Last Post (of the year, that is)

So here we are, it's the last day of the year 2012 and now that there's a bit of a lull (with Christmas over and the New Year festivities yet to commence) there's just enough time to fit in a final post.

What a wonderful 'family' Christmas it's been! I always find it so hard to get any actual painting or writing done during the holidays but I have managed a couple of commissions and cards:

and there have been plenty of opportunities to get creative in other ways:

As well as having to be very creative with the budget; finding (or making) and wrapping just the 'right' gifts, stocking the fridge and larder to capacity to ensure everyone has enough of their favourites to eat,

there's been the house to decorate; outside, with the door wreath and twinkly lights, and in, with the table top floral centre pieces, decking the halls (the balustrades) with holly and mistletoe:

 and of course the all-important star of the show; the Christmas tree!

That our 'children' are all grown up now changes nothing; they still expect all the traditional elements of Christmas magic to fill the house and the very fact they are happy (and, thankfully, able) to spend the holidays at home with us at all, fires me up with boundless energy and enthusiasm to ensure no-one will feel disappointed.

Inspiration for the Christmas spirit has come in bucket loads; from the many kindnesses of friends and neighbours, - including next door's very fat and cuddly cat. Paw-Paw,  who took up residence and simply refused to leave:

From the countless cards and greetings that have poured in from around the globe - and through the wonders of social media, over the internet too - which I'm afraid I myself succumbed to this year:

From many of the heart-warming films, dramas and Christmas 'Specials' that have filled our TV screens and sitting rooms with both laughter and tears throughout the season (including the thrill of seeing my daughter on the popular TV show 'Britain's Best Bakery':

From trips to the theatre:

the highlight of which was Matthew Bourne's simply magical new Ballet:

And finally from seeing all the beautifully decorated streets, shops and markets of this wonderful city I feel so fortunate to call home:


By the end of the Christmas Dinner, when I could finally loosen the waist band, kick off my pinching shoes, and sit back, I looked around at all the smiling, contented faces gathered around the table:

and my heart filled to bursting with joy and gratitude; all the stress of weeks of meticulous planning, endless traipsing to the shops and late nights, up to my elbows in Christmas lights, flour or sticky tape, simply melted away.....One thought prevailed above all else; 'Gosh! How lucky am I?' while remembering absent friends and departed loved ones:

 and offering thoughts and prayers for those less fortunate:

Of course, like everyone else, I'm sure, I've over-spent, over-shopped and, most certainly, over-indulged....but, hey, I can worry about all that next year. Today is a day I love because I can eat the very last of the mince pies, the Christmas cake and the chocolates totally guilt free as the diet doesn't start till tomorrow.....and I know, with a tweak or two, the camera CAN lie, thankfully! (suck in those chubby cheeks, Yvonne)

But Ah tomorrow, that special day, full of promise for a fresh start....a new beginning of a brand New Year. Who knows what it will bring? My lovely new wall calendar from 'Nostalgia at the Stone House' is waiting to be filled:

What I do know is that from the outset it will be filled with good intentions and probably impossible-to-keep resolutions.....My only hope is that, for once, I'll actually be able to stick to them!

No, that's not my only hope of course! Above all else,  I wish for a Healthy and Peaceful future.... for the whole planet....and, more specifically, for my loved ones and all my wonderful friends.




The Perfect Gift!

The weeks leading up to Christmas are always a busy time for me. Preparing for the forth-coming festivities apart, it's also when I receive quite a few commissions -  all of which have to be completed in plenty time to be shipped, gift-wrapped and placed under the client's Christmas tree.

Giving original art is a wonderful idea for those looking for the perfect but personal present. I never know what I'm going to be asked to do but portraits of people, houses and pets are the most common requests. However sometimes it's something more unusual -  and I always enjoy a challenge!

This latest work, just completed, is a first for me; it's a painting in acrylics, of an ocean going Merchant Navy ship, the 'Amalric', for a young man who wanted a very special gift for his grandfather who had served many years on this particular vessel in the Pacific:

(click on image to enlarge)

I was provided with an old photo to work from but being so old and over-exposed, much of the detail (especially in the white areas) was missing. This lead to a few hours research on the internet to see if I could find any other images and luckily I did. Although they were mostly in black and white and from a wide variety of angles, collectively, they provided enough information for me to work with:

I knew I'd have to be as accurate as possible with the aspects of totally alien (to me!) things such gantries and rigging etc and throughout the process I learned not only about the workings of these majestic ships but also much about their history. A whole world I knew nothing about suddenly opened up to me and the entire experience has been as enriching and enjoyable as making the painting itself.

I hope the grandfather will be pleased with his gift....I would love to meet him one day and hear all about is seafaring experiences (I'm sure he has some wonderful stories to tell!)  and, this being 'Remembrance Week' it seems a fitting time to be remembering our grandfathers (and grandmothers too!) and the colourful lives they've lead.....

If you would like to commission a painting for yourself, your loved one or a friend - please don't hesitate to contact me. However unusual your request, I welcome the challenge!

Now, back to the easel.....another commissioned painting awaits.....and another deadline approaches....



Brrr....Back home in London and Winter has definitely arrived! In the last couple of days the temperatures have plummeted, the pavements, awash with falling eaves, crunch underfoot:

and hot breath billows into the air from nostrils filled with a mixture of woodsmoke and a biting north wind.

Halloween is almost upon us - ghoulies and ghosties grin grotesquely from the shop windows and plump pumpkins and gourds fill the market stalls:

As if all this wasn't proof enough, this morning the clocks went back too. While it was a lovely opportunity to roll over, snuggle up and enjoy an extra hour under the duvet, the prospect of the dark mornings that ahead (and the even darker cold nights!) are not something I'm particularly looking forward to.

That said, this time of year does carry its own excitement; there is much to prepare for: Halloween, Thanksgiving for our American cousins, Guy Fawkes (bonfire night) and of course, Christmas!

Before I could make a start on any of that I had another happy occasion to look forward to: the arrival of a good friend's much longed-for first baby and last week found me precariously perched on a stool, finishing off the apple blossom tree mural in the nursery:

A beautiful baby girl arrived last Friday, a very special gift (for me as well, as it was my Birthday too!)

There are so many wonderful exhibitions to visit right now, I'm not sure where to start but I did manage to get to the MADE LONDON Design & Craft Fair in Marylebone this weekend. The ceramics, glass furniture and jewelry on display were simply breathtaking!

I'll keep you posted as I go, till then, keep warm everyone!


I'm starting to get itchy feet and hear those voices whispering again, the ones that tell me my little white Greek island house is calling me back. Spring must be in the air:

Photo courtesy of Mary Dillon © 2010

After the frantic city life I've lived these past few months, I'm longing to change gear now and begin slowing down again. I can't wait to breathe in some healthy, fresh salt sea air, instead of London's choking traffic fumes.  I'm more than ready to exchange the incessant pushing and  shoving of the thronging babbling crowds of this metropolis (exciting as it is despite its unrelenting 'noise'!) for some peace - and the opportunity to seek out my muse again and just paint in quiet solitude.

Ooh. Just the thought of it makes me anxious to return, to take long walks up in the hills and to be there to witness the first signs of spring; the anemones and asphodels that are surely ready by now to burst forth in their annual glory. Skiathos is so beautiful in the Springtime, carpeted in wildfowers, throughout  meadows and olive groves, fresh and intensely green - it really has to be seen to be believed:

 'Olive Grove in Springtime' © Yvonne Ayoub 2010

Just eight more days and I'll be on my way....

Time passes so quickly here in the city, perhaps because there's always so much to do and to keep up with ('pressure', yes, that's the word, unrelenting pressure!) whereas on the island, where life is so much simpler, the days appear to be much longer. In London I feel as though life is a futile race, one I'm obliged to enter despite the constant reminders that it's one I'll never win - and with so much that I still want to do,  that's a very real source of frustration. I spend most of my time here running around in circles but getting nowhere very fast and actually achieving very little. To make matters worse, I all too often catch sight of that frazzled, unfamiliar middle-aged woman with a deeply furrowed brow, in a shop window before the realisation dawns that it's actually me! Yes, me, dashing here and there, running on overdrive yet achieving very little in the process.

Well that's not strictly true.  The winter months are the ones I devote to catching up with family and friends which is always lovely and never long enough.....and it's also when I begin setting up for the year ahead: marketing, editing, maintaining my websites, advertising, printing, making new contacts and, time consuming as all that is (and a necessity these days for all artists), I do try to fit in some painting too!

Regular readers will know I had a commission lined up - a large wall mural of Tuscan poppy fields, for a London restaurant. Well, I'm sorry to say the job fell through at the eleventh hour (the owner decided to use wall paper instead)  I had spent considerable time on preparing a mock-up and was really looking forward to scaling it up (to 9 x 6 metres!):

 'Tuscan Poppy Fields' © Yvonne Ayoub 2010

So I can't say I wasn't very disappointed but hey ho... win some, lose some, C'est la vie......I guess.

But 'It's an ill wind......' as they say in Scotland and sure enough, a few days later I received an invitation to submit some work for consideration for an International Art Exhibition in Beirut, Lebanon. Organised by the Faculty of Architecture, Art & Design and the Notre Dame University (NDU). The 'Lebanese Diaspora' was to be the subject and being a topic close to my heart (with my husband being Lebanese) I threw myself into producing a painting that reflected my passion for his country and its people. This was the result:

'L'Esprit du Liban' © Yvonne Ayoub 2010
acrylics on canvas, 102cm x 76cm

and in case you're wondering what it is, this was the accompanying statement:

"This is a large painting of a small but very special piece of traditional Lebanese craftwork I purchased on my first visit to Lebanon in the spring of 1974, just before the outbreak of civil war. It has accompanied us on our travels, across many continents, for more than thirty-five years.

For my Lebanese husband it represents home, his people, the young boy he left behind. It’s a bit rough and ready but nevertheless thoughtfully, if haphazardly, stitched together, the colourful fabric: generations of lives inter-twined, bound by threads and woven inextricably to complete the whole: the family. Not worth much in monetary terms, yet rich with memories and love beyond measure.

Memories of his large extended family, deafening voices demanding to be heard as they gathered around a table laden with dishes of sumptuous delights, all lovingly prepared by his mother, sister and aunts working away in unison at the kitchen table; kneading dough, chopping parsley, squeezing lemons, crushing garlic and chattering, ladling and laughing, peeling and pounding – delicious sounds, delicious smells, permeating through pores, through doors, out into the street.

Memories of rainy days, filling buckets to the brim with tiny, shiny, slippery snails hand-picked from under the lemon trees, soaked to the skin, drenched but all discomfort dispelled by thoughts of the feast that would follow…. and sunny days, ice-cream days, sand in the toes and salty sea days. Sipping ‘Jallab’ through the pine nuts days.

Memories of fetching ‘Menakeesh’, piping hot from the bakery, nostrils filled with the comforting aromas of warm bread and sweet thyme (and hoping no-one would notice the one with the corner missing when he got home!)
Ah, happy days……
And the not so happy days: the thick smoke–clogged days, filled with black skies and white fear, days of running for cover, of cowering in basements, fumbling around blindly in the blackouts, days of aching hunger and hurt, thirsty days, days of waiting, of worrying, of weeping…….of wailing…..endless days of praying………..for the bombing to stop….for it all to end.

For far too many, it did.

For me, an ‘Ajnabeeyeh’, it represents all that I’ve come to learn about the Lebanese people: their vibrancy, their unequalled generosity and hospitality, their jaw-jutting defiance, their indefatigable humour, and how, just like their beloved county, they are full of contradiction. Their immense capacity for love and anger, for pleasure and pain, proud as peacocks yet humble as pie, flashy and gaudy yet supremely elegant. Even during the bleakest of times, somewhere the chic-est parties were in full swing. When days were darkest, their luminescence, their strength and endurance, shone brightest, and when all seemed lost? Well, they’d just pick themselves up and start all over again!

My painting is to show that even in the darkest of blacks, the vibrancy, the very soul of this unquashable nation will continue to shine in all its glorious, colourful splendour! It will survive! This is ‘L’Esprit du Liban!’

© Yvonne Ayoub 2010"

I was delighted when I heard it had been accepted and I'm immensely proud to think that between March 15th and April 4th, it will be hanging in Beirut City Centre! (Beirut Exhibition Center - Biel Entrance)
I've also had some smaller commissions, which I've really enjoyed doing,  paintings for wedding invitations such as this one of a church in Cyprus, where the ceremony will be held later in the year:

Aghios Georgos, Paphos © Yvonne Ayoub 2010
My dear artist friend, Mary Dillon, crossed the Irish sea and visited me on a couple of occasions and once again, together we did the rounds of the latest gallery offerings. We both particularly enjoyed the 'The Real Van Gogh, the Artist and his Letters' at the Royal Academy.

 It is such a beautifully curated and well-researched exhibition and his intimate letters, displayed alongside many of his less familiar works, was totally enlightening. It provides a completely new insight into the troubled artist we had both studied in the past, proving just how mistaken we were, in thinking we already knew all there was to know about him. How wrong were we! If you happen to be in London, I urge you to see this one, if you get the chance.

Vincent Van Gogh
Self Portrait as an artist, January 1888
Oil on canvas, 65.2 x 50.2 cm
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
(Vincent Van Gogh Foundation)

After treating ourselves to a lunch at the Wolseley, a favourite of restaurant of mine, just across the road on Picadilly:

Where I was reminded of a portait I had painted of my Mother following our last visit together there,

  'Mother at the Wolseley' © Yvonne Ayoub
 oil on canvas, 80cm x 60cm

We wound our way back through 'Shepherd Market' - one of my favourite 'hidden' corners of London that holds many happy memories for me. It is maze of narrow streets, tucked away directly behind where my old Ballet school, The Arts Educational Trust, stood at 144 Picadilly (until it hit the headlines for being over-run by squatters before being demolished to make way for the new Intercontinental Hotel which still stands today on Hyde Park Corner) and it is where, as a young student, in the 'swinging sixties', I had a part-time job in a very trendy boutique, called 'Garbo's'.
I spent many a long Sunday afternoon in there chatting to local residents who dropped in to pass the time while waiting for their big breaks into show business. Names such as Barry Humphries (Dame Edna), Simon Dee (remember him?) and the girls who made up Prince Charles' favourite goup, the 'Three Degrees'. Ah....... Happy Days!
The building is still there but my little shop is long gone. In its place today, is a pizza restaurant.

Wandering through the narrow streets we came upon a small gallery where three very different artists were showing their work :

South London artist, Stewart Ganley, graduated from the Hammersmith College of Art and, after joining the Merchant Navy and travelling around the world, he  worked for many years as a medical artist at Charing Cross Hospital.  He began teaching art in adult education and also runs classes and painting courses in France. He has work in private collections in Italy, Hungary and the UK. In 2009 he was awarded the Tom Money Prize for painting.
He works in oils and his wonderfully vibrant, loose, paintings are very atmospheric, perfectly depicting London Street scenes in our typically bad, drizzly, rainy weather.
You can see more of his work at : www.stewartganley.co.uk

  © Pravin Bhalla

Pravin Bhalla is a graduate from the Chelsea School of Design with a B. A. in Sculpture. He exhibits his beautiful bronzes in both India and the UK. He uses tribal casting techniques from the central regions of India, pouring molten bronze into terracotta moulds: the lost wax process, powered using natural resources in the Bastar, Indian tribal tradition. In Europe he has worked extensively on Art Nouveau restoration projects. You can contact him at : sculptorb@yahoo.com

Finally, Andrew Aarons FRSA, is an English/Canadian artist, painter and printmaker. He was showing a wonderful collection of works portraying music and musicians at work. One particular painting that caught my eye was his portrait of his son, a clarinetist. His fine work can be found on his official website: www.andrewaaronsart.com/

With the final stage of my building work in Greece to get underway (at last!), I am keen to get back and make ready for a new season of painting courses ahead. I also have another UNESCO Exhibition to prepare for in April and will post the details shortly.
On a final note, I have had many requests for prints and Greetings cards of my Skiathos (and other) paintings to be available in the UK ( thus avoiding the hefty shipping costs from my US sites). so I thought I'd better mention, just in case you missed it, that I'm happy to announce my UK Art Store is now open and although not complete, more work is added everyday.
Please feel free to drop by at: zazzle.co.uk/yvonneayoub*
and do say hello (or leave a comment ) if you do:

Thanks and keep warm!


All wrapped up....

Happy New Year Everyone!

Gosh! It's hard to believe almost a whole month has gone by since Christmas already!
We here in the UK, as you probably know,  were blanketed in snow for much of January and we got to enjoy a real white Christmas for once. I say 'enjoy' but it was freezing most of the time and it made life very difficult, if not impossible, for most, up and down the entire country.

My elderly father, who lives alone, took this picture from his bedroom window.   He was snowed in for several days and I couldn't reach him but thankfully his wonderful neighbours went out of their way to look out for him and often turned up unannounced on his doorstep with bags of groceries and even bowls of piping hot soup! My faith in humanity is completely restored, some people are just so kind!!

But looking through my photos again today, it was undeniably very beautiful too and, as all my time and creativity was taken up in the preparations for Christmas it left precious little time to paint. I did take plenty of photos though so I thought I'd share some of them with you this time instead.

We'd been invited to spend the holiday with friends down in deepest Oxfordshire so on Christmas Eve,  cars  packed with to the hilt with family members and plenty of festive goodies we set off, leaving behind our warm and cosy home in London just as the snowflakes were beginning to fall:

  As soon as we left the comparative warmth of the city behind we found ourselves completely immersed in the winter wonderland that was to become our home for the next few days and it was magical - in every way.
We had real trouble finding our way through the maze of tiny country lanes that were by now completely hidden under several feet snow and the drive was, out of necessity, very slow in such hazardous road conditions. So it was very late and completely dark by the time we finally arrived. And freezing cold. But once everyone had arrived safely and we'd all thawed out a bit, we gathered in the kitchen where a 'light' Christmas Eve supper (a  feast!)  of baked Wiltshire Ham, salads, cheeses and copious amounts of mulled wine and hot mince pies greeted us.

It was deliciously warming and very welcome after such a long and arduous journey. After an excess of food, wine and constant chatter, eventually everyone, totally exhausted but completely content, settled in for a long peaceful night  (so deafeningly quiet compared to a night in the city, I could hardly sleep!)

But the following morning, Christmas day, I was up bright and early. I threw back the curtains and blinking furiously, was dazzled by beauty of the scene that greeted me: the sheer brilliance of the white landscape stretching into the distance as far as the eye could see:

It was a perfectly clear and gloriously crisp winter morning and I couldn't wait to wrap up, don the boots, get out there, breathe in some still country air and make my mark on the virgin snow.
I tiptoed quietly down the stairs past the beautiful tree with all the presents underneath, wrapped and ready:

and, on reaching the front door, I found our hostess had had the same idea. So off we set together, before anyone else in the household stirred, sneaking out into the eerie silence like a couple of giggling schoolgirls. 
Dotted all over the snow were the tracks of all manner of wildlife: deer, birds,squirrels and rabbits mostly:

We trudged our way slowly and with some difficulty,  through the knee-deep snow towards the barn, to check on some young calves.

They seemed just fine, protected as they were from the elements in their warm byre surrounded by piles of steaming straw. They were very shy and not a little startled by our sudden, silent appearance out of nowhere!

We continued on our way, not realizing till we looked back, just how far from the house we'd ventured:

We climbed over the stile and into the forest:

and continued walking for an hour or so, soaking up the beauty of our surroundings, enjoying the peace and tranquility. The sun began to shine and eventually, thinking it was time to start heading back, we made for the rear garden:

passing the frozen pond

we reached the house and taking a last look behind us

and feeling totally exhilarated (London seemed a million miles away!) we went in, happy for the rest of the day to see the snow but through the windows -  from the comfort and warmth indoors.

We were met by our now assembled families, all up, dressed and eager for the day's festivities to begin.

With three generations all living so far apart these days, and each of us caught up in our own hectic lives, having the chance to be together again and really enjoy some quality family time altogether, is what made this Christmas such a special one for us all - it really was a magical and most memorable time........I hope yours was too....

" "