Pen perfection

Pen and ink drawings of Norwich from artist Duncan Rae

Pen and ink drawings of Norwich from artist Duncan Rae - Credit: Archant

When Duncan Rae arrived in Norwich from Scotland more than 50 years ago it was the start of an artistic love affair with the city.

He might have grown up in the shadow of some of Britain’s most breathtaking scenery, but it was Norwich’s historic architecture which inspired Duncan Rae to pick up his sketchpad and pursue a career in art.

Known for his striking pen and ink depictions of the city’s most iconic buildings, Duncan Rae’s black and white sketches have been exhibited many times over the years.

“I grew up in Scotland close to Loch Lomond, which is a beautiful place,” he says. “My dad was always sketching things and loved his art and I was very much inspired by him, but it wasn’t until I moved to Norfolk as a 20-year-old that I began thinking of studying art. It is such a beautiful, compact city and there is so much inspirational architecture and history right on my doorstep.”

Having originally arrived in Norfolk to find work painting fairground scenery in Great Yarmouth, he soon found it was the city itself which was his greatest muse. He met his wife Jean, enrolled in art school in Norwich and has remained here ever since.

While studying, he was taught by Leslie Davenport, one of the early members of the famous art collective – the Norwich Twenty Group.

“It was a real privilege to be tutored by Leslie Davenport and he was a huge inspiration to me. I loved working with pen and ink, using dots and fine lines to create light and shade. It is such a simple but effective medium. I love wandering around Norwich, looking at the buildings and sitting and sketching, or sometimes I take photographs and then work on it later. Norwich historic architecture lends itself so well to my kind of art as you can focus on the fine detail.”

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His work depicts many of the city’s most famous scenes, including Elm Hill, Norwich Cathedral and its surrounds and the Castle Museum, as well as lesser known buildings, such as the top of a church tower, a statue or a glimpse at historical facades.

During one of his exhibitions at the Assembly House in Norwich, he was asked if he would consider doing illustration work – a moment which saw his career take an exciting new trajectory.

“I hadn’t really thought of using my skills commercially, but I soon realised that my style was perfect for cartoon and illustration work. I have since worked for all sorts of publications and organisations, such as the Girl Guiding Association, the Salvation Army, and newspapers including the Eastern Daily Press, and I absolutely love the creativity of it.”

Duncan, who still lives in Norwich, also specialises in pencil portraits of some of Britain’s most recognisable faces, including Princes William and Harry, chef Gordon Ramsey, TV presenter Lorraine Kelly, and Private Eye editor Ian Hislop who is said to have Duncan’s sketch of him hanging on his wall.