A painting holiday in Cornwall

{ Posted on by }
Categories : Travel news

The blue sea of Lamorna bay sparkles in the mid-morning sun as we jump out of the van, tuck our boards under our arms and stroll towards the beach. I've come to this beautiful fishing cove on the Penwith peninsula of west Cornwall for an atypical seaside break. The boards we are carrying are not surfboards, but drawing boards, and we are not here to catch the waves physically, but to capture them artistically, in paint.

It's day one of a three-day "expressive painting" course at the Newlyn Art School, recently opened in the town that has attracted artists for centuries, and our group of seven congregates in a prime spot on the pier. We range from 36-year-old local Veryan, who wants to explore new ways of painting, to Diana, a ceramicist in her seventies who wants to try out a new medium, and John and Mike, experienced painters hoping to shake up their style. The man teaching and inspiring us is Paul Wadsworth, whose paintings burst with colour and sell for thousands of pounds.

"I like attacking the painting and putting energy into it," he says, obliterating his paper with black and white acrylic paint. "Look for abstract shapes, light and tone. I want you to work the whole canvas to build up texture and movement."

It's the opposite of traditional figurative drawing. We're to forget controlled lines and form, and paint freely. It is, I find, a perfect method for a novice unsteady with her brush. As Paul chucks thick daubs of paint on to the page, smearing it with brushes, a palette knife or his hands, Lamorna bay emerges effortlessly from the chaos, like a ship appearing from thick fog.

"If you find it's going too easily, throw a shocker at it. It's good to destroy things, too," he says. And with that, he chucks a cup of water over his paper. "Now it's your turn."

We pick up our brushes and turn to the bay. By the end of the day I've covered two pieces of paper, my water is still in the cup, and I've never absorbed a view so fully, reacting to every change in light and colour over the day. It's surprisingly tiring. By mid-afternoon we're ready to down brushes and deconstruct our first attempts over a cup of coffee, and Paul has words of encouragement for everyone.

"You've really captured the texture of the rocks," he tells me.

Well, it's a start. There are some impressive results from the more experienced. Di's drips with water, a perfect Cornish mizzle despite the sunny day.

The following morning we meet for life-drawing back at the school's studios, a former primary school in Newlyn, with vast windows letting in the fantastic light that has captivated artists for centuries. That the school exists at all is thanks to the vision of local artist Henry Garfit, who opened it last September with the help of Arts Council funding. The not-for-profit venture is also a means for some of Cornwall's 10,000-odd creative residents to supplement their incomes with teaching. Expressive painting is one of a rich palette of courses, ranging from stone carving to printing.

The location is significant. Newlyn is home to many living artists, and was where the Forbes School was founded in 1899 by Stanhope Forbes, who became known as the father of the Newlyn painters, the late-19th-century artistic colony that pioneered the French en plein air method in the UK.

The town is often overlooked by cultural tourists though, in favour of St Ives – home of the Tate St Ives, Barbara Hepworth's house and the Leach Pottery. But Newlyn's art heritage is boosting the appeal of the new art school, and Henry welcomes students of all ages and abilities.

There is much in the area for art-lovers to discover, from excellent galleries to a growing crop of arty places to stay. On the sea front, the Newlyn Art Gallery (newlynartgallery.co.uk) exhibits work by artists from Cornwall and across the world, as does its sister space The Exchange (same website), in neighbouring Penzance. Penzance is also home to elegant Penlee House (penleehouse.org.uk ), main gallery for the original Newlyn School artists; and the Stoneman Gallery (stonemanpublications.co.uk), which shows works from the estates of Sir Terry Frost and Breon O'Casey, and holds regular exhibitions featuring the work of Gavin Turk, Tracey Emin, Peter Blake and others.

The gallery's director, Linda Stoneman, is the widow of master printer Hugh Stoneman, and his studio, just outside Penzance, is now a holiday home. There, Stoneman produced works with Terry Frost, Patrick Heron, Sandra Blow and Grayson Perry, and some of these still decorate the walls. Bathed in natural light, Orchard Flower Farm studio is the perfect artist's retreat, with six acres of garden (01872 553 491, boutique-retreats.co.uk, from ?390 for a long weekend, sleeps two).

Further up Chapel Street is the Penzance Art Hotel and Gallery (01736 365664, arthotelcornwall.co.uk, doubles from ?80). It opened in April last year, with eight rooms decorated by young British artists and gallery space showcasing local painters.

Those more into ceramics might prefer The Hut in Mousehole (07887 522788, hiddenhideaways.co.uk, sleeps two, from ?100 a night) a former fishermens' hut accessed via a steep path. Owned by David Garland, one of Britain's leading studio potters, The Hut is full of his stylish pieces.

At the studio on the last morning I find Paul assessing the sky for signs of rain. Having struggled with life-drawing (my alien-headed "naked lady reclining" was a little too progressive even for Paul) I'm looking forward to another trip into the landscape. Happily the rain holds off and on the sand at Porthcurno we are treated to the best mother nature has to offer.

I stare at the sea and back at my blank canvas for 10 minutes and suddenly, like one of those magic-eye drawings, the view clicks into place with everything Paul has been saying – not as sea, sand and sky, but as a whole picture. I start throwing reds, yellows and blues and no small amount of sand on to the page with the energy of a six-year-old discovering her mum's make-up bag. The result? Well, you know, it isn't half bad. "That's your one to frame", says Paul, generously.

Collectively our work makes an impressive display. Di has produced several watery-streaked works of beauty that I would happily pay for. John's grey views of Lamorna have become startling coloured seascapes – the course has really opened his eyes, he says. Veryan says she's rediscovered the landscapes on her doorstep.

And, after years of visiting the area, I'm pleasantly surprised to find sitting on the sand with a paintbrush and appreciating the views for longer than it takes to snap a photo is as much fun as running into the waves in a wetsuit.

• Tuition was provided by Newlyn School of Art (01736 365557, newlynartschool.co.uk, courses from ?130). Accommodation was provided by The Gurnard's Head's (near Zennor) new sister hotel, The Old Coastguard, in Mousehole, (01736 731222, oldcoastguardhotel.co.uk, doubles from ?110). First Great Western (firstgreatwestern.co.uk, from ?26 one way) provided train travel from London Paddington to Penzance

Related posts

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.