After creating a painting of the “Blast Furnace”, I was asked if I could comment on my artistic processes and the reason, I decided to paint it.
I thought about it for a while, and here’s my thoughts.
I’m NOT a Consett native, let’s get that out the way, right up front. I hail originally from the rural backwaters of Shropshire. If you delve into the 18th Century history of that area however, just as with this area around Consett, you’ll find plenty of early collieries and iron & steel making experiments, and the birthplace of Iron forging along with “IronBridge” the first bridge of its kind in the world, a subject that had always fascinated me somewhat.
When we moved to Consett, 5 years ago, I was really very happy to find that we’d moved to an area that had a similarly rich and industrial backstory.
As I got to know people and make new friends, I was fascinated by the stories of the town, the tales and legends of the surrounding moors, and the diverse collection of industries and entrepreneurs the area once gave rise too, along with the mills, mines and of course the towns Iron & Steel making history.
I looked at many of the photos of the town that can be found on the internet, I was very surprised by many of the before & after photos as it was then, compared to now. Looking even at the view from our own house, it was hard to believe what once stood on the site I was seeing with my own eyes. I found myself thinking, wondering why this town didn’t have its own “Pitmen Painters” or “L S Lowry”, it occurred to me that this was something I could try my hand at doing!
I found the following photo, and decided to use that as a “Base image” to start working from:
While this was a good photo, I had to use various other source material to aid me in the initial construction of the painting, including photos from other steelworks around the country, owing mainly to the fact that majority of the images I had access to for Consett where only Black & White, and I wanted this to be a colour painting.
A studied a lot of the work of the artist “Joseph Wright” too, this helped me get a real feel for the contrasting lights & darks in the image, the blazing heat and light of the furnace, and the dark corners mere feet away from it where the light fades, I hope that I managed to capture some of his mastery of the subject in my work.
Fairly soon, my first sketch of the scene came to light, it was pretty much my “Base” reference photo, but with a large portion of the outer edges of the foreground removed.
My next step was to try and set the atmosphere of the initial sketch, I knew that setting the atmosphere I wanted would come from using the correct tones and shades of grey, giving the various objects in the image their own look and feel, I spent quite a bit of time just shading things in, with different levels of grey, eventually producing a shaded and now more realistic looking scene.
Finally, it was time to start adding some colour to the image. As I mentioned previously, I studied a number of other photos of differing steelworks, to get a feel for the Orangey/Yellow glows of the furnace, the bright white heat and the dark, dirty grimy corners surrounding it. In some scenes the only light many workers saw was the glow of these furnaces and the heat they produced.
I kept the surrounding area outside the furnace as dark as I could, without losing the detail, and the final colour version of my painting came to life.
And there we go, this is my first one, I doubt very much it will be my last one, not with so much inspiration to draw on from around this area we know as Consett.
There are still many tales left for me to tell.
Andy Davis (Oct 2022)