The Simple Things
A FEW DAYS DEVOTED TO TRYING SOMETHING NEW OFFERS AN ESCAPE FOR BOTH BODY AND MIND
Who isn’t craving a new view after the last few months? And… whisper it… some different company, too? Now there’s a bit more freedom, it’s surely time to put into action some of those things we’ve always wanted to try. A long weekend spent on a course at Newlyn School of Art gives you new skills and, crucially, some fresh horizons to gaze upon – and, let’s face it, Cornwall does the picturesque vista thing very well. Any cobwebs feel well and truly blown away when you’re painting, perched atop a cliff. It’s time away that’s just for you, and a welcome reminder of all the possibilities that await…
Where I stayed
A few minutes’ meander from Penzance’s seafront in Chapel House. There’s no being miffed you haven’t got a sea view here – all the bedrooms and suites face that way. Though right at the top, my room was the complete opposite to the stereotypical artist’s garret, from an iPad to the organic Pure Nuff Stuff toiletries made in the town’s magnificent Egyptian House to the pair of binoculars (a spot of birdwatching in bed?). The whole building has a contemporary style that’s respectful of its Georgian bones, filled with places that encourage you to pause, including a rotating curation of art. On my visit, it was work by artists from the year-long mentoring scheme run by Newlyn School of Art. The School itself is about a ten-minute drive, complete with coastal views.
What I did
With any visit to the Cornish coast, you expect some pretty breathtaking landscapes. But, rather than passing admiration, my course was focused on learning ways to depict it visually. There’s a long, prestigious history of artists living in the area – the Newlyn School of Art was founded in 2011, a clever idea to build on and support local talent. They teach classes 340 days every year, with short courses ranging from two to five days, covering different genres and techniques. My group of eight were drawn to this ‘Coast’ course for many reasons: some were fans of the work of the tutor, Imogen Bone; others wanted some time away from the kids or, like me, to give something new a go. Each day – whether sunshine or mizzle – we (and all the necessary kit) were bussed to a different scenic location, from Cape Cornwall to Perranuthnoe beach. Imogen gave us generous demonstrations, ranging from the practical, such as ways to mix and apply paint (one of her demos is pictured far right), to more creative prompts. We were encouraged to experiment and to play – using crayons, pencils and paint. Imogen helped us to really ‘see’ the landscapes: noticing how the wind was blowing, or an insect’s movement, as much as famous landmarks. An invaluable lesson in paying attention.
What I ate
It was packed lunch for school days – my preference being the huge, flaky pasties from Aunty May’s in town, with a coffee from Lovetts next door. Also nearby is Mackerel Sky
– a dinky seafood bar, serving tapasstyle dishes from local produce. Meanwhile, the queues at Lewis’s meant I knew exactly where to head for fish and chips. I also made room for the daily cooked breakfasts at Chapel House. And, on Fridays and Saturdays, they host ‘suppers’ – great for getting to know fellow guests, especially when travelling alone.
I also liked
Truth be told, I was pretty zonked by the end of each school day. But should you muster more energy, there was lots to explore locally. Newlyn has its own indie cinema, while there are galleries in both Newlyn and Penzance. Penzance’s beautiful Art Deco saltwater lido (splashing distance from Chapel House), meanwhile, is extra inviting now that it’s got a geothermally heated section. You’re also in a great spot if you fancy extending your stay – some fellow students were heading off to St Ives, while a ferry runs from Penzance over to the
Isles of Scilly (and, FYI, Newlyn School of Art run courses there, too).
The best thing
While I’ve visited Cornwall before, I’ve never felt so fully immersed in the place. Thanks to the techniques we were taught, my sketches take me straight back there. While my work is not destined for a gallery wall, I definitely felt the glow of making progress. As I got home, weather-beaten, proudly clutching my portfolio, and my creative gene a-fizzing, I think it’s as close to feeling like a ‘real artist’ as I’ll get.
Chapel House Penzance, rooms from £160 a night chapelhousepz.co.uk. Prices for short courses at Newlyn School of Art start at £295, newlynartschool.co.uk. They’re also one of the hosts for the Penzance Festival of Art, from 4-20 June 2021, penzanceartfestival.co.uk