When I talk to people about the competition I often start by saying its been a “rollercoaster ride” (which is very funny as my entry to the competition was a painting of a rollercoaster). The rollercoaster feeling kicked in more strongly following my win at Greenwich. The prize was a trip to Macedonia to paint a commission for the Imperial War Museum, commemorating a long-forgotten battle of the First World War.
This presented me with a big problem – a massive fear of flying that meant I hadn’t flown in 10 years. Weirdly, I had already decided to tackle this long-standing fear as I had already accepted some work in Prague and flying was the only option. My lovely cousin Vicky kindly paid for me to attend a fear of flying course, which was booked for the middle of September. Little did I know that I would need to fly for a very different reason. After winning the final, I cancelled my work trip to Prague, knowing that I now had to fly to Greece. Thankfully the course was a brilliant success and I approached the trip to Macedonia confident that the flying was doable and decided to keep my fears secret from the crew.
Then rollercoaster did its thing again! A couple of days before we flew out, I injured my back to the point that I could not walk more than 5 metres. I visited the chiropractor and got some major meds for my back, but still had to be transported onto the airplane in a wheelchair. My fear of flying didn’t get a look in as I crawled onto the plane and was quickly moved to the front where I had a whole row of seats to myself – result! Upon landing in Thessaloniki, my first job was to visit an Osteopath my friend had recommended then take a taxi to the beach so I could at least have a little swim before the work of painting and filming kicked in.
Considering we were only away for five or six days we did so much. This included exploring Thessaloniki port and the old town, meeting Alan Wakefield IWM and Salonika Front expert, visiting the church at Smol which Stanley Spencer used in his Travoys painting, being denied entry into Macedonia (!), attending a memorial service at the Dioran Memorial with the Duke of Kent, meeting with family and friends of the Salonika society, travelling to Rocky Peak and Kosturino ridge on a tractor trailer and so many other things! After the Greenwich final I remember thinking “last years winner went to Jamaica and it’s sandy beaches, and I’m going to a battlefield!” but I have to say that this was quickly replaced by a genuine interest in the Salonika front, the stories, the people and the life of Stanley Spencer. It was such a rich mix of history, geography, art and humanity that I quickly connected with the job at hand and all the possibilities for the commission.
A photo diary
There were many opportunities to draw and paint, starting with the port and a quick charcoal sketch of the white tower across the bay.
Later that day we travelled to the heights of Thessaloniki and I painted the view of the city and out to sea. Thankfully the competition prepared me for some very fast painting and during this trip and I often only had an hour or so to produce something!
You can see this little painting in the photo of all the paintings I completed (so far)