Events. Sketches. Work.

Jurassic Coast Artist Collaboration Takes Shape

Colin Bentley is working on a three-year art project in collaboration with the Jurassic Coast Trust. In the latest of his monthly blogs, Colin shares his experiences creating artwork with the help of the Trust’s local Ambassadors.

It’s been a busy and very exciting month working on the Jurassic Coast Art Project. I’ve started some of the major paintings for the first exhibition at Sidmouth’s Kennaway House in October, and explored more of the Triassic coastline.

I met up with another of the Jurassic Coast Trust’s Ambassadors, Mike Green, to explore the coastline surrounding the East Devon fishing village of Beer. It was easy to see that Mike had great enthusiasm for this part of the coast and being a local, he knew it very well. We had a coffee in the village and planned our trip while we waited for the tide to be at its lowest. This is a beach that I’ve never explored so it’s always great to see an area for the first time, and I wasn’t expecting to find fantastic sea caves and arches. I was amazed!

The white chalk cliffs on this stretch of coast make it seem like you’ve travelled a great distance from the red sandstone landscape of Sidmouth, but it’s just around the corner. The Jurassic Coast certainly gives you varied landscapes in this area.

As an artist I’m constantly amazed how this stretch of coastline can be transformed by the ever-changing light and conditions that we get this time of year. Crawling in and out of the caves with Mike reminded me of the excitement children get on their long-awaited holiday when they first discover places like this. After all, I suspect that’s where my love of the coast comes from.

We then walked past Hooken land-slip and came back along the top of the cliffs from Brandscombe. A truly stunning landscape.

One of the more bizarre but very enjoyable activities I got involved with this month was providing an art workshop for the Dinosaur Sleepover at Dorset County Museum. The kids were great to work with, and as always their instant enthusiasm when starting a piece of art is an inspiration. Many artists can learn from the work of children. They draw with joy, excitement and confidence. Well done to the all little artists I worked with.

The studio has a feeling of excitement and activity at the moment. I’ve made a start on two of the large paintings for the Triassic stretch of the coast which runs from Exmouth to Seaton. One showing the power of the sea, and another painted from beach level with a feeling of calm. The great thing about photographing and sketching in the winter is that you can see the weather in its full force. This gives a coast a feeling of drama and action which then gives the paintings life. It certainly makes you feel quite small and vulnerable when you’re working on the beach in a storm. I’ve even started to use video as well as photographs as this reminds me of the conditions when I’m back in the studio with the log burner on.

As I’m learning more about this wonderful coastline I’m realising it’s the stories that are forming the backbones of my paintings. I’m starting to look at the coast through the eyes of geologists, historians and most importantly the people who live and work here.

As we know it’s easy to take snapshots with your camera of this stunning coastline, but without the stories behind them the images captured are just shadows of the landscape. And this Jurassic Coast is much deeper than that!

Colin Bentley | Orcombe Point Study

Jurassic Coast | The first work

The sea has always been a major part of my life and painting the coastline is an important aspect of my artwork. I’ve spent time painting in Cornwall and most of Devon, but the Jurassic coast is an area that I haven’t explored enough. The geology has always fascinated me but it’s something I’ve got very little knowledge of.

In this three year project I’m going to tell the story of this stunning coastline by painting its landscapes. The Jurassic coast splits into three geological periods, the Triassic, the Jurassic and the Cretaceous. I’ll concentrate on each very different section working towards a major exhibition for each. I need to gain a better understanding of its geology, history and people and to do this I’ll be working closely with the Jurassic coast ambassadors. I’ll also be working with Sidmouth College, Ladram Bay Holiday Park, Sidmouth Science Festival, Kennaway House Arts Centre and many more local organisations for this section of the project.

The first section I’ll be working on is the Triassic, Exmouth to Seaton. Orcombe point is the start of the world heritage site and it’s where I arranged to meet Anthony Cline and John Wokersien, both ambassadors for the coast. They walked me along the beach explaining the local geology and pointed out some fascinating rock formations. I’ve known this beach for a very long time and it’s the first time I’ve understood why the rocks are so red. Millions of years ago it used to be a desert environment. Quite simple when you think about it.

Many people ask me why I need to understand the geology as a landscape painter. They often say “don’t you just go out and paint a view”. When I studied life drawing, I was encouraged to look at anatomy. This knowledge of bone and organ structure enhanced the way I painted the human figure and without this knowledge the outcome often seemed lifeless. Producing paintings of the Jurassic coast without a knowledge of its geology would also be difficult. Understanding a landscape is as important as a knowledge of anatomy when drawing the human figure. Without this understanding a landscape is just a view and I don’t paint views. I paint landscapes, and landscapes are places full of history, drama, emotion and life.

I’m not only going to explore the coast on foot, I’ll also be swimming, kayaking and running. This way I can reach the inaccessible spots, which will allow me to see the Jurassic coast from different perspectives. Spending this amount of time on the coast will produce paintings that tell the story of this very dramatic World heritage Site.

The Journal begins

After studying a Fine Art Painting degree in the mid nineties Colin has constantly tried to capture the incredibly beautiful coastline and countryside that he see’s around him.

Spending a vast amount of time running and kayaking along the South West coastline allows him to witness the ever changing light and colour of land and sea.

The sea has become a constant draw for Colin. Kayaking and swimming around the coast allows him to reach beaches and coves that aren’t accessible by land.

“Sometimes I run and kayak very early in the morning to catch the sunrise. Kayaking on the sea in the dark waiting for the sunrise is absolutely terrifying but always rewarding.”