A weekend at the Newlyn School of Art: ‘You’ll find yourself studying breaking waves, changing colours and shifting light in a whole new way’

The famed art school on the tip of Cornwall promises to help anyone improving how they paint. We sent Victoria Marston along to put them to the test.

If you’ve ever fancied painting en plein air, there can be few finer places to do so than Newlyn, just outside Penzance on the Cornish coast, a mecca for outdoor artists since the Newlyn School arrived in the 1880s. If you’ve ever worried what it would be like to be the least talented person on an en plein air painting course, I can confirm that the answer is ‘not so bad’.

In fact, sessions at the Newlyn School of Art — which opened in 2011 and offers a range of courses in different mediums, taught by more than 35 of the best artists in the county — are taught in such a way that everyone works at their own pace, whatever their level of expertise, and you will be amazed at how much you have improved in a few short hours.

‘Great artists don’t always make great teachers, so I’ve been careful to choose those who are generous with sharing their knowledge and skills,’ says director and founder Henry Garfit.

My tutor, Kit Johns, specialises in painting seascapes onto vintage maps and spent three days teaching us his techniques, with a view to us ultimately being able to emulate his work (in a fashion…). From learning to mix our own acrylic paints and painting from photographs in the studio, to loading onto a minibus to stand on a cliff’s edge, sketching with Indian ink and a palette knife, or sitting on the beach painting St Michael’s Mount (where the experimental and abstract Kit forbade us from ‘drawing in the windows’), the course is challenging, exhausting and hugely fun.

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On the final day, with our clothes and shoes (and hands and hair) covered in splatters of paint, we finally tackled our vintage maps. I was still scared of ruining them, but, with a little encouragement from the endlessly patient Kit, I produced something I was quietly proud of. We had all developed our own styles and it transpires that mine is loading on such thick paint it will never dry (at least, not before it has to go in the car home), liberally smeared about with a palette knife. I also decided there are few things that can’t be solved by flicking white paint at it (thereby creating ‘sea foam’).

By the time you leave, you will find yourself studying breaking waves, changing colours and shifting light in a whole new way and should have a bulging portfolio of artwork to take with you. You might even want to frame one — as my father rather embarrassingly has.

The Newlyn School of Art, Cornwall, is now taking bookings for 2022. Course prices start from £395, including materials — 01736 365557; www.newlynartschool.co.uk

Where to stay

  • Venton Vean Boutique B&B, on a quiet, leafy street next to Penlee Park, has period features and a homely feel with a truly unusual homecooked breakfast menu — eggs kejriwal, anyone?
  • Chapel House is a handsome Georgian townhouse just off the seafront in Penzance with airy communal areas, enormous bedrooms and private suites in the well-kept garden. Friday and Saturday night kitchen suppers are open to the public, as well as guests.

What else to do while you’re there

  • Eat seafood. The queue at Frasers, the best fish-and-chip shop in Penzance, is worth it, as is the wait to get a seat at Mackerel Sky Seafood Bar in Newlyn itself. People rave about the crab nachos in this tiny restaurant (which doesn’t take bookings) and they are good, even if the crab struggles to be heard over the jalapeos — but, for me, fresh and juicy scallops with a simple side of samphire were the winner. Recently opened harbourside fish restaurant Argoe is still a bit of a local secret, but won’t remain so — try the dressed spider crab.

  • Take a refreshing dip in the Jubilee Pool, the Art Deco seawater lido on the promenade with both heated and unheated pools.

Jubilee Pool Lido, Penzance in Cornwall, UK.

  • Walk the Cornish coast. The views are spectacular (even when the weather isn’t) and The Cornish Hen deli offers delectable picnic hampers to keep energy levels and spirits buoyant.
  • Visit Penlee Park Open Air Theatre for entertainment in a glorious setting.