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British illustrator draws all 300 churches

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As England loses more churches and rethinks the role of church buildings, one artist seeks to find new value by painting each of the more than 300 churches in his hometown.

Art teacher Hayley Fern pulled out a new sketchbook during a visit to Leicester Cathedral and drew a 900-year-old Gothic church with pointed arch windows and a 220-foot steeple.

She enjoyed it so much that I decided to paint the church she attended, the Church of John the Baptist, and the church where she was baptized.

“Someone actually said, ‘Oh, you do all the churches in Leicestershire?'” Fern said. “I was like, ‘Oh, that’s a good idea. I might do that.

And so her “art pilgrimage” began.

With over 300 Anglican churches in her county in central England, she decided it was a sizable but achievable goal. Each time she added a church to her sketchbook and social media feed, she learned about nearby places she hadn’t been or had only passed through.

“When you are visiting a church, you go to the absolute heart of the place. says Fern. “I’m really discovering now that even villages and towns that weren’t necessarily charming actually have these beautiful centers.

A former freelance illustrator, she uses fine waterproof pens to draw details such as porches and porticoes, stained glass windows, clean bricks and cobblestones. She then fills in with watercolors. Each drawing is labeled with the church’s name and town, and sometimes also details its founding date. She left a card that said, “I painted your church!” Allow the community to see the results and follow her project.

Fern meets locals and is grateful that someone has taken the time to appreciate and honor the church in their town. Getting an artist’s attention makes them point to things they weren’t aware of before.

“I don’t think there’s anyone who doesn’t realize how beautiful our church is, but really stop and take your time. That’s what I encourage people to do a little bit.” I think,” Fern said.

Even among those who don’t go to church regularly, less than 1% of the population attended Church of England services on Sundays before the pandemic. .

Leicestershire is a rolling countryside dotted with towns and historic sites dating back nearly 2,000 years. Some of the church buildings featured in Fern’s notebook have been used as places of worship for centuries.

At her husband’s suggestion, Fern created social media accounts (@HayleyFern4 on Twitter and @hayleydrawschurches on Instagram) to post her work for non-passers-by to see. Her account won her following, and as more and more people became interested in her work, Fern took the opportunity to discuss her faith.

“I never thought doing art could be evangelical, but now we have had so many conversations.Many people have come to talk to me about their faith. Perhaps people who really had no one to talk to, or who had no excuse to discuss their feelings about whether or not to go to church, Fern, a member of the Church of England, said.

“People generally think I’m a Christian because I’m doing that, so I’ve become a more visible Christian. I think it opened up more conversations than I’ve ever had.”

Sharing her faith was as easy as listening. In one church, a man sat by a fern after laying flowers on his wife’s grave. He talked about his wife and how he missed her, and Fern thanked her for simply being there to listen to her.

Fern believes painting a church is a great way for her to reflect, express, and worship her faith. Whatever it is, I believe it should be used for his glory.

From an early age, Fern learned to draw from his grandfather, who loved art. She decided to pursue art in college and she graduated with her Textiles degree in Art. She worked in a dress shop before becoming a freelance illustrator so she could stay home with her children.

When the children grew up, Fern got a job as an art teacher. She works all day during the semester, catches up on housework and rest on weekends, and goes to church and paints on her days off.

Image: Courtesy of Hailey Fern

When she goes to a new church, she doesn’t look at the pictures beforehand, so she can have a “wow” moment when she sees it with her own eyes for the first time.

When she sits down to draw, a fine-line pen allows her to work quickly without overthinking it. When she paints churches, she pays attention to the important details that give them character.

“I really enjoy exploring the different colors and tones of each church because I think that’s a big part of the church’s history. ,” says Fern.

She does not paint the green of the trees or the blue of the sky, making sure that she focuses only on the church building and not on the surrounding landscape. She also helps give the project a consistent style from church to church.

Among the centuries-old stone churches in Leicestershire, the church building, built in 1923, stands out.

“I haven’t seen anything styled like ’20s Art Deco before or since. …I really liked it. It was incredibly satisfying to draw,” says Fern. I was. “Now, when I see something that is very different architecturally, I think it would be a lot of fun to paint it.”

Fern hopes the sketches will be published as a book in the future. She serves on parish church councils, church staff committees, and members that deal with all kinds of church matters, from budgets to outreach activities. I know how I can help the church financially.

“I look forward to helping the church. If it can do any good, that would be great,” she said.

As she continues her artistic pilgrimage, Fern reminds her newfound that this is a project that will take her years to complete, as she has painted 55 so far. increase.

No matter how long the project took, Fern dutifully used his vacations to visit and paint the new church, a building that has stood the test of time in the heart of the community over the years. I plan to slowly fill my sketchbook in a sacred space. .