“The Old Dun Cow” is an old music hall song from the late 19th century about a group of men who are in a pub when it catches fire. Instead of getting out of the fire the men stay to take advantage of the free beer and spirits, and the song tells of their antics. I first heard the song performed by the folk band ‘Bellowhead’, listening to the tale evoked images of the pubs customers and their efforts to take advantage of the situation and although people are not my normal type of subject I couldn’t resist trying to represent them in paint.
I started by trying to work out the layout of the scene which included four drinkers and a pot-man. To get as much of the story into one frame I have played with time to show as much as possible happening at once and rearranged the layout and the perspective to show the firemen through the window. To fill the space more effectively I tried moving the people about, for example the figure second from the left in sketch number 1 moves from standing to sitting in sketch number 2, and the one on the far right goes from sitting to standing. The cat moves from left to right and as you will see in the next sketch below the man on the floor turns so his head is on the right, not in the middle of the picture. It felt more natural to have the man on the floor this way around if he had originally been sat at the table with his friends and to have the pot-man standing on the right helps to show that he is separate from the group and that he has just entered the room. Sketch number 3 was to work out how to show the shock experienced by the pot-man and how he interacts with the drinkers. In the sketch below I tried the pot-mans head in several positions and worked out a few other details before starting the final painting, you will note that the lamps still changed position and the window and firemen were added.
Some of the other things that I considered were the style of clothing and the lamps. The clothes, I think, could be from anywhere between 1880-1950, the lamps caused me more of a problem. Would they have candles or gas lamps? I don’t think it would be electric. Then I worried that if they were gas lamps in reality there would of been an explosion. I decided I was probably over thinking the small details for an image depicting a comic song.
The final image was as usual drawn out with watercolour pencils and painted with Daler-Rowney Artists’ quality watercolour paints on Bockingford 300gsm paper.
Here is a link for the ‘Bellowhead’ version of “The Old Dun Cow”, that inspired the painting.