could only laugh rather awkwardly at this unfortunate coincidence and probably recall she hadn't sent him a card for Christmas.

It dawned on me during the second half, with Ulster struggling on the field against their mid-table rivals, that I should do a pastel painting of our local born embarrassed hero with the challenge being that it should actually look like him! I googled his name and called up hundreds of photographs featuring Rory teeing off with a wood, playing an iron shot from the fairway, a sand wedge from a bunker and a putter on the green.

After a while it became apparent I wanted a close up. The best of these were the drives, the crisp iron shots and I lightboxed five after narrowing the search field down.

RORY McILROY  [ with more than a hint of my reflection in the glass ]  2015

I was pleased with most of the pastel, his club, jacket and hat look great but if Rory should ever see this he would probably want to sue me for the amount of poor plastic surgery he looks to have has undergone in my painting. No matter what I tried there was no getting round my shoddy below par performance here. I know where I went wrong and though it was too late for Rory it was perfect timing for the lovely Keira Knightly later in the year. Maybe I'll do another one of Mr McIlroy should he ever win the Masters! 

* Thumper wasn't really his name. I had to insert that to protect myself from physical damage should that little boy, whose pet rabbit it was, ever grow up to be a psychopath with a long lasting grudge for wayward golfers and a memory for names.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Curiosity the cat

I don't think anyone would say I was an animal lover! Small dogs growl at me, big dogs try to eat me while cats thankfully just ignore me and I them. Boo! That's why it was strange that my next pastel subject was a cat as I'd always sworn to myself that they were enough people out there in Pastelland doing cats and dogs for me not to join their parade.  

I'd just come back from Caroline's wedding in Manchester where I'd stayed with my brother Noel, his wife Jennie and their new cat, who probably had a name but I've forgotten it already! It was the first time I'd lived at close quarters with one of these self-occupied felines. I got to study 'nameless cat' close up and even, shock, horror started to take photographs of the ginger ninja as it posed in front of the window waiting for his staff to come back from their Saturday morning shopping visit to the Trafford Centre.

Taking photographs indoors is never easy and against the light is harder still. With a bit of Photoshop work I managed to get a decent portrait of 'Puskas' but it sadly wasn't good enough to make for an interesting pastel. Off to Fotolia photo library I tripped again, said hello to Gus, and made my way to the cat section where this lump of a fella with his luminous green eyes fixed his stare on me. I saved that scaredy cat look for future nightmares and hurriedly moved on to more genteel photographs of playful kittens playing with wool, cats trying to catch insects, cats wearing sunglasses and cats sprawled out suggestively on their backs trying to look sexy! I'll give that a miss thanks!

Nothing turned up however. If I had gone in search of an attractive Cat Deeley I ended up with a photograph of this hoodlum green eyed fatcat who had probably taken more than nine lives. I think I'll name him 'Curiosity' for that reason. He was purrfect however and I knew I could make something of him besides stew!

I started just before Christmas 2014 but Curiosity disappeared after a few catty remarks from a friend about the size of his ears. Never mind my feelings, what about the cat's!!! My friend could have whispered his thoughts rather than megaphoned them but he had a point and sadly no-one saw the poor cat for a few days after that. The rumours that he was seen wandering outside my local Chinese restaurant had no substance whatsoever. Neither the cruel people who suggested I had dumped him in the river Lagan or that I'd paid for a cat burglar to make off with him. The truth is I merely placed him in my green recycle bin and had the council refuse men take him away with other rubbish one Tuesday morning. Simples! 

Curiosity 2.0 began the second of his lives when I had to buy more Clairefontaine Pastelmat after the Christmas holidays.


If I thought getting Gus my favourite gorilla's hair unkempt enough was difficult, making Curiosity's fur soft enough was an even bigger problem. It was as if his father was a hedgehog! I had the feeling if I had tried to stroke the cat in my painting I'd have come away with scratches all over my hand. Trying to get the fur pattern the same on both sides was also a whole heap of fun and not one I felt I succeeded in. But I did love his eyes, his cute little nose and grizzly whiskers and that's what prevented me from drowning him and starting on Curiosity 3.0.

In closing I can honestly say that no cats suffered in the making of this pastel, so dear peeps, no complaints to the Northern Ireland branch of the NSPCA. Thank you!