‘The Alnmouth Arts Festival changed my life’

2014 poster artist Katherine Renton and her display.
2014 poster artist Katherine Renton and her display.

Winning the Alnmouth Arts Festival poster competition in 2014 changed my life – well, as far as my art career goes it certainly has, and it has given me the confidence to foresee life as a full-time artist as a realistic option in, perhaps, the very near future.

I obtained a degree in fine art at Newcastle University in 1993. Subsequently, I became an art teacher and the demands of such a challenging job served to impede my own artistic progress for the next 20 years.

Chris Ewing, Katherine Renton and Jane McHugh.

Chris Ewing, Katherine Renton and Jane McHugh.

I never stopped painting and drawing though – whenever I could.

I live in the Alnmouth area and I spend a lot of time down at the beach with my children; I watch the boys running up and down the ramp that leads to the beach, and we eat ice-creams while sitting on the concrete tank traps.

I had begun to draw and photograph these coastal structures, and develop these studies into a series of paintings.

In October 2013, I noticed a publicity article in the Northumberland Gazette for a competition to find a poster image for the Alnmouth Arts Festival.

Katherine Renton with her winning entry for the 2014 Alnmouth Arts Festival poster competition.

Katherine Renton with her winning entry for the 2014 Alnmouth Arts Festival poster competition.

I realised that my paintings met the brief for the poster competition and, at the very last minute, I plucked up the courage to enter one of my oil paintings. I was stunned, and rather alarmed, to learn just a week later that I was the winner.

The committee members for the Alnmouth Arts Festival, in association with the Gazette, immediately stepped in and proved incredibly supportive throughout all the stages of preparation that led up to the festival – in fact they continue to be supportive many months after the event.

Terry Collinson, the festival’s photographer, has been a joy to work with and his advice has always been invaluable. On our first meeting, he strongly advised me to get a website up and running as soon as possible, something that I hadn’t even considered prior to this – so www.katherinerenton.com was immediately set up.

The publicity that I have received has been way beyond my expectations with regular features throughout the year in local newspapers and magazines, including the Gazette, Journal and Living North magazine.

My winning oil painting of the ramp at Alnmouth beach was turned into the advertising poster for the festival and plastered all over Northumberland and the Tyne area; there was even a festival beer with my painting on the pump tag!

The festival made for an amazing weekend. I sold the original of the winning image, Dune Walkway – Alnmouth, as soon as the preview evening began on the Friday. Throughout the weekend, a record-breaking 3,500 visitors viewed the wide range of artwork on show around the village.

My work isn’t of the usual ‘pretty views’ and I was nervous about how it would be received – the feedback, however, was unbelievably positive, with many stating that it had made them see the Northumberland coast in a completely new light.

I spent the whole weekend discussing my work with people who were visiting from all over the country and even from across Europe and beyond, and to top it all, people were actually buying my original paintings and prints.

The positive impact has continued way beyond the festival. I sell my work through my website, even to collectors as far afield as Australia and America.

Since the festival, I have exhibited my work in the Old School Gallery in Alnmouth, and a gallery in New York has contacted me with the offer of an exhibition in the future.

I have also established contacts with other successful artists, studios and galleries in the Tyne area which has really opened up my horizons – watch out for Bob Lawson and Jill Gibson, both international artists, at this year’s festival.

Previous poster winners have since become full-time artists, what about me?

At present, I am still a part-time art teacher in an Alnwick middle school – I love my job and over the last 20 years I have established a very successful art department and, let’s face it, teaching gives me a regular monthly income which helps to subsidise my other life as a struggling artist.

For me, however, the timing of my festival win could prove to be perfect; the Alnwick schools are currently in the middle of a consultation period. Being a specialist art teacher in a middle school is a rather precarious position to be in – leaving my teaching career would be a much more frightening prospect without my successes associated with the Alnmouth Arts Festival – life as a full-time artist is beginning to beckon and the more I think about it the more excited I am.

l Katherine will be exhibiting new original paintings at this year’s Alnmouth Arts Festival (June 20 to 21). Her prints are currently available in the Old School Gallery in Alnmouth and her work can be viewed and purchased on her website – www.katherinerenton.com