Today was just the best day. A perfect Cornish Spring day. Monday morning and I’m not at work estate agenting. Apart from the messages buzzing in my pocket like a trapped bluebottle I could be a world away. Mount’s Bay is one of those places that has true magic built in. You can come down here in a gale or as today you can come when there’s one person strolling the strandline under a silken sky, two different personalities but Cornish magic all the same and for centuries a magnet to artists and creative types.
Monday morning and I’m not at work estate agenting.
Punctuality is important to me so I’m usually early for everything. Like the white rabbit in Wonderland I can be frequently heard shouting “I’m late! I’m late!” when I’m actually okay for time, just stressed about turning up later than announced. So, this morning I left in good time for our 10am start. At 9.15 I was buzzing around Penzance like a tourist in Venice or Florence admiring everything in the perfect morning light. I was snapping away at buildings I’ve never noticed and generally enjoying gazing at everything when I realised I was now cutting it a bit fine.
It might have been a few minutes after 10.00 when I burst into Glyn Macey’s studio/classroom to meet my classmates for the day and of course the legendary local brushman. I think I first became aware of Glyn when he was painting on TV with Caroline Quentin on her Cornwall lifestyle magazine program several years back. In typical Cornish style Glyn was completely down to earth on that TV show and this morning was incredibly welcoming and relaxed in his approach.
My wife, Claire booked me on to this painting workshop some time ago as a surprise and I really didn’t know what to expect. We’ve enjoyed following Glyn’s work mainly via Facebook and have been lucky enough to buy a couple of his studies which he sells in aid of charity. Because of Glyn’s sheer volume of work and consistent output along with his books (one of which I have and one that I’ve extensively thumbed in Waterstones… there may be others) I feel that before today I already recognised his visual language to an extent.
Having had many art tutors over the years and seen every approach going I always approach a session like this with cautious optimism. The hope is that the teacher will in some way open my eyes and make it easier for me to do some painting. The worst kind of art teacher is the one who doesn’t direct you in any sense whatsoever, rather just lets you do your own thing and then tells you the work looks ok etc. This I’ve found is not helpful. Straight away this morning the session was interesting. We had a quick coffee and some general chat before heading down to the beach by The Jubilee Pool, each carrying our own art bags (carefully packed by Glyn’s son) and easels.
Immediately I was struck by how little equipment we were taking! The learning had begun. We each had a limited palette of 6 colours and about 5 brushes. We had a little bucket to get water from the sea and a few other bits and bobs in a little box of tricks. Along with card to paint on and plastic palettes, that was pretty much it.
Once at the beach we set up in the shimmering sun and listened as Glyn walked us through some simple (but not basic) techniques and tricks. We learnt about composition, measured drawing, colour mixing, creating space and distance through colour. There was loads in there all peppered with anecdotes that made it feel more like your mate showing you something than a standard lecture.
We all produced a plein air painting and I was really happy with my results. Unlike anything I’ve ever painted before, which I think is definitely a good thing! As we talked and painted the tide was rising and we watched the scene change. Soon it was time to wander back up to Chapel Street for lunch in the restaurant across the street from the studio. I had Hake washed down with a glass of Harbour Ale IPA which set me up for the afternoon session. After lunch we headed indoors and for another informal tutorial. This time a studio painting and more of a technique based imaginary scene. Glyn showed us how to use acrylics to build up layers of colour and move it around the paper to ‘find’ the image. We spent a great afternoon making kind of autumnal scenes, the techniques for which could form the basis for an infinite number of paintings. We scratched and scraped with the palette knife, we blew paint around with straws, flicked blobbed and dabbed our way through another great session. All punctuated with great information and stories from Glyn, not to mention three slices of Glyn’s wife’s outrageously good cake (to be honest I’d happily go on one of her cake making courses next! Yum.)
This was my painting of the entrance to Newlyn Harbour from the morning plein air session.
And this one was the studio effort with collaged leaves and all sorts of new (to me) techniques for moving paint around.
As mentioned above, today was the best day. Great people, great food and gallons of paint, all in the heart of stunning Cornwall. I really recommend Glyn’s workshop for anyone interested in art. I loved it!