Some of my favourite outings when I was living in London were my ‘Cathedral days’, when I’d take a well-earned(entirely subjective…) day off from my studio painting, and head to one of England’s many superb cathedrals for a day of sketching and total history-nerd indulgence…There were too many to show all, but here are some highlights…

CANTERBURY CATHEDRAL
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Canterbury Cathedral
pen & wash
18x12cm sketchbook

Canterbury was my first excursion, an hour or so from Victoria Station and I was deep in the heart of Kent. Such a beautiful town, the cathedral rises above the tiled rooftops like a glorious gothic crown, particularly from the vantage point of the numerous medieval town gates, from which I did this sketch above.
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Canterbury Cathedral Cloister
watercolour
18x12cm sketchbook

One of my favourite features of gothic cathedrals are the cloisters. There’s something so beautiful about the combination of ornate stone colonnaded walkways and the lush green lawns they enclose, with often a single tree in the centre – lovely places to sit and sketch, read and write.

ELY CATHEDRAL
I was amused to learn that Ely(pron. ‘eely’) near Cambridge, was so-named for just that reason – it was a fine place to catch eels! For almost as long it’s been famous also for the cathedral known as ‘the ship of the fens’, because it’s visible for miles around the flat landscape of Cambridgeshire.
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Ely Cathedral
watercolour
18x12cm sketchbook

This(above) is a somewhat inelegant view of the main tower, but on a particularly cold September morning my main priority was shelter, and this was the first cafe with any sort of view…
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A photograph of Ely Cathedral’s most celebrated architectural feature, the octagonal ‘lantern’.
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Ely Cathedral
watercolour
45x68cm
(Selected for 2007 Royal Institute of Watercolour Painters’ Annual Exhibition, London)

This was my first success in London’s very established and competitive watercolour exhibition scene, selected to hang in the Royal Institute of Watercolour Painters’ Annual Exhibition in 2007. It was such a thrill to be hanging in an exhibition once home to Turner, De Wint and Cotman watercolours – part of the allure of painting in London is the calibre of painters that have gone before.
I chose an unusual view, the foreground is dominated by a large, shadowy, rather ‘squat’ building, with the sun-lit cathedral looming in the distance.

NORWICH CATHEDRAL

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Ethelbert Gatehouse, Norwich Cathedral
watercolour
22x16cm

Norwich Cathedral has a very distinctive profile, a thin spire issuing from a sturdy Norman tower, but my favourite sketch that day was of the Ethelbert Gatehouse. This is in fact the interior, less showy, façade, but it was lovely nonetheless, and I loved the striped stonework, reminiscent of Tuscan architecture.

LINCOLN CATHEDRAL
I knew Lincoln cathedral primarily through the paintings of Peter deWint, and with these dancing in my head I trekked up to this great northern city.
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Peter deWint
Lincoln Cathedral from the River
watercolour
25x42cm
1834
Private Collection
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Peter deWint
Lincoln Cathedral
watercolour
145.5×120 cm
1841
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
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Not many Londoners would consider doing a day trip to Lincoln – 2 1/2 hours from Kings Cross – but that’s only about one end of Melbourne to the other, and besides – it was all about the Cathedrals on these trips. From the station I got my bearings, and sat down by Brayford Pool to sketch this very famous view.
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Lincoln Cathedral
pen&wash
12x16cm sketchbook

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Lincoln Cathedral
watercolour
72x48cm

Just a few weeks later back in my London studio I began this painting of what I consider the most glorious of all the English cathedrals – The Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lincoln.
This is the view from the ramparts of Lincoln Castle, the winter sun is low, the shadows long, and the magnificent western façade of the cathedral – said to emulate the gates of heaven – looms imposingly.
I loved the mosaic of brickwork and tiles and from this vantage point, and the way they – and the cobblestones of Castle Hill – led the eye to the cathedral. To add some human scale I added a man walking his English springer spaniel through the empty streets.
Perhaps it’s obvious just how much deWint’s compositions influenced my own…all I can do is quote my favourite Picasso line – “Good artists copy, great artists steal…”

CHESTER CATHEDRAL
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Nave of the Chester Cathedral
watercolour
25x14cm sketchbook

I visited the lovely Chester Cathedral from Liverpool where I was spending a weekend painting a tall ship festival. I’m so glad I made the side trip, the red sandstone used in construction really gave the building a richness and warmth that was very distinctive.

PETERBOROUGH CATHEDRAL
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Thomas Girtin
Peterborough Cathedral from the West Front
Watercolour
1795
40x27cm
Courtauld Institute of Art
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Peterborough’s distinctive west front was wonderfully depicted by Turner’s great early friend and rival Thomas Girtin – in my opinion it is one of English watercolour’s earliest masterpieces.
When I visited Peterborough in November 2006, two of the three great arches of the facade were entirely covered in scaffolding, and so I heavily cropped my viewpoint, and did this rather spare pen and ink sketch. Inside, the greatest features are the original painted medieval ceiling of the nave, and a lovely example of English fan vaulting in the New Building

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Peterborough Cathedral
pen&wash
22x15cm sketchbook

SALISBURY CATHEDRAL
Certainly one of the most celebrated of England’s great cathedrals, Salisbury is a must for any painter – thanks of course to Constable’s justly legendary depictions of the great spired church. I had a bit more time here, I spent the night, and so saw the cathedral in numerous conditions, light and aspects. What I loved was the ring of fields that still mostly surround this building – I dare say this rural swath in the sizeable city owes it’s continued existence to Constable’s paintings.
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John Constable
Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop’s Grounds
oil on canvas
87x111cm
1823
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
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Salisbury Cathedral
pen & wash
20x24cm sketchbook
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Salisbury Cathedral under Scaffolding
watercolour
26x18cm
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Salisbury Cathedral Coister
pen&wash
14x22cm sketchbook

YORK MINSTER
York Minster was the first great gothic cathedral I ever visited, as a 17 year old on a family holiday to Yorkshire in 1987, and it’s fair to say it left a lasting impression on me. In my mid twenties one of my very first architectural paintings(after years of specialising in wildlife art) was a view of the minster’s superb west front. Years later, while living in London, I took a weekend and visited York again – the great minster was like visiting a very old and dear friend.
It is the largest cathedral in Northern Europe, and is a masterpiece of medieval architecture. I didn’t quite know where to start sketching, I did another simple pen drawing of the towers from a distance, and then this brisk watercolour of the particularly wide nave as the organist warmed up and filled the air with enchanting music.
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York Minster
watercolour
26x18cm sketchbook

DURHAM CATHEDRAL
Once again it was a painter who led me north, this time to Durham, and their great Norman cathedral.
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John Sell Cotman
Durham Cathedral
watercolour
43x33cm
1806
British Museum
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Cotman is one of the giants of British watercolour, and his architectural pieces in particular captivate me. I requested to privately view this watercolour deep in the bowels of the British Museum’s prints & drawings room, in fact I looked through many of his sketchbooks there, a fantastic way to study a great artist’s process.

I undertook a sketch of a similar view of Durham, looking up from the banks of the River Wear, though I may not be so audacious as to attempt a full studio painting of this aspect – Cotman looms too large.
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Durham Cathedral from the River
watercolour
18x26cm sketchbook

Durham is the greatest Norman Cathedral, and the Galilee Chapel within is one of the loveliest spaces in all of England.
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The Galilee Chapel, Durham Cathedral
pen&wash
18x26cm sketchbook

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Durham Cathedral
watercolour
12x24cm

There are lots more cathedrals I visited and sketched in my two years in the UK – the sweet Borough Cathedral right beside my favourite market at London Bridge, St Albans – the only English Cathedral Rembrandt sketched, distinctive Wells in the heart of Somerset, and the exquisite cloisters of Gloucester. Each have their own ancient history and distinctive story, and I thought my self so fortunate being able to explore them, and to follow in the artists footsteps of centuries earlier.

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