Paintings inspired by photographs

My portrait of Sally Moore sadly did not make it through to the final 55 from a submission of around 2400 paintings for the BP Portrait Award 2014. Try again next year!


I am carrying on with other projects.

Is it creepy to take photos of people without them realising that you are doing so? Looking back at photographs I’ve taken in the past few months, I see that I do indeed seem to be rather fascinated by people, going about their business or gazing into the middle distance. I have sometimes gone on to make paintings of some of them and am hoping to do more.

My recent painting “The Street of Bitterness” is a case in point  and here is another image that I would like to recreate in oil paint. I was travelling past this man’s house and took a shot whilst stopped in traffic (I was not the driver). I was struck by his sombre expression and his stillness, staring out form an upper window, watching for someone of something unknown.

window portrait
He waits for whom?

I will most probably just paint the figure and the window but I want to keep the sense of looking upwards at is face.

The young men in uniform (personalised of course) making a racket on their way home from school, look so irresistibly vibrant. The photo was taken in one of the poorest districts of Havana, Cuba where every child has free education and uniforms.

After School
After School

Watching and rocking at his post the shade, the guard sometimes appears to be asleep but who could blame him, its been a long day.

The Guard and the Bell
The Guard and the Bell

The Street of Bitterness – painting

I managed to trace the steps I’d taken as I wandered around old Havana, these people are standing in Calle Amargura, outside the Conde del Castillo restaurant which is within the Marqués de San Felipe y Santiago de Bejucal hotel on the corner of Calle Amargura and Plaza San Fransisco near the port.

I was struck by their expressions, a mix of boredom, anticipation of the hard work to come during the busy midday period and their suspicion of me taking their photographs. They made such an interesting composition, the two men looking over the woman’s head, the pot-bellied chef’s whites stark against the dark background, that same darkness almost engulfing the taller man, concentrating the eye on his upward-pointing arm resting on the door frame.

Amargura translates as Bitterness.

The painting is not quite finished, a few refinements and adjustments to make yet.

Street of Bitterness

“Break-time” painting

I’m taking a break from painting the portrait to let the oil paint dry for a couple of days. Here’s what I’m painting instead, three restaurant workers taking a break before the lunchtime rush in old Havana, Cuba. I was aiming to take the photograph without them noticing me, shooting from the hip but the woman caught me, though she didn’t seem to mind too much. I have just laid in the first colours, lots more detail to fill in. Its a small painting, only  30x30cms.


Cuba – Trinidad

Trinidad is very different now from its heyday during the height of sugar cane production in the surrounding valleys. It is now a UNESCO site and much of its building stock is being restored albeit slowly and there are museums on archaeology, colonial architecture and history. An architectural historian’s experience of visiting Trinidad.
I wandered the streets seeing how life is lived today and imagining what it might have been like 200 years ago.
It is hard to imagine such times, where now the main industry is tourism, most locals are employed in the servicing of the tourist industry or making and selling trinkets on the streets to the passing crowds.
It is a vibrant town, colourful and busy with musicians playing everywhere, in restaurants and cafes as well as on the street. Salsa is danced every night on the steps of the church, life is lived on the street where people congregate to watch passers-by and to catch the breeze.

Cuban band
The band Grupo Ensueño in a restaurant playing for us whilst we ate delicious pizza.
street musicians
A man teaches his son to play guitar on the steps of the church just before sunset.
He sits outside watching, she stays inside and pops out to check on him every now and then. He sits  there only in the afternoons after the sun has moved around.
A typically colourful street scene in Trinidad, most houses are painted in bright colours, it looks vibrant and bold not at all cute.
horse-drawn carriage
Horse-drawn carts are a common sight, hooves clanking on the cobbles and with a cloth canopy to provide a patch of shade.
Wandering the streets I came upon this iguana sitting on the edge of the road, I was cajoled into taking its portrait along with its owner. I was stupidly nervous of the creature, it’s skin looked unpleasantly both papery and greasy.
The shady side of the street painted blue by the flowing water.

Children play everywhere in the streets, happy and safe, motorised traffic is banned from the centre of the old town so the streets become a playground.

This little boy and his friend were trying to fly a kite between the steps outside the church and the large cobbled square. I watched them, full of energy as only small boys can be, running up and down the steps trying to get the makeshift kite to fly, never disheartened by their lack of success. Several passers-by walked straight into the thin pale kite-strings, not seeing them in the bright sunlight and got tangled up.
The little dancer, oblivious to any audience, twirled and posed in a world of her own.


The two girls are forcing the younger boy to play wheel-barrow, the cobbles must have been painful under his hands.
Later they switched to carry him between them, each holding a leg, the poor boy nearly doing the splits.

I stayed in a Casa Particular  “Casa Carlos Sotolongo” on Plaza Major – the Cuban version of a bed and breakfast house. In Trinidad, these are often grand houses full of antique furniture, china and glassware imported by the Spanish plantation owners in the 19th Century. They usually only have one or two bedrooms for hire and modern bathrooms have been added.The hosts are very happy to cook for their guests, breakfast is included but they can provide lunch and dinner as well.

casa particular
A room in the historical museum set up as it would have been in times gone by, the Casa Particular I stayed in was similar though less grand.
Lunch at Maria’s Casa, barbecued pork steaks with an array of side dishes, including pounded plantain, the slices are flattened with a mallet and then fried. We also had yucca – a little like steamed potato but with much more flavour – with fresh home-made pork scratchings – delicious. We had dinner there one night too which was a banquet with lobster, beef in a rich sauce, white fish fried lightly in butter and so many side dishes we thought we would burst. Then the compulsory ice-cream and cigars for those who partake.

Hostal Maria and Enddy, 407 Calle José Martí, Trinidad, Sancti Spiritus, Cuba.
Email enddymar[at] Look them up on Tripadvisor


From the Historical Museum tower you can look out over the town, the streets curving round the hill, towards the Valle de los Ingenios, the valley of the sugar plantations.

Plaza Mayor from the tower.
Plaza Mayor from the tower.
A grand house on the corner of Plaza Major, two stories and with a balcony and intact original painted floral ornament! Most houses in Trinidad are single storey, the grander houses are two storeys and very occasionally they have three.
Sunset at the Plaza Mayor
Catching the last rays streaming out from behind a perfect cloud beyond the Plaza Mayor
The best salsa dancer in the Palenque de Los Congos Reales, always laughing.

Cuba – Grilles

Traditionally houses in Trinidad are high single storey in long terraces running between the cross streets . They have grilles, rejas de la ventana over their tall windows and wooden shutters, contraventa inside. Historically these grilles were made of wood, madera, in simple rod-like designs or for the Spanish sugar barons, ornate turned verticals and carved top and bottom boards. Grilles were also made from wrought iron, hierro forjado where the iron-workers were adept at making wonderfully decorative swirls and details, latterly grilles might be made with simple rebars (reinforcement bars) barras de armadura, efficient but not as attractive.

Just an old grille photographed from within a moving coach but it sums up for me all the things I like about grilles, the rusting iron, the crumbling walls, the late afternoon shadows and the traces of light blue paint over the original brown paint on the wooden shutters.
Walls the colour of really ripe lemon rinds, doors the colour of old schools utility brown.
A modern grille, what flights of fancy here as well as a fine example of drawn thread-work in the curtain too.
Sunray arch above and peppermint toothpaste coloured walls.
A modesty screen made from wooden louvres with a flourish of carving to decorate the top.
The owners spent their extra cash on an air con unit instead of new shutters!
It seems that some time ago the owners decided not to repaint the shutters light blue to match the plastered walls  but I love the faded paint.
So ften as we drove past a doorway, we would see a figure held behind their rusting grilles, just once in a while a hastily taken image would be in focus. Here the colours of the woman’s  flower strewn top shone out like a beacon against the unusually pink-painted grille..
Again photographed from a moving coach, I just missed the whole of the painter’s body and the grille but the modern design and bright red paint are good even if not wholly visible.