Pete Symonds – Landscape Artist
I am a Surrey lad, born in 1964 and was brought up in Send, near Woking, in the same house that my mother still lives in. I had a very happy childhood. I was fortunate enough to live in a house which had a large garden with an adjacent field. I have 2 younger brothers and we loved the outdoors – our garden providing us with an endless playground for playing all sports, riding motorbikes around its perimeter and shooting targets with our air-rifles! I had a free and fun-filled youth.
I went to a local school in Woking and then went to college, in Sussex. I didn’t particularly have any favourite subjects or interests at school but it was sport that kept me going. I was passionate about cricket and rugby.
After a gap year, I went on to Leicester university to study Geography, where I met my wife Vanessa. During my Gap year I began to paint, as a way of earning a few pennies, and played a lot of golf with my local friends.
My father was a photographer and thankfully had a very good eye for what made a good painting. He owned a photographic shop in Woking, subsequently opening a second one in Godalming for several years. It was there that he met David Shepherd, the famous wildlife artist who used to live in Hascombe, and they became very close friends. When I was 18, David gave me an art lesson in his studio for about an hour and a half, in recognition of the work my father was doing for him. He took one of the paintings I was doing for A level and critiqued it, and then did his own version of it during the lesson. It was the defining moment of my entire working life, having this well respected artist discussing my work with me. He didn’t usually give lessons to anyone but because of his close friendship with Dad, I had this incredible privilege. Not just one lesson, I had 4 or 5 more over the next 3 years. Despite his tuition I only got a B for my A level, which both my brothers like to remind me of – they both achieved A’s in theirs!
I took advantage of my Gap year to explore whether I would be able to make a career as an artist, specializing in oil painting. The Reed Gallery in Guildford was the first to take several of my paintings. I had promised my mother that I would go to university and get a degree as a back up for this precarious career choice! I achieved a degree in Geography much to my parent’s relief.
After I completed my degree I took some time out to go travelling. Vanessa was brought up in Kenya and had lived in many countries in Africa. Her experience inspired me to spend some time in Africa. On my return I was determined to make painting my full time job. My father’s advice was to give it 5 years. “If you’re not making a success of it after then, pack it in and get a proper job” – ever the businessman! Actually he was very supportive, but my mother was far more nervous about my decision.
Those first 5 years were very hard. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. The lessons I’d received gave me a good building block, but the actual practise of constructing a painting, was incredibly difficult. However, after 4 or 5 years something started to happen – my style developed and my paintings began to improve and this encouraged me to further explore this career choice. I was even beginning to make a reasonable living from my work!
When I began my career, I worked for several years in my parents’ converted garage in their garden. It wasn’t a perfect working space but served a purpose. Occasionally I would see David Shepherd, when he popped over, and he’d offer helpful advice and encourage me. He was honest though, saying he would always be frank with me about my work.
At the outset of my career, I knew in my mind what I wanted to create but I wasn’t physically able to produce it. It took a very long time, about a decade, before I became more visually articulate.
Thankfully, enough galleries took my work and I began to make a reasonable living. I grew to love painting landscapes, particularly the British landscapes, and l came to love the effect of light on the landscape, a natural phenomena that I have spent my lifetime trying to replicate through paint! Whilst I have dabbled with painting portraits and still-life, my real passion is for the landscape. A key component of my work is to see the extraordinary beauty of our natural world and to see the hand of God behind it.
With a passion for the British landscape, and particularly the mountainous areas of our country, I have travelled far and wide in search of good landscape compositions. My favourite haunts are The lake District, Scotland, Cornwall, Devon, Wales, Yorkshire and Dorset. As a family and alone, we must have rented virtually every self-catering accommodation in the Lake District over the last 30 years! I do a lot of wild camping, particularly in Scotland, sometimes with friends or alone. I go into the sticks, set up camp and just walk and climb the Munros, which are one of my real passions. When I return I re-live these landscapes in the studio as I wrestle with the challenges they all bring.
I remember a few years ago embarking alone on a 15 mile hike into the Fisherfield mountain range in Scotland with three days supplies in my rucksack. This area is regarded as one of the most remote places in Scotland and I knew it would be a rich source of material for my painting. On the first night I camped on a little island in a river and at 6am woke to find the most extraordinary light playing out across the mountain landscape. I discovered several unbelievable views for my work – a just reward for camping wild in such a remote place. In order to maximise atmosphere one often needs to capture the early morning or late evening light, which can present its own challenges. I would never have gained those resulting paintings if I hadn’t embarked on that camping expedition.
People say I must have the perfect job! As a mountain walker and lover of wild places, what could be better than to have a job where I paint my favourite areas! However, it is quite a solitary job, and I do miss the interaction with people at times. However, whilst I adore my job, I recognise the need to have regular breaks to keep the artistic flow alive! A short round of golf, a walk up the hills, a blast around the block on my bike or a coffee with a friend provides this outlet.
I saw a quote recently saying ‘Do what you love every day and you’ll never need to work again’ and that’s me. I’m extremely fortunate, I don’t see my art as work. It’s something I love for the most part. I totally lose myself in it and become very engrossed in a painting. Even when I’m relaxing I can find myself thinking about a painting in progress. Most artists would say that their work is the result of years of experimenting, discovery, disappointments, successes but always the hard slog of practicing your skill to try and perfect it.
When COVID Lockdown first started nothing changed for me as I had always worked alone in my garden studio. My wife, who is a teacher, and family were at home most of the time and my work was not affected at all. When the children were young there were always interruptions – it’s a natural part of family life. Now they’re grown up and not living here, I miss it. They’ve left university now and have moved on in their lives.
I’ve been painting since 1987, for 35 years now and I don’t anticipate retiring, I love it so much. As long as my eyesight and health permit, and hopefully my paintings still sell, I’ll continue to work. I know many artists continue to paint until their dying day – which I hope will be my experience. My only regret, if I have one, is that I don’t live nearer the mountains, but my wife doesn’t relish living in a remote hamlet in the wilds of Scotland! Scotland is my favourite place on earth, and I yearn for it when I am not there. however, I spend at least 5-6 weeks a year in the Lake District or Scotland, which somewhat meets my need!
From the outset David Shepherd was my inspiration, as well as my father, who encouraged me. My wife has always been a great support too. She has a useful, critical eye and is well versed in understanding composition, colour and form in my landscapes. I value her opinion more than anyone else, as she knows my work so well. She is a class teacher who runs the junior art department in a local school.
Friends and family told me as I embarked on this career that I would have to work very hard and I know that to be true. So unless there’s been something going on at the weekend, I’ve always worked Monday to Saturday, 6 days a week. I’ll be in the studio by 9am, take regular breaks, and finish at about 7.00pm. So really I’m no different to my friends who commute to their jobs. It’s not an easy way to make a living – it can be very tough at times but hard work has made it possible.
I have been fortunate enough to have several galleries exhibit my work. The main galleries I exhibit in now are: Gladwell and Patterson Gallery, Mayfair; Beckstones Gallery, Penrith; Tryon Gallery, Petworth; House of Bruar Gallery, Perthshire. I have a one man exhibition every 2 years at Beckstones, and regular shared exhibitions with the other galleries.
My advice to someone embarking on a career as an oil painting artist would be threefold. Firstly, to love the actual practise of painting because there’s an awful lot of time spent mixing paint on a wooden pallet. Secondly to enjoy it, to have a passion about it and a serious drive to interpret what is seen and transpose it onto a canvas. Thirdly, be prepared to work very hard in order to stand out from the many other artists forging their way in the field. Most galleries are approached every day by 1 or 2 artists, and they’re often turned away. It’s a competitive market! Only a few people will buy original paintings, so a painting needs to ‘wow’ them before they’ll take out their wallets. There has to be something about your painting that draws them.
For me over the years, it’s been a little bit like “boom or bust”. When I’m working towards an exhibition, I could be putting 30 to 35 paintings into a show, and obviously the whole time I’m doing that, I’m not selling paintings. There are peaks and troughs all the time. I’ve never been driven by financial reward, provided I have enough to support my family, to travel and do my work.
Painting is such a big part of my life. Every time I venture out of my front door, I’m observing the light, trying to understand and analyse its effect on the landscape. It’s a way of life, I am passionate about it and I am very lucky to still be doing it after all these years!
For commissions or more information:
Available work from:
Original paintings by the artist Peter Symonds –
Beckstones Art Gallery
Peter Symonds | Gladwell & Patterson (gladwellpatterson.com)
Peter Symonds | The House of Bruar
Peter Symonds – Biography | Rountree Tryon