Down By The Sea - Tom Butler Artist

Down By The Sea

Mixed Media Down by The Sea

The Coast and Cornwall

It is always a breath of fresh air to get out of the city whichever coastline takes my fancy, but Cornwall has an incredibly diverse mix of elements that make a good composition.

It seems to have a density of beautiful spots and viewpoints, far more so than other coastlines I have visited although not in a way that I prefer them, just that it is very different from a composition perspective.

Creating a coastal scene for me is all about the magical mix of natural elements like the sky and sea, and the hills combined with the small towns and harbours busy with fishing boats; everything I love about the coast. The UK coastline is easily recognisable in the cottages, thatched roofs, moss, and lichen growing on weathered buildings, typical sash windows and more of a black and white colour scheme. However, a quick glance at some of the beaches and headlands, and you could be forgiven for thinking you were on the continent.

Detail and Elements of a Coastal Composition

I find that no matter what time of year you visit Cornwall, or indeed most coastal towns, the light conditions are always dramatic. It doesn’t matter if it is a grey day, I use a lot of grey in my pieces and other colours go so well with it that it is actually of benefit if the scene is a little bit rainy, it makes it more atmospheric.

There is something about the light reflected on the sea that makes the whole landscape feel bright and dazzling, whatever the weather. I really love doing the sea, the sparkle on it gives focal point and drama. Often, I use tissue paper crunched up and stuck underneath the paint, which gives a brilliant effect. I try to make the sea or the sky busy, but never both. As the painting progresses, I decide which one it will be, what’s working and what’s not.

In terms of detail in a coastal scene, I love everything about the harbour, it really suits mixed media. The boats are the main stars with painted numbers on them, the ropes, colourful crates, buoys – I could do a whole series just on boats! I think it stems from when I was (a lot) younger, I enjoyed photographing the underside of fishing boats, to see how the salt water had eroded the paintwork. It sounds odd but a close-up photo makes a stunning abstract piece.

The beach is another area that is full of detail, whether it be the colourful umbrellas, windbreaks and deckchairs or the bobbing boats and paraphernalia of fishing lying around on the sand. It does not matter to me if there are people in the scene, it is much less important than in a cityscape.

Places and Favourite Pieces by The Sea

I would like to go to Ireland, venture further into Wales and Whitby in Yorkshire appeals to me. Salcombe is one of my favourite places where I spent many childhood holidays. It has changed a lot but is still beautiful and holds significant importance to me.

Sometimes even the most mundane things make an interesting composition if I am in the right shot and place, it is like permanently carrying a viewfinder. For example, one I did of Bude was literally just looking out to sea, but a collection of things came together exactly right. The sea, beach, people, and waves were perfectly aligned. The light on the waves was dazzling and the people were silhouetted. I was so inspired to do it and knew it would work well.

It is so rare when I do not have to mess about or wrestle with it too much. You can guide it and push it as much as you like but from the early stages there might be something that looks massively out of place, and so many things just do not go right. A piece where you just rely on things without thinking about them turning out to be simply fine is hard to do, it is luck to be honest and not as easy as it looks.

My favourite Cornish piece is Catch Of The Day, featuring Polperro. It is playful without being too technical, the hillside has a nice texture and exaggerated splash of yellow, a simple line of rooftops make you feel as though you are overlooking the scene and it has a bright feel of an evening. Everything fitted perfectly.

For drama, my favourite coastal scene is Golden Opportunity, a piece featuring Staithes in Yorkshire. I did not have to mess around with it too much and the central focal point of the whole piece, the light effect of the low sun hitting the water, I think is perfect.

I get a lot of requests through for places people feel a deep connection with and I know that some of the places the suggest are probably beautiful, but for now I am slowly working my way around, taking it all in with my own eyes.


To view my Cornish collection take a look here