Canal Folk Art

Posted by Mikki Longley on June 07, 2021 · 3 mins read

On a lovely day in 1974 I turned 8 years old (yes, I’m old!), and, very luckily for me, we went on our Summer School trip. It really stuck with me - a trip along the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, often called the “Staffs and Worcs (Pronounced “Wusts”)” by narrowboat. We picnicked in a field and then chugged slowly through the bucolic countryside to… I don’t know where, and presumably turned around at some point and came back. I was struck by the beauty of travelling slowly - I remember white horses watching us drift by, the wildflowers, the birds and dragonflies.

It really stayed with me, and I grew up loving canals, narrow-boats and all the folk culture that accompanied them. I was impressed by the beautifully painted name signs on the boats, the castles and roses adorning simple items like coal scuttles and buckets. I guess my love of bright colours was always a thing.

Growing up in Evesham, Worcestershire, a town famously almost encircled by the River Avon, waterways have always been important to me. I never feel more at peace than sitting by the water.

Much older, at Trent Polytechnic in Nottingham, I studied the Canal Museum at the Fellows, Morton and Clayton Warehouse there as a self-initiated project on my Information Graphics Degree course. Again, I was drawn to the colour and the folk sign-writing as well as the industrial architecture. I still have my sketchbooks from the time as you can see here.

Coming full circle, one of my best selling prints and cards is of Union Wharf in Market Harborough with all its beautiful and individual narrow-boats.

I’ve painted it a few times - this one’s a commission and included the couple’s vintage Jaguars.

Of course, the famous tourist attraction of Foxton Locks has to appear in my portfolio too.

Leicestershire, Grand Union Canal

Most recently though, I was delighted to be commissioned to paint “Pootle”, a much-loved barge that holds many special memories. The owners, and indeed their cats, are included in the painting. This piece is full of warmth and love, and I very much enjoyed painting it.

If you are interested in commissioning a painting do get in touch for a chat.


As ever, I accompany this blog with a playlist:

Drift Away: Dobie Gray

Rivers: Frank Turner

Canals: All Time Low

Down to the Waterline: Dire Straits

The River: Bruce Springsteen

Rock the Boat: Hues Corporation

If ever I stray: Frank Turner