My passion for painting London goes back to my childhood when I used to spend hours at home pouring over an A to Z street atlas. It was fascinating to look at places in the capital that I had never visited before or perhaps not even heard of. I often picked a 'far away' location several pages away from my home area of Crouch End in north London and then trace my route back. The A to Z also had a London Underground map on the back and I imagined riding the coloured lines to reach exotic sounding stations like Ongar and Theydon Bois (now how is that pronounced?)
Many summer holidays in my formative years involved day trips into central London to visit the museums, parks and galleries, taking public transport on the way. I loved the journeys as much as the destinations; Indeed, I was forever gazing out of bus and train windows, soaking up the locations around me. These experiences would become an important influence on me as an artist.
It was at college back in the 1990s where I developed the practice of plein air painting, where I would often pick places that I had not visited before, such as Osterley Park or Kingston Bridge. Consulting that old A to Z map, I would grab my folding stool, pad and paintbox and go out to find the location.
I also had favourite areas that I frequented such as Kew Gardens and, closer to home, Alexandra Park, Queens Wood, and the Parkland Walk in Crouch End. These were places of tranquility and peace for me and I imagined myself to be like a French Impressionist in the forest of Fontainebleau, surrounded by encroaching greenery and dappled light.
It really is a liberating feeling to jump on a train and travel anywhere in the capital to paint. The map above shows various places in London that I’ve painted over the last six years. As you can see, the bulk of the yellow dots congregate in two main groups: Central London (straddling the River Thames) and my home area in the north. Many of the remote places on the periphery were inspired journeys of discovery to Tube zones 5 and 6 like Loughton, Cockfosters and, farthest out of all, Chesham in zone 9 (which cannot even be shown on the map.)
Over the years the advances in mobile phone technology and the internet have made it easier to research locations and get more ideas for art projects. My smartphone is always at the ready to take reference photographs if I spot an interesting scene... many of which I can use to create studio pieces. The phone has also come in handy as a torchlight for night-time painting!
I cannot guess how many miles I have clocked up roving around London as an artist but, as the map reveals, there are also huge swathes of the capital that I have yet to touch with a brush. The challenge of capturing a painted picture of the capital in its entirety is certainly a lifetime's work.