Lytham artist Andy Beckett on painting wildlife on the Fylde Coast
PUBLISHED: 18:00 28 February 2017
Artist Andy Beckett finds inspiration among the waders and seabirds along the coast near his Lytham home. Paul Mackenzie reports
The coastline between Lytham and St Annes has been attracting artists since the middle of the 19th century. At that time, wealthy patrons were encouraging artists to the area to paint the wild landscapes and one of them left behind more than a collection of his work – he gave the area it name.
Ansdell is the only village in England to be named after an artist but while Richard Ansdell didn’t stay long – he built a house there but moved to the wilds of Scotland once the railway came and the area developed – it still appeals to artists.
Andy Beckett has lived in the area all his life and, just like those Victorians, finds great inspiration along his local stretch of coast. His commercial work has appeared in advertising, on packaging and in books all over the world, but his passion is for the birds that live along or visit the shore.
‘I live five minutes walk from the estuary and that is my inspiration,’ he said. ‘I go down to Granny’s Bay, and along the stretch of coast between Lytham and St Annes. It’s the perfect location for me. At different times of day and different times of year the light and the environment are very different. It’s an ever-changing environment.’
The seascapes he produces have an almost photographic quality and his understanding of the birds’ anatomy is as clear in the work as his knowledge of their habits and behaviour.
‘I do a lot of seascapes and birds are a part of the environment. The main focus is the sea, the weather and the light. The birds almost frame it but people will pull you up if details are wrong so it requires an understanding of the species and their behaviour.
‘I watch the birds, the waders and the migratory birds, and take notes and photographs and sketches. I study their behaviour.’
The 48-year-old studied Scientific and Natural History Illustration at Blackpool and the Fylde College and using oil-based pencils, he works from up to 30 photographs and sketches to create his artworks.
‘I am very much at the mercy of the commissions I get. I have done work for clients all over the world, including a lot of advertising and packaging in America, for ice cream, pet food, museums, and education centres. I’ve done illustrations for children’s books and encyclopedias and for packets of almonds and tins of shortbread biscuits in Marks and Spencer.
‘But birds are my personal interest and those pieces enable me to be a lot more creative than when I’m working to other people’s briefs. With my own work I can be experimental and creative.’
Smaller pieces can take two or three weeks, larger ones anything up to six weeks and the dad-of-two isn’t only creative with the image he creates, but also with the canvas. He considers the physical object to be as important as the picture and uses primer and tints to give it the lived-in look of a re-claimed object. He then marks out the image and works with oil based pencils or, if it’s a colour image, polychromos pencils, coloured tints and acrylic paint.
He sells his work through a gallery on the north Norfolk coast – another important area for birdlife – and particularly likes to include black tailed godwits, oystercatchers and turnstones .
But even though they are Andy’s passion and are central to his paintings, a detailed knowledge of birds isn’t necessary to appreciate his work.
‘People have a sense of place when they go to the coast,’ he said. ‘We have all walked along the coastline and felt the elements. Sometimes particular light can evoke emotions and I think people can relate to that through my work.’