I adore painting in oils and there’s one aspect of illustration which has always fascinated me – the barely discernable transformation of rock into cloud, and I’m talking about paint here as the active ingredient – not dynamite!

When I was a kid my father had a copy of John Miltons ‘Paradise Lost’ illustrated by the sensational Victorian painter, John Martin. Have you ever seen his magnificent, and enormous, Biblical paintings? There are, or were, a few in Tate Britain – go and have a look – they’ll take your breath away.

I was captivated by Martins illustrations. Gustave Dore is the better known illustrator of this work, and they’re good, of course they are (I have a copy) but pale into insignificance in comparison. I’d stare for hours at Martins work – totally captivated.

Around 1970 things went tits-up for the Bonner family fortune. My father was a technical author and, with his meticulous eye for detail, and equally meticulous use of language, I suspect he was a pretty good one*, but alas, he wasn’t a sufficiently good businessman to print and publish his own work successfully. We hit rock bottom – and no clouds involved!

Living in a box.

Everything went briefly into storage. All our books were boxed and went into a friends garage. When they eventually re-emerged it wasn’t immediately noticed that titles were missing – amongst them ‘Paradise Lost’. My father, always the mild mannered gentleman, wouldn’t investigate, he wouldn’t even ask. “No point, son. It’s annoying but there was nothing of any value.” Boy was he ever wrong.

A few years later I was in Guildford, our local County Town, and wandered into the cavernous second-hand bookshop at the top of the High Street, once a Masonic Hall, and asked, just on the off chance, if they they had a copy of Paradise Lost illustrated by John Martin. Not at the moment, I was told, but do yourself a favour and in the future dont ask for it by name, just scan the shelves – they may not know what they have. He explained that they’d sold one just a week previously – for two grand. This was in the early seventies remember and £2,000 was the price of a new car!

Paint your own!

I painted the picture at the top of the page about fifteen years back. I was showing some promise as a clairvoyant in my teens, until I came into contact with some very unsavoury individuals and slammed the door firmly shut. That said in 2006 or 7, after a glass or two of Chianti and a spell of meditation on, of all things, the creation story ‘Genesis’, I was distinctly shown an angel – right there across the room – large as life and twice as bright – it surprised the life out of me! Well, what do you do if you’re a painter? You reach for your paint brushes, well, when the shocks worn off anyway! Thus ‘Light-bringer’came into being.

It’s unashamedly Martinesque in execution – although on a much smaller canvas (both literally and figuratively) and whilst it lacks much of the grandeur and majesty of the great mans work I was, and remain, chuffed to bits with it 🙂 It sold pretty quickly too, very quickly actually, which is always a bonus.


‘Light-bringer’ by Steve Bonner. Oil on canvas. 20″ x 24″ (or thereabouts) Uncropped by WordPress’ irritating ‘Featured Image’ function. Why does it do that? By the way, you can have a print of it if I can ever find the file.

*Teenage Brinkmanship

I’ve always had a fondness for anything aeronautical and living so close to Farnborough, in Hampshire, I would almost always find myself at the International Air Show when it came around.

One year, I’d been wandering around the big marquee with a pal, (I was about fourteen) and was showing him an ejector-seat on the Martin Baker stand, explaining how the oxygen bottle had been repositioned as it had, in it’s previous location, continually fouled the back of the cockpit during ejection. A none too pleasant experience for the already distressed pilot.

Unknown to me, the Martin Baker rep had heard me treating my undoubtedly bored friend to the entire tutorial. “How the devil did you know that?” he asked, more indignant than intrigued. “Well, you know how these things are!” I replied, smiled sweetly and walked off. God, but I must have been an objectionable little shit!

Thanks for the heads-up in response to my “What are you writing now?” enquiry, Dad, and the Official Secrets Act can’t touch you now, bless you 😀

Pip, pip, thanks for reading.

Two of John Martins masterpieces.

Left (above on a phone)The Creation of Light. Mezzotint from Paradise Lost.

Right (below on a phone) Joshua commanding the Sun to stand still. Oil on Canvas.