CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe for £25 today CLICK HERE

Robert Hesketh talks to Somerset landscape artist Kathryn Thomas at her Bristol home

PUBLISHED: 18:53 14 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:11 20 February 2013

Kathryn Thomas at work in her studio. Photo by Robert Hesketh

Kathryn Thomas at work in her studio. Photo by Robert Hesketh

Kathryn Thomas established her reputation with richly coloured oil paintings inspired by the meeting of land, sea and sky. She builds her work layer on layer, giving it depth and translucency, the colour and tone changing with the light and angle ...

Robert Hesketh talks to Somerset landscape artist Kathryn Thomas at her Bristol home





Arriving at these nightscapes is a natural development to a journey that began 20 years ago on the Cornish cliffs at Pendeen. "It was my first field trip as an art student and I was blown away by that huge horizon and amazing sky. I knew then I wanted to paint landscapes, sea and skies. I'd found my subject... That one trip fuelled my imagination for years afterwards," says Kathryn Thomas www.kathryn-thomas.co.uk. "I'm inspired by places I visit, they become landscapes of my mind, but I really like being where I am; there's plenty to inspire me here. I love walking the paths at Clevedon, the openness and huge skies are magic, the ever-changing light. I love bad weather - just as well, there's so much of it!"



On cue, a belt of hail drummed the skylights and large picture windows. Kathryn's studio, where we talked, occupies the top floor of her house. Filled with light and the vivid colours of her paintings, it looks out over Bristol's cityscape from Windmill Hill.



"I used to take thousands of photographs. They piled up, but I never looked at them. I found I had the landscapes and skyscapes in my head and I didn't need any other reference," says Kathryn. "Working from imagination, the paintings could go where they wanted. You can tell when something's been copied - what's the point in recreating a photograph after all?



"Although I have a view of a painting in my mind's eye, I work spontaneously, instinctively, developing my route along the way, responding to the paint and recognising happy accidents. I try to empty my conscious mind when I paint so I'm a vehicle for it to happen.




"I've always craved natural light; it's essential for my work, but now I get excited by the night sky too"




"My paintings change with the light because they're built up in as many as 30 thin, translucent layers. Each layer has to dry before I apply the next, so I work on several paintings at once. Different levels of light will pick up on different layers and tones in the painting, so sometimes the paintings look warmer or colder. This technique works very well with oil paint, so that's what I've always used. Michael Harding's www.michaelharding.co.uk oils are the best. They're pure pigment - a little bit goes for miles, the colour's so pure and intense. Canvas is too coarse, so I paint on Berge linen, which is so fine you can't see the weave in the finished painting. These are stretched on a box frame, which gives them solidity and simplicity, so they're like windows.



"The more paintings I create the more I can bring to them because I'm learning all the time. Skyscapes are what I'm known for. They're easy to look at and fit readily into people's homes, but I needed to move on. Going to Iceland in 2003 brought out new themes that have worked in my imagination since - ice, the midnight sun, volcanic fire... and the Northern Lights - utterly amazing. Green and red, they move so beautifully and go so quickly. I couldn't have painted them if I hadn't seen them. Now, I could paint them forever."




"There's a great artistic community in Bristol, people who appreciate art and make their living from it"




Kathryn gained the prestigious Pollack Krasner award last July, freeing her from the pressure of day-to-day business - which she's passed on to her manager - and giving her more time in her studio. She got the idea for her first star painting from her easel, which had acquired a dense pattern of paint dots over the years, a galaxy of colour.



"It took a year for me to develop my technique," she laughs, "because I didn't allow myself any glazes, backwashes or blocks of colour. Now, I start star paintings with the background, using lamp black to give the intense depth of outer space. Then, I add a few secrets and work these with the brush to create a vortex of light and finish by adding the stars. I create my own galaxies... it feels like playing and has enhanced my joy in painting.



"I've always craved natural light; it's essential for my work, but now I get excited by the night sky too. I've moved my bedroom into the roof space so I can look up at the stars. Sometimes, I drive out into the country to see the night sky without streetlights. Hawaii's going to be my next trip, to watch the tropical night sky from Mauna Kea Observatory www.ifa.hawaii.edu/mko.



"The people who buy my paintings enable me to carry on doing what I love. It's quite humbling when they show an interest in my work, or tell me my paintings have brought back memories or helped them through a difficult time."



Kathryn shows me a letter she'd had from Debra Searle www.debrasearle.com, who rowed the Atlantic single-handed: Kathryn's painting 'Moment' came into my life at a very significant... well... moment! I had returned from rowing across the Atlantic Ocean (as you do!) and missed dreadfully that moment when my little wooden boat would be surrounded by blues and pinks as the sun rose every day. To come out of the other side of a dark and scary night and into such a beautiful light gave me incredible hope... That hope is captured for me in Kathryn's painting. I look at it every day and, without fail, it brings back that same feeling of hope...



As well as painting to private commissions, Kathryn has produced work for meditation and healing centres. The Bristol Cancer Clinic www.pennybrohncancercare.org has displayed some of her paintings too. Indeed, she's lived and worked in Bristol ever since she graduated in 1988.



"There's a great artistic community in Bristol, people who appreciate art and make their living from it. I could easily become isolated up here in my studio. I like to meet people, see them reflect, look back on their lives. Everyone needs a focal point where they can be quiet and contemplative in today's busy, busy world. Paintings are a great starting point for that." BY ROBERT HESKETH



Kathryn Thomas www.kathryn-thomas.co.uk welcomes enquiries and commissions: Top Floor Studio, 126 Cotswold Road, Windmill Hill, Bristol, BS3 4NS.

Most Read

Most Read

Latest from the Somerset Life