James Tovey, artist, illustrator and craftsman, born Bristol, 1971.

A transcript of a recent interview with Emma Lang, founder of State of the Art Marketplace follows:

‘State of the Art Marketplace introducing James Tovey, otherwise known as tufiarts. A master sketcher, we caught up with James to hear about his work’:

⚡️Tell us a little about yourself and your art?

‘I am an artist and craftsman currently living in Lincolnshire, and have been actively producing artwork for periodic exhibition since the early 2000s. I love drawing, always have done as long as I can remember. Understanding drawing fundamentals and being able to produce understandable pencil diagrams and sketches is such a valuable asset especially helping visualise work for customers or when sending out for funding applications. Some of my concepts and project ideas have found financial support to turn them into public community projects and events. My favourite of those so far was a sculptural stage-build for the Peterborough Environment and City Trust Green Festival 2016; upon which a series of six environmental plays were performed in front of Peterborough Cathedral.’

⚡️What inspired your current work on SOTA?

‘The human figure in its environment is the simplest answer, though more fully, much of my drawing has been outline orientated and before the pandemic I made lots of ink drawings and had another phase of using a digital tablet to produce artwork for posters. As I get older I find I value the direct experience of pencil on paper or paint on canvas much more, just the physical experience of it, though I do still use Photoshop to aid compositions. I have started integrating lighting and surface and space without hardening the composition up too much, but in subject they are still about humans, human activity and environment.’

⚡️What are your aspirations for your work?

‘To carry on finding new ways of sharing my love for drawing and painting to a wider audience and hopefully inspire others to channel their energies into the power of creativity. Personally – to continue developing my drawing practice through daily drawing exercises, as I know it benefits and encourages me to assess whether the ideas I have for painting compositions are relevant, interesting or challenging enough to develop further.’

James’ creations are available to purchase in the State of the Art Marketplace Drawings category.

About James Tovey including links & sources

James Tovey, artist, illustrator and craftsman, born Bristol, 1971. His work has centered around human activity, human impact and the environment with a move towards integrating spirituality and science in more recent projects.(1)(2)(3)

Tovey’s father committed suicide in 1973 under tragic circumstances after suffering from acute depression. This caused a permanent family rift and he was brought up by his maternal family who kept the circumstances of his father’s death from him. He had no contact with his paternal relations including his grandfather the haematologist Professor Geoffrey Tovey until he was in his early twenties. He only learned of the true circumstances of his father’s death in his early 30s. As a teenager he attended Clifton College, Bristol where his fees were part paid out of and used up the remains of his father’s estate. His artwork won a number of school awards and prizes.(4)(5)(6). In the summer of 1990 he took part as an artist on a conservation expedition to Mount Kenya. A fun fact: Later some of the sign posts and instruction graffiti he helped make as part of the team to aid fellow visitors in the alpine zone appeared in photographs in a 1991 book, On God’s Mountain.(7)

After studying at Exeter University and at the Byam Shaw School of Art in London he moved to Devon in 1996 and then to Greenwich in 1997 where he shared a studio with some friends in an old motorbike shop in Hackney. During this time there were only a handful of art sales and he tried taking on some commissions with little success. His student painting style was mostly a mix of impressionism, realism and showed influences by London artists such as Euan Uglow and Patrick Symons. His drawing was more investigative and inquisitive usually in pencil, chalk or charcoal – from 1995 he had developed a linear and outline drawing method despite some opposition from his tutors. Out-door painting around London attracted him some attention but not enough to pay the bills and one brief period on the dole made him determined to stay away from state benefits as much as possible. In 1998 he bought a desktop PC and went digital for the first time but by the end of 1998 he had determined to study some more and enrolled at the University of Hull.

From 1998 to 2000 Tovey made archaeological illustrations which were published in some of the English Heritage commissioned Humber Wetlands Project publications and helped support his studies. With encouragement from the project leadership, he experimented with trying digital methods for making artifact and reconstruction illustrations as an alternative to pen and ink drawings. Again with encouragement and help from the leadership he also experimented with large plan and sectional excavation recordings using a fixed lens digital camera and graphics software. Though visually appealing and possibly a useful visual ancillary guide, the method could not be made quantifiable enough nor clearer than drawings and simple ink-line diagrams. The most notable illustration from his time spent in Hull is a reconstruction drawing of an Iron Age wetland fort entrance at Sutton Common, published in the Observer newspaper during 1999 and used by English Heritage online, which featured one of his university colleagues in the starring role.(8)(9)(10) The original illustration sent to the Observer also showed two children in the composition as well as the main character swordsman. The newspaper wanted the children removed to make the drawing more dramatic and threatened to alter the drawing unless they were removed, this was done reluctantly at the insistence of the project leadership.

The summer of 2000 was spent living by the sea in a tent in Cornwall and in September 2000 he moved his family back to live in Castor near Peterborough, where they had bought a house in 1997 after moving out of London. Tovey started earning a better living out of his imaging, primarily producing photography for magazines and commercial clients.6 He started exhibiting artwork locally first appearing in the local newspaper in 2001. He submitted paintings to national open exhibitions including the Royal West of England Academy, the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. He took on portrait commissions as well as taking part in contemporary art exhibitions and events while also getting involved in projects run by organisations such as Peterborough Environment and City Trust and Natural England. He tutored art privately and through an education agency, he also undertook workshops at Peterborough education venues and organised life drawing classes in his studio in Fengate.(11)(12)(13)

In 2009 Tovey fulfilled a life-time ambition in attending the IBTC in Lowestoft as a student where despite selling all his professional camera gear to pay for the fees he found himself asked to make pictures for the college. These were then used in Lowestoft Maritime Museum displays on the College website and as part of a successful funding application ultimately leading to IBTC Lowestoft winning the contract to run the new heritage centre planned in Boatshed 4 now known as IBTC Portsmouth.

During 2010, Classic Boat Magazine ran a competition seeking ideas for a small sail powered fishing vessel. Fellow IBTC students Martin Hill and James Tovey entered an eco fishing boat design. The design featured a tumble home topside inspired by the fairey Atlanta yachts of the 1960s but the judges found little to commend this on a practical fishing vessel and roundly critised the shape suggesting that dragging nets aboard could cause damage to the boats topside planking and it make the boat difficult to operate as a fishing craft. However the design still won joint third in the published prize winners, the well known boat designer James Wharrem obtained first place.(2) The competition coincided with changes in EU regulations for sustainable fisheries allowing a de-regulation of all non motor-powered fishing craft. This came at a time when an initiative for making smaller sustainable fishing boats was being discussed in the House of Commons and Classic Boat Magazine was praised for its initiative in staging the competition.(14) Tovey completed his training at the IBTC and returned to Castor in late 2011 having worked in some of the Lowestoft Boat Yards to put into practice his newly acquired skills. He resumed artwork production, exhibiting work online, though did not begin exhibiting paintings again until 2014.

2013 saw the completion of two boat builds which were exhibited at Beale Park Boat Show. He had some interest to sell plans of his boat designs but opted not to pursue sales as he felt he wasn’t qualified enough. 2013 also saw a drawing commissioned by Rev William Burke on behalf of St Kyneburgha Building Preservation Trust as a preview of a statue to install into a vacant alcove above the south side chancel priest’s door of the Church of St Kyneburgha at Castor, the only Grade 1 listed church building in England. As specified in the commission, the design was based on the statue of St Kyneburgha on the West front of Peterborough Cathedral and he replaced the Norman Church in her hands with a proposed design of an early Saxon period church that he had drawn out for an earlier history publication. The task was then handed to master stone mason Mark Sharpin, who with further guidence from the now Canon Burke made and installed an ‘appropriately primitive’ sculpture above the priest’s door in 2015.(15) He exhibited at the 2015 Peterborough Heritage Festival and Peterborough Arts Festival both with sculptures standing in front of Peterborough Cathedral’s West Front.

At a party in late 2015, off the top of his head he suggested to theatre director Poppy Rowley it would be a good idea to make a stage set for a series of environmental plays to be performed in front of Peterborough Cathedral for the PECT Green Festival of 2016. The ‘Future Floodlands found funding through the Arts Council supported Peterborough Presents with additional help from the Seedbank Trust and six plays were performed on the stage by the Eastern Angles Theatre Company during the Peterborough Green Festival on 13th August 2016.(3) Alongside the sculptural elements of the stage, cartoonist and artist John Elson designed a fifty foot backdrop for the plays. A submersion chamber installation by the then newly enrolled CSM postgraduate student and photographic artist Luke Payn featured on set. There was also a specially brewed beer in support of the event by master brewer Duncan Vessey of microbrewery, Castor Ales.(1)(16)

Following this and with much help from friends and Peterborough venues such as The Green Backyard he built a number of wooden circular ‘henges’ and other structures in public spaces and exhibitions during 2016.(17)(18) This led to a follow up event called, ‘The Debris Navigator‘, being funded by community organisation The Big Local. With social services’ involvement art installations and a finale event were completed at Westraven Community Garden, Peterborough.(19) This coincided with the Peterborough Environment and City Trust Green Festival of 2017 and the newly laid out gardens and wooden constructions of the arts installation were later visited by the then UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove.(20) Again John Elson provided his cartooning at workshops with local children, making space debris and charactures to inhabit the art zones. This time Lauren Kendrick of the Green Backyard was involved in some of the wooden constructions most notably a sunset sculpture and some ‘fire sticks’ to grow climbing plants up that would be a prominent feature in the garden during autumn.

A work accident meant a stay in hospital in 2017 and series of operations to rebuild the wrist of his drawing hand. Learning to draw with the other hand he completed a series of ink drawing and paintings whilst undergoing treatment that were exhibited in late 2017.

In 2018, Peterborough cultural organisation Vivacity commissioned an installation in a shop unit in Peterborough city centre as the first in a series by Peterborough based artists. Running for two weeks and called ‘Plastic Native Temple‘, it included a large painting called Mermaid with Mahi-Mahi and Ocean Plastic that was also exhibited inside Peterborough Cathedral’s New Building as an engagement display for visitors and school children to run alongside a Gaia‘ installation – the large rotating representation of Planet Earth conceived by the artist Luke Jerram.(1)(21)

James Tovey again joined up with John Elson for a week long drawing workshop in Queensgate Shopping Centre during February 2020, where they displayed examples of digital art made on drawing tablets and printed on posters as well as making a number of pen and pencil drawings ‘Solarpunking‘ Peterborough.1 This was to turn out to be the last exhibition before the COVID19 pandemic struck. During lockdown his art output slowed but this was mostly due to moving house from the long established base at Castor of some 20+ years, to a property in Corby Glen, Lincolnshire, which required some renovation. Surviving artwork output from this time was mostly charcoal and pencil drawings as well as a small number of acrylic paintings, one painting being exhibited in 2021 at the Willoughby Art Gallery Open Exhibition.

Oak Logs Harvested, Temple Wood. A study of felled tree trunks in the managed forest near Bourne, Lincolnshire, was accepted to the Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition in Burlington House London for the 2022 show themed on climate. The painting was displayed in room 8.(22).

From July 2021 until February 2022 Tovey had been building a wooden observatory with and for his friend Chris Pounsett. The design featured a novel octagonal opening roof, the sections could be opened in any order allowing telescope viewing of 360 degrees if required. Fully open the roof sections resembled petals of a flower and the work was advertised under the title ‘Starflower II’ for the Peterborough Artist Open Studio event weekends 2022 (#PAOS2022). The observatory featured four windows facing South East, South, South West and West. Design work took from February to May 2022 with the final drawings converted to gold leaf applied direct to glass and sandwiched behind a layer of laminated safety glass, with the design process displayed and the final stages demonstrated during the PAOS event weekends June and July 2022.(23)


  1. Barns, Brad (January 31, 2020). “Peterborough artists open pop-up studio in Queensgate”. http://www.Peterboroughtoday.co.uk
  2. “Eco Fishing Boat Competition Prizewinners”. Classic Boat Magazine. July 2010.
  3. “PECT GREEN FESTIVAL 2016 – FEATURED ARTIST: JAMES TOVEY”. Idea1. Retrieved 2022-02-16.
  4. “Praise for prize art”. The Mercury, Bristol. March 23, 1990.
  5. Breton, Charles (March 16, 1990). “Talented Youngsters”. Evening Post, Bristol.
  6. “In Depth Art News”. Absolute Arts. June 9, 2002. Retrieved September 14, 2021
  7. Amin, Willets and Tetley (1991). On God’s Mountain, The Story of Mount Kenya. Ashbourne, UK: Moorland Publishing Company Ltd. pp. 112, 165. ISBN 0-86190-393-5.
  8. Mckie, Robin (October 24, 1999). “Bog yields up gateway to death”. The Observer. UK News.
  9. Van de Noort and Ellis (2000). Wetland Heritage of the Hull Valley (in UK English). Kingston upon Hull: University of Hull. ISBN 0-85958-195-0.
  10. Pratty, John (July 26, 2002). “Ghostly Iron Age Village Revealed By English Heritage Dig”. Culture24.org.uk.
  11. Royal Academy of Arts (2006). Summer Exhibition 2006 List of Works. Piccadilly, London, UK.: RA Publications.
  12. The Newsroom (April 17, 2019). “See the work of Peterborough artists at the city’s 2019 Open Exhibition. Celebrating art, nationally and internationally, Vivacity’s Open Exhibition has returned to Peterborough Museum and Art Gallery for the fourth year”. Peterborough Telegraph.
  13. Moore, Charlotte (June 1, 2021). “Look around the RESTART exhibition at Peterborough Museum”. http://www.peterboroughmatters.co.uk. Retrieved September 14, 2021.
  14. “Eco Fishing Boat Design”. November 2, 2009.
  15. Castor Church Trust (8 March 2019). “ST KYNEBURGHA STATUE EXPLAINED”. http://www.castorchurchtrust.co.uk/.
  16. The Newsroom (August 19, 2016). “Microbrewer’s special monsterale for Green Festival”. http://www.peterboroughtoday.co.uk.
  17. The Newsroom (September 30, 2016). “Anne Frank exhibition”. Peterborough Evening Telegraph.
  18. “Astronomical Art connects the Green Backyard to the Cosmos”. http://www.pect.org.uk. December 20, 2016.
  19. CAMRA, Peterborough (October 2017). “Beer Round ‘Ere – 197, p12”. CAMRA Peterborough
  20. Lamy, Joel (February 4, 2019). “Environment Secretary Michael Gove praises Peterborough’s eco-credentials on visit to community project”. Peterborough Today.
  21. BBC – NEWS (September 17, 2019). “Peterborough Cathedral Gaia Earth: The world in your hands”. http://www.bbc.co.uk.
  22. Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, list of works 2022. Royal Academy of Arts, London.
  23. Peterborough Artists Open Studio Brochure, 2022. Downloadable version also available.