Neil Thomas chats to Bridgnorth painter Paul Hopkins whose fabulous watercolours capture the magic of our region.

For a landscape artist, there can be few better places to base yourself than in Shropshire.

An abundance of natural beauty is on your doorstep. If you have the talent to tap into it, then a spiritually rewarding life is yours.

So it is with Paul Hopkins, a richly accomplished painter whose Stoneway Gallery overlooks the Severn in Bridgnorth’s Low Town.

The gallery – named after the nearby steps – has graced the town for more than 20 years in which time Paul has built up quite a local following of art lovers, who buy his work, attend his regular classes and workshops and employ his picture framing skills.

Paul’s watercolours capture the tranquil beauty of the town as well as other iconic county landmarks such as River Severn and the rugged beauty of the Shropshire Hills.

Riverside. Views of the Severn from Low Town.

Here is an artist with a keen eye for detail and the brush skills to make a scene come to life. Essential ingredients in the make-up of a commercial artist. His work also gives the impression he pours his soul into it, adding an extra, almost indefinable dimension. So, it comes as no surprise to hear that he fell in love with art at a young age and has always yearned to fashion a career from it.

“I seemed to have always painted. Certainly from when I was a young boy,” reflects 51-year-old Paul. “Whenever people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always replied ‘an artist’.”

His earliest influences growing up in Hall Green, Birmingham were his late mother Irene and grandfather Arthur.

“Mum did not paint but she could draw. She taught me perspective, which gave me a great foundation for art.

“Granddad painted for a hobby and it was probably a regret that he did not paint as much as he would have liked because of having to earn a living.”

Those early influences were built upon at secondary school where Paul was inspired by art lessons.

“I was lucky enough to have a very good art teacher who painted in front of us. One day he painted a picture of the sky in watercolour which was fantastic. That’s what really got me hooked.

“I remember he ran evening classes for adults to teach watercolour painting and even though I was only 13 or 14, I asked if I could attend. He was happy to let me provided my parents were okay with it, and they were very supportive.

“Basically, I’ve not stopped painting since.”

Unfortunately for Paul, his mentor had left the school by the time he embarked on his GCSE art course.

“His replacement didn’t paint in front of us. She gave us work to do without showing us how to do it. It does show how much our interests in life can come from having the right teacher at school. Luckily, I was already passionate about the subject.”

Painting seriously from the age of 14, Paul developed his watercolour skills, fashioning images of houses, gardens and classic cars.

“I used to get Country Life magazine to copy the photographs. I remember painting a picture of a Porsche and vowing I’d own one of those one day. I’m still waiting,” he adds with a smile.

Paul enrolled at the Bourneville School of Art in his native Birmingham for two years, completing an HND course in Technical Illustration.

Artist Paul Hopkins by the river in Bridgnorth.

“That gave me the foundation for a career as a commercial artist.”

After graduating, he started working part-time as a picture framer, painting landscapes in his spare time.

“I have done portraiture in the past – people and animals – but my real love is landscapes.”

He became a professional artist in 1996, and his work proved popular, selling in galleries and at exhibitions around Britain.

Initially Paul was based in Alvechurch in Worcestershire but as the millennium turned, he was looking to relocate.

Renowned national beauty spots like the Lake District might have seemed like an obvious choice. Afterall, Paul had enjoyed success there with his landscapes of the tranquil Western lakes, away from the busy tourist traps around Windermere.

For the artist himself, though, there really was only once choice.

“Shropshire was a county I’d always liked and I decided early on that it was my favourite. I looked at Ludlow, Church Stretton and Ironbridge which are all lovely places. Bridgnorth, though, is such an interesting and attractive town that it became my number one choice and I’ve never regretted it.

“It is such a pretty place. When I first saw Cartway, I remember thinking’ that should be by the sea’.

“In fact, Shropshire is such a beautiful county in general that the landscape painter is never short of subject matter.”

He opened Stoneway Gallery in July 2002 and it is still going strong, despite the many challenges presented by market forces, not least brought on by the Covid pandemic.

Outside his gallery, a fixture in the town for more than 20 years.

“So many people buy art online now as opposed to in galleries and at exhibitions,” he explains. “It was happening to some extent before Covid but that certainly accelerated it.

“When I arrived in Bridgnorth there were seven galleries and in many ways that level of competition was no bad thing. It gave art lovers a good reason to visit the town. Over the years though the number has shrunk considerably. I’ve managed to keep going largely by offering the picture framing service. It is a good string to have to your bow as it is quite lucrative. Without that I’m pretty sure Stoneway Gallery would no longer be here.”

Paul’s pictures – originals and Giclee prints – sell well, largely to local customers, enchanted by his paintings that capture the magic of Bridgnorth in particular and Shropshire in general.

Though originals are much prized, the Giclee prints are also in demand because some are limited edition and all use high quality materials and require considerable expertise to produce.

Paul is always producing new, original work and is happily rarely short of ideas or inspiration.

Shropshire Hills from Caradoc

“I tend to go out with my camera and work from photographs,” he explains. “The time and commitment involved in running the gallery and picture framing business means I don’t really get the chance to go out and set up an easel somewhere for the day, as nice as that would be,” he says with a chuckle. “Sundays are a good day to head out as the gallery is closed. As well as Shropshire, I’ve completed Welsh landscapes in recent years as I love the scenery.”

Paul gets involved in the artistic life of the town, taking part, for instance, in the annual Bridgnorth Open House Art Trail with Stoneway one of the main venues.

His art classes have been a local feature for 20 years, with currently five a week at the gallery and one at Tasley Village Hall, near Bridgnorth.

Students Margaret Wenlock and Carol Baker enjoying one of Paul’s classes.

The classes are known for their friendly, welcoming atmosphere. “One lady from the original classes is still coming in fact,” Paul adds.

“I started them at the Maws Craft Centre in Jackfield but then, as demand grew for more classes, I decided to switch to the gallery.”

The dimensions of the gallery limit the size of each class to six, which means Paul can give plenty of attention to each artist during the three-hour session.

“Although I teach mainly watercolours, I encourage my students to try different media like acrylics or pastels so that they can build up their individual skills and talents.

“The classes are for a range of abilities. We have absolute beginners, those who are already painters and are looking for guidance to hone their skills and some who loved painting at school but stopped when work and family took up their time and wish to start again in later life. I love running the classes and working with different people to help bring out their creative side.”

It makes for a busy life. Away from the gallery, home life is with partner Carl, who works in customer services.

Low Town Bridge at Summertime

“He’s not an artist but does help out with the business.”

In fact, Carl has been building a new website for the gallery which went live at the end of April (www.paulhopkinsart.co.uk).

It should help to enhance an already successful business. From those early days, learning from his beloved mother, Paul has built a wonderful life as an artist.

His commercial aptitude means he has been able to forge a career doing something he loves. That brings with it added rewards, not least a spiritual elevation often to be found in creative people.

He reflects: “I think people who work in a creative field, be it art, music, writing, acting and so on, often have a sense of calm and fulfilment. I definitely feel that and with the classes in particular, I want to share that feeling.”

 

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