Archive for category Author: Ray Balkwill

Travelling Light || Ray Balkwill

It’s a good few years since someone told me I should check out the West Country artist Ray Balkwill and I’ve been a fan of his work ever since.

This new collection showcases an excellent variety and quantity of his paintings and even includes a chapter on methods and materials – Ray is candid about the way he works and isn’t averse to sharing. Locations include his home territory, of course, but also Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Italy and France. Ray is at home with most subjects, although it has to be said that his paintings really come alive when boats and water are involved.

Ray is often characterised as a mixed media artist, but the truth is that medium isn’t the raison d’être of how he works. He’s not a “media” painter at all, I’d contend, rather a painter who works with whatever best suits and interprets the particular part of the subject he’s working on. For a more detailed demonstration and analysis of his working methods, have a look at his DVD, Capturing Coastal Moods.

This is a beautiful book and will appeal to those who appreciate good art, lovers of landscape and waterscape and, of course, fans of Ray’s work. The quantity and quality of the illustrations will pretty much guarantee that no-one will be disappointed, or even regard the book as particularly expensive.

Travelling Light: The Sketches and Paintings of Ray Balkwill
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DVD Capturing Coastal Moods || Ray Balkwill

The title of this give you an implicit hint as to what it isn’t. It’s not a guide to painting maritime subjects. How so? Well, as Ray tells us at the beginning, “I’m a great advocate of working on location. A sense of place is important, not just to capture what I see, but what I feel.” And that’s the essence of what he’s demonstrating here: it’s not the coast, it’s the mood. He continues, “I’ve painted here a few times. It’s that connection with the place that’s important”. It’s a theme that pervades the entire film and, since we’re quoting, here’s another: “I’m not looking to make an accurate representation, I’m looking to make a picture … as long as it looks like a boat, I’m happy.” (I’ve conflated two things, there, but you get the …er… picture).

Ray is known as a mixed media artist, but I’m going to burst another bubble while I’m on a roll. He’s not. What I mean is that he doesn’t paint mixed media because that’s how he’s pigeon-holed himself. He’s not really a media man at all. Yes, he uses pencil, felt-tip, Conté, pastel and gouache, almost always in that order, but only because they’re what he needs for a particular effect. It’s more like a conductor bringing in the various parts of the orchestra to provide tone, shade and colour – highlighting the violins here, backing them up with woodwinds and cellos, adding colour with the brass and then using tympani to bring the whole thing to a crescendo. I should also say that Ray not only makes this look the most natural thing in the world (you may even conclude that using only one medium is to restrict yourself quite unnecessarily), but also easy. It isn’t, of course, and it’s his supreme confidence and virtuosity that allow him to achieve what he does.

You’ll notice that I haven’t once mentioned the subjects that Ray paints here. That’s deliberate as I think that to describe this film factually would be to miss the point entirely. This isn’t about what Ray paints, but how he does it and there’s a degree of alchemy to that. There are, though, five full demonstrations, all filmed in Cornwall, as well as a studio-based postscript which includes a look at a painting worked up from a sketch done in unpromising conditions in Gweek boatyard.

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A Picture of Cornwall || Ray Balkwill

As the jacket blurb so succinctly puts it, “Cornwall is artist country”. With such a variety of landscapes and both north and south-facing coasts that give contrasting effects of light, the county does indeed have much to offer and attract the painter.

This is, of course, not a book primarily aimed at the amateur artist, but rather at the art tourist or maybe just the carriage-trade souvenir market in general. It’s certainly a welcome antidote to the usual sort of lucky-charm-piskie tat!

However, we’re not interested in that and the relevance here is not just the fact that this is written by and contains quite lot of the work of Ray Balkwill, but that it also features a huge number of other artists who are associated with or have worked in the county. They include Ken Howard, John Raynes, John Brenton, Amanda Hoskin and more and they have a huge variety of styles that Ray has done well to seat comfortably together. Visually, this is a feast, with illustrations filling many of the 144 pages and a text that sets the locations in context without intruding more than it needs to.

Ray Balkwill has gained many fans as both an author and an artist and his choice of other painters has a significant level of interest and authority that should make this appeal to his fellow practitioners. On top of that, there’s the landscape and topographical interest that gives the publisher a deserved winner.

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A Picture of Devon || Ray Balkwill

It’s a good many years now since Ray Balkwill was first recommended to me as a good local artist in the South Devon area. At the time, he was unpublished and it’s been gratifying to see a number of books appear with his name on, including Halsgrove’s Ray Balkwill’s Exe Estuary, which exclusively featured his paintings.

This attractive new volume, however, covers the work of a great many different artists as well as Ray himself and he acts as the overall editor, describing both what he refers to as, “An English Eden” and introducing the artists and the individual paintings. It’s worth the rather laborious process of listing the contributors in order to give you an idea of what a treasure-trove there is here:

Lionel Agett, Stephen Brown, Colin Allbrook, Alan Cotton, Alwyn Crawshaw, Stewart Edmondson, John Hammond, Judy Hepstead, Michael Hill, John Hoar, Robert Jennison, Paul Lewis, Michael Morgan, Tina Morgan, Robert Mountjoy, Martin Procter, Keith Stott, Richard Thorn, Barry Watkin and Tony Williams.

It’s a wonderfully varied selection and covers many different styles of painting and of subject, giving a very real sense of the county. I’ve been a visitor for many years and I’ve genuinely found this to be something to enjoy. If there’s a small niggle, it’s that some of the reproduction is maybe not up to the standard Halsgrove is capable of. This is almost certainly down to less-than-perfect transparencies and to not having the option of going back to the original paintings but, if you’re a perfectionist, it might be a slight fly in the ointment. One worth getting over, though.

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Ray Balkwill’s Exe Estuary

Ray Balkwill is at home in pretty much any painting medium, but is perhaps best known among fellow artists for his mixed media work. Living in Devon, a great deal of his painting is done in the south of the county and this book has all the hallmarks of having had a decent amount of material to choose from: there’s nothing included that gives any sense of being a make-weight or, indeed, of the transparency being “good enough”; the reproduction is spot-on.

As you’d expect, a lot of boats, harbours and waterside scenes feature here, but Ray isn’t afraid to make a few trips inland for some landscapes and buildings as well.

The book will be required reading for any fan of Ray’s work, but will also appeal to anyone who has any contact with the area as well.

First published 2004, reissued 2006

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