On the Sussex Art Trail & Meeting Wildlife Artist, Nick Day

Art Wave 2023 Brochure Cover
Brochure Cover Art Wave 2023

If you had any doubt about the number of artists based in the county of Sussex, the annual Art Wave Festival instantly dispels that myth.

Art Wave has been running since 1993 and covers a two week period in September during which the county’s artists open up their studios and/or homes to the public who can visit, view their works, ask questions and purchase artwork.  Some artists even go above and beyond, offering a cuppa and a biscuit (I know, radical, right?)

Artists can cover all disciplines, all ages and can join in at any stage in their career, so it’s a great opportunity for any artist to show their work, start to build a following and get noticed.  It’s also a chance for art collectors to discover new talent and perhaps purchase a future masterpiece at a great price.

There’s no charge to the public.  It’s all beautifully relaxed and can be a revelation seeing these creatures in their natural habitat, offering more than a glimpse behind the scenes of how they work, where they work and the materials they use.  For budding or amateur artists, it’s an opportunity to pick brains and garner information about new techniques to try.    Having such intimate interaction with a creator means that when you purchase a piece of their art it’s more personal than it otherwise might have been.

The locations themselves are fascinating.  There are over 1000 artists to choose from spread between almost 200 venues that include potteries, windmills, railway stations, fams and churches from Ditchling to Herstmonceux, Newhaven to Danehill.  A big part of the fun is going online or picking up a printed guide from Lewes or Seaford Tourist Information Centres and planning your route.  There are various trails you can follow, handily divided by geographical location.  You could spend the entire two weeks visiting artists and probably still struggle to see them all.  What fun to try, though.

Nick Day in his Studio
Nick Day in his Studio

As I have to rely on being chauffeured these days, I only had one morning available to visit but I knew exactly where I was headed.  I’d been recommended by an artist friend to view the work of Nick Day, Wildlife Artist, based near Firle.  Nick paints wildlife in coloured pencils, which corresponds with my own artwork. However, I was told Nick has also created and perfected a unique technique that I’d find very interesting.

I visited Nick at his home studio on the last day of the festival, dashing in from the lashing rain and only catching a glimpse of his beautiful garden.  Sadly, no tea and cakes served out there on that morning.  Still, there was a benefit to the fact that it was such a dreadful day as Nick told me how busy the studio had been the day before with non-stop visitors.  Today I had him all to myself so I was able to take my time viewing his work and quizzing him on his background, ethos and, most importantly, his technique.

'Portrait of an Old Timer' Asian Elephant by Nick Day
Asian Elephant by Nick Day – shortlisted as finalist for Wildlife Artist of the Year 2018

How best to describe the way Nick works?  He begins with a hard surface on linen board and almost engraves his image into this in the manner of copper plate engraving, which has fascinated him since childhood.  Nick explained that he started out using metal implements to impress upon the paper but found that they were too rough and ripped the surface.  He experimented with various tools until hitting upon glass calligraphy pens, minus the ink.  The sharp points provided precision and the glass offered the smoothness he needed to glide across the surface.

He lays down a base using a very hard pencil and the “engraved” lines show through as he sweeps the pencil over the surface – similar to brass-rubbing, the impressed marks now magically appear.  After this, Nick works his charm laying down colour and details using high quality coloured pencils until he produces a piece of work that’s photo-realistic, but imbued with a life-like quality that photographs somehow don’t possess.

African Lion by Nick Day
African Lion by Nick Day

It sounds like a long process.  Looking at a stunning study of an African Lion face that’s displayed on his easel, Nick confirms my suspicions.  “This one took around five months” he tells me.  Of course, that’s not working 24/7 on this painting, but for several hours a day.  Hence, each piece of art represents a considerable portion of this artist’s lifespan.  It’s this, plus the artist’s skill, passion and vision, that makes art collectors want to own a piece of original art created by someone of Nick’s standard.

Looking around the studio, there are beautifully rendered works depicting various animals as well as a lot of birds.  Birds are acknowledged to be difficult subject matter due to the unpredictability of their feathers, but it was for drawing birds that Nick first became known.

Quite a few of the birds depicted are as dead as Monty Python’s dead parrot.  Is this some kind of morbid obsession, I ask?  Nick tells me that some are roadkill, a couple commit suicide flying into his conservatory glass and some are gifts from feline friends.  He puts them in the freezer until he’s ready to use them as subject matter.  I guess it’s the only way to draw a bird from life rather than photographs. At least they remain still.

This practice, plus the two heaving bookshelves of wildlife and bird books are testament to Nick’s dedication to his art.  Self-taught, he’s come a very long way, exhibiting work in top galleries and selling to collectors worldwide.  He’s undertaken impressive commissions for public buildings and private collectors, including Sheikh Mohammed (crowned prince of Dubai) to display in his London home.  He’s won prestigious awards, been shortlisted for more and uses his talent to raise money for Conservation trusts in the UK, USA and Australia.

Sri Lankan Leopard cub print by Nick Day
The signed print I purchased on my visit to Nick’s studio: Sri Lankan Leopard cub. Shortlisted for Wildlife Artist of the Year

When I came to write this article, I visited his website to refresh my memory and was blown away all over again by the quality of his work.  His art really is stunning.  But you don’t have to take my word for it, visit his website, get in touch and find out where you can view his work.  Hopefully, you can arrange a special trip to his delightful studio by the level crossing at Ripe.  Enjoy browsing as the occasional train trundles by and be sure to pick up some cards and prints or make an investment in an original piece.

If you can’t make a special trip, ensure you schedule a visit to Nick Day’s studio during 2024 Art Wave.  I’m sure he’ll be part of the festival again as he has been for the last few years.

The 2024 Art Wave Festival will run from 7 to 22 September, 2024.

www.artwavefestival.org

Nick Day website:  http://www.wildlife-art-prints-and-posters.com

Meanwhile, visit Nick’s YouTube Channel where you can watch, for example, this gorgeous tiger being brought to life:  Nick Day’s YouTube

Author

  • Maria Bligh

    Maria Bligh is a journalist, published author, professional speaker, singer and artist now settled in Sussex, UK, having previously travelled extensively throughout the UK and overseas, including a period living in Geneva. Married to a successful musician and with a background that encompasses working in the music industry, finance, sales and presentations training, she maintains a diverse existence. Her interests encompass travel, nature, animals and the arts: music, theatre, painting, writing and philosophy. Maria now writes for online and print magazines. Having once maintained a regular full page in “A Place In The Sun” magazine, travel is an obvious interest, but her articles also cover a wide variety of subjects. She bills herself as “an observer of the human condition and all that sail in her.” Maria has frequently appeared on radio & TV as well as in print. Her humorous style has seen her travel the world addressing audiences throughout Europe, Asia and Australasia and as a cruise-ship speaker with P&O and Fred Olsen.

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