Sketches and Sea Caves

PUBLISHED: 00:16 26 January 2011 | UPDATED: 20:33 20 February 2013

'Elephant Hole', oil on linen

'Elephant Hole', oil on linen

Artist Sarah Adams uses Cornwall's sea caves as the main inspiration for her sketches. Her essential tools are a sketchpad, her dog, Fluke, and a kayak to reach these remote locations

Artist Sarah Adams uses Cornwalls sea caves as the main inspiration for her sketches. Her essential tools are a sketchpad, her dog, Fluke, and a kayak to reach these remote locations



If youve ventured into a remote sea cave recently, only to discover an artist huddled in the gloom with a dog beside her and a sketchbook on her lap, you may have already met Sarah Adams and her lurcher, Fluke.
Most of their time is spent on the stretch of coast between Port Isaac and Newquay, although occasional visits to Nanjizal, Kynance or Chapel Porth have also been productive. Caves and natural arches provide the clue to Sarahs choice of location. They make for a compelling subject and one with which this artist is increasingly associated. She explains her motivation to paint in this environment: As my eyes adjust, extraordinary structures gradually appear, and a richness of colour is revealed. The contrast between the interior and a glimpse of daylight beyond the cave entrance seems to accentuate the beauty of the landscape outside.



The contrast between the interior and a glimpse of daylight beyond the cave entrance seems to accentuate the beauty of the landscape outside



The paintings that result are often more akin to interiors than landscapes; corridors and halls of solid rock illuminated by a window to the sea. A glimmer of light on wet stone picks out the detail.
Sarah first came to Cornwall as a Foundation student at Falmouth School of Art. She went on to study Fine Art at Cheltenham, and then spent three years at the Royal College of Art in London, graduating in 1987. The time at Falmouth was to be very influential in her development as an artist: she even chose to return to the college on a travel placement as part of her MA course. The other destinations on offer included Greece, Paris, and Barcelona, but Sarahs interest in Cornish art and landscape drew her back.


After a few years based in London, India and the Channel Isles, she returned again, this time to Padstow, to pursue her interest in coastal landscape. Whether taking advantage of the spring tides to sketch at Carnewas Island or making the most of a neap tide to work on Newtrain Bay uninterrupted, cut off for hours at a time until the way home was clear, her pocket copy of the tide tables is well thumbed. Drawing trips have to be carefully planned, sometimes months in advance.
Sarahs dog, a scruffy beauty of mysterious parentage, came from the RSPCA rehoming centre in St Columb three years ago and the duo have been inseparable ever since. An eager participant in the creative process, Fluke thoroughly enjoys setting off to work on site, particularly when it means travelling by kayak, a recent addition to Sarahs standard kit. As so many of her subjects are hard to reach, the kayak has proved invaluable, allowing her to examine more closely rock formations, nooks and crannies beneath the sheer cliffs near her home.



As so many of her subjects are hard to reach, the kayak has proved invaluable




Back in Padstow, the studio is packed with work in progress, art materials and curiosities gathered on Sarahs travels. Sketchbooks and studies are propped up or taped to boards as reference material for the canvases which line the walls. The layout is designed to make the most of available light, but also to deflect it from the surface of the paintings as they are worked. Each piece is built up gradually in layers, using glazes and thin palette-knife strokes to construct the image; its a way of working that has evolved to suit the subject, one in which surface texture and the effects of light combine to describe architectural shapes and spaces hollowed out by the sea.



Sarah always has a number of things on the go, and likes the busyness of a full studio. I know some artists like to work in a clear space but I prefer everything to be visible and to interact. I enjoy the conversation. Meanwhile Fluke lies in couch-potato mode, sprawled on her bed by the radiator.



The larger pieces take months to come to fruition, a painstaking process which evidently pays off. Rupert Maas, perhaps best known for his appearances as a Fine Art specialist on the BBCs Antiques Roadshow, encountered the artists work a few years ago and has championed it ever since. I first saw Sarah Adams paintings in a mixed show in London - it was a shock. They stood out. I didnt know anyone alive could paint like that, with such mastery of traditional skills. Her subjects, the hidden world of caverns and cliffs over yellow sands and crystal-clear rock pools, are at once mysterious and familiar to any who have holidayed on a beach. Now I watch people stand in front of them for the first time and see the same shock in their faces. It is wonderful to see, but more wonderful still is to live with one and find it as magical each morning as when I first saw it.
Sarah recently won The Meynell Fenton Prize at the ING Discerning Eye Exhibition with a small study of a natural arch at Bedruthan Steps. A larger painting, Buttress II, was named Viewers Choice at the Royal West of England Academy Autumn Show in Bristol. She is now one of the few contemporary artists represented by the Maas Gallery, and is busy putting together work for her third exhibition with them.



For more information about Sarah Adams and to view her new work visit: www.maasgallery.com

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