Simple but sophisticated


Bridlington by Tom Purvis, is a perfect example of the travel poster artist’s skills: simple flat areas of colour, very precise lines and careful composition of images – a scene that is idealised and yet completely believable.

Created by the commercial artist, Tom Purvis for the London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) in 1932, the poster depicts the seaside town of Bridlington, located on the north east coast of England. Popular with families as a holiday destination between the two World Wars, it’s better known today (until his recent move back to LA) as the home of the internationally renowned artist, David Hockney.

Purvis was a highly professional illustrator and designer, and he campaigned for higher professional standards in the industry. In 1930 he was one of a group of artists who founded the Society of Industrial Artists, which pressed for better training for commercial artists. In 1936 he became one of the first Royal Designers for Industry.

Bridlington_SSPL_10174029_Comp-1It’s always good with posters to imagine the artist faced with a blank canvas. What made him (or her) choose what to put in the picture and how to compose it? Purvis is a master of economic and precise artwork and this poster is deceptively skilful.

At its centre is the little girl and (we guess) her baby brother, both sporting brimmed hats to protect them from the intense heat of the sun. (Bright sunshine can happen in Bridlington, but the town is not famous for its cloudless skies and searing heat). The little boy’s straw hat is particularly fetching – bright yellow with stalks of straw sticking out at the edges. Both figures are silhouetted against a cloudless blue sky. The pink/orange colour of their skin suggests a suntan so perfect that even today it could only be achieved in a spray booth.

It’s a touching scene, innocent and warm. The little boy is splashing in the water  and we can imagine that it’s his first time ever on a beach. His mouth is open as though he is giggling with pleasure. His sister is bent forward solicitously, her arms outstretched to stop him falling over. In the background there are more people on the beach, visible behind the gently rolling line of the sea.

Further back again, silhouetted in white against the blue sky are the outlines of the seaside buildings – highly exaggerated domes of the Spa Pavilion and others, which lend a middle eastern exoticism to this very English scene.  In the far background there is a small green kite, and a Union Jack flag flutters in the gentle breeze – a breeze no doubt welcomed by the visitors from northern English industrial cities unaccustomed to such intense heat.

Purvis creates this heartwarming scene with remarkably little detail. We don’t see facial features at all. He uses only four colours: yellow, pink/orange, blue and green. What Purvis does so cleverly is use the white of the paper as a fifth colour. The girl’s hat and sundress, the sea in which they’re paddling, the water splashes and the silhouette of the buildings are all in white, set against the strong blue of the background. The bold lettering for Bridlington is also white against the blue sky – integrated into the picture by cutting across, and melting into, the back of the girl’s sun hat.

Simple but very sophisticated.

© The Great Brunel Railway Company 2014.   Poster image courtesy of National Railway Museum / Science & Society Picture Library