by Red Ochre
Since I was an apprentice painter it has always been my notion that any
artist or group of artists who want to visit the fields to paint should be
shot at, frightened off, rather like you would do to any normal farm pests.
Not to kill of course, though that may improve society in the long run but
it is still murder. But I will say nothing against a
farmer who loosens a few rounds in the artists direction so as to make them
take to their heels.
Knowing that I am a famous artist you might think this is rather strange but
I have a good reason behind saying as much. Of course you all know and love
old JMW, as we called him then (JMW Turner) of the 'Snow Storm' and 'Frosty
Morning' fame and John Constable, who I still bump into now and then at some
of those RS (Royal Society) do's ... then there's old Wilkie who died first;
well to cut a long story short, they were all there and so was I
I was still in my teens then, the master's, (JMW's) apprentice you might
say. We all met at Pepworth Castle and set out on that freezing winters
morning with easels, paints, charcoal, notepads, pencils, crayons, etc and
all the other paraphernalia that I was assured we would need. I must say my
pack seemed heavier than there rest when it got light enough and I could
begin to see anything through the snowstorm.
When I first joined up with his Honour, Mr. Turner, it was as his helper and
apprentice. Later I met Mr Constable and Mr Wilkie and I was as proud as I
had ever been in my life. They all admired my poor little sketches with
their oohs and ahhs and said I might just make an artist if I applied myself
to the task. My first employer a well known farrier on the Pepworth estate
he had talked to Lord Egermont who in turn had persuaded Mr Turner to take
me on. First though I was sent to Lord Egermont who had emphasised to me
that it was just a tryout. I had known of Mr Turner from my time spent
running messages for his lordship and this warning made me even more
determined to succeed.
"We need good men and I think you'll do," Mr Constable told me, rather
sternly on that particular morning as we packed our gear. "But you are to
watch close and follow orders. I told old JMW I believed you had the makings
of a fair landscape painter and I would watch out for you, don't go and
disgrace me now and make me regret speaking up for you."
"I won't, Mr Constable, I'll make sure I watch close," I replied, not
entirely sure what I need be a'watching
"If you get gored by a wild boar, don't sit around complaining, either," old
Mr Wilkie chimed in. "People survive goring by wild boar fine, if they don't
Mr Wilkie loved the wry joke and he only said it to josh the me. I recall I
grew solemn and my eyes opened even wider. Being gored by a wild boar on a
painting outing was something I hadn't quite expected to contemplate so soon
"What's the procedure, then?" I asked. I recalled the ever serious Mr
Turner had mentioned there were procedures for every eventuality,
particularly in plain air painting, and I meant to do everything in my power
to avoid being gored, but in the event it occurred I still wanted to know
what steps to take, or not to take
Just hold your tongue and try to smile after the goring, Mr Wilkie told me,
all the while doing his best to keep a serious look on his face. Later the
surgeon will likely come and patch you up when the tavern runs out of ale or
whenever else he has a spare sober moment.
Why did you tell the boy that? I overheard Mr Turner ask able Mr Wilkie
later when they were standing together. Of course the lad will moan if he
gets gored by a wild boar.
No he won't, because I instructed him not to, Mr Wilkie said. But if I get
gored by some wild animal will hear some mighty fine moaning and yelling,
you can bet your white lead on that.
My job on the painting expedition could have been classified as 'general'
but mostly consisted of carrying heavy loads, running messages and ferrying
hot drinks food about when the weather got bad like it did on our first day
out and we lost our way. Then it got so cold then that I wished I had stayed
home in our warm blacksmiths shop. Proud as I was to become a painter, at
the time I was doubtful I could survive the conditions. I got so cold in the
night of sleet and in the bitter morning wind that I even forgot to be
afraid of being gored by some wild boar, or even death for that matter. All
I remember I could think of was how nice it would be to be back in a warm
house with a roaring fire in an open hearth. It was so cold at the time it
wouldn't even snow, and my teeth would ache with it. I only ate when I
escaped the wind and even then I would open my mouth just sufficient to
sneak the food between my blue lips. I didn't want my teeth to freeze worse
than they were. At the same time Mr Turner kept painting.
Mr Wilkie, who also seemed able to ignore the cold, noticed me sneaking in
the tiny morsels and decided a little more teasing wouldn't do me any harm
"You ought to duck your head down into your vest if you are going to try to
eat in this wind," he said, "If you ain't careful maybe your tongue will
just snap off like a stick. I recall hearing of a case like that once."
"Snap off?" I was horrified. "How could it snap off?"
"Well, the man in question just opened his mouth a little too wide while
asking for another brew of tea or suchlike and his tongue jest snapped right
off and fell rattling into his tin cup, it bein so hard you see."
"What the cup?"
"That, and his tongue."
All this I told my new friend Mr Constable a little later and the painter
had to ask me to repeat it since my lips barely moved in my telling
"Your tongue is inside your head my boy," he pointed out. "It's got
protection in there. Your fingers and toes ... or your 'pecker' - well now,
they be an' entirely a different matter. Now one of them might just snap
off, an' no artist will be any good in front of a blank canvas trying to
paint a nude with his pecker snapped off. It's very hard to concentrate.
So for some hours I stood back in front of my easel with my hands covering
my 'pecker' my fingers got so cold I almost wished they would snap off, just
to relieve the pain.
None of the four of us was as happy as me that afternoon when the sun
finally came out.
"That old yellow sun, its finally come out again," I says to Mr Constable. I
always despised cloudy weather, but I had never despised it as much as when
we were out painting that time.
I smile now as I just remembered the old sun when we escaped the blizzard.
Now I am older and you know why I can only paint with the shades pulled down
and a warm fire in the grate and one hand on my 'pecker'.
Red Ochre (Big red) is an occasional writer for 'BLINDEYE'