16 June 1995


Making a living as an artist is hard enough – giving up a good job at the age of 40 to try it, is even harder.

Tessa Gates went to Norfolk to meet a man brave enough to take a chance to fulfil his artistic ambitions

FORTY is a milestone for many people but for Nick Lyons, his 40th birthday brought the realisation of his ambition to become a full-time artist.

"My girlfriend Andrea and I had a plan for me to go back to painting when I was 40 and we have saved and saved to this end," says Nick, who gave up his job as a photographer for the Eastern Daily Press, got rid of all his camera equipment and handed back the keys to his company car just over a year ago.

Now instead of rushing round East Anglia snapping news stories he follows the pattern of rural life close to his cottage at Skeyton, Norfolk – painting agricultural machinery at work and rest, soil cultivations and harvest, old wagons and modern straw stacks.

"I am trying to paint what I see about me – the landscape at work, not a nice view – you are not likely to see distant church spires or cricketers in my paintings," says Nick. "Another favourite subject is the interiors of old farm buildings with only just enough light to see the accumulation of things left there."

Nick is something of a frustrated farmer. "I would have liked to be a farmer but was advised to go for agricultural science. I wasnt interested in that and went to art school in the end," says Nick who left with a BA Hons in fine arts. His intention then was purely to paint but he was sidetracked into photography and this eventually became his full-time business.

"Then in 1985 I took a staff job on the newspaper in Norfolk, sold up my business in Ely, Cambs, and moved to Cromer," he explains.

There the rusty old tractors used to tow fishing boats to and from the water caught his artistic eye. "That kindled my interest in machinery and because I supplied pictures for the farming focus feature in the newspaper, I had a good point of contact for being invited on farms.

"I used to work for the paper five days then spend two days painting. I didnt want to give up my job and then have to build my painting up from scratch," explains Nick who has an exhibition of his work each year at Bacons in Aylsham.

Now his days are spent drawing and painting in the field – not to produce photographic reproductions of what he sees but strong impressions. "They are very much paintings – not all the nuts and bolts of the object. I like to have a fairly robust feel about the paint that takes the robustness of the subject – I dont want to become too polished, too finished."

Mostly he uses acrylics but recently he has used watercolours. "I hadnt used watercolour for years but I wanted to make a painting of field cultivations in progress and needed to get it down quickly so I used them for speed. As I dont own a camera now, I have had to teach myself to make snapshot sketches," he says, and tries to explain the fascination of machinery in connection with the soil and how he likes to paint it as if soil and machine are one.

He doesnt always need to go out on the land for a subject. An old tumbril he has restored is featured in some of his paintings. It seems to drip with fresh paint in hot Mediterranean colours when he paints it on a sunny day – then the addition of an old canvas cover gives it another dimension as he zooms in for a close-up artistic view.

He owns two old tractors – an Allis-Chalmers and a Fordson Standard – and these too feature in his work – although sometimes it might just be a view of a wheel, or perhaps the bonnet emerging from a barn.

He likes old barns, too, and his pictures, with such titles as Aromatic Interior and Fragrant Recesses catch that essence of diesel, old sacks and mouse droppings that make their shady interiors and hidden goods at once mysterious and slightly exciting.

Having fulfilled his plan to paint, the couple are now working on a new 10-year project – for Andrea this time, whose passion is sheep. She has just acquired a field and few lambs and a new collie pup but would like to be a full-time shepherdess – at present she is a receptionist. The intention is that Nick will be earning enough from his art by the time she is 40 for her to achieve her ambition and enjoy it as much as Nick is enjoying his.

"I would have liked to have gone to Writtle and learnt about farming but now I feel I have found my niche – the visual link rather than the technical," he says.