What’s it like to be a royal tour artist?

Editorial Feature

By Google Arts & Culture

Words by Rebecca Fulleylove

San Michele, Fiesole (2017) by Tim Scott BoltonClarence House

Artists James Hart Dyke and Tim Scott Bolton on what it's like to tour with the Royal family

For the last couple of decades, when The Prince of Wales has embarked on his international travels, he has started a tradition of creating records of these Royal tours that go beyond the limitations of photography. Every year, The Prince of Wales chooses a tour artist to join the tour party at his own expense. The result is a painterly documentation of some of the world’s most spectacular sights captured in the perspective of these individual artists.

Here, artists Tim Scott Bolton, who was part of the Spring 2017 tour in Europe, and James Hart Dyke, who has accompanied HRH as the official artist on four royal tours to East Asia (1998), the Middle East (1999), Africa (2007), and the Gulf States (2008), discuss their experiences and the challenges of being a royal tour artist.

San Michele, Fiesole by Tim Scott Bolton (From the collection of Clarence House)

On their personal style

James Hart Dyke: I have a passion for landscape, especially the spatial qualities of landscape. My paintings are effectively narrative transcriptions of landscape however I'm really dealing with the qualities of space. I enjoy exploring these qualities of landscape, from simple walks in the local countryside to the exciting experience of falling through the sky as a free fall parachutist. Many of my projects now involve physically demanding climbing expeditions across mountains.

Tim Scott Bolton: My style is forever evolving having started as a very detailed painter – why paint one grass stalk when two would do! It has evolved into something more impressionistic. My watercolours are initially created painting wet into wet allowing the pigment to flow and merge. I then work towards a more resolved picture. With oils I am developing a much more impasto technique. I would describe myself as a topographical painter and enjoy painting from the subject directly, depicting a view with honesty, but am mostly inspired by atmosphere and light.

Parade, Nigeria (2007) by James Hart DykeClarence House

Parade, Nigeria by James Hart Dyke (From the collection of Clarence House)

The role of a royal tour artist

JHD: The royal tour artist adds an extra dimension to the royal tour. I think an artist and his/her work can make a great focus in bringing people together in a friendly environment, which I think can be useful and refreshing when dealing with high level people like the Royal family.

Each artist will approach a royal tour in their own way, which is interesting in itself. I was keen to make a visual record of the tours, not focusing too much on the official engagements, but concentrating on the more everyday things associated with a royal tour. It's a unique vantage point and it’s a privilege to be a part of some amazing scenes, which one can use to produce work from.

Himalayas by James Hart DykeClarence House

Himalayas by James Hart Dyke (From the collection of Clarence House)

On being given the opportunity

JHD: When I was studying architecture at The Royal College of Art my professor, Theo Crosby, sent me on the Prince of Wales's Architectural Summer School in 1991. It was here that I first met HRH The Prince of Wales. My first tour was in 1998 in East Asia, the experience was quite extraordinary and something I will never forget. It was on this tour that I first saw Mount Everest. A year later I returned to paint in the Everest region and ever since then I have had a fascination with painting mountains.

TSB: Of course I was overwhelmed to be selected to accompany the 2017 spring Royal tour. The flight out on the first day coincided with my 70th birthday and HRH gave me a present on the plane.

Villa Walkonski by Tim Scott BoltonClarence House

Villa Walkonski by Tim Scott Bolton (From the collection of Clarence House)

The creative process when on tour

JHD: A royal tour is very fast moving. On tour, I spend much of my time grappling with trying to make simple pencil on paper drawings of things that grab my attention. Also I take photographs when appropriate. So much visual information comes at once very quickly, so it is a bit overwhelming. In the evening I’d go through what I had and work on any drawings that interested me. It would only be then when I’d begin to make some sense of it and think of which way to go forward with the work.

Each tour has been quite different and as my work has moved forward I’ve been able to tackle each one in a slightly different way. They gave me the chance to experiment with different kinds of paintings, although the sketchbook was central to each one.

TSB: I usually have to compromise with the equipment I take when flying because of limited baggage, but perhaps on this occasion I took too much and then was rather embarrassed by the logistics of moving it from place to place! In the end I took all sorts of equipment that I actually didn’t use. It was made plain to me by HRH that I must just paint exactly what I wanted and as formal pictures are not my line, I just painted in my usual way.

The Spanish Riding School (2017) by Tim Scott BoltonClarence House

The Spanish Riding School by Tim Scott Bolton (From the collection of Clarence House)

Taking a nap on car journey, Royal Tour to Gulf States (2008) by James Hart DykeClarence House

Taking a nap on a car journey, Royal Tour to Gulf States by James Hart Dyke (From the collection of Clarence House)

The challenges of being a royal tour artist

JHD: A royal tour presents a very difficult environment for an artist to work in. It is very challenging and far removed from the quiet of a studio space. One has to keep up with a royal tour and know exactly where you have to be at every moment. Things happen very quickly so you have to concentrate on this while trying to collect visual information that might be useful. It is very easy to get involved in a drawing and forget where one is meant to be. It is an overwhelming experience and it can take a day or so to settle into the pace of a royal tour.

TSB: The challenge was to paint quickly. HRH has such a tight schedule on tour and such a big workload it is practically impossible to keep up with him let alone create great masterpieces. I was therefore selective about the visits I made with the Royal party, which gave me time to paint in a more considered way.

San Michele, Fiesole (2017) by Tim Scott BoltonClarence House

San Michele, Fiesole by Tim Scott Bolton (From the collection of Clarence House)

On HRH’s feedback on the work created

JHD: HRH is always interested to know what you’re doing and there is usually a little bit of time set aside for the artist to show him his/her work. I have had many discussions about painting and drawing with him.

TSB: The Prince and Duchess were so busy during the tour there was little contact during the time away. However, they did look at what I had done on the flight home and later HRH looked again at my work at Clarence House and choose a few for his collection. He is very encouraging about painting in general and enthusiastic and knowledgeable about watercolour paintings in particular. I think the favourite work from my trip were the two pictures painted at Villa Wolkonsky and several views I did at Villa San Michele when in Florence.

Lord and Lady Rothschild (2008) by James Hart DykeClarence House

Lord and Lady Rothschild by James Hart Dyke (From the collection of Clarence House)

San Michele, Fiesole (2017) by Tim Scott BoltonClarence House

San Michele, Fiesole by Tim Scott Bolton (From the collection of Clarence House)

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