Friday, 15 November 2019

Three new portraits

The joys and challenges 
of three new portraits

You'll find a suggestion of movement in most of my portraits, from thought-clouds to the free brush-strokes inspired by music or a musician. I surround the subject with his/her colours and vibes. Every new portrait commission brings a different challenge, a search for the essence of a personality, so I zoom in for clues from every detail. For example, everybody has eyes that are not quite the same. Eyebrows tell me a lot. The mouth is always moving or about to say something, and the smallest touch on either side change an expression radically. A tilt of the head to the right will express thoughtfulness or to the left feeling. So many decisions to make!

I spend about three weeks in an intense relationship, so to speak, with each subject, although I don't see them after the single sitting for sketches and photos. When the portrait is finished I feel privileged to have become acquainted at a deep personal level and to have revealed that there's so much more in my subject than you can get from a mere snap-shot. At the unveiling I love sharing the surprise and joy of recognition: "Oh, yes; that's me"!
Each portrait session becomes a conversation, in English or Dutch. In this watercolour (approx. 80 x 60 cm.) the fourteen-year-old son of my picture-framer is reflecting on the question I've just posed and is about to challenge me with some alternatives. He's sensitive, intelligent, deliberately casual and on his way to becoming a strong young man.
Photo: Peter Elenbaas
The colours in this portrait (approx. 70 x 50 cm.) reflect that this dear friend is a nature-lover and a spiritual person. In that gaze is the reassurance that she sees your need. With her strong and sensitive hands she gives holistic massages from the heart, with wisdom, love and humour. What a gift she has!
Above is one of the largest watercolour portraits I have ever made (114 x 60 cm.) - the commission was for a painting from top to toe. To engage with this journalist I got her to interview me, resulting in a critical yet enquiring gaze, her sense of humour and her love for the recipient of the painting. There's a hint of the winged feet of Mercury, the Messenger of the gods, surrounded by activity. Yet here she has come to a standstill, with an expression that betrays that she really is here for one man. And yes, it was a celebration for them both when I unveiled his birthday present. 
Here's the Link to my earlier introductory blog
 on other portraits and how to commission one.

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Creative freedom in 2019!

Creative freedom in 1990!

If you can't read this, turn it anti-clockwise. 
It says, of course 
Creative freedom in 1990

Thirty years ago, on my New Year's card of 1989/90, my long splayed brush was not just painting graffiti on a wall - it was my own simple way to slash through the wall of political and cultural prejudice, to freely calligraph a message of optimism, a call for creative thinking in whatever language you speak, write, sing, play or paint; a call to claim freedom from disastrous political systems. Today, that call needs  repeating: Creative freedom in 2019!

In November 1989 the Berlin Wall came down and we were all carried away with excitement about the consequences. That first celebration of German unity in Berlin saw Rostropovich playing the Bach Cello Suites at the Wall and Leonard Bernstein at the Berlin Schauspielhaus conducting Beethoven's Ninth Symphony with the final Ode to Joychanging the words from Freude! (joy) to Freiheit! (freedom). Here he is in action in 1989:


But despite our hopes and tears of joy, 
thirty years on, has very much changed? 
Let us not despair. 
These words must still be writ large on walls everywhere:
Think creatively! 
Think out of the box! Through the wall!
An edited version of my blog of 2015

Saturday, 5 October 2019

Painting Jessye Norman

Painting Jessye Norman

Watercolour 86 x 54 cm 1990, Birmingham Symphony Hall Collection

This painting carries emotional memories for me. It was commissioned in mid-December 1990 by Birmingham Symphony Hall, part of the pre-publicity for Jessye Norman's concert on June 5th 1991. If I remember correctly, I was given permission to sit in at rehearsals to make sketches in Rotterdam and in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, where Jessye starred frequently. And of course I listened to every recording I could find during the making of the painting.

My diary looked like a battlefield. My wife was touring Spain with the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra and I was holding the fort with the kids. I had run out of my favourite Arches' watercolour paper with the SatinĂ© finish that allows the washes to float on the surface with extra brilliance. With Christmas approaching, a new roll had not yet arrived. I had set myself the challenge to create clouds of golden watercolour that would spread in a way that would "breathe" the vocal sound. I had to breathe with Jessye to make the painting sing. There's a compositional diagonal that runs from top left down to Jessye's left hand, forming the corner of a pyramid that peaks at her voice, so that the eye moves forward into that rising cloud. 

I made the deadline, Jessye loved the painting and sat for a hour after her Symphony Hall concert, majestically signing my prints. Queen Elizabeth arrived a week later, to officially open the hall. Jessye was a hard act to follow.

Many have paid tribute to the phenomenal musicianship, supreme voice and unique personality of Jessye Norman, who passed away on September 30th. I share the intense sadness of this loss. Her charm, wit, intelligence and professional perfectionism also left an unforgettable impression on anyone who shared her company. 

One could make a dozen paintings of Jessye, and I wanted to do one more, a head and shoulders portrait. When we met for high tea in her Amsterdam suite the day after a concert in 1992, I was ushered in as Mr. Perryman. Of course I had to say "Just call me Norman". She laughed and told me that when she was a little girl they used to call her Norman. We discussed possible locations for a new painting. Tanglewood, Nice, Chicago, maybe? As we sat together on the settee leafing through my photo books on her lap, I was overwhelmed at the beauty of her African-American complexion and her dramatic expressions of appreciation. What a delightful meeting that was! 

Sadly, the portrait was not to be. Later that year my wife was diagnosed with leukaemia and I had to drop everything. Four years later it was Jessye's moving recording of Beim Schlafengehen (When falling asleep) from Richard Strauss' Four Last Songs that filled the church at Vivian's funeral service.

Here's the link: Four Last Songs

Sunday, 8 September 2019

The thrill of a portrait

Share the thrill of a lively 
watercolour portrait of yourself

Who are you? Who do want to be? I love sharing the thrill and challenges in the search for the personality and inner energy, as I work intuitively to figure out how to bring out the best in everyone who entrusts me with their image. You don't have to sit for long. While I make sketches and do a photo-shoot, we enjoy an relaxing afternoon of enjoyment and discovery. It always turns out to be a creative collaboration. My portraits are more than just a likeness. The moment of unveiling will give you a surprising sense of recognition and can be quite a moving, self-affirming experience.
Here are a few examples of watercolours painted roughly life-size. Standard measurements are approximately 65 x 45cm (26 x 18 inches), without mount or frame. I use Winsor & Newton watercolour on Arches satiné paper, all museum-quality materials, so there is no risk of colour deterioration.


I live and work in Amsterdam and have a life-time's experience of portrait painting. I must have painted well over a hundred. Many people are familiar with my portraits of famous musicians like Luciano Pavarotti and Yehudi Menuhin in action, but I've also painted very many lovely people with no claims to fame. More details and images can be found on my website at 
If you want to discuss a commission, just email me at or phone me: +31.650294233. 
If you can't come to my Amsterdam studio,  I can travel  to anywhere in Europe.