Before ‘Fleeting Moments’ opened I visited Nicola to discuss the dramatic change in her work since receiving her last collection a little over a year ago. There were occasional suggestions of pink in the diaphanous clouds that pervaded the duck egg skies back then but this new collection has delivered the drama in full force. I’m given an insight into the process of capturing Cornwall’s tranquil yet brooding landscape. 

As I ascended the winding slope towards Nicola’s home-come-studio, set in the radiant hills of Flushing, I gazed back over my shoulder to the breath-taking harbour view that inspires so many of her works. Despite the countless boats, working docks and the multitudinous colourful buildings forming the patchwork-like quilt of Falmouth; the view was met with almost silence. Several birds chirp in the surrounding trees whilst the boats offer their usual gentle chimes as they are met with light gusts of wind. It is no surprise that Nicola’s paintings depict a paired back version of this landscape to truly capture the overwhelming sense of tranquillity. I’m lucky enough to visit as Spring has begun to offer glimpses into what Summer will offer. The sun casts glistening sprinkles across the surface of the water and there is a pleasant warmth to the soft breeze.

Nicola’s studio is high ceilinged and airy with just the right balance of natural light to paint in. Racks are filled with paintings in varying sizes whilst several works-in-progress adorn the walls and perch on easels. Nicola works on several pieces at once to allow her work to breath as well as enabling the numerous layers to dry. She enters her studio in the morning and assesses each piece before deciding which need’s the most attention in her continuous search for perfection. Nicola explains that if she works on one piece, she can become her own worst critic, ending up with far more paint upon her rags than on the canvas. Her paints are arranged neatly beside pots of brushes and other tools on a table several steps away from the piece she is working on that day. Nicola explains this is a key trick, each time she reapplies paint to her brush from the table she is forced to take several steps back from the painting. This is vital to her process so that she doesn’t become too obsessed with small, intricate details without their relation to the full picture. Several of the works have undulating texture as Nicola often reuses canvases as she likes the effect it gives to her otherwise streamline pieces. Abstracting the pieces further, with texture, creates an even more Turneresque feel to the work. It’s this fusion of traditional techniques with a contemporary approach that makes Nicola’s work so captivating. She uses an array of brushes as well as a palette knife to execute these landscapes.

Nicola’s laborious approach to her work is evident in the considered and exquisite outcomes. Each painting may appear to have a simple, full-proof remedy for success – a band of land sweeping across the bottom whilst voluptuous clouds pervade the vast sky. However, the skill is her ability to capture a landscape as if it were your own memory, how it made you feel, without masses of detail but rather an acute awareness of just enough marks to form a cognisable landscape. Her works are invariably imbued with a sense of calm and serenity. When asked if she plans her paintings before she begins Nicola explained she has found preliminary sketches constricting as they can often eliminate the opportunity for spontaneity. Instead, she prepares by taking countless photographs and focusing predominantly on colour.

With a focus on colour I asked Nicola her favourite to use. The Umbers, both raw and burnt as well as Cerulean Blue and her new-found love for Indian and Cadmium red. Nicola uses numerous tones, what may appear to be a simple black foreground is in fact a combination of Raw Umber, Payne’s Grey and several other tones to grant it such depth. Known for her use of cooler colours, tutors often joked with Nicola that she’d never have use for a tube of red paint. A consistent use of blue and paler tones dominated Nicola’s palette. The Carrick Roads, that feature heavily in Nicola’s collections, were the main source of inspiration for this due to their formation coming from the flooding of the ice age. This new body of work, however, is a testament to Nicola’s continuous experimentation and growth as an artist as the use of red is anything but sparse. Rich salmon-coloured clouds juxtapose the brooding skies or appear in scintillating clarity across the brighter blues. In fact, it was a tutor who challenged Nicola to attempt landscape paintings as she was originally a devoted abstract artist.  Her abstract works were inspired by the relationship of light within a landscape rather than a representational approach. The challenge by her tutor led Nicola to create her first landscape series, a series of Falmouth Harbour that was then exhibited as a solo show in Texas.

Nicola’s work is predominantly studio based as she finds immersing herself in the landscape results in far too much detail creeping onto the canvas. The paintings become too fixed in reality and lose the captivating dreamlike quality that so many of them possess. Nicola’s eyes illuminate as she explains how exhilarating it is to observe the wild Cornish storms that have continued to inspire her atmospheric paintings. This collection is nothing but atmospheric, ranging from dramatic to tentative as if it were on the brink of a catastrophic storm. Nicola did however, paint en plain air at several other locations, including her three favourite Cornish beaches Godrevy, Sennen and Gwithian, prior to this new collection but it is clear this body of work is an emotive response to her surroundings rather than a discernible location. Nicola, having grown up in the far East, is accustomed to wide open spaces. She reminisces about the deserted beaches she so often visited in Malesia and explains her work is a conglomeration of these remote landscapes she has so often called home. “I’m yearning for the place I’m painting”. This romanticism is evident throughout the collection. Whilst many of the scenes are imagined, through vast inspiration and countless photographs, Nicola is adamant she will never allow them to become surrealist. Each scene enchants the viewer with a believable passing moment. Nicola listens to music whilst she paints, there’s an art to choosing the right music to combine with which painting. Her music of choice is often Movie Soundtracks, her most recent favourite being The Exotic Marigold Hotel.

I’m lucky enough to get to sit in on Nicola painting one of her vast peaceful landscapes. Perambulating between her canvas and palette she appears to lose herself in the act of applying paint. Mark after mark is applied and altered, with precision, by her gloved hands. Her overalls are relatively clean which is unsurprising given the serene outcomes of her work. However, Nicola assures me as a piece nears its completion paint begins to accumulate on any given surface in the excitement. It is quite captivating to watch an artist who is so well practiced in the medium of paint; Nicola makes the agonising, enthralling and exciting ordeal look quite effortless. We finish our interview perched at a garden table just by the doors into her studio, we are surrounded by luscious fields and the aforementioned tinkling boats. Behind me there is a boundless field, disappearing over the hill, growing thick luscious rapeseed. I joke with Nicola that the pink cloud series may soon progress to the yellow field series. We both laugh before Nicola says “I can’t imagine yellow, no I don’t think so. Although knowing me that could all change next year! Maybe you’re right!”. Let’s see what the year brings…