With the Paint Out Norwich competition concluded I’ve spent a couple of days recovering before typing up my hand-written notes. I wanted to say a little about some of my paintings and thought I would do some short blog pieces about the experience. I should say that the exhibition of all the artists work continues at The Norwich Cathedral Hostry (as part of the Hostry Festival) to 28 October. You can also watch a short That’s TV Norfolk video that gives a sense of what the Paint Out event is all about.
This was my second year at the PON event and, building on previous experience, I looked forward to stepping into the rhythm of the event and enjoying the company of my fellow painters. The week feels a little surreal, coming fresh from the Nottinghamshire countryside into a city that is still quite new to me – full of contrasting building styles, with exquisite Medieval buildings neighboured by Georgian, Victorian and later forms in turn sometimes contrasted by modern retail temples.
Morning Session – The weather on Saturday morning started fine and I was drawn to an area above the market place which had the spacious Art Deco feel of a lido – maritime railings, sweeps of steps and marching columns topped by lanterns. I set up at the head of an expanse of railings, enjoying the dynamic elongated viewpoint that led towards a doorway at the base of the adjacent Guildhall, the line of sight leading up through the facade of the tower. To emphasise the elements of this perpendicular composition, I elected to paint on an elongated rectangular support.
Having chosen the basic structural features, I needed to define other details of interest. The sun was still strong and throwing shady striations over the walkways. In addition, neat rectangles of box hedge, like bales of hay made golden by the warm light, evenly divided the floor space, helping the sense of perspective. I was also drawn to harlequin-like markings over the Guildhall building, but wanted to avoid overplaying this supporting area of the composition, and chose simply to allude to the windows and other architectural divisions. Finally, as the morning matured, a growing number of people gathered to meet up, rest or read a while, their living forms flowing through the linear constructions.
Afternoon Session – For the second Saturday session, some of us chose to be taxied out of the city to Carrow Abbey, close to the grounds of the Coleman Factory. We were entertained in the sixteenth-century hall of this stunning mansion, with a background talk from the site manager and then given free rein to explore the site, inside and out.
Tudor chimney stacks, diamond brick patterning, mullioned windows and an exciting array of roof lines, bay windows and porches, offered all manner of possible imagery. After some time spent meandering around the house, I eventually settled on a composition that interested me without being too overwhelming. Turning away from the house itself, I set up in the gardens, alongside a section of the earlier priory ruins.
My view was bordered on one side by the weathered remains of a flint and mortar wall, forming part of the garden boundary. A footpath to the left, also helped to lead the eye in to the picture plane and at the juncture of both arose the distant chimney of the Coleman factory. This industrial emblem in brick, encircled by iron bracing, could almost have stood in for a long-lost priory steeple. As well as masonry textures I enjoyed trying to convey some sense of the individual plants in the grounds. A mass of mature trees crowded around and shielded the factory, whilst closer in, I tried to define some of the garden foliage as well as a large weeping beech, going through its autumnal transformation. In the foreground a shrub, pruned in preparation for the oncoming winter, is also described, chosen because its truncated shoots seem to echo the form of the chimney.
After a couple of tranquil hours, the paintings had been completed and we were all too soon whisked back into the city for our final task of the day.
Nocturne Session – I arrived at my chosen nocturne location at the base of the steps to one side of the church of St Peter Mancroft. For me, this area not only has exciting graphic possibilities in daylight but at night it really transforms – its essential components come to a different life. With pared down forms and colour restricted almost to tone, this felt a perfect set up for the limited two hour painting time we were allotted. To the left, the church tower itself rises up, although its darkening form has all but lost its distinction at this time. Thanks to the vibrancy of the lone street lamp in my field of vision, the north transept and its large traceried Gothic window has instead stepped forward and been gilded in sodium illumination.
Against this lit area stand dramatic silhouettes of the iron black railings and lamp post, with the railings advancing out of the painting towards the viewer. These bold linear uprights stand in contrast to the solid bank of stone steps rising out of the foreground, the harshly lit treads creating a series of shadows in the form of receding horizontal bars. I wanted to use these to help a sense of perspective and to lead back up into the picture plane. Both steps and railings are funnelled in through a set of gateposts and on to a tree lined avenue, with a beckoning hint of light at its ending. This very dark, seemingly empty upper quadrant of the painting contrasts strongly in its tone with the adjacent light masonry. Within this near void, barely visible contorting trunks are defined in a dulled orange light, their fractious branches now lost against a darkening sky.
I was pleased with the theatrical effect of this composition and the slight sense of foreboding and mystery. It also made me think of an emptied auditorium, its proscenium lights inverted and cast upon the emptied raked seating, following the days performance. At the end of two hours I felt reasonably happy to down tools and pack away my paraphernalia for the day.