Cosmetics, Charcoal and Champagne

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Cosmetics, Charcoal and Champaign

By Frances Penwiddy

Copyright © Frances Penwiddy 2016

Cosmetics, Charcoal and Champagne is a work of fiction and resemblances to real people or places is coincidental.

Explicit sex scenes and language make it unsuitable reading for minors so if you are under the age of consent, read no further.

Chapter 1

Most people hate Sunday, bloody Sundays the extended God Slot when everything shuts down or at best, runs at 25% for twenty four hours. Just as many hate Mondays, the start of the working week. Not me, I hate Fridays.

I can afford to hate Friday because I have no need to work and Friday is just another day, a day that usually signals the time when ‘After the office or factory shuts’ the pubs and clubs fill with crowds of ‘Lads Nights Out’, ‘Office Staff and Computer Geeks Wind Down’ gatherings and ‘Hen Parties’ of girls looking to attract the eye of a ‘Lads Night Out’ hunk to pay for their drinks in exchange for a one-off, quick fuck.

I have no need to work because both my parents left me well off thanks to the insurance companies and my parents conscientious investments and saving. When I say I have no need to work, that is what I was referring to, I have independent funds.

However, I do work, I work quite hard but I am in the envious position of being able to work when I chose and at a job I love; I paint. I paint landscapes as often as not, landscapes that are pastoral, pictures of farm workers gathering the harvest, sheep and cattle grazing, couples on a quiet river or lake messing about with boats and I paint them as impressionist, post-impressionist, (on occasions), pre-Raphaelite and sometimes, if I see an interesting person I will photograph them and their surroundings and take the photo home and use that picture to paint a pastoral image in the classic style. But, I have to paint and probably work harder in my studio or sitting on a river bank on a fold up canvas chair than most people work in their offices and factories. Not needing the money of course means I sell my paintings and I have quite a few people who follow my work and I have had four or five very successful private exhibitions. In the early days before I was discovered, (if that’s the right word, I prefer ‘appeared on the artistic scene,’) I sold several paintings to a greeting card publisher and they still sell well and my commissions keep rolling in and my guilt at my success increases proportionally.

I feel guilty because I became successful whilst I was indulging my hobby. I did attend art school, so I understand the technicalities and I have the gift of being able to capture an image, even the small details and store them in my mind’s eye. I have also developed a talent for being able to translate that image with my hands, brushes, palettes and paints into landscapes, figures, and occasionally a still life and people seem to like my translations and buy them. But most of the credit isn’t mine, God gave it to me when I was an embryo, I didn’t have to work hard for it, it was a gift. I do gain a little credit for working hard at art school and for learning how to master the skills needed to control the strokes of a brush or the mix of paints to achieve pleasant hues and combine them into beautiful pictures. I am entitled to pat myself on the back for that, it was my own work and dedication but I have never had to wear out shoes traipsing from art agent to art agent, gallery to gallery with a heavy portfolio of my work. It was the gift that enabled me to avoid going hungry and wearing worn out charity shop clothes like so many of my fellow artists. They kill themselves with their dedication, they constantly strive and when they do sell the odd work they spend a few weeks eating well and buying more art materials and clothes. Then they return to the grind, spurred on only by their desire to record life through their eyes using a canvas and paint, pencil or pastels whilst quietly assuring themselves that one day their dedication and love of what they do will be recognised, hopefully before they die so that they can at least enjoy the fruits of their efforts and sacrifices.

I paint for fun and self-satisfaction. They paint to survive. I am no better than one of the idle playboys or girls of this world who inherited wealth, titles and a first class education and then, when leaving university or finishing school, waste their lives away. They give nothing back. They spend their time perfecting the art of hedonism, wallowing in the mire of self-indulgence and contributing nothing to humanity other than keeping servants employed.

My one saving grace is that I do leave something behind. My paintings give pleasure to others and add to their comfort by increasing in value. Do I suffer for my art, do I feel hungry at times, ignored, considered little more than a dilettante in the world of art? I walk down King’s Road or past the art dealers of St. James’s and Mayfair and see a work of mine in pride of place and feel satisfaction when I read the inhumane price tag. I should resent the price and hurry home and work harder, much harder and produce three times more paintings, force the prices down and allow more people to share my gift but I don’t.

As likely as not I will steer myself in the direction of a shop that sells designer dresses, handmade exclusive silk lingerie, or baubles of a decorative nature, sapphires that match my eyes, diamonds and pearls that complement my complexion all held together by white gold, platinum or silver so that I may flaunt my wealth and success, indulge myself and then, feeling peckish, I will enter a fashionable eating establishment and order pretty little concoctions that cost almost as much as a struggling couple spend on food over a week. No, I don’t suffer for my art. I don’t even bother to do it if I’m not feeling inspired and even then, if I start a new work and encounter artist’s block, I just stop, sulk for a while, have a bath, doll myself up and go out clubbing, or to a theatre, cinema of just a walk in the park.

I am no better than the hedonists I mentioned earlier and should be punished as hard as they will be on their final day and even here I keep thinking of ways to avoid the stinking pits of Hell. I must find a way of being punished here, now, whilst I am still living. If I am punished sufficiently and forced to change my ways undertake a painting that would be unbelievably challenging and require the best canvas, the most expensive brushes and paints and take months of sixty hour weeks to complete and then make things more difficult for myself by adopting a change in my life-style, become one of those who serve rather than one who is served, then perhaps I will redeem myself and when I present myself to St. Peter, he will lift that Great Book Of Lives, find my name, read the report, smile and welcome me in.

The easy answer of course is to simply give my paintings away. Go to Hampstead or walk alongside the railings on the park side of Bayswater Road and ignore the tourist trade artists selling pretty postcards, cheap reproductions in plastic frames or the constantly repeated daubs in vivid colours, the pop painters answer to plastic flower vases and seek the real artists. The inspired men and women who wear carefully tended but old clothes so that on the Sundays they exhibit their art, they can try hard to look as if they do sell their work and give the impression that this is an artist worth collecting and when the day arrives that they are hung in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, the value of the unframed painting that was bought for a few pounds will rocket in value and the price be counted in thousands and then they will receive their deserved recognition as I have done. The difference being that they are giving up everything for the sake of their art, I was and am deprived of nothing. If I gave them one of my works they could sell it and use it to finance themselves make some use of the money rather than let it lay in a bank doing nothing else other than make more money.

It was on the first of these sacrificial walks that I spotted them. Two artists set up alongside each other in the section of Bayswater Road that runs between Queensway and Notting Hill Gate. They were chatting to each other in a manner that suggested they were more than just artistic neighbours, they were closer than that but not just lovers. She was wearing a denim skirt, unpatched but a little frayed at the hem though I suspect this was fashionably deliberate and the light synthetic top was almost bat winged which gave her arms room to move and was old enough to have become familiar with the body that it concealed and though loose in fit still managed to show off a slim and shapely figure. She was sitting at an easel drawing a charcoal sketch of a woman seated to one side of the easel and still managing to say the odd word to her neighbour. Even from the six or seven metres I was from them I could see a beautifully worked sketch and it wasn’t just the likeness. She had captured her model’s eyes beautifully and without my knowing her model I guessed that the woman would be an amusing conversationalist, even mischievous. I stopped a little way from her and continued to admire the brisk strokes of the charcoal on the cartridge paper, the occasional pause as she transferred the stick to her left hand and used her fingers and on one occasion, her thumb to rub at the drawing and turned soft charcoal strokes into a halo of dark almost smoke-like hair. Her skill was such that though working only with black, she managed to accent the woman’s eyes in a manner that made them glow with excitement. So good was the affect that I did wonder what the artist had seen in her model that made her draw out the excitement. I pondered if the woman was aware of it herself.

There was movement to my left and I saw a man stop to look first at an unfinished painting standing on an easel, a seascape of angry waves throwing themselves against dark unmoving rocks with a heavy grey sky above. There was a small gap in the clouds through which a baleful eye of sunlight seemed to glare with resentment at the waves and allowed it’s watery yellow light to highlight a rock surrounded by spray as a black and green wave attempted to smash it. The man looked for a few seconds and then stepped sideways and leaned a little forward to look at a completed and framed work of an entirely different scene. This was a landscape. In the foreground were hedges but from the perspective of the viewer the eyes were overlooking the hedgerow and across a meadow flanked on either side by oak, elm and ash trees. At the lower end of the meadow were sheep, a small flock all grazing and seeming to ignore the man and dog who were standing at the gate.

“Hope,” I said to the man.

“Hope? What makes you think the picture depicts hope?”

“And peace. Look at the way the sheep are still quietly grazing despite the presence of the man and his dog.”

The man nodded, “They obviously know him, I can understand their peacefulness but hope?”

“Look at the woman feeding the chickens in the farm yard, she’s smiling towards the man.”

“Yes I can see that but I’m still puzzled by your use of the word hope. Contentment, comfort perhaps but hope?”

“The tractor outside the barn. I’d say it was old, probably pre-war, no, definitely pre-war and look at the sky, just below the cloud. Aircraft, small aircraft.”

Again the man stooped forward, “I think they may be Spitfires or Hurricanes from World War II. That would explain the age of the tractor.”

“Yes, the end of the war or close to it. The fighters are in formation, a flight I think, so they are probably returning from a patrol and have either chased the enemy away or shot them down. The former I suspect because had they been engaged in combat, they would not be in formation, so neat in appearance.”

“They may be going rather than returning.”

“I don’t think so. The sun is to the southwest, probably early afternoon and the aircraft are flying away from it. Had they been going out on patrol, they would have been flying towards the sun, towards the English Channel and I suspect a great deal higher, probably above the clouds so they would have height advantage over any intruders.”

The man began to look again and after a moment straightened and looked at me, “Are you an art critic?”

“I am certainly a critic of my own work but in the sense you mean, no, just another painter.”

“I can see the hope now. There’s no urgency, no fear in the picture just peace and it must be close to the end of the war so hence, hope. Tommy will sleep in his own little bed again. The farmer will tend his sheep.” he quoted from the White Cliffs of Dover.

“And the farmer will be able to sell his wool to fashion designers like Dior and not to factories making blankets for our soldiers.” I’m going to ask him the price.

I took the four steps to the artist who was still standing close to his neighbour but had been watching us. “I’m interested in the landscape, the one of the sheep and the fighter planes.”

“I saw you and the man studying it quite closely. He glanced at the painting obviously thinking about the price to ask. He made up his mind, “It’s a good work, one of my best landscape’s I’d have to charge three hundred pounds for it but that would include the frame.”

“That’s a ridiculous price, I can’t pay three hundred. You did say three hundred?”

His mouth hardened and set into a straight line, “I don’t know what you people expect. It took me the best part of a month to get that picture the way I wanted it. A month of very long days. And before I attempted to begin the work I spent a month thinking about it, composing it in my mind trying to form the image that would tell the story I had inside me.”

“Hope,” I said, and the unfinished work beside it is Despair and perhaps anger.” I looked at his face and his eyes softened, the mouth relaxed and he nodded, “Hope and Despair as you say.”

“So it works out at seventy five pounds a week for the landscape, is that all you think it’s worth? I was going to offer three thousand.”

He coughed hurriedly, if he hadn’t I think he would have choked. “Three thousand pounds?”

“Yes and you can keep the frame.”

I heard the portrait artist giggle, “He isn’t very good at frames. I’ve told him to leave them unframed when he shows them but he never listens.”

I switched my attention to the girl, “I like that portrait you’re finishing as well.”

“I can’t sell you that, this lady asked me to do it for her I have a fixed charge of thirty pounds for pencil and forty for charcoal or pastel.”

I looked at the model, “If you don’t like it, I’d like to buy it off you; I’ll give you sixty pounds.”

The woman smiled but shook her head, “I’m afraid not, I do like it, I like it very much.”

“I can do one of you next, nobody is waiting.”

“One just like that in charcoal, but I have unfinished business to discuss with your friend.”

“Okay, I’ll wait, I could do with a break.” she blew gently on the now finished portrait before slipping it into a polythene bag and handing it to the woman with a smiled, “Thank you.”

I returned my attention to the landscape painter. “I’ll definitely have the sheep picture but wait a second whilst I speak to the other gentleman who was interested.”

I went back and he looked at me expectantly, “Did you buy it?”

“No, we couldn’t agree a price, I offered three thousand.” Well it was the truth, we hadn’t actually agreed a price, he wanted three hundred and I had offered three thousand, that’s hardly agreeing a price, is it?

The man looked back at the painting and bent forward again, “He has a good brush technique, a skilful artist and you’re right, the picture does speak of hope and I confess I like it. Would you mind if I offered him three thousand two fifty.”

“I can’t object can I, he doesn’t appear to have accepted my offer. See what he has to say.”

He went over to the artist and spoke a few words and the pair came back to me. “This gentleman has offered me three, two fifty for the painting but I explained, we have already come to an agreement and I turned his offer down.”

“We didn’t shake on it though, do you still feel bound to accept my original offer?”

“Yes of course, that was what you offered and you said you wanted it so it’s a contract as far as I’m concerned.”

I looked at the other bidder, “If I upped my offer will you bid against me again?”

He smiled, “Hardly the act of a gentleman if I did that after being told you had reached a verbal agreement.”

“I’m impressed with both of you and your senses of honour and feel as if I’ve fallen amongst gentlemen in the true sense of the word. I’ll increase my offer to three, four hundred,” and I held out my hand, “Let’s shake on it before somebody else turns up and outbids me again.”

I heard my opponent chuckle, “It is going to cost you though. Accept my offer of lunch in the Coburg Hotel and I will be a contented loser.”

“I’d love to but I was going to have my portrait drawn by my artist’s friend.”

“That’s okay, I can do it after lunch if you’re back by three.”

My new found auction opponent glanced at his watch, “An hour and a half will be time enough to enjoy a lunch and still give me time to arrange a dinner date for later in the week.”

“If not, do you have a studio somewhere?” I asked my landscape artist.

“In Hampstead, we have a converted mews garage.”

“That’s posh, a Hampstead mews address.”

“It was left to me by my father,” answered the portrait painter, “He used to operate a two car limousine service from it. It is only the garage though, not the mews cottage beside it. There’s barely enough room downstairs for the studio and kitchen, but we have a small sitting room, shower room and bedroom upstairs.”

“Still a nice place to live, do you ever show your work at the Hampstead open-air street gallery?”

“Yes, every Saturday and most Sundays we’re down here.”

“Don’t you have an agent or gallery handling your work?”

“I wish,” said the landscape artist. He pulled a card out from his top pocket, “Here’s the address, will about six suit you, Louise will still have enough light for your portrait.”

“Six is fine and I’d like to have a look at your other work if I may.”

“We’ll hang some up for you and get the easels ready. Thanks for buying Ronan’s painting and ordering the portrait.”

“I gave them a hundred pounds deposit and asked them to take my new purchase home with them and I’d collect it later and my new escort walked me safely across Bayswater Road and into the Coburg Hotel.

Chapter 2

“Miss Ormerod, Clare if I may,” began my escort as we studied the menu, “Now tell me what that was all about.”

I looked up from my menu, closed it and placed it on the table, did a quick run through my brain’s data bank to help me decide which mode I should be in and decided the romantic period would suit the occasion nicely. He was a most appealing man, a determined chin, generous mouth and sparkling blue eyes topped with light brown curly hair. “Sir, you have me at a disadvantage, you know my name but I do not recall our having met before.”

He bowed his head but there was a smile on his face, “Indeed I do know your name, though I confess to not recognising you until you went to haggle with the artist. You are a well-known person in the world of art despite being rarely seen at anything other than personal appearances at your public showings. I on the other hand, am only known to people in the marine insurance business. As for my name, it will sadly mean little to you; James Lugus Patterson, most people call me Jim, Jimmy or Sir.”

“I think Lugh is better or should I use Lug?”

“I would be happy to accept any name from you as long as we are able to arrange many occasions when your choice is used.”

It was my turn to smile, “That is the best chat-up line I have ever received. Now to answer your question simply; I liked the picture, I like the way it showed and spoke something of the artist, both pictures in fact, I liked the unfinished sea scape and am going to try and buy that later. I also bought it because I liked the way the artists were together A couple. A couple in love I would think and I wanted to help them and I thought three hundred pounds was a ridiculous price for something as lovely, as thoughtfully produced as the landscape. And the girl, Louise, she has the gift of being able to see inside people, to see things that they didn’t know they had hidden inside themselves. Together, they deserve recognition and I want to do what I can to help them gain that recognition.”

“He paints like you, places his heart in the pictures, tells the world about how he sees life and in a skilful and beautiful manner.”

“You bought two of my pictures a few years back, one of my earliest exhibitions. My second self-portrait and ‘A Visit from Cernunnos’.

He looked surprised, “How did you know that?”

“They were amongst my first sales. By sales I mean gallery sales rather than private sales. It was at the beginning of my recognition and I remember feeling embarrassed at the prices that the gallery were asking. I always keep the names of my buyers on file and when they allow it, I file their addresses as well and yours is a name not easily forgotten.”

“A detective as well as a brilliant painter. The Visit From Cernunnos is a self-portrait as well, a very strong statement from you about yourself, the God of Virility and fertility of re-birth and wealth which could mean success. The God of woodlands and wild animals and the way the stag is looking straight out of the picture at the beholder, you, is doing what? Speaking to you, reassuring you that all is still well? Trying to help you accept yourself as you are and not as you were?”

“That and telling me not to doubt myself, not to punish myself for having had such supportive parents, to have been left an inheritance that would ensure I could live well and afford to be who I am or continue to deceive myself. Telling me to make a decision that is not forced upon me by circumstances, the need for money, food, somewhere to live.”

“Why Cernunnos, represented by a male stag?”

“He was associated with them particularly and with all wild animals but he was also the God of the Underworld and crossroads and that was how I was when I painted the picture. I was at a crossroads and the Underworld was threatening me. It still is and I’m still at the crossroads, I’ll have to paint him again and see if he’s going to help me this time.”

“You could try painting Hermaphroditus.”

That startled me, “How much do you know about me. About me personally, not necessarily as an artist?”

“Nothing that is not already in the public domain. I remember reading something either on the web or one of the art papers about your sexuality, your intersexed condition, that’s all. The fact that it is in the public domain made me think it was okay to mention it in passing, hence the suggestion that you painted Hermaphroditus, I’m terribly sorry if I’ve committed a faux-pas.”

I thought about it for a moment or two and then I smiled, “You haven’t committed anything, you simply surprised me, you seem to know a lot about me, my paintings, my sexuality…”

“That’s all I do know, I haven’t been trying to dig into your past though I do admit wishing I could meet you and when I did recognise you earlier, I was delighted that I had done so. Again, I apologise for my clumsiness.”

“No, it’s okay, really, I don’t make a secret of it, I am who I am and if that bothers somebody, then it’s their problem not mine, I have enough problems with myself as it is.”

“A mixture of hope and what, depression, anger, uncertainty, guilt?”

“Guilt more than anything, occasionally anger but it’s directed at myself and of course uncertainty about what to do about myself, how can I make-amends, make a real contribution to society instead of being a very lucky, spoiled, rich kid.”

“But you do make a contribution, your art alone is a generous contribution and gives a large amount of pleasure to other people.”

“But look at how easy it is for me. I can sit and paint when I like, I don’t have to worry about finding a job, my parents left me very well taken care of and I do work hard. I worked hard at art school but never did I ever have to worry like those two we spoke to earlier. They are struggling to find enough money for food and art materials, I’m not. Their work is inspired by need as much as what is in their hearts, all I have to do is just sit or stand at my easel and paint my biography. I tell the world how much I don’t suffer…I don’t know, perhaps it would be better if I gave all my paintings to people in need, to public art galleries and do the same with my money and then try and survive as those two are. Every day having to make the decision on whether to buy a tube of cadmium yellow or a piece of cheap white fish to eat.”

We finished our lunch and left the Coburg and he stopped me beside the crossing. “I would like to meet you again, Clare. Will you have dinner with me one evening this weekend?”

“Yes, I’d love to. Somewhere quiet and you can tell me about you and marine insurance. Do you ever go to sea in a ship you’ve insured to make sure they are looking after it properly?”

He chuckled, “Only on the ships we are able to quote low premiums for. I’m too scared to travel in a ship if her premiums start going up. Would Sunday suit you, about seven or eight?”

I opened my bag and dug out a card, “That’s the address and if you like, we can eat in Camden Town, Hampstead or Swiss Cottage, there’s some nice restaurants and bistros in all of them. Eight would be nice.”

He hailed a cab, “Jump in, I’ll drop you off at Camden Town before going on to the City.”

“No, that’s okay, I need to speak to Louise and Ronan before I go home and I might do a little window shopping in Notting Hill.”

A cab pulled in responding to James’s upheld hand and stopped on the line at a green traffic light much to the annoyance of a following minicab driver who started blowing his horn. James ignored him, opened the cab door and smiled, “Until Sunday,” climbed in and the taxi pulled away as the lights turned to amber which annoyed the minicab driver even more because the light went red and he leaned out of the window of his car and started shouting terrible things about the taxi driver’s ancestors and their tendency to be born the wrong side of the blanket. The little green man came on and I started to cross the road wagging my finger in disapproval at the minicab driver as I did so. I reached the island and glanced in the taxi’s direction just in time to see James looking through the rear window and I gave a little wave and continued to the park side of Bayswater Road.

Louise and Ronan had started packing their easels and pictures into a tidy but very ancient Bedford camper van. I picked up one of the paintings leaning against the railings and grabbed a holdall full of paints and brushes and followed them. “Thanks,” said Ronan taking them from me, “Your picture is safely tucked away at the top end.”
“Guard it with your life and there’s something else I want. The unfinished work you had on the easel, don’t do any more work on it until I have another look this evening, I might have that as well but as it is, unfinished. You don’t mind me purchasing an unfinished work do you?”
“Well no, not really but why unfinished. I could work on it and have it done in a few days?”
“No, don’t do that, I want it as it is. I’ll explain this evening.” I peered around him to Louise who was on her knees tying the paintings to brackets on the Bedford’s wall. “I’m off to Notting Hill to buy some paint, I need carmine red and I might get a matching lipstick, is there anything you need?”

She grinned, “I’m okay for lipstick but could do with some more charcoal and black and grey pastels, sticks and pencils and I think Ronan needs a large tube of chrome yellow acrylic if it’s not too much trouble.”

“Right-oh. I’ll get a bottle of plonk as well and we can get drunk whilst you do my portrait.”

An hour and a half later with my shopping complete I hailed a cab and went home to Camden Town to get ready for my portrait session with Louise.

I kept my makeup light but slipped my travel kit into my shoulder bag in case Louise wanted to do something with my face before she drew it. I was going to wear a short denim skirt but Louise might be wearing hers so I spent a time looking through my wardrobes to find something suitable and finished up, more out of desperation than a sense of style, selecting a three inch above the knee deep burgundy skirt and a cotton, light grey blouse with a fairly plain collar, I didn’t want anything fancy competing with my face and a plain open neck shirt blouse was just right and if Louise wanted to include my neck, I would open one or two top buttons. I finished off with a chunky knit, tie belted long sweater coat and a pair of leather two inch heels in case we went out and had to climb the mountain that led up to Heath Street. I set off, getting off the bus at Hampstead High Street and walking past the shops to the narrow street that ran through to their mews.

When Louise had said it was a studio sharing space with a kitchen she had understated the case. It was two studios, an ad-hoc area behind them with a butler sink, double draining board three folding leg tables which were overflowing with brushes, tubes of paint jam-jars filled with more brushes, pencils and boxes of charcoal, bottles of turpentine, varnish and just about everything a pair of artists would need to paint anything between a portrait miniature for a brooch to the Cysteine Chapel, ceiling and walls.

Every inch of wall space was covered in paintings, sketches, half completed sketches and stacked against the lower part of the wall and resting on the floor were more canvasses, Daler boards, hardboard and unstretched canvasses. As for the ‘tiny’ kitchen, it was twice the size of ‘tiny’ and included wall cupboards and a small kitchen dining set as well as a paint stained washing machine, modern cooker and fridge freezer. “I thought you were starving in a converted shed not a bloody great ballroom,” I said.

“It’s all show,” protested Ronan taking the bottle of wine off me and helping me out of my woolly coat. “The freezer is full off blackberries from the Heath, frozen veg from friends with allotments, ice cubes and cold air and there’s a bit of cheese, milk, yoghurt and sour cream in the fridge but there’s plenty of coffee beans and tea bags.

“All the furniture was stuff mum and dad left me and upstairs only covers the back half of the garage, the rest is a sort of terrace garden where we grow herbs and tomatoes in Growbags and potatoes in a tyre barrel,” explained Louise.

“Why don’t you throw the lot out, fly-tip if necessary and open up a disco, you’d make a mint.”

“The neighbours might complain,” grinned Ronan. “And all our personal fortune is tied up in the canvasses, brushes and paints.”

“You’ve enough there to have a private exhibition.”

“If we had the money or found a fairy godfather to finance it,” said Louise, “Still one day it will happen and we do enjoy our work and have a bit of fun.”

“Whilst you’re starving to death.”

“Louise is a good cook and we do well enough with a bit of scrounging and picking fruit and stuff from the Heath and we manage to sell enough stuff to pay for the rest.”

Ronan opened the wine and we sat at the kitchen table after we had shifted some tubes of acrylic paint and brushes that needed a little TLC onto the draining board. “The ink drawings are yours?” I asked Louise.

“We polarise. Ronan does the oils and acrylics and I do the pencil, charcoal, pastels and ink.”

“What about the watercolours?”

Ronan chuckled, “We keep them for a day when we aren’t arguing about something and we both paint them.”

“We tried painting one together last year, a Hampstead Heath pond with fishermen and children playing. Ronan did the pond and background and I did the people. It worked out quite well but confuses our arty friends as to who did it. We don’t let on we both worked on it and they try to guess which of us is responsible for the work.”

“Do they get it right?”

“Only one. The others usually start arguing amongst themselves. There was another person who guessed correctly at first and then changed his mind when he studied a silver birch in the foreground and changed it again when he took a close look at one of the fishermen. We reversed our technique and Louise painted the tree and I painted the fisherman and he finally admitted that he wasn’t sure, it looked as if we had both worked on it.”

We finished our wine and Louise got up and took hold of a flower basket filled with pencils, charcoal and pastels and picked up a pad of A2 cartridge paper, “Paper or would you prefer Daler board?”

“Paper is fine, then I can make up my mind how I want it mounted and framed later.”

“Come on then, I can get the basics done whilst we still have enough light. We’ll go upstairs onto the terrace it’s a warm evening.”

There is much more to come about Clare, her art, her new friends and aboveallabout her new Beau.

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