Meet the artist who's spent 10 years bringing Wainwright's sketches to life

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2 May 2017 12:30PM

FEW people will ever know the Lake District fells as intimately as Alfred Wainwright - but one man has spent the past decade following in his footsteps.

Andy Beck was inspired by the illustrious author and illustrator's famous series of guidebooks in creating a pictorial book of his own.

On Friday May 5, the Teesdale-based artist launches The Wainwrights In Colour - the culmination of a 10-year project meticulously recreating each and every one of the drawings in those famous guidebooks in watercolour.

Each painting is based on Andy's own photographs, taken from the precise locations where Wainwright stood with a camera up to 65 years earlier.

"I painted landscapes and wildlife in the area anyway, but it was in July 2000, when I was out for a walk with my wife on Pillar, at the north end of Wasdale, and the view looked incredibly familiar," says Andy.

 Andy Beck sketching

Andy Beck sketching

"I realised it was a sketch I'd seen in one of Wainwright's books, so I took a photograph and compared it with the book, and it was almost exactly the same view. We were away camping at the time, so I did a simple watercolour sketch, and I thought then that it would be a good project to take on.

"If I'm honest, I didn't realise just how long it would take to do all 1,509 of his sketches."

Although there are 214 "Wainwrights", each fell was documented across a series of seven books with a series of drawings depicting the routes to the summit, as well as some notable views and landmarks along the way.

For Andy to accurately replicate them, all the circumstances had to be similar, meaning that low cloud or poor conditions occasionally scuppered his chances of seeing what Wainwright saw.

"The point of it is that my view had to be the same as Wainwright's, and I had to be able to see everything he could see.

 Wether Hill

Wether Hill

"The weather and conditions had to be just right, so there were a few times where it just didn't happen and I had to go back when the weather was better.

"Generally what Wainwright would do in that situation would be to explore lower down, finding waterfalls and views that were off the beaten path that most people would never see. He didn't drive, of course, so he would have a lot of time to kill while he waited for the bus home."

Occasionally, Andy would reach the precise location, only to find a birch had sprung up in the intervening years, but what he also discovered was that Wainwright also liked to use a little artistic license in arriving at the perfect image.

"I think people would be surprised at how much he tweaked the views to fit the page.

"Coniston Old Man is a good example, where people might look at the drawing and picture something really dramatic, but when they get there it is actually quite flat and they may be a little disappointed.

 Great Gable

Great Gable

"He never expected someone like me to come along and compare his drawings like-for-like, so he would do things like add rocks into the foreground to make them nicer views. It was only when I went looking for these rocks that I realised they were never there."

Back at his home in Bowes, near Barnard Castle, Andy then painted the scenes.

Brought up and educated in Northern Ireland and serving with the RAF for 12 years, when he left in 1988 he and his wife moved to North Yorkshire, where Andy decided that painting would be his source of income.

He opened a gallery in Barnard Castle, but that had to close in 2013, when this project took over. Having held an exhibition at Rheged in 2009 of the fells he'd completed up to that point, all 214 were snapped up - plus a handful more - and he had no more new works left to sell.

"Even though there was a long way still to go at that point, I felt that I needed to get out there and tell people about it, and also to stop other people jumping the gun."

The enthusiasm from the public has seen almost the entire collection purchased in advance, with the final eight likely to sell at the book launch.

The book itself will be limited to 5,000 copies, each one numbered, and, of course, with almost all the pieces already shipped off across the country and hanging in people's homes, there will never be an exhibition of the works.

 The Wainwrights In Colour

The Wainwrights In Colour

Although Andy hasn't completely made up his mind on what his next venture will be, it is likely that he will be beginning a new project in the near future with the aim of publishing a book at the end of it.

Before that though, he is in good company with the likes of explorer Chris Bonington and fell-running hero Nicky Spinks as one of the speakers at this June's Keswick Mountain Festival.

It will be a new experience, discussing his work to an auditorium of people, but Andy revels in telling people about the last 10 years.

He says: "I'm obviously very passionate about the project, so what I want to put over in my talk is my story of how in walking the Wainwrights, I've explored more than just the typical routes.

"In the process of the project, I completed two full rounds of the fells, but that was never really part of my thinking. A lot of walks I did, I didn't even need to get to the summit to reach the view, but I did more than 600 summits in total.

"People don't explore enough, and that's one of the messages in my talk, that it should be more than just ticking off the summits."

The Wainwrights In Colour launches at the Castle Green Hotel, in Kendal, on Friday May 5, and is available to purchase at www.andybeckartist.co.uk

Andy Beck will also be speaking at the Keswick Mountain Festival on Saturday June 10, from 4pm. Tickets are available from www.keswickmountainfestival.co.uk/speakers

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