‘We argue like cat and dog, but I like working together’

LIKE FATHER LIKE SON Rob Waterfield, left, with his son, James.  Picture:  Sarah Standing (113906-7152)
LIKE FATHER LIKE SON Rob Waterfield, left, with his son, James. Picture: Sarah Standing (113906-7152)

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Art teacher James Waterfield can remember seeing his dad, Rob, painting from a very young age.

A carpenter by trade, Rob had really yearned to be a cartoonist and could often be found with a paint brush in his hand.

So when James was still a boy and Rob needed a hand with one of his projects, it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to invite the young lad along.

That was more than 30 years ago and the father-and-son team have been painting together ever since.

But while James, now 44, started out filling in the gaps for his dad, the pair now play an equal part in the works of art they create.

Take a trip down to Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard this winter and you’ll find one of their latest large-scale murals brightening up the attraction’s Boathouse No7 restaurant.

James and Rob have just finished a 40ft x 8ft mural depicting folk legend Robin Hood and his merry men of Sherwood Forest.

The large screen will take centre stage during Boathouse No7’s themed Christmas dinners – and for 75-year-old Rob and James, both from Portsmouth, it was a great chance to work together once more.

‘When he was about nine, James was good for what we call blocking – filling in the gaps on the background with things like the sky – while I got on with the finishing touches,’ explains Rob.

‘Now we both do the finishing touches. We argue like cat and dog but I like working together.’

James adds: ‘We both have our different styles and that’s why it works. It’s that traditional thing of following in your father’s footsteps I suppose, like learning a trade.’

The pair spent more than a week working on their Robin Hood mural last month and proved to be quite a hit with the dockyard’s visitors, who would pop back to see what progress they’d made and have a chat about the project.

And plenty of people got to see them engage in a spot of good-humoured banter as the mural began to take shape and they disagreed about aspects of their work.

James started working from one end and Rob took the other until they met in the middle.

It’s possible to see who has done what because their styles are so different. While James’ part of the mural is darker and focuses on the night-time scene of Sherwood Forest, Rob took a lighter approach and depicted the merry men in the daytime.

James, a teacher at Park Community School in Havant, says: ‘We finished this one in about nine days.

‘We’ve been doing murals together for years. The most recent one we’d done before this was for the Royal Submarine Museum in Gosport. We did one for their pirate exhibition and that’s how Boathouse No7 found out about us.’

When Boathouse’s manager, Jonathan Mulgrew, saw what they’d done, he commissioned them to create a Pirates of the Caribbean-themed mural for the venue’s 2010 Christmas party season.

It was such a success that the pair were invited back to have another go.

The pirate mural was painted over giving James and Rob the blank canvas they needed to start all over again.

And this time they used the venue’s own staff as inspiration for many of the characters.

‘We did lots of research because it was a medieval theme,’ adds James.

‘We were using lots of browns and greens and painted in the background first.

‘Once we’d done that we chalked in the composition of the characters so we could see it was going to work.

‘When you’re working on something so large you can’t really do sketches first because it needs to be life size.

‘Once we’d drawn everyone in we could paint them, taking off things like glasses.’

In 2002, Rob and James worked together on a Pompey-themed mural in Specks Lane, Fratton.

Featuring lots of the club’s most famous faces from the past, it soon became a hit with fans.

Rob says: ‘I’ve been painting all my life. I took my fine art degree when I retired. I got my degree in 2007 and did my masters in 2009.

‘We’ve painted murals everywhere from people’s homes and gardens to Specks Lane and the Kings Theatre.’

The pair are already thinking about what next year’s Boathouse No7 mural should look like – although that decision will depend on what theme the venue picks for its 2012 Christmas party.

Jonathan says the spectacle of watching Rob and James working on their mural was almost as popular as the end result.

‘We wanted something really dramatic,’ he explains.