Watercolourist invited on royal tour

ROSEMARY MCLENNAN
Last updated 16:04 05/12/2012
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ROSEMARY McLENNAN
Royal honour: Te Marua artist Sue Wild shows members of the Upper Hutt Art Society one of her royal tour sketches of Prince Charles’ birthday party at Government House. She is wearing her special painting apron and her tripod easel is beside her.

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Stepping out of her ordinary life into another world of lovely people is how Te Marua woman Sue Wild describes being the official artist for the recent royal tour.

Recently she shared her experience with members of the Upper Hutt Art Society.

The past president of Watercolour New Zealand was invited to record the diamond jubilee visit by Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall.

Wild joined the royal entourage to sketch and paint their visits to Auckland, Wellington, Feilding and Christchurch.

The practice is not new; Queen Victoria took an artist on tour with her. Until now the prince has usually taken a British artist on tour but this time decided to engage a local person.

In July, Wild was visiting a hot, dusty Italy to support her son in a gliding competition when she was contacted by royal tour organisers on behalf of Prince Charles.

The invitation to be the official artist for the royal tour came as a shock. She accepted and gave it more thought on her return to New Zealand.

She took part in a conference call with staff at Clarence House (the prince's official London base) and later met a reconnaissance group from London.

They told her she would be part of the royal entourage, would travel with the tour and record it for Prince Charles.

On the internet she looked at the names and work of previous royal tour artists and was "overawed".

Taking a draft royal tour itinerary she looked into the venues in Auckland, Wellington, Feilding and Christchurch and sketched there with a view to considering where she should stand to get the best compositions.

The next challenge was putting together a light, mobile painting kit.

She converted a camera tripod to an easel for her sketchbook.

Wild got a Kiwi-themed apron and added a cotton builder's apron to hold her brushes, paints and water jar.

Prince Charles is an accomplished watercolour artist who paints landscapes. A selection of his work is on his and the duchess' website.

New Zealand has many accomplished watercolour painters and Wild understands royal tour organisers found her through her website.

She was told the prince particularly liked her travel sketches and New Zealand landscapes.

During the tour Wild was based at Government House in Auckland and Wellington, and travelled in a media van near the back of the royal convoy.

There she got to see the happy reaction of people the royals had driven past and waved to.

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Wild did not see much of the royal couple as she was occupied with speed sketching and photographing the scenes she had chosen beforehand.

She had the opportunity to speak twice with the duchess.

"They really connect very closely with any person they meet." She met the prince and duchess on the plane flying the party to Ohakea.

She was invited to sit with them around a coffee table near the front of the plane.

The prince said he wanted her to paint happy memories for him.

Scenes Wild sketched include the Armistice Day service at Auckland, the prince's 64th birthday party at Government House, and the farm he visited in Feilding (which happened to be owned by someone Wild knew from her teens) and meeting people at the Wellington waterfront.

"I'm so proud of our city," she said of the welcome in Wellington.

And when the prince stepped out of his vehicle at Government House and walked through the trees towards the lawn and invited guests, the scene was just "heart-stopping", she said.

Formal evening occasions did not lend themselves so well to painting so she spent the time looking over the day's events and planning for the next.

The whole experience was "awe-inspiring and frightening" at the same time.

In the limited sketching time at each venue she concentrated on the big shapes rather than the detail.

She is also painting a view that the prince liked from his one free day in Auckland.

She was impressed by how hard the royals worked and how busy their touring days were.

The prince raises about £1.3 million (NZ$2.5m) for charity every year and this includes selling prints of his own paintings.

The final part of the exercise for Wild is to finish 15 to 20 full-size water colours and the prince will choose one to keep which will become part of his private collection and in time join the royal art collection.

- Upper Hutt Leader

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