Painting on the edge

Stonelight by artist Nicola Tilley

Nicola Tilley has worked closely with the our team in West Cornwall and this year has taken up the position of artist-in-residence at Godolphin. A far cry from the usually sedate reputation of watercolours, Nicola's paintings burst with vibrancy, colour and drama.

At the heart of Nicola's paintings is what watercolours excel in – capturing a sense of atmosphere. There is excitement in her paintings, a celebration of wild places and capturing those moments when Cornwall can take your breath away. We asked Nicola about her creations. Find out what she had to say.

Why Levant?

‘I could spend forever trying to describe Levant’s landscape and still not do it justice. These are the most rugged cliffs in the entire West Cornwall coastline. They are wild and alive with light, weather and substance.

'As the evening approaches the sun rakes low over downs and heath, creating the most incredible shadows. And the sea – as many colours as you can imagine and as many moods.’

How do the histories of the landscape influence you?

‘I find it impossible not to marvel at the audacious and dogged mindset that compelled generations of Cornish men and women to work the mineral riches, deep in the rock and beneath the pounding waves. They left such a visual legacy; the dramatic zawns richly coloured with minerals and oxides often shine in a jewel-like manner but are drawn sharply into focus by the ruins of engine-houses, stacks and shafts.

‘Storms, sea-mists and sharp showers approaching from the west make you marvel at the beauty of this epic and elemental place. It reminds me how uncompromising life must have been for those who strove and struggled for existence here over the years.’

Your paintings are very striking. How do you go about capturing what you see and feel?

‘I am a water-colourist at heart but not a purist. I have developed a way of painting that exploits the fluid nature of watercolour. I prime my paper first with acrylic pastes and gels, which break up the wash, and with different textures and character.

‘I also like to walk with my camera and notebook and to explore my painting places until I can sense their essence, making colour annotations and recordings of light, weather and mood. Back in my studio I attempt to reflect my personal response to the immediacy of the experience of being outside. Working on a bigger scale than is possible on location, my aim is to represent more than the world of appearances.’

Try it yourself

Painting can be a great family activity whilst tucking into a picnic lunch on one of the benches outside Botallack. Alternatively, find yourself a secluded spot along the coast path and lose yourself in the view.