I first discovered Brightwork in 2015 on the day the Barons Trail was launched in Lincoln. I had painted the Lincolnshire Waterways Baron in the traditional Roses and Castles style and he was taking a trip on a boat around the Brayford Pool before being set on his plinth by the water for the duration of the summer.
Watching this spectacle on a very wet and windy day was a gentleman called Sam Yates who was on a day trip to Lincoln. Sam, now retired, used to be a boat painter on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and told me about the unique art form of that area known as Brightwork. I had never heard of Brightwork and was fascinated that there was another traditional art form of the Waterways that appeared to be so little known and was therefore determined to find out more.
The opportunity to learn about Brightwork came when I was asked to produce pieces for the show garden sponsored by Welcome to Yorkshire at this years Chelsea Flower Show, being a canal complete with lock gates and a lock keepers hut. The brief included that the artwork feature the well known Bingley 5 Rise Locks on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.
I did explain that I am not a fine art artist but that I would look to paint Bingley Locks in the traditional Canal Art style. My husband suggested a coat hanger board which could be hung on the wall of the lock keepers hut and this got me thinking back to my conversation with Sam Yates, 3 years before, and his mention of Brightwork.
I tracked down a copy of Sam’s book “Brightwork”, which he had co written with Mike Clarke, and which talks all about the history of this beautiful and unusual art form of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, complete with old photographs depicting boats painted in this style.
I decided to paint Bingley Locks in the picture panel and paint the bottom boarder in multi coloured dog tooth with scrolls down each side, including the white rose of Yorkshire in the design.
I love the understated colours of Brightwork. They are so very different to the much bolder colour pallet of the Roses and Castles art form and provides a wonderful contrast to my Canal Art portfolio.
I hope that by painting a piece in the Brightwork style this will help highlight this seemingly little known traditional art of the canals and bring it back to the fore.
Brightwork is a traditional artwork unique to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.
It uses a different colour pallet to that used in the more familiar Roses and Castles art form. Brightwork colours are typically that of yellow, light green and orange/red compared with the much bolder colours of bright red, blue and dark green of the Roses and Castles which can be found widely on the canals of the Midlands.
Picture panels feature prominently and depict not castle scenes but cottages, ships and wild flowers.
Space is filled not by roses but by scroll work. Boarders and edging are described by multicoloured dog tooth designs, small diamonds and feathered crosses.
Brightwork styles varied between the different boatyards resulting in subtle differences between those painted at the Leeds end and the Liverpool end.
As some of the larger vessels were sea going, Brightwork was often confined to areas less likely to be damaged by the riggers of ocean travel.