I really enjoy marine painting, you get to see many aspects of life, landscape and seascape. With the town of Padstow, in Cornwall, you are treated to a cornucopia of each.
My main aim for the painting trip was to visit St Enodoc on the other side of the River Camel. I wanted to paint the village church and the grave of Sir John Betjeman.
It is a small church so once I had finished, I walked into Rock and came across the ferry which takes you over to Padstow. As I had nothing else to do, I paid my fee and climbed aboard for the short crossing.
Padstow fishing boats
On arrival the first thing I noticed were the fishing boats. It is refreshing to see that Padstow still has a fishing fleet, albeit it a very modest one. Looking at them I’d say they fish for crab and lobster which, on a good day, would be big earners with the local restaurants. There was probably mackerel and suchlike as well.
The Padstow boats were not at all shiny and bright like the restaurants they served, they were a bit rough ‘n’ ready – mostly rust-streaked with lobster pots and netting scattered over their decks. And why not? It’s a tough old life out there in the North Atlantic and any boat worth its salt is going to have some scars.
Tourists and locals
The next thing I noticed was how busy it was with tourists. Padstow is massively popular with visitors and tourism is the main earner. It’s popularity has been boosted by the TV-chef Rick Stein who owns a number of restaurants and properties in the town. This TV fame has led to the town being dubbed “Padstein” by locals and the media. I’m not sure it’s entirely complementary.
An idea for painting Padstow
After tucking into my fish and chips, I rolled around a few ideas on a painting. I decided that I wanted to combine these two dominant features – fishing and tourism.
I walked back to the boats and took down a series of notes and drawings, exaggerating their pugnacious tubbiness.
From there I walked about the harbour looking for a view to paint. After a few circuits I chose an area where people could sit and enjoy the day while, behind them, I could see the boats and the harbour walls.
Interestingly the benches are facing away from this fine harbour and towards a bunch of shop fronts. To me that appears totally counter intuitive, although it makes for a great painting opportunity as I get to see who’s-who.
I am pleased to say that the visitors, like the boats were not all perfection either. I really am not keen on painting idealisations of my fellow humans. None of us are ‘ideal’ and as we grow older it’s only ever going to go one way, so why not celebrate that? And, those that attempt to deliver a perfect impression only end-up turning themselves a bit mad.
In front of me were a fine selection characters. There were friends in pairs, large families out for the day and a great scene where two wonderfully self-centred parents ignored their child while he fed chips to a piratical seagull.
I took very quick notes on each to help me back at the studio when I got rolling on the final piece. As this painting was completed in lockdown I had to use other references, but nevertheless I tried to stay faithful to what I felt were the shapes, motivations and personalities of my subjects on that particular day.
To stay with my initial idea, I condensed the scene very tightly. I never do what’s exactly there as I find that an exact representation of a scene can, paradoxically, lose much of it’s sense of place. This was essentially the view in front of me with the only ‘cheat’ being that I changed the railings to give a more aquatic feel. The final touch was the Rock Ferry, on which I arrived earlier.
This is a studio painting produced on lockdown and I was grateful I had a stack of notes, drawings and photos to work from. I can be a real pedant about things like that. Occasionally I berate myself about my obsession with the little things but in this instance it all worked out.
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