The Railway Posters
I'm often asked how and why I came to produce my series of four railway posters depicting towns and villages in the Cotswolds. So here is the full story...
As with all my paintings, each of the railway posters started life as an idea, a set of photographs and a blank canvas. When I’m out walking I take photos of the things that inspire me and then later use these photos to paint from, often using several photographs for a single composition. My memory of the colours and feel of a scene also plays a vital role.
I usually make a pencil sketch to get the composition right and then I sketch out the basic lines onto my canvas using paint. The painting is then built up in layers, waiting for each area to dry before moving onto the next. I usually work on several canvases at once so that I can keep changing to a different subject and keep each one fresh.
I use oil paint because I find the strength and clarity of colour to be superior to any other medium. Getting just the right hue and tone in my paintings is very important to me so I take advantage of the slow drying time of oils to mix up colours and keep them on the palette for several days.Whilst I am emulating a printmaking style where inks would be applied to a block or screen, the oil paints allow me a greater freedom to layer colour and use more impressionistic techniques for foreground details. I enjoy the depth created in the scene by this hybrid approach.
Burford, Oxfordshire 2018. The process from pencil sketch to oil on canvas
The canvas for the Burford painting was relatively large at 30 x 20 inches. I am often asked how long my larger paintings take to complete, so when I started the Burford picture I kept a record for the first time: It took 84 hours across 25 separate sessions!
Once the painting is complete the next stage is to record it with a high resolution photograph. This photo is set within the poster design and sent to the printers. All the railway posters were printed using the lithographic process. It is unusual for fine art prints to be produced by lithography but in this case it seemed appropriate given the poster style. The press was specially charged with lightfast inks and the prints made on heavyweight archival paper.
The Stow-on-the-Wold poster in production
Three of the plates after printing
My journey towards making the railway posters was a gradual one, growing from various different influences over the years. I have always been inspired by countless artists from different eras and from all corners of the globe, but gradually I happened upon the British artists of the early twentieth century, the likes of Roger Fry, Spencer Gore, John Nash, to name but a few, and I realised that this was the kind of work I needed to be making. The work of these artist resonated with me particularly because they were painting exactly the kind of landscape that I was endeavouring to record; that is to say rural England in all its lush beauty. It was a landscape I found in the Cotswolds, almost unchanged from a hundred years ago.
The Cornfield (1918) John Nash
The Icknield Way (1912) Spencer Gore
Barns and Pond, Charleston (1918) Roger Fry
Bit by bit I incorporated something of this early twentieth century style into my paintings. My work up to 2013 had been largely impressionistic in style with a naturalistic palette, but I began to use brighter colours and to simplify shapes and I found that this sat very well with the subject matter of the Cotswold countryside.
Bourton on the Hill in May (detail) 2013
Asthall Manor (detail) 2014
Summer Shade (detail) 2014
Bourton on the Hill (detail) 2015
The next step on my journey was the discovery of two more English artists with a tremendously inspirational output: Norman Wilkinson and Brian Cook.
Norman Wilkinson produced stunning illustrations for railway posters from the 1920s to the 1950s. I was captivated by the way he crafted stylish vistas from his landscape subject, breaking the scene down into planes of solid colour whilst retaing key details. His treatment of cloudy skies, always a favourite subject of mine, was particularly masterful.
Brian Cook took similar subject matter - rolling countryside and dramatic skies - for his dust jacket illustrations for publishers Batsford. His treatment of the subject was similar to that of Wilkinson but his pictures are often brighter, and more intimate, in contrast to the epic vistas of the railway posters.
Kersey, Suffolk - Brian Cook 1932
The Cairngorm Mountains - Norman Wilkinson
The Stow painting in progress.
Stow on the Wold - my first take on the railway poster style.
So in early 2016, taking what I had learnt from studying these masters of design, I set about on a large oil painting of Stow-on-the-Wold. I was excited by the way the painting came together; I achieved some of the planes of pure colour I had been seeking whilst keeping a looser approach to the foreground details.
Given the graphic quality of the image I had created it seemed a logical step to try the picture in the context of a railway poster design and so, with the encouragement of Don Bryson of Artysan, my railway posters were born.
My intention was to pay homage to the posters of the past whilst presenting my own vision of the Cotswold landscape as I have experienced it. I decided to make the posters into limited edition prints so that each one would be affordable but at the same time a work of art that will last a lifetime.