Magnificent St Martin’s. One of London’s countless historic buildings, St Martin-in-the-Fields’ architectural style shows off what was possible, in the long-gone time of 1726. Like many an older building, the church decoration is excessive. Every inch embellished. Although remarkably restrained compared to some – like Keble College, Oxford perhaps – it still flaunts columns, arches, recesses, pediments, ornate vases and a crest.  Cathy Read’s St Martin-in-the-Field painting depicts the embellished building in stark contrast to a stormy sky.

St Martin-in-the Field Painting: Elusive Light and Dark

Any photographer will tell you, “Light is everything!” I took the St Martin-in-the-Field painting reference image as I walked across a bleak Trafalgar Square. An unexpected low sun – highlighting the church, against a backdrop of dark rain clouds – created a dramatic image. I love a bit of drama and captured the scene in the split seconds necessary to beat the returning murkiness and retreating sun.

The original photo casts St Martin’s is a pale gold light, which I enhanced, picking out the details and adding more colour in the painting process. Normally I leave the sky be and touch up as little as possible but this time capturing the sky’s mood and intensity was challenging. It was at once too blotchy light; then too dark. I kept returning, painting, and repainting.

“While adding the finishing touches to a painting might appear insignificant, it is much harder to do that one might suppose”

Claude Monet

Art demands a lot of waiting for completion. When creating an image, I am often tempted to strain for an elusive end – adding more and more. At times like these, I find its usually best to stop.

One remedy is to leave the piece quietly in a corner to view during normal daily life. Suddenly the missing part becomes apparent and you know exactly what it needs.  Or you come to rest – “It is finished as it stands!” Then you freely move on to something new.  Unburdened.

The Church of the Ever-Open Door

St Martin-in-the-Field is known as “The Church of the Ever-Open Door”.  Records indicate that as far back as the 13th century a church has stood on St Martin’s current site – far ‘outside’ of the City walls, enfolded by fields and meadows. Henry VIII, Robert Boyle, Thomas Chippendale and even a dangerous highwayman, Jack Shepherd would have seen a church here.

Ancient buildings often starkly remind me of the throngs who have stood looking from my position before. Maybe heard the bells toll and attended the church. The sheer number can be overwhelming when you stop to think how many that could be.

Buildings witness so much, but most clues to what they’ve seen lie hidden in the architecture of themselves. That’s why I often add details and scars to reveal the building’s life story.  Cathy Read’s St Martins-in-the-Field painting is a testimony to the throngs who passed through the doors of time.

Cathy Read's dramatic and enchanting watercolour and acrylic St Martin-in-the-Field painting in stark contrast to a dark cloudy sky.
St Martin-in-the-Field © 2020 Cathy Read Watercolour & Acrylic

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