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Cuckfield artist Oliver Pyle and his watercolour work

PUBLISHED: 10:43 02 October 2018 | UPDATED: 10:43 02 October 2018

Cuckfield artist Oliver Pyle in his home studio (photo by Oliver Pyle)

Cuckfield artist Oliver Pyle in his home studio (photo by Oliver Pyle)

Oliver Pyle 2014 ©

According to Cuckfield artist Oliver Pyle the secret of good watercolour painting is simple: just put the hours in

Going out into the countryside is a key part of Cuckfield landscape artist Oliver Pyle’s process – and he feels it comes out in his watercolours.

“It’s about getting the atmosphere of the place,” he says. “You have got to be out in the landscape and experience it, otherwise it comes across in the painting – it looks flat.

“I love the landscape – it’s why I want to paint it. I love experiencing it, smelling it, listening to it and getting that experience into the work.”

Oliver’s work can now be found in galleries in Swanage and Weymouth as well as Sussex’s own Forest Gallery in Petworth, Ashdown Gallery in Forest Row and Artologie in Cuckfield High Street. Having embarked on a career in banking and finance, the 45-year-old became a full-time artist in 2012 following a solo exhibition at the Ashdown Forest Visitor Centre. “You need to go beyond relatives saying your work looks lovely on their lounge wall,” he says. “The only litmus test is to ask people to pay for your work. I contacted galleries who were interested in taking my work and it has all grown from there.”

His paintings can be found on a series of cards printed by Medici and he is now working on books both collecting his paintings and explaining his methods to students, having led a series of watercolour classes to pass on his own self-taught knowledge.

In the Shade of the Cedar Tree by Oliver PyleIn the Shade of the Cedar Tree by Oliver Pyle

His work begins in his sketchbook, augmented by photographs taken in the field, before he works up his watercolours in his home studio. Most of his paintings are inspired by places he knows well, or has a long connection with. His popular paintings of Lulworth Cove or Durdle Door come from family holidays in Dorset, while his images of Ashdown Forest are born from years of stomping in Winnie-the-Pooh’s footsteps. “People are so busy,” he says. “They don’t stop and notice things. I always tell my children [he has four aged between 11 and 20] that the ordinary is extraordinary. The wonderful thing about sketching outdoors is you have to look properly at things – the way the light hits a branch or a shadow being cast. It is all right there on the doorstep.”

Working in watercolour gives him the freedom to change a scene to suit his composition, or even to create scenes based on his own memories and experiences of an area which don’t actually exist in reality. “I’m not trying to do chocolate box images,” he says, pointing to his painting of Cuckfield In The Shade of the Cedar Tree which features a yellow BMW in its centre as an example. “The yellow BMW is always there on that corner. It’s an image of what Cuckfield looked like in 2017. Some people hate that it’s in there – they say that they see it every day and don’t want to see it in a painting. Others have said it’s fantastic.”

He likes his landscapes to tell a story – whether it’s a youngster exploring a coastal rock pool or a cricketer walking back to the pavilion after being bowled out. “It’s not just that this is a beautiful place – it’s why people are there.”

Oliver moved to Haywards Heath with his family when he was three. He always used to draw as a child – creating detailed almost photographic images. “It’s still evident in my work to an extent,” he says. “One of the biggest challenges when I’m teaching people is draftsmanship – it can be a real obstacle. You need a basic grounding in proportion and perspective if you want to create credible paintings.” His knowledge of composition was helped by his interest in photography. But his decision to focus on watercolours was also down to the challenge of the medium. “I played around with other media, but I thought watercolour was the most difficult,” he says. “You can’t paint over your mistakes. To get good at painting watercolours you just have to practice and practice – there are no shortcuts.”

Now living in Cuckfield with his long-term partner Paula, Oliver has developed a style in his home studio combining a love of detail and realism with a sense of atmosphere.

The Long Walk Back by Oliver PyleThe Long Walk Back by Oliver Pyle

“I did wonder about becoming less impressionistic and more abstract,” he admits. “I feel my style is slightly evolving – I don’t think I’ll ever get to a point where I think I’ve arrived at what my style really is. Exhibitors describe it as detailed but not photographic – parts of the painting are quite loose, but it’s still realistic. It’s an unusual combination.”

He happily takes on commissions – including an unusual watercolour based on the opening scene of George Lucas’ Star Wars – but he still enjoys taking time to explore the South Downs with his sketchbook and camera.

“There are endless subjects to paint,” he says, listing Cuckmere Haven, Seven Sisters and Ashdown Forest as among his favourite subjects.

“The difficult bit is narrowing down from the 1,001 places you could choose from today.” 


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