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I was recently asked to paint The Real Food Market on the Southbank in London by a client who used to work there with his wife. They had great memories over the years and wanted something permanent to remember it all by.

About the The Real Food Market

Markets have been set up along the Thames for thousands of years so it should be no surprise, to see one tucked just behind The Royal Festival Hall on the Southbank. It can be tricky to find for a first time visitor, though well worth the journey once located.

The main big sellers are ready to eat food. You will find the very best of British and foreign cheeses, breads and wines too. There is also a pretty good line in hot food as well.

If I am ever working in the Waterloo area, I often get my lunch in the market and take the quick walk around to the front of the Royal Festival Hall. Here you get magnificent river views of the north bank, with its bridges, grand buildings and churches, including the vast dome of St Paul’s Cathedral a few miles to the east.

The market is lovely in the summer and totally rammed on Bank Holidays. It is quieter in winter, as you may expect, though blooms into life again at Christmas. This to me, is the best time to visit this part of the Southbank. All along the river from Westminster Bridge down to Waterloo Bridge and beyond is a vast Christmas Market complete with traditional circus rides for children. Even the most cynical humbug would fail to be charmed by it all. I know as I am a bit of a humbug myself.

Drawing and painting The Real Food Market

The market mirrors the gentle arc of the Thames which flows to the right just behind the high cliff of the Royal Festival Hall and I was keen on capturing this.

I set up on top of the stairs leading to the Hayward Gallery. It was out of the way of the hustle and bustle and I also wanted to present an indication of its inspiring location.

At the far end, you see the London Eye and beyond that, County Hall and the Houses of Parliament. All this bisected by a railway bridge leaving Waterloo Station.

Overall, it is a bit of a tricky composition, I wanted to attain intimacy without it all looking hemmed in. I wanted to get plenty of background without compromising the key subject matter in the foreground. A balancing act to be sure. I worked away with pencil and paper for quite a while with copious amends along the way, robustly fortified in this task with bagels and coffee as I went.

I spent ages locating the gondolas on The London Eye. Drawing the ellipse was bad enough, though sizing and spacing those gondolas was murder. In the end, I fell back on my old training as a technical illustrator.

In the old days, you had to draw engine cogs by hand and these gondolas would be broadly the same process. They were one of the hardest things to get right on the job and if you didn’t do them correctly, the studio manager used to go mad. ‘Call that a cog! It looks like an effing daisy!’ he would bellow in front of all the old salts. ‘..START AGAIN’ he would growl. Red faced, I would get back to the drawing board to have another go.

Anyway, I am thanking him now (mostly) as using a few tried and trusted methods, I counted them out and struck them in reasonably tidy in the end.

During the painting process I was glad of the trees and shrubs on site as they added a bit of nature to the composition, and juxtaposed the sheerness of the walls and glass to the right. All this interspersed with shoppers and workers to balance it all off.

a drawing of shoppers at the Southbank Centre market

In conclusion, it was a very technically challenging painting, though I feel I managed to muck through it all in the end and had plenty of fresh bagels along the way. Yes, commissions with onsite food are often the most enjoyable.


A painting of Southbank Centre Market

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