I've lived in Romsey for a number of years now, but until recently I've overlooked its attractions in search of more exotic locations further afield. However recently I've spent some time properly exploring this little Hampshire market town to bring you the best of its views, including some angles that other artists haven't spotted.
I've thought about painting this view of Sadler's Mill for some time, but I've been put off by a couple of things - the fact you can see the individual bricks, and the dullness of the light at this angle. March 2018 and a late fall of snow (the first for five years) sees the scene totally transformed. The only artistic changes I've made here is to change the sky from white to broken hazy cloud (adjusting the water to match) and removing a bunch of cars and vans spoiling the view. Oh and I've certainly not painstakingly coloured every brick the exact shade it is in real life - I've just kept the general feel of the brickwork!
With a second lot of snow falling in 2018 I was prepared. This time I set out pre-dawn to capture the unspoilt snowy scenes of the town lit by the street lights. I took several pictures around town, but of course the camera struggles with the balance of light and dark and colour as the human eye perceives it, so the results were vague shades of grey.
This picture of King John's House is based on one of those photos, but with much more foreground light, and colours restored to how I saw them. Yes the sky was this intense reddish blue, as the dawn light struggled to get through the snowy sky. The streetlights are no longer the old fashioned yellowy sort but are instead modern energy efficient bulbs in old lamps, which now cast a greenish light, which further accentuates the reddish early dawn sky. For me the balance between the greenish artificial light and the contrasting blue-red natural light are what really make this picture work, and which gave me the greatest pleasure when painting it.
King John's House (the stone building at the back) is a bit of a misnomer as dating has shown it to have been built after his death - though some still dispute this. The tudor cottage in front is all part of the same historic site. It houses a quaint tearoom downstairs, whilst upstairs is accessed through King John's House. Its all open to the public, and you can often find exhibitions here, including our own 'four shades of purple' art exhibition each Spring.
Below is the second picture from my pre-dawn wander, showing the market square, looking at the arch that leads to the abbey and the park. Note the ornamental lamp in the picture is not lit - the light instead comes from a bright wall mounted light just out of sight, casting a slightly pinkish light. The buildings in this view are predominantly late 1800s and mostly listed.
The market square (which is not square and doesn't hold a market) has been painted a lot by local artists. Nearly every painting I've seen is the same daytime view with the abbey behind the shops all in uniform light and looking quite flat. I wanted to avoid repeating the same, but I felt I would still like to capture this iconic view.
Out walking on a summer's evening I came across the angle I was after. The sun had just set, leaving a still brightly lit and colourful sky, but the abbey was almost in silhouette. You may just be able to spot the clock face with the time on.
The shops and premises in the foreground had their own artificial light. Most noticeable is the powerful street lighting which skimmed across the masonry creating pools of light on the street. Alongside there is the light from a shop, and a welcoming glow from the old leaded windows of the Conservative club on the corner. Finally there is a little foreground light from a source off the canvas.
I liked the combination of all these factors creating a balance of light and dark that really gives the view atmosphere.
This painting started with a photo I took in the Spring of 2017 on a lunchbreak from exhibiting at nearby King John's House. Roll forward to the Autumn, with the year's exhibitions out of the way I made a start on painting it, completing the abbey in the background, the hedge, and the under layer of the large tree on the left.
I then fell seriously ill to the point where I narrowly escaped death and came out of hospital so frail that I could barely stand. My eyesight had gone crazy too going long sighted overnight. Despite this I was determined to complete this picture as the first step of my recovery. Not being able to see the fiddly detail I was painting was a pain, but slowly I managed to complete the work an hour a day over the next few weeks.
Key to this picture are the three pollarded trees, and the way the light catches the new growth. Each tree took me a whole session to complete, and at the point where I could barely see what I was doing at arms length.
So despite the modest view, this picture carries a huge significance to me - much more so than any other I've completed to date.
The day I took the original painting I had been asked to survey the bollards around Romsey in preparation for a yarn bombing event later in the year. I'd been down this passage behind the shops several times before, but the view had always been obscured by a white delivery van outside the hotel. Being a Sunday morning there was no delivery. Instead I got this sneak view of the Abbey caught between the White Horse hotel and some new build properties on the right, all lit by the sun against a menacing dark sky. It was thirty minutes later when the squall struck. I found shelter under the centuries old arch by the Market Square as a sudden gusting wind blew heavy rain in every direction. Back at my studio I cropped the image until I found a nicely balanced view that nicelt fitted this tall thin canvas that echos the narrow nature of the passage I had been standing in.
I find its the contrast between the dark sky and the sunlit buildings that make this view work. A light sky, or even a blue one would not have done. For me, the fresh young leaves on the one tree provide just enough balance to offset the angular buildings.
The Romsey Food Festival occurs in September each year. In 2017 it happened to coincide with one of the wettest days of the year. With Renoir's 'Umbrellas' as my reference, I had an idea that the mix of umbrellas and gazebos would make an interesting composition, but at ground level all I could see were the few people closest to me, and that never seemd to be a good composition with plenty of umbrellas. Instead I found that upstairs in the hardware store I could see along one of the streets, getting a much better angle, with multiple layers of bunting balancing the umbrellas and gazebos below. With the owners permission I took some photos, and used them as reference for this complicated work. I've changed the people (mainly through my inability to make them as they were) and moved a few around, and if you look closely you may spot an interloper from Renoir's more famous picture!
I'll finish with this picture from remembrance day in 2018, when the townsfolk turned out in their thousands to watch the ceremonies. This moment comes after the service, when ceremonies moved from the Abbey to War Memorial Park with a short parade headed by standard bearers. I'm particularly happy with the composition showing the abbey in the background, and the parade and onlookers in the foreground, just as it crosses the bridge before the park gates. Painting people has been one of my greatest challenges, and I think these are my best representations to date.