In June of 2019 I had the great honour of completing a live painting at St Paul’s Cathedral for a corporate event - the 90th year celebrations for Lubbock Fine, a global accountancy firm with offices in central London. Usually I am asked to complete event paintings at weddings, so this was going to make an interesting change!
The painting took place in the Nelson chamber, one of the Crypts below the main Cathedral, live in front of guests. The room has an impressive vaulted ceiling held up with 8 tall columns. The detail of the piece came from flooring which was an intricate tiled mosaic, that was a challenge to capture in a very short space of time.
By day the chamber is open to the public for viewing as part of the main Cathedral tour. By night the room is transformed into an events space and lit up in mesmerising colours resulting in dancing shadows on the ceiling. Being such an iconic venue and unique space many high-profile events have taken place here in the past. The funerals of some very important people have taken place including Lord Nelson, Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. Only Royal weddings tend to take place in the main Cathedral - that will be my next goal!
OUTFIT - all very important stuff...
Pink dress, formal and elegant to match the venue, little heels (my feet are very sore stood up all that time)
My first challenge was to carry my kit across central London on the tube: a A1 portfolio with board and papers inside, a bulky bag with my easel and a heavy backpack with paints and equipment. All whilst dressed up in a dress (that really didn’t go with my trainers, but they were necessary if I was going to make it to my destination in one piece!)
My Dad (I mean my PA) volunteered to assist me to make sure the event went smoothly. I'm not sure how I would have carried my kit without some help! I did have to have words with him for referring to himself as 'Dad' rather than my assistant. A security guard in high-vis declaring to the organisers of the event that 'Lissie's dad is here to pick her up' dampens the professional image I'm going for. *Face Palm*
Second challenge: getting past security at St Paul’s Cathedral.
A day before I was due to paint I was told I would not longer be permitted to enter the building until the guests arrived at 6pm. This was going to make things quite tricky for me as it takes at least half an hour to get set up and then another hour to draw out the shapes and start the piece so that I have captured the space before people start to populate it. With evening prayer at 5pm, the entire venue must be in complete silence so as not to disturb the main hall above. Any placing of furniture or props was stopped and people spoke in whispers. We decided to try our luck at 4pm, telling the staff that we were instructed to be there at 3.30pm and were in-fact late - and it worked! This gave me some time to make some noise setting up and be ready to draw in silence by 5pm. It turned out to be a lovely peaceful experience, painting the chamber which the sounds of the choir echoing around the room from above.
1. Intricate Tiling
2. Sketching out the scene before guests arrive
3. Progress during the event
4. Completing the piece in natural lighting
I had about 4-5 hours to set-up and capture the room in a draw and for this peice I was not allowed to use paints as they are banned in the cathedral (as well as red wine apparently!) so I used pen and watercolour pencil that I was able to blend on the page using my handy paintbrush that contains water in the handle (a lot less messy).This posed quite a challenge as when painting with acrylics you can layer up the piece, painting in the background in first and the people who arrive later onto. When you draw with pen and watercolours, there is no possibility of layering. You must draw the things in the foreground first or leave a space for them. My solution was to have someone assist me and stand in various places in the room so that I could roughly draw them in in pencil to get the position and perspective right.
When drawing people in a space in perspective, everyone’s head will be at the same level and their bodies will vary in height.
Another challenge was the lighting – it was beautiful with the arches lit up with purple, greens and yellows. However, it was not easy to paint in, the low lighting made it difficult to see detail and the light water colours I was applying to the drawing.
It was an honour to be in such a beautiful place and so exciting – especially as a graduate of architecture – to be able to draw the space!
Guests were able to chat to me about the piece throughout the event, with many coming back to witness the progress. The most popular comment being ' Which one am I then?'
The feedback from the event organiser was delightful.