Rachael Herman

Month: February, 2012

‘For England’

The boyf, who for some reason occasionally suffers from mild patriotic tendencies, greeted me today wide-eyed and bounding with news that the phrase, ‘For England’ has indeed changed his life. This particular phrase happened to be one that he saw screened during yesterday’s England v Wales rugby match at Twickenham.  I’ve always found it interesting how two simple words, such as the ones flashing cheaply on an advertising screen during a match, can evoke such a wealth of emotion and national pride. So interesting in fact that I thought I’d conduct a bit of research on the subject – I’m talking facts and figures here, not the philosophical or psychological implications of patriotism – you know, just for fun.

As we all know, the USA are pretty damn patriotic, which meant that it was no surprise when I discovered that they came joint top in the Forbes ‘World’s Most Patriotic’ list, 2008. Forbes also stated that in 2001, and again in 2009, only 1% of Americans would class themselves as ‘not at all proud’ to be an American; and in 2007, 81% agreed that the USA has the best system of government in the world. Lucky them. Now here are a couple of gems of pure unadulterated patriotism from the great nation. The first is relatively harmless and frankly a good way to make money out of such fervent national pride, whereas the second is just weird:



Joining the US at the top are the Venezuelans, who just can’t help but love to be Venezuelan. They come in with a rating of 3.73 in 1997 – the scale being 1 (not proud, just embarrassed) -4 (bloody proud).

On the other end of the spectrum we see that Britain, more specifically England, has not fared well the patriotism stakes. A survey conducted in 2010, with results published in the Telegraph, awarded England the title of ‘least patriotic country in Europe’, citing political correctness and a loss of national identity as reasons for this devastatingly predictable turn – out. Not to worry though, 40% of people questioned said they had no qualms about displaying their national pride in private or when it comes to supporting their team in a sporting event. What a relief. At least when it’s time for the Olympics 2/5 of us will be secretly cheering on the England squad. Only when we are doing well, mind. Those plucky Irish, however, simply can’t get enough of themselves – topping both European and World charts, according to the Telegraph and the 1992 World Values Survey, respectively.

Now all this is very well, however, ‘where is the artwork?’ I hear you cry – faintly, as you go to click on that ominous little red ‘x’ in the left hand corner of your Mac. Thankfully I have something up the sleeve of my artist’s smock (no, I do not own a smock). This talk of patriotism has happened to remind me of a photograph that I took last year whilst holidaying at Lake Windermere in the Lake District. Yes, I know that it is not an English flag that you see before you, but it is a display of patriotism at its finest, as I hope you’ll agree.

(For those of you who follow the comings and goings of the company, Windermere Lake Cruises – and I’m sure there are many of you – it will interest you to know that the boat/ship I was voyaging on was in fact following the route of the ‘Yellow Cruise’, sailing from Lakeside on the south of the lake to Bowness, situated in the middle on the Eastern bank. Lovely.)

Leonardo da Vinci, Painter At The Court Of Milan (1482 – 1499)

The exhibition that had been 5 years in the making; comprised of over 90 pieces, borrowed from 30 separate institutions and collections in over 21 different cities worldwide. Who’d’ve thought it would take this much doing to get this amount of Leo’s artwork together in one room? (And that’s not even all of it). Being a massive fan of the big man, I decided to pop along and have a look for myself (courtesy of the generous yet unsuspecting boyf)…

Skipping up the famous front steps of the National Gallery – with ticket in cold, clammy hand – it was only feverish anticipation that was running through my mind for an exhibition I had been waiting for what seemed like a decade to finally see. Having been kindly bought a ticket, I was confident that nothing could get in between me and my precious Madonna of the Rocks (Paris version, of course), however, it so transpired that I had misjudged this somewhat. Not only did it take us a good ten minutes to reach our supposed goal – involving careful negotiation of the heavily-coated, typically slow-moving tourists, interspersed with a frantic exchange of whispered directions from me to the boyf – but once we had reached it, it was only to be met by a kind-but-tired-faced guard who regretted to inform us that we were in fact in the wrong place. Where we needed to be meant retracing our steps back into the claustrophobic main gallery, before taking a few lefts, a few rights, some stairs and you’re there. Simple.

15 miles below the surface later and we had made it to da Vinci’s underground extravaganza. First impressions were pretty good and perhaps enhanced by the fact that we were able to breeze past the queues of fools who forgot to pre-book – also making up for the initial confusion of finding our way. The information leaflet told us that the exhibition itself comprised mainly of da Vinci’s work completed during his time as the court painter of Ludovico Sforza – the ruler of Milan – spanning from 1482 to 1499. Venturing in, we were enlightened as to exactly how much work that was. Reams of buff-coloured pages taken from his famous sketch-books paved the way through the semi-darkness – perfect conditions for viewing such delicately handsome artwork – pausing only for something grander and more colourful, those majestic paintings of his. I won’t spend my time nattering about each individual painting and sketch, as that is what the guide book is for – and frankly, you probably couldn’t care less – however I will provide a small lowdown on what I would consider to be the top three pieces.

At number three we have Saint Jerome (1488-1490), which provides that all important insight into the painting process of Mr da Vinci. The unfinished picture not only shows the master’s first laid darkened shadowy areas, but the beginnings of the desperation depicted in the penitant expression on the face of the Saint, sufficiently haunting the viewer even in its incomplete state. In addition, the physical contact that our subject has with the rocky setting makes direct reference to da Vinci’s obsession with nature and the way that it is so clearly mirrored in humanity. (For more information see Oxford World’s Classics, Leonardo da Vinci – Notebooks.)

Lady with an Ermine (1489 – 1490) came in at a close second. Here the immortalised-in-oil sixteen year-old, Cecelia Gallerani – a favourite mistress of the Duke of Milan himself, Ludovico – is seen to be clutching a pristine, white ermine. One can only marvel at the way Leonardo manages to nothing more than excel in his efforts to interpret the true innocence and exquisiteness of youth, using his famous sfumato technique. Slightly more in depth dissection of this piece can be found at, you guessed it, Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lady_with_an_Ermine

My favourite piece, though, had to be, The Burlington House Cartoon (1499-1500). This softly captivating charcoal and chalk sketch was a major source of inspiration for me during my Sixth Form years, where my foray into portraiture really began. Again, the sfumato technique so often employed by da Vinci undoubtedly leaps to the fore. There is veracious beauty to be found amongst the burnt charcoal, smokey sepia and ochre tones; the fluid movement of the drapery and the tender thoughtfulness of the composition – altogether portraying perfectly the unyielding bond shared between mother and child.

Disregarding the fervent jostling for position one was required to take part in in order to see the masterpieces on show – one would assume that the idea of the ticketing system would allow for more than a glimpse of the corner of a caption for a painting – the exhibition was well worth a visit. The sheer quantity of Leonardo’s sketches alone is enough inspiration to shake any complacent artist out of their stupor, not to mention the blindingly brilliant skill he had for capturing the very essence of the human form. I, for one, now vow to paint more and procrastinate less.

Pining for Summer

What with the sun finally deciding to peek its sorry face out from behind the clouds, and the joy I experienced in not having to dig my car out from its usual frosty lair this morning, I thought a few small piccies reminding me that Summer – fingers crossed – may well return this year were in order. And I hope to spend the majority of it in my messy garden, taking the odd snap or two.

Please excuse the state of the greenhouse shown in some of the photographs – judging by this you can clearly see that I am no gardener. I only hope that it does not cause offence to all you greenhouse fans out there.

The Painting Playlist

As most of you arty folks will agree, a good playlist is an essential part of the art making process. With this in mind, I will make it my mission to keep you all up to date with my own current ‘magic seven’. Whilst viewing the tracks below please bear in mind that there may be some, what could be considered, suspicious choices – namely beginning with a ‘K’ and ending with an ‘aty Perry’ – but this does not necessarily mean that they are any less inspiring than the more refined classical numbers.

Of course, if you feel that there are any tracks out there that would be deemed criminal if  not listened to due to their colossally inspirational content then any suggestion of your own would be greatly appreciated. Cough – One Direction – cough.


This is my latest project: a portrait of one of the inhabitants of a village in the Gambia where a friend regularly makes charitable trips providing the local school with teaching material, buildings for staff and seeds for self-sufficiency.

One of the pupils at this school is a girl named Ishia and she is, I believe, 10 years of age. Her piercing gaze and beautiful headscarf were two major influences in making the decision to paint her.

The piece is 65cm x 45cm and is oil on canvas board.

Paintings of Anna Shukeylo

This morning I happily stumbled upon this series of beautiful figurative studies by Russian artist Anna Shukeylo. Her marriage of expressive strokes and clever composition provide one with an thoughtful insight into human interaction – which can appear, at times, overwhelmingly blatant or otherwise reflected through quiet gesture.

An inspiring way to start the day in any case!

Paintings of Anna Shukeylo.

Watership Down, Richard Adams

So then, let’s get started shall we?

My first encounter with the Watership Down story was, rather unfortunately, courtesy of Martin Rosen, whose particularly disturbing film rendition lured one and all into a deep false sense of security with thoughts of fluffy white rabbit tales – and indeed tails – before unleashing lagomorphic insanity upon unwitting and innocent children, myself included. To this day the haunting notes of ‘Bright Eyes’ chill me to the very bone – something I don’t think I can truly forgive Mr. Garfunkel for. Not to mention those empty, staring eyes and gnashing teeth (of the rabbits, not Art), which are enough to place the humble bunny firmly at number one in Steve Backshall’s ‘Deadly 60’.

Anyway, I digress. The book is what needs to be praised and not the film dismantled. First things first: location, location, location. We initially find ourselves delicately dropped into the heart of the gloriously idyllic English countryside – you can almost breathe the fresh, evening air – next to our main protagonist, a rabbit named Hazel. Adams has no trouble at all in evoking feelings of joy and nostalgia with his intricate descriptions of the wildflowers in the hazy twilight – those hours in which one’s senses are heightened. Throughout the novel, one has an notion of being not just an onlooker but actually a part of the environment, a necessity if we are to buy into this world.

Now let us turn to the players themselves. An interesting observation I have made during my reading career – with regards to my own affinity for fictional characters – is that instead of becoming immersed in the campaign of the hero as intended by the author, I tend to develop an adverse penchant for the more troubled soul. I have even been known to share in the tyrannical glee of the main antagonist as he/she wreaks havoc on his/her victims. How naughty. Anyway, back to those troubled ones with prime example being the dark and fitful Fiver, who is perhaps my favourite character. His blatant struggle with that rare form of rabbit – schizophrenia is admirable, bless him, although there are moments when his melodramatic moaning about blood and nightmares does prove to be more than a little tiresome. Why won’t Hazel just listen for once so that all can have a slight reprise from the all rabbiting-on…?

Which brings me nicely to my first real point of contention: Rabbit tales – are they necessary? Could not Adams merely have popped a little sign on a cowslip next to the entrance of the warren, marked FIB (fable in progress), allowing for us to opt out of consuming these scraps of narrative doled out by dear Dandelion and to instead continue with digesting the juicy meat of the real story? No? Oh. I suppose that Dandelion had to have some sort of quality other than ‘he runs fast’. But seriously, I do believe that the omission of these rather drawn-out tales would do wonders for the pace of the main story.

To end this waffle I shall finalise matters by saying that, all in all, I found this book to be a wonderful and absorbing read with veins of melancholic beauty running throughout this enjoyable stay in the countryside; spanning the breadth of the valley, following the course of the river and delving deep down into the temporary abode of the warren. The delightful world of rabbit relations envelops the reader entirely, causing an insatiable desire to speak Lapine; Silflay in the moonlight with good friends and whisper about the latest exploits of the merciless General Woundwart, who is enough to drive anyone Tharn…

Bits and Bobs

A few odds and ends of sketches completed whilst either out and about (ie. the Holt park studies) or confined to the indoors on a rainy day.

Holt Park 1, watercolour on cartridge paper, 30cm x 20cm

Holt Park 2, graphite pencil on cartridge paper, 30cm x 20cm

Red grape study, watercolour on cartridge paper, 30 cm x 20cm

Ishia eye study, graphite pencil on cartridge paper, 30cm x 20cm

Reading List, Jan 2011 – Present

For those of you who are vaguely interested, I have compiled a bit of a reading list outlining the books I have already encountered, followed by those of which I intend to do the same; all in desperate attempt to become more cultured. At some point I hope to write short reviews on each book I have read – each accompanied by a small illustration, art fans, never fear  –  but all in good time. Oh, and yes, children’s books will of course be featured.


Watership Down, Richard Adams

To Kill A Mocking Bird, Harper Lee

His Dark Materials Trilogy, Philip Pullman

From the Edge of Tyranny, Edward Fraser

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

Life of Pi, Yann Martell

The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson

The Star’s Tennis Balls, Stephen Fry

Chocolat, Joanne Harris

Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte

The Fry Chronicles, Stephen Fry

The Colour Purple, Alice Walker

The da Vinci Code, Dan Brown

Before I Go To Sleep, S. J Watson

A Brave New World, Aldous Huxley

The Diary of Adrian Mole, Sue Townsend

Leonardo da Vinci Notebooks, Selected by Irma A. Richter

The Girl in a Swing, Richard Adams

The Hippopotamus, Stephen Fry

The Hunger Games Trilogy, Suzanne Collins

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer

To Read:

The Hobbit, J. R. R. Tolkein

The Turn of the Screw, Henry James

One Day, David Nicholls

Making History, Stephen Fry

The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith

Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden

Theaetetus, Plato

The Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham

Animal Farm, George Orwell

Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackery

Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy

Sybil, Flora Rheta Schreiber

Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell


Oil and acrylic studies focussing on the diversity of the Norfolk landscape. I am especially inspired by the seasonal change in colour, which is a notable feature in the first piece.

Bishop’s Bridge, acrylic on canvas, 80cm x 50cm

Lupin, acrylic on canvas, 70cm x 40cm

Letton, oil on MDF board, 20cm x 20cm