Narrowboat challenge for artist from West Norfolk

Jason Billman canal boat art ANL-150901-125016001
Jason Billman canal boat art ANL-150901-125016001
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Graphic artist Jason Billman has completed a project with a difference – working on a restored narrowboat.

And his original artwork will this year be seen around the country when the boat travels along canals and waterways, or stops off at rallies.

It has also been featured in a full page article in Towpath Talk, the monthly newspaper about the UK waterways.

Jason spent six days on the project having been called in by his uncle, Mike Neale, to work on the 70ft traditional style narrowboat “Gemaleir” after it was moored up off the River Soar at Thurmaston near Leicester.

A former pupil at Marshland High School, Jason took an art course at the College of West Anglia campus in Wisbech and later went to the Norwich University of the Arts, graduating last summer with a BA in illustration.

He said: “This was certainly a first for me. The boat was moored in a floating workshop, something like a tunnel, and that was okay except when there was bad weather and the boat was wobbling about in the water.

“It’s also one of the biggest projects I have ever done, with the panels on either side of the boat about 2ft high and 12ft long.

“After my uncle first talked about it with his ideas of what he wanted I then spent a long time researching into longboats and their history.”

Jason’s first work on the boat was signwriting its name “Gemaleir” before designing the artwork to tell a different story on either side of the boat.

One of the inspirations was from a postcard of a horse-drawn boat while other sources included a former coal pit, factory chimneys, a cotton mill, church tower, historic boats and working horses.

Having created the designs, Jason then spent six days to apply them to the boat’s side panels using airbrush art.

His uncle said: “Jason has created a beautiful image which we wanted to share.

“We are hoping that people will use their imagination of what the pictures are about and visualise the historical background.

“We thought about this seriously not just because we wanted the wow effect. We are trying to portray the past to the present through the two images that are on the boat. That is why we had a horse-drawn boat one side which is where canal transport started to the propulsion on the other side which is where we are at today.”

Mr Neale, who purchased the boat when it was bound for the scrapheap, has spent the last two years on its renovation and is now putting the finishing touches to it.

Jason’s parents are Mick and Ann Billman, of Grimston – Ann is Mr Neale’s sister – and they are understandably proud of his achievements. “I am always amazed by what he does and where he gets his ideas from,” said Ann.

Now based in Norwich, he works for Steward Safety Supplies at Fakenham as well as developing his own business J. Billman’s Custom Graphics, specialising in a range of creative crafts, from signage and vinyl vehicle graphics to traditional hand painted sign writing, custom art work and portrait painting.

Last year, together with fellow NUA student Andrew Rhodes, he was involved in the First World War centenary commemoration exhibition at Holkham Hall.

They designed, built and painted a replica 20ft section of a Somme battlefield trench, and also a two-thirds scale profile of a tank.