Sketchy details


I suppose the title should really be sketching the details but for the sake of an interesting title sketchy details seems more approprite and compelling.

For someone who has chosen a style of painting and drawing that is loose and almost shaky I’ve probably picked the most complex of subjects to paint. When it comes to painting steam traction David Shepherd once said that the combination of circles in all their varying perspectives and positions certainly provides a challenge to any artist.

From wheels to buffers and everything in between, I perhaps spend the most time planning and laying out a painting since getting those circles correct can be the difference between success and failure in my mind. That’s not to say that I will go all out to create the most technically drawn piece of art. Perfecting positions at the inital stages provides a guide to which my rather sketchy approach of drawing can follow. If you observe one of my paintings the final curves are by no means correct to the ninth degree but had they not been correct in principle the perspective would have gone out the window long before pen and watercolour hit the paper!

My most recent commission of a BR Standard class 4 2-6-4 is a case in point. As it’s Whyte notation suggestsa way to classify steam locomotives by wheel arrangement, it has 2 leading, 6 driving and 4 trailing wheels. Though not all are seen each never-the-less has to be considered to ensure the most accurate of compositions. Those circles are the essence of any engine, the driving force so to speak.

Then there are the cylinders that clearly define its type. The smoke box is surely, if you take Thomas the Thank Engine to heart, the face of an engine and the following curves of the boiler is most definitely the heart. All are circles, many face in opposite directions but all need to be somewhat correct. It’s like creating a portrait of someone incorrectly to the point where the head is larger than the body and their limbs defy physical capabilities. I add this reference as last night’s BBC episode of Big Painting Challenge is fresh in my mind!

So next time you come across a piece of steam engine artwork, whether it be a photo perfect rendition or an exciting abstract piece, take note of those circles in all their complexity.


Supporting the Society

Urie S15 30506 at Feltham Sheds - thumbnailEven though Steam preservation is more popular than ever and also more widespread across the U.K. sometimes it’s just not possible to experience this world. Perhaps where you live sadly doesn’t have a society near by. Or maybe the chores of day to day life prevents you from experiencing the joys, for some at least, that comes from witnessing a steam engine retracing a part of transport history. Having felt I had been in that situation of late I wanted to do my bit in some way to help this world come alive.

Recently I was considering where would be a good place to further the exposure of my heritage paintings. During one of my regular visits to the Watercress Line Website I noticed a donation request by the Urie Society. As the name suggested the society are in the process of bringing back to life, and service, two Robert Urie designed S15 class engines. Though I couldn’t make a financial impact in their fundraising I certainly could offer a painting to help! It was the obvious choice as following my schooling days at Perin’s School in New Alresford, which resides by the Midhants Railway, I was left with plenty of memories of at least one of the engines awaiting it’s previous restoration.

The long and short of it is that I pleased to say that the society were more than happy to accept a painting of, it was decided, Southern Railway S15 506. Or as it became in BR days 30506.

So the task began to create a painting that fans of steam would want to buy!

As always it was research time. From recent photos taken on the Midhants to faded images from as far back as the 1920’s, I amassed what I could to help capture the character and detail of 506. It was I have to admit as much about my thirst for historical information as purely acquiring references for the painting. I also wanted a challenge, as I always do, so decided to set the scene in it’s BR days which meant black livery. With a view dominated with black, greys and browns it would take that bit more planning and creativity to keep the final piece of artwork interesting to the eye.

A view was chosen of 30506 as she resided outside Feltham Sheds. Partly due to the number of photographs taken but also because this was the last of her locations prior to scrapping. Technical details were again important when making the initial drawing, making sure every connecting rod was present and all essential piping went to the correct place. But not so much detail that it became more of a piece of draftsmanship that artistic representation.

During painting washes of purple, brown, blue and red flowed together in varying amounts to make the S15 come alive as it was shown sitting in the light billowing smoke from it’s chimney in preparation for a days work.

So with all things done the painting now sits in a its 16 by 12 inch dark sustainable wood frame depicting a snapshot in the life of Urie S15 30506. A life that I hope will continue for many years when she goes back in service. And when people look back at 506’s history, perhaps because they too yearn for information, this painting will from time to time appear to help capture the nostalgia of steam.

In time prints of this painting will be available for purchase and I hope many will enjoy having a copy as much as I have enjoyed painting it. I’ll post details of availability when I have it.

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.

Steaming through the trees

Muffin at East Wheal Rose on the Lappa Valley Railway

It has to be said that most of my experiences with railway steamies has been of the full scale sort, 4ft 8 1/2 “ rail to the technically minded! But that’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed other forms of Steam Heritage, oh no!

This past weekend, having pondered over what family excursion to take on such a fine summers day, we took a trip down to the Lappa Valley Railway. It wasn’t that hard a decision really, after all the sun was shining, it had been years since our last visit and we had been kindly given a few free tickets.

For those not in the know, the Lappa Valley is a small 15″ scale miniature railway who’s short but beautifully scenic stretch follows along the old Chacewater to Newquay line near Newlyn East, Cornwall. The thought of enjoying a trip behind one of their lovingly tended steam engines, Zebedee which is a 0-6-4 Pannier Tank or Muffin which is a 0-6-0 Tender loco, was lure enough but this is only part of the experience. Like most parts of Cornwall the area is steeped in mining history and the Lappa Valley is no exception. East Wheal Rose engine house stands next to the silent boating lake that is the trains destination. I say silent but most of the time it contains a family or two rowing around to their hearts content! Before the GWR came along a mineral tramway supplied and served the mine from the 1840’s, possibly making this the oldest railway in Cornwall.

As a family man the day was certainly an enjoyable one, trains (Steam & Diesel) to thrill the kids (well the younger one anyway), more than a giggle or two thanks to the crazy golf and an inability to steer a canoe and a great park for kids big and small. As a heritage fan it was almost worth ditching the family, of course I wouldn’t do that, to explore the mining history and take in the atmosphere of this beautiful valley railway and it’s past. I also have to mention that it’s thanks to the great staff and owners that firstly this line exists and secondly that a visit can be so enjoyable!

It did bring one question to mind. Having achieved such a atmospheric scene from the ruins of railway history it makes you wonder whether so many other abandoned lines could have a similar bright future. Lets hope so!

From time to time you have to go out and find a Steam Engine

The great steam publisher and enthusiast Ian Allan once said during an interview in the 60’s that despite having an interest in Girls and Horses he found that from time to time he simply had to go out and ‘find a Steam Engine’. And to any real lover of Steam Heritage that certainly must be true, though to what degree they love steam over Women will always be a subject of debate!

This very weekend gone I found myself in just such a situation, finding steam that is, whilst heading home after spending an enjoyable day with another love of mine, and the subject of my day job, at the Gadget Show Live . It just so happened that along the way via just a slight detour was the The Watercress Line. Now we live in Cornwall I don’t have the luxury of regularly visiting this wonderful railway, does the Southern Railway have a equivalent strap line to that of the GWR (Gods Wonderful Railway)? With this in mind I wasn’t going to miss ‘finding steam’ no matter how brief it may be.

Eventually we arrived, after a two hour drive, and it was getting late but once I stepped out of the car and began to get the familiar smell of sulphur and steam I knew the detour had been worth it.

The day’s proceedings on the line had been focused on it’s successful Thomas the Tank Engine weekend event. Many of the engines quietly simmering in front of the sheds took on human qualities as the sported familiar faces that beamed out at you through the smoke! Not a scene Mr Allan would have experienced in his youth perhaps but thankfully it did nothing to break the atmosphere.

In just a matter of minutes my desire to spend some time by these giants and the environment they create around them was enough to quench my needs. For now at least. No time to sketch on a pad, no time to look at every inch of the engine, just time to soak it all up. Ten minutes later I was back on my journey. It did leave me with one question though. In this world of fabulous technology is this desire for days past becoming stronger or has it always been that way?

sketching by the line

Watercolour sketch of Standard 9F at the Watercress Line by Stephen Bedser; Cornishinc

So here we are, 2012! Already I’m planning the scenes I want to paint this year, deciding which events to attend, and all in all getting excited about the year ahead. So it’s time to write a blog once again, sharing my thoughts and activities with you.

But first a reflection on what’s gone on before. It’s true to say that my watercolours  have improved, sketches have increased and subjects expanded. In particular I’ve moved more into the subject I love, yes of course it’s still steam but more so in the direction of railway artwork. Thanks to my parents giving me a wonderful book of the work by the renowned artist Malcolm Root I started to hark back to my childhood love of rail steam. From the small shunting Tank Engines to the great Express Trains, there is plenty of inspiration to be had from those living, breathing locomotives!

I’ve been lucky enough to have been asked to paint a couple of long gone scenes from our countryside. It was wonderful recreating those sometimes sleepy village stations that were nevertheless the backbone of their communities, though Beeching didn’t see it that way. Just the kind of thing that excites me when I put paint to paper! From the Helston line in Cornwall, in part newly revived, to the romantic Meon Valley Railway in Hampshire, I have brought a bit of history back to life in my paintings.

Last year’s towering glory, for me, was the purchase of my painting of Droxford Station by the current owner no less! As well as hanging in the building it portrays the artwork will be featured on the front cover of a great new book about the station. I’ll report more on that when it is launched!

In the last few days of 2011 I returned once more to Hampshire, visiting friends and family and childhood haunts. And high on that list was of course the Watercress Line. With the attention of getting in a sketch I wandered down to the Engine Sheds to see what was about. Of course it was in a delightful sleepy state at that time of the year. All the engines resting from a hard years work. So sitting down on stacked sleepers I sketched and painted to the sounds of the countryside, oh and the bangs of metal on boiler that was emanating from the dedicated few intent on continuing their restoration project.

It was cold, sometime wet, but a joy all the same as the giant Standard 9F stood proudly in front of me as I painted the scene.

And finally a word has to be said for the men within Ropley Station inviting me in to stand by the coal fire. Thank you, I couldn’t feel my fingers at that point!

painting in a field of steam

A pending steam fair or rally is always an exciting time for me with regards to subject matter and preparing artwork to sell from within the hustle and bustle of the craft tent. From a personal point of the view the gathering of so many steam vehicles, from traction engines and wagons to portables and stationaries,  gives an opportunity to soak up an atmosphere that to the average person is long gone.

The long trails of smoke running across a field, men stoking fires and age old methods demonstrated, all make great subjects for paintings. Amongst the paraphernalia that I take with me to these events are numerous sketch pads, field paints and a nifty little japanese paintbrush that holds its own water.  With that in hand all that is then required is a suitable spot to sit and study a subject and thus I’m happy as larry! The little sketches I make are sometimes far more satisfying than final paintings. For the most part no time is spared for worry about quality or expertise, though thankfully for the most part they finish up being at worst satisfactory at best treasured pieces. But whatever the result from these drawing momentums most end up as reference for grander art.

It’s not just steam fairs that instigate a sketch and there after a painting or two. Following numerous walks over the years along a deserted Meon Valley Railway the sketches I have made have helped me gather together pieces of history. Forgotten platforms, misplaced sleepers and even column bases for station canopies have been useful in reference and inspiration for paintings. One such painting that benefited from sketches is a depiction of Droxford Station. Working from sketches, old black and white photos and other period views helped me complete the work featuring an old M7 Tank Engine.

In just over a week the Boconnoc Steam Rally begins (22nd -24th July), and I will be there, in the craft tent selling my work and out and about, noting, sketching and remembering, in preparation for a painting yet to come. If you happen to be visiting this great event drop by the tent and say hello, painting can sometime be a lonesome vocation and all comments and conversations are welcome.

Droxford Station on the Meon Valley Railway – Painting by Stephen Bedser