To be able to spend two weeks intensively painting, exploring and sketching, without life’s usual distractions, in such an inspiring location, was an invaluable experience. The last time I lived on my own was back in 1995. I expected to find the isolation a challenge but knew it would be good for my mental and creative makeup.
I initially applied for the residency with the aim of spending more time gathering material for future artworks from the tin mining ruins around St Just, which had caught my attention on previous trips to the area. However, I spent almost as much time trying to capture the motion, power and shape of the crashing tides that that dominated my vision from every window. I worked, ate and slept upstairs in the sitting room/studio, in this unique place perched out on a limb at the westernmost reaches of the English mainland.

The weather the first week was very stormy, wet and windy, producing huge seas, but with the door opened out onto the small balcony upstairs, I was able to paint direct from the source, an exhilarating experience that I know will have an energising influence on my future sea abstracts. There were wild days when flakes of sea foam flew high over the house and Priest’s Cove look like a car wash; days when the highest waves in the world (I was informed by a Penzance local) rolled in from the Atlantic; and days when the loneliness and the gloom, the rain and the wind drove me, desperate for company, to the cosy CookBook cafe in St Just for comforting tea and cake.
So I painted the sea… as it hurled itself into the cove and against the cliffs… fast, furious but exhilarating work, and I produced a few finished pieces and many sketchbook studies. Priests Cove also proved an inspiring wealth of motifs and abstract imagery, from the other-worldly egg-like stones to the storm-battered fishing sheds and huddled group of fishing craft.
In the warmer sunnier weather of the second week I found myself unwinding at last, greeting the gulls and enjoying the sunshine as it poured into the studio. I began to tackle short, but arduous (for me), sections of the coastal path, over to Kenidjack, accompanied only by the sounds of skylarks and crows, sketching the coastline below and the ruins of engine houses and chimneys as I went, and in the other direction up to the eyrie of Carn Gloose.

I explored, sketched and photographed at Levant and Bottallack mines, and at Geevor Mine, where the kind staff allowed me access and time to explore and paint in the huge labrynthine tin-processing mill (officially closed to the public until Easter). Wonderful rust-coloured, dust-covered place, now almost silent where it once must have been a clamouring hell. Back at the studio I began a series of small abstract works on paper based on these visits and am keen to see how these might translate into mono prints or collagraphs, eventually leading to a body of work I hope to get shown in Cornwall.

I almost filled my fat Seawhite sketchbook with collage, sketches, notes and found material and it has become a valuable store of memories and impressions of my residency. Being able to sit at the window desk working in my sketchbook or standing at the easel looking directly out at my inspiration was a refreshing experience for me.

As the two weeks drew to a close I realised I’d found a different, more intensive and satisfying way of working, much more productive, and with a wealth of source material and ideas for future work, thanks to the opportunity to stay at Brison’s Veor. It would be great to return sometime.


Mari French