the journey from place to painting


When Nicolas and Frances McDowall commissioned me to make the the cover for the second volume of The Old Stile Press Bibliography, N suggested that I revisit the cover I’d made for the first volume and consider something along the same lines, though in colour. In fact I only briefly glanced at the cover for the first bibliography, and launched straight in with an imagined perspective of Catchmays Court for the second one.


While at Catchmays last Saturday, I took an early morning stroll in the field below the house and snapped some photographs. The results can be compared to the painting I produced, and you can see how I re-worked reality into the image that became the wrap-around cover. I nearly always make preparatory sketches for a painting, but prefer to set them aside before beginning the easel work. However in this instance I made only the briefest sketch to guide me, and moreover made it from my memories of Catchmays Court.

I greatly elevated the bank on which the house stands, and increased the box-hedges and terrace of the garden to a vertiginous height. The great conifer beneath the house was transformed into a deciduous tree, though the poplars stayed as they are in reality, marching along the river bank.

The house in the painting is rendered in blues against a dark ground, as though seen by night with a single light burning through one of the two high, round windows. By daylight the mood is less sinister than I’ve conjured.

Above: the sheep that sometimes graze the field, made it on to the cover…

… though the conifer (below) didn’t, and was replaced by a broad-girthed deciduous tree of no recognisable species.

I would have put Jack on the cover too, had I thought to, as he’s been a welcome visitor to Catchmays all his life. Here he stands watching the river snake by. The current here can be treacherous as the river is tidal, and so I don’t encourage him to swim as I do in our own river Ystwyth at home.

Below: Jack at the gate from the riverside field to the house. I’ve included the gate in the painting (see detail above) but added a path to the river that doesn’t exist.

I’m not an artist interested in realities. My aim is always to capture the spirit of a place rather than the particulars. I always hold the appearance of the painting to be more important than what a place may actually look like. You might say I don’t aspire to accurate topography. For the painting above, I imagined myself floating along the river by moonlight in a hot-air-balloon. (A positively lethal scenario!)

Below: the charcoal drawing for volume one of The Old Stile Press Bibliography, with the house from the further viewpoint of the field. No river here. I was more interested in the sense of the house almost overwhelmed by the landscape of trees around it. Nicolas is a great lover of the Neo-romantic tradition of British art, and here I gave myself permission to fully indulge in it.

Trace a finger down the centre of each composition, where the spine runs on the book covers, and you’ll find that on the first volume a single sheep stands, while there are two on the second.

5 thoughts on “the journey from place to painting

  1. I love the McDowall’s home, inside and outside, so much and it’s fascinating to see how you interpreted its mood and atmosphere in your own way, Clive. I have all volumes of their bibliographies and was instantly smitten by your cover designs but now I can see new details that I might have missed before.
    Am enjoying your trawl through past sketchbooks, and of course the Artlog in general. Sorry not to comment more often but I do come here regularly nonetheless when I lift my nose from the current enjoyable grindstone…another Old Stile Press project, my side of it nearly completed.

  2. Impressive, beautiful, and fascinating from beginning to end, Clive! I love seeing the two versions here, with their echoes of each other and yet quite different feelings.

    • Thank you, Beth. Looking at the ‘real’ Catchmays Court and then at the charcoal drawing made for the first volume of the bibliography, I can see that the house high in the composition is actually a pretty good rendering of how it looks in life. However the landscape is Catchmays through the lens of Gormenghast!

  3. It’s lovely to read of the processes of making a picture, Clive. The blending of different elements to bring together the image.

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