Artist Lawrence Coulson - All art work available, originals and signed limited edition prints. I have been surrounded by the art business for as long as I can remember, my father being Gerald Coulson, one of the country’s foremost landscape and aviation artists. I grew up with oil paintings propped up to dry in various places around the house and kind of took it all for granted. My father worked in a spare bedroom and for a while as a young child I thought all Dad’s did the same.
I was always encouraged to draw, my main subject being cars. As I grew up, all I ever wanted to be was a car designer, an occupation I would have loved to have pursued.
I never really excelled in art at school and having left at the age of 16 I started one of three positions in the retail business. By the age of 21, my father encouraged me to have a go at some oil painting. He gave me some pointers at technique, which colours to use, and the importance of tone values. The first attempts were pleasing enough and sold for £30 each in a local pub. Selling a few in this manner gave me the confidence to approach a local gallery and up until the mid nineties this was the mainstay of my part time career. At this point I was convinced that I wanted, and needed, to paint professionally.
I then started hanging work in a local restaurant at the suggestion of the owner, where I sold paintings on a regular basis. I had met both Paul Green and Glyn Washington through my father years before and on discovering Paul was visiting my fathers studio, I arranged for a piece of my work to be on view there. I also arranged a one-night exhibition at the restaurant with the support of its owner and invited Paul Green from the Halcyon Gallery to attend. To my surprise and delight he did, buying most of the work in the progress. Over the next few months I worked as hard as I could to keep up with the demand. This meant that I was retail manager by day and landscape painter by night/weekend. It eventually took its toll on me and I realised that something had to give. It took weeks for me to actually do it, as we had a young child and were not in the best of financial health, but on 4th July 1997 I handed in my notice at the office and became a professional artist.
Almost immediately the quality of my work improved and after several successful showings at the Halcyon Gallery, Washington Green embarked on a publishing programme. Since joining them my career has gone from strength to strength and I now attend promotional exhibitions all around the country, which I have to say I rather quite enjoy.
My paintings have always been based on the English landscape. I have dabbled in other things but for me its landscapes that have held the most interest. I feel a huge amount of satisfaction in trying to create the tension that fills the air just before a thunderstorm, or the atmosphere of being the first one on the beach on a cold autumn morning. As my work has progressed over the years it has been the mood, the light within the painting that has become the central theme. More of the image is taken up by sky, for this gives the light, therefore the mood of the painting. The landscape is almost incidental. This may be because of my locality on the edge of the Cambridgeshire Fens, a notoriously flat area that is dominated by the sky. Also, I can drive for an hour and be on the Norfolk coast, well known for its huge empty beaches where the tide goes out for miles. It has been this portrayal of space that seems to have been behind the success of my work, people writing themselves into the painting, identifying with the solitary figure on the beach.
Other inspirations can come from anywhere; it’s just a case of keeping your eyes open. Sometimes it can even be as simple as seeing two colours together, just out of the corner of your eye, that can spark off an idea, even glossy car commercials. To me these are just as important as any amount of reference photographs and sketches that I make.
Of course I have always looked at the work of other painters. In the early days any work I did was just a pale facsimile of my father’s work. However, as I worked more I began to look at the paintings by Monet, Corot, Sisley, Seago and others. I am not a great art historian and did not go to art college so don’t have any great knowledge to fall back on. I tend to look more at whatever is going on around me, maybe just walking around some of the galleries in London.
Interestingly my technique of painting is very different to the painters that I mention as being inspirational. All four of those mentioned are known for applying the paint quite heavily, in a loose, sometimes impressionistic style, whereas my work is more controlled. I have heard it described as being very refined, which was nice. I have tried to loosen up, but development should come naturally and not be forced.
Most of my paintings are now on canvas, apart from some miniatures, which I do on prepared panels. From the moment the canvas goes on the easel I know how I want the finished article to look. This was one of the most important things my father taught me. I start by covering the canvas with a base cover of colours and the tones I am going to use, a primer coat if you like, and I do this in acrylic paint because it dries in minutes, not hours like oils. When dry I proceed on the painting, using oil paints and mediums and building up layers of colour and tone to achieve what I hope is a very clean, clear painting. I don’t mean clinical, just not daubed. As oil paints can take several hours to dry I tend to work on several pieces of work at any one time. You get to a certain point on a painting when you cannot do anymore until the painting is completely dry. For this reason I do not know exactly how long any one picture takes to paint, but I do know that some of the most successful are also some of the quickest.
I tend to work a very structured week. I usually aim to be in the studio around 9am and stay there until about 4.30pm, or until a lack of daylight makes work impossible. I try not to use artificial light if I can help it as it corrupts things too much. Having said that, I can often be found in the studio at 10 o’clock in the evening pottering about. I love my work and can always find something to do much to the annoyance of my wife who thinks I’m a workaholic. These days are often punctuated with drives up to the coast or just around the local countryside with my camera and sketchpad. My favourite coastal haunts are the huge beaches from Old Hunstanton, Brancaster and Thornham to the marshes of Cley and Blakeney.
I had the studio purpose built at the bottom of our garden. It was built to give as much light as possible and be comfortable to work in - with lighting, a wall heater to help dry the work and a small sound system. Loud music helps me work well. It’s no palace but I’ve got the most expensive shed in the village!
I tend to produce work in batches, between fifteen and twenty at a time and I try to show as much variety in the subject matter as possible while still producing the style of work that I enjoy and have become known for.