In July 2019 I participated in Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year, this time my heat was held in Newcastle upon Tyne and Gateshead.
Above shows the view I and fellow contestants where to paint, the glorious Tyne Bridge. Luckily the weather was super, a little breeze but nothing to worry about. My entry for the competition is below, a view from the Rockerfeller Center in Manhattan, created after my trip there in March.
This is a mixed media work on paper, using a mix of graphite stick, compressed charcoal, acrylic pouring medium, acrylic, biro and marker pen.
Receiving the news that this picture won me another chance on the show was an absolute thrill and I relished the opportunity to work with the team again. Driving up to Gateshead the day before gave me time to see the other heat taking place at the now iconic ‘winking’ Millenium Bridge.
Not sure whether I would be painting this structure, I checked the bridge’s operating times to see if it would move during the day, which would determine if I was able to work slowly on a work on paper, or fast and gestural on a board. After having a super fish supper, yum, I then witnessed the pods being moved by truck up the road towards the main bridge! I felt relief at this, as the new bridge was a very tricky object to depict. Here the older structure, set against some superb architecture, made me feel more at home.
Some practice pieces before the heat:
For the heat I decided to bring with me my trusty, albeit rather old handmade easel that I built out of my dad’s old stretcher bars when I was fifteen. It worked a treat, holding up my board on which I had a primed A1 sheet of thick watercolour paper. The production team looked a little nervous at this however, and remarked that the breeze might blow it all down. I had a handy screw to fix my board to the easel – I wasn’t worried ;-).
What was more of a worry however was to decide the format shape of my painting. The view before me of the bridge and surrounding buildings seemed to require a fat oblong shape. I had come to the heat with A2 and folded A1 sheets, thinking that overall I would be working within A2 size. However this format proved too slim, not allowing for the height of the bridge to be depicted at the scale I wanted. So I resorted to unfolding a sheet of A1 and was able to work on that (alas with a crease in the middle!!). All of this was decided through quick sketches first to save time on the proper job!
Prior to my trip to Gateshead I wanted to look into the history of the area. In 2017 the Tyne Bridge was symbolically aligned with the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, as part of the fiftieth anniversary of the visit to Newcastle by Dr Martin Luther King. Similar in design, the bridge in Selma became a notorious flashpoint for the civil rights march of 1965 that involved Dr King, Rep. John Lewis and countless civilians in the state that called for the right to vote. The events of Selma have been brilliantly retold in the graphic novel trilogy ‘March’, with super illustrations by Nate Powell. I haven’t ever really considered graphic novels before, but I do now!
Considering the state of the British weather this summer I think that we were very lucky in Tyneside. Not too warm, not too cold, and not wet!!
The first hour of working was quite tricky, particularly in capturing the angle of the bridge relative to where I was standing. What I found quite surprising was it’s great height, very imposing and dramatic. On the paper I used soft graphite stick, charcoal pencil, a limited palette of acrylic colour and acrylic pouring medium. The medium is great, it gives flexibilty to mark making and, when it is worked into charcoal, provides a satisfying range of warm greys and blacks. As minutes turned to hours I increased the amount of paint, adding subtle colour to the bridge and nearby buildings. Detailled areas were then added using sharpie makers (ordinary ink and biro does not hold well over acrylic medium). I felt happy with the overall effect at the end of the day, trying to capture the grace of the bridge with a rusty, industrial look. It didn’t convince the judges alas. Oh well, never mind!
As at Inverary last year, the day was expertly managed by a great team; they know how to make things run smoothly! Thanks to them for looking after us geniuses. It was great to see Kathleen again, and eventually to have a chat with Tai. I think Stephen was impressed by my easel 🤔…