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Steam on Canvas - Philip D Hawkins

Novelty at New Street by Philip D Hawkins

Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle

I recently accompanied a group of small children on a train journey and their obvious delight in the sights and sounds that bombarded them, was a joy to behold.

The previous week, I’d come across a book, one I simply had to buy, entitled Steam on Canvas by acclaimed railway artist Philip D Hawkins.

Although the two events were completely unrelated, their proximity in time suggested one thing – how much greater the children’s joy might have been if we still lived in the golden age of steam.

So, if like me, you feel nostalgic for the railway of a bygone era, Hawkin’s beautiful and informative book will transport you back in time to that wonderful age of ‘shake, rattle and roll’ – words I once saw inscribed in the grime of a working engine.

Following on from Tracks on Canvas, Steam on Canvas is Hawkin’s second book with the emphasis this time more on work, dealing with clients, gathering reference material and ‘generally making a living’.

It includes more than 50 full-colour plates of his paintings, the majority with a fascinating description of the subject matter; plus numerous preliminary studies, sketches and photographs.

But it’s the paintings that really impress. And as you might expect, the engines are the real stars. At first glance, it might even appear to be at the expense of related detail. But this simply isn’t so.

Take for instance Tamworth Memories – the eye is drawn immediately to the Red Rose headed by an Edge Hill (8A) ‘Royal Scot’. But look closely, and behind the railings on the right is a small group of train spotters – in those days, a common sight. A nice touch indeed.

However, Footplate, one of my personal favourites, looks at an engine (in this instance a ‘Manor’) from an entirely different angle – as the title suggests, from the footplate itself.

As a result, a sight we might once have fleetingly glimpsed from afar is presented as a fly-on-the-wall view of the driver and fireman at work – so real, you can almost hear the engine’s roar.

In his forward, Dr Pete Waterman OBE says: “There is something about paintings of locomotives that a camera cannot compete with.” How very true. For with Hawkin’s skill and imagination, the past is once again, brought vividly and magically to life.

So, for anyone who loved (and still loves) steam, this book is an absolute must…..