A POSTCARD FROM - St. Ives, Cornwall

st ives painting miss magpie

I arrived in to St.Ives by train. As it hugged the coastline we lucky travellers were treated to the spectacle of sandy beaches and the glimmering turquoise sea. The sun was proud in the sky and I could spot lighthouses in the distance, it was beautiful.

Fast forward a couple of hours and my face was being sand-blasted as a result of the howling wind that swept the water’s edge. Tourists from all over the world (so many of them, so many tourists) tried to avoid the gale by pulling up their hoods and retreating down the narrow streets, but the beach was being thrown at us all. It wasn’t unlike the scene from Mary Poppins when the nannies get blown clean away. And so it turns out that St.Ives in September, is a town of contrasts.


I’d wanted to make the trip for years. I’d heard about how beautiful the light was, and how many well known artists had lived there. There are beaches and a harbour, plenty to do and see. But I’d been warned to avoid the summer months as the popularity of this old fishing town has reached fever pitch. So I opted for September, after the children had all gone back to school.

But still, there were so many people at every turn that afternoon I arrived, and I found it overwhelming. Just walking around was like a Cornish-themed obstacle course. I watched out for the drippy ice cream, I dodged a pasty, I took care not to tread on a salty sea dog and avoided having my chips chomped by a seagull. And then there were the buggies and cars and walking sticks. I went to bed that night thinking it a pretty place but one that wasn’t for me.

st ives miss magpie

But something made me set my alarm for the early hours to see the sunrise. And so at 6.30 am I took over an entire bench in the harbour with a flask of tea, my paints, and my sketchbook, and slowly felt the magic of St.Ives wash over me as the sun came up.

Early in the morning in St. Ives is wonderful. At first I didn’t see many folk about but slowly some appeared, walking dogs or just taking in the view. Lots of nods and smiles, a mutual appreciation of the water that looked like liquid mercury, lapping close by.

I started to sketch with my black cartridge pen. I captured every boat I could see and added in an indication of the houses and Portminster beach in the background. I added washes of pales and then highlights of colourful buoys and it was done. And that set me up for my whole time in St.Ives, I barely stopped drawing and painting.

My next stop that day was the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Gardens. The sculptor loved this place and worked from it for many years, and thankfully it feels very much like a place frozen in time rather than a museum. In the entrance there’s a biography of the artist, there’s a room of smaller works, and then outside is a beautiful garden with her work and studio.

I found it a very relaxing place and did a couple of sketches in situ. Sadly I wasn’t allowed to use any paint or colour when there, but I added watercolour later on. I’d certainly recommend a visit, I’m now fascinated by the artist and have been reading up on her life and work. I especially love this quote I found, “I remember my first day at school and the fantastic sensuous joy of the smell of paints i was given and the brilliance of the colours I used, and the terrible scene that ensues when the class ended, the paints were taken away and I screamed and screamed”. A woman after my own heart.

The Tate St. Ives was great. Huge windows out to sea and lots of art created locally - how I wish I could have lived in this part of the world in the 1950s, it really must have been something else.

Unfortunately I was only allowed to draw in pencil in the Tate, but before I knew this I’d sat outside in the cafe whilst it rained, and painted the picture above. Zoom in to it and you can see how real raindrops fell on to it whilst I worked.

And talking of rain, I got up to see the sunrise on my second and final morning. I ambled back to the same spot with the same view as love the idea of my sketches being visual diary entries. The BBC said there was 90% chance of rain at 8am, but the Met Office said there was less than 5%. The BBC won. My painting and I got drenched, but it was worth it - the light was incredible.

I treated myself to a stay at the St Ives Harbour Hotel. The rest of my trip around Cornwall had been made up of complimentary stays and so I had the budget to stay somewhere nice.

The restaurant and lounge had glorious views of the sea, and I really enjoyed looking at the art and the books. I ate in the restaurant one evening which was good, and on the second morning I made sure I had breakfast back at the hotel and am pleased I did, my veggie breakfast was brilliant.

I loved the decor of the bedroom and the fact that I had a partial sea view, but unfortunately the room was tiny (I had to walk sideways along the bottom of the bed to reach the bathroom and the other side of the bed as the gap was so small) and the proximity to the road and the centralised stairs meant that I didn’t sleep well at all. I’d planned to use the spa but when I went to have a look I found it all far too hot and stuffy and I decided I’d rather just be outside so I can’t feed back on that too much. All that said I am a light sleeper, and seem to be going through the time in life where I find everywhere too hot, so it’s certainly worth checking out reviews elsewhere. The single room cost £380 for 2 nights including breakfast.


And so will I go back to St. Ives? Well hell yes, I’ve decided that the 5 hour train trip from Bristol is totally worth it. But now I’m on the hunt for somewhere I can stay that has a studio with a view. And failing that I’ll find a little bolthole right on water as you walk from Porthminster to the Harbour, or down on Porthmeor Beach. Then I can paint the sunrise from the comfort of my bed, 100% St. Ives magic.

Please note that some of my paintings are now available to order as prints here in my online shop.

Niki Groom3 Comments