Recreating Wainwright’s Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells in colour
- Credit: Archant
Artist Andy Beck talks to writer and photographer Mark Gilligan about his ten year passion recreating Lakeland’s most famous guides.
When Alfred Wainwright began his journey across Lakeland, could he have realised the impact that he would have? Constantly drawn back to this magnificent part of England, the Lancastrian’s love affair with the fells is now the legacy of a passion that will live on forever.
To witness something yourself is how we formulate our own views and give them perspective but to inspire others in the way he did is truly remarkable. The millions of visitors to the Lakes are testimony to that.
One of them was artist Andy Beck. On a walk around Mosedale, he suddenly stopped. ‘I looked to the summit of Red Pike and recognised the similarity to a drawing that I was familiar with in one of AW’s pictorial guides,’ he said. ‘I had the book tucked away in rucksack and got it out to compare and by chance I was standing very close to where he made his drawing.
‘I took a photo from that position and carried on with the walk. I considered producing a single sketch of that view in watercolour as a comparison purely out of interest. We were in Wasdale Head for the rest of the weekend and all the time I was walking I wondered if I could develop this idea to sketch the illustrations from the book.’
Andy decided to undertake the mammoth task of faithfully recreating the original 214 fells, or Wainwrights, recorded in AW’s seven-volume ‘Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells’ but introducing a new element – colour. For this to work and be accurate, he had to be rigid in his discipline with grid references and locations to plot. It had never been done before so needed careful planning and with a gallery of his own to run over in Teesdale, it would take a lot of juggling.
‘I decided to close the gallery so all my time was available to the project and it allowed me to go to the fells as I needed, weather permitting. I had to be focused on achieving my goals as AW would have done, so nearly all my walks were solo, which probably accounts for why he needed to walk solo as well.’
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After a ten year labour of love, The Wainwrights in Colour, has been published by Andy and goes on sale this year. It has already caused huge interest with pre-publication orders for more than 1,000 copies.
Since the original guides were created, nature has taken its course and Andy would soon find that saplings in AW’s time were now mature trees. Other factors that conspired against him included the weather. Planned trips could be elongated or aborted due to poor visibility.
‘By closely studying the pictorial guides and his illustrations, I tried to plot on an OS map where he stood for every one of the drawings and then planned all my future walks for the project so that I joined up as many places that I had marked as possible in any one walk. I never realised how much of a challenge this would be. Not only finding the exact locations but also being able to identify where AW stood. Was he at full height, sitting on a rock or squatting to obtain his references?’
Undaunted, he had his way of working and stuck with it.
Word soon spread about his project and three years in, Andy staged a near sell-out exhibition at Reghed, near Penrith.
Producing a full colour book of 360 pages is a huge expense and even though he initially put forward the idea to a well-known publisher the idea was rejected. Undeterred, Andy realised that he would take AW’s option of self publishing which meant he was in overall control of layout, design, content, printing and timescale.
‘I felt that in keeping with AWs publications, this book should be printed and produced in the UK no matter what the expense, and I decided it was going to be a single limited run.’
If he had known was a tough task was ahead of him would he have still go through with the project?
‘The delights of being out on the fells that AW loved, not just blazing a trail to tick off the 214 Wainwrights but using his original guides to show me them and the places which many never explore have been a joy. All you need is an original Wainwright Pictorial Guide, an up to date map and the man himself is with you.
‘If there is a better way to enjoy the fells I have yet to find it. So, with hindsight, would I have done it? Of course!’
The 360-page hardback, The Wainwrights in Colour, includes a host of sketches and relevant articles. It is being launched this year with a 5,000 print run. Andy says there will not be a reprint. It is priced at £39. For more information, go to andybeckartist.co.uk