Going round the bend


Sketch of South Tin Crofty Mine by Stephen BedserYou know, one of the joys of painting can be the wealth of subjects just waiting to be immortalised on paper or canvas.

One of my painting passions, if you haven’t guessed from previous blogs, is capturing the remaining signs of Cornwall’s mining past. The fact is that I’m spoilt for choice really, so well built were the engine houses and surrounding buildings that even though in some cases a hundred years or more have passed they are still a dominate part of the Cornish landscape.

But for me this sometimes presents a dilemma. What do I draw? I grab any opportunity I can to do a sketch of what I see in front of me or draw a representation of an old photo but I don’t always have ample time to complete each piece. Given the time I’d just sit and draw until I could draw no more!

Just the other day I passed a view I had seen many a time on my local travels. South Tin Crofty Mine outside Redruth has both it’s Man Engine, which transported miners underground, and the Compressor House still standing. The latter sports some rather ornate brick arches which I had been meaning to draw for some time now. Having been presented with a short break between meetings I considered stopping off to capture the scene in my sketch book. But which building should I draw?

Whilst heading over the idea of a fisheye lens style piece popped into my head. On the relatively small space of a sketch book I could draw both buildings by bending the scene thus fitting the relatively wide view onto the page.

The sketch was brief, from pencil to ink took little more than 15 minutes and applying the ever changing mixes of watercolour perhaps another twenty. A storm had just passed giving more than a glimpse of blue skies, though standing still left me in no doubt that summer it was not as the bitterly cold wind whipped around and dried the paint at an alarming rate!

Sketching and painting whenever I can keeps me focused and keen. A week without producing something can result in an artist dark age that I sometimes find difficult to recover from. In this case a single piece of art has inspired me to do more, so that can’t be bad.

Click on the above image to see the full piece in its ink stage. You can also see the final colour version by visiting either my Twitter or Facebook page.


Breathing new life into old views

Wadebridge Station Office on the Bodmin & Wadebridge Railway

Wadebridge Station Office on the Bodmin & Wadebridge Railway

One of the pleasures I get from painting heritage scenes is the feeling that I’m contributing to the historical records of a particular place. For instance by taking a fuzzy 19th Century photograph and referencing later views or by comparing similar locations of later origins, to perhaps get a guide to colour, the hope is I can breath a little more life into a scene so long gone.

A case in point followed a recent visit to the Bodmin & Wenford Railway when taking the chance to enjoy a ride on the visiting Steam Rail Motor. The railway, in one direction terminates at Boscarne Junction but it’s well known that that wasn’t always the case. The line around Bodmin has seen a multitude of layouts thanks to the devices of the Great Western Railway, the Southern Railway and even earlier by the Bodmin and Wadebridge Railway. All this history was sauce for the goose from my point of view! So following my trip I hit the books shops and Internet sites with an eye to exploring this rich locomotive history more.

After many an hours reading pleasure and squinting at small photographs I came across one such photo depicting the remains of Wadebridge’s earliest station. Well I call it a station but these where undoubtably the days when rail traffic was biased towards freight rather than passengers but nevertheless a station it was. The photo showed the office building which even at that time was showing signs of neglect, it was exactly the kind of view that I’m attracted to.

The chance to paint a scene that has rarely been seen and certainly shouldn’t be lost in the swirls of history provides me with the kind of challenge that I soak up. So of course I put pen to paper and paint to brush to capture this view that was once part of people’s everyday life. A place where men and women went to work or passed by as the cautiously crossed the rails.

I guess in many ways I seen my art as archaeological visualisation, as I try to capture what once was with a little artist flair. Hopefully others will take note and most importantly will remember our rich past. They certainly stay fixed in my mind when a painting is complete.

Trainspotting the wrong way round

Battle of Britain Class 34067 Tangmere passes through Truro

The title to this blog isn’t intended to suggest that something is wrong with the world of trainspotting today but rather alludes to the fact that our perception towards the love of Steam Engines is, certainly for the younger generations, very different than it was in it’s hey day.

Boy that was a hefty introduction paragraph but the reason I say this goes a bit like this…

Last weekend was a bit of a Steam Celebration around the Redruth & Camborne area. This all centered around the now famous Trevithick Day, marking the wondrous achievements of the Cornish Inventor and Engineer Richard Trevithick. Lead by a fully working replica of his Puffing Devil there is much to enjoy during the event. With a grand parade of many a fine Traction Engine, the Bal Maidens and Miners Dance led by Camborne Town Band and of course a Male Choir or two you can easily be transported back in time.

Sadly I had ‘prior engagements’ that day so I was in Truro for the most part. That said one thing I did know was that a Steam Tour was passing through that afternoon, and I certainly wasn’t going to miss it.

So there I was, hovering tentatively next to Truro Station’s level crossing, waiting for the special whilst my youngest 18 month old daughter made Choo Choo noises. In a timely fashion the double headed train appeared over the viaduct. Most would marvel more at the great Austerity period built 70013 Oliver Cromwell but it was Battle of Britain Class 34067 Tangmere that made my day. You see last time I saw this beauty was way back in the eighties on the Watercress Line. It spent most of it’s time awaiting restoration. Now it simply blazed in all the glory of a Steam excursion.

It was then that it hit me. Way back in the 1960’s when Train Spotting began adults and children alike would wait on platform ends, hoping to see their favourite engines, one more number ticked off in the book or another photo for the album. But for them, over time, they watched as these engines fell from being in pristine condition to near on objects of abuse. Filthy, tired and destined for the scrapyard. Not having been there I can only say it must have been disheartening.

In these more modern days we have the luxury of witnessing the reverse, albeit in smaller numbers. Over the last couple of decades rusting hulks have appeared on lines once abandoned, looking sorry and seemingly beyond repair. With love, care and funding they are slowly restored to near on factory condition. In some cases never a condition that would have been witnessed by those early Trainspotters.

Whether this reversal has any effect on the experience of those who enjoy steam is a question for another day, or perhaps a one to be answered by your father or grandfather.

sketching the Flat Lode

It’s a fine day, big fluffy clouds are intermingled with patches of blue sky and I’m out continuing work on a new book featuring the Great Flat Lode in sketches and notes. I’m taking the highroad this time, though road would be somewhat incorrect as the path was in fact the old rail line used to transport ore from mines to the various processing areas that dotted the area. I say dotted, swarmed would be a better choice of words as even now the landscape shows numerous remains of these buildings of function and beauty.

As I walked alone the line whilst staring over the valley of Carnkie, across to Carn Brea and further still where the monument stood it was easy to envisage the scene a hundred years past. Thanks to the soundtrack of Steam Boy (Anime) pulsing through my iPod the atmosphere grew. Perhaps not something those old miners would have thought of but a welcome addition never-the-less. This protected industrial landscape is stunning, the mining cathedrals never cease to impress and I’ve painted scenes around the area many a time.

Finally I stopped at the remains of Wheal Bassett’s twin stamps engine. Having found a suitable stone free spot to sit and sketch from, hard to find in a mining landscape I know, I grabbed pencils, pens, paints and paper. This is what it’s all about! On location, recreating the scene that lies in front of you! I love the combination of stone ruins that still show the complexity and care that was undertaken during their construction. The wildness that recaptures mans efforts like the grand tree in Laputa pushing through the roof and beyond. All these things I try to include in my sketches. Hopefully, when gathered together, they will make an interesting companion to anyone who decides to take a stroll around the Great Flat Lode. For me it holds many more sketches and experiences, lets hope each one is as rewarding as this.

One of the sketches that make up the guide